Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Gotta Keep em Separated?

Quoth Marco: Let me take that grain of truth metaphor and turn it on its head. Lets say I postulated that grain should be separate from state. Somewhere like Australia, there is no tariffs, less interference in trade in grains from government. Now is Australia any richer than than the EU because of this? We would probably agree that we are better off than the EU in grain trade because of our policy. However this does not mean the EU won't still successfully trade in grains for millenia - nor does it mean Australia is demonstrably any better off. It's quite clear to me that USA is more successfully religious compared to Israel, Northern Ireland or Iran. However, although these other countries/states are seemingly "successful" and "good" at some level, in religious conflict terms, they are complete disasters. This is the crux of my argument and probably the point of our disagreement. You don't think there is a religious conflict problem in Israel that has anything to do with the fact that the state is defined by its religion. And yes, I know that some arabs vote, but I don't know why palestinian refugees should be locked out of the voting process, at least in theory. Are they afraid of becoming citizens of a jewish state?

Okay, I will have one more stab at this. I admit that this is an argument I took on in a fit of bravado to be contrary, and I do not have the same emotional investment that I do in our other discussion. Therefore it is much less stressful to talk about than the fact that 89% of my fellow citizens are in thrall to the Prince of Darkness.

As it has unfolded, your argument seems to have two parts:

(1) Nations without an established church are more successful economically than those that are not.
I think this is not sustainable as a general principle, given the brief sample of nations I discussed earlier. You counter that successful nations would nevertheless be more successful if they also had separation of church and state, other things being equal. However, you note that this is not demonstrable- the separation can never be carried out in controlled conditions while leaving everything else the same-and therefore it cannot validly be used as an argument to change the policy of a state. Argument (1) is an assertion based on faith, not evidence, and unless there is a ‘will to believe’ among the populace that separation of church and state will benefit them, it should not be contemplated.

(2) Religions will be more successful as religions- in mediating God to the citizens of a country- if they have to compete with one another.
I do not think the spectacle of religions competing with one another is very edfiying or likely to bring people closer to God. Do you remember the old atheist adage that there is no need for them to disprove religion, since all religions have already provided convincing arguments disproving each other? Competition is likely to discourage the weak and bring about contempt for religion among the elite.
Most of the world’s nations have one clear majority religion, and in this case, while freedom of religion is a natural human right, a close association of the dominant religion with the state may either help or hinder both of them, depending on the situation.
Where there are naturally present a large number of competing religions, it is probably better, in terms of their success purely as religions, for one of them to be established and the others to be persecuted: ‘The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.’

I do not see how Israel, Iran, and Northern Ireland can be held up as complete disasters in religious conflict terms. There are two possible reasons why there might not be any religious conflict: the laws of the state are in harmony with the laws of God (which would be good), or, the religions are cowed and afraid to challenge the laws of the state (which would be bad). Stoning buses on Shabbat, while religious conflict, is not a disaster: it is a positive sign that religion is alive and well. Overall, there seems to me to be about the same degree of religious conflict in Israel as there is in the United States. I deplore the persecution of religious minorities in Iran, but this is not a natural consequence of the union of Church and State, as witnessed by the long and successful existence of flourishing Christian and Jewish minorities in Dar-al-Islam in earlier centuries. I do not see how Northern Ireland is an example of anything. The Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1870 and there is complete separation of Church and State in Northern Ireland. Both Catholics nor Presbyterians are religious minorities in the United Kingdom, and they are simply competing in the manner you have suggested is a good thing.

Finally, some Palestinian history.
According to the UN partition plan, there was intended to be a Jewish state and an Arab state in the area occupied by the British Mandate of Palestine. The Jewish state was established, and those Arabs remaining there were recognised as citizens of that state. Gaza was occupied by Egypt, which did not attempt to establish an Arab state there, or recognise its inhabitants as citizens, because its goal was the annihilation of Israel. The West Bank of the Jordan river was occupied by the Kingdom of Jordan, which annexed it and (I think) offered citizenship to its inhabitants. This annexation was only recognised by a very few countries (Pakistan and the United Kingdom, I think). The inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank do not vote in Israel because they live in disputed territories that have not been annexed by Israel: there would be an entirely justifiable uproar if Israel were to do this. It would be like letting Iraqis vote in the United States elections: the world community would be thoroughly pissed off, even though you and I might think it would be a good idea. To be consistent, of course, Jewish settlers in the disputed territories ought not to be allowed to vote either. Inhabitants of East Jerusalem and the Golan, which have been annexed to Israel, vote just like Arab citizens of pre-1967 Israel.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

1999 Again

And today was the fifth anniversary of this poem-like entity, which is actually relevant to the Separation of Church and State argument- as a central idea of the PLE is that when religions become too concerned with the idea of 'individual salvation' instead of remaking society, civilisation is doomed...

