Notes from genre author Stephen Palmer

Category: Opinion

Politics Week, 2: Labour

“Sir” Keir Starmer – that tells you everything you need to know. He actually accepted an “honour” from the system he is supposed to be Opposed to…

Labour appeared in the political landscape as a consequence of industrialisation in the nineteenth century. They were the Opposition party of the working person: of manufacturing, of labouring. But that part of our economic system has gone now, to leave the service economy, which in the main consists of capitalists using stored money for the purpose of making more money via the interest rate mechanism. (For more on why this mechanism is so destructive, read Margrit Kennedy’s book Interest Free Money.) There is now no natural, organised constituency of manufacturing workers for the Labour Party to base themselves upon, and although the unions still exist, their reputation and potency was forever reduced by Thatcher.

Labour has no point, no meaning, except as the Opposition in a system that fakes a binary split for the sake of the glory of ruling the nation. It is why the British are so afraid of coalitions. “Holding the government to account” doesn’t cut it with me, since unless there happens to be a small Tory majority, there’s no account to hold. Tories with any kind of workable majority can do what they want. That’s working for half the nation.

As I wrote yesterday, New Labour shouldn’t count as Labour. New Labour was just Tory-lite created for the purpose of acquiring power. The ruthlessly ambitious Blair cared for little else. Clause 4 turned collective politics into individualist politics: the triumph of selfishness.

As for Jeremy Corbyn, the reaction to him and his humane, insightful character illustrates the depth of the innate conservatism of this country. Jeremy Corbyn! Jeremy Corbyn. The name terrified the selfish masses. He stood for collective caring, for mass decency. “There is no such thing as society,” as Thatcher almost said, and in Britain what we have is millions of isolated individuals, made so by the Western outlook, by capitalist economics, and by our insistence on tradition, which looks ever backwards. Jeremy Corbyn like Michael Foot was way ahead of his time, although, ironically, Michael Foot was simultaneously way behind his time.

The days of Labour are over – at least, in England, and most likely in Scotland too. They are dead now. In Wales they will perhaps cling on to power for a few more years, but I suspect even that foothold will in due course be lost. They will be replaced by more Tories.

I see no alternative now in an unjust system where the Tories can change constituency boundaries as they see fit, can keep the undemocratic First Past The Post voting system, and can rely on a right wing press which sees anybody from the left as somehow un-British, to a brand new second party. It should have a base somewhere to the left of centre, but with a huge amount of green and orange in it. Labour can’t oppose any more. For those who remember the SDP… well, the environment has changed a bit since then, hasn’t it? Two monoliths in Westminster is the template of the distant past. We need diversification now. We need diversity. We need something new.

And if there’s ever a New New Labour, watch out. That’ll be Tories in sheeps’ clothing.

Politics Week, 1: Tories

I sometimes think British liberals and lefties don’t realise how innately conservative this country is. It’s so easy to perceive a political system of two roughly equal halves, one Tory, one Labour. But since WW2 the Tories have been in power for well over a decade more than Labour, and if you don’t count New Labour, which I don’t, it’s a much more unequal balance: four decades against one and a half. At the moment, we face a situation where, regardless of Tory sleaze, incompetence and general unpleasantness, Johnson and his blue cohort are laying waste to formerly red constituencies. Why is this?

Britain is an unusual country. The Tories are the political wing of big business – that much is certain. We are a nation of shopkeepers, apparently, with big business in our blood. We had an Empire. The Empire fragmented. We had a monarchy. For some reason, we kept the monarchy. We have a second chamber of “lords” that actually includes bishops. Quite extraordinary for 2021.

These are the foundations of the British natural conservatism. We look backwards. Our social systems are based on hierarchies of privilege, exclusion, land ownership and stasis. Our national character is one of deference, the denial of reality (mostly through emotional suppression), a presumption of social immobility, and a high level of group narcissism. We are a selfish, uncaring, authoritarian, patriarchal country where nobody is supposed to raise themselves above the unspoken norm. We are afraid of change. That we have an “unwritten constitution” says everything you need to know about this backward, benighted country. Politics is all done on who politicians know and what’s been done before. That the national rules are unwritten is a fact directly leading to the reliance on tradition, which then becomes a normalised part of the political landscape, which gives the political establishment its innate conservative character.

