HTLGI2012: Reverse Manichaeism

June 10, 2012

This slogan is one of singularly most stupid ones I have ever seen on a badge or a T-shirt.  Manichaeism developed in Persia and sees a conflict between the good world of light and the evil world of darkness.  It manifested itself in the Albigensian heresy which was subject to a particularly brutal crusade in its Cathar manifestation.  I've argued (as have many others) that a lot of Western, and in particular US thinking is profoundly Manichaean in nature, its a series of either/or positions in which one side is evil and the other side is good.  It can produce some craziness, think of Sadam being “good” when at war with Iran, but the “evil”.  Personally I think he was pretty nasty throughout, but under this definition good means “for us” and bad means “against us” which is especially cruel when what is for or against us can change overnight.

Now we see Manichaean approaches to science in the Middle Ages, science, astrology and sorcery were all conflated in the 16th Century for instance: think Dr Dee.  But that does not justify the reverse manichaeism implied by the badge slogan.  In effect scientism has become a competing religion for some, taking on many of its forms in particular extreme intolerance at times.  This issue had threaded through many sessions at the festival, and on this the last day it was there again.  It was a weakness of the festival that there were (with honourable exceptions like Midgely) few people thinking intelligently about the problem.  We tended to see scientists committing the straw man fallacy to apologists for religion.  In the first sessn Notes from New Gods Peter Atkins illustrated the first problem, arguing that all religious people are only motivated by a fear of divine punishment.  Science (he argued) is nobler.  Don Cupitt made the good point that if you are a protestant and loose your religion you have a mental breakdown and create a new religion, if you are a catholic you have no where to go.  My response to that is that you don't need to as catholicism properly understood is much more about community identity than individual faith, but that is an old argument and its not my fault that Luther was wrong!

If I had heard Peter Atkins in that first session, I would not have booked for The Origin of Everything but it was interesting if esoteric and at time tortured in its reasoning.  The limits of Science again suffered from a poor chair and was frustrating as it touched on issues with materialism but did not really deal with them.  We really needed a good philosopher of science there but we didn't have one.  Language and Metaphor was more interesting and we had the blue labour Maurice Glasman there as a substitute for Nigel Warburton which was a loss, I had only booked that session to meet Nigel, but such is life.   In Viva la revolution Maurice was more at home and we had a really good debate on the inheritance of the French Revolution and the neglect of fraternity in modern politics.  Lots of notes below on that.  Finally we had Ian Blair, former Commissioner of the Met, disposed by Boris and generally a thoughtful and intelligent man with a very important message.  Regretably a new age happy clappy session next door attracted too many people who might have been more effective post festival if they picked up on the issues raised by Sir Ian.  I more or less agreed with everything he said, and his concerns about the current politicisation of the police in the UK.  He wrote it up for the New Statesman and his talk followed the same process so I encourage you to read it.  

New Gods

Don Cupitt,  Peter Atkins, Mark Vernon. Chair James Garvey

Mark is asked if loose something important if we abandon religion. He thinks we do but is not sure what.  Religion nurtures attention. We way we look at the world, chants, to have a sense of something more.  We reach out through the sciences, through the art and through religion.  In the US religion is associated with freedoms, ditto in the far east and china.  But we don't have it here as its more complex and ambiguous.

Don the function of religion is to give meaning and ethics etc.  decline of organised religion has been going on for some time.  Personal god etc is a desire.  Spinoza says he who loves god does not expect to be loved back.  Control of cosmology lost in 17c by religion to science.  Argues that Newton means that ethics would have to be internalised and control handed over to science. 

Peter says he skipped the priest stage in his career.  He thinks we will leave a lot and to quote Voltaire, those who believe in absurd pity bring atrocities, so let's get rid of it.  But he does feel more secure if surround by people like mark who have an intrinsic fear of punishment.  Religion is a force for evil of a rather intellectual kind as it gives the impression of answered the deep questions of life,  science is much nobler, everything is open to human comprehension.   Distressed when politics enters the political era,  politicians should not appeal to religion.  Relinquishing religion provides wonder.  When religious fantasy is replaced by scientific  insight we move on to wonder.


Mark Music in BBC programme on physics with Brian Cox used music to gain sense of wonder.
don says that science should not take the role of religion.

Don When you are a Protestant tans loose your faith you have a mental breakdown and you create a new religion.  If a catholic you have no where to go.  Opposes right wing religion in the US.

Politicised right wing ideological use of religion is deeply problematic Faith v Works

Peter Living a lie a spiritual warmth something eternal,  I am looking for true understanding

Don references role of stories like the good Samaritan


Is there a need for ritual in some form or other?  Mark says our life is full of it.  Peter says theatre is important for entertainment value and relign is entertaining.

