Patrick Crozier and I talk about French military disappointments (and so does Antoine Clarke)

These disappointments happened in 1870, 1914, 1917, 1940, 1944(?) and 1954. We don’t talk about them in chronological order, because we started with 1914, which was the failed French Ardennes offensive, right at the start of World War 1. But events in all of those years get a mention.

Listen to our conversation here, where there is also lots of further detail from Patrick. Under where it says “Notes” there are 20 items of relevant information, any one of which could have been expanded into a decent blog posting in its own right.

But hello, what’s this? It’s a conversation between Patrick and our mutual friend Antoine Clarke, whom Patrick and I mentioned in our conversation, several times. This was recorded nearly a decade ago. Not having heard it before, I listened to it last night, further delaying me in putting up this posting.

My main reaction to what Antoine said is that, clearly, what I said about how the French “self image” switched, in Parisian artistic circles, from warmonger to peacenik, took its time spreading to the rest of the country. Antoine talks vividly about his ancestors telling their children that the reason they were born was to get Alsace-Lorraine back from the Germans. Also, he said fascinating things about reparations. French had to pay reparations to get the Germans out of France after the 1870 disaster. And they paid the lot, and the Germans left, far quicker than had been expected. Everyone chipped in voluntarily. I knew none of this.

In general, I think that following our chat about Lockdown, Patrick and I showed a return to form, assuming I’m allowed to say that. Maybe you’ll think better of our Lockdown chat than I do, but for me the trouble with that was that all I recall us doing was expressing our own opinions, much as anyone listening could have done for himself. But people listening need to be told at least some things they didn’t already know, just like Antoine does in his talk with Patrick, for instance with all that stuff about reparations that I knew nothing about. At least, when we talked about France, Patrick and I had read interesting books which people listening might not have read. Patrick had been reading this book, and I’d been reading this book. (I copied both those links from Patrick’s Notes.) That may not be anything like an eyewitness account following one of us having been present as a small child at Dien Bien Phu, or a great uncle reminiscing about bombing French civilians following the D-Day landings. But it is something.

Plague column

When you live in times which are described with unfamiliar words, you learn about unfamiliar things:

That’s the Plague Column in Vienna, built with great and greatly prolonged effort to commemorate a plague that struck in 1679. It was finally inaugurated in 1694.

Those of us who are using the word “plague” to describe what’s happening now are being blackly humorous. There’s the definite suggestion of irony quotes. What sort of plague is it that seems to kill less than one percent of those who get it? They weren’t being ironic about plague back then.

Rodney Stark defends God’s Battalions

Recently I quoted a chunk from Emmanuel Todd’s Lineages of Modernity, in the course of which chunk Todd praised the historian Rodney Stark. I looked up Stark on Amazon and encountered a familiar book cover. I realised that I already possessed Stark’s book defending the Crusades, entitled God’s Battalions: The Case For The Crusades.

Here is the Introduction of that book, entitled “Greedy barbarians in armor?”:

ON NOVEMBER 27, 1095, Pope Urban II mounted a platform set up in a meadow outside the French city of Clermont, surrounded in all directions by an immense crowd. A vigorous man of fifty-three, Urban was blessed with an unusually powerful and expressive voice that made it possible for him to be heard at a great distance. On this memorable occasion, addressing a multitude that included poor peasants as well as nobility and clergy, the pope gave a speech that changed history.

Urban had arranged the gathering in response to a letter from Alexius Comnenus, emperor of Byzantium, who had written from his embattled capital of Constantinople to the Count of Flanders requesting that he and his fellow Christians send forces to help the Byzantines repel the Seljuk Turks, recent converts to Islam who had invaded the Middle East, captured Jerusalem, and driven to within one hundred miles of Constantinople. In his letter, the emperor detailed gruesome tortures of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land and vile desecrations of churches, altars, and baptismal fonts. Should Constantinople fall to the Turks, not only would thousands more Christians be murdered, tortured, and raped, but also “the most holy relics of the Saviour,” gathered over the centuries, would be lost. “Therefore in the name of God … we implore you to bring this city all the faithful soldiers of Christ … [I]n your coming you will find your reward in heaven, and if you do not come, God will condemn you.”