There was no revolution in Britain in the nineteenth century because of this innate conservatism. The British are in general too frightened and repressed to be revolutionaries.

The most important job in the world is parenting. But in Britain, we don’t like children. We’re really not terribly good with children. And thus centuries of neglect and abuse are perpetuated, not least through our revolting “public schools,” which still, in 2021, are the breeding grounds for so many snotty-nosed boy politicians. Some people characterised Johnson of Eton as rather like Trump, but Johnson is only a mini-Trump, benign where Trump was malignant, incompetent and petulant where Trump was genuinely dangerous. Johnson simply doesn’t have the mental reach to be dangerous.

Imagine a woman PM with as many former partners and children as Johnson. Then imagine how far in the future you’d need to be for that to become a reality. It is a thought experiment exposing Britain’s juvenile culture of boys. Lads, lads, and more lads. Britain loves ’em.

The Tories are notoriously ruthless amongst themselves when it comes to the party staying in power. In part, that’s because they see themselves as the natural political party of Britain – they believe they have a right to rule. They see Labour as somehow other, as un-British, untraditional. Tories see conservatism as a normal British quality, and I think that’s why people like Jeremy Corbyn and Michael Foot were so vilified by the press. Somehow, those two were deemed un-British: alien, foreign, unknowable, unwanted. The Tories and the Tory press fear what they don’t understand – humanity.

And it’s not just a case of class dynamics, though that, in this wretched country, has a lot to do with it. It’s a case of Tories believing themselves to be Britain, to represent the national character in a way no other organisation can. With their roots in capitalist, exploitative economics, they see themselves as the source of Britishness as well as its expression. Their natural antipathy to Europe is a result of their jingoistic admiration for themselves and the nation they believe they are equivalent to.

No wonder they hark back to olden times: “this great nation of ours” and so on and so on. That’s when a man could exploit without the unions getting in the way.



Sleas – a poem


They are in the House

They are in the Chamber

They are in the Cabinet

They are everywhere

Sleas want your support

Sleas want your loyalty

Sleas want you to believe

Sleas are everywhere

Don’t support sleas in the House

Don’t be loyal to Chamber sleas

Don’t believe in sleas in the Cabinet

You don’t need sleas.

Reality Versus Donald Trump

It was always going to end that way – violent, shocking, mad.

Narcissists as dangerous as Donald Trump have no connection with reality. In their earlier lives they have the option of controlling, dominating or otherwise changing reality so that it fits their personal fantasies, but for some, when in the end reality wins out – as it always does – there is no wriggle room. Hitler found this out in 1945, raging in his bunker that he had been “failed” by the German nation, operating a scorched earth policy in revenge, then doing the only deed left and shooting himself. Reality intruded into his totally unrealistic mental model of reality, leaving him trapped. Unable to move, and unable at last to deny the real world, he took the one last option available to him. The same thing happened to Napoleon at Waterloo. In my blog piece on Napoleon I wrote:

When reality finally did intrude into Napoleon’s world there were two distinct responses. Usually he would slip away from the scene of the disaster and pretend to himself and to others that it had never happened, or that some force other than himself had been responsible. On other occasions he would retreat into his fantasy world and simply ignore what was happening. But on at least three occasions the convergence of reality and fantasy was so intense that Napoleon’s inner world – his laboriously constructed self – was placed in jeopardy. When Napoleon was at the Champagne ecole militaire he was punished for an offence by being forced to eat his dinner upon his knees at the door of the refectory. The power wielded over him and the humiliation were so intense that he suffered a kind of fit; reality and his internal world became violently incompatible. A similar occurrence took place in the weeks before Napoleon’s creation of the First Consul. Sieyes’ coup de etat involved much chicanery, and at one point the parliamentary opposition became heated, questioning Napoleon about the army surrounding Paris and the general state of leadership. Questions about personal ambitions and current events Napoleon deflected, but at one point the opposition’s hatred of him became obvious, and it seemed the plan might fail. Then Napoleon panicked: he stuttered answers, his face white, his powers of manipulation and self-deception departed. A third occasion was the Battle of Waterloo. When it became obvious that Wellington and Blucher were going to take the day Napoleon did not stay to see the result, instead riding from the scene weeping, terrified and speechless.

