Stephen Fry and Bertrand Russell on Atheism

People often tell Stephen Frythat he shouldn’t call himself an atheist, he should call himself an agnostic because he cant know there isn’t a God, and therefore he must be agnostic. Bertrand Russell answered this one brilliantly many years ago.

Bertrand Russell said

“Many things are beyond the realm of absolute knowledge in any sense, but let me put it to you that there is a teapot orbiting Venus in such a manner that we will never be able to see it. It is obscured from our vision. Now, if someone were to tell me that there were such a teapot, I could not demonstrate to them that they were wrong, but I would be perfectly within the limits of orthodox practice and sense and, I would say, philosophical rectitude, if I were to base my life, perfectly happy, in the belief and certain ‘knowledge, as certain as .knowledge as can be, that, there is no teapot revolving Venus. And that is why I call myself an atheist.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist quoting Stephen Fry quoting Bertrand Russell in an interview with the Radio Times, 24-30/08/13, Sort of a “Re-Tweet”!

BEST FOOD SECURITY – GO VEGGIE!

Interesting article on food security, but which failed to reach the obvious conclusion. To be more “food secure” in an increasingly unstable world, the single most effective measure would for us to move to a vegetarian diet.

In “What Future Our Food” (see latest edition of Unite the Union’s magazine), agricultural scientist Dr Clutterbuck points out that leaving our food security to the market is not working, and we are becoming ever less self sufficient.

But Dr Clutterbuck’s article – and his website – misses that most fundamental thing we could do to achieve his laudable goals, that food production should be “Environmentally friendly, Socially just and Economically beneficial.” Go veggie!

Research shows that vegetarian diets are well suited to protect the environment, to reduce pollution, and to minimize global climate changes.

Livestock farming has a massively detrimental effect on the world and it is unnecessary. These are some of the most important factors.

1. Self sufficiency:

It may always be better to produce what you are good at and trade this with others, better at producing other foods. But as a nation we should always be able to meet at least our own people’s minimum food needs, which we cannot.

2. Food insecurity:

We are incredibly vulnerable. Remember the “food price spike” of 2008, where some food prices here rose by 40% or more? This was caused by our dependence upon imports. On the global markets, the 12 months to March 2008 saw the wheat price rise 130%, soya by 87% and rice jump by 74%.

3. Over-dependence on meat:

UK food insecurity is made worse by our over-dependence upon meat. 40% of all proteins used for animal feed in the UK are from soya, 90% of which is imported from Brazil and Argentina. If soya supplies from these two countries were restricted (and we were at war with one quite recently) it is hard to see how we could feed our farmed animals, and therefore ourselves.

4. Greenhouse gases:

Livestock farming produces more emissions than all the world’s transport systems.

5. Farming made better:

Stock-free farmers are not at the mercy of feed price fluctuations, animal disease ceases to be a problem. Stock-free farms can often be self sufficient, with better margins and not so reliant upon jumping through hoops for subsidies.

6. Water conservation:

It takes thousands of times the amount of water to produce a kilo of beef than to grow the same quantity of grains, vegetables or pulses.

7. Water quality:

Manure, antibiotics and hormones all find their way from livestock farms into our water system, while fish farms release chemicals and parasites that threaten wildlife.

8. Rainforest destruction:

Livestock production is responsible for 70% of Amazon deforestation.

9. Oceans destruction: 

Industrial fishing practices are destroying fragile eco-systems and wiping out whole populations of sea creatures.

10. Inefficient:

Over one third of the world’s cereals are used as animal feed (this could rise to 50% by 2050) which is incredibly inefficient. The UN Environment Programme calculated that the calories lost by feeding grain to livestock could feed more than 3.5 billion people.

11. Eat the good stuff:

Animals and fish consume at least half – sometimes up to 90% – of all the energy input to produce their own flesh. So we could produce massive amounts more food simply by taking cereals, vegetables and fruit straight to our own plates! And there is now such a range of vegetarian products – which can either mimic or replace meat – that all tastes can be served.

