viernes, mayo 27, 2016

Is religion abuse?

Homeopathy is staring down a barrel. The European authorities have decided that there is no scientific evidence that it works, in spite of the anecdotal evidence of millions of patients who claim that it has cured their ailments. A placebo effect? Maybe. Worse than tobacco? Probably not.  In fact, given that using this kind of medicine is a free choice and the information about the risks or lacks of guarantees is so widespread that it is hard to suggest that anyone is being led down a blind alley.

Not so the case with traditional religions. I would argue that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to argue that religions are not imposed on their adherents in highly abusive ways and that they need to be combated with the same strength as other forms of emotional coercion.

Let's start with the scientific evidence. Obviously, there is no proof that any of the beliefs: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc. have even a grain of truth to them or that they are anything less than instruments used by authority to exercise power through coercion and fear. And what is worse is that they are imposed from a very young age, before citizens have the capacity to reason. In the specific case of Christianity, the whole belief system is based on the choice between chosing 'the path of good' and submitting to the demands of the Church, or being led by temptation to stray towards 'the path of evil' which in the book of Genesis is equated with 'knowledge'. Ie. the very education which is supposed to enlighten us and set us free is 'evil' and if as a result of this we come to the conclusion that the beliefs we have been taught as kids are little more than mumbo jumbo, we will always be haunted by the fear that we are straying from God.

I have no problem with the essence of God, in the sense of there being a higher power or force of nature, and that this power can be felt and identified by any sentient being on his journey through life. Nevertheless, this has to be a permanent discovery, sought through experience and without other human beings using it as a tool for oppression. And this is exactly what religions do. They profess to know the truth and to use it for the sake of social control. Once we recognise this, -and all the more so when religion is being used as an argument for mass slaughter- the State has the obligation to step in and prevent this falsehood and abuse.

Until we reach this stage, I suggest they leave the homeopaths in peace. In comparison to the works of the priests, rabbis and imams of this world, theirs is at the most a very minor misdemeanour

lunes, mayo 16, 2016

Junk news

If we stopped reading mainstream news, would we be any more ignorant?

My hypothesis is that the opposite would happen. For proper democracies to work, we need to be informed well enough to be able to take decisions as individuals. Nevertheless, as one can see from the political debate in Spain, the campaign by Donald Trump in the US and the Brexit campaign in the UK, the mainstream news outlets peddle lies, half lies and manipulation. There food is their readers partial or total ignorance.

As citizens, we all have a role to play. However we are rarely well informed enough to make judgements on general issues. We read the news and mostly learn about terrorism, immigration, refugees, political corruption... Yet we only develop very superficial awareness and none of the deeper knowledge of the issues leading to these phenomena. We are thus ripe to manipulation from politicians who use sweeping statements and generalisation to carry voters with them.

That is not to say that we should not want to hear about these issues, but that we should approach them through sources that present them from an angle that is relevant to our expertise. If I were a doctor, I would want to learn about the reality of zika from a scientific perspective; a lawyer might want to know what judicial obstacles get in the way of Brexit, whereas a security expert might seek a serious and informed risk analysis of the terrorist threat, beyond the emotional hysteria that is the preserve of the mainstream titles.

Was this not the promise of Internet? Information tailored to the interests of each and every one of us. Instead we seem to live a culture of emotion, spread virally via memes and turning us into a society founded on rumour and reinforced, almost legitimised, ignorance.

Top quality, specialist journals have a high price on them, reflecting the work that goes into researching and producing their content. They can however be made available to a wider, specialist audience via the companies they work for, the associations they belong to and so on. Mainstream news is however, for the most part, free. Perhaps this is also a reflection of its true value. In the language of Standard and Poor's, "junk".

viernes, mayo 06, 2016


The strange thing about being English and growing up in England was that sometimes you felt you had to apologise for it. Like when I was 6 or 7 years old and my Art teacher said, "Oh, Adrian, he's oh so very English!"

You could not get by without a sense of humour, so you developed that. And it worked. So you could manage the arrogance of those 'cool' guys who came from abroad and felt so exotic and sophisticated. They would tell you England was on the slide and they were the future. You would end up believing it, not really minding losing the football. It was all about 'being a good sport'.

Then you would go abroad and say you were from England and they would say, "Oh, the hooligans! The fish and chips". And you would reply, "Oh, but only the English are hooligans. Only the English eat fish and chips. I am from London, a whole different kettle of lobsters". The image everyone else had of your country was not one that you yourself recognised. Until your Welsh friend showed up and gave a class on the importance of tea at 5 O'Clock. "Oh, the proof! The real English are the Welsh!"

I can't remember who it was who said you only know what it means to be English when you have travelled the world. I must say I still don't exactly know what it means. The Chinese travel the world and eat in Chinese restaurants. The English would rather not be seen with their fellow countrymen (and women), unless of course they are retiring to the Costa Blanca. But that, after all, is a whole different story.

Now the English (and the Scots and Welsh) are debating whether or not they are European. A difficult question considering many of them are no doubt unsure enough of what it means to be English, Scottish or Welsh. The clearer minded are often those with the privilege of being British, ie. those who can identify with the flag and not with the blood. Because as one learns with experience, having English blood is not cause enough to be considered British for life, retaining the vote, or handing on your nationality on to your grandchildren. They call it 'ius solis'. Only the other day I was told that if I had spent more than 15 years outside the UK, it was 'quite clear my interests lay elsewhere'.

Yet however much you 'go native', as the standard bearers of Englishness like to refer to those of us who venture 'overseas', you are never quite 'French' or 'Spanish' or 'Greek', because they have a much clearer idea of what it means to form a part of their respective nations. Even when for football fans one of the greatest 'Spanish' surnames is Robinson.

So yes, for the little it means, I guess I am still English. And now I live in another city and in another land, I have more freedom to express that in whatever way I feel like, or not at all, than I would in my own. So yes, now I have travelled, I suppose I now know what it means to be English. ie. not really knowing at all, but being increasingly sure that that, precisely, is what it really involves.