Narcissists like Trump offer us a glimpse into their fantasy worlds when these kinds of reality intrusions occur. For Hitler, that fantasy world was one of Aryan purity and German domination. It was no accident that he made the equivalence between Germany and the Führer, as if the two were one and the same thing. In his mind, they were the same. Similarly for Trump, the number one requirement in those who work with him is loyalty – loyalty regardless of events in the real world. In this way Trump sucks individuals into his fantasy world, forcing them to deny reality in the same way he does. A loyal Trump follower is, in effect, the same as Trump. He does not understand that other people are independent of him, except in the most basic sense, from which his rage at their autonomy derives – that they do things other than what he wants. Meanwhile, in France:

By this time mere conquest could not appease the lust for power; what seemed a lack of human fallibility was metamorphosed into a belief that he was a deity. Part of the Imperial Catechism ran – Q. Why are we bound to show these duties (love, obedience, fidelity, service, etc.) to the Emperor? A. Because God has established him as our Sovereign, and has rendered him His image here on earth, overwhelming him with gifts in peace and war. To honour and serve our Emperor is, therefore, to honour and serve God himself.

The significant different between Trump, and Napoleon and Hitler however is that America for Trump is merely the nation in which he was born. Unlike Hitler and Napoleon, for whom nationality was crucial, nation for Trump is unimportant. What matters is him, and him alone. He is not only his own messiah, he is his own nation.

Trump is without doubt the most dangerous American president ever. That the political situation over there is so bad he actually managed to get to the top of the masculine pyramid is just one of many reasons the American way of doing politics, like the British way, is utterly unfit for purpose.

The Man In The High Castle tv series

Until recently, I watched very little television. The news, the Simpsons, and a few good documentaries on BBC4 were about as far as I went. Recent events both in my life and in the world at large brought a change in that, and a couple of nights ago I and my partner finished watching the four series of The Man In The High Castle, based on Philip K. Dick’s Hugo Award winning 1963 novel. Here, I present a few thoughts.


This review contains spoilers and is of the entire 40 episode production.


Well, I enjoyed my first tv box set very much. I have only a passing acquaintance with Dick’s work, but I do recognise and celebrate his considerable importance to the SF genre, though The Man In The High Castle isn’t a novel I’ve read. Essentially, the book posits an alternate world where the Allies lose WW2 and Germany and Japan carve up America, so that the Japanese take the states west of the Rockies (which turns into the Neutral Zone) and the Greater Nazi Reich takes everything to the east. Hitler and Himmler are alive, the Nazis have the atomic bomb, and an American Resistance has failed.

The main characters are all linked to the central premise of alternate history lines. In the novel, the titular man has a book, but in this tv series Hawthorne Abendsen has a number of films, all of which depict a reality where the Allies win – exactly as our own history. These grainy black and white films, which we are so familiar with, are a marvellous way of emphasising the strangeness of Dick’s alternate world. I think here the writers hit upon a particularly brilliant hook, which in part explains the excellence of this series, especially the first half, where the films are the central plot device.

The other aspect of that excellence is the acting. A number of actors really shine. Rufus Sewell as the American-born soldier-turned-Nazi John Smith stands out; and what a wonderful irony that bland name is when attached to the word Reichsmarschall! He holds much of the Nazi side of the story together, supported by many great actors, but, as the series approaches its conclusion, it’s the dilemma of his family life which becomes compelling. Here Genea Charpentier, playing his middle daughter, stands out. Alexa Davelos as the main “resistance” focus Juliana Crain is brilliant, as is her early foil Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank). One actor though who I think was miscast is Rupert Evans as Frank Frink. I wasn’t convinced by his acting, though that’s not to say it is bad. But I don’t think his face fit; he looks more like a chorister from Winchester Cathedral than anything else. A more compelling actor is Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who in one sense is the human heart of the production, trying to achieve peace when working amidst a brutal, dehumanised, xenophobic Japanese military. Joel de la Fuente is exceptional as the loyal Chief Inspector Kido, but I think his personal story is dealt with too late. In the first couple of series he comes across more like a machine than a man, which may have been the point but which acts as an irritating barrier to learning more about him earlier on. I found myself alternately interested and annoyed by him.