12. Wholesome ingredients:

Recent food scandals (with unknown and untraceable meats being found in things like burgers and ready meals) show that appearances can be deceptive; if ingredients are UK produced and vegetarian, then UK consumers need not fear the consequences of being duped.

13. Better animal welfare:

Factory and intensive farming and fishing are very poor for animal welfare. With increasing pressure to produce more for less, cruel practices increase. It almost goes with saying that it is far better for animals if they are not involved in meat production!

You can join in the discussion with Dr Clutterbuck at: https://sites.google.com/site/ukfoodsupply/services

Sources: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Unite Works magazine, Vegan society, Vegetarian Society, www.sustainablefood.com.

Hague wants everyone watching each other, East German-style

William Hague’s “If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear” is simplistic nonsense, as well he knows.

To accept it as true, you need to believe the state:

  1. is incapable of error
  2. will never draw the wrong conclusion
  3. employs no-one with the wrong motives, and
  4. is and forever will be benign.

You just cannot swallow all that! I am not talking fanciful stuff about despots in other countries:

  • Miscarriages of justice are not rare
  • The Metropolitan Police branded protesters occupying parts of the City of Londong in 2011-12 as terrorists.
  • This week the our Government apologised and paid compensation to people tortured in the Malayan Mau Mau uprising
  • And remember how Thatcher criminalized whole communities during the mining industrial dispute.

Hague is trying to engender an acceptance that everyone should be under suspicion at all times and an nil expectation of privacy – something taken to extremes in places like the former East Germany and Franco Spain, which is surely not how we want to live our lives in 21st Century Britain?

BUILD MORE HOMES, DON’T GIVE MORE TO THE BANKS

Interest-free loans to cover deposits, so more people can get mortgages, is the wrong choice by the Chancellor for the country’s economy.

As the National Housing Federation said yesterday (20th March), investing £3.5 billion this will cost in cheap housing could deliver up to 175,000 homes.

Private sector completions have stayed fairly consistent over a long period, albeit with a small dip last year, so the market has found its level. But completions of low cost or social housing (the term “affordable” is pretty meaningless!) are almost non-existent.

Spending huge amounts to help people get mortgages – putting more of our money into the banks’ coffers – will stimulate demand, without increasing supply: so house prices are likely to go up, which does not help the economy.

An active construction industry is good for the economy as a whole, as money spent on materials, direct labour, contractors and services spins off and multiplies in the economy as whole. And we all know a lot more low cost housing is needed.

It is not rocket science: if there are billions of pounds available for the housing sector, the right choice would have been to build more housing!

Corporate Responsibility Should Be A Corporate Duty

Events over recent years have shown the devastating effect companies can have in their single-minded pursuit of profit.

Over 1,000 workers dying in a Bangladesh building unfit for factory use is a stark example. Others are are huge supermarkets squeezing out competition and forcing suppliers to cut costs at risk to human health and animal welfare; of banks gambling enough to devastate the global economy; of construction cartels seizing contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds of public money; of oil companies inflicting massive environmental damage; of marine life being decimated and seas sterilised by industrial fishing.

But the pursuit of profit is pretty much the single legal duty of corporations towards their shareholders, so destructive impacts on nations, communities, workers and the environment are inevitable consequences of the legal duties placed upon corporations.

UK Company Law is the only framework that sets out the overarching principles of behaviour by companies, so to try to deal with these issues will mean changing company law to include social and environmental responsibilities, so as not to leave the pursuit of profit as the primary legal requirement, trumping all other considerations.

Our Labour Government came close to imposing social and environmental reporting obligations on directors in the 2006 Company Law Reform Bill, but the opportunity to protect people, places was lost at that time.

Just as an Education Bill should take into account the rights and interests of teachers, pupils and parents, reform of UK Company Law must balance shareholder interests with those of communities, employees and other stakeholders. This is a crucial point, as it is the only way to ensure that profit-making does not take place at the expense of people and the environment.