There were many reasons that Europeans might have ignored any plea for help from Byzantium. For one thing, their cultural heritage as well as their Christianity was Roman, while the Byzantines were Greeks, whose lifestyle seemed decadent to Europeans and whose “Orthodox” Christianity held Latin Catholicism in contempt-often persecuting its priests and practitioners. Nevertheless, when Pope Urban 11 read this letter he was determined that it be answered by worthy deeds, and he arranged for a church council at Clermont, which he followed with his famous speech.

Speaking in French, the pope began by graphically detailing the torture, rape, and murder of Christian pilgrims and the defilement of churches and holy places committed by the Turks (he called them Persians): “They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanness. They circumcise the Christians, and the blood of the circumcision they either pour on the altars or pour into the vases of the baptismal font. When they wish to torture people by a base death, they perforate their navels, and dragging forth the extremity of the intestines, bind it to a stake; then with flogging they lead the victim around until the viscera having gushed forth the victim falls prostrate on the ground … What shall I say about the abominable rape of women? To speak of it is worse than to be silent. On whom therefore is the labor of avenging these wrongs and recovering this territory incumbent, if not upon you?”

At this point Pope Urban raised a second issue to which he and his illustrious predecessor Gregory VII had devoted years of effort – the chronic warfare of medieval times. The popes had been attempting to achieve a “truce of God” among the feudal nobility, many of whom seemed inclined to make war, even on their friends, just for the sake of a good fight. After all, it was what they had trained to do every day since early childhood. Here was their chance! “Christian warriors, who continually and vainly seek pretexts for war, rejoice, for you have today found a true pretext … If you are conquered, you will have the glory of dying in the very same place as Jesus Christ, and God will never forget that he found you in the holy battalions … Soldiers of Hell, become soldiers of the living God!”

Now, shouts of “Dieu li volt!” (God wills it!) began to spread through the crowd, and men began to cut up cloaks and other pieces of cloth to make crosses and sew them against their chests. Everyone agreed that the next year they would set out for the Holy Land. And they did.

That is the traditional explanation of how and why the First Crusade began. But in recent times a far more cynical and sinister explanation of the Crusades has gained popularity. Thus, in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center by Muslim terrorists, frequent mention was made of the Crusades as a basis for Islamic fury. It was argued that Muslim bitterness over their mistreatment by the Christian West can be dated back to the First Crusade. Far from being motivated by piety or by concern for the safety of pilgrims and the holy places in Jerusalem, the Crusades were but the first extremely bloody chapter in a long history of brutal European colonialism.

More specifically, it is charged that the crusaders marched east not out of idealism, but in pursuit of lands and loot; that the Crusades were promoted by power-mad popes seeking to greatly expand Christianity through conversion of the Muslim masses; and that the knights of Europe were barbarians who brutalized everyone in their path, leaving “the enlightened Muslim culture … in ruins.” As Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, D.C., has suggested, “the Crusades created a historical memory which is with us today – the memory of a long European onslaught.”

Two months after the attack of September II, 2001, on New York City, former president Bill Clinton informed an audience at Georgetown University that “[tjhose of us who come from various European lineages are not blameless” vis-à-vis the Crusades as a crime against Islam, and then summarized a medieval account about all the blood that was shed when Godfrey of Bouillon and his forces conquered Jerusalem in 1099.

That the Crusades were a terrible crime in great need of atonement was a popular theme even before the Islamic terrorists crashed their hijacked airliners. In 1999, the New York Times had solemnly proposed that the Crusades were comparable to Hitler’s atrocities or to the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. That same year, to mark the nine hundredth anniversary of the crusader conquest of Jerusalem, hundreds of devout Protestants took part in a “reconciliation walk” that began in Germany and ended in the Holy Land. Along the way the walkers wore T-shirts bearing the message “I apologize” in Arabic. Their official statement explained the need for a Christian apology:

Nine hundred years ago, our forefathers carried the name of Jesus Christ in battle across the Middle East. Fueled by fear, greed, and hatred … the Crusaders lifted the banner of the Cross above your people … On the anniversary of the First Crusade … we wish to retrace the footsteps of the Crusaders in apology for their deeds … We deeply regret the atrocities committed in the name of Christ by our predecessors. We renounce greed, hatred and fear, and condemn all violence done in the name of Jesus Christ.

