The origin of the Origin of Species

June 30, 2008 at 10:09 pm (history, Jim D, liberation, religion, science, secularism, socialism, truth)

Exactly 150 years ago, on 1st July 1858, the most revolutionary theory ever concieved by the human mind was revealed to the world. A combined reading of the writings of Alfred Russell Wallace and Charles Darwin was arranged at the Linnean Society in Piccadilly before an audience of amateur scientists. Both men had arrived, independently, at the same idea: natural selection. The following year Darwin would popularise his theory (I prefer to say “discovery”) by publishing On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, a book that has made an even greater contribution to human understanding and self-knowledge than Marx’s Capital . Wallace (for reasons too involved and contentious to go into here) never achieved Darwin’s fame and influence and is now largely forgotten. 

But in any case it’s the cold, beautiful and incredibly simple idea itself that matters. As Richard Dawkins writes in The Selfish Gene (Oxford, 1976):

“Intelligent life on a planet comes of age when it first works out the reason for its own existence. If superior creatures from space ever visit earth, the first question they will ask, in order to assess the level of our civilization, is: ‘Have they discovered evolution yet?’ Living organisms had existed on earth, without ever knowing why, for over three thousand years before the truth finally dawned on one of them. His name was Charles Darwin. To be fair, others had had inklings of the truth, but it was Darwin who first put together a coherent and tenable account of why we exist.”

Darwin’s big idea was, of course, attacked by most religions until its scientific credentials became so unassailable in the course of the Twentieth Century that mainstream religious authorities (in the West, anyway) had to find ways to reconcile themselves with evolution, leaving opposition to a minority of fundamentalist nutters and to non-Western religions (noteably of late, Islam). 

I’m also not forgetting that the Twentieth Century also brought the hideous aberration of “social Darwinism”, used to justify all manner of brutality and barbarism, up to and including Nazism.

Why should any of this matter to socialists? Well, it’s been a recurring and unifying theme of this blog that rational, scientific thought is an essential prerequisite for any sort of socialism worthy of the name. Marx referred to Darwinism as the eqivalent in natural history to his and Engels’ approach to history (see letter to Engels, 19 December 1860) and even presented a copy of Capital to Darwin, inscribed from “his sincere admirer”. Perhaps more importantly, it is impossible to concieve of an effective socialist movement (as opposed to individuals) that has not based itself upon rational, enlightenment values and embraced basic scientific truths like evolution and atheism. That’s why I for one get so impatient with the relativists and their supposedly “Marxist” apologists (one or two of whom comment here from time to time), who downgrade rationalism and enlightenment values, apparently in the cause of appeasing religious fundamentalists and other ignorant people. We cannot assume that the battle has been won and lapse into complacency, especially now that the forces of ignorance have been augmented by the relativists and some would-be “Marxists”.

Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London recently told the Observer : “Today I get dozens of students who ask to be excused lectures on evolution because of their religious beliefs. They even accuse me of telling lies when I say natural selection is backed by the facts. So I ask if they believe in Mendel’s laws of genetics? They say yes, of course. And the existence of DNA? Again, yes. And genetic mutations?  Yes. The spread of insecticide resistance? Yes. The divergence of isolated populations on Islands? Yes. And do you accept that 98 per cent of DNA is shared by humans and chimps? Again yes. So what’s wrong with natural selection? It’s all lies, they say. It beats me…(but) it’s a passing phase. In 20 years , this nonsense will have gone.”

Let’s hope he’s right.

For more on Darwin,  visit here, here, here and here


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Stoopid blog thread of the day

June 29, 2008 at 10:10 pm (blogging, blogosphere, voltairespriest, wankers)

Of course, it had to be at Nooman’s.Shame and all because (uniquely amongst Nooman’s chums) I quite like most of what that Derek Wall chappie from the Green party posts. Still, it’s not really his fault – a post that is basically a quote from Mumia Abu-Jamal turns into a thread that centres around whether David T et al from Harry’s Place are in favour of voting BNP. Which they’re clearly not. Once again the intellectual vanguard of “Respect Renewal” fail to grasp the difference between a commenter and an author.

But then maybe in the more batshit bowels of bloggery, persepctives differ (putting it kindly) from those which most of us would hold.

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Free Parking for Elmer Gantry

June 29, 2008 at 10:34 am (parasites, politics, religion, secularism, voltairespriest)

Oh yes, this one’ll have had them dancing in the aisles. In a sign of the increasing reliance of government and local authorities upon the good will of spurious “faith groups” and self-appointed “community leaders”, it seems they’re quite literally going to get a free pass. Well, a heavily subsidised one anyway, as Barnet council intends to offer clerics and worshippers heavily discounted parking passes in the borough if they regularly use them for “faith business”.

