Category Archives: Religion

Why I wear a white poppy.

I wear a white poppy for Remembrance Week for this reason: I want to use this time to remember and think about all those whose lives have been blighted by war, just like others do. But I do not support the Royal British Legion. Instead I prefer a sister symbol that is equally as meaningful and as historically and ideologically valid, with the same underlying intention.

The white poppy has been around since 1933 and grew as a symbol of remembrance alongside – rather than later than – the red poppy. Crucially, the white poppy is an alternative to – not in opposition to – the red poppy. It is not a political symbol, certainly not a combative symbol of ‘the left’ but a quiet, traditional pacifist one. Pacifism is a non-threatening minority belief, often faith-led (such as with the Religious Society of Friends – the Quakers – from whom I learnt the history and significance of the white poppy).

That the red poppy has become so culturally ubiquitous makes no difference: I’m not being grandstanding or oppositional. I accept it is a non-conformist choice but I do not accept that anyone has an inalienable right to take offence at my different choice of symbol. And most importantly I do not want to just ignore this important week and wear nothing at all.

By the way, I don’t ‘oppose’ the RBL and I’m not making any criticism of that charitable organisation in this blog, however it is perfectly reasonable to choose not to support one particular charity. Most prefer the red poppy. That’s of course fine – and I agree that I too prefer to see people wearing a red poppy than nothing at all this week (although I’d never actually attack someone for not wearing a symbol, that would be ludicrous). But please do not be fooled by the current immense dominance of the RBL’s red poppy, into thinking that the other is somehow a lesser response, or that somehow one charity has ownership of the very concept of honouring those affected by war: it is simply not true. In truth, they grew together as they grow together in the ground and white and red poppies are different slants on the same desire to honour the fallen.

I honestly didn’t want to soapbox and I’m also aware that I’m the wrong person to write about it really, since I have such strident, politicised shouty opinions about other subjects; it ought to be someone else. I wish this was Judi Dench’s blog! Obviously, like most, I had family members who fought in the World Wars, though I shouldn’t have to mention this, to make it personal.

But this year I’ve read and experienced more aggressive opposition to the white poppy than in several years wearing one. And today I feel I must write something: the unpleasant straw that broke the camel’s back was this ignorant – non-explanatory yet idiotically, almost psychotically bullying – blog entry by The Telegraph‘s Damian Thompson, who asks that people actually make rude gestures towards those of us who’ve opted for the white poppy – or worse! I do think The Telegraph should be ashamed of such a malignant stance: to encourage assaulting someone for wearing a symbol of their belief is not only an act of cowardice but it’s an attack on exactly what previous generations fought to preserve. Mr Thompson, my experience of white poppy wearers is not of young, ranty or political hippie/lefty types at all: it is primarily of elderly (often with direct experience of war) Quakers. These are quietly some of the bravest, most stalwart and humble people we have in Britain. Furthermore their collective non-conformist, progressive thoughtfulness through our history has made great strides for our stumbling civilisation. If you doubt this, ask a descendent of slaves, or the grandchild of someone from the Friends Ambulance Unit, pacifist Quakers who went unarmed across the front lines of World War One to rescue the injured and reclaim the bodies.

If you truly can’t get over the appearance of the (occasional) white poppy in amongst the sea of red then, at least before sticking two fingers up at an ageing conscientious objector, or debasing your public forum with rude nonsense, please ask yourself this: what would you have us do? Would you prefer we wear no symbol of remembrance at all?

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not so bad

Last night, half-listening to – without watching – one of those TV programmes where bratty errant Brit kids are sent off to unusual camps run by caring Christian Americans…

What would happen if you tried to make today’s young generations fight the First World War? The thought is hilarious, beyond impossible; you’d get laughed at and resisted and ignored completely, with no amount of state or legal persuasion having any effect. And that’s good. When people suggest national service or say “we need a good war” (or even offer less militarised ideas such as civic duty or national community service) as solutions to the ‘problem’ of youngsters today, it has the opposite to the desired effect with me: reminds me that I’d rather see generations of venal, selfish (or at least self-aware/self-absorbed), materialist hoodie kids loping around the place, than the sort of generation who picked up guns, abandoned their families en masse and got on boats and planes without question, to go kill foreigners ‘for their country’.

