De omnibus dubitandum
17 Feb 2011
I’ve come to realise that I currently live in a rather backwards country.
You might think that’s a rather crazy thing to say. I live in the United Kingdom, after all, which is not particularly known for being backwards. In fact, it’s often considered to be an example of a progressive, civilised society.
But the devil is in the details.
There’s the issue of the rather spectacular lack of democracy here in the UK. The political system is set up in such a way that it guarantees the perpetual power of a small political elite. The wishes of the electorate have nothing to do with it – it’s all about keeping those in power, in power.
And of course we shouldn’t forget that the UK is, in fact, still a theocratic monarchy. There’s no constitution as such, the Queen is the undisputed head of state, and the Church of England is the country’s official state religion. Unelected clergymen sit in the House of Lords, and there’s no strict separation of church and state.
And then we have the existing law that denies prisoners the right to vote. The EU Human Rights Commission deemed this to be against international law, but the UK still intends to adhere to this practice: anyone that’s in prison, regardless of what crime they’ve been convicted of, does not get the right to vote in elections. (The concession that prisoners with sentences less than 4 years getting the right to vote is still illegal and, considering the rather steep sentencing common in the UK courts, fairly meaningless.)
You might think that denying prisoners the right to vote is an acceptable practice, but you need to look at it in its proper context. The right to vote is a most basic human right that every adult should have in a democracy.
Countries who deny basic human rights to parts of their population are generally considered to be undemocratic, unfair, dictatorial, and sometimes even evil.
Denying prisoners the right to vote is denying them a vital basic human right. In essence, the UK is saying that it considers prisoners to be lesser citizens, unworthy to be accorded the same rights as those not convicted of a crime. Convicted criminals are considered to have forfeited their human rights for at least the duration of their sentence.
This is a slippery slope indeed. The right to vote is but one basic human right. When you start considering prisoners lesser human beings, you could end up denying them even more human rights and separating them from society altogether. All in the name of ‘public safety’ of course.
You already see the effects of the vilification of prisoners in the UK media. Tabloid papers are eager to demonise all convicted criminals, using all kinds of horrendous language to portray them as despicable and evil creatures instead of human beings like you and me.
But criminals are just humans. They’re not aliens. They don’t think differently than you or I. They aren’t any different. Heck, some things I’ve done in my teens are illegal and could have landed me in prison. I’m very uncomfortable with the idea that these common adolescent errors would have marked me for life as an outsider, a lesser human being, a deviant.
Prison sentences are part of the justice system and should serve a dual purpose: deterrents against committing crimes, and rehabilitation for convicts. Research has proven that prisons fail spectacularly at both of these goals. What remains is a third purpose, one that the tabloid media seem to think is prisons’ only purpose: punishment.
But punishment has no place in a modern, civilised society. ‘An eye for an eye’ is a medieval frame of mind, one that I hoped we’d abandoned by now. Alas, it appears we haven’t.
16 Sep 2010
I don’t like being called a Nazi. Sounds like a bloody obvious statement, doesn’t it? Let’s go in to some detail.
When you’re engaged in some sort of debate or argument, referring to the Third Reich to make a point is usually not a good idea. It’s a cheap tactic, an intellectually lazy and morally hollow method of trying to gain an advantage over your argumentative adversary.
On the Internet it’s known as ‘Godwin’s Law‘: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” When someone does eventually invoke the Nazis, the debate is essentially over and the Nazi-invoker is considered to have lost because he was too stupid to come up with any real argument
So guess what Pope Benedictus did today, on the first day of his visit to the UK? Exactly. A quote from the speech he gave today in the presence of the Queen:
“Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny”.
Effectively, the Pope compared atheists to Nazis. He invoked Godwin’s Law, and thus pretty much admitted he has no stronger argument than this cheapest of cheap shots. The Pope has admitted defeat, whether he realises it or not.
In this case his comparison of atheists to Nazis is especially ironic. Take for example this quote from Hitler’s Mein Kampf:
“Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”
Hitler was a devout Catholic and the Nazis were certainly not anti-Christian. Moreover, the Nazis did not like atheists at all. In a 1933 speech Hitler stated the following:
“Today they say that Christianity is in danger, that the Catholic faith is threatened. My reply to them is: for the time being, Christians and not international atheists are now standing at Germany’s fore. I am not merely talking about Christianity; I confess that I will never ally myself with the parties which aim to destroy Christianity. Fourteen years they have gone arm in arm with atheism. At no time was greater damage ever done to Christianity than in those years when the Christian parties ruled side by side with those who denied the very existence of God.”
So comparing atheists to Nazis is, well, pretty fucking silly.
It’s not entirely unexpected though. We are after all talking about the Pope, the same man that is complicit in the systematic cover-up of tens of thousands of cases of child rape and torture, a man directly responsible for the growing propagation of HIV/AIDS in the Third World and the continued discrimination against and human rights abuse of homosexuals.
The same pope who, at the age of 14, joined the Hitler Youth. Now that’s what I call irony.
13 Aug 2010
Christopher Hitchens, one of my heroes, is dying. Everybody is dying, but for Hitchens “the process has suddenly accelerated”.
