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Fallout From The Norwegian Massacre

This is an edited version of a comment I just left over at the Libertarian Alliance blog.

I have downloaded Breivik’s book, but my ancient computer choked on so huge a document so I have only read scraps of it so far. From what I have read, his ideology seems to be standard internet-right-wing. He launches into the Cultural Marxism Hypothesis right off the bat, for instance, which is currently very popular among conservatives, particularly american ones trying to understand why the 1960s happened.

Breivik has apparently deliberately dropped everybody to the right of Harriet Harman into the shit. He seems to have knowingly and deliberately done so. He has in effect ordered the authorities to target and clamp down on the Right. It is hard to think of anybody providing a better justification to them for a ruthless assault on right wingers. He does not appear to be a stupid man, so why would he declare the existence of, for instance, a secret brotherhood of “Knights Templar”? The first rule of secret organisations is that you don’t tell people about them, so that they can strike again from the shadows.

He may just be mad, in which case analysis is fruitless. Mad people by definition act irrationally. But I think one possible answer is that he is actively trying to drop everybody into the brown stuff, the idea being to trigger a “tribulation” which will radicalise more right wingers from merely words to taking action. By forcing an extreme reaction from the authorities, who will cause suffering to other right wingers, those right wingers will be driven to action by the persecution they suffer.

Whatever his intentions, the whole game has changed. This man is the fulfillment of warnings by the ruling class- of rightwingextremism- that we used to laugh off as scaremongering. We cannot do that now. We are all now justifiable targets for the authorities. There is, it turns out a vast Right Wing Conspiracy, a murderous one, after all. The authorities will have carte blanche to round up any and all they so desire to. They will also have all the justification they need for wiping off the internet any website they consider a “hate” site. Breivik’s book, replete with incriminatory references to websites and bloggers, is all the evidence they need to demonstrate that freedom of speech kills. This may well be the very precise moment in history that the last hope of preserving some sort of free internet was extinguished. He has virtually ensured that groups like the English Defence League, Stop Islamisation Of Europe, etc, will be proscribed, and that from here on in anyone attempting to state fears about immigration, islamisation, etc, will be silenced with a simple riposte of, “you feel the same as Anders Breivik, do you?”

In proportionate terms, for Norway this massacre is twice as murderous as 9/11 (Norway’s population is 1/60th of the USA, so proportionately it is equivalent to nearly 6000 US deaths). The Americans felt justified in responding to that atrocity with a decade of war against people who had not been directly responsible for it, but were merely part of the same ideology in some way, generally cheered on by many right wingers saying that 9/11 was the consequence of a particular belief system. It will now be impossible to argue for restraint against the ideological Right. Those who have loudly declared that there is No Moderate Islam are about to discover what it is like to have it declared that there is No Moderate Anti-Islam. Breivik has ensured that. He has proved that the Left were right all along.


  1. mike says:

    Perhaps it was also noteworthy that, unlike other such madmen, Breivik made no suicide attempt but surrendered to police.

    And this chiselling no-gooder in the Telegraph has already had that angle nailed for some time now it would seem.

  2. Lynne says:

    Goodwin seems to believe that the BNP are right-wing extremists. Collectivism must have a different definition in his dictionary or he’s too lazy to read their manifesto.

    Ask most people to give an example of a right-wing extremist and Hitler will be mentioned. Yet he was the head of the National Socialist Party, aka the Nazis.

    Goodwin is a berk.

  3. Chuckles says:

    Extrapolating from a sample of 1.

  4. View from the Solent says:

    Lynne, a point of pedantry. It was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party – Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei.

  5. Lynne says:

    VftS. Thanks for the timely qualifier. I bow to you superior pedantry. 😀

  6. JuliaM says:

    “…and that from here on in anyone attempting to state fears about immigration, islamisation, etc, will be silenced with a simple riposte of, “you feel the same as Anders Breivik, do you?”…”

    It’s going to be very, very hard for the Left to do that honestly, though, given their repeated efforts, post-Islamist outrage, to plead for caution and assure us that there’s nothing wrong with the ideology, just the people.

    Oh. Wait. I used the word ‘honestly’ didn’t i?

  7. Sam Duncan says:

    I’d have put that “proved” in your final sentence in quotes, Ian, but other than that there’s little I would have said differently.

    Of course, madness and deliberately attempting to trigger “tribulation” are hardly mutually exclusive. I’ve seen some suggestions that his descent from relatively rational anti-islamism into violence may have been due to some physical brain disease (I think it was Rand Simberg who said over the weekend that it has been known in similar cases over in the US), but whatever the reason, and that does smack of grasping at straws, it’s still disturbing for those of us he – to the Left, at least – resembles.

    And, as you say, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t. But not impossible. There’s been a lot written about his “mainstream” views, but I think it’s about time we started looking at where – apart from the obvious running amok with guns and explosives – he was far from mainstream.

    Much is being made of his rejection of the likes of the BNP, a rejection, I think, we all share. But did he, in the end, practice what he preached? As Goodwin says (in both the ‘Graph and the Groan… teriffic), he held the Left, the Norwegian Labour Party, collectively responsible. That, surely, is not the decision of a libertarian individualist. We are not collectivists, and that means that a summer camp of deluded young socialists cannot be held responsible in any way for the actions of (some of) their elders.

    It also means the “no moderate Islam” stuff is bunk too. I know that might well bother a few of the Kounting Kommentariat, but it does. I’ve always been uncomfortable with that idea. I know moderate muslims. I know muslims who could drink me under the table (which wouldn’t be at all hard, but still…). Yes, if you read the Koran from cover to cover and take its exhortations literally, it’s a hideous, violent, deeply unpleasant book. And the Islamists do. But many, many muslims don’t. Like most modern Christians, they think they do, but happily ignore the nasty bits. It drives the fanatics nuts, and as individualists we should recognise that and condemn only the nutters, instead of accepting their line that the moderates don’t understand their own faith. It’s certainly arguable that Islam is inherently more dangerous to liberty than Christianity, but claiming that it’s unacceptable under any terms and that all muslims are guilty is, as has been said many times, like condemning the Churchwomen’s Guild for the Crusades (something that Hamas, with its strictures against Rotary Clubs, isn’t far off, come to think of it).

    Which brings us to the Templar thing. Well, come on… hands up all the Crusader Knights present… yeah, thought not.

    Brevik is a madman. We are not. It’s wrong to say that we therefore have nothing to fear; clearly some in positions of power will try to use his actions and his views against us. But we can, and must, defend ourselves vigourously. With words, not bombs.

  8. Laird says:

    I won’t dispute that the left will try to impute Breivikian insanity to all others who object to the muslim incursion, but the parallel fails the rationality test. He was merely one man, after all. How many other terrorist-type attacks have been committed by (or even attributed to) anti-muslims? Precislely none (of which I am aware). And how many terrorist-type attacks have been committed by Islamists? We’ve lost count.

    Which isn’t, of course, to say that the total irrationality of the argument will prevent its being used as a justification for the actions IanB suggests. Rationality has never been the strong suit of leftists, and authoritarians will use any convenient excuse which comes to hand. But its rank idiocy has to be pointed out.

  9. NickM says:


    Er… Well, I used to sometimes drink at The Trip to Jerusalem. Bet RAB did too…

  10. RAB says:

    Oh you betcha! But only sometimes, the Trip was always full of bloody tourists, well being reputedly the oldest pub in the world. It had this Ye Olde Pub game in one of the rooms in my day, consisting of a brass ring on a chain coming down from the ceiling that you were supposed to swing round and get it on a bulls horn sticking out of the far wall (the pub is half in and half out of a cave at the foot of the cliff the castle is on). You’d see all the tourists dipping and ducking as it was swung round. I always suspected it was a wind up just for the tourists though, cos all the locals drank in the other bars.

    I’m still collating my thoughts on this murderous asshole, but I can’t help thinking Manchurian Candidate at the moment, for some reason.

    He is certainly a bloody gift for the left, who are already steaming in with denounciations and accusations of the Right, with little evidence or none, just like they did when that Gifford woman got shot in America.

    Normally when you get a “Lone Gunman” like Oswald say, and he happens to be on the Left, you get told… nothing to see here, kindly move along, by the Media. And Ruby managed to take Oswald out before he could say what he was really up to, or even whether he was guily at all.

    No Ruby this time though, this Rube wants his day in Court, and I think he is crazy enough to think he will be applauded for his incoherent views.

  11. “By forcing an extreme reaction from the authorities, who will cause suffering to other right wingers, those right wingers will be driven to action by the persecution they suffer”

    Ironically, the classic Maoist interpretation of terror.

  12. “By forcing an extreme reaction from the authorities, who will cause suffering to other right wingers, those right wingers will be driven to action by the persecution they suffer”

    And that, of course, the ability to change the political landscape, to set one against another with a singular exploit, makes him an extraordinarily studied and proficient practitioner of the art of violent terrorism. In a way that most putative terrorists simply aren’t.

    Scary, isn’t it ?

  13. Sam Duncan says:

    Further to the Templar baloney, the CSM has this:

    “He claims that a group of nine individuals met a decade ago to refound the organization. His manifesto calls for the organization to “seize political and military control of Western European countries and implement a cultural conservative political agenda.””

    Does anyone here recognise any of that – “seizing” political and military control, cultural conservatism – as “us”? Yet not only is the whole of the so-called “right” tarred with the same brush, some media outlets have even branded him “libertarian”.

    I’m not one for conspiracy theories, and I don’t think this was a set-up. But the buggers are certainly grabbing this “beneficial crisis”, as Richard North calls such events, with both hands…

  14. Paul Marks says:

    Odd that the murderer’s admiration for the Unibomber, and for environmentalism generally, is not getting much coverage.

    By the way as any “cultural conservative” should know……

    Culture is the result of social interaction (the “little platoons” of everyday life) building institutions and customs over time. Efforts to impose a culture from above (politically) are just about the opposite of this.

    Perhaps the very “cultural Marxism” (Frankfurt School and so on) that the murderer claims to oppose, or some mutant heracy of Marxism (such as Fascism).

    By the way…..

    A refined person never says they are refined.

    Just as a gentleman never calls himself a gentleman – he leaves that for other people to judge.

    The words “cad” and “bounder” spring to mind.

  15. Paul Marks says:

    In case people do not understand…..

    The means you use effect the ends – one can not put means and ends into different boxes.

    If you use collectivist (political) means to undermine a culture (to “deprave and corrupt”) you may indeed undermine civil society and open the way to statism.

    After all the Fabians (Wells, Shaw and so on) thought of that before the Frankfurt School of Marxism did (and it goes back long before the Fabians).

    However, the response of “well we will use political means to manipulate society back again” is so batshit crazy that I do not know where to start.

    Well I can start with “you do not understand what civil society is”.

    And “you do not understand what political means, the sword of state, do – BY THEIR VERY NATURE”.

    Using statism to try and restore civil society (i.e. non statism), bleep, bleep, bleep.

    “So how can society be restored”.

    Perhaps it can not be.

    But if it can – it can only be one person at a time. Trying to live differently and to help other people (voluntarily).

    “You sound like Glenn Beck”.

    I would take that sort of attack (should anyone choose to make it) as a complement.

  16. Ian B says:

    Sam, on the “no moderate Islam” thing, I remember having a long debate over at Samizdata about this. The major problem with the counterjihad movement, or whatever it is, is a complete lack of proper analysis. It seems to me that people want an insoluble problem, an implacable enemy, a fight to the death. I can remember actually saying more than once (and not getting any proper answer), words to the effect of, “what is your actual strategy then? Kill them all?”.

    Religions, belief systems and ideologies are whatever their believers want them to be. But among the counterjihadists, there is an absolute determination to insist that Islam is this fixed, objective thing which, worst of all, is what the wahabbists say it is. I have profound problems with this position.

  17. NickM says:

    Ian, Sam,
    It might be nit-picking but I think it’s true to say that whilst there is no moderate Islam there are many, many moderate Muslims. The problem with Islam is that it is so much the work of one man it’s difficult to treat as a buffet. Also that it is a religious system which from the start was conceived of as a general system of governance. It’s a tougher religion to de-couple.

    A start, a very good start in my book would be to can the term “moderate Muslim”. Moderate makes them sound like backsliders (as you suggest Ian exactly what the whabbists think*). I suggest the term “Muslim”. For the loonies I suggest Muslim “fundamentalist” or “extremist”. This is exactly how we characterise various Christian groups afterall.

    *Which is precisely why in our troubles over the last decade or so many more Muslims have killed Muslims than any other grouping has killed any other grouping.

  18. Ian B says:

    Nick, it’s unlikely that Islam is in any way “the work of one man”. The Quran was written down long after the purported life of Mohammed, and it’s probably no more authentic a record of one man’s thoughts and life than the Gospels are. Part of the problem we seem to have is this kind of “awe of the foreign”. We’re used to picking and ripping apart our own stuff, like the Bible, but we take everybody else’s too much at face value. Just because the Quran claims to be authentic, it doesn’t mean it actually is, any more than the Bible is.

    Islam is as malleable as Christainty or any other religion. It is whatever its believers want it to be. It can be liberal, or puritanical, violent or restrained, just or unjust. That’s the great thing about belief. It’s whatever you believe, by definition.

    A big, big problem with the anti-jihadist mindset is this Spencerian approach of declaring the religion to be set in stone. It’s understandable; Spencer is himself a devout religionist. But it ends up with him telling everybody else what Islam is, and that is the end of it. And, he chooses the most extreme interpretation, the fundemantalist one, and then declares “this is real islam”.

    We had the same thing a few undred years ago here in the West; it was called Protestantism. Like the wahabbi, it declared itself the one true original christianity, and like the wahabbi it was intensely puritanical, and like the wahabbi it unleashed a maelstrom of intense violence. But Protestantism was always just one interpretation, and so is wahabi Islam. THe biggest mistake we can make is to join the fundamentalists in declaring that they are in fact interpreting Islam in the one, only, true way.

    Islam isn’t going to disappear. So, the only constructive path is for it to change, to adapt new forms compatible with modernity. Just as Christianity had to do.

  19. I have only read scraps of it so far. From what I have read, his ideology seems to be standard internet-right-wing.

    Oh indeed it does. It keeps going on and on like that. In great detail.

    Breivik’s book, replete with incriminatory references to websites and bloggers…

    Oh yes. He was meticulous about his sources of information about his adopted conspiracy theories. He gives all the links about the Communist takeover and the rise of the world government.

    2.72 Green is the new Red – Stop Enviro-Communism!

    You might know them as environmentalists, enviro-communists, ecoMarxists, neo-Communists or eco-fanatics. They all claim they want to save the world from global warming but their true agenda is to contribute to create a world government lead by the UN or in other ways increase the transfer of resources (redistribute resources) from the developed Western world to the third world. They hope to accomplish this through the distribution of misinformation (propaganda) which they hope will lead to increased taxation of already excessively taxed Europeans and US citizens. The neo-communist agenda uses politicised science to propagate the global warming scam in order to implement their true agenda; global Marxism. Marxism’s ultimate goal is to redistribute wealth from successful nations to failed nations, instead of actually trying to fix these broken nations. Politicised science is being used by the cultural Marxist hegemony to manipulate the unsuspecting masses. They are using our trust and faith in science to spread lies and hysteria that will allow Marxists to implement socialist “solutions” to a problem that never actually existed.

    That’s exactly what is happening with the Anthropogenic Global Warming scam; too many people are too demoralised to assess true information about Socialism, Communism, and climate change to allow its use for other agendas on the hands of the useful idiots “the leftists” as former KGB agent Yuri Bezmenov calls them. Enviro-communism is a new twisted idea of redistribution of wealth through “environmental” policies and the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference 2009 is the perfect manifestation of it. Environmental Justice is the new Social Justice; Climate Debt is the new Redistribution of Wealth, Anthropogenic Global Warming scam is the Communism.

    Please see Lord Christopher Monckton’s speech:

    Barak Obama received the Nobel Peace prize for exactly the same reason Al Gore did. The prize is given by Thorbjørn Jagland, Chair of the Nobel Committee who was also the Vice President of Socialist International. One can think they are pushing a global agenda of Enviro-Communism or Eco-Marxism that will force Europe and the US to cater for the global Eco-Marxist agenda. Their end goal is to “punish” European countries (US included) for capitalism and success. The Marxist agenda of the Climate Change Conference 2009 was to discuss the totalitarian idea of World Government, transfer of wealth from Western countries to 3rd world countries under what they call “Climate debt”, because allegedly western countries have been burning CO2 and 3rd world countries haven’t!

    Climategate incident – exposing the eco-Marxist scam

    On Thursday 19th November 2009 news began to circulate that hacked documents and communications from the University of East Anglia’s Hadley Climate Research Unit (aka CRU) had been published to the internet. The information revealed how top scientists conspired to falsify data in the face of declining global temperatures in order to prop up the premise that man-made factors are driving climate change. The documents and emails illustrated how prominent climatologists, affiliated with the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change, embarked on a venomous and coordinated campaign to ostracise climate skeptics and use their influence to keep dissenting reports from appearing in peer-reviewed journals, as well as using cronyism to avoid compliance with Freedom of Information Act requests. Here follows a compendium of articles and videos on what was quickly dubbed as “ClimateGate”. The full story: [3]


  20. Sam Duncan says:

    Indeed, Nick. With the proviso that Ian’s right in saying there’s plenty of evidence that Islam was certainly not the work of one man, it is a complete system of government as well as religion, which is why I said that it’s arguably more of a threat to liberty than Christianity.

    Christianity is big on Free Will. As a minor example, simply because it springs to mind, the passing round of the plate at Church of Scotland services is known officially as the Free Will Offering. Good luck trying to ignore it (although you can), but what you do give is entirely up to you. There’s no tithe; no expectation that you must donate a proportion of your wealth or you’re not a good Christian. You may feel the disapproval of the congregation, people will Talk, but there will be no official penalty. On this world, at least; that sort of thing is up to the Boss.

    So Christianity, while not necessarily being about liberty, is easily compatible with it. The principle that your will must be guided by your conscience, not that of all Christendom, has, over time, moderated the zeal of one of the vanguard Churches of the Calvinist reformation. It’s perfectly possible to be a sort of Protestant libertarian, to condemn Sin while accepting people’s right to indulge in it. You can – should, even – implore them to stop, but it’s not for you to punish them. That will come later. You can take quite a strict interpretation of the New Testament and still come to that conclusion, but I’m not sure that’s the case for even a loose reading of the Koran.

    Islam, as we are often told, means “submission”. You submit to sharia, or pay the price. Here and now. The law of the land is Allah’s, and his agents enforce it.

    Human nature, being what it is, won’t stand for that for long. There are muslims who ignore it, and, like Ian, I’m sure there’ll be more. However, I think they’ll always have to fight the concept that they aren’t “good muslims” in a way that liberal Christians don’t.

  21. Conran says:

    They’re saying it’s Melanie Phillips’ fault over on Liberal Conspiracy. Do they ever get tired of blaming the Daily Mail for *everything*?

  22. Thornavis says:

    Ian B, I think the problem with your view of Islam is that it’s essentially the same as that of someone like Karen Anderson, an apophatic approach that is based on a modern Christocentric and relativist interpretation of religion. It takes it for granted that a religion will change and adapt to modernity, as you put it, because that’s what happened here. Those Muslims who have adopted western ways are obviously doing that but rather a lot haven’t and there is no evidence that I can see that they are likely to. This doesn’t mean that Muslims are our enemy but it does mean that we have to be very wary of Islam as a political force. This is where it differs from people like Breivik who, whether part of some wider movement or not, are criminals outside of the established social order which is almost universally accepted in the west.

  23. Ian B says:

    Thornavis, I think the problem with your view of Islam is an overly rosy understanding of christian history- which is widespread and derived from our whiggish historical narratives. It is widely believed that Christianity is somehow naturally diverse, and open to debate, and this is its nature, and that is why it is different to Islam. That isn’t true. The “right” to personal interpretation and differences of opinion in Christendom arose out of a long period of bloodletting, and only came when people finally grew tired enough of that to say, “look, let’s all agree to disagree”. Christianity didn’t want to change and adapt; it was dragged forwards kicking and screaming all the way.

    What we’re seeing in Islam right now is very similar in many respects to the Reformation; a rabid fundamentalist sect breaks out, there is massive bloodshed, chaos ensues. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism, like the rise of Protestant fundamentalism, is a reactionary attempt to drag Islam back “on message” as defined by the most fanatical nutjobs. It’s no coincidence that Protestantism arose after the Rennaissance, as Christendom was beginning its long march into modernity. The Protestants feared the passing of the Dark Ages. So do the Islamists.

    It seems to me that one major error people keep making is trying to personify the abstract. They talk of “Islam” as a thing rather than as an idea, as they talk of “communism” or “fascism” similarly. In so doing we forget that abstractions are merely ideas in individual minds. They can never be objectively defined in the way that objects are; the words “tiger” or “bicycle” can be objectively defined. “Islam” or “socialist” or “libertarian” cannot. These thing are always just whatever some individual thinks they are at some moment in time, and his idea will never 100% match another person’s definition. And thus they are subject to drift.

    There is an argument that Islam is immutable because it is a complete formal system, all written down and everything. Even ignoring the fact that it is riddled with inconsistencies, as all such systems are, we forget that words themselves are plastic. There are few clearer documents than the US Constitution; well, until you start interpreting it, at which point it says whatever you want it to say. People have a tendency to then say, “well, those guys over there, they’re being dishonest with their interpretation, it objectively says X, not Y”. Well, maybe it does. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are able to reinterpret it that way, and get lots of other people to agree that it means Y, not X.

    I just cannot state strongly enough that the stupidest, wrongest thing anyone can say about Islam is the Spencerian statement that “Islam is objectively X and the fundamentalist interpretation is X so the fundamentalists are objectively correct”. Abstractions in the human mind simply do not work that way.

  24. Paul Marks says:

    It is unfair to say that the U.S. Constitution “says what you want it to say” it is clear that there are honest and dishonest interpretations.

    For example, saying (as the left do) that there is a “general welfare spending power” (i.e. that the Federal government can spend taxpayer’s money on anything it declares is for the General Welfare) is wildly dishonest – as it depends on ripping the words “general welfare” from their context (“the common defence and general welfare” the PURPOSE of the specific powers that are then listed underneath in Article One, Section Eight) and ignoring other parts of the Constitution – such as the Tenth Amendment.

    However, I agree with Ian that the U.S. Constitution (or rather its writers) were not paranoid enough – there is no feel (as there is, for example, with the Consitution of Alabama, which was written by people who were rather nasty in some ways) that they sat there thinking “every word we agree to might be twisted by wildly dishonest and evil people – so we must be ultra careful”).

    As for Islam…..

    There is a tradition within Islam that gets away from the texts and from the specific events in the life of Muhammed (for those the works of Robert Spencer are a rather better guide than a certain television series on British T.V. now – although Spencer does get a few lines in it). The Sufi tradition – the Sufi people really are tolerant and so on. They seek a mystical relationship with God – their ways are not mine, but they attack no one, and therefore should be attacked by no one.

    As for militant “Islamism” (whether Sunni or Shia).

    If it is a matter of words (not deeds) then it should be countered by words (not deeds). But if there is actual violence – then there must be armed defence.

    “But what of the growing number of Muslims in the West…..”

    Why is Islam seen as if it was a racial group – not a religion?

    If the ideas of the West (whether Christian or athiest) are so weak that they can not CONVERT people, then the West is already dying (and Muslims are NOT to blame for this death).

    Of course the modern “liberal” Churches (and “liberal” athiests) are rather hostile to trying to convert Muslims.

    But this says rather more about these “liberals” than it does Muslims.

  25. NickM says:

    “The Protestants feared the passing of the Dark Ages”

    Did they? So how come protestantism really got going with the moveable type*. In many ways Protestantism was the new broom and more tech-savvy. The fat, complacent Catholic church had the most to lose from any significant change in the status quo away from it’s cosy medieval suzerainty. At the risk of sounding Hegelian** modernity arose out of the synthesis that emerged from the Protestant/Catholic dialectic.


    “They can never be objectively defined in the way that objects are; the words “tiger” or “bicycle” can be objectively defined.”

    I’m not so sure about that. Take a bicycle and start removing bits of it one nut or bolt at a time. At what point does it cease to be a bicycle? You can try the same with a tiger but I wouldn’t advise it. Wittgenstein (the beery swine) had similar issue with defining the word “game”. He came down to the idea of family resemblances rather than absolute platonic-style definitions.

    *I am resisting the urge to make a joke about Martin Luther nailing his faeces to a door which is a hell of a thing to do after a diet of worms.
    **I’ve always wanted to take that risk.

  26. Ian B says:

    Ah no Nick, that’s the Whig history you’re quoting there. The Protestants were the reactionary fundamentalists trying to get back to a “pure” old-time Christianity. That they took advantage of new technology is no more proof of their being modernists than is a Creationist website. In fact, it’s often the case that backwardists use the very new technologies they are effectively fighting against; note e.g. ruralist eco-warriors with Macbooks, etc.

  27. NickM says:

    I said “tech savvy” not tech customers. Mac users are infamous for not knowing a DDR from a GPU. The eco-warriors probably think they are powered by sprites. Whether Whig or not it seems to me that the Catholic church at the time had an aversion to ordinary folk reading the Bible in their own language. Surely the rise of protestantism was accompanied by a general increase in literacy and people thinking for themselves. Anyway, what about the rest of my comment?

  28. Ian B says:

    I agree with it, with a caveat. It’s possible to form an objective agreement about a class definition of real objects, if only by pointing. It may be incomplete or inadequate, but possible. Abstracts can’t even be narrowly defined that way, because they are defined in terms of other abstracts.

    “This is a tiger. Agreed?”

    But if you want to argue that even real object definitions are slippery, I agree. My main point is that abstracts are inherently so.

    Whether Whig or not it seems to me that the Catholic church at the time had an aversion to ordinary folk reading the Bible in their own language. Surely the rise of protestantism was accompanied by a general increase in literacy and people thinking for themselves.

    When you see what the Protestants did with the Bible, you can understand why the Catholics didn’t want the peasants and livestock reading it. What resulted was a load of barminess, particularly Calvinism. Giving the Bible out willy nilly was like the old “petrol and matches” game for children.

    Anyway, we’ve got to remember that prior to the printing press, you couldn’t just hand out Gideons to the congregation. Bit too expensive.

  29. NickM says:

    Perhaps it is my background in maths and physics but…

    I actually tend to think of abstracts as easier because they are defined by their definition.

    This is obviously the case in maths and sometimes in physics. Entropy is defined thusly:

    S=k ln(W)

    That’s the only actual definition I know of entropy. Anyway that’s from stat mech rather than thermodynamics. Stat mech arguably isn’t even physics – it’s maths. It’s building out rather than looking in.

    As you go further out from the items of theoretical physics into the realms of “real stuff” it gets harder. Biologists continually argue over where to fit species into classification schemes. Of course this is unlikely exactly to apply to tigers as such but along the evolutionary path of the past it must have gone: not really a tiger, getting there, almost a tiger, a tiger! And essentially that is probably fairly arbitrary were you draw the line.

    This never happens in maths and very rarely in elementary physics. At least not in terms of theory. Experiment (looking in not building out) is of course a whole different kettle of fish.

    “When you see what the Protestants did with the Bible…”

    That para is remarkably authoritarian sounding for a libertarian!

  30. Ian B says:

    Nick, language isn’t math. The whole reason math is unambiguous is that it is all pyramided on rigorously defined axioms. That doesn’t work for general abstractions. We’re talking past one another. There is no agreed definition of “liberty” or “communist” or anything else in the real world realm; which is why it isn’t like math. Math works by not dealing with fuzzy reality- it’s a realm of perfect spheres and precise planes and so on. You know the old joke about the farmer who hires a mathematician, “First, take one perfectly spherical cow…”

    Which is why you’re into petrol and matches when you hand out Bibles. Everyone is going to read a different interpretation; some minorly different, some majorly different. You know why millions of American fuckwits believe in a “rapture”? Some guy read a particular passage in Saint Paul differently to how anyone else had ever read it, and misinterpreted the Greek word for “air” as meaning “in the air”, like, the sky.

    Basically, everyone uses a different dictionary. And there’s no way around that. Which is why Paul’s Marxists are my Puritans. But it’s also why Islam, like any other movement, can change arbitrarily. You just have to give everyone their own Bible, and tell them it means whatever they think it means.

  31. NickM says:

    I think I was being a bit more subtle. As you shift from theory to experiment, from math to physics t the more complicated and murky sciences ambiguity does creep in.

    Anyway… So if every text can mean exactly what you want it to mean why does there exist more than one holy book or indeed more than one book full-stop? The reductio ad absurdam of that is you hand me a copy of Leviticus and I read and I say “Very amusing Ian, I loved the way Holmes got his man in the end”. I did say that’s the RAA but really it is little different from “Bible codes”. The point I’m trying to say is that whilst there is much ambiguity (and outright contradiction) in the Bible* or Qu’ran or whatever there are surely some objective points it is very difficult to quibble with. Otherwise you’re in a Borgesian total library which contains everything and nothing.

    *The Bible containing poetry such as the Psalms of course has stuff with no truth-value in principle.

  32. Ian B says:

    From whence do you derive that “surely”?

  33. Ian B says:

    Sorry, just to clarify, I have studied the Book Of Leviticus intently and have concluded that it is in fact an early twentieth century forgery; its author (unknown) intended it as a metaphorical retelling of “That One Where Moriarty Pushes Holmes Off A Cliff”.

  34. NickM says:

    “…surely some objective points it is very difficult to quibble with. Otherwise you’re in a Borgesian total library which contains everything and nothing.”

    The “surely” is there because the alternative is that all texts are logically equivalent which means all differences exist only in the mind of the reader and therefore so does all meaning. Ultimately that would men you’d only need one text (or none) from which you can make up anything you want. The fact most people have more than one book in their house refutes that idea.

    As to you last comment. I think you’re beginning to see the corner you’ve painted yourself into. In “Pierre Menard: Author of The Quixote” Borges has a C20th writer re-write (not copy) parts of Don Quixote verbatim. Borges then quotes a line from the Cervantes quixote and then from the Menard version. The words are identical but Borges finds radically different meanings in them due to their different historical resonances.

  35. berenike says:

    it seems to me that the Catholic church at the time had an aversion to ordinary folk reading the Bible in their own language.

    Reading the Bible is a means, not an end. Tendentious translations with dodgy commentaries in the hands of people who didn’t have the education to assess the claims of those commentaries, or to know that the translation was tendentious were leading people away from that end. Bishops had a prudential judgement to make, namely how to deal with this problem (which in some cases had some civil disorder issues attached, didn’t it?). As you say in your post about the clarity of maths and the messiness of less abstract sciences, the particular is more difficult to know certainly than the abstract. Perhaps they did the most sensible thing in the circumstances, perhaps they didn’t.

    Small rant. I get fed up of people going “they stopped people reading the Bible” as if that were some kind of killer argument for something or other, though being one thrown by both bible-bashers and atheists, I’m not sure for what.

  36. Ian B says:

    Okay, I was being a bit silly in that last comment, but so is your argumentum ad extremum.

    The meaning is the result of applying a transformation to the source. Something like m=f(x) where f is the interpretive function. You get a different m either by changing x or changing f.

    Since the assertion here is that f is unique to each individual, we see that f(x) for each (x) is different. Take a library of books x1, x2…xn. Alice reads the books applying her f(x1…xn) and so does Bob. Alice gets m1…mn and so does Bob get a m1…mn, but Alice’s set of (m) are different to Bob’s set of (m).

    Alice can’t get any (m) from any (x) because she only has the one f. By inputting different (x)s she gets different (m)s. So your catastrophe in which she only needs one book doesn’t arrive. She needs both the source x and the function f to get the particular meaning m.

    My cod-mathematical notationing is crap, I hasten to add, but I think that conveys what I mean. Except, ironically, that you will apply a different (f) and get a different (m) from this comment (x), which is why we’re likely to be arguing about this until one of us flags from exhaustion. Which will itself prove my point, haha!

  37. Thornavis says:

    Ian B

    I can assure you that I certainly don’t have a rosy view of Christianity far from it, I used to be a Christian and learned the hard way just what it’s really like. My point was that in the west we went through a terrible time with wars of religion as you say ( I don’t really accept your completely negative view of Protestantism, I’m largely with NickM on that ) and then crucially the Enlightenment which largely removed Christianity from its privileged position ( I expect you’d call that a Whiggish view but I rather like the Whigs ). Consequently secularism has been the guiding principle of western society now for around three centuries and the Churches have just had to accept that and adapt. Where is the evidence that anything similar is happening in the Muslim world ? You’ve accused me of a rosy view of Christianity well I think you have naive view of history generally. You appear to think that it follows some sort of narrative with repeating patterns so the turmoil in the Muslim world today replicates the wars of religion in the post reformation period, just as you also maintain that modern killjoy attempts to control personal choices are identical to Seventeenth century Puritanism, history isn’t a narrative or a symphony with developing and resolving themes, it’s a chaotic mess and has no determinable outcomes.

  38. Thornavis says:

    Just to return briefly to your rubbishing of Protestants ( I really shouldn’t get into theological discussions it’s a dark pleasure I’ve been trying to wean myself off ), your caricature of them as bible bashing fundies is hopelessly wrong. There’s so many things wrong with it I could spend all night picking it apart but I will confine myself to two points. Firstly, at the time of the Reformation there was a massive swing away from a life lived almost entirely publicly, people were starting to obtain private space both physically and psychologically this fueled a desire for personal enlightenment, Protestantism answered this need for many people ( this is one of the reasons why you’ve got Puritanism so wrong ) the subsequent movements in non conformity, quietism etc were a direct outcome of this and a largely positive thing with repercussions in the outside world, think of all those Quaker businesses. Secondly, if you’re going to say that allowing people to read the Bible in their own language was dangerous then you could extend that to absolutely every intellectual activity, which is exactly what the RC church wanted, a hegemony of thought and enquiry, just like every authoritarian ever, funny company you’re keeping. Letting the rabble read and think what they like is a fundamental necessity of a free society.

  39. berenike says:

    exactly what the RC church wanted, a hegemony of thought and enquiry

    Only in the sense that we want everyone to be Catholics, just as we want them to be warm, fed and housed :) It’s my strictly Calvinist friend (of an intellectual sort) who thinks that being a Christian makes you a better mathematician; Catholics have better methodology than that :)

  40. Thornavis says:

    If you want everyone to be Catholics you are taking it as read that your view of reality is the correct one, if you can’t see what’s wrong with that and why it leads inevitably to a grab for hegemony by the institutionalised form of your beliefs then I can’t help you. Ian B is quite correct to say that abstractions in the human mind do not represent absolute truths in the physical world, that is where your analogy with warmth, food and housing fails, we can want such things for others because our biological nature makes them essential needs. Religious beliefs simply do not fall into the same category, you’re yearning for everyone to be like you, which isn’t compassion or faith, its solipsism.

  41. NickM says:

    And if berenike didn’t believe her world view correct then presumably she’d have another one. Or be mad. Or as Paul Marks says in a later posting a follower of William James.

  42. Thornavis says:

    Nick M
    Not quite sure what point you are making there although I presume you are saying that everyone thinks their world view is the right one, which is true but not the point I was making. I was arguing that thinking that others need to adopt your worldview because it will bring them the same happiness or at least content that it has you or that fulfillment of physical needs does for us all, is to make a serious and potentially dangerous error, it is the worst kind of passive aggressive behaviour. None of us has any special access to the truth.
    Apologies if I’ve misunderstood what you were saying.

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