Also in 1999, Karen Armstrong, a former nun and a popular writer on religious themes, proposed that “crusading answered a deep need in the Christians of Europe. Yet today most of us would unhesitantly condemn the Crusades as unchristian. After all, Jesus told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them. He was a pacifist and had more in common with Gandhi, perhaps, than with Pope Urban.” Armstrong went on to propose that, in fact, “holy war is a deeply Christian act,” since Christianity has “an inherent leaning toward violence, despite the pacifism of Jesus.” And a prominent former priest, James Carroll, agreed, charging that the Crusades left a “trail of violence [that] scars the earth and human memory even to this day.”

These are not new charges. Western condemnations of the Crusades were widespread during the “Enlightenment,” that utterly misnamed era during which French and British intellectuals invented the “Dark Ages” in order to glorify themselves and vilify the Catholic Church (see chapter 3). Hence, Voltaire (1694-1778) called the Crusades an “epidemic of fury which lasted for two hundred years and which was always marked by every cruelty, every perfidy, every debauchery, and every folly of which human nature is capable.” According to David Hume (1711-1776), the Crusades were “the most signal and most durable monument to human folly that has yet appeared in any age or nation.” Denis Diderot (1713-1784) characterized the Crusades as “a time of the deepest darkness and of the greatest folly … to drag a significant part of the world into an unhappy little country in order to cut the inhabitants’ throats and seize a rocky peak which was not worth one drop of blood.” These attacks also reinforced the widespread “Protestant conviction that crusading was yet another expression of Catholic bigotry and cruelty?” Thus the English historian Thomas Fuller (1608-1661) claimed that the Crusades were all the pope’s doing and that this “war would be the sewer of Christendom” in that it attempted to deprive the Muslims of their lawful possession of Palestine.

However, the notion that the crusaders were early Western imperialists who used a religious excuse to seek land and loot probably was originated by the German Lutheran church historian Johann Lorenz von Mosheim (1693-1755), who wrote: “The Roman pontiffs and the European princes were engaged at first in these crusades by a principle of superstition only, but when in the process of time they learnt by experience that these holy wars contributed much to increase their opulence and to extend their authority … [then] ambition and avarice seconded and enforced the dictates of fanaticism and superstition.” Mosheim’s views were echoed by Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), who claimed that the crusaders really went in pursuit of “mines of treasures, of gold and diamonds, of palaces of marble and jasper, and of odoriferous groves of cinnamon and frankincense.”

During the twentieth century, this self-interest thesis was developed into an elaborate “materialist” account of why the Crusades took place.” The prolific Geoffrey Barraclough (1908-1984) wrote: “[O]ur verdict on the Crusades [is that it amounted to] colonial exploitation.” Or, as Karen Armstrong confided, these “were our first colonies.” A more extensive and sophisticated material explanation of why the knights went east was formulated by Hans Eberhard Mayer, who proposed that the Crusades alleviated a severe financial squeeze on Europe’s “knightly class.” According to Mayer and others who share his views, at this time there was a substantial and rapidly growing number of “surplus” sons, members of noble families who would not inherit and whom the heirs found it increasingly difficult to provide with even modest incomes. Hence, as Mayer put it, “the Crusade acted as a kind of safety valve for the knightly class … a class which looked upon the Crusade as a way of solving its material problems.” Indeed, a group of American economists recently proposed that the crusaders hoped to get rich from the flow of pilgrims (comparing the shrines in Jerusalem with modern amusement parks) and that the pope sent the crusaders east in pursuit of “new markets” for the church, presumably to be gained by converting people away from Islam.” It is thus no surprise that a leading college textbook on Western civilization informs students: “From the perspective of the pope and European monarchs, the crusades offered a way to rid Europe of contentious young nobles … [who] saw an opportunity to gain territory, riches, status, possibly a title, and even salvation.”

To sum up the prevailing wisdom: during the Crusades, an expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam.

Not so. As will be seen, the Crusades were precipitated by Islamic provocations: by centuries of bloody attempts to colonize the West and by sudden new attacks on Christian pilgrims and holy places. Although the Crusades were initiated by a plea from the pope, this had nothing to do with hopes of converting Islam. Nor were the Crusades organized and led by surplus sons, but by the heads of great families who were fully aware that the costs of crusading would far exceed the very modest material rewards that could be expected; most went at immense personal cost, some of them knowingly bankrupting themselves to go. Moreover, the crusader kingdoms that they established in the Holy Land, and that stood for nearly two centuries, were not colonies sustained by local exactions; rather, they required immense subsidies from Europe.