The general tone of the screenplay is terrific. I loved for instance the historical and poetic justice of John Smith’s final scene, which echoes what happened to Hitler in the bunker. As somebody who can’t watch much violence on tv and who despises American gun culture, I had to accept that, in a post-war situation, there was always going to be violence portrayed. Much of this I thought was acceptable in context, but as usual with American productions a lot of the violence is gratuitous. Other aspects are sensitively done, for instance a wonderful scene where Nobusuke Tagomi, the peace-loving Japanese Trade Minister, brings a perfectly wrapped tray of strawberries to his intended: a beautifully acted and observed scene, and so redolent of the aesthetics of Japanese life.

The opening episode of the fourth series brings in a novel new force, the Black Communist Resistance, and, although this episode is noticeably weak, this part of the scenario – the African American experience before WW2, and the Nazi response to finding African Americans in the country they dominate – is very well done, and certainly not out of place. A final scene with Jennifer Smith (the middle daughter) and her mother encapsulates the obscene barbarity of Nazi ethics, leading to John and Helen Smith realising that they have become, inch by inch, and in part propelled by the twisted logic of male hierarchical politics, utter monsters.

The tenor of the series as a whole is serious, but there is one lighter strand, which is that of the Americana dealer Robert Childan, played by Brennan Brown. Here I also felt there was a mis-step, not because Brown is a poor actor, more because, as with Rupert Evans, his face didn’t seem to fit. I also think his style of acting was not best suited to this kind of drama. Some of the “comic” scenes are amusing, but too many seem out of place. That said, he is an important part of the mix, and I didn’t dislike him.

The series isn’t perfect. Even Sewell has a few scenes where he somehow mis-acts, while the tenor and plot of the third series – the weakest in my opinion – is a bit shoddy. I also found the Anomaly completely out of place. This is the heart of the SF bit, set deep underground in Pennsylvanian mountains, but alas it seems the series developers couldn’t think of anything more appropriate here than to bolt on part of Stargate. I loved the eerie atmosphere of the abandoned mine workings – and here the alternate black and white films are a marvellous counterpoint – but the Spielbergesque “bright light at the end of a tunnel” did not work at all for me. Even the final redemptive scene smacked too much of Close Encounters.

All in all however these four series, each of ten episodes, are definitely worth trying. It’s been a real joy over the last few weeks to watch them, following the stories of all the main characters, and in particular watching what I think is the personal heart of the thing (as opposed to its plot heart, which revolves around history and life choices for individuals). That personal heart is the conflict men make for themselves and others when humane norms are set aside for infantile, brutal, aggressive goals, a conflict symbolised by the disintegration of John Smith’s family. It is of course in 2021 a deep irony that in Dick’s alternate world there are fascists leading America, a nation founded on slavery, genocide, misogyny, fraud, corruption, and an obsession with materialism. For we in our world of 2021 know what it is like to see fascists leading nations. With that in mind, it is perhaps the situation of the Black Communist Rebellion which most stands out to me now – that struggle of an enslaved people against supposedly Christian overlords. When will all of America see itself as it really is? Not for a long time, I suspect.

The Grotte du Mas d’Azil spear thrower

I listened to a very interesting programme on Radio 4 today summarising what’s known about Palaeolithic cave and portable art. Three experts in the field gave their views, including Paul Petitt, who wasn’t shy about voicing his opinions. One contributor, when describing portable art, alluded to the famous spear thrower from Grotte du Mas d’Azil, describing it as an example of an image of defecation. But, as has been noted variously in the archaeological world, animals don’t look backwards when defecating (see public domain photo below), whereas they do when giving birth. The depiction of the Grotte du Mas d’Azil spear thrower is far better interpreted as an image of a deer giving birth, upon which a pair of birds – probably corvids – perch. This avian behaviour is commonly seen in the wild, when corvids or other birds feed on the caul etc. The humour in the image is definitely there though, since the corvids’ beaks are the hook upon which the spear would be anchored.