What do you believe should occur in religion to enable women to havea a voice.  Don says intellectually and politically women have won the argument in the west.   But the social context is difficult.

Mark finds hope in science and silence.  Don triump of science in west is recent so a profound but recent c ultralight change.  Peter wants people to warm to the spirituality of disbelief


The Origin of Everything

Peter Atkins. Author of Galileo's Finger and other books

Wants to explore about science can thing about absolutely nothing at all. 
Science is a wonderful way of making progress about deep questions, which includes how nothing can create something.  Sciene should move out from its current secure state into areas that people will not think is appropriate, namely metaphysics.

Science says all questions are generally how questions no sense in why.   All why questions are illusory.  Saying God did it is not an illusion that should be held in adult minds.

Need to distinguish absolutely nothing from nothing.  By nothing mean a vacuum but if it's absolute there is no time or anything.  Our universe may have sprung from another etc, but he wants to focus on the ultimate grandmother universe that sprung from nothing.   Some people say anatomy fluctuation and big bang – that is easy physics, we will be able to talk about this.  He wants to go back to the beginning;  right back to absolutely nothing.  It is conceivable that there was never a beginning, time may be circular in some sense.  He will ignore that and will suppose that there was a beginning our of absolutely nothing.

One of the things science does is to simplify questions.  How much energy did God decide we need.  Well we can measure mass and from that derive energy.  Gravity reduces energy, ultimately it will go  back to zero.  We know that there are equal parts of positive and negative charge, so nothing at all.  All of this allows a simpler view of the star, all that was needed is that nothing had to separate into opposites,   Underlying reason for conservation of energy is the uniformity of time.   If you have nothing you have total uniformity.   Laws of energy emerge from absolutely nothing.

Suppose that nothing consists of a collection of points (a cheat at this point, way to explain) but. Can't say whi h point is close to any oth point, so sense or relationship between the ponts.  What might have happened at the creation is that an Ida of neighbourlyness emerged.  Then into some maths and argument that time iz easy to understand in physics but not in poetry.  The distance between having a point or not having a point depends on the existence of time.  Claims you can predict there will only one dimension of time in the universe.

Where are all these other universes?  One possibility is that they are all here.

Why does maths work as a description of the world?  Could be the underlying structure of the universe is mathematical, generate interferes out of nothing at all.


Asked about the how and why point.  Answers that you have to deconstruct all why questions into how questions.  No evidence for purpose in the universe, evidence for personal purpose however.  No sign of cosmic purpose.

Asked about entropy, and says it is the spring of the world.  Second Law of Thermodynamics gives the rise of entropy.  Says it all getting worse.

Asked what kicks off time then? says its about falling into a way of thinking about the relationship of his points.  One you have suitably complex relationship then you get stability.

One possi iLife for the end of the universe is that it realises it is a contradiction and collapses.

I could have watched the rugby …..


The limits of Science

Stephen Law, Rubert Sheldrake, James Le Fanuel. Chaired by Valerie Curtis

Curtis is a evolutionary psychologist and is spending a little too much time at the start and slightly patronising gto the speakers.

Rubert says there is no question science has expanding its knowledge.  But now held back by the dogma of materialism and needs to move on.  There are limits and one is understanding the nature of consciousness as experienced.  Mystical or meditative experience we find. Realm of knowledge that cannot be moped to science or language.   Even in theology it has always been admitt that there is a limit to what we know.  Science is always nestled within metaphysical framework

Stephen says that even in mystical realms there are scientific tests that we can apply at least to prove negatives.  Claims abut what hides behind the veil are testable, things that we would observer if the claims we true.   Dismisses scientism.   Just cause we can't explain why, it doesn't mean tht we can't rule out some things including the judao-Christian god. Says you can't blame everything on materialism.

James asks why this is an issue now.  Science as the art of the soluble (reference there to a Nobel prize winner but did not catch name).  The question of what is solvable has changed a lot in recent years.  Silence achievement is living memory is incredible.  Long list given over the last 60 years.  However says that we are starting to realise what it can't teach us.  One of these is in genomic science and the second is neuro-science.  Major insights, but have brought to our attention how it is impossible to turn from these insights to. Consciousness etc, etc.

Rubert says entered are things it can't solve within limits of materialism.  So collapse of m ind into matter does not allow you to explain consciousness.  Minds that were not brains we cold not understand by experiment .  Question s to if there is a purpose in nature is also one.  How does creativity work?  Stephen adds moral questions, the is-ought gap

Chair claims that evolutionary psychologists are able to explain the purpose of consciousness.