I think this sounds like a sure signal to “faith groups” and “community leaders” that the lid on the pork barrel is being prized ever further open. Perhaps soon we’ll see supermarkets being forced to discount goods for “religious diets”? Maybe garden centres being forced to give away free palm crosses? The possibilities are endless.

But seriously though, what I want to know is what is so important about travelling to or from a gathering of religious people, that makes it so much more deserving of such privileged treatment than any other gathering. My understanding of a secular country was always in part that people are supposed to be treated equally under the law, whether they be of any faith or none. If we’re now getting to the point of privileging niche groups then I may as well toddle off and join one. I can state from previous experience that the Hare Krishnas make a banging veg curry and are (by and large) a genuinely nice bunch of folks. So Hare Krishna. Now where’s my parking pass, access to ministers, guaranteed media exposure, treatment as an “expert” on any given social issue of the day etc?

Of course, there will be those on the left who may well think this is OK, largely because they simply don’t understand the relationship between religious figures and lay communities in the UK. I’ll mention no names but I’m sure you can take a wild guess of two. It’s just a further sign of the decline in left wing politics here.

On that happy note, enjoy your roast chicken everyone, and don’t forget to say hi to the congregation!

(Hat-Tip for BBC story: Butterflies and Wheels)

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When “My Enemy’s Enemy” doesn’t apply

June 27, 2008 at 7:45 pm (abortion, Catholicism, Feminism, insanity, labour party, voltairespriest)

PhotobucketAs you all know, this blog is not supportive of the established Churches (nor indeed of most religious institutions). Indeed, that is one of the few points where I would assume Jim, Tami and myself to be unanimous. However it’s equally the case that none of us has ever simply endorsed the notion that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. Ergo, I simply cannot help but link to a post which I noticed earlier today, by one of my own sparring partners on the abortion issue, Red Maria.

She appears to have acquired from one source or another (whether over wine at a bar or at Communion I couldn’t say) a proposal from the office of Mary Honeyball MEP, a member of the European Parliament Women’s Right’s Committee, for an opinion piece on the Catholic Church’s role in UK politics. It was sent to the editors of “prominent political publications”. It is, quite simply, one of the most astounding pieces of conspiracist paranoia that I’ve seen from a mainstream politician in all my time as an afficionado of these things. Have a look at Maria’s post and judge for yourselves.

Perhaps my favourite line (in the sense of that delicious gut wrench you got whilst watching a murder scene at a horror movie when you were a kid) is this:

Analyse this grip that the Catholic Church has on Parliament, media and public sphere and blocks to mounting a counter offense
Eg. Church has massive army dedicated volunteers who will blog, amend top google searches for abortion to only pro-life sites by their nature hummanists/non-religious people not as co-ordinated or spurred on to act.

Still don’t get why Honeyball’s article is so bad? OK, replace “Catholic Church” with “Jews” or “Muslims”. Feeling the bile rising now, in that vomit-belch way? You betcha, baby.

I’ll never support the stances of Catholic MPs who vote for laws which force the entire country in the direction of adhering to their own personal belief systems. But then I’d take the same attitude towards anyone of any religion, because I don’t believe in religious control of the state. That having been said, I also believe in freedom of religious belief and practice under secular law, and the notion of a Catholic conspiracy is as offensive as it is ludicrous.

Mary Honeyball MEP, please accept the Shiraz Socialist Order of the Tinfoil Hat. Congratulations!

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They think it’s all over…

June 27, 2008 at 6:22 am (elections, labour party, left, voltairespriest)

Gordon Brownit is now! The Labour party may have been expecting a poor result in historically Tory Henley-Upon-Thames, but to come fifth with barely over 3% of the vote, behind both the Greens and the BNP, is a humiliation of historic proportions. This is the case not least because the story is breaking on the first anniversary of Gordon Brown’s first anniversary in power.

Hot on the heels of the 42-day vote which was passed only on the back of grubby negotiations with the ultra-reactionary Democratic Unionists, not to mention the crushing defeat in “Labour safe” Crewe and Nantwich as well as the kicking received in this year’s Council elections, left-of-centre Labour MPs must be wondering whether even the supple-spined Jon Cruddas would be able to launch a leadership challenge to the floundering bozo who currently heads the government. Not that they’d actually do anything about it, you understand, but they’ll be wondering.

Either way, it would all seem to point to the fact that the public is way ahead of the left on one key point: this Labour Party is not worthy of ordinary people’s votes. And from the left’s perspective, the scales should now be falling from more people’s eyes – the Labour Party is no longer a viable vehicle for progressive politics in this country. The sooner we realise it, the sooner we can get on with the long, arduous and complex task of building something better.

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RCP hegemonise The Moral Maze

June 25, 2008 at 10:21 pm (cults, Jim D, media, perversity, rcp, serbia, strange situations, Uncategorized)

I’ve just been listening to Radio 4’s The Moral Maze – supposedly an up-market, intellekshul discussion of matters ethical. This week the debate was supposed to be about Zimbabwe and “who’s to blame?”