Towards Dystopia

A fascinating article in yesterday’s Guardian previewing the new Netflix film The Social Dilemma outlines the scale of the problem humanity faces in the internet:

“… the tech industry’s tools, most predominantly social media, aren’t promising tools but too-powerful entities fragmenting attention and rewiring brains by design; that addiction to phones and social media is a function of their business model; that this divisive, degrading status quo is driving us straight to dystopia.” (The Guardian, 9/9/20)

Over the last five years I’ve pondered more and more the qualities of the internet, and become more and more dejected about it. My novel The Autist hypothesises a grim future, while other as yet unpublished works do the same. I’m not optimistic. An encounter with an ex-colleague in my local park a couple of days ago confirmed this mood, my friend, in his sixties, remarking that because of his decade of birth he felt he had lived through a golden age of liberalism and humanism – roughly the beginning of the 1960s to 2010. His hasn’t been the only voice I’ve heard making this observation.

I now think the great danger of social media in particular is the question of belief. The mushroom-like rise of conspiracies is just one symptom of the state we find ourselves in. Other symptoms include 50/50 polarisation, the rise of the anti-Science and anti-expert movements, and the proliferation of absurd cults amplified by the particular qualities of the internet, qualities so well summarised by Dr Mary Aiken in her book The Cyber Effect.

Human beings derive meaning about their world from the stories they tell. In millennia past, those stories were broad and monolithic: spiritual traditions and religions. What was believed by the masses came from particular sources: Buddha, christianity etc. The latter, religious, were dogmatic and enforced, but they were simple and fairly constant. The former, spirituality in prehistoric times, were local meaning frameworks; lack of understanding about the natural world’s laws, for all that prehistoric people had phenomenal environmental knowledge and powers of interpretation, led to belief in spirits, souls, spiritual realms, mystical beings and so on. All these beliefs were promulgated by stories – origin stories, moral stories, stories about behaviour, fate, the sky and the land.

In the 1960s in the West religious faith began to decline, as liberal, humane views spread – the liberal story, as Yuval Noah Harari observed, was the only tale in town. But now, as he went on to say, humanity has no story.

The internet has created a human social environment which by virtue of its particular qualities – immediate response (i.e. active as opposed to traditional passive participation), the potential for anonymity, its overly visual style and the parallel reduction in the value of the word and therefore reason – has allowed any individual to choose what they believe. This is, therefore, a startling and exceptionally dangerous moment in human history. There being no overall ethical authority in their lives, people have diminished to herd mentality, either following whims or disbelieving everything except their parents’ fundamental values.

This, then, is the danger. As Bertrand Russell pointed out, believing in a christian god has all the sanity of believing in a teapot orbiting the Earth. Neither belief is based in the truth of the natural world. Both are human belief systems that are attractive because of the narrative they tell – that the world was created by him on the cloud, or that teapots can fly. Such narratives appeal variously: to Westerners, to hippies.

The internet has become a vast, fragmented, semi-random, whimsical collection of belief stories. Everybody needs a meaning framework to survive – to live without one is to go insane. Lacking any other obvious ethical source, and seduced by the exploiters of the internet, the majority have chosen whatever out there takes their fancy. But those belief stories are lies. Worse, they are trite, semi-random lies.

Facts won’t mend this disaster. The only option is to tell the real human story based on our truth, which is itself based in the natural world. We can understand ourselves and the origin of consciousness. We can make sense of the human condition in a rising tide of chaotic digital noise. Unfortunately, such stories aren’t attractive when compared with life-ever-after or teapots in space.

A shame. The real thing is wonderful.

Nothing Is True Any More

Today social media delighted in a row of books behind Boris Johnson as, at Castle Rock School, he mouthed Tory propaganda and absolved himself of responsibility. I very rarely share political stuff on Facebook, but this story (perhaps because it featured lots of dystopian novels) tickled my fancy, so I shared it. A couple of hours later it turned out that the school librarian had made the display months before Johnson’s visit, as he departed his place of employment. The social media story was untrue. The message of the book titles had been left by the librarian for school managers.

My reaction was to share the Huffington Post correction and delete the original story, but the response of various of my friends was enlightening – and frightening. Many of them thought the original post appropriate, ironic, amusing etc. All a good joke at Johnson’s expense – opposing Tories more important than actuality.