He’s been diagnosed with a particularly ferocious form of throat cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. Yet he still continues to write, and even found time to do a video interview with The Atlantic:
Hitchens is not shy about his cancer, choosing not to retire in to obscurity to wage his war against the disease but to fight it openly and in plain sight, for all to see.
For this I admire the man even more than I already did. He has always been a public figure, and the fact that he’s not letting a little thing like cancer get in the way of that says volumes about his strength and determination.
21 May 2010
The hot news today is how a team of American scientists have managed to create a bacterial lifeform using nothing but synthetic genes. This is, essentially, artificial life.
To say that this is a big deal would be a monumental understatement. We likely won’t be seeing any real world applications of this biotechnology any time soon, but the implications are mind-boggling: from cells that eat carbon dioxide and shit petroleum to customised cancer-eating bacteria, this technology has the potential to radically change our lives.
Of course the technology has its critics. As usual the loudest voices come from religious organisations who, without a hint of irony, shout down the progress of science from the comfort of their air-conditioned homes with HDTV and broadband internet connections.
And then there are the environmentalists denouncing everything even remotely reeking of biotechnology and genetic engineering. These are just as bad as the religious nutcases, because likewise their entire argument is based on disinformation and ignorance. If these eco-hippies were really serious about not using any artificial biotechnology, they’d all starve to death in a matter of weeks and die horribly of all kinds of diseases.
Because, you see, the moment humans started cultivating crops and breeding animals, we started to artificially engineer life. From mixing stronger types of crops for better harvest yields, to breeding sturdier and more milk-producing cows, biotechnology has been around for as long as agriculture has.
On top of that biotechnology has given us some monumentally important medicinal advances, from penicillin to aspirin, from vaccines to heart-transplants.
So denouncing biotech is a pretty fucking stupid thing to do. Instead we should embrace it and ensure that whatever we end up doing with this type of new technology, it doesn’t just end up as the playthings of the rich and powerful. We should strive to make it benefit those who need it the most: the invisible masses of poor and starving people across the world that with their low-wage slave labour enable the privileged west to live its decadent lifestyle.
25 Feb 2010
Once more I am ashamed to be Dutch.
The Dutch cabinet has fallen over the Iraq issue. The left-wing PVDA has chosen the fleeting comfort of public opinion and opposes an extended mission for Dutch troops in Afghanistan.
The result is that at the end of the current mission in August all Dutch troops will withdraw from the Uruzgan province.
This is a Very Bad Thing. I could try to explain why, but this NY Times opinion piece does a much better job. An excerpt:
“The war in Afghanistan is not just about America’s security. It, too, is about denying sanctuaries to Al Qaeda, which has also carried out deadly terrorist attacks in Europe. NATO is stronger when it stands together. The Netherlands weakens itself and all of its allies by choosing to stand alone.”
The irony is that the PVV, the party of Geert Wilders, also opposes the Dutch presence in Afghanistan. This is stupendously ignorant of them.
Wilders keeps on pointing out the dangers of Islamic extremism in the Netherlands, but utterly fails to realize that this is exactly why we need to oppose Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too, Geert. The success of our struggle for western values over Islamic fundamentalism doesn’t end at the Dutch borders. You either get on that train all the way, or not at all.
In Afghanistan we’re fighting for much more than our own safety. Our withdrawal from that fight makes us nothing short of spineless ignorant cowards.
We should all be ashamed. I certainly am.
7 Jan 2010
“For many years after the explosion of the TWA plane over Long Island (a disaster that was later found to have nothing at all to do with international religious nihilism), you could not board an aircraft without being asked whether you had packed your own bags and had them under your control at all times. These two questions are the very ones to which a would-be hijacker or bomber would honestly and logically have to answer “yes.” But answering “yes” to both was a condition of being allowed on the plane! Eventually, that heroic piece of stupidity was dropped as well. But now fresh idiocies are in store. Nothing in your lap during final approach. Do you feel safer? If you were a suicide-killer, would you feel thwarted or deterred?”
Read the full thing here: The truth about airplane security measures (Slate.com)
(Via Unreasonable Faith)
3 Jan 2010
I may need to retract an earlier statement where I proposed that “we shove the whole complacent Irish population into containers and ship them to Afghanistan where they can join their Taliban brothers in the stone age.”
It seems Ireland is not populated entirely by brainwashed religious nutcases, as evidenced by Atheist Ireland. To start the new year in proper fashion they’ve published a series of 25 blasphemous quotes on their website in an effort to provoke a lawsuit over Ireland’s newly adopted and utterly backwards blasphemy law.
These blasphemous quotes are not the rantings of random bloggers (such as yours truly) but come from a fairly respectable bunch of folks: Mark Twain, Salman Rushdie, Richard Dawkins, and even some quotes from the prophet Muhammed, Jesus Christ, and the Pope.
Each of these quotes can be interpreted as being blasphemous towards one religion or another. It demonstrates the utter stupidity of this law against blasphemy. I hope Atheist Ireland gets their trial – whether they win or lose, it will definitely serve to demonstrate the stone age thinking currently prevailing in Irish government circles.