Yes they’re admired for heroism and our kids miss out on that. But overwhelmingly, the vast masses on all sides were valueless cattle fodder who put themselves through the worst hell imaginable for unexplained ideologies and feuds, to prop up monumental injustices and inequalities of old, massively exploitative systems that they didn’t understand. The little shit with an iPod up too loud on the train doesn’t seem so bad.

True, there are serious, real problems at the extremes that need sorting out and rolling back; drink and drugs and knives, willful ignorance and burgeoning nihilism.

But I don’t think we ought to wish away fiery independence, or strong sense of self-worth, or noisy exuberance, as buffers to our ridiculous modern world.

And true, it’s worth looking back to those times for lost skills and humility as life gets harder.

But I don’t think we ought to over-worship the humble, thrifty, quiet, devoted, loyal, faithful, monstrously stupid motherfuckers who, when the aristocracy demanded, blindly shouldered the burden of killing that was World War One.

missing Morning Star piece: my Hitchens hell

I can’t find last week’s Morning Star column online, so maybe they didn’t run it, or maybe it was in the paper but not uploaded. Anyway, I liked it, so here it is:

I do wish someone would give the Hitchens brothers blunt weapons – Phillips screwdrivers perhaps – and lock them in a small room together until they’re both dead, Battle Royale-style. I don’t want to actually watch them stab each-other up, that would be disturbing. I just want it to happen quietly in the dark, so we can get on with our lives.

Like a veruca on each foot, Hitchens Mjr (social conservative god botherer) and Mnr (contrary ex-left pro-war piss artist) both popped up in unwelcome fashion last week and left me grinding my gears when they really didn’t warrant the attention.

First, Peter was inexplicably booked to appear on the BBC’s new Review Show. He’s long been a reserve team right-wing stalwart for Any Questions, wheeled out if Norman Tebbitt misses the bus. In fact I can even quite enjoy him in that context, since his every bluff horror about woman’s place or immigration is counter-balanced by an epic rageful put-down of Cameron’s new Tory softness.

But what on earth qualifies him to discuss the arts of any kind? Hitchens is so socially regressive he loathes it all, creativity itself is probably anathema and he has the artistic vibrancy of a dead cat on an ant’s nest. This was made abundantly clear in his lack of any coherent engagement with the work he was asked to review. At least, if you’re challenged by secular – pagan – art when you’re a Christian, have the stones to take it on its merits, like the sweetly stalwart Rev. Richard Coles does, without ever compromising his quietly determined faith-based perspective.

Once Peter is out in the open, yappy deep-fried brother Christopher has to emerge blinking from the hole too. Not to be outdone, suddenly Crispy was shouting to anyone who’d listen about how he and his mate Richard Dawkins were going to arrest the pope.

Well fucking done fella, great idea. Honestly, I know he hates God and his own clunky version of Dawkins’ book about how terrible religion is has made a decent splash. But if there’s one person we don’t need as a national humanist flagbearer of righteous anger towards Christian bigotry, it’s Inconsistent Hitchens.

I foresee a heavily PR’d deathbed conversion undermining all the good work, just to be annoying and catch some last hours’ attention. In fact, for the first time ever, I actually feel a modicum of sympathy for Ratzinger, as Hitchens puffs and preens, prior to embarking on his great pontiff-bait.

At least when Peter Tatchell tries to arrest people, he does it with class. Like with Mugabe, it’s the real deal, he gives it a proper go: rolls up his sleeves, a stealthy wriggle under the barriers, dives in head-first shouting about homophobia and then gets beaten shitless for his efforts. That’s commitment. Even Jack Straw managed a decent pop when he put the wind up Augusto Pinochet and made that old mass murderer’s final days satisfyingly itchier.

Feisty as Dawkins is, can you honestly imagine him taking on the bulletproof Vatican security mob? They’re Paul Bettany in the Da Vinci Code movie for god’s sake, all sharp angles, hidden weapons and self-harm. And I know Crispy has a masochist’s love for getting punched out by fascists (or at least, telling everyone he was) but the dude can barely walk up stairs, let alone jump in front of the popemobile.

Basically, Tatchell’s political citizens’ arrests were rock’n’roll, Dawkins and Hitchens will be Laurel and Hardy.

What they’re really into is phoning up some lawyer friends and then instigating yet another media discussion. At least it is – credit where it’s due – a chance to flag up the topic’s overlooked ambivalent legal issues.