(to the tune of “Away in a Manger”)

Outside of my window the muscle-cars roar;
and arabic techno blares out as before
Like stallions of ‘Umar at Badr they go by;
Like Tariq’s white chargers they lift my heart high
O Soldiers of Allah!
O Men among Men!
Rise up from the south-west and start it again

Once numberless anchorites camped by the Nile
And sought their salvation in durances vile
Honoured and sainted, their souls were saved well
while Rome’s Eastern Empire slid sideways to Hell
O Soldiers of Allah!
Your ancestors came
To bring Egypt justice and lift up God’s name

Now numberless channels on Cable TV
Sell us salvation from the Land of the Free
Safe in our blindness, we’re all born again
to beggar our neighbours still steeped in their sin
O Soldiers of Allah!
Let Islam arise
and cast out false Prophets who damn with their eyes

We are a sad country of lost Nazarenes
who’ve long since forgotten what holiness means
Blaphemers of ‘Isa are feted and paid
Usurers, sodomites, merrily trade
O Soldiers of Allah!
Rise up and proclaim
That all must now bow before God’s holy name

Cast down all the idols from where they’re enshrined
The Satans of commerce and all their foul kind
We’d find it far better to live as your slaves
Then with Packers and Murdochs and such godless knaves
O Soldiers of Allah!
Come save us we pray
Convert us or kill us or drive us away

We murder our children, we grind down the poor
We steal and we lie and we drunkenly whore
Like Many-Columned Iram, like Aad and Thamoud,
Bring God’s wrath against us as God’s people should.
O Soldiers of Allah!
O Party of God!
For love of our children do not spare thy rod

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Three Degrees of Separation

Marco has advanced the thesis that the principle of Separation of Church and State enshrined in the United States constitution is a major, or even the major, factor in the success of the United States, and that nations that have such a principle are likely to be more stable and prosperous than those that have not. If I have misstated his thesis, I am sure he will correct me!

Now, I am not sure that this is a general principle at all. There are three obvious questions: Which Church? Which State? And, most importantly, what do we mean by Separation? I asked Marco for a definition, and I am taking the liberty of reproducing his response below:

My definition of Separation of Church and state is the principle (enshrined in USA's constitution for instance) that the laws of the "Church" as in any moral edicts or by-laws given in any registered religious organisation are independent of the laws of the country. It also means that the head of state cannot also be a head of a religious organisation. This does not mean that just because murder is disallowed with Christians that this law cannot be also a law of the country, but that the country's law is independently defined, judged and policed from any christian institutions. Although Australia does not seem to have this enshrined in the constitution, the principle is well known, and is argued at great length when, for instance the GG is/was also the head of a Church. I agree that where there wasn't an alternative in the past history, in the examples you mention for instance, long and stable Theocracies did thrive - but in modern history, from whence the principle first surfaced, how have countries that disavowed the principle thrived compared to ones that didn't?

(1) If by ‘independent’ is simply meant, ‘there should be laws of the state separate from the laws of the religions followed by people in the state’, I agree. There is no reason these laws of the state should be quite as all pervasive as they are in Australia; Israel, for example, gets along reasonably well with no civil marriage or divorce. At its most trivial, there are many things that need laws, but are not important enough for religion to deal with: traffic lights, income tax, corporations law, etc.
Every state that I can think of has some laws that are not religious laws; I don’t know if Afghanistan under the Taliban was run completely according to Shari’a. Sudan and Sa’udi Arabia (and to a lesser extent Iran) have a very large religious component in their laws, and I don’t think we can say they are that much less successful than the surrounding nations who share a similar cultural background but are more secular. And on the other hand, Utah was quite prosperous and successful as a theocracy. I don’t think there is enough proof that this form of the general principle holds, although I suspect it will once the state is large enough to hold significant minorities who are not wholehearted adherents of the religion in question.