ChIr goes to Rubert to ask him how he would like to see science change so that we can progress.   He doesn't have a problem with them ethos, he has a problem with the dogmatic assumptions.  Consciousness extends beyond brain.  Gives Peter Atkin as an example of a materialist. Thinks there is evidence for telepathy.


Language, Metaphor and Reality

Hilary Lawson, Michael Erard.  Chair Joanna Kavenna.   Plus the blue labour man Maurice

Chair references Hobbs rejection and asks if metaphor is essential to language

Maurice starts by suggesting that there is a scientific and liberal legal fantasy that we can break out of language and have an unmediated relationship with language.    References 'blue labour' inspired by depression following things an only get better.   Blues links to music, depression  also means conservatism and then. Have eve blue planet.  Without is a positivistic liberal fantasy.  Metaphor is basic to political communication.  No surprise that political authoritarianism has always attacked metaphor.

Hilary happy to agree with a lot of what Maurice said.  Wants to say that language cannot describe reality but allows us to hold the world as something.  Does not mean he is a crazed idealist; whatever is out there is infinitely rich nada has infinite potentials, but we close it to specifics which starts with  words being metaphors and then congeals into he literal.   How does all of this happen?  You don't have to describe the reality for a metaphor to be useful.  {god I hate post modernists}

Michael designs metaphors  in the frameworks institute. Designed to help people communicate better.  Would argue that language mediates reality.  And we encounter the limits of that plasticity.  Calls himself a metaphor empircistx.  If you think of the brain as a container then it has consequences for the way you treat students.  Says metaphor is the ultimate software.

Dozwd off for some of debate too much repititition

Suggest that only one way to describe things is always about power ( from Hilary) but its not anything goes, then the question arises as to the quality tc.

Chair asks for idea for metaphors.  Maurice says table, have to negotiate, has four legs etc. etc.  wants to describe children as novels not flowers (OMG).  Michael says that people. Have. Hard time thinking of emergent stuff and human cognition does badly (children's party story).  Hilary says that truth is over used.


Can metaphors be in other forms than language?   Hilary agrees and says they can be an opening, but what too will always be elusive.

Are metaphors chosen or discovered?  Michael thinks about that problem a lot and thinks about ethno botanists.


Viva la revolution

Maurice Glasman,  Minette Marrin, Anatole Kaletksy, Neil Ascherson.  Chaired by Katie Derham

Minette liberty equality and fraternity and noble and hard to question.  Liberty is ok if constrained by fraternity.  But equality is very different, in extreme it's bad, but the defined persist of equality has led to the famines of Russia and china etc. etc.   argues for equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome which puts equality at odds with freedom.  Suppression of bourgeois individualism which she celebrates.   Trotting out with all the stereotypes of history.  Nonsense to say that you can engineer away Intellectual differences with resulting lowering of standards.  Liberty is always precious, but her money is on fraternity and sonority.

Neil agrees that equality is different but disagrees that the tyranny of russia etc. an be attributed to equality.  Argues that revolutions will continue to happen even though we don't know why.  Revolution is a human mode of being, rare but we can astonish ourselves and people are transformed.  Emergence of anonymous people who gain leadership. 

Anatole makes the points.  First we are in a revolutionary moment globally as a result of the crisis, now at a point of transformation comparable to the Russian and thatcher/Reagan evolution.  Clearly at such a moment in Eire, whichever path it chooses we get change.  One route we have a united states, if  euro breaks up then a reversal of 60 years.  Second what is its nature?  History of lucky democracies has been equality and liberty,  of the tyrannies an oscillation between liberty and fraternity.  The current fourth revolution is an embedding of a new sense of fraternity into the pendulum s wing between freedom and equality.  Groping towards fraternity in a new sense of where the government has to Intervene.   Thirdly, what is this community?  The 1% and the 99% is a part of this for the uk are not part of the same society,  Europe it is even more clear and is being resolved as we speak.

Maurice does the same trick as last time complimenting one speaker.   For him all revolutions are a disaster.  Says there has to be a continuity of things over time, you cannot be born again, epistemologically impossible, when the contradictions emerge then the terror begins.  You have to Rene to abstract ideas rather than history.  Fraternity only came in 1848. Catholic workers.  China is like new labour without parliament. The most revolutionary and dangerous system is capitalism as it has no history.