It was crap. Mainly because (in the absence of  “Mad Mel“) the programme was dominated by longstanding Moral Maze ethics girl Claire Fox of the so-called ‘Institute of Ideas’, backed up by new boy Kenan Malik, whose qualifications and affiliations were not divulged (the other two panellists were Catholic theologian Clifford Longley and ex-Tory cabinet minister Michael Portillo) .

Kanan Malik is a very interesting fellow, who has written some good stuff about racism, secularism and equality. So why was he lamely (and, it seemed to me, embarrassedly) backing up Claire Fox’s crass “anti-imperialist” excuses for Mugabe? Could it possibly be because Malik, for all his erudition, is a member of the same organisation as Claire Fox? They’re both members of the bizarre ex-Marxist outfit led by Professor Frank Furedi (University of Kent), that started out as the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), became ‘Living Marxism’ (LM Group) and now operates as an ostensibly ‘libertarian’ outfit  through such front organisations as The ‘Institute of Ideas’, ‘Spiked-online’ , ‘Sense about Science’ (who famously upset George Monbiot by denying the reality of global warming) and the ‘Manifesto Club’ (now much favoured by London Mayor Boris Johnson).

Their other claim to fame is (for all their proclaimed ‘libertarianism’) acting as opologists for some of the vilest and most genocidal regimes and dictators in recent history – notably in 1992 when (operating as ‘Living Marxism’) they attempted to defend Serb ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and claimed that ITN journalists had fabricated a report and photographs of the Serb concentraton camp at Trpopolje. ‘Living Marxism’ and its editor, Mick Hulme (now a columnist on Murdoch’s Times, but still part of the ex-RCP organisation), lost a libel action brought by ITN, closed down the magazine and went online as Spiked online.

Since then the ex-RCP has renounced the remnance of its Marxist/Trotskyist past, positioned itself as ‘libertarian’ and ‘iconoclastic’ (actually, its claim to be ‘iconoclastic’ is mainly pretence, as Claire Fox’s banal standard-issue “anti imperialism” – aka defence of national sovereignty as an absolute principle – on the Moral Maze regularly demonstrates) and concentrated upon infiltrating the bourgeois media. They’ve had some success, what with Mick Hulme’s column in the Times , Living Marxism’s former Science Correspondent John Gillott conning Channel 4 into giving him and fellow RCP’er Martin Durkin a series, and Prof Ferudi popping up all over the place on Radio 4 to comment on such matters as the excesses of Health and Safety legislation and the dangers of mollycoddling your kids.

But the crowning triumph – so far – of the RCP is their colonisation of Radio 4’s Moral Maze. Not only is Claire Fox an established permanent panel member, but she now seems to be able to bring on ‘deps’ like Kanan Malik whenever one of the other regulars is away. So, this week, 50 per cent of the Moral Maze panel was RCP! I must get on to Mad Mel about this…

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RMT votes for solidarity not boycott on Israel / Palestine

June 25, 2008 at 8:05 pm (AWL, class, israel, Jim D, left, palestine, unions)

Good news from the RMT (rail union) Annual General Meeting: they’ve voted by more than a two thirds majority for a two states, anti-Hamas postion on Israel / Palestine, and overturned the union’s previous policy which advocated a boycott of Israel.

This may not seem a particularly big deal, as it merely reiterates the traditional position of left-wingers, secularists and progressives in the Middle East itself. However, in the UK (and to a lesser extent elsewhere in Western Europe and the US), there has in recent years been a concerted drive to delegitimise the state of Israel, reject “two states” and offer de facto support to anti-semitic, clerical fascist forces like Hamas. This tendency (spearheaded by the British SWP and other “left” anti-semites) has usually taken the form of the call to boycott Israel and has achieved limited success at the national conferences of some UK unions, most recently and notoriously the UCU.

The RMT victory is particularly significant because it overturned the existing pro-boycott position of the union and because (unlike most of the unions which have passed pro-boycott motions recently), there was a proper debate and none of the usual abuse and accusations of Zionist conspiracies, etc, etc. It was also remarkable to see RMT General Secretary Bob Crow defeated on the question of the boycott – the only issue on which he has (so far) lost a vote at the AGM.

The Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) were a major force (though not alone) in organising to win the debate and the vote; AWL supporter Janine Booth comments:

“I think we won…because of leading on condemnation of Israel’s action and support for the Palestinians, then pitching the issue in terms of unity and solidarity (trade union principles) versus boycott (passive and divisive).”