(2) If ‘independent’ is meant in the sense of ‘independent variable’, such that the laws of the state should not be a factor in determining the laws of the religion, then again I agree completely. If our religion demands polygamy, or wax fruit, woe betide the state that tries to legislate against us! The laws of God beat the laws of man as surely as rock beats scissors. To be fair, religions should not accept money from the State, because he who pays the piper calls the tune. The State should not fund religious schools.
However, there have been plenty of successful states where Church and State were not separated by this formulation of the principle: The United Kingdom, for instance, where the tenets of the religion were determined by the State and the Head of State is the Head of the Church; Russia, which experienced extremely rapid development and economic growth in the late 19th century with a church wholly subservient to the State; ditto Japan, with the state-sponsored Shinto cult. The prosperous nations of Scandinavia have (or had) state-sponsored Lutheran Churches on the same model as the Church of England.

(3) If ‘independent’ is meant in the sense of ‘independent variable’, such that the laws of the religions followed by people in the state should not be a factor in determining the laws of the state, then I would strongly disagree. I would argue that this is not the practice of the United States, nor the theory on which the United States constitution is built. The United States was a nation with a great variety of (Christian, Protestant) religions when it was founded and its founding documents rest on a foundation of 18th century theism- the basic religious ideas that just about everyone could agree to. ‘That each man is endowed by his creator with certain inalienable rights...’ Without that bedrock consensus, I doubt that the United States or the United States constitution would have been as successful as they have been.
Nations that have instituted separation of Church and State on this model that I can think of are France and Italy in the period 1870-1914, approximately. They seemed to do reasonably well in that time. I am leaving out all those modern states that have actively tried to destroy religion, like the Communist ones... they had too many other problems.

I think ‘Separation of Church and State’ is not a determinant of a nation’s prosperity. If the Church and the State are both pulling in the same direction (e.g., a Protestant or Confucian work ethic with an economically responsible government and a clearly defined rule of law), it does not matter whether the Church and State are separate by definition 2 (United State) or not (England, Japan...). Which Church? and Which State? are very important questions. If the laws of the religion insist on a three day week and generous subsidies for uncompetitive manufacturing industries, the State will probably be better off ignoring them. But even if the laws of the State are based on some Anarcho-Syndicalist fad, the right sort of religious laws might keep the economy moving...

I wanted to talk mostly about ‘what is good?’ but have ended up talking mostly about ‘what will make us more money?’. Hopefully my answer to the first is clear. My answer to the second is, it depends: Which Church? Which State?

Monday, December 20, 2004

More about Whitman

I have mentioned before my disappointment at how infrequently intellectual sense and moral sense seem to be joined together. How many times have my favourite scientists and authors, brimming with logically sound, robust, exhilarating ideas, proven to have the moral sense of a (feckless, maladjusted) rodent? How many times have moralists I find inspiring, sustaining, utterly consistent with my inner sense of what absolute morality must be, proven to be complete idiots- holding to be true propositions that are not only logically ridiculous, but in their implications ethically monstrous?

Here, for example, is the paragraph that caused me to suddenly recoil from an essay- very enjoyable up until then- by a Professor of Philosophy at a Catholic university in the United States:

The second form of the denial of the minor premise is not ‘I would be perfectly content if only,’ but rather, ‘I am perfectly content right now.’ This, I suggest, verges on culpable dishonesty, the sin against the Holy Spirit, and requires something more like exorcism than refutation ... it is subhuman, vegetative, pop psychology. Even the hedonist utilitarian John Stuart Mill, one of the shallowest minds in the history of human thought, said that it was better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.

‘Denial of the minor premise’ is defined in the previous paragraph as saying: ‘I do not observe any such desire for God, or heaven, or infinite joy, or some mysterious x which is more than any earthly happiness.’ Thus, happy people who don’t believe in God ought to be- exorcised? – to make them unhappy? And Whitman, apparently, was either a charlatan or a vegetable- perhaps a spring onion.