Unfortunately, business prosperity and responsible business behaviour are not always two sides of the same coin.  In reality, situations often arise where a director’s duty to maximise profits to shareholders conflicts with environmental and social goals, and profit will always win out where this is legal.

And we cannot rely on consumers to force companies to change their behaviour.  Most UK consumers base their shopping choices on price – and sometimes quality – rather than ethical performance. Poor labelling and lack of transparency in the production of goods and services means that those shoppers who care about corporate responsibility can’t always avoid buying from irresponsible companies. Current outrages over the misdescription of meat content of processed foods shows starkly how consumers who do try to shop for quality are wantonly – perhaps sometimes mistakenly – deceived.

To argue that not to do so could see companies incorporation en masse somewhere that does not make such requirements is simply wrong, as if that were the case they would already have done so to avoid taxes and other regulation. We would not be alone in this: already, German company law requires corporations “to be useful”, and theirs is a hugely successful economy.

British business has global reach, and there are already too many examples of abuse by UK companies operating overseas.

We must have provisions in UK company law on social and environmental matters to achieve trade justice, poverty alleviation, and sustainable development, both at home and wherever they operate in the world.

SPANISH DESPICABLE OVER BULLFIGHTING

So the despicable Spanish Government wants to make bullfighting a “cultural heritage” activity.

Giving something a respectable sounding name does nothing to change the fact it is to be reviled. Did you know the Spanish (etc) Inquisition is still around, but now called “The Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office”?

The Inquisition’s most enduring feature was its barbarity; the same is true of bullfighting – or torture for fun. It’s on the decline even in Spain – a country that seems to have a thing for enjoying animal suffering – and it does not belong in a nation that wants to be part of Western European.

A makeover of image does not alter the fact that bullfighting should be a matter of shame, time for it to be consigned to the history books.

Britishness must evolve slowly – rapid change is dangerous

I believe the most important “elephant in the room” for the Left is the question of “Britishness” and our failure to protect what is accepted as the place we have reached in our social and cultural development.

We have ignored the fear of change coming too fast and being too drastic, collectively hoping it would all turn out right, not needing us to tackle such an uncomfortable – and huge – issue. The Left has attacked manifestations of resultant tensions, without admitting to ourselves that we have neglected the importance of Britishness to the British people. But the working class does not need lecturing on the need for cultural tolerance, particularly when the mistake of undue cultural tolerance leads to real grievances.

Our culture has continually changed and evolved over time, but this has historically been by increments over centuries, not dramatically over just decades or even years. It is not change itself, but the extreme nature and speed of change which is a problem. Whole areas of Britain have, in modern memory, become places which have different clothing, different languages, different folkways: different cultures. Because they are so different from what our population has settled into as British, and have become so different so quickly, without the Left promoting assimilation – mostly without the Left taking any position at all – the British people believe we do not recognise there is a problem. We profess to care about and seek to protect the British people, but have opted to look the other` way despite their concerns. This is an abrogation of our self assumed responsibilities and calls into question the credibility of the Left.

This has caused misunderstanding to turn into resentment; and received wisdom to label extreme differences as typical. Although not widespread, it is undeniable that some practices exist in some areas of cultural difference that are at odds with what has become acceptable in modern British society, such as arranged marriages, treatment of women as of lesser worth or as belongings, what most would see as cruel treatment of animals, or exemption from controls for religious reasons that the rest of the population believes it must observe. The general population is aware that some cultural practices not found in Britain in comparatively recent times are sometimes illegal, but do not see enforcement of our laws as effective, in contrast to actions in some European countries, who are otherwise very similar to Britain. For example:

  • the French cannot understand our effectively allowing genital mutilation of young girls, as we “don’t like to” enforce health inspection of children, as some cultures would find this offensive (most recently given as a reason by a Tory minister!).
  • profiteers are quite prepared to take advantage of any opportunity and are not prevented from profiteering from cultural practices – Halal/Kosher meat represents around 40% of meat production in Britain, to serve less than 4% of our population; the reality is it is a cheap way around our animal welfare laws, a scam which other nations – most recently the Dutch – have outlawed.