Also shared yesterday was The Independent’s video of the great Sacha Baron Cohen speaking passionately about the dangers of social media. I’ve written and spoken a few times about these dangers, but I’m becoming aware now that more people are just giving up on resisting (the main theme of my novel The Autist, which features a Thai anti-internet group called Fri – i.e. Free). So here are some thoughts on what’s happening and what those dangers are.

It’s a combination of two things – the intrinsic narcissism of most of us, which leads both to irrational belief and deliberate propaganda, and the peculiarities of the digital life, which allow immediate response, bypassing reasoned, “slow” (as Daniel Kahneman put it) thought. This then is the danger: by creating an environment which human beings interact with as if it’s real, yet which is abstract and able to fool people using a number of simple psychological methods, we’re tearing ourselves from our roots in the real world. If millions of people come to the conclusion that – especially if the internet is their main source of active participation in life – they might as well give up bothering to find out what’s true and what’s propaganda, then humanity is doomed as a sane species. We literally are tearing ourselves from our own minds, either by creating alternate realities which the majority of people accept as real and true, or by inculcating a sense of disbelief so profound the concepts of reality and fantasy merge into one thing – a mess of cynical disbeliefs too complex to untangle.

As Daniel Kahneman observed, people are usually too lazy to take the time to reason. As Erich Fromm observed, narcissism operates through self-delusion. And as Yuval Noah Harari observed, most people don’t know themselves. Yes: so far, the human race hasn’t covered itself in glory regarding its understanding of the real world – oh, except, of course, over the last five hundred years… “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: if we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken.” – Carl Sagan, scientist.

For me, narcissism is the fundamental metaphor of the human mind. Overcoming it through life is our main task. The internet, and social media in particular, is an environment which facilitates and amplifies that narcissism still remaining in the human species. In ethical terms, it is a retrogressive entity. Personally, I think it’s a very dangerous entity. But I seem to be in the minority in thinking so – and in acting as I think. I deleted the untrue post and posted the true one. How many others did likewise? And how many of my friends laughed off the original post?

Well, maybe I’m too serious. But, then again, we are creatures of narrative. The human narrative for 100,000 years has been one lie after another, promulgated by religion and spirituality. But those lies were passive; and they were essential at the time, serving to explain the otherwise inexplicable. The new lies are far more dangerous because they’re active. Suddenly everybody can participate in what they believe. And ninety-nine times out of a hundred they believe whatever takes their fancy.

To paraphrase something else Yuval Noah Harari said: what’s so dangerous about our times is that, having discarded the stories of Socialism and Fascism, and now even Liberalism, the human race has no story. I think the human race needs new stories based on reality and humane ethics before it’s too late. But perhaps it’s already too late.


Magical thinking

Today Donald Trump revealed he is taking the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to counter Covid-19. What has been interesting, and what this blog post is about, is the media response. In the majority of cases – including at the public session where Trump made his revelation – the media pointed out that there is no evidence that hydroxychloroquine is efficacious with this new illness. When asked what the benefits of the drug were, Trump said, “Here’s my evidence. I get a lot of positive calls about it.”

It is correct to state that there is no evidence to support the efficacy of this drug against Covid-19, but that does rather miss the point of Trump taking it. To ask Trump the question about evidence is to assess him on our ground. We can’t do this. Trump, as with all narcissists, must be assessed on his own ground, since he does not live in the world we inhabit. Only then can any conclusion be drawn about his beliefs and why he believes them.

Trump believes that merely by taking the drug he must be influencing his health. That his beliefs are fantasy is not just irrelevant to him, it is 100% terra incognita. He does not know that he does not know. He believes that by acting according to his beliefs about hydroxychloroquine he must therefore be having an effect on his own health.

This is what some call magical thinking. Magical thinking is a symptom of narcissism, in that it explicitly refuses to test beliefs or procedures in the real world. Magical thinking is the exact opposite of the scientific method, which experiments upon the independent real world to determine its laws. In the real world, as many of us realise, hydroxychloroquine has no effect on Covid-19. Spirituality, religion, superstition and the belief in the efficacy of spells are all forms of magical thinking which over time have acquired commonly accepted status in human societies.

