Veganism As She Is Spoke

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When I first went vegan in 1987, the internet was this thing hardly anyone had heard of which was hard to navigate and didn’t have any websites. I imagine it did have Usenet groups on veganism,vegetarianism and animal liberation, but at the time, although I was aware of it, Usenet to me meant “buy a really expensive computer and run up a huge ‘phone bill”, and I didn’t even have a ‘phone connection at the time, Nowadays many people’s experience of the internet as such consists largely of social media, podcasts and video streaming services, which is very different, but the same kind of interaction as used to happen on bulletin boards and news groups is replicated, writ large, in these places. Consequently, one sees opinions expressed which can come across as rather odd, and likewise one’s own opinions can be read similarly. In a way, this whole post could be seen as a case study of online interaction in the ’20s, but it’s also specific to veganism.

I went vegan in 1987, and lapsed a few years later because I started to become psychotic due to B12 deficiency. This made me afraid to try going vegan again for quite a while although the deliberate animal product content in my diet was always rather low. I am now vegan again, and have been for a number of years. It occurs to me now that I’m already falling into the trap of talking about veganism as if it’s a stricter form of vegetarianism. In fact the two are not necessarily that similar.

To quote the Vegan Society which was set up in 1944 and invented the word:

“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

Now, two things about this. One is that humans are animals. Therefore veganism seeks to exclude as far as is possible and practicable all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to humans for any purpose; and by extension promotes the development and use of alternatives for the benefit of all humans and the environment. Humans are the animals whom most of us interact with most and therefore can have the most impact on ethically, partly because humans are also moral agents. This makes veganism something like pacifism or perhaps socialism or green anarchism rather than a dietary pursuit, and this is not a new definition either, nor what the Vegan Society came up with in 1944. There was at first no definition, then in 1949 came a definition which included generic masculinity, but it was never just about diet. A plant-based diet is more along the lines of vegetarianism, and can be pursued for non-ethical reasons. By contrast, although vegetarianism is often adopted or maintained for ethical reasons, that isn’t what vegetarianism is. Vegetarianism is a diet which excludes any part of the body of an animal consumed intentionally. We do of course all eat animals, because there are animals in our food, we may accidentally inhale gnats and so forth, and of course we constantly tread on small animals and kill them and our immune systems are constantly engaged in wholesale slaughter, but there is no mens rea there.

The other thing about this is what constitutes an animal, and this seems to make me rather heterodox compared to some other vegans. My definition of an animal is “a multicellular heterotrophic eukaryote without cell walls”, and also I’m one of those nightmare caricature vegans who believes that plants have feelings. I’ll come to that. In any event, my definition of an animal seems to differ from that of some other people who call themselves vegan, and this comes out in language use.

I’m on a particular Facebook group for vegans which I find a little irritating as it seems to focus substantially on what you can buy in shops which substitutes for various animal products such as meat, cheese and eggs. Leaving that aside, nobody can really vet who joins, so it may be that many of the members are not vegan. If they do see themselves as vegan, some of them seem to fall rather short of the standard. On the group, I’ve seen animals being described as “vermin” or “hazards”, which to me is not vegan language but objectifying. For instance, there was a recent discussion started by a motorist who accidentally ran over and killed a rodent. One of the responses was along the lines of “there are people suffering atrocities in the world and publicly-funded bodies which work hard to keep you and your family safe from vermin, and you should get things in proportion”. This struck me as a deeply non-compassionate response, and it made it seem that rodents just don’t matter ethically. I have to say I don’t understand why opinions like this are expressed on the group, and I wonder if it’s because people are oriented around a plant-based diet rather than ethics.

There was also a discussion about plant consciousness, because as I’ve said I do believe plants are conscious because I’m panpsychist and probably hylozoist too. I’ve been into more depth on that link. Going into more scientific-style detail, I’ll begin by mentioning a few obvious examples of plants responding noticeably to stimuli. The most evident ones are Mimosa pudica, a plant which wilts when touched, the various heterotrophic plants such as the Venus fly trap and sundew, plants such as sunflowers, whose inflorescences follow the Sun and the numerous plants whose flowers and inflorescences open during the day and close at night. There are also the swimming microscopic unicellular algæ such as Chlamydomonas or Volvox, and plants such as liverworts producing semen rather than pollen. All of this, though, is biassed towards movement because we happen to be errant animals. Many animals are sessile and much of what we do has little to do with moving. In a sense this is an anthropomorphic view, and in fact our brains themselves, often understood to be seats of consciousness, don’t move of their own accord but are transported around in the vehicle of one’s body.

Over two dozen years ago, it was found that forest trees share and exchange nutrients such as minerals and sugar via a symbiotic underground network of fungi nicknamed the Wood Wide Web, also known as the mycorrhizal network. They are unable to thrive without this network and use it to gather their own water and minerals. Conifers at least, if not broadleaved trees, also share their carbon via sugar with related seedlings. Radiocarbon labelling of carbon dioxide built into sugar by the photosynthesis of trees has resulted in the labelled carbon showing up in closely related seedlings nearby but not more distant relatives, after the seeds have left the tree. The topology of this mycorrhizal/tree network is the same as that of a brain, with modules like the lobes of a brain, and at least one substance used as a neurotransmitter, glutamate, is also used for communication in this symbiotic network. If a tree is sufficiently injured that it’s likely to die, it will give up its own nutrients and distribute them via the Wood Wide Web to nearby trees and boost their health. If one is attacked by parasites such as aphids or caterpillars, it again signals to other trees in the vicinity and they will boost their resistance to these parasites. Orchids also fool this system to redirect nutrients to themselves from trees. I always see orchids as flowers who think they’re fungi.

Although this doesn’t mean individual trees are conscious, it does suggest entire forests are. The differences between them and brains is more to do with scale and time than anything real, and since we don’t know why we’re conscious it seems presumptious to posit that trees are not, particularly given this mountain of evidence of their similarity to brain cells.

A vegan who does not wish to acknowledge plant consciousness may opt for a solution to the mind-body problem which allows them to do this, because this is how metaphysics tends to work. It manufactures spurious excuses for ignoring real ethical issues, as I found when I was at Warwick and Christine Battersby denied that other species were conscious because they didn’t use language. How very convenient that their voicelessness allows the voiceless to be disregarded and ignored. And this from a major feminist thinker.

Back to the subject of fungi. I asked someone on the group if he ate fungi and he replied that he did not. The relevance of this is of course that fungi are not plants. This may or may not be a technical distinction. Trivially speaking, he almost certainly does eat fungi because their spores are ubiquitous and therefore all over much food just as bacteria are. Moreover, not only does this imply that he doesn’t eat mushrooms, but also anything with yeast in it, and that’s a tall order, as many observant Jews would tell you. It doesn’t just mean not eating bread, yeast extract and fermented beverages. Many fungi occupy what I consider a confusing place in the food chain. My initial motivation for becoming vegetarian was based on tropic levels. Eating animals is inefficient because they eat either other animals themselves or plants (or in a few cases just bacteria or fungi) and then run some of the energy gained off, but they may eat things we can’t get nutrition from ourselves. In general, though, it makes more sense to eat the producers rather than the consumers because that way, more people can be fed and less land or water, or just area, needs to be used. This is why the world does not have a population problem regarding food. It has a capitalism and a “people not being veggie” problem. Fungi, however, don’t fit neatly into this because they’re the organisms who complete the cycle, so it’s harder to work out how efficient they are. Incidentally, psychologically my vegetarianism worked as follows. Once I’d accepted the tropic levels argument, I mainly gave up meat on that basis, but having done so I no longer needed the rationalisations often employed by people who wish to continue their carnism, so I dropped them and it became primarily about animal liberation. Fungi, though, are potentially problematic for another reason. Slime moulds are, well, I hesitate to say “intelligent enough”, but are capable of navigating mazes and solving the Travelling Salesperson Problem. This last capacity puts them in that respect beyond the capacity of human intelligence, because we can’t. However, slime moulds are technically not fungi but amœbozoa, which are protists, formerly classified as animals. It should probably also be borne in mind that the forest communication system just mentioned is genuinely fungal.

The way I reconcile this, because it means that whatever I eat, sticking with that for now, will cause death and suffering, is to consider the larger number of organisms harmed on a higher tropic level, and this applies to arable farming as well as livestock farming, so the excuse that vegans are responsible for more animal deaths doesn’t hold together either.

That’s one issue. There’s another regarding eating bivalves which I’ve gone into some time ago. But there’s a third which is quite far-reaching and has been bothering me since childhood.

There’s a well-known adage about psychopaths and serial killers that in childhood they were cruel to members of other species, which doesn’t seem to work at all. Many tales are told of people who became serial killers as adults who were notably cruel to “animals” when they were young. For instance there’s this article (plus one by PETA which I shall studiously ignore because they suck). Jeffrey Dahmer and Ian Brady are examples given in that article, which seems not be publicly accessible, and talks about cats and dogs – placental mammals. I sometimes wonder if this is an artifact of other aspects of antisocial personalities, not that they are cruel, but that their cruelty is discovered. In a survey of Romanian teenagers, 86% said they thought it was normal to see animals tortured or killed, which is because there are many feral dogs in that country. Those who witnessed these incidents were more likely to kill themselves or self-harm, and again I feel this is a crude understanding of self-harm.

However, as a child I was aware that boys in my village routinely killed and tortured animals, particularly fish, and I think that there is a conceptual chain of being involved here where those incidents of cruelty are discounted compared to cruelty to birds or other mammals. Now we live in a society where there are serial killers who may have been unusually cruel or murderous to dogs and cats as children, but the question arises of what kind of society we’d be living in if similar cruelty against other classes of animal than just birds and mammals was taken as seriously. I’ve lost count of the number of conversations with people who seem to think that veganism is about avoiding cruelty to “animals”, when in fact they are at most including birds, mammals and sometimes other vertebrates, and as the conversation mentioned above has it, apparently not even other members of our own superorder such as rodents. As I say, it’s hard to interpret what’s going on here because nobody knows who is actually vegan, and I suspect there are quite a few plant-based diet followers on that group who don’t actually care about the ethics.

It would be remiss of me to ignore a notorious YouTube video about veganism being incompatible with socialism.

More views for her of course. In this video, Unnatural Vegan confuses neoliberalism with social democracy, which isn’t a good look and doesn’t inspire confidence in her other opinions. She is of course 100% wrong. One notable aspect of this video is that she appears to be arguing from a utilitarian perspective – actions are right in proportion that they tend to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number. She describes herself as a consequentialist. Her opinions are in fact so at odds with consistent veganism that I almost wonder if she’s actually advocating for veganism or is some kind of “plant” (pun unintentional). But that’s just paranoia and not productive. Just looking at her ideas and arguments is a better approach. Her consequentialism is significant because she argues that injustice is only wrong when it harms people, which is the utilitarian problem with justice. Utilitarianism does not seem able to account for justice per se. To a utilitarian, two situations with the same degree of happiness and unhappiness, one of which is fair and the other not, are morally equivalent, which is widely seen as a major flaw in that ethical theory. The reason this argument is made is that animal “rights” have historically often been understood as following from utilitarianism, which incidentally is why those quotes are there – utilitarians don’t believe in rights as real or meaningful – “nonsense on stilts” is the phrase. Thought Slime has done a thorough job on this, so I’ll just embed his video instead of continuing further:

Having said all that, there is another interesting perspective on animal liberation which is not left wing. If you believe human nature is broken and either unfixable or that we should take advantage of that brokenness to the general benefit of society, your view of other species might well be that they do not suffer from this brokenness. For instance, they don’t know right from wrong, they’re not selfish, not scheming and so forth. As such, it’s a valid view that they should not suffer from our natural tendency to exploit them and willingness to turn a blind eye to their suffering and death, and therefore you can actually perfectly validly be both right wing and in favour of animal liberation. At some point I’m going to have to address the issue of politics vs. people, but once again this is beyond the scope of this post.

There is one final thing I think I should say about veganism as a diet. Nowadays it’s been assimilated by capitalism, with the result that all sorts of products are marketed at us, often in the form of meat and dairy substitutes, and this probably contributes to the perception that veganism is a luxury for the rich. This is not the case. It is the case that companies are trying to market this idea and get us to spend lots of money on a plant-based diet when we needn’t. That said, there might be a problem in the form of food deserts. There is a branch of Spar near where I used to live in Leicester where I used to go occasionally trying to find something to eat, and it was seriously full of practically useless, non-nutritional foods and other products. I can imagine this is the case in horribly wide areas in some parts of the country, and part of the solution would be to grow food on brownfield sites, which often coincide, but the will has to be there along with a reluctance to trash them from the authorities and others. There are various factors involved in food deserts, including the sheer absence of outlets of healthy food, the affordability of any food of that kind which does exist and the availability of fresh produce. Against this one might set the fact that supermarkets deliberately make unsold food inedible, the existence of product “mountains” and the difficulty of getting local authorities to agree to allotments and other means of growing healthy food. Leaving all this aside though, if you can get the food, and we’re only really talking the likes of rice, baked beans, lentils, bananas and so forth, it is undoubtedly affordable and probably cheaper than a meat-based diet. Veganism is being saddled with an undeservèdly privileged image. What you do when you go vegan is not to replace all the things you ate before with a vegan alternative: you redesign your entire diet on nutritional principles and you research the sources, which incidentally very often include what people think of as weeds such as stinging nettles and dandelions. It isn’t hard, and it’s a moral imperative.

My Political Awakening

Up until 2002, every year seemed to bring something new in my life. My second year at university was no exception.

1986 was the last time I spent a protracted period of time in Canterbury. I came back from Leicester on 24th June and took a washing up and cleaning job at the local mental hospital, noting sadly that the cleaning services were now privatised and therefore that I’d be working for a private sector employer, which went very much against my principles. I lasted four days. I was unable to learn the layout of the hospital and made everything less efficient. I also joined the Green Party, thanks to Vicky posting their Canterbury address on the noticeboard of the Attenborough Bridge. I was quite depressed for most of that summer, feeling that most of my first year at university had been blighted thanks to the Christians and that I was never going to get that back. I was also worried that I would never have a romantic relationship. I also found myself rather worryingly developing feelings for an old school friend, but I didn’t tell anyone, including her, until they faded because I realised this was a kind of rebound from Vicky.