But, well, yawn.

Give us Sinead O’Connor in 1992, tearing up a photo of the previous pope on American TV, then getting booed offstage at Madison Square Garden at a tribute gig for – if you can believe it – Bob Dylan. She hushed her band, then took the crowd on face-to-face with an a cappella version of Bob Marley’s ‘War’ that remains to this day one of history’s most singularly powerful moments of protest art.

Give us real action, not an ageing contrarian publicity stunt. No, I’m sorry, I didn’t expect to take this line: Not defending Rome for a second. The gradual mainstream realisation of what most right-thinking people have known for several hundred years – that the Catholic priesthood is on a moral par with the black hole of Calcutta – has been a phenomenally positive development and may even change things permanently. However, in self-absorption, Hitchens distracts from any real use: to properly challenge the fetid old Nazi and child abuse cover upper masquerading as the leader of the car crash that is that Church.

If any tag team should arrest the pope, it should be Robin Ince and Professor Brian Cox, at least then it will be amusing and a bit cute. Alternatively, let the Vatican’s London office hire brother of faith Peter Hitchens as a bodyguard and then mayhap we’ll get to see the bloodshed I wanted in the first place.

My column got spiked

Over the weekend I wrote my Morning Star column, which this week is about LSD. Then yesterday, for the first time, the editor refused to publish it. 

The subs told me: “Not that we’re anti-drugs or anything, but he reckons you’ve crossed a line by actively, massively advocating the stuff.”  

So I’ve written them something new, which I’ll email in the morning, though it’s probably too late for this week’s copy of the paper.

Meanwhile here’s the column they didn’t want. If you regularly read this blog but not my MS columns, it’s worth remembering this was written for print, not a blog, with their house style in mind (ie. it’s a bit different from most of my blog entries and not so readable onscreen!) and also it might be old hat because I’ve boffed on about this subject here already. But anyway… 

Chris thinks we should all get high.

Of all the illegal drugs that I think should be legalised – which is all of them – top of my wish list for a Get Out Of Jail Free card would be LSD.

I know when you argue for legalising drugs, you’re supposed to place your argument within the context of accepting that they are fundamentally a Bad Thing. Drugs are bad, m’kay?

I know legalisation or decriminalisation are meant to be presented as a strategic change-of-approach for combating drug use. I also know lots of people have ruined their lives by getting hopelessly addicted to substances, legal or illegal.

But with all that in mind, the point I want to make is: acid is bloody fantastic and, if you haven’t had a go before, I think your life would almost certainly improve if you tried some tomorrow.

What else have you got on? Get home from work and spend dinner time discussing whether Kate should’ve won The Apprentice, or why the nazis got two seats in Europe? Doesn’t sound like much fun to me. Then you’ll probably watch telly.

No access to a dealer? Ask anyone you know in the arts, or your scruffiest friend, or best of all, your kids’ coolest mate, to hook you up.

In one go, you’ll not only score but also your son or daughter will suddenly have fat kudos to spare, once the school rumour mill finds out their parents know how to party.

What you need is a warm summer evening, some trustworthy old friends and a pleasant field. Maybe take a picnic. Don’t try LSD out clubbing though, because you’ll get your head done in.

“Mind expanding” is a clichéd and vilified phrase, yet it is drop-dead accurate, when referring to acid. Apart from what you may get up to while you’re not quite in control – which is itself largely myth – it’s about as dangerous as a cup of coffee.

On acid, I have thought, visualised, smelled, heard and imagined in ways different to those which my mind was/is capable of straight. It’s not in any way a replacement for ‘real’ experience, however it is a powerful, memorable additional experience.

Cocaine is a drug about me, me, me. Marijuana is a drug about doing nothing and eating crisps. Booze is a drug about fighting, crying and kebabs. MDMA (ecstacy) is about hugging people on the dancefloor while the beat goes on.

But I believe LSD is a drug about tapping directly into whatever it is that we channel as creative. So, almost God then. A direct line to the part of our brain we most need more of in our existence.

By the way, sorry if the acronym “LSD” sounds scarily out-of-date and a bit faux-hippie, especially when most kids talk like an episode of The Wire and blow their allowances on ounces of cocaine.

I only started calling it LSD recently because I realised that when you say “acid” in the United States, quite a few people don’t actually know what you’re talking about. I guess the nickname never filtered across the Atlantic properly.