Chair asks what ideals sea should be questing for.   Maurice says he is not a fan of fraternity.  He would suggest relationships and reciprocity.  Minette says that families are subversive and we will turn to them more, so solidarity but not a political movement, but more local.  Anatole says it is long the lines of community and democracy.   Make decisions on the basis of one pound one vote or one man one vote. Anatole says he sate must be defined as something other than a majority.  Only the state can stand up to the market.  Maurice says that evolutionary change comes after a crash, not enough yet but it could happen in Europe. 

Chair asks if blue labour could work on a wider context.  Maurice says solidarity with Chinese workers and democratic environmental movements.  Rubbishes 1945 dream of internationalism.  The has to be a retrieval of tradition with democratic transformation.  It can't be non-violent.  Anatole says its not clear it can achieve anything and from history it can't. 

Chair asks she is the passion of a revolution.  Anatole say there is no passion and this rexplains disillusioned with politics.  Minette agrees there has to be major change, but no one really knows what they are doing and all the experiments of the last few hundred years have come to grief.  Maurice says there is a failure of the intellectuals.


My question on local and supa nation.  Europe can balance markets and USA and china, and smaller states .  Maurice adds to distribute to cities as wales and scotland both smaller than parts of London.

Questioner asks about John lewis where the limit on earning differential eatablished by the founder was 25 times and is now  60 times on salary.  Distinction between fairer and fair.  Maurice argument for workerq councils to set limits and also points out no organised labour in John lewis to fit back.

Question on how change can happen in a non democratic state and the difference between a revolution and a reckoning.  Maurice says the problem with a revolution is that it is unknowing of itself.  There has to be violent change when monopolistic elites keep power to themselves.  But then the change has to respect and retrieve lost traditions.  Anatole says the emphasis should be on evolution as a transformation force, but it is of itself a violent process but it is adaptive and it builds on the past.  He thinks China is evolving but he does not think there will be a reckoning, as the leadership is allowing evolution.  Minette is skeptical and against revolution but china not evolving fast with mass famine etc.  Neil goes back to solidarity.  Polish change was anarchy-syndicalism,  then solidarity prepared way for social  democracy.


Regression to the Mean – Sir Ian Blair

Consent to police is based on the broad rules being fair, and that they are enforced fairly.
Now under threat as for to crime alone, and now under political control with the commissioners.
20% reduction is the highest reduction anywhere.  Police will end up on the cars just responding.
All through history until 1829 the police had been military, armed in barracks etc.  Peel had previously been secretary of state for ireland.  In 1829 he changed it completely.  Low in power, no military uniform, not an occupation for gentleman (by which given context of army means it would be a meritocracy).  Whigs came in and did not want police, and home secretary told the police to break up Chartist demo.  Someone died,  the home secretary denied he had ordered the parliamentary commission policed the commissions.   Key that the police are operationally free to investigate anything.   

The Victorians fell in live with their police.  Moonstone,  bleak House etc all portray the investigation as a novelty.  Originally had no detectives.  The last royal commission said the main function was helping the public.  Broken Window paper redirected change to policing for the neighbourhood, the labour government started this in 1997.  unfortunately Blair set off a chain of labour party home secretaries trying to be tougher that anyone else and the police e over whelmed by legislation and managerialism.  Police responded. Y going to community, but current government.  May introduced conservative candidate at the conference, who announced that he wanted poke officers to be rat catchers not social workers.  These ads going to be party slates and that makes policing very difficult.  In Thames valley reading and slough where all the problems are, are labour but the rest is rural conservative.  C omission Ra are elected locally, they have no interest if national crime.  We are heading back to a meaner and less democratic system.  Dropping of a foreign species into a native environment and it's based on the US model.  References Martha's Vineyard smaller than isle of white.  Has six police forces very local then state then FBI etc.  Conservatives did not follow this but larger groups.

Old joke that in heaven the bureaucrats are Swiss, the engineers are German, the cooks are French, the lovers are Italian and the police are British.  Depressing the the party of Peel is doing this.

Change will be more gradual.  Strategic Command Course is key,  7/8 years ahead the people coming out of there will in a political environment.  End of legitimacy.

He thinks the Tories went for this as Blair stole their status s the party of law and order.  He changed police more to consent of community.  They were horrified, wanted something that only focused on crime.  Long sense that chief constanbles etc were per mighty.  Te Home Office is a conservative fiefdom and they dont like what the police have become.  Destroying the association of chief police offers, appointing a new commission.  Very clear political decision.

May not be possible to roll this back when the party changes.  Labour may push it back to much more local policing and create a proper FBI for England and Wales but then there will be turf wars.   All of this could be solved by a proper royal commission.

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