Perceiving – or actually observing correctly – behaviour clearly outside what has evolved to become acceptable in our society, but which is effectively permitted anyway, breeds a sense of unfairness and resentment. The void left by silence from the Left, or the mistake of actual cultural deference, has been filled by the easy answers of the far Right. The result is not Enoch Powell’s predicted “rivers of blood”; in some ways the result is worse, as resentment becomes locked into the collective psyche. Britain has a history of barbarism, some of it not that far distant, but we believe we have moved on. The Left has allowed suddenly different cultures within our own country to be seen as synonymous with cultures that still allow stoning, punitive amputations and child brides.

It will be a big task to address the reality of a situation we have allowed to develop by default. We may have to admit some of the “politically pure”stances taken by the Left sound to be more about lecturing people than facilitating slow, acceptable change. But to carry on ignoring this problem instead of facing up to it would be irresponsible. We know very well that people turning against a broken system in Europe quite recently led to the conditions for the Holocaust and World War II; in the Middle East, many people made desperate by the tyranny of despots are turning to religious fundamentalists as an immediate answer, storing up problems for themselves and for us.

The Left needs to recognise this huge elephant we have allowed to remain sitting in the room, take the lead and establish policies that bring an expectation of, and assist in, cultural assimilation. It is our duty, if we are serious socialists, to ensure the whole country can live and pull together, denying the far Right the opportunity to destroy our national unity forever.

TIME TO BAN NON-STUNNED SLAUGHTER OF MEAT

Foremost in our dealings with other creatures should be a recognition that, if we take from them their lives for our own purposes, we should do everything rationally possible to do so in a way that minimises their suffering.

That is why slaughter using methods for religious purposes, such as Halal or Kosher should not be allowed. I will expand upon my reasoning.

A starting point could be that the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (formerly the Farm Animal Welfare Council) has recommended that non-stun slaughter should be stopped. Widely available evidence shows that properly and carefully stunned animals feel less pain than those killed without stunning, or with inadequate stunning.

Meat claimed to be produced for religious purposes (e.g. Halal or Kosher) is estimated to represent between 25% and 40% of all meat produced in the UK, around 10 times the total possible market for such meat. It is an inescapable conclusion that some operators are using this as a means of reducing costs to maximise profit.

It is worth noting the majority of slaughterhouses filmed by Animal Aid between 2009 and 2011 were stunning animals improperly, thereby causing significant and avoidable pain and distress. This could in some cases be a training or awareness issue, but in many cases it is a means for reducing costs. Therefore the opportunity for animal welfare standards to be sidestepped or watered down through the exploitation of religious considerations should be ended.

But whether due to profiteering, ignorance or genuinely held religious beliefs, non or inadequate stunning causes more suffering than is necessary so, for whatever reason, is unacceptable.

There may be a fear that this could be seen as an affront to – or even an assault upon – religious minorities, so the Government should show rational leadership on the issue to avoid such fears.

We have scientifically proven standards we regard as appropriate for animal welfare, whilst the majority of people regard religious faith as unproven (and even amongst those with religious beliefs there is no single consensus on this subject), so protection of animals from suffering should not be secondary to religious beliefs.

Given the beneficial impact it would have on animal welfare, the production of meat according to religious beliefs should be stopped.

LABOUR MUST OFFER REAL CHANGE

The Labour Party’s recent history is as a government of war, privatisation, commerce and attacks on civil liberties.

Just trying to present a slightly different flavour of the Tory Government’s policies will not see Labour back into power. Mealy mouth acceptance of the “need for cuts” or promises confined to adjustments to Tory policies won’t cut it. Under those circumstances, why would anyone think voting Labour would bring anything much better?

Take one example, the promise on VAT. This is apparently to “temporarily reverse” the Tory VAT hike. Temporarily. Was nothing learned from the 10% tax rate fiasco? However much you might explain in advance that a tax reduction is temporary, when it comes to putting it up again, you have raised taxes! Failure to grasp this simple point cost us thousands of council seats in 2008 and massively dented faith in Labour’s willingness to protect the people who we represent.