At the end of last year, I got back into acid as a creative tool, after a long, long break and I’ve been working on some improvised (mainly piano and electronic) music under its gorgeous influence, ever since. I set up recording equipment in the living room, get high and play piano or mess around with beats until I get bored and do something else. No idea whether it’s any good – only time will tell – but it’s a lot of fun and I feel that the rest of my creative life has been enrichened by the experiment.

Quite apart from unbanning the stuff, it should probably be on the national curriculum or added to MMR.

Amid the MPs’ expenses scandal, we’re finally beginning to understand the extent to which we, the public, can not know stuff. Conspiracists and engaged sceptics have understood this all along; that assuming huge, grand sleight-of-hand tricks upon the wider public can’t take place because of checks and balances is just poppycock.

So here comes the next layer – that they’re all junkies as well. Those who seek to control our personal behaviour through the making of laws are either rattled out of their minds on expensive whisky, snorting cocaine, or, it turns out, stealing every duck pond they can get their grubby mits on.

Let’s do a substance analysis of all the pipework in the Houses Of Parliament. If they don’t find just the fattest, fuck-off-est proportion of cocaine, I’ll be very surprised.

More than that, it’s a grand addiction to stuff. Material possessions as the mark of status – the classic capitalist fail. You know, the current recession is one of the biggest arguments I can think of for living the life you really want to live. Fuck the law and the fear of poverty; if there’s a thing you want to try or a place you need to visit, you’ve got to just do it.

And if that includes taking a beautiful hallucinogen that will make even just one evening unforgettable, then stop being such a pussy and go for it.

teaching creationism

Isn’t it funny how creationists always seem so… unevolved?
Bill Hicks

I feel quite sorry for the Royal Society’s director of education, Michael Reiss, for the heat he’s taken over the last few days, after his daft suggestion that, to appease a small minority of UK kids (still fewer than 10%) who have an in-built opposition to evolutionary theory (thanks to their upbringing), discussion of creationism should be included in science class.

He’s dead wrong of course. Strategically, morally and historically. And there’s a slight chance, I guess, that he’s deliberately stirring the pudding with Satan’s wooden spoon to cause problems for his fellow scientists. 

But let’s face it, he’s an old fella, it’s much more likely he’s just weary of the insanity, tired of allowing the subject to become the elephant in the room, and trying to plot a tidy, less stressful route through the mess.

One could almost begin to suspect that those stoking up the storm around his comments are trying to encourage creationist/unintelligent design elements to fight harder. It concerns me that the BBC and other media outlets (especially the liberal ones) gave the story such heady prominence, when Reiss’ original comments were just one bloke, and came couched in such careful terms.

Forget the inflammatory subject matter for a sec and look at this in general terms: since when did what kids believe when they show up at school have an effect on what teachers impart in class!? That’s right, they’re also adding Second Life to geography, pot-smoking to art class, emo studies to the RE curriculum and setting up a GCSE in Facebook apps.  

The subtext that really needs facing is this: kids with an inbuilt ‘disbelief’ in the overwhelming, extraordinarily compelling amount of evidence that backs up evolutionary theory have been brainwashed to a degree that comes close to child abuse by fanatically religious nutsack parents. They don’t need convincing, they need rescuing. End of.

I just discovered Poe’s Law, which relates originally to creationism but is now expanded to take in wider fundamentalism. First described by Nathan Poe in observation of debates on a religious website, the law states:

Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.

Poe’s Law leads inevitably to Poe’s Paradox, which infects almost all fundamentalist organisations of any size online:

In any fundamentalist group where Poe’s Law applies, a paradox exists where any new person (or idea) sufficiently fundamentalist to be accepted by the group, is likely to be so ridiculous that they risk being rejected as a parodist (or parody).

Beautiful. You really can’t argue with fundamentalists but you can snigger like mad as you walk the fuck away.

Let’s come at it from the other end. Instead of demanding the god botherers shut the fuck up about what ludicrous inanities they think should be taught, let’s add some of our own ‘truths’ into the mix.

The Norse or Greek creation myths, for example. Let’s teach Sherlock Holmes as historical fact – lots of kids turn up at school believing in Sherlock Holmes. And of course we need to teach the Presidency of Josiah Bartlett as historical truth – there’s as much real evidence for it as there is for the 8,000 year-old planet. It was on TV, for a start.