NB: While we’re on the subject of the RMT: London Underground cleaners, organised by that union, will be on strike tomorrow (26th June) and again on 1st and 2nd July, demanding £7.20 per hour (the GLA minimum wage), proper sick pay, final salary pensions and proper disciplinary procedures. These mainly migrant workers will welcome support on their picket lines, especially on their night shifts at major stations from 10pm. If you want to help, contact

h/t for the cleaners stuff: Stroppy

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Where’ve yer posters gone…

June 23, 2008 at 10:51 pm (blogosphere, trivia, voltairespriest, wankers)

… you all can finish the rest of the chant, which is addressed to my old “friend” William Rubbish.

In some ways it’s a classic study in the decline of a sad and misanthropic man. After all, if you can’t even keep your friends close then what hope do you have with your enemies?

Once again, more in sadness than in anger… oh, who the fuck am I kidding? It’s really, really funny!

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“No To This Sort Of Thing!”

June 22, 2008 at 6:55 pm (abortion, Europe, insanity, Jim D, perversity, strange situations, truth)

The political basis of the “No to Lisbon” campaign:

John Palmer talks sense about the profoundly reactionary nature of the “No” campaign,  here

…or, as Ollie says: “Thanks for the cash: now feck off!”

Unfortunately, the anti-Lisbon “Down With This Sort Of Thing” campaign succeeded.

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60 years on: let’s honour the ‘Windrush generation’

June 22, 2008 at 3:08 pm (Anti-Racism, history, Human rights, immigration, Jim D)

60 years ago today, the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury, bringing 492 men from Jamaica and Trinidad to what they thought of as the “mother land”.

These were not, of course, the first black people in Britain. According to Gretchen Gerzina’s ‘Black England – Life before Emancipation’, “most historians  give 1555, when five Africans arrived to learn English and thereby facilitate trade, as the beginning of a continual black presence in Britain. By 1596 there were so many black people in England that Queen Elizabeth issued an edict demanding that they leave.”

What’s significant about the ‘Windrush generation’ is that their arrival marked the beginning of what has become known as “multicultural Britain” (and I have no intention of going into the various arguments about the precise definition of “multiculturalism” here): the idea that non-white people from the old Empire have a right to come to Britain and to be treated as equal citizens, whilst retaining aspects of their previous cultures.

Many of the Windrush arrivals were servicemen who’d fought for Britain in the second world war. A lot of them intended to rejoin the RAF , and few intended to stay more than a few years.

The Guardian‘s ‘Special Correspondant’: reported at the time:

 “And what made them leave Jamaica? In most cases, lack of work. They spoke independently, but unanimously, of a blight that has come upon the West Indies since those who served America and Britain during the war returned home. The cost of living is high, wages are low. Many can earn no wages. Some have been unemployed foe two years. One of them considered his chances in Britain (he was a builder), and said laconically, ‘If I survive, good; if I don’t survive – so good.’ Another, lacking his philosophy, said with a bitterness unusual in the company, ‘When the situation is desperate you take a chance – you don’t wait until you die.'”  

There was plenty of work for the new arrivals (Britain was in the grip of a labour shortage), though almost always the most menial jobs, usually well below their skills and qualifications. They found work in local authorities (refuse collection, etc), the NHS and London Transport. But accomodation was short and this caused conflict as racists stirred up trouble in the areas where the new arrivals settled, especially Brixton and Notting Hill. They found colour bars in clubs, pubs (“No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish”) and housing. Racist attacks became more common, culminating in the 1958 Notting Hill riots instigated by organised racist gangs. The Immigration Act of April 1962 began the current process of formal racism – the laws which discriminate against black immigrants, barring almost all immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent, except those joining close family here.

But let’s for now, remember those Windrush arrivals sixty years ago. They were not all heroes or even particularly admirable people. They were just human beings like the rest of us, trying to do the best for themselves and their families. The Guardian‘s man got it about right:

“They are, then, as heterodox a collection of humanity as one might find. Some will be good workers, some bad. Many are ‘serious minded persons’ anxious to succeed. No doubt the folk poets will find fit audiences somewhere. So will the complete dance-band which is journeying to Liverpool at this moment. And the boxer, who is going to meet his manager at Birkenhead, will surely find fights in plenty. Not all intend to settle in Britain; a 40-year-old tailor, for example, hopes to stay here for a year, and then go on and make his home in Liberia.

“Their arrival has added to the worries of Mr. Isaacs and the trade union leaders. But the more worldly-wise among them are conscious of the deeper problem posed. Britain has welcomed displaced persons and has given employment to Poles who cannot go home. ‘This is right,’ said one of the immigrants. ‘Surely then, there is nothing against our coming, for we are British subjects. If there is -is it because we are coloured?”

And just to jolly things up, here’s some calypso from ‘Lord Kitchener’, who was (I believe) on the Windrush:

Acknowledgements: Jeni Bailey (Youth Fightback/Socialist Organiser pamphlet ‘How To Beat The Racists’, 1993), and the late Peter Fryer (‘Staying Power’ , Pluto Press, 1984).



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