For us and the media to state our understanding of the laws of the real world in the case of narcissists like Trump, while semantically correct and scientifically proven, is to miss the point of why narcissists say the things they do. Many people will say Trump is stupid for taking hydroxychloroquine. They are wrong. When Trump made his revelation today, he gave us a glimpse of the fantasy world he inhabits, not of his general level of intelligence.

We need to understand narcissism in all its forms. Trump and his ilk are merely the most obvious in the current political crop. But billions of human beings are thinking, believing and acting in the world today because of personal narcissism which they have not overcome.

Experiment. Hypothesise. Test. Theorise. Understand. We defer to the real world, not the other way around.


Answering Dennett’s Question For Him

The philosopher and Darwinist Daniel Dennett is puzzled by the continued existence of religious belief. How, he wonders, does it have survival value? The fundamentalist atheist Richard Dawkins is similarly perplexed by the persistence of religion, 500 years after the beginning of the scientific revolution. I, on the other hand – an ironclad atheist just like D² – am not at all surprised by the persistence of religious belief.

First of all, a few notes on my own stance. I’ve always been an atheist. My novels often have the theme of exposing religion and spirituality for what they are (eg the ‘Factory Girl’ trilogy). I utterly reject any notion of deities, soul or spirit, and the afterlife. I’m also a Darwinist in that I entirely accept Darwin’s wonderful theory of evolution by natural selection. In other words, I’m remarkably like D². Why, then, the difference?

In this blog post I’d like to answer Dennett’s question for him. Why do spirituality (by which I mean belief systems up to 3,000BC or thereabouts) and religion (what came after) continue to exist in societies suffused with and dependent upon the modern evidence based way of thinking? After all, spacefaring nations East and West go to the moon because of science, not prayer. Hospitals work by science, not prayer. Vaccines were discovered by science, not prayer. When you want anything mended you go to a mender, not a priest. In short: prayer obviously doesn’t work in the world. Yet it remains a major focus for the greater proportion of the world’s population.

Spirituality and religion answer four major questions that all human beings must have answered if they are to live coherent, sane lives. Those questions typically revolve around the themes: (i) how did the universe come into existence; (ii) how did I come into existence; (iii) what is the meaning of my life; and (iv) how should I live? No human being can live sane and whole without some basic answer to these four questions. That’s part of being human. In other words, meaning is an unavoidable aspect of the human condition. D² have answered the four questions through science. Others answer them through religion. Science, spirituality and religion are all meaning frameworks.

A better reframing therefore of Dennett’s question is: what is the survival value of meaning frameworks? Now we see where D² have gone wrong. Religion is merely an imaginary subset of human meaning frameworks. Atheism is also a human meaning framework. Science is a non-imaginary subset of human meaning frameworks, working through the scientific method, which spirituality and religion explicitly deny.

In other words, from perhaps as far back as 100,000 years ago, spirituality was an absolutely inevitable invention for all hunter-gatherers, who could not under any circumstances have survived without it. Human beings profoundly live via metaphor. We tell stories. This is what the Darwinist and the fundamentalist atheist don’t understand. They apply Darwinism to social life. Darwinism in fact applies to bodies created by genetics. Applying Darwinism to social life – asking “What is the survival value of religion?” – is like applying the mechanical processes in clockwork to the notion of eleven o’clock. Eleven o’clock is a human concept emerging from the mechanical processes inside a clock. You don’t ask what eleven o’clock is by observing the precise positions of cogs, levers and hands inside a stopwatch. You enquire as to its meaning in human life.

If human beings are to live happy, just, peaceful lives we have to expose the true nature of spirituality and religion. Pretending it’s all just a bunch of fairy stories, although literally true, strips metaphor from human minds, and without metaphor we are destined for insanity. We need stories to survive, and for the vast majority of human existence we had to invent them, because we didn’t know the truth about the real world. But now we do. Scientists accept that we defer to the real world, not the other way around. It is the real world which teaches us, not some book written 2,000 years ago, or some imaginary collection of principles invented in the depths of the last Ice Age. A new story is therefore required.

Yuval Noah Harari recently pointed out that for the first half of the twentieth century there were essentially three human stories: Capitalism, Socialism and Liberalism. After WW2 there was one human story: Liberalism. But now, we have no human story. That observation should send a chill through the hearts and minds of all who care about the future of the human race.