In addition, it is utterly unreasonable to impose modern notions about proper military conduct on medieval warfare; both Christians and Muslims observed quite different rules of war. Unfortunately, even many of the most sympathetic and otherwise sensible historians of the Crusades are unable to accept that fact and are given to agonizing over the very idea that war can ever be “just,” revealing the pacifism that has become so widespread among academics. Finally, claims that Muslims have been harboring bitter resentments about the Crusades for a millennium are nonsense: Muslim antagonism about the Crusades did not appear until about 1900, in reaction against the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the onset of actual European colonialism in the Middle East. And anti-crusader feelings did not become intense until after the founding of the state of Israel. These are principal themes of the chapters that follow.

Historians disagree about which events were Crusades and therefore about when they occurred. I exclude the “crusades” against heretics in Europe and accept the conventional definition: that the Crusades involved conflicts between Christendom and Islam for control of the Holy Land, campaigns that occurred between 1095 and 1291. However, unlike most conventional Crusade historians, I shall not begin with the pope’s appeal at Clermont, but with the rise of Islam and the onset of the Muslim invasions of Christendom. That’s when it all started-in the seventh century, when Islamic armies swept over the larger portion of what was then Christian territory: the Middle East, Egypt and all of North Africa, and then Spain and southern Italy, as well as many major Mediterranean islands including Sicily, Corsica, Cyprus, Rhodes, Crete, Malta, and Sardinia. It also is important to examine the Christian counterattacks that began in the eighth century and soon “liberated” many of the occupied areas, for these were previews of the military confrontations that eventually took place in the Holy Land. Nor shall I merely recount the crusader battles, for they are comprehensible only in light of the superior culture and technology that made it possible for European knights to march more than twenty-five hundred miles, to suffer great losses along the way, and then to rout far larger Muslim forces.

Many superb historians have devoted their careers to studying aspects of the Crusades.” I am not one of them. What I have done is synthesize the work of these specialists into a more comprehensive perspective, written in prose that is accessible to the general reader. However, I have been careful to fully acknowledge the contributions of the many experts on whom I have depended, some in the text and the rest in the endnotes.

Anton Howes on the Agglomerationists

I tried picking out bits of the recently penned essay by Anton Howes entitled The Agglomerationists, but it contains nothing I am willing to omit. Almost every sentence is something I find myself wanting to think about, out loud, here. Obliged quickly to name a single summary of what this blog of mine is all about, or is trying to be, I might very well just say: that.

Just as a for-instance what Howes says fits with what Stephen Davies has been saying on similar matters like two adjacent pieces of a puzzle.

So, here is “The Agglomerationists”, all of it. I’ll surely be referring back to this and quoting bits of it for quite some while:

The other day, economic historian Tim Leunig tagged me into a comment on twitter with the line “intellectually I think the biggest change since settled agriculture was the idea that most people could live in cities and not produce food”. What’s interesting about that, I think, is the idea that this was not just an economic change, but an intellectual one. In fact, I’ve been increasingly noticing a sort of ideology, if one can call it that, which seemingly took hold in Britain in the late sixteenth century and then became increasingly influential. It was not the sort of ideology that manifested itself in elections, or even in factions, but it was certainly there. It had both vocal adherents and strenuous opponents, the adherents pushing particular policies and justifying them with reference to a common intellectual tradition. Indeed, I can think of many political and economic commentators who are its adherents today, whether or not they explicitly identify as such.

Today, the people who hold this ideology will occasionally refer to themselves as “urbanists”. They are in favour of large cities, large populations, and especially density. They believe strongly in what economists like to call “agglomeration effects” — that is, if you concentrate people more closely together, particularly in cities, then you are likely to see all sorts of benefits from their interactions. More ideas, more trade, more innovation, more growth.

Yet urbanism as a word doesn’t quite capture the full scope of the ideology. The group also heavily overlaps with natalists — people who think we should all have more babies, regardless of whether they happen to live in cities — and a whole host of other groups, from pro-immigration campaigners, to people setting up charter cities, to advocates of cheaper housing, to enthusiasts for mass transit infrastructure like buses, trams, or trains. The overall ideology is thus not just about cities per se — it seems a bit broader than that. Given the assumptions and aims that these groups hold in common, perhaps a more accurate label for their constellation of opinions and interests would be agglomerationism.