That autumn, of course, I went back to university and threw myself into social life and political activism. I joined the Green group, LEAF, which I was eventually to become co-chair of, and also the Hunt Sabs and the World Development Movement. I was nineteen at the time and aware of the phenomenon of rosy retrospection, which is where one looks back on one’s own past with unwarranted nostalgia. Therefore I decided to note consciously that I was happy at this point in my life, and again the question of unreliable memory is resolved. I got to know Vicky better and she recommended the ‘New Internationalist’ to me as a good source of information on progressive issues. I also went on a lot of demos and did various other things like campaigning for better vegetarian and vegan meals, watched a heck of a lot of films and gained a lot of new friends. I also decided to follow pacifism and became anarchist. In a sense I’m still anarchist. I also got involved with supporters of Greenpeace Leicester, Leicester Friends of the Earth, and the Nicaraguan Solidarity Campaign. Early on in the year, I got a fair degree of hassle from a Trotskyist group called the Revolutionary Communist Party and it was interesting to note both their dishonest dealing and the similarity between such groups and small Christian denominations who believe they alone are right. This planted the seeds of a long-term thought process which is still underway regarding small far left parties, so that too is rather seminal.

Academically, I did extremely well in my second year and was heading for a First. Nor was this at the cost of my social life. I also believed temporarily that I’d made my peace with the Vicky situation. As far as I was concerned, she was nothing more than a friend although I still occasionally pined after her. This wasn’t helped by the widely acknowledged fact that she and her partner in no way appeared to be emotionally close. It was an odd relationship which some people would probably put down to the fact that it was unusually durable for a couple of that age, since they’d been going steady since she was fourteen, having got together on her fourteenth birthday. My curiosity about their relationship led me to perform a Yi Ching (易經) divination which told me that they were 60-80% of the way through their relationship, which in fact turned out to be accurate. They were together for seven years and nine months, which is within a month of when the 易經 predicted they would split up. I have used this method three times in my life and don’t plan to do so ever again. However, it does indicate that I am not and have never been naturalistic, at least since I was about seven, and in an analytical philosophy department in the 20th century this is a difficult intellectual position to be in.

’86-’87 was also the year I began to engage majorly in consumer boycotts. Many people on the Left regard these as pointless because it doesn’t fix the system, and it’s also the case that it’s largely ineffectual and tinkers around the edges. However, taking it seriously enough it broadens out into what might be called a global boycott, which amounts to self-sufficiency – not being part of the problem. However, to be self-sufficient involves owning land, and in order to own land one either has to inherit it or to be sufficiently involved in the capitalist system to derive a large enough income to acquire that land, and in doing so one is either privileged as such or doing a substantial amount of damage to avoid doing more damage in the long term. All of these things are very difficult. To some extent boycotts are about assuaging one’s feelings of guilt and powerlessness. Having said that, I’m not about to go out and buy a jar of Nescafé. This is a process which began in my second year at university.

There was also hunt sabbing, something which at one stage I was doing every week and didn’t end for good until the year after I graduated. I always had issues with this. I can see the emotional value of wanting to save foxes’ lives, and I also understand that it’s substantially class-based, but that’s what makes me uncomfortable. It’s important to recognise that there is class conflict and that countless people’s lives are blighted and even ended by that, but the symbolism of nobility and royalty being overprivileged has never been something I’ve strongly bought into. I would also say that the way we sabbed in Leicester in the mid-’80s was not aggressive, as we were quite strongly influenced by a pacifistic tendency in our group. The aggression came later and I was never comfortable with it. But in practical terms, this is the example which always occurred to me. I might go out with a van of people and sab a hunt, perhaps saving two foxes. I can’t imagine that we’d save any more. That might be eight people achieving that. On the other hand, I could staff the animal rights stall in the city centre and the two people on that might persuade one twenty year old to go vegetarian and ultimately vegan for the next sixty years, thereby saving thousands of lives. I don’t think there’s any utilitarian argument for sabbing as opposed to doing the animal rights stall. Incidentally, it’s also possible to sab anglers, but people rarely do that because it’s a more working-class form of animal abuse.

I went vegan in October ’87 as a natural progression from vegetarianism, which I’d always planned.

My second year at university probably marked the biggest shift in my life towards political activism I undertook. It was a peak in my social life. The situation with Vicky was stable. However, I also found that I was developing crushes on people, or rather that I was kind of uninformèdly stabbing in the dark at what were conceivably sexual relationships, because at the time I was trying to prove to myself that I was a man. I also began to feel very strong urges, though non-sexual, to wear feminine clothes, which I was to resist for the next four or five years. A major influence on me at the time was Janice Raymond’s ‘The Transsexual Empire’, which I’d read in summer 1986 and completely accepted, which put paid to any ideas I’d had about transitioning male to female. This probably contributed to my depression that summer, as I was feeling very boxed in by things. I then did something rather embarrassing. There was another woman in my year whom I perceived to conform to conventional notions of attractiveness and found I was becoming once again fixated on. Therefore, I rather creepily sent her a note telling her that I “loved” her but reassured her that I would do nothing about it, because by this point I had become very pessimistic about the prospect of a relationship happening at all in my life. She just generally seemed very angry with me for a long time, and this continued while she spent a year in Germany and was eventually more friendly when she returned. Sarada and I have very different interpretations of this incident. Mine is that she found this unwelcome, intrusive and insulting, but Sarada’s is that it annoyed her that I’d kind of “pre-broken up” with her. I perceive Sarada’s interpretation as excessively optimistic, and since I was there at the time and wouldn’t meet her for over a thousand days, I believe my version is the correct one.

One of the problems with what I can only really describe as the Vicky catastrophe is that it led me to distrust my intuition. It didn’t seem like wishful thinking that she was attracted to me, and that clearly had major influences on my future attitude towards relationships and also spilt over to all sorts of other areas, with the result that one of the long-term consequences has nothing to do with sex and relationships at all but is more to do with a general distrust of my own judgement.

There was great stability in the second year, and also a lot of happiness. One significant event was the 1987 General Election, which of course the Conservatives won, but I had expected nothing else. This depressed a lot of my friends but for me it was just to be expected. I was remarkably positive about many things at the time. A couple of significant events were the organisation of a Greenpeace benefit rock concert on Victoria Park and the sponsored walk on Abbey Park, again to raise money for Greenpeace. It began to bother me that we couldn’t engage in direct action under the Greenpeace banner, and we were criticised for using the Greenpeace banner (literally) on a march in London. My irritation with the organisation grew during this period. I was doing a lot with Vicky at the time and used to frequent her flat, which she shared with her man. It was of course familiar to me because of the dream. Every time I mention this it sounds insane, but what happened happened.

Early on in the year I took some careers advice. It didn’t look promising, mainly because they were very oriented towards working for multinationals or the Civil Service, neither of which I had any interest in doing. I breezed through the part 1 exams and began work on my dissertation. I actually underperformed on this in the long run because of what was about to happen.

In the final year, everyone went mad, basically. There was a lot of stress emanating from the fact that we were all going to have to graduate and move on, get jobs and so forth, or possibly become long term unemployed. This was not, however, my plan. I was heading for a First and planned to do an MPhil followed by a doctorate, and then become an academic, at another university because the department at Leicester was merging with Nottingham apart from the Logic and Scientific Method component which was to become part of Computing. I think this experience of extreme stress in the final year is quite common. A couple of my friends considered killing themselves and one of them actually attempted it, but survived for the time being. There were also a lot of parties and clubbing. I also joined the Labour Party.

In January ’88, everything came unstuck for me. I was clubbing with my friends and met Vicky’s partner, who was there with another woman. After a couple of days of emotional crisis, some friends decided we had to tell her, which we did and they then split up. The problem was that while they’d been together, my interest in her was contained and under control, but I was aware that there was no chance of us becoming an item. Because I wanted to make this certain, I manipulated her best friend into doing a character assassination on me which would put paid to any possibility. All of this was rather distracting and resulted in poor concentration on my studies and a rather disappointing dissertation which was seen as well below my usual standards. Also, one of my friends was killed in a hit and run accident. After some thought and discussion, I decided to take a year out after graduation to decide whether to do postgraduate or not, the issue being whether to go into political activism full-time as part of a pressure group or political party, which would directly influence politics (possibly), or to work on theory behind it by doing postgraduate work and becoming an academic. By that time, I had met my first girlfriend but we were not together yet. That didn’t happen until after my time at Leicester Uni. I also had a one-night stand, but my heart wasn’t in it because I was still completely obsessed with Vicky and worried about her well-being. Consequently I didn’t get a First but a 2i, and that may look like a success to someone else, but as so often before I had seriously fallen short and failed to do myself justice. Somewhere in all that I went on a kind of date with a woman who turned out to be a lesbian, but never followed it up.

Then the academic year ended, I toured Europe with a couple of school friends and I returned to Leicester to graduate, and found that one of my friends ostracised me because of what I understood to be an innocent postcard I’d sent her from Rome – we never spoke again – and another just cut me out in spite of previous closeness. I took a year out and went to Warwick to study the MA in continental philosophy.

What about those three years marked me in the long term then?

My first year was wasted. I effectively spent two rather than three years at university in terms of activism and social life and for a long time afterwards I was trying to compensate for what I’d missed. It was several years before I finally let go of university due to what felt like missing out. I just am a philosopher. It’s an important part of who I am and in that sense I was able to be myself to a much greater extent, particularly in my second year, than at any other time. Politically there was an awakening around the age of nineteen. I became Christian and in a sense have persisted with that, even though the circumstances involved emotional manipulation. I learned to live in the outside world in a gradually phased process which nowadays many young adults seem to miss out on. Owing to the complications with Vicky, I ceased to trust my intuition and my first relationship was highly unsatisfactory for both of us. I began to move into a kind of political career which, however, never got past volunteering although a few months later I was offered a job working for an anti-fluoridation pressure group which I turned down because I couldn’t convince myself it was a significant health problem (although it clearly is a civil liberties issue). I went vegetarian and then vegan.

My interest in furthering any kind of career was rather stymied by the deep ethical problems I perceived with almost any paid work and by the fact that I continued to be preoccupied with my failure to have a sexual relationship. This has had a long-term effect on my prospects from which in financial terms I never really recovered. I became very attached to Leicester, and only moved away from there recently to care for my father.

That’s it really. It feels a bit truncated as all sorts of things happened soon afterwards which are worth mentioning, but my main aim in writing this is to attempt to trace long term influences from my time as an undergraduate.

Anyone care to compare notes?

A Skyline Campus

It’s been suggested that I give an account of my experiences at the above place, so this is it.

Back in the 1980s, I seem to recall that something like two to five percent of people in the UK went to university or polytechnic. It wasn’t the ubiquitous stage which people expect today. Prior to going, people made the observation that it was practically my natural habitat, and I still think that’s true, at least as far as 1970s universities were. Tempering this, it’s only fair to point out that a university education, at least at the time, mainly fostered a particular variety of learning and intelligence which is simply a variety of that rather than one which has priority over other kinds, but because academia is substantially responsible for forming dominant notions of what constitutes intelligence, this is what we tend to end up thinking is “the” intelligence.

For the few years before I got there, university didn’t at all seem inevitable to me. The actual institutions I chose initially included Stirling, St Andrews, Warwick, Bristol and Essex – Oxbridge was a non-starter for practically anyone at my school although there was one pupil in the year above me who did get there – but I then scrapped that list and applied to Keele, Nottingham, Reading, Exeter and Sheffield, along with NELP, Oxford Poly and Hatfield. Exeter rejected me by return of post and I only got offers from Hatfield, NELP, Keele and Sheffield. The choices of Keele, NELP and Oxford Poly communicate my aim to study a broad range of topics rather than go for single honours, because I had been pursuing an attempt to go for as wide a range of subjects as possible at school.

My aim for university was neither vocational nor academic, but primarily focussed on the opportunity for political activism and becoming independent of my parents. Being born in late July, I was one of the youngest people in my academic year and I felt at the time that my mother was over-protective, although given her history I don’t judge her for it. 1985 was the year of the Live Aid concert, and bearing in mind that I was quite naïve at the time I expected this to be instrumental in addressing world famine. During the summer, while I was working on a strawberry field in a farm near Canterbury, the pirate station Laser 558 was constantly playing Power Station’s cover version of the Isley Brothers song ‘Harvest For The World’, and for me that summed up why I was going and the vision I had for the future. You can’t really overstate the importance music has for people of that age. This was before I was vegetarian and I concentrated on human needs rather than those of other species, not realising that they were indivisible, so it was very much about a just distribution of resources according to need. I also had a very non-religious outlook at the time, which was shortly to change. I also started to apply the year ‘Threads’, the post-nuclear Holocaust TV drama, was broadcast, and that scene at the beginning of Ruth and Jimmy conceiving a child in a car on the hills over a dingy, overcast Sheffield seemed very exciting to me – these big industrial Northern cities with their rain, greyness and cooler climate somehow represented my future very positively. It was this desire to go somewhere less affluent and in a bubble than a small city in Southeast England which influenced my interest in Scottish universities and those in the Midlands and the North

My A-level results were disappointing. To be honest I’ve never really got past this. I still feel overawed by Sarada’s A-level grades, for example. I don’t understand how people managed to achieve such high grades and it seemed completely beyond my capabilities at the time. Consequently, I didn’t achieve either the points or the grades to get into my university of choice, Keele, and went through clearing. This is one of those pivotal moments which amounts to a butterfly effect. I started to phone universities to look for offers in alphabetical order, considering Combined Studies as it had a lower entry requirement and was, again, broader than single honours. I had gone through a process of considering Philosophy and English, then Philosophy and Psychology, but the former I rejected when I realised how abysmal my understanding of literature was. Psychology I chose, like so many other people, because I hoped it would help me understand myself, in particular my queerness. At the urging of my friends, I rang a series of other universities until I got to Leicester, and managed to get in. My Plan B had been to get work at the local mental hospital and take a year out.

Hence on 29th September 1985 I took the train to Leicester, a city I would live in for the next thirty-two years. I’d never physically seen the place before and knew next to nothing about it, even where it was situated in England. I had no idea it was in the English Midlands or that Adrian Mole was set there for example. However, two years previously I had had a kind of precognitive dream about the city, which included some of the buildings I was later to become familiar with, including the railway station, the building next to it, Elizabeth House, the post office admin building next to that and the Engineering Building, which is on the left hand side in the top photo and which I considered to be the ugliest building in the world at the time, although it won an award. Thus I found the city startlingly familiar, and this is not confabulation because I wrote the dream down in great detail at the time.

I had opted for Philosophy, Psychology and Sociology, and stayed in Beaumont Hall, a hall of residence in the fairly distant suburb of Oadby. My first year did not go well. I failed to join any clubs or societies because I was too shy, and a major problem was that I was pining after a woman I was infatuated with back in Canterbury. My academic performance was, however, not problematic. I didn’t make many friends, with the exception of one guy called Keith who was very much on my wavelength. The big issue in my first year was that the hall of residence was home to a fundamentalist evangelical Protestant sect called the Navigators. Now you can look at their approach in two different ways. From their perspective they were rescuing people from damnation by packing out the hall of residence with their variety of Christianity and ensuring that no other voices be heard. There was also an element of notches on the bedpost of how many converts they could get, which was not healthy. From an outsider perspective, they were praying on emotionally vulnerable young people to get them into a cultish environment. The Navigators are not a clear-cut organisation which can be neatly slotted into the pigeonhole of a cult or non-cult. Individual members might have cultish approaches to things and others wouldn’t have. Life is not generally as simple as that.

In my discussions with the Navigators, I described my spiritual beliefs as that there was a God, and that God was good. You should probably bear in mind that my spirituality was strongly influenced by the thought of Olaf Stapledon then and now, and that my view of God was that it was rather aloof but still worthy of worship, and was most emphatically “it” rather than “he”. I should also mention that I’d recently completed an A-level in RE, something which had strongly influenced my decision to opt for philosophy at university. Therefore, I wasn’t going into this naïvely and found their attitude to be a little patronising. They had a particular view of Christianity to promote, to the exclusion of all else, which was pretty much your bog-standard evangelical Protestant stuff, and they weren’t above deception and emotional manipulation to promote it. After a very short period of time, I made a commitment to Christ, at around 10 pm on 23rd October 1985. It was a Wednesday. I have stood by that commitment ever since, although it’s waxed and waned, and my view of the nature of Jesus has changed. I fully acknowledge the manipulative nature of their approach. Prior to making this commitment, I had said to them that I would have a lot of questions which would make it difficult for me to continue, and they encouraged me to continue to ask these questions.

Becoming Christian was probably one of the most oppressive and depressing experiences of my life. It made me feel like all my options for my future had been closed off to me, and that I was trapped until death. That said, I did get to know a few people and make friends, and I was very impressed by the incredible atmosphere of love which was clearly present in gatherings of the people concerned. I decided to shelve my issues for the time being, in the hope that I would find answers. This went on for three months.

At the beginning of the second term, I decided to assert myself on the issues which concerned me, such as intolerance of other spiritual paths, sexism and in particular homophobia. I found that the other Christians I knew at university were not in fact keen on answering this issues, and in fact didn’t have the open attitude towards them I’d been led to expect. Some of them were also shockingly materialistic and acquisitive. I had felt that there could be a trade-off between the bigotry and anti-materialism, but in fact there wasn’t. Christians that I knew through the Navigators were in fact often quite concerned about financial gain and consumerist frippery. As I’ve mentioned before, it seems very clear to me that homophobia is intuitively wrong and that there are no valid objections to homosexually expressed romantic love between consenting adults, and the alternative is as absurd to me as the idea that two plus two equals five. They were completely recalcitrant on this issue and would not budge an inch on their bigotry. I’m not going to fixate on this issue this time because I’ve done so elsewhere, but really, you can’t tolerate any belief system which is compatible with homophobia.

Over my second term, I was also studying practical ethics and becoming steadily persuaded that I could not ethically continue to eat meat, so I became vegetarian on the 9th March 1986, as a transitional state to becoming vegan later. However, I didn’t actually tell either my Christian friends, who disapproved of it, or the university, meaning that I had to keep throwing away the meat on my plate I was served in the dining hall. I also wrote my first dissertation, on the subject of Islamic societies and the Great Transformation. I was becoming increasingly disillusioned with psychology because of its extreme emphasis on statistics, although that has later proved very useful in other areas, and when I found out there was a six-hour stats exam in the second year it clinched it, and I gave up the subject and transferred to single honours philosophy from the start of my second year. But by that point the damage was done.

Over the course of the first year, although I was still fixated on my friend from school, I became increasingly aware of a woman in my philosophy and sociology lectures and tutorials who looked remarkably familiar, as if I’d known her years previously, but whom I couldn’t quite place. This is of course the famous Vicky, who anyone who knows me personally will be aware of. I found the image she presented very off-putting and at odds with her personality, as she was very careful to present herself as stereotypically attractive. She wore contacts, bleached her hair, waxed her legs and so forth, all of which at the time seemed to me superficial and an excessive concession to patriarchal standards of feminine beauty. I would never dream of being so judgemental today, but this is back in the era of the boilersuited shaven headed butch lesbian separatist stereotype, some of whom were quite judgemental about the appearances of other women. That said, on some level I would’ve loved to have done the same myself, so I think to some extent I really wanted to be her. I found her intelligent, witty and engaging, and she seemed to feel the same way about me. I was however concerned that I should remain loyal to the woman I had a crush on back in Kent, and it also occurred to me that Vicky was so conventionally attractive that she was bound to be in a relationship and therefore not an appropriate person to feel this way about. I thought I’d got to know her quite well, as we tended to work together and she went to the occasional philosophical society meeting. I definitely perceived her as being interested in and attracted to me, although I couldn’t understand why, and I also couldn’t understand why she never seemed to mention any significant other. People do the “boyfriend mention” very early on in such situations normally, but she didn’t do this. And there’s another aspect to this which you may find hard to believe. You know that dream I mentioned of Leicester two years before I came? Well, she was in it as my partner and was also a Greenpeace activist. As I say, I was careful to record this dream in detail in case it later got distorted and elaborated as memories often are, and I can assure you, Vicky is in this dream. I should also mention that I die in it.

In the final term of my first year, I managed to break free from the Navigators and start to live my own life. At the same time my friend in Canterbury was having huge emotional difficulties with a man she was in love with, just as my interest in Vicky was starting to get out of hand, so immediately after my last exam I went back to Canterbury and visited her. She said she was glad to see me, and I may be wrong but I think this could just have been another untaken path, but I’ve seen where it would’ve led and it didn’t involve either her or me being happy. Nonetheless I do remember taking the decision not to pursue it but to remain friends. Whether the option was there or not I don’t know. We’re still friends.

After a few days in Canterbury, I went back to Leicester and started to get involved in political activism. I noticed that someone had put up the contact details for Canterbury Green Party on the bridge noticeboard to the Attenborough Building and copied them down. They were involved in a campaign against the Channel Tunnel, hence the rather surprising location of their details in Leicester. I then became aware that I needed to inject a bit of reality into the situation with Vicky. I was concerned that because of her conventional image she would have equally conventional values and political beliefs, and this couldn’t be part of my life. Then I realised that she was campaigning on behalf of a Green Party presidential candidate for the NUS, and at that moment I realised that as well as being intelligent, generally a sympathetic person and the like, she also had the same political perspective as me. It later transpired that it was her who stuck the Canterbury Green Party address up on the noticeboard. Unbeknownst to me, she had also decided at this point to tour Europe. If she hadn’t done that, I could’ve resolved the situation much more easily, but the problem created by this was that she was nowhere to be seen and I didn’t expect to resolve the situation before the start of the next academic year. I was acutely aware that this could turn into an unhealthy obsession if I didn’t manage to do this.

Then something weird happened. On the evening of 23rd June 1986, I was in my bedroom at Beaumont Hall and was effectively told that if I went to the gates between Queen Mother’s Walk and the University at 9:33 pm, I would meet Vicky and be given the chance to resolve the situation. Basically, it wasn’t a voice in my head so much as a sudden revelation of a series of instructions. Rather freaked out by this I followed them to the letter and it worked! I can’t account for this, or the dream. All I can do is assert that these things happened. I do not know how. And Vicky was there. With her cohabiting boyfriend of five years whom she had failed to mention in spite of us having got to know each other pretty well. They even had a dog. So that was that. So people, for God’s sake do the boyfriend mention will you? And also, don’t shoot the messenger. These two incidents, of the dream and the encounter, did happen as I described them, and both are recorded in advance so I know I haven’t modified the memories. I am an assiduous diarist: I record everything. Believe me, this is what happened.

Unfortunately, although this did resolve the situation, by that time it was too late and I’d tipped over into full limerence. The day after, I left Leicester and went back to Canterbury for the summer.

Okay, I’m becoming aware now that this is going to turn out rather long, so I’ll summarise this and continue tomorrow. There were indeed a number of pivotal and influential events in my first year at university. Leaving home is of course one of them and I would’ve had that in common with many other people of my age at the time. Another one is becoming vegetarian, becoming Christian, having difficulties with fundamentalists and meeting and falling for Vicky. A major secondary strand was becoming a member of the philosophy department staff-student committee and campaigning against the closure of the department.

More tomorrow then.

Love And Other Gods Part II

This is the second part of my reaction to Michael Nangla’s autobiographical description of his mental health journey, which I started yesterday

Michael Nangla, just to fill you in, is an acquaintance of mine from the Continental Philosophy MA at Warwick, academic year ’89-’90. As I never really integrated myself into Warwick University successfully for reasons I mentioned yesterday, he or any other student there could never be more than an acquaintance, but he interests me because we are the same age and made the same decision to follow this course, and he later got sectioned and diagnosed as bipolar. Michael is a passionate, serious and genuine person whose life, experiences and opinions are very interesting and thoughtful.

The second major psychotic episode was provoked by the second Gulf War. He felt the suffering and death perpetrated substantially by Tony Blair very intensely as a personal loss. By this time, I had already been through a rather numbing personal crisis regarding the first Gulf War, and by the second one I was rather more immured from it than I found desirable. The issue for him was confronting this loss at every turn. This wasn’t helped by his friend David’s death by his own hand. He began to feel that his work at the BBC, which one of his friends had criticised, seemed vapid and dishonest, which exposed the void and emptiness behind everything. An early sign of what an outsider might recognise as a psychotic break occurred when he heard a voice saying “everything is infinitely divisible”. I don’t know if there’s a connection, but this is metaphysically the view that hyle is the ultimate reality of matter rather than atoms. However, there’s also a famous quote by Demokritos:

νόμωι (γάρ φησι) γλυκὺ καὶ νόμωι πικρόν, νόμωι θερμόν, νόμωι ψυχρόν, νόμωι χροιή, ἐτεῆι δὲ ἄτομα καὶ κενόν.

  • By convention sweet is sweet, bitter is bitter, hot is hot, cold is cold, color is color; but in truth there are only atoms and the void. 

I’m not suggesting for a moment that this had any influence on his experience, but it is literally true that what we live in is largely an illusion, although his take on it is social in nature. Then he says something which has direct relevance to a conversation we once had at Warwick. As you probably know, I’m panpsychist and tempted to accept hylozoism. I believe that all matter is conscious. I once gave a work in progress seminar to this effect, to which Michael responded that it seemed like I’d been influenced by too much Cannabis. I’m paraphrasing here. When I expressed this belief, it impressed him as deeply delusional. The response he suggested, and which I took, was to base my ontology on ethics – as Levinas put it, “ethics as first philosophy”. I followed exactly this and found it led me in a circle back round to panpsychism. This is probably the most significant interaction between him and me, because it determined my future views and the foundations of my later philosophy of life. On the occasion Michael recounts here, he says that “everything outside and inside me was abundantly sentient”. This is notably close to panpsychism, except that the claim there is universal consciousness rather than sentience. For me, panpsychism is an almost prosaic fact of life, though one which means I have obligations to everything, even inanimate objects. For Michael, his similar belief was apparently a sign of madness, but the difference, apart from the fact that sentience and consciousness are not the same, is that it was a much more vivid reality to him than it usually is for me, although I have my moments. I actually feel that it would be better if I felt this as strongly as he.

I’ve previously mentioned (not sure that’s the right link) that I feel disquiet at what I perceive to be an Ayurvedic negativity about birth because it means one is still trapped in the round of reincarnation. Remarkably, Michael makes a very different claim about Indian and British attitudes towards birth. In his view, and this is from the horse’s mouth so I can’t really dispute it, that “in India birth betokened a gift from God. In Britain one sensed a feeling of it being sinful.” I can’t account for this discrepancy. To me it seems that in the Abrahamic tradition, as we at least would be expected to be here, birth is an unequivocally positive event. In our tradition, a baby is an entirely new creation rather than someone who has become trapped in another life, and therefore is a blessing. I can’t account for this discrepancy. I also don’t know how it would be for a Sikh, apart from this particular Sikh, because their tradition combines these two strands of faith. I just don’t know what to make of it except maybe to say that the grass is greener on the other side.

It’s often quite hard to distinguish which events are taking place in Michael’s head and which are “real”, but I’m immediately going to restate that. Michael’s reality and account appear to include elements which would not be widely observed. This is actually very effective. It reminded me a little of the film ‘A Beautiful Mind’, where it took me a while to register that Nash had become psychotic, because of course this is what psychosis is like. There’s a lack of what a psychiatrist might call insight into the condition. But it isn’t only Michael who experiences the world in this way. None of us know what it’s like to be anyone else or if that even makes sense. As Sartre might put it, there’s the world, which is our phenomenology, and then there are holes in that world which are other people. Hence Michael has a conversation with his counsellor and Tony Blair about the morality of the war, and whether this is a literary creation or a memory of how he experienced the situation at the time doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that Blair was not held to account for his actions by the British public, and has still got away with it. His therapist, Peter, is, interestingly, also part of Michael’s account even when he would not be agreed to be present by others, and this is a dream-like situation, as is unsurprising because of the nature of many states others might classify as psychotic. Peter becomes a positive influence in Michael’s life by being able to be internalised in this manner. It’s like he’s his guardian angel. He is however decidedly not Michael. For instance, he appears to contradict Michael’s view of samsara.

Peter’s fees were very high, and this raised the feeling in me that help should not be so expensive, including my help. As a healthcare professional myself, I often feel guilty (not ashamed) at asking clients for money. It isn’t that I don’t feel I deserve it although that can be there too, but more that we shouldn’t be living under an economic system where people’s suffering becomes profitable.

One thing that surprised me about this account is how left wing Michael seems to be. This leads me to think even more that we were presenting masks at Warwick to an extent which went well beyond how Kierkegaard meant it. I was much more myself at the philosophy department at Leicester Uni than I was there. It seems there was a kind of emergent consensus beyond anyone’s individual control, but I would raise a caveat there. Whereas this may have been true, it was also the case that I was constantly removing myself physically from the site. It should probably also be said that Warwick is a campus university separated physically from Coventry and that many students, Michael included, actually live in Leamington Spa. Also while we were there, there was a peculiar and I think irresponsible art project to make the site unfriendly with the use of searchlights and other things, which was supposed to be replaced later by a contrastingly friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Bearing in mind the mental health issues rife among students even then, this feels like they were playing with people’s lives. I suppose the people we think we know are merely projections of our own minds a lot of the time, and the atmosphere of the campus and my attitude towards it contributed to that.

It got to the point in reading ‘Love And Other Gods’ that I couldn’t even tell if his daughter existed for a while. People who know me will be aware of our “phantom baby” situation, a kind of game we played as a family to account for a child I felt we were missing a couple of years after our son was born. I won’t go into it here, but given my uncertainty regarding the connections between Michael’s reality and mine, and the apparent non-existence of several of his protagonists, it took me a while to register that Hayal is real. This reflects his own difficulty in adjusting to her birth. He wanted to be there for his child, but catastrophically the passion of his love for her once again tipped him over the edge. This reminded me of post-puerperal psychosis, the situation many mothers find themselves in after they have given birth, and in a way it’s a tribute to his empathy and involvement with his wife’s pregnancy and birthgiving that this happened. Practically, however, it was a disaster, as it meant that he got sectioned mere hours after becoming a father, missed those crucial early days with his daughter and was unable to support the two of them as they settled in at home. It also reminded me once again of Warwick, because one of the MA students took a year out when he became a father. He describes himself as “ashamed to call myself her father”, which I’m going to have to say is misplaced, but it is also interesting that he chose the word “ashamed” rather than “guilty”.

I love how Michael is so openly emotive and feel also that this is part of his diagnosability, by which I mean that the psychiatric profession as it is can technically fit him into ICD-10 F30-31 somewhere quite easily, but this should only be taken as a guide to how he might be approached and doesn’t reflect the florid reality that this is a whole person with entirely valid experiences in front of us, whose experiences moreover arise as a substantially valid response to circumstances such as parenthood, romantic love and grief at the loss of life from an illegal war. It felt like the people he encountered in his episodes were aspects of himself or a dramatisation of his internal conflicts, perhaps along the lines of dissociation, where action and conversation can take place projected out into his sensory perception which do appear to reflect what’s going on for him. It’s as if his inner critic is a literal figure standing there in the room with him, along with others who are also participating in his drama. I imagine this would be useful for a playwright.

I’ll finish by quoting Peter, Michael’s therapist: “I don’t believe existential problems can be medicated away indefinitely”. Now I don’t want anyone to go away from this thinking I’m down on anti-psychotic medication. I have known too many people whose lives and and the lives of those around them have taken a nosedive after discontinuing the likes of haloperidol or chlorpromazine, and I do recognise their value. I also think it’s potentially an insoluble problem for some people when they become psychotic, but there is also art and meaning in Michael’s life which he successfully emphasises in his writing.

So, I haven’t done this book justice at all in these two posts and I strongly recommend that you read it. You can get it here and it’s quite an experience to read. It was published as part of a larger project which aims to open conversations about mental health, and is hugely worthwhile. Please do the man some good and get it if you can.

Love And Other Gods

During my time at Warwick Uni, which I always think of as in Coventry, one of my more notable acquaintances (that’s a significant word) was Michael Nangla. He was a fellow student on the MA in continental philosophy, ethnically Punjabi and from Leeds. One of the most striking things about him was his seriousness. A mutual friend once said of him, and this is not a criticism, that it was impossible to have a superficial conversation with him.

I never really dove into life in Coventry. I didn’t live there, I became rather disillusioned with the philosophy department there and academic philosophy generally, mainly from a political perspective. It felt devoid of spirituality and seemed to be more about giving excuses for the way society was rather than trying to address the injustice. In particular, nobody seemed to care much about veganism or animal liberation. But there were other issues. I managed to organise everything on the same day of the week, when I took the first train there and got the last train back, I spent nine months only on the whole course and didn’t really get to know anyone. I was also rather owerawed by most of the people I met. There was hardly any social side for me, most people seemed to take about twice as long as I did to complete the course, a luxury I didn’t have due to lack of money, and I didn’t really get to know anyone. Probably the students I got to know best, and even that wasn’t very well, were Antonia, Anthony (only just realised that’s practically the same name) and of course Michael. I’m not going to pretend I knew Michael at all well, but I did know him enough to have a meaningful conversation with him. It was, as has been said, impractical to have any other kind.

The reason he comes up now is that I’ve just finished reading his excellent, recently published, book, ‘Love And Other Gods: Adventures Through Psychosis’, described as “a brutally honest account of being bipolar”. He’s certainly succeeded in striking a chord in me with his writing, and this is substantially down to his own personality, honesty, openness and diligence in what he wrote, but it’s also to do with the fact that we did vaguely associate with each other for about a year in 1989-90, and being my contemporary and moreover someone who opted to follow the same academic course as I did, we have certain things in common. We were at about the same stage in life when we were there as well as being the same age, and in particular our romantic sensibilities seem to have been rather similar, which is not at all surprising.

Before I go on, I want to do two things. One is to link to somewhere you can buy his book here, and if you can, please do because it’s great. The other is to mention the other blog post on here which talks about my experience of Warwick Uni, here, which is about Nick Land.

Michael starts by being very tough on himself. In the Prologue, he states:

By most accounts, I have failed in my life. I have no job. My mental ill health seems to have confined me to a life of forced indolence. But it’s my choice to reject a world that is fake.

I don’t think of him in any way as a failure. In fact, given his difficulties I feel quite badly about how poorly I could see myself as having done in my own life. Unlike me, he’s worked full time for Radio 4 and managed to hold down a job in London for several years. By some freak happenstance, I have managed neither to be sectioned nor diagnosed with anything now recognised as a mental health problem although, as I’ve said before, I’d be astonished if I wasn’t diagnosable as depressive. In spite of his difficulties, Michael has done a heck of a lot with his life and I feel the same way about many of the people who passed through Warwick Uni philosophy department back then. Comparisons are of course odious. But this isn’t just about me, but him. A major difference between us is of course our ethnicity, and the cultural background that happens to have accompanied his informs his perspective on his experiences considerably.

I have a rather amorphous collection of thoughts on Michael’s book before me which I may not even try to pull into some sort of order, and he’s coaxed me into asking questions about my own life back then. A major issue for him seems to have been that intense feelings of love and grief tend to overwhelm him and push him into an emotional place which he can’t really get back from without help. In writing this, I’m aware of how willing he has been to express his feelings, and I’m aware that I should try to adopt some degree of sensitivity in responding to them.

I don’t figure at all in the book so far as I can tell, which is hardly surprising since we’re mere bit players in each other’s dramas, substantially due to my aloofness from the university. I feel a sense of regret that I didn’t get to know him better at the time, but then I wouldn’t have relished having to be party in having him sectioned, which is what his friends eventually felt they had no choice but to do. One aspect of psychosis is that it never seems to be foreign to someone’s personality but very much a development of it, and if you go in the direction where your road would take you untrammeled, sometimes you simply will end up being fitted into a professional’s diagnosis of a psychotic condition of some kind. It absolutely is not stepping off the path for most people. It’s where you are led to by the way you and your life are. He has expressed this better than I. I was reminded of Nietzsche, and Nick Land saying that you couldn’t take what he said after a certain point seriously because of his psychosis. This has always seemed to be utterly wrong to me. You have to follow someone into their psychosis to understand them. It isn’t usually something which has just collided with them and caused trauma whose damage is a reaction to a foreign body by a broken brain. Unless you embrace Nietzsche’s madness and take it on board as a serious perspective on life, you may as well not read him. He rightly aims to stir you up and change everything about you. Michael does the same.

I want to describe my immediate trajectory across Michael’s life in a way that’s illuminated by his own writing. As an undergraduate, as is well-known, I became utterly fixated on another student who was unavailable because she was already in a relationship which had lasted a third of her life by the time I met her. Despite struggling to forget her, this failed completely and I did everything I could think of to purge her from my mind. Around two years into this, I also went vegan and over the following eighteen months I gradually developed a B12 deficiency which involved a mild and I might say boring psychosis. In early 1989, at the age of twenty-one, I finally began a sexual relationship with someone which wasn’t good for either of us and caused me a lot of unhappiness and stress. She persuaded me to study the MA at Warwick and because I wanted to maintain my relationship with her I turned down the possibility of a lecturing job at Stirling University and postponed moving to Glasgow, and also stayed in Leicester in order to be with her, hence my lack of engagement at Warwick. Warwick was, as I said, rather disillusioning. Towards the end of my time there, I split up with my partner but we remained close friends. As my MA approached its end, Saddam Hussein invaded Iraq and took some British people hostage. This escalated into the first Gulf War, and I was traumatised and disgusted by the supportive response of the British public which made me feel that we’d made no progress since 1914, the rhetoric of the mass media being very similar. This was how I got involved in the Peace Movement, particularly CND, which continued into the 2010s. At the same time, I was impressed by the spiritual and philosophical aspects of peace activism compared to the sometimes rather mechanical and impersonal approach of left wing radical politics, though not usually the Green movement. I came to see the cause of the Gulf War as ultimately and substantially to do with toxic masculinity and the patriarchy, as well as mature capitalism, and for that reason partly I decided to kind of come out as gender dysphoric, as a way of turning my back on masculinity, and went by the name of Ruth for a couple of years. I had one more relationship, which wasn’t serious enough for me, and a couple of years later Sarada and I married and had children, before I decided to train as a herbalist. There is a sense in which my response to the Gulf War situation was a breakdown, or at least a major adjustment, but paradoxically 1991 was also the happiest year of my life up until that point because I was single and not looking, and not interested in sex or a relationship.

That’s one way of describing the narrative that leans towards Michael’s experience. I probably wouldn’t have described it that way if I hadn’t just read his book. It does of course cover some near-universal themes in people’s lives at that age and period of history, and is probably somewhat more like Michael’s life due to the fact that various things led us in the same direction regarding our academic studies.

Michael’s own romantic experience at that early age was with a woman he calls Anarkali. I presume he has changed her name, although he does name Anthony accurately. He admired Anarkali from afar and, after his time at Warwick, got together with her, but was so overcome by the intensity of his passion for her that he tipped over into a psychotic episode and his friends, including Anarkali herself, had him sectioned. I was above all else shocked by her coldness towards him after this happened. She attributed his response to egoism and was absolutely brutal in her reaction. I would accept that his mental health was not her responsibility because she wasn’t to know how extreme her effect on him would be, but as a significant person to him, as he was to her, I still believe she owed him more than that. I think this is partly out of fear, and I’ve seen it a lot in people confronted with other’s mental health issues. They have the precious territory of their own sanity, or what they see as that, and they draw a firm line around it to avoid being pulled in by the other person. And this is a real danger: folie à deux is a thing. But it wasn’t like she didn’t return his feelings at all. He wasn’t her stalker. And of course I’ve been there too. It occurs to me that if by some fluke the woman I became obsessed with as an undergraduate had responded positively, it could have pushed me too far in that direction as well. Maybe I should count my blessings. But this is the same kind of coldness as I experienced from her, and also from some of my friends when I graduated, sometimes for baffling reasons.

In a way, and I think he acknowledges this, Michael was fortunate still to have been in a mental hospital when the first Gulf War began. He was fairly insulated from the belligerence and jingoism of the atmosphere in this country at the time, and perhaps his medication would have helped with that. But when the world goes “mad” in the way it did here in 1991, what’s the sane reaction? Are you just supposed to acquiesce to the bloodlust and orgy of hatred? Nonetheless, I’m happy that he was shielded from it because it was a deeply traumatic experience that made me feel very hostile towards most of the people I came across in the street. I didn’t behave in an aggressive manner at all towards them, because that would perpetuate the cycle, but it was very hard to keep a lid on things. The BBC in particular didn’t help with their 24-hour so-called “news” coverage of the war. And to me at the time, and for long afterwards, it really was “The War”, just like the Second World War had been capitalised, because it seemed so significant. I could easily spiral down into something at this point too, so I choose to drop it. Nonetheless, Michael was blessed by not witnessing that, though not by the conditions in the hospital.

While in Whitchurch Mental Hospital, he met a guy called David with whom he stayed close for the rest of David’s life. The name is significant to me because I also had a friend called David, who had AIDS, was gay and died young. In Michael’s friend’s case, it was by his own hand, and I suppose one bright light in that is that AIDS as such didn’t “win”, though it’s only a faint glimmer.

The philosophy department at Warwick had a highly secular atmosphere. There was one openly theist professor there, Roger Trigg, who was Roman Catholic. Students used to take the mickey out of him for what they saw as shoehorning religious themes into every seminar and tutorial he was involved in, but that’s just intellectual honesty to me. If your spirituality includes religious beliefs, how can you not include that in your work with students? It was always in the spirit of open discussion. Apart from Roger, however, there was actually not a secular atmosphere come to think of it, but an atmosphere where the assumption was that religious beliefs belonged in the Kindergarten of human history and we’d all outgrown that. That is not in fact secular, as that involves giving equal weight to all schools of thought. Nor was this attitude confined to religion. When my partner brought up the question of animal rights in a meeting, one of the people responded with an anecdote beginning “While we’re on this level . . .”, with the implicit assumption that compassion for other species was once again an immature and anti-intellectual concern which “we” had all outgrown. As I’ve said before, one of the flaws of the English language is that it lacks a distinction between inclusive and exclusive “we”. I wonder what pronoun would’ve been used on that occasion if we had that feature.

I have a history of being religious, which came to the fore in 1985 during my first year at university. I kept it fairly quiet for most of my time there and at Warwick it was almost entirely eclipsed, but I noticed that Michael comes across in his book as a lot more religious than I ever noticed him being while reading for the MA, and it occurs to me that there may have been considerable inauthenticity from many of us students. He was religious, I was religious, but it was the sensibility that dare not speak its name. And considering that we were, among other things, studying existentialists, authenticity was a major issue on the MA. There’s a degree of hypocrisy here which is likely to have hampered free discussion and thought on these matters, and perhaps across the board. I don’t hold anyone responsible for it, but how could the department have been more “real” in this respect? How did it manage to lose this and what were we really doing? Philosophy of all things needs to be taken seriously and engaged with holistically. It shouldn’t be an act or a performance, except to the extent that everything is.

Syncretism is an issue for me in approaching his life experience. I can’t work out if his awareness of the significance of all sorts of faith traditions is part of him being a Sikh, connected to his South Asian background or related to his mental health. Perhaps these divisions are irrelevant or even racist on my part, but the reason I wonder is that we have known another Sikh who was bipolar, sectioned and unfortunately ended his own life. Then again, clusters are a feature of randomness so I think this probably is pure racism on my part. Michael, I can only apologise. Just on the subject of racism, another student following the MA course at the same time, which was of course mainly White, was Antonia, and I have recently wondered whether they could’ve bonded over that because she was also ethnic minority.

Another issue raised for us during the course was the question of the Look, Sartre’s account of the acceptance of the existence of other minds as it would be put in analytical philosophy. Sartre asks one to imagine spying on someone through a keyhole at the end of a corridor when one hears footsteps behind one, and we experience guilt, making one an object for others. This is clearly related to Sartre’s view that Hell is other people. I took three main approaches to this. One was to attempt to extend it to other species, particularly cats. Another was to relate it to other sensory modalities such as hearing and touch, to see how it altered it. Christine Battersby, our tutor, said she couldn’t relate to what I said about other species and this was one of the crucial exchanges which was ultimately to lead to my disillusionment with much of continental philosophy because it felt more like a brush off, that she would never take the idea of non-human sentience seriously or give it any serious thought and subsumed that to feminism, when they were in fact part of the same struggle. There’s also an element of ableism in the assumption made by the spy that they were seen, because they don’t know the person approaching is not blind, hence the emphasis on sensory modalities. Michael managed to engage more successfully with the discussion by contrasting guilt and shame, although I can’t remember where he went with that. What I can remember is that he stated quite emphatically that his cultural background was based on shame rather than guilt, and this came to mind in something his friend David said: “There is nothing to be afraid of except your own shame and guilt”. It made me wonder how this contrast between the two would influence the experience and construction of mental illness in South Asia.

Michael was told that he could expect to be on medication for at least the next two decades. This for him would mean the numbing of his senses and walling off of life as it is experienced in the raw for the sake of avoiding another psychotic episode, and that was a price too high to pay. I got the impression that some of his family members felt that having had a psychotic episode had put him beyond the point where they could expect anything positive from him that would fulfil their expectations and hopes projected onto him, which actually reminds me of when children come out as gay and are rejected by their family, possibly out of shame, and there’s that word again, and also because their expectations that they would live a life with which they would be able to empathise easily and have grandchildren would be frustrated at that point. Both of those things are about wanting your children to be forced to live for others alone, and we’re back to Sartre’s Look. Although I dislike Sartre’s view, I can see its relevance here.

Nearly all of the long-term patients of his acquaintance at Whitchurch he perceived as having had contact with God. In some cases, they actually believed they were God in a different sense to how others are. As a result of this sensitivity and openness to spiritual meaning, these people “are disenfranchised and possess rights only to a rudimentary life”, because civil society as it stands in urban Wales does not have a place for this experience. This is more an indictment on life in Britain and the West than anything else. It therefore makes perfect sense that Michael’s next step was to spend some time with a healer in India. He discontinued his medication. That sentence might lead one to expect a steady spiral towards catastrophe, but the fact is that this absolutely did not happen. Three months after stopping his haloperidol, he still seemed fine and this was in no small measure due to the respect his healer in India had for his experience which had been classed as psychotic by the NHS. Indian mythology recognises the madness brought on by passionate love and limerence. As he says, the power of the imagination must be applied to the world to ensure that it does not dissolve. To a geologist, the Himalayas are simply two continents ploughing into each other and raising a range of mountains. To a Hindu they have spiritual import, and relating this to existentialism I am of course going to say that they have meaning – significance. It’s like the notion of the sublime in Romanticism, which also approached mountains as important rather than just interesting.

The scars of former love were still there. Of Anarkali, he says he “was stricken with self-contempt and fury at being a nobody for her”, a sentiment I can closely relate to. I was nothing, so far as I could tell, to the woman I fell for during my first degree, and I’m impressed with how clearly Michael has managed to express this feeling. I suppose, and this is my take, not explicitly his, Anarkali’s attitude towards him is like a geologist’s attitude towards the Himalayas as opposed to a non-geologist Hindu. I am caricaturing geologists here, but bear with me. He wanted to be sublime to Anarkali, and he wanted her to turn her face to him and see him in all his inconvenient but beautiful detail, but perhaps out of fear or her own scars, she had decided to turn away.

On returning to England, he became a producer and journalist for Radio 4. His perceived seriousness made it hard for him to integrate into social life with his coworkers. I recognise this Michael from the time I knew him, and it shows how his personality survived the onslaught of the British mental health care system. It seems that his time in India nurtured the person he really is. He felt strongly, and as an outsider I completely agree, that there was relatively little integrity in the journalism pursued by the BBC. He then met his future wife, a Kurd, in a cinema. By this point he hadn’t taken antipsychotic medication for ten years. Unfortunately, this was about the point at which the second Gulf War began, and this time he wasn’t cushioned from it by being on haloperidol or lithium in a psychiatric ward. He had no asylum. During the Gulf War demo of 2003, it seems that his perception of reality becomes much more vivid and dreamlike. At this point it was impressed upon me that I can imagine a psychiatrist looking at his medical history and attributing his psychotic break to Cannabis use while ignoring the fact that the country was pursuing an illegal war at Blair’s behest, and that if criminalising the herb is justified on the basis of potentially triggering psychosis in some, then not pursuing that war and many others, such as the “war against terrorism”, was a much more important measure to take to protect the mental health of the British public, entirely aside from its wider morality for the people dying there. But of course that doesn’t happen, and Cannabis remains illegal while our governments continue to send young, impressionable people to murder and be injured, traumatised and killed thousands of kilometres away.

I feel now that I’ve said enough for today on the book, but I’ll continue tomorrow.

Our Shadow Twins

There more or less have to be parallel universes because this Universe is “fine-tuned”. The alternative would seem to be to require a Creator, and although there is a Creator, or rather a Sustainer because God is not within time, nothing in the Universe should be allowed to imply or suggest that there is one as that would be a “God Of The Gaps”.

I should probably explain fine tuning. There are certain constants governing the relative strengths of the four known forces in the Universe which, if they varied even slightly, would make rocky planets and life as we know it impossible. Examples are as follows:

  • Electromagnetism is a sextillion (long scale) times stronger than gravity. If it were much smaller, the Universe would have collapsed in on itself before the stars could have formed.
  • When deuterium nuclei fuse to form stable helium-4, the nucleus loses 7% of its mass. If it lost 6%, only hydrogen would exist, and if it lost 8%, all the nuclei in the Universe would’ve fused together within a fraction of a second of the Big Bang and there would be no atomic matter at all. That said, that is quite a large range, determined by the strong nuclear force.
  • If dark energy was slightly stronger compared to gravity, stars would not be able to form because they’d be ripped apart by the expansion of space. If it was slightly weaker, the Universe would’ve collapsed by now.
  • If other than three spatial dimensions were extensive (there are others, which are however very small and so don’t influence this), there would be problems with the weakening of gravity at a given distance which would again either cause collapse or make it impossible for stars to form.

There are several other examples, but taking these together is enough to illustrate the issue, because the improbabilities multiply, and some of them even seem to be part of an infinite range of possibilities, usually very boring ones because they either involve the Universe collapsing in on itself almost immediately after the Big Bang or merely consisting of hydrogen atoms thinly spread throughout space. The situation we actually find is fantastically improbable because of this. It’s also been suggested that the specific existence of the element carbon is suspiciously unlikely, and water is also such an unusual compound that it too is unlikely, but the details of these involve once again the strengths of the strong nuclear force in the case of carbon and that of electromagnetism in the case of water. There is presumably a version of water in a parallel universe which is still H2O but is a gas at well below its current freezing point and contracts when it freezes, is not a good solvent and so forth. In fact probably most versions of water are like that. Likewise, and this is I admit a very sloppy calculation because several different forces are involved in holding atomic nuclei together and they don’t obey the inverse square law, the last element to have stable isotopes is bismuth, and if the strong nuclear force was forty percent weaker, stable carbon atoms could not exist and carbon-based life would be impossible.

Because of all this stuff, some theistic religious people believe that there must be a God. However, there’s a problem, or rather several problems, with that argument. Firstly, even if it does entail a creator, it fails to entail a God like the one in the Bible, Qur’an or whatever. Secondly, the Universe which actually exists is almost completely empty and life seems to be a mere detail, possibly on only one planet and even if widespread it would still only have come into existence on the tiny grains in a vast void. In fact, this almost completely empty void may be a clue to the nature of reality. What we’re confronted with when we look into the night sky is unimaginably enormous distances between stars, whose visible examples are unsuitable for life as we know it, organised into galaxies which are also separated by relatively much smaller distances and organised into clusters forming a kind of “foamy” arrangement around enormous voids like bubbles. Only occasionally are the conditions suitable for the concentration of nuclear matter, and even more seldom do rocky globes form. When we consider Earth, we realise how special she is, but that exceptional nature is contingent on the fact that we are here in the first place to do the considering. The anthropic principle says the same is true of the Universe: there are plenty of other universes but they don’t have any life or observers in them. Ergo, there are parallel universes. The alternatives seem to be enforced belief in a Creator with a capital C or a multiverse, and that multiverse would likewise consist almost entirely of empty universes which have either already ceased to exist or contain only widely space hydrogen atoms and perhaps molecules floating in otherwise empty space. Although I’m theist, I choose the latter.

The question then arises of how inevitable anything is. Alternate history usually depends on PODs, Points of Divergence, such as Hitler dying before coming to power or JFK not being assassinated, and from a macroscopic level it seems entirely plausible that Henry Tandey could have decided to shoot Hitler on 28th September 1918 or that Lee Harvey Oswald missed his target on 22nd November 1963. But in fact these PODs are only apparent. Free will is probably illusory, there’s a whole chain of unknown events influencing those moments and for all we know that chain of cause and effect stretches all the way back to the beginning of the Universe. It will undoubtedly be the case that slight variations in physical constants do indeed lead to differences in the universe, but what we imagine is easily possible could turn out to be completely impossible. The question of whether this is true depends on chaos theory and quantum physics.

I’ll take chaos theory first. This is the whole butterfly effect thing. It was found at some point that computer programs written to forecast the weather gave completely different results depending on how many decimal places the data input to them were calculated to. Given the very many decimal places involved before one hits the Planck length, Planck time and so forth, which amounts to the fixed “resolution” of the Universe, which can’t be calculated anyway because so many perfect instruments would be involved that they’d nudge the weather in a particular direction, there seems to be only a weak connection between cause and effect, and for all we know, as David Hume asserted, none at all. If science is supposed to be based only on what can be observed, cause and effect can’t be and therefore it’s problematic including it in science at all, which rather undermines the whole of science. That said, it does still seem that in principle cause and effect often operate deterministically. You can’t usually expect to jump off the roof of a skyscraper and not fall to your very probable death. Maybe the improbabilities are smoothed out by the arbitrary nature of the universe on a small scale. I don’t think chaos theory is a very promising reason to posit that things could have been different.

Quantum mechanics is another matter entirely. There are no hidden variables. That is, if a radioactive atom is observed, there is no way to predict when it will decay into an atom of another element and that isn’t just because we’re unable to observe processes going on at a sufficiently small scale, but because there simply is no causal chain involved at all. All that can be done is to predict that half of a sample of carbon-14, for example, will have decayed in 5 730 years, give or take forty years, and that prediction only approaches fifty percent with the increase of the size of the sample. However, these are acausal processes. There is absolutely no chain of events other than the formation of the atom leading up to its destruction. It just happens.

Hence there are two contrary factors involved in the nature of parallel universes. On the one hand, there is the causal chain stretching back to the Big Bang, and on the other there are acausal events associated with quantum events. The question then arises of whether the Big Bang itself, or its immediate aftermath, was strongly associated with such events. It could be that things have always been different or that all significant events in our own history can be traced back to quantum events after the beginning of the Universe. All that can be said confidently is that if a known chain of events can be traced back to a quantum event, there are parallel universes where this turned out differently.

A fairly trivial example is the issue of the discoveries of technetium/masurium and astatine/alabamine. The actual names of these elements are technetium and astatine. Neither have stable isotopes. The reason their names could have been different is that they weren’t discovered for sure when they were first apparently identified. In 1925, German chemists bombarded a mineral called columbite with an electron beam and appeared to detect a faint X-ray signature of what would be element 43. Later researchers, however, could not replicate this experiment and consequently, although it was named masurium, it was still considered undiscovered. If a greater number of atoms in the sample of this element had not decayed in the attempt to reproduce the result, element 43 would have been confirmed and would have been named masurium. Likewise, with alabamine, scientists at Alabama Polytechnic believed they had discovered the missing halogen which belonged under iodine in the periodic table in 1931, but their method was found to be invalid. The case of alabamine is slightly different, which I’ll go into in a moment. But because of the method of its discovery, there undoubtedly is a parallel universe in which technetium is called “masurium”. That’s a real place.

The case of astatine is slightly different. Astatine is only a couple of nucleons too heavy to be a stable element. Using the same rough and ready calculations as I did with carbon, for there to be a stable isotope of astatine the strong nuclear force would only have to be 0.08% stronger than it is. This may be the wrong figure but the principle is the same: it would only have to be a hairsbreadth stronger than it is “here” in our timeline for stable astatine to exist. In such a situation, polonium would also have a stable isotope and therefore would be less dangerous and would not have been used to poison Aleksandr Litvinenko. This, however, is a minor detail because probably it would just mean francium would’ve been used instead.

The two scenarios are therefore two different ways alternate histories could happen. In one, the Universe has been different since the Big Bang, astatine is a stable element and Litvinenko was poisoned using francium instead of polonium. In the other, its timeline and ours forked in 1925 and is probably practically identical to our own with the exception that technetium is called masurium.

This brings me to the Mandela Effect. Nowadays, most people seem to have reached the conclusion that the Mandela Effect is only accepted by cranks, and I would agree that there’s a lot of noise in the signal, but in the masurium/technetium example we have a real live Mandela Effect which is present in the scientific community that pivots on an acausal principle. This is inside the establishment, although it looks very different to a typical ME. For this reason, I will continue to maintain that parallel timelines are a valid explanation for some MEs. That’s it: that’s all I’m going to say about this for now because I know it’s generally considered crazy and you’re going to think I’ve gone to Nubicuculia if I go on.

There have been attempts to set up quantum lotteries. Although these are successful, as far as I know there are no serious lotteries using this principle. This is a pity, because if there were they’d amount to real forks in history set off by quantum events. As it stands, the only examples I can think of which involve genuine quantum forks other than masurium/technetium are very improbable, although there are guaranteed to be timelines where this happened. For instance, radioactivity was first discovered when Ernest Rutherford left a piece of the mineral pitchblende next to a photographic plate in a drawer and discovered it was blackened. If this hadn’t happened, radioactivity would have taken longer to be discovered. However, the only way in which that could have happened is if the number of atoms decaying was so small that it wasn’t enough to influence the emulsion on the plate, and considering the amount of substance involved, it’s very improbable. That said, somewhere out there such a timeline does exist. There’s presumably a timeline where radioactivity has yet to be discovered, which would leave a lot of mysteries about the Universe, such as how stars work or how old this planet is. There would be no radiotherapy, the Second World War would not have ended in the way it did, there would be no atomic batteries or nuclear power stations, no Cold War and so on. It is a fantastically improbable universe. But it does exist out there somewhere, and is a very different world. Even the people who live in it don’t understand it, because a big piece of the puzzle is missing. However, radioactivity can be discovered at any time. History is teetering on a knife edge in this world.

The question now arises of who we are. If a POD has occurred after our conception in any parallel universe, are we the same people? My ME explanation requires transworld identity, because I believe memories are transferred between universes when the brain is in an unusual state such as a stroke, seizure or coma. Transworld identity is the belief that an object can exist in more than one possible world, including the actual world (and here the world “actual” really just means “this” and “actual world” means “here”). The alternative theory is that counterparts exist in other possible worlds but that they’re not the same thing. David Lewis holds this, for example. It’s feasible that most people would hold that one is the same person if a POD takes place after conception, or perhaps birth, rather than before it. If they believe in the transmigration of souls, they would almost certainly hold that it doesn’t require a POD to take place that late because they would already claim that someone is the same person living a life in another time and place. If they also accepted that karma existed, different circumstances regarding conception might lead to that soul entering a different body and this could mean that the “same” person could be different in many ways in another possible world, being born in the Congo rather than Canada, in the rainforest rather than Vancouver, and so forth. This is someone else’s belief system rather than mine.

Even so, I do have something in common with people who believe in reincarnation: I don’t actually believe personal identity depends on karyotype. Here’s why. If it turns out that someone has a genetic disorder, they and the people close to them would tend to wish that they had never acquired that disorder rather than wishing they were someone else. These are two different things. Therefore, we don’t identify with our genes and our identity doesn’t depend on having been conceived in a particular way. Nor does it depend on the specific substance of our bodies, because if our parents, particularly our pregnant mothers, had eaten a different diet (such as the potatoes on one side of the field rather than the other, not miso instead of yeast extract or something), it wouldn’t make us different people unless it had a major influence on our development, and possibly not even then. What does that leave? There is no soul, so it isn’t that. Nor is it our genes. Nor is it the substance of our bodies. The answer, I think, is that we are socially defined, both passively and actively. In one sense we are the “software” running on the “hardware” of our bodies, although the metaphor of the brain as computer shouldn’t be pushed too far and it’s important to be aware that other parts of our bodies, such as the endocrine system and the nerves in our digestive system, also form a supervenience base for our psyches. It’s difficult to know how close our brains are to computers and how relevant this is to our identities. In another sense, we are externally defined. For instance, we have the legal concept of “next of kin”, which formalises a custom which already exists in social life: we are siblings, offspring, parents and so forth. Therefore, in a parallel universe where a child whose genetic makeup is rather different from this one, has a different temperament and so on, could still be the eldest daughter, have the same name, same birthdate and so forth, and is arguably the same person. In particular, she might not have the leukæmia which killed her in another universe, because at no point was that leukæmia something anyone in the family owned psychologically: it was a disease attacking her, an outsider enemy. I presume this is how many people with cancer approach their illness, but maybe I’m wrong. But that disease could be in her genome.

I don’t know enough detail about how ionising radiation interacts with DNA to be sure about this, and I should probably know more, but I would expect cosmic rays, which are nuclei and protons raining down onto Earth’s surface at near-light speed, to be to some extent the product of nuclear decay and to some degree interact with the molecules in question in such a way as to change the isotope of specific atoms. The existence of radiation in the environment on this planet, whether or not it results from human activity, would certainly be non-deterministic in nature, although the actual presence of that radiation is only technically not so. That is, it’s possible for a scenario as described above with Rutherford’s pitchblende failing to be sufficiently radioactive to influence his photographic plate to occur, but its probability is infinitesimal. Hence there is an element of pure luck involved in mutation which means that it is possible for minor phenotypical differences between members of the same species in parallel worlds to occur, though only to the extent that this doesn’t influence their fitness to survive, although this does also mean there are extinctions which occurred in one world but not another. However, there is another aspect to identity which suggests the “shadow people” I referred to in the title.

It’s widely known that ordinary human body cells each have two pairs of chromosomes which are reduced to one pair in gametes via meiosis:

Overview of Meiosis
Date
20 June 2016
Source
Own work
Author
Rdbickel
– slightly cropped

It should be noted that the four daughter nuclei in this process are complementary to each other. The one at the top is a perfect counterpart to the one at the bottom and the two in the middle are counterparts of each other. Therefore, for either of the gametes which led to the cell line associated with who we are, there is a complementary alternative. This means there are at least four possible versions of each of us, even assuming the copying process goes without a hitch, which incidentally it never does. For instance, for a White blue-eyed fair-haired child whose mother is White with brown eyes and dark hair and whose father is White with blue eyes and fair hair, there is another potential version who is perfectly complementary, and two more versions who are partly complementary, because different gametes united. These gametes will have existed at some point, and they might even produce a viable child in the case of fraternal twins. These complementary people probably do occasionally exist in the same world. I would estimate that this occurs in one pair of about 500 million fraternal twins. Since in a population of eight thousand million there are around 350 million twins, there’s an even chance that somewhere out there today, this situation exists, and there have probably been about six or seven such pairs in the whole of human history, which by the way emphasises the fact that there are a lot of people around today. But in any case, we all have these shadow people, which brings me to the illustration at the top of the post.

This is a fairly famous gender-swapped version of post-war Prime MInisters of the United Kingdom, which notably has only two men because there have only been two female PMs. The counterparts in question here would usually have different karyotypes. That is, if you are yourself XX, your shadow twin would be XY and therefore usually male. The main situation where they wouldn’t be, incidentally, is complete androgen insensitivity – this is not about trans issues at all right now. However, although we do tend to focus quite strongly on gender as part of identity, there would also be lots of other traits which would differ. We have two children, one of whom resembles one parent quite closely and the other of whom resembles the other. I presume this is because dominant traits from one gamete are more strongly expressed in one than the other. Their shadow twins would be the other way round, which means that they would look very like their siblings, just in a different birth order. Their eyes would also be a different colour. My own shadow twin would still have blue eyes, but also straighter hair. I say that, but the popularly understood traits said to be inherited by single alleles are often not, such as eye colour. There’s also another sex-related issue. Two of the intersex conditions are referred to as Klinefelter’s and Turner Syndrome. The former is XXY and the later just one X chromosome with no counterpart. These two conditions are therefore complementary and a Turner person’s shadow twin would be XXY and vice versa. There’s also chimerism. Some people would be reverse chimeras of their twins, for instance they would be largely cell line A with some of cell line B, but their shadow twin would be largely cell line B with some of cell line A.

It’s also true that every generation of a lineage produces only a quarter of these potential individuals. This means that there are also sixteen possible parents involved, and the number rapidly becomes extremely large. This brings home how unlikely it is that any of us were ever born. Just focussing on the perfect complements, the probability that every person in the world today was their shadow twin is of the order of four to the power of eight thousand million to one. Although this is very improbable, it’s far more likely than the situation I described with the discovery or otherwise of radioactivity.

At this point it becomes clear that there is an issue with the nature of probability. Rutherford’s discovery is genuinely probabilistic and acausal. It could “just happen”, and there’s no need for an explanation. It isn’t so clear that the shadow twin situation could simply happen because there definitely seems to be a deterministic thread running through the whole of meiosis and fertilisation. This raises the question of the nature of probability. Probability is sometimes seen as simply a measure of the frequency of occurrences, so for example half the time a coin comes up heads and half tails, so it has a 50/50 probability of coming up either way. This is an empirical approach, as it’s simply based on observation. The other approach is based on rational degree of belief. For all we know, a coin tossed on a particular occasion might come down heads or it might come down tails, and there is no known reason to prefer one outcome over the other. However, there is in fact a cause, each time, for it landing the way it does, presumably to do with how forcefully it was flipped, the angle, air currents and tiny differences between individual coins which make them slightly unfair. For instance, I believe it’s slightly more likely that a coin will land heads up because I think the tails side is slightly heavier and will tend to weigh the coin down, and I tested this once and found the coin I was tossing was heads up sixty-four times out of a hundred. This helps confirm the hypothesis but doesn’t prove it. Ultimately, there may be two kinds of probability, one deterministic and one not, but the deterministic version of probability could stem from the initial conditions of the Big Bang and therefore not be ultimately so. Incidentally, using possible worlds semantics makes it difficult to use certain terminology. For instance, the world “probably” then comes to mean “in most possible worlds”, in other words something like “usually”. This gets confusing when referring to the theory itself. For instance, I can’t say “most parallel universes have always been separate” because I would then be effectively saying “in most possible worlds, most possible worlds have always been separate”. It could even be that this leads to a contradiction which refutes the theory of parallel universes, and that’s pretty serious because it starts to look like proof for the existence of some kind of First Cause and supports theism or deism to a limited extent.

I am now going to make one of these odd-sounding statements. Namely, “it’s possible that shadow twins exist in other universes”. This could be expanded as saying “there are some possible worlds in which there are some possible worlds where there are shadow twins.” This sounds peculiar, and makes it sound like there are two levels of possible worlds, on whose higher level lies the idea that there are a vast number of arrays of further vast numbers of parallel universes. Using the “rational degree of belief” view of probability, this can be restated as “for all I know, there exist possible worlds where shadow twins exist”. If this is so, it’s possible to imagine the following situation. There is a parallel universe where every representative of a final generation of humans is their shadow twin. In fact there would be several. This uses the criterion of childlessness to select the set of people involved. There’s also the question of whichever cohort includes you. You have a shadow twin, and depending on whether you have descendants you are either in the final generation or one of its recent predecessors.

Getting back to the prime minister picture, these are not photographs of a common type of parallel universe. Not only would the individuals concerned look different besides their gender, and also probably have different personalities, but also these are photographs from a matriarchal society, and quite an odd one at that because the political system of the United Kingdom is otherwise very similar, with Eton, Oxbridge and so forth putting these people in the same positions. In reality, most of the people depicted in the picture would not have become Prime Minister at all because they would have different histories based on their gender. This picture asks us to believe that a woman, Winston Churchill’s shadow twin, would have become PM in 1940, only twenty-two years after Constance Markievicz, which is hard to imagine. Their lives would probably have been much more like those of their sisters, assuming they had any, than their lives in this world. The idea of shadow twins constitutes an interesting thought experiment regarding the nature of gender roles and the patriarchy.

Finally, I’m going to revisit the fringe theory of the Mandela Effect. If there really are shadow twins who are to some extent a sex- or gender-swapped version of oneself in parallel universes, this could sometimes have an interesting consequence which is similar to the idea of a soul of one gender in the body of another as an explanation for gender identity issues. My explanation for hardcore MEs is that individual experiences and memories occasionally get transferred into brains in parallel universes when the brain enters an unusual state. If this happened often enough with a shadow twin, the person concerned could conceivably end up with a different gender identity. However, this suggests that we all go around constantly thinking to ourselves something like “I am a man opening this door” or “I am a woman picking this apple”, when of course we do nothing of the sort. Also, it’s quite an outlandish explanation compared to something much simpler and more easily testable such as chimerism or CAG repeat sequences on the AR gene. Hence I’m going to put that out there, note its similarity to the dubious idea that there are not only souls but also that those souls are gendered, and acknowledge that believing in non-psychological explanations of MEs at all is widely considered dubious. But I do wonder sometimes.

Blogging And Politeness

This one’s a bit navel-gazy because I have something else coming up which needs a lot of attention.

If you have a WordPress blog, you’re presumably aware that it gives you a Mercator projection map of the world with a kind of heat map on it showing which countries get views of your posts. I’ve pondered this map a lot, and it troubles me on one level that it’s Mercator at all for all the usual reasons which I’ll just go into briefly here.

The Mercator Projection aims to produce maps which preserve compass direction and is, I think, about five centuries old. It’s notorious for making the northernmost areas look much larger than the equatorial ones and although it does the same in the Southern Hemisphere this only really affects Antarctica because apart from that continent the land is closer to the equator than in the North. It also has the remarkable effect of being infinite. It has to be cut off at the top and the bottom because it will just continue to stretch the distances so that it never reaches the poles. I sometimes imagine it showing individual snowflakes at the top and bottom. There are also some other choices made about the Mercator Projection as I usually see it here in these isles. It puts London in the middle and the North Pole at the top. Hence it’s responsible, for example, for the phrase “Sub-Saharan Africa”, which I dislike because it makes it sound like the force of gravity acts in a north-south direction and that Afrika south of the Sahara is somehow inferior, literally so in fact. However, all map projections but one distort areas or compass directions. You can project a globe onto a dodecahedron or icosahedron whose faces intersect the surface, which has very little distortion (and may be familiar to GURPS roleplayers), but this messes up directions. The other thing you can do is create a spiral whose spacing is infinitely small and unravel it, producing a one-dimensional strip of the surface which distorts nothing and is infinitely long, but that’s a mathematical curiosity with little practical use on the global scale, and in any case has to sacrifice the whole idea of compass directions.

Map projections are in a sense a question of etiquette, particularly if you’re trying to interact with the whole global population, or at least an evenly-distributed self-selected sample thereof. This is, I hope, what I’m trying to do. If you have a map which unnaturally shrinks certain areas and enlarges others, you are in a sense shrinking and enlarging the inhabitants. There are some other problems with this map too, and with any map which isn’t zoomable as far as I can tell. Micronations and smaller island nations are not really visible on it. There’s a list of countries accompanying the map, which helps, but you can’t see San Marino, Malta or Vatican City on this map, and whereas there are pop-ups as your cursor hovers over it, it’s like playing darts trying to find a small country in the Caribbean or Polynesia, for example. It’s also complicated by the way states claim territories. This is in fact a political map of the world, omitting, for instance, Antarctica because that’s not a country, and that’s fine, and a practical solution to some degree, but choices are always made with these things and they’re always political because everything is political.

When I was about ten, there were 225 countries in the world. There are now 193. At this rate, we should have world unity by 2280, assuming the reduction is linear. I don’t know why this decline has taken place. If you include Vatican City and Palestine, the number rises to 195, and of course that’s a political decision too. In fact, because everything is a political decision, whatever claim you make about even this number is going to tread on people’s toes. It’s all very touchy. For instance, I’ve mentioned Palestine now, which will probably offend some of my Israeli audience. And this is etiquette as well as politics. I remember a conversation I had in the early 1990s where I didn’t know how to refer to the northwestern part of the island of Ireland, and my interlocutor clearly had firm views on the idea that it was incontrovertibly part of the United Kingdom as if it wasn’t even controversial, when to me it really is very controversial indeed. I mention the date because of the Good Friday Agreement. But then maybe it’s important to clear the air sometimes and just be provocative. This relates to the universal polarisation problem which seems to have been worsened by the way people interact online, but was always at least potential if not actual, and was a lot worse in some parts of the globe than others, some of which were rather close to the English Midlands and Home Counties.

Consequently, as I sit here gaily typing away on this keyboard, always at the back of my mind is the awareness that the retinæ whereupon my words will be projected will have originated from zygotes of various genomes, karyotypes and locations onto which social construction will have projected ethnic and national characteristics, and I am bound to mess up from time to time, probably obliviously, and I will quite possibly never even find out what I’ve done wrong. It’s an adage of running a business, which this isn’t of course but still applies, that the majority of potential customers don’t give you feedback when they decide not to go with you. They just drift off never to be seen again. Certainly my own interaction with, say, a blog, answers to this description. But it means that whatever it was that put someone off is harder to discover, particularly if what one causes offence.

The above map is just for 2021 so far. The all-time map, dating back to I think about 2015 or so, still shows a similar picture and of course one of the things both maps incidentally show is that not many people read this blog. This is fine because I’m not really interested in getting a bigger audience, and its function is substantially somewhere to dump my thoughts and, I hope, improve my writing style. It doesn’t have an internally coherent set of topics either, hence the name. From the outside, there’s probably a pattern, but that’s going to arise from my personality, life history and identity. If it had a coherent theme, it might get more readers but that isn’t really my aim here. It is, however, mainly in English, and at a guess I’d say the second language on here is Ancient Greek, and that restricts the readership. It means many people will be reading it in a second language most of the time, and my readership will mainly be first-language English.

The biggest difference between the 2021 map and the all-time map is probably that the latter has more Afrikan countries represented, mainly on the Mediterranean coast. I wonder about this. I did blog quite a bit about North Afrikan concerns in the fairly recent past because of my feeling that North Afrika tends to be erased in the global consciousness to preserve an ethnic distinction between Black and non-Black people, and also due to the dominance of Arabic culture in the Maghreb, which tends to mask what’s going on in smaller communities there such as the Tuareg and Berbers. I haven’t done that so much recently because my own focus has moved somewhat southward in connection with the issues relating to BLM. Either of those things I will be mainly talking about as an outsider, though not entirely. For instance, the issue of what happened to some of my fairly recent ancestors being largely unknown is linked to the Atlantic slave trade and there are a few minor issues, but they’re trivial compared to proper full-scale racism, in which as a White person I am obviously part.

There are something like four dozen sovereign territories where nothing I’ve written on here has been read at all. This could sound a bit imperialist and egoistic – “I want to be heard all over the world” – but the real question is what are the factors, positive or negative, that lead to the distribution I see on this map. Actually, I am going to include the all-time map because this is getting silly:

Unsurprisingly, the darkest areas of this map are mainly English-speaking, namely these isles and the United States. In fact, the most readership of all is in this country, demonstrating that the local connection is at least as important as the language I use. The US is a close second, followed by Canada and Australia. The distribution of views is close to log-normal, also known as the 80:20 rule. Here’s a plot of the log-normal distribution:

(and here the limitations of the Chromebook I’m doing this on become apparent because I didn’t plot this myself, just copy-pasted it from a free source).

The darker blue line is the germanest. My blog has been viewed in just over a gross of countries. The thirtieth country on the list is Norway, with three dozen views, which is where a fifth of the number is reached. The notable absences are in southern Afrika, Outer Mongolia, Bolivia, Papua and Kalallit Nunaat (Greenland), and there are also no views from North Korea, Cuba or Suriname. The complete list of countries and territories which haven’t seen my blog is: Papua, North Korea, Kalaallit Nunaat, Outer Mongolia, Bolivia, Madagascar, Lesotho, Eswatini, Western Sahara, Senegal, The Gambia, Svalbard, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Mozambique, Cabo Verde, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Laos, Mauritania, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, Malawi, Sudan, South Sudan, Benin, Tchad, the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Suriname, French Guyana, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bhutan, Cuba, Haïti, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Vatican City, Andorra, and some small island nations in Polynesia, the Caribbean and possibly elsewhere. There are some outliers which I don’t fully understand, notably Romania, which I think resulted from me entitling one post Caveat Procrastinator, and unsurprisingly there are also hits from Romania for Transylvanian English. What these stats fail to capture is how much of a blog post is read. I imagine most of them are just briefly glanced at.

Some of the gaps in the list probably reflect political and development issues. For instance, it isn’t that surprising that central Afrikans don’t read my blog. Bolivia may be an example of this. There’s also the question of censorship, which can be summarised by this map:

The green countries on this map have the least censorship and the fuchsia the most. It’s probably worthwhile combining this with a global internet access map:

(Chromebook limitations are again apparent here). This second map is based on a composite statistic known as the Web Index, which has “no information” in the places where I have tended not to get any views. It attempts to combine ease of access, freedom of information and empowerment, so to some extent it includes the data on the previous map. It’s also notable that a number of the countries involved which are freest on that map also seem to have poor internet access, so it’s more like the governments concerned don’t consider the internet to be sufficiently influential in their countries to bother to do anything about it.

Besides all this though, I’m often concerned about a clash of values between what I write and those of people reading it, and perhaps between their values and my identity, in various ways, such as ethnicity and the fact that I’m quite left wing and vegan. I sometimes feel like there are whole swathes of the planet where I could not exist and might as well be underwater as far as I’m concerned, not because I have any enmity with the people there but because they wouldn’t tolerate various things about me. When I see that someone has read a blog post of mine from there, it gives me pause for thought. In particular, I tend to get quite bothered by clashes in political opinion. I’m aware that I’m to the left of practically everyone. This is my chart according to Political Compass:

I’m aware of the inadequacies of that site incidentally. But the thing is, I care about people and I’m interested in politics. The mere fact that I’m libertarian socialist does the opposite of stopping me from caring about people, whatever their political views are. Likewise, being a religious theist doesn’t stop me from caring about non-religious people for their own sake, but does the opposite. Same with being vegan. I am all these things because I care about you all, whoever you are who may be reading this.

It’s just very difficult to be polite to everyone, particularly when one knows very little about their country, background and life. Consequently, it’s incumbent upon me to learn as much as I can about the human world, so as to be able to empathise with all of humanity. It’s not achievable, but surely it’s a worthy goal.

Dinosaurs In The Bible

There’s more than one way to believe there are dinosaurs in the Bible: the fundamentalist way and the other way. In fact the other way is two other ways, but it’s more fun to look at the fundamentalist way first. One of the non-fundamentalist views is a bit idiosyncratic, but I’ll leave that until last. Also, I’m going to talk about archosaurs as a whole rather than just dinosaurs, although in the end it makes little practical difference.

I’ve just Googled “Jesus riding on a dinosaur”, expecting to find just a couple or even one picture repeated all over the web. In fact I found this, which leaves me with the bizarre task of sorting through their intellectual property licences. Therefore what I’m going to do is post this picture with the offer to take it down if anyone wants:

From here.

This is not yer classic dinosaur Jesus picture of course, but it’s sweeter than the other one. Also, this is a very inaccurate picture becuase neither Jesus nor dinosaurs looked like that. The more usual picture, which I won’t post here so as to avoid increasing the risk of getting into hot water, is of Jesus riding a dinosaur.

Creationists fall into at least two categories regarding dinosaurs, and when I say creationists, I’m not just talking about Christians but also a few observant Jews, quite a few Muslims, and oddly a few people whose religious beliefs are not Abrahamic. It has to be said that the stereotype of a Christian being creationist is not true. In fact the Roman Catholic Church, which is widely regarded as Christian except by some Protestants, dogmatically accepts evolution, as do almost all Jewish believers. There are a few rabbis who do reject evolution. In the ’90s, a dairy company was refused Kosher certification because it had giant Mesozoic dinosaurs on a milk carton, which a particular rabbi said contradicted the account in Genesis, and this illustrates one view: that non-avian dinosaurs never existed because the Universe is only a few thousand years old. In Judaism this is very much a minority view. Islam is another matter entirely. A number of Islamic majority countries are also majority creationist, and at least one such country has prohibited the teaching of evolution as fact in state schools. However, it’s notable that even creationist Muslims don’t always feel particularly strongly about creationism and the subject simply doesn’t come up much in school curricula. That is, it’s sometimes mentioned but isn’t necessarily considered a massive issue. Christian creationism, particularly among Protestants, is another matter entirely, and once again there is a division between Christian creationists who believe in “dinosaurs” and those who don’t.

There is a problem with not believing in fossils, particularly if, as was sometimes the case in the past, one believes Satan put them there. This is that various masses of rocks and minerals are made of fossils, such as coal, oil, natural gas, chalk and flint. If you assert that the Devil created them, you’re then stuck with the implication that he created much of this planet’s surface, unless you also believe Earth is not a planet, but it’s still a problem. This is close to the heresy of Gnosticism. Even so, there is a fundamentalist Protestant conspiracy theory based on the idea that dinosaurs are fake, which amounts to this. Dinosaurs are seen as “nature red in tooth and claw”, which emphasises the idea of life being about struggle and fighting rather than love, and are of course also charismatic, particularly for younger children. This is a kind of hook to capture children into an atheistic, anti-Christian world view which eventually leads them to deny the existence of God and the saving power of Christ. However, even among creationists this seems to be a minority view.

Within creationism, there are two subdivisions, one much odder than the other. The straightforward school is of course Young Earth Creationism, which cites various pieces of evidence to demonstrate that it must only be a few millennia since the Cosmos was created. These include the shallowness of dust found by Apollo astronauts, the presence of recently solidified lava which tests as being millions of years old even shortly after it’s formed, the number of comets, the shape of galaxies (which is an odd one because they’re millions of light years away and therefore must have existed a very long time ago), the existence of two types of Cepheid variables which can be easily mistaken and so forth. There’s also a general principle that entropy refutes evolution, which does not, however, work for reasons I can’t be bothered to go into right now but is covered here. This view does at least have the merit of linking evolution with a young Earth, which in the end is necessary because six thousand years is nowhere near long enough for many evolutionary processes to have become apparent. But the really weird one is Old Earth Creationism. This accepts that the planet is æons old but rejects the reality of evolution. It seeks to reconcile Genesis with “Day-Age Creationism”, which asserts that the six days of creation are in fact whole geological periods lasting millions of years, and in doing so creates a major problem for itself: how is it that mutations haven’t accumulated over that period and caused major changes in forms of life?

Both forms of Christian creationism emphasise the importance of Noah’s Flood. For instance, they may claim that the reason giant fossils of dinosaurs are further down in the strata than smaller fossils of other organisms is that being heavy, they sank to the bottom whereas lighter species stayed further up. As far as I can tell, creationists seem to believe that biodiversity was greater before the Flood than afterwards, and tend to believe that the Flood wiped out the dinosaurs. This is problematic from the perspective of Noah’s task to rescue all species of animal from the catastrophe. Some Christian creationists also believe that there are still Mesozoic megafauna around in tiny populations scattered around the globe (I’m assuming none of these people are flat Earthers here). Therefore, the question then arises of Scriptural evidence for the presence of dinosaurs. It would be odd, some people claim, if there were giant reptiles around at the time who were not mentioned at all in the Bible given that it does mention all sorts of other animals.

Some Christian Young Earth Creationists have attempted to resolve this issue by asserting that the Behemoth and the Leviathan are both examples of giant dinosaurs. The Behemoth seems to be a hippopotamus. Blake drew them thus:

 Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you; he eats grass like an ox.

Behold, his strength in his loins, and his power in the muscles of his belly.

He makes his tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are knit together.

His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like bars of iron.

He is the first of the works of God; let him who made him bring near his sword!

For the mountains yield food for him where all the wild beasts play.

Under the lotus plants he lies, in the shelter of the reeds and in the marsh.

For his shade the lotus trees cover him; the willows of the brook surround him.

Behold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightened; he is confident though Jordan rushes against his mouth.

Can one take him by his eyes, or pierce his nose with a snare?

Job 40:15-24

To me, this sounds very much like a hippo apart from the description of the tail, which is hard to account for unless it’s a composite animal of some kind like the Greek Chimæra. The Leviathan sounds more like a whale and is mentioned I think six times in the Tanakh and again in the Apocrypha. It may be a sea serpent, but it’s also been claimed to be a crocodile. A notable description is in the verses immediately following the above passage:


Can you lead Leviathan[a] about with a hook,
    or tie down his tongue with a rope?
 Can you put a ring into his nose,
    or pierce through his cheek with a gaff?
Will he then plead with you, time after time,
    or address you with tender words?

 Will he make a covenant with you
    that you may have him as a slave forever?
 Can you play with him, as with a bird?
    Can you tie him up for your little girls?
Will the traders bargain for him?
    Will the merchants[b] divide him up?
 Can you fill his hide with barbs,
    or his head with fish spears?
 Once you but lay a hand upon him,
    no need to recall any other conflict!

Unlike the Behemoth, the Leviathan is never very clearly described, and some have taken from this the idea that the animal being described is familiar. If it is actually a crocodile, this is a description of an archosaur.

Archosaurs are a clade including crocodiles, alligators, caimans and birds. In days of yore they also included non-avian dinosaurs, whom are difficult to refer, and pterosaurs (more loosely referred to as “pterodactyls”). If this is true, it is in fact quite close to being a reference to a dinosaur as we would classically understand them. Creationists sometimes make a lot of this and use Behemoth and Leviathan as proof that giant dinosaurs were around in Biblical times. Due to the depiction of all animals other than humans as herbivorous soon after creation, many YECs claim that Tyrannosaurus rex and his kin were all herbivorous. They also sometimes claim that they were on the Ark, perhaps as young adults. Since there are seven hundred known species of this kind of dinosaur, this is still quite hard to imagine.

Another animal sometimes compared to a dinosaur by modern creationists is the dragon. Chapter fourteen of the Book Of Daniel, not generally considered canonical and present only as apocrypha in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Tanakh) is referred to as ‘Bel And The Dragon’. Daniel undertakes to kill a dragon without using a sword and feeds the animal cakes made of tar, hair and barley which cause the dragon to burst. This is somewhat similar to the creation myth of the Babylonians, but there may be no link. In the New Testament, the Book of Revelation mentions dragons several times, although most people see the work as largely symbolic so this may not be particularly useful to creationists.

There have actually been creationist expeditions to find archosaurs considered widely to be long extinct, such as pterosaurs in Papua (it’s not technically correct but I’m just going to call them pterodactyls here). It’s also been suggested that scientists have hushed up the existence of pterodactyls, but this would be irrational because their existence doesn’t threaten the idea of an old Earth at all. There are birds, such as herons and frigate birds, who do look like pterodactyls in silhouette or at a distance. Hoax photographs are also quite easy to produce because there are pterodactyl kites and remote control planes made to look like them too. This whole subject is remarkably close to that of UFOs, and in fact there’s a sense in which apparent surviving pterodactyls are literally UFOs – Unidentified Flying Objects. There’s also the Mokele-mbembe, who is a cryptid said to live in the Congo area resembling a sauropod. The odd thing about these is that they were described as like sauropods (the long-necked herbivores such as Diplodocus) by people who knew nothing about prehistoric life. Although it’s generally believed that it isn’t a dinosaur, it may be a memory passed down of a species of amphibious rhinoceros. Amphibious rhinos and rhino-like animals did exist once, although apparently they didn’t overlap with humans. Once again, these would not be a threat to the idea of an old Earth, but there is nonetheless a major problem with the idea of what are widely considered to be Mesozoic megafauna surviving the Chicxulub Impact.

I’ve mentioned Nessie before on here. The problem with a pliosaur surviving the Maastrichtian-Danian mass extinction is that if large reptiles survived at all, they would have come to dominate the planet again and become widespread, as their niches would be vacant, so there would either be plenty of Cenozoic fossils of non-crocodilian and non-avian archosaurs and giant reptiles which went into decline or they’d still be around today in large numbers, and they clearly aren’t. The Eocene was in fact probably even more suitable for these kinds of animals than the Cretaceous had been, and in fact the idea that the Mesozoic was the Age of Dinosaurs and the Cenozoic the Age of Mammals is an over-simplification. There were fairly large mammals around in the Mesozoic and very large reptiles and, yes, dinosaurs, in the Cenozoic. And the fact that I’ve finally used the word “dinosaur” here is probably misleading, and leads me to my second, rather technical point: dinosaurs really are mentioned in the Bible!

Birds are of course dinosaurs, and birds are mentioned repeatedly in both the Tanakh and the New Testament. This sounds at first like a bit of an arsy point, but birds and “dinosaurs” have turned out to be a lot more similar to each other than previously thought, in particular because of their feathers, although not all of the large dinosaurs did have feathers. At least two dozen species of bird are mentioned, substantially in the Kosher/Treyf list. Regarding basal birds, that is, those most closely related to dinosaurs as we generally think of them, ostriches, peacocks, quail and waterfowl are all mentioned. Notably, the ostrich is mentioned in Job chapter 39, just before the Behemoth and Leviathan references:

“The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
    though they cannot compare
    with the wings and feathers of the stork.
She lays her eggs on the ground
    and lets them warm in the sand,
unmindful that a foot may crush them,
    that some wild animal may trample them.
She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
    she cares not that her labor was in vain,
for God did not endow her with wisdom
    or give her a share of good sense.
Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
    she laughs at horse and rider.”

Job 39:14-18

This may in fact be the closest thing to a description of a “real” dinosaur in the Tanakh or the New Testament. It brings Gigantoraptor to mind.

There’s also the question of whether ideas of dragons and other mythical beasts derive from fossil remains of dinosaurs. For instance, it may be that griffins are in fact Protoceratops fossils, with the neck shields interpreted as wings. They’re said to be referred to in Psalm 50:11 –

I know the birds of the mountains,

the creatures of the fields are subject to me.

In Hebrew, this is:

יָ֭דַעְתִּי כָּל־עֹ֣וף הָרִ֑ים וְזִ֥יז דַ֗י עִמָּדִֽי׃

The antepenultimate word in that, translated as “the creatures” could be literally translated as “and the griffins” – “wa-ziz”. Technically this could mean dinosaurs are referenced twice in that verse. A “ziz” is a giant bird whose wings can blot out the Sun. They are in a sense the aerial counterparts to Leviathan, kings of the birds in the same way as Leviathan is king of the fish. Here is a non-Biblical account of the Ziz:

As Leviathan is the king of fishes, so the Ziz is appointed to rule over the birds. His name comes from the variety of tastes his flesh has; it tastes like this, zeh, and like that, zeh. The Ziz is as monstrous of size as Leviathan himself. His ankles rest on the earth, and his head reaches to the very sky.

It once happened that travelers on a vessel noticed a bird. As he stood in the water, it merely covered his feet, and his head knocked against the sky. The onlookers thought the water could not have any depth at that point, and they prepared to take a bath there. A heavenly voice warned them: “Alight not here! Once a carpenter’s axe slipped from his hand at this spot, and it took it seven years to touch bottom.” The bird the travelers saw was none other than the Ziz. His wings are so huge that unfurled they darken the sun. They protect the earth against the storms of the south; without their aid the earth would not be able to resist the winds blowing thence. Once an egg of the Ziz fell to the ground and broke. The fluid from it flooded sixty cities, and the shock crushed three hundred cedars. Fortunately such accidents do not occur frequently. As a rule the bird lets her eggs slide gently into her nest. This one mishap was because the egg was rotten, and the bird cast it away carelessly.

The Ziz has another name, Renanin, because he is the celestial singer. On account of his relation to the heavenly regions he is also called Sekwi, the seer, and, besides, he is called “son of the nest,” because his fledgling birds break away from the shell without being hatched by the mother bird; they spring directly from the nest, as it were. Like Leviathan, so Ziz is a delicacy to be served to the pious at the end of time, to compensate them for the privations which abstaining from the unclean fowls imposed upon them. […] The creation of the fifth day, the animal world, rules over the celestial spheres. Witness the Ziz, which can darken the sun with its pinions.

This is from Midrash Aggadah, which is the non-legal elaboration of themes in the Tanakh. As usual, this could get complicated, but so far as I can tell there seems to be an association between the Ziz and the phoenix, which would of course be another mythical dinosaur.

As well as leaving their traces in the rocks to be intepreted as dragons and griffins by humans, it seems reasonable to suppose that dinosaurs may be vaguely fossilised in the human psyche itself. At the time of their demise, many dinosaurs would’ve towered over our ancestors. This animal, Purgatorius:

(c) Patrick Lynch

is close to our lineage and lived around the time of the Chicxulub Impact. They were about fifteen centimetres long and weighed less than forty grammes, and like other early primates were native to North America, which is whence we came. It’s easy to imagine those ears having to adapt to the sounds of heavy dinosaurs pushing their way through their native forests, crushing everything before them or simply predating them, and for that adaptation to induce an instinctive fear of large, rumbling, slavering monsters with big teeth such as now populate our mythology and horror fiction. And also the Bible. Therefore, maybe there is indeed a sense in which Behemoth, Leviathan and Ziz are indeed dinosaurs, remembered in our genes for survival’s sake. This is the other way dinosaurs appear in the Bible, and it raises the question of what else instinctive has led to Biblical text, and beyond that, whether that is in fact the hand of God writing it in.

UFOs

I don’t always give myself much time to think up ideas for these posts because I’m trying to produce one a day. Today it looked for a moment that it was Flying Saucer Week, but in fact that was in March, but it’s probably worth writing about them anyway, so here it is.

It’s trivially true that Unidentified Flying Objects exist, since a UFO is nothing other than an object in the sky whose nature is unknown to an observer. More specifically, if one person doesn’t know what something is, someone else might. Presumably the stricter definition, based on the original use of the term, would be of an aerial object whose identity was unknown to any observer. As a philosopher, I have to inject a note of doubt here since I see knowledge as belief which it’s rationally impossible to doubt, making absolutely everything which one believes to be in the sky a UFO, but that’s not a useful definition. Google Ngrams, a search engine for historical textual references on paper as well as, presumably, online text in more recent decades, shows the word UFO to have been used first in the late 1930s, to have climbed rapidly in incidence from 1950, peaking in 1978 (around the time of ‘Close Encounters’ but is that cause or effect?), then again in 2000 (‘X-Files’? Same question) and finally in 2012, which I suppose could’ve been connected to the 2012 phenomenon. As for ‘flying saucer’, they start in 1940 or so (whenever the term was invented, by a pilot), peaking in 1955 and then again in 2012. The curves are rather similar. I could do this all day, but finally, the term “little green men” begins in Georgian times, takes off in the 1930s and climbs slowly but steadily up to the present day. This illustrates the fact that “little green men” used to mean leprachauns, then got transferred over to presumed humanoid aliens.

Historically, the perception of UFOs predates the invention of either term by millennia. They’re referred to in ancient sacred texts, by Roman philosophers and others, including astronomers, and the “airship flap” of the 1890s, but reports of their observation peaked in 1957, which is of course when the Soviet Union sent Sputnik 1 into space. It is not in fact the case, as is often asserted, that they are never seen by trained observers such as astronomers and military people, although they are unsurprisingly less often seen.

Before you jump to the conclusion that I believe our planet is regularly visited by visible alien spacecraft, I want to emphasise that I absolutely do not. There are multitudinous problems with this idea. Firstly, if UFOs were alien spacecraft, the question arises of how a technology capable of sending spacecraft across interstellar space with intelligent life on board wouldn’t also have technology which enabled them to avoid being detected. Secondly, the beings associated with UFOs are humanoid, which practically guarantees that they wouldn’t be alien, although there’s another possibility there which I used to consider as a child but have since rejected. Thirdly, there wouldn’t be a government cover-up of UFOs because there’s no reason to suppose that aliens would respect human hierarchies or governments, so if anyone knows about them, “anyone” would, not just people in the higher echelons. This is predicated on my belief that hierarchical societies can’t last long enough without destroying themselves to achieve interstellar travel, but it’s possible that they would respect our system I suppose.

I’ve talked about the idea of humanoid aliens before. There are three possibilities here. There could be few or no humanoid aliens because of the manifold vagaries of evolution, there could be many due to convergent evolution, or humanoid aliens could be manufactured or genetically engineered as ambassadors to the human species. If there are few rather than no humanoid aliens, those could also be deployed as ambassadors. However, since it isn’t even clear there are any other life forms at all in the Universe, I think it’s safe to say that UFOs with “aliens” of that kind on board are not spaceships from elsewhere. Consequently, back when I did believe in UFOs of this kind, and Barney and Betty Hill’s experience is an example of remarkable evidence for them although still not enough to make