Yet there is no need to be so fearfully cautious. You could easily pay for VAT reductions, fuel duty reductions, more public spending by collecting just a proportion of the £120 billion lost each year in evaded, avoided, late and unpaid taxes (see PCS analysis).

The electorate expected the last Labour Government to do what the Tories do so well: represent the interests of their tribe. With some timid exceptions, from 1997 Labour wasted massive Parliamentary majorities doing not much more than marking time for the Tories for over 12 years, keeping their policies warm.

The electorate want – they expect – a Labour Government that will change things. And it really isn’t rocket science. The sort of programme the British people want to see is simple:

  • Stop slashing jobs and services
  • Cut vehicle fuel taxes
  • Build low cost housing
  • Utilities, rail and buses back into public control
  • Stop the likes of the bankers and energy companies ripping us off
  • Protect our way of life

Very straightforward. Having seen the sums of money Labour was prepared to commit to bale out the bankers, no one will ever again believe this simple programme in not affordable! So if Labour leaders will not act like Labour leaders, will not make changes in the way the British people expect, what is the conclusion? That they prefer to avoid change, to keep on marking time between Tory governments.

That being the case, Len McCluskey of Unite must be right: time for the cuckoos to be thrown out of the Labour nest.

RECLAIMING OUR FLAG FROM EXTREMISTS

Over many decades, few Union Flags have been seen in public as a matter of course. They may come out for special occasions, but then are put away again.

It has been as if we fear offending people by an outward display of pride in our nation, symbolised by its flag, or might be embarrassed by people finding out we are patriotic.

Many on the Left, certainly, have been uncomfortable with the flag being flown domestically, possibly because of a worry that it might seem to be a celebration of our imperialist past.

Our military do routinely fly our national flag, so is it wrong to be associated with military activity? Does nationalism lead inevitably to extremism?

No, emphatically, to both!

Our military are just that – OUR military. If you don’t approve of our armed forces’ involvement in places like Kosovo, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan or Libya, this is not the fault of our forces, but the choice of our politicians. And we either elect or tolerate those politicians.

Our armed forces are there to defend us and to protect our interests, so of course we should be associated with that!

I remember the woolly thinking of some of my comrades on the Left in the 1980s, refusing to wear Remembrance Sunday poppies, insisting instead on wearing the white poppies of peace. I had no problem with white poppies, but it was as if some of my comrades blamed our service men and women for wars! Kind of missing the point of remembering OUR fallen and wounded.

So, does nationalism lead inevitably to extremism? No. But lack of public patriotism can.

For decades, the extreme Right has appropriated the Union Flag. Some people will worry its display could be taken as showing BNP (previously National Front) sympathies. And by avoiding positive statements that we are British and proud of Britain, we have allowed that appropriation.

Nationalism may be a bit random, mostly the result of geographical or cultural accidents: countries are not, by and large, assembled on purpose. Most countries are there as they form a reasonably logical geographical or cultural entity, very often both. Britain is one such, with some variations on the theme (politically the UK, geographically Great Britain or even the British Isles). And most British people can identify with that organisational and cultural unit.

To let the Right steal the symbol of our nation – incidentally one of the best known brands in the world, and (because of our historical crimes) the most easily misunderstood – is to allow the world to identify their extremist tendencies with our nation. Our reluctance to declare our identity with our nation, to show our patriotism, can actually encourage extremism.

There is a lot wrong with our country, a lot the Left would want to change. But there is a lot to be proud of, a lot of reasons not to be ashamed of being British. We must not allow the far Right to appear to represent Britain.

With events like the Olympics, the Para Olympics and – yes, I have to admit it – even the Diamond Jubilee, this year has given us a lot of excuses to proudly show our flag, without being misunderstood at home or abroad.

2012 has been a fantastic opportunity to wave our flag, and I hope that continues, so we can reclaim OUR Union Flag for the whole nation.