So much for today. What is the agglomerationist intellectual tradition? In the sixteenth century, one of the mantras that keeps cropping up is the idea that “the honour and strength of a prince consists in the multitude of the people” — a sentiment attributed to king Solomon. It’s a phrase that keeps cropping up in some shape or form throughout the centuries, and used to justify a whole host of agglomerationist policies. And most interestingly, it’s a phrase that begins cropping up when England was not at all urban, in the mid-sixteenth century — only about 3.5% of the English population lived in cities in 1550, far lower than the rates in the Netherlands, Italy, or Spain, each of which had urbanisation rates of over 10%. Even England’s largest city by far, London, was by European standards quite small. Both Paris and Naples were at least three times as populous (don’t even mention the vast sixteenth-century metropolises of China, or Constantinople).

Given their lack of population or density, English agglomerationists had a number of role models. One was the city of Nuremburg — through manufactures alone, it seemed, a great urban centre had emerged in a barren land. Another was France, which in the early seventeenth century seemed to draw in the riches to support itself through sheer exports. One English ambassador to France in 1609 noted that its “corn and grain alone robs all Spain of their silver and gold”, and warned that it was trying to create still new export industries like silk-making and tapestry weaving. (The English rapidly tried to do the same, though with less success.) France may not have been especially urban either, but Paris was already huge and on the rise, and the country’s massive overall population made it “the greatest united and entire force of any realm or dominion” in Christendom. Today, the population of France and Britain are about the same, but in 1600 France’s was about four times as large. Some 20 millions compared to a paltry 5. If Solomon was right, then England had a lot of catching up to do to even approach France in honour.

Most important of all the role models, however, was the Dutch Republic. Here was a nation that could not possibly feed itself using its own land, but which nonetheless was extremely populous and wealthy. It made itself, as one English admirer put it, “powerful and rich in all kinds, by merchandise, manufactory, and fullness of trade, having no commodities in their own country growing”. With low tariffs and a vast merchant fleet, Amsterdam had become the global entrepôt, sucking in commodities from all across the world and then re-exporting them to the rest of Europe. And through high-value manufactures, it paid for whatever imports of raw materials it needed to support its population. It wove and dyed English wool into expensive fine cloth, then sold it back at a profit to the very English. It built its ships from Baltic timber, then used those ships to dominate the Baltic trade. Despite having “not a timber tree growing in their country”, they somehow still were able to build and maintain the largest merchant and fishing fleet in Europe. Observers even marvelled at how a country that produced hardly any grain of its own could relieve food shortages in England, which was usually a major grain exporter.

To emulate the Dutch, English agglomerationists recommended introducing high-value trades, not worrying too much about growing grain or timber at home, and boosting the size of the English merchant marine — all the better, too, to support the navy in times of war. The eating of fish, for example, was in 1563 made compulsory on Wednesdays. A straightforward way to support the English fishery as the “nursery” of its sailors. By the end of the seventeenth century, it was also considered ancient and prudent policy to ban any search for coal deposits near London, so that there would continue to be a reliable trade in coal from Newcastle-upon-Tyne by sea — this colliery trade was supposed to be a reliable economic backstop for all merchant mariners, to shield them from price fluctuations in whatever other trades they might ply.

Among the other Dutch characteristics to emulate was also a subjugation of nature to suit the needs of human commerce — draining marshes, making rivers navigable, and digging canals. A way to transform the inaccessible inland towns into centres of manufacture that could be supplied with grain from somewhere else. The Dutch had somehow reclaimed their land from the sea itself, so why not apply the same expertise to England, particularly by importing skilled Dutch engineers? Indeed, the English since at least the mid-sixteenth century had pursued a proactive policy of attracting talent from abroad. In doing so, they adopted yet another foreign agglomerationist policy — the patent monopoly, as practised in Venice — which was generally used to give skilled foreigners a temporary monopoly on high-value industries that they would introduce to the country. Venice, like Nuremberg, was yet another noted case of a city that had grown large despite lacking its own barren surroundings. As the statesman Thomas Smith put it in the late 1540s, the Venetians “if they may hear of any cunning craftsman in any faculty, they will find the means to allure him to dwell in their city”.