The logic in the final sentence is also breathtaking: if ‘one of the shallowest minds in the history of human thought’ agrees with what I am saying- gosh, then it must be true...

Saturday, December 18, 2004


I find that it is exactly five years since I wrote this, and it has been a long time since I have put up anything even vaguely like a poem, and "vaguely like a poem" describes this pretty well:

If you had asked me how I felt yesterday morning, I would have said
(were I not timid, knowing myself to be a craven, a poltroon)
“Nine parts Walt Whitman to one part Osama ben Laden”
(will any of you remember those names on December 18th, 2999, children of my children’s children?)

Some days the beggars at Redfern station are infinitely precious to me, their faces and their voices and their ethereal lies.
The dance of the Filipino Baptists in their carpark, moving backward and forward and backward again, each in turn, until each car has made its way out.
The men with crutches, the men whose gaits are strange, who look down always, who I see on the footpath outside the coffee and nut shop.
The women who do not look weak, not in the least, the women in the hijab, who make me think of Kipling:

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains
and the women come down to cut up what remains
just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
and go to your God like a soldier

All of these are precious to me.

Some days I can see the Spirit of God hovering over every person I see, every silent passenger, every jogger glimpsed out the window for a half-second, every infant passed by incomprehending as I am swept along by the inrushing or outrushing human tide on Abercrombie street.
I see the face of God in the tired faces of the old men in Ramadan, in the square-jawed young men from Utah with mandarin nametags - in the little girl whose mother is feeding her peanuts from a paper bag, in the empty lullaby of the quatschen of the city office girls.

The names of the twelve stations and their waiting crowds are like the verses and the notes in a great hymn of praise.

Bless and keep them all, Lord God, Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

And it struck me as I arrived at my place of work yesterday morning that joy and rage are less than a hair’s breadth apart in my being, and one is always mixed with the other.
If you are Walt Whitman, all is good in itself, whatever it is, and joy is just joy.
But if you are one part Osama ben Laden, if you believe that a flaw is a flaw, that no man is good but God alone, that suffering is real suffering and despair is real despair,
then the joy and the pity and the rage, the thirst for goodness and the hatred of the dark,
are only one thing, one thing, one thing.

From Ghoulies and Ghosties and Long-Legged Beasties...

...and also from unreasoning faith in the The Economist, O Lord, deliver us!

Marco has made the somewhat irresponsible comment that he prefers not to look at primary sources, instead trusting The Economist to judge material for him. He has also made the perhaps teensily hubristic comment that our ongoing discussion of the situation in Iraq has been a convincing victory for him, since I have been too busy to post a response :)

I am going to summarise arguments from last month, carried out on Marco's blog and by email, here.

* Everyone who wants to argue about the number '100,000' ought first to read the Lancet article.

* I have been accused of having an insufficiently hard-headed view of human nature, but the methodology of the study assumes that when you ask people a question, they will tell the truth. Respondents were told that the purpose of the study was to measure mortality before and after the invasion. Note that the only region showing a clear drop in reported mortality is the only formerly autonomous Kurdish region surveyed, where respondents are most likely to want to push the 'things are better now' rather than the 'things are worse now' worldview.

* The main point that I was trying to make is that the war-related mortality cannot be taken in isolation from the pre-war increases in mortality due to sanctions, and it is too early to call. There seems to be more uncertainty in pre-war Iraqi child mortality figures than I thought, but anyone who wants to argue about it ought first to read this other Lancet article. The figures in the more recent study do not tally with these, which means either: (1) I was blinded by spin, and there was no humanitarian crisis in pre-war Iraq; (2) Things were getting better under the UN's oil for food program, and the humanitarian crisis in pre-war Iraq was winding down; (3) The urban areas surveyed in the more recent study were more prosperous than less accessible rural areas suffering more badly from the health effects of sanctions.

But, I don't really want to argue about any of that stuff. I am only interested in that one eternal question: what should we do now?

What is the optimal way to move ahead in Iraq from here? That's what I want to argue about. Comments?

Iraqi Reconstruction

I must state at the outset that this post is not about the reconstruction of the Iraqi state and infrastructure, though that would be interesting- I am inclining more and more to the view that what will be required for stability and the establishment of democratic institutions is Iraqi deconstruction, i.e., the dismemberment of an artificial state into three separate entities.

