Friday, 16 September 2011

The inconvenience of democracy

Via Daniel Hannan I came across a bleak assessment of Europe's prospects written in June by Martin Kettle. Kettle is a Guardianista of the better sort, but even so I was struck by the way this passing remark reveals perhaps rather more than the author intended:-
'Any commentator who forecast victory for the AV referendum should not quote himself too proudly.'
Time to elect a new people?

Abortion - a must-read

A quick "if you don't read anything else this week" post to advertise Mary Wakefield's excellent piece on abortion from last week's Spectator.

'Well, let me put my cards on the table straightaway (I have two cards as it happens). The first is that I am a religious nut job. I’m Catholic and a convert to boot. But whether you believe it or not, my religion isn’t the cause of my concern. For one thing, most Catholics were hostile to the Dorries amendment (which they see as a measly sop and a tactical mistake). For another, you don’t have to be Catholic, or even Christian, to think it odd to adopt a completely cavalier attitude towards the unborn. I thought this long before I considered the Church, and considered the Church because of it.'
Very much where I come from; here's something I wrote five years before becoming a Catholic.

Did you know that Germany's abortion rate is half as high as ours in Britain? I didn't, despite having lived in Germany for five years - it's not something that's shouted from the rooftops and it's not a result of the country being full of swivel-eyed Catholic fanatics. Just under half the population is nominally Catholic, and the prevailing brand of Catholicism is decidedly liberal.

So, to echo Mary's question, if there was an entirely non-coercive way of nudging Britain in the direction of Germany, who could possibly object, and why? Well, of course we have seen that all kinds of people object vehemently. Choice is no longer the real issue. It's about abortion as a good in itself, a badge of liberation from the interfering killjoy in the sky.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

AD or CE: multiculturalism in a nutshell

One of these days I will find myself agreeing with a post by Norm which has nothing to do with Israel. Here he considers the trend towards replacing BC and AD with BCE and CE. He starts promisingly:-
'Some Muslims, Jews, atheists or other non-Christians may take offence at the reference to Jesus Christ in BC and AD, but they shouldn't. If that is the year that marks the beginning of the new calendar and also the year of Jesus's birth, then the noting of this should be no more offensive to us non-Christians than it would be for someone to say of an idea of yours that it was Confucian or Hegelian or Rawlsian (if this is what it indeed was).'
But there's a but...
'However, a calendar which is in international use doesn't have to be named in a way signalling the birth of a figure central to one particular religion. It can be named more 'openly' - as the BCE/CE terminology in fact achieves. So why not? What serious objection can there be to a more inclusive designation?'
My objections, whether serious or frivolous I leave the reader to judge:-

1. The fact that the calendar is in international use doesn't mean that everyone has to use the same names. Diversity, anyone? I suspect that BC/AD is objectionable in China or Iran due to precisely those sensitivities which Norm dismisses as unnecessary. Well., that's entirely up to them - provided that we don't feel under pressure to follow suit.

2. If Norm is going to start feeling excluded by the facts of his country's history, isn't it time for him to get acquainted with the Serenity Prayer?

3. BC/AD ties our dates to the life of a person. Few doubt that he existed; nobody can deny that he is a figure of surpassing significance in world history and in the development of British culture specifically. If we shed all that cultural baggage in the name of inclusiveness, what do we get to replace it with? A faceless abstraction redolent of nothing but academic bureaucracy.

Significantly, Norm's quote from the Christopher Booker piece doesn't include the bit about a big publisher pulping a book about Christianity because it used the politically incorrect date notation. I don't feel very included by that.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Till ennui us do part?

In´Čüdelity, which formerly topped the list of reasons for marriage breakdown, has been surpassed by couples saying they no longer felt in love and had "grown apart".

As a sign of the times, this appears depressing beyond words. Can we really have reached the stage where an erstwhile commitment to love and to cherish until death do us part has come down to so casual and seemingly frivolous a reason for walking out on the union, and quite possibly children, too?
- Angela Neustatter in the Telegraph, quoted by Norm.

Norm disagrees:-
To get to the crux of the thing, there are going to be marriages which people should walk away from: not to do so may be life-wrecking and the lives wrecked may include the childen's. Some indicative guidelines there may well be, but staying the course won't always be worth the effort, and indeed it may be hellish. Isn't it obvious that it's all a matter of the specifics?
But actually there's a more fundamental shared assumption. Norm reckons if you've grown apart it's probably not worth the bother of trying to grow back together; Ms Neustatter wants to make the case that the rewards can justify the effort. In both cases the bottom line is a hedonistic calculation of self-interest - how much time and effort is it worth investing in this person? At least in Ms Neustatter's case I sense that she sees this as the only kind of argument that will cut any ice with those she hopes to persuade.

What happened to the notion that we ought to keep our promises? How does it impact on the kind of society we live in if we all decide we are fee to make promises and break them as soon as that is to our advantage? And is there no inherent merit in the specific kind of promise made in marriage? Is the work of growing back together not a good in itself?

If Norm really wants to say that marriage vows are a mug's game, well, fair enough, we know where we are. The Germans have coined the cynical term Lebensabschnittspartnerschaft, literally "life segment partnership", and perhaps Norm would wish to see marriage formally re-invented on those terms. Better to revalue the currency than to turn marriage into a kind of Zimbabwean billion dollar bill - "I promise to pay the bearer,,, well, nothing much worth having, actually."

Much better still, though, to stick to the gold standard. Those committed to doing so may, perhaps, be more inclined to make sure they marry someone fascinating in the first place. It does help. As Iris Murdoch is supposed to have said:-
Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.
Time to stop before I get intolerably smug.