Then, as now, agglomerationists were generally in favour of immigration. They supported the invitation of religious refugees from the Netherlands and France throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many of whom introduced luxury manufactures like silk-weaving. In less obvious cases, too, when the refugees were not as skilled, nor as Protestant, they made their case. Take 1709, when residents of the County Palatinate of the Rhine fled the onslaught of the invading French, with some 13-14,000 refugees making their way to London. Some people suggested moving them on, perhaps to Ireland or to the colonies in America. But Daniel Defoe — later famous as the author of Robinson Crusoe — had a much more ambitious, agglomerationist plan. He proposed that a city be created from scratch in the New Forest, near Southampton — an eighteenth-century charter city.

As far as Defoe was concerned, the forest was unoccupied wasteland, hardly touched by human hands. Yet it was in England, and in an area that could make the Palatinate refugees productive British citizens. His idea was to mark out 4,000 acres somewhere near the village of Lyndhurst, which would then be split among twenty Palatinate farmers and their families, who would then pay no rent or taxes for the first twenty years. The farmers would then be given some startup capital with which to build the city, employing and housing the other refugees as their workers. Defoe’s plan was extremely detailed, reading a bit like a blow-by-blow account of someone playing a city simulation video game: select so many workers and get them to cut some timber, then so many workers to build some houses, and so on. Unfortunately, however, it never happened. The anti-agglomerationist arguments on this occasion won out and the refugees were dispersed.

Nonetheless, in defending the plan, Defore has left us with one of the pithiest and clearest summaries of his ideology: “The more people, the more trade; the more trade, the more money; the more money, the more strength; and the more strength, the greater a nation.” It might as well have come from the pen of any number of urbanists, natalists, or other agglomerationists today.

Jeppe Hein’s red seat sculptures outside the Royal Festival Hall

There are seven of them, and they are bright red. Here are fourteen photos (two of each) that I photoed in November 2018. The weather was grim, making everything else look decidedly monochrome by comparison:

Which I think worked rather well to show how these bright red objects brighten up a part of London still ruled by orthodox Modernists and their monochromatic prejudice against “imposed ornament”. They prefer imposed boredom. This is called “structural honesty”. And honestly, this can get very boring.

Here are some more photos, photoed on that same November day, of these sculpturised bits of furniture, concentrating more on the Royal Festival Hall context, and making it clear that the point of these things is that they can be sat on. When they can be sat on, that is. The final one above, for instance, is very bum-hostile. Number three is not much better, but as you will see below, a group of people did manage to perch themselves upon it:

These red Things are the work of the Danish sculptor Jeppe Hein, who looks like this.

He calls them Modified Social Benches. The above red London ones were installed in 2016. And he did similar ones for New York, around the same time:

And a more complicated one, not red, in 2019, in Venice:

And various others in various other places.

This guy would appear to be a lot like Antony Gormley in how he operates. Once he has found a formula for a particular family, so to speak, of sculptures, he deploys the formula in various different spots around the world. With Gormley, it was those Gormley Men, lots or just a few of them. With this guy, benches all in the same style with local variations and complications to suit the budget and the location.

Like Gormley, Hein has devised other formulae, which strike me as a lot less appealing than this modified social bench formula.

Also like Gormley, Hein emits the usual dreary ideological orthodoxies of his time concerning such things as climate change, and as soon as he opens his mouth to explain what he reckons he is doing with this or that piece of his work, I switch off. I just like the red benches he did for London, for my reasons rather than for his. If my reasons overlap in any way with his reasons, fine. If not, also fine.

Jeppe Hein has been a very busy man.

Katharine Birbalsingh on the racism of David Starkey and on the nation state as an antidote to racial tribalism

I’m about half way through watching this “interview” on YouTube, done by the two Triggernometry guys (don’t yet know their names) with Katharine Birbalsingh, the quotes being because it doesn’t take much in the way of questioning to get Katharine Birbalsingh onto her soapbox and orating with no further provocation or prompting.

Birbalsingh was explaining that, and exactly how and to what extent, David Starkey is a racist. She quite likes Starkey, agrees with him about a lot of things, agrees that of course he’s not nearly as bad as Hitler, but somewhat worse that then a little old lady walking along the street who is scared when a bunch of black kids comes towards her. That’s her attitude towards him.

I’m only about half way through the whole thing, which lasts a bit more than an hour. But already (around 22 minutes in), one of the Triggernometry guys has put the defence of Starkey which I have been thinking myself. Which is: That Starkey talked about “damn blacks” not because he really thinks blacks should be damned, but because of the vehemence with which he disagreed with the argument he was denouncing, which equates slavery with genocide. I too have been thinking that Starkey made a serious error in using this phrase, but that he wasn’t sounding racist on purpose, he was just getting a bit carried away. (There is often a strong overlap between slavery and genocide. In Hitler’s Germany many thousands of slaves were deliberately worked to death, and killed if they stopped working, for whatever reason. I am sure similar things could be said of the slave trade. Nevertheless, the two concepts are clearly distinguishable.)

Birbalsingh had already said that Starkey actually has a lot of previous in saying things in a decidedly racist manner, and of generally making “mistakes” of this sort. He’s a smart guy. Had he wanted to phrase things more politely, make certain distinctions subtly instead of crassly, he could easily have taken the trouble to acquire this habit. He hasn’t. And that’s because he hasn’t thought that he needed to. In short, he is racist. She doesn’t want Starkey “cancelled”, but she wants him knocked down in the world to the tune of a peg or two.

Birbalsingh was very clear that being rather racist, like Starkey, is not the same as being Hitler. There’s a continuum of racism, a spectrum, with that scared little old lady at one end and Hitler at the other. I strongly agree with that point. (I actually think she was being a little unfair to the little old lady. That kind of racism is, for all sorts of reasons, often very rational, even as it may often be experienced as very insulting to those on the receiving end of it.)

On the Starkey matter, I found Katharine Birbalsingh rather persuasive. She changed my mind about Starkey. I now entertain the possibility that Starkey is indeed, and has long been, somewhat racist, in just the way she described. Which is only appropriate, because Birbalsingh prides herself on her ability to persuade people to change their thinking.

She also put one of the strongest cases I have yet heard for the Nation State. I’m a libertarian of the sort for whom the state is typically the enemy. “The state is not your friend”, and so on. She said that by inculcating a sense of Britishness into all her pupils, of all colours, she makes it far less likely that they will divide into racial tribes, including some racial tribes who consequently feel deeply unwelcome in what ought to be their own country, and which geographically and legally is their own country. My thing is: state/liberty, choose one. Hers: nation state/racial tribalism, choose one. Hers is a good point, I think. I’ve surely heard this argument before, in various forms. For some reason, her way of putting it really hit home.

Now I’m going to go back and listen to the rest of it.

Emmanuel Todd on the earthly rewards of aberrant beliefs

I’ve been reading Emmanuel Todd’s book, Lineages of Modernity. For any sort of review of this book by me, you will have to wait. But meanwhile, I did enjoy this snippet, about why people believe the things they do. In it, the historian Rodney Stark is mentioned admiringly, for having written books like A Theory of Religion (co-authored with William Sims Bainbridge).

Here is what Todd says (pp. 95-96):

In this piece of historical anthropology that we are conducting here, it is more reasonable to grasp the dynamics of faith on Earth, and to start from the elementary observation that a religion is not only a personal belief, but above all the sharing of a belief by a group of human beings on Earth. So let us agree that before it rewards us in heaven, a religion rewards us here below. We must understand why sexual asceticism and the love of the poor, extremist and deviant views for Antiquity, gave the individuals constituting the Christian group a positive reward during their lifetime.

To ask the question today, in a Western world that ideologically values sex and wealth, is crucial. For us, sexual asceticism and the love of the poor are now, again, incomprehensible extremist deviations, to be classified perhaps under the rubric of mere masochism. Today, sexual freedom and banking reign. This is where Rodney Stark’s work proves to be essential.

Influenced by the rational choice school, Stark has grasped the fact that the aberrant beliefs and behaviours of religious groups, whether masochistic or not, and the opprobrium that they bring upon their members, can for the individuals concerned be more than compensated by the group cohesion produced by stigmatization. The psychological cost of belonging to a religion, demanding for oneself but ridiculous in the eyes of the outside world, is so high that adherents can be sure that they belong to a group of exceptionally reliable people. The internal loyalty of the group is the true reward of the believing individual. This gratification is immediate, more secure and tangible than the promise of the hereafter. The argument developed by Stark applies to early Christians or Mormons in the United States, but we can see how it can also contribute to a better understanding of the survival of the Jewish people, who no longer appear to have persisted through history despite persecution but because of persecution.

We can reformulate this from a Durkheimian perspective. What the individual finds in the bizarre monotheistic religious groups of Late Antiquity – whether they were circumcised and refused to eat pork, or were disgusted by sexuality and fascinated by the degradation of the body of the poor – is a sense of belonging to a moral human group. In the chaos of the great ancient cities – Alexandria, Antioch and Rome – Judaism and then Christianity were, as Stark says, refuges. Christianity certainly offered, for later on, eternal life, in which its adherents could believe as a group. But what it immediately gave was an end to loneliness, a sense of belonging to a world of solidarity, and – in very concrete terms – psychological and even economic security. The Gospels, if read without prejudice, give the game away: there is a long series of miracles to do with food and health, and these point to a better earthly life rather than to eternal life.

Judaism does not generally promise eternal life, but among its faithful, in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, it fostered a courage and a contempt for death that yield nothing to those of the Christian martyrs. Its enduring power suggests that Homo sapiens is, in the end, more afraid of loneliness than of death.

Thumbnails for a Remainer demo

I have been struggling with posting “thumbnails” here. Thumbnails are small photos, which if clicked on, result in us viewing a different and bigger photo, of which the thumbnail was only a smaller bit.

Finally, I have had a little success:

Each of the above squares that you see are thumbnails. Click on any one of them, and you get to the bigger picture from which that thumbnail was cropped. Also, click on any one of them, and right or left click on that, and you get the rest of the big original photos, just as you would with any other gallery here.

So, progress. Trouble is, if I tell WordPress to have only four thumblnails to a row, instead of the rows of five that you see above, big gaps of white start appearing between the thumbnails. So, a way to go before I’m on top of this, but it’s a start. Until today, I couldn’t do any of this, despite several tries. Now, I can do a bit of it.

This is what our century is like. Disentangling little conundrums like this. There are plenty of people who could probably have helped with this particular concundrum, but I am not sorry to have done this little bit of sorting myself. How else do you learn?

The photos above were of a Pro-Remain demo, which I chanced upon in Parliament Square in February 2019, one of the many too-much too-late eruptions of Remainer political sentiment that followed the Referendum that the Remainers had lost. The thumbnail thing, where you crop out one of the messages being waved by demonstrators, works rather well for showing galleries of such photos.

Note in particular the one that says “No-one voted for this mess”. I must admit that once Leave won the Referendum, I though leaving would be easier than it has been. But the more of a mess leaving turned out to be, the more I favoured leaving, on the grounds of EUrope being the sort of arrangement it was so very messy to get out of, even though we’d voted to do this.

Bulgarian Parliament adopts rules on electric scooter use

Here. The fact that the Parliament of a Brand-X Eastern European nation reckons it worth spending its time wondering how to regulate e-scooters tells you something about the spread of e-scooters just now. And that something is: E-scooters are spreading just now.

The e-scooter has already been designed. It looks like this. No need for any more clever variations, which actually aren’t. The standard design just needs a year or two of incremental improvement, and a thinning out of all the losers so that choosing one gets easy for normal people.

Some customer feedback

Recently seen on Facebook, with that little “world” thingy at the top, which (I think) means he doesn’t care who reads it, beyond his circle of Facebook regulars:

I have had a problem with the hosting of the domain that my Gmail account is linked to with the result that it couldn’t receive email for several days. During that time I had to spend a ridiculous amount of time online and on the telephone sorting out something that wasn’t my fault. Suffice it to say that I am very impressed with the customer service of DiscountDomain24 (German company out of Saarbrucken) and I am really not impressed with Google’s. For those not familiar with Britspeak “really not impressed” means “I think their customer service stinks like a month old corpse in a pile of steaming shit”. Still, all working now.

Living on my own, I don’t get the twenty first century explained to me on a daily basis, so still cannot tell whether I am breaking some sort of Facebook rule. Can a friend who maybe recognises the above perhaps comment here? I mean, I was able to link to this, but can anyone? If they can, should I be telling them?

Here’s the link. I can get there. But can you? And should you?

Some or all of this may in due course disappear, depending on what anyone tells me about Facebook and its rules.