Instead, this post will be an attempted reconstruction of my as-yet-and-probably-forever missing document, 'Valid Arguments against the War', from March 2003. Rather than reconstructing it word for word in the best free-wheeling textual criticism style, as if I was seeking to prove Shakespeare was a Jehaovah's witness, I will describe what it was like in broad brush strokes:

The animating principle of the author appears to be a fear of global nuclear war leading to the destruction of civilisation and possibly the human species. The desire to avoid the reoccurence of the situation of 'Mutually Assured Destruction' that suffused his childhood and warped his personality is paramount in his concerns.

He begins by letting off a little steam by arguing that most of the arguments given against the war either are not relevant, or are not arguments at all. An example of the first are that people will die in an invasion: of course people will die. People are dying now because of the effects of sanctions; is it better to die in a hospital of a post-operative infection easily controlled by unavailable antibiotics, or to be hit by a rocket-propelled grenade? The question has to be, how many people are dying now, how many people will die if nothing is done, how many people will die if something is done. An example of the second is to keep saying that the West supported Saddam in the 80s, as if this is relevant to what we should be doing in 2003. We supported Stalin in 1941-5.

The author then quotes three arguments against the war that he considers valid and respectable, which may be summarised as follows:

(1) It could all turn out really, really, badly. By 'really really badly' the author envisions something along the lines of a limited nuclear war between Israel and Iraq, with cities turned into lakes of fire and vastly more civilian deaths then Saddam could have caused in another twenty years, plus a permanently poisoned and maimed relationship between the United States and the rest of the world. This is the best reason not for going to war to make China safe for democracy; it was the best reason not for going to war to make Iraq safe for democracy; and it was predicated on Iraq's possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction. It did not come about, hurrah!

(2) It could all turn out really badly. By 'really badly' the author envisions the US stuffing up the invasion and subsequent reconstruction to such an extent that Iraq is left either a failed state, or a rabid Islamic republic in the Iranian orbit. This argument is still a valid one. We shall see, we shall see. The most significant downside of this outcome, in the author's view, is that it would impede the establishment of worldwide US hegemony and hence increase the risk of Mutually Assured Destruction happening again in the lifetime of his grandchildren.

(3) It could strike a fatal blow to the Post World War Two World Order. The author does not consider this a major tragedy, but recognises that the PWW2WO is a real acheivement, a considerable advance on the Pre-WW2WO, and that others have a legitimate right to feel strongly about it and to urge sacrifices in its defence.
This does not seem to have come about, either: NATO and the UN are still here, if a little more dysfunctional, and will probably limp through to the end of the second Bush administration without collapsing entirely. The camel's back will bear a few more straws.

Friday, December 17, 2004


Read an opinion poll in the paper the other day to the effect that a majority of every religious group you care to name is 'pro-choice', and this percentage was increasing with time. I wonder what sort of push-polling they had to do to get a majority of Muslims in favour....

Q: Do you think immigrants to Australia should obey Australian laws?

Q: Do you think the perception that immigrants want to change Australian laws to be more like laws in their home countries is one reason they may encounter fear or resentment from native born Australians?

Q: Do you think Australian abortion laws should be changed?

I don't believe the results for a minute of course, because they strike directly at my mental strategy for not being sent to prison (see previous posts), but they were kind of depressing. So I went home and drank a lot of red wine, then kidnapped Amanda's character Indric (buff, irresponsible gardener to a mysterious big shot in the Department of Magical Security) and forced him to leap out of a burning zeppelin into a klemn-infested swamp carrying his unconscious unrequited love interest. So the day ended well for all concerned.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Quote for December

Yes, it's William Burroughs, and it's not "abortion is a form of murder," which you might have expected!

Here it is: "To concern oneself with politics is to make the mistake of the bull in the ring, which is to charge the cloth. In exactly the same way that the bullfighter conditions the bull to follow the cloth, politics teaches the masses to follow images and illusions."

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Die Blog Die

Net... very... slow... here...

Also, it is so damn nice at home now that I don't seem to be riled up about much of anything now. And even Philip Adams seems to have become kindler and gentler post-Elections, so that I occasionally find myself agreeing with him. Son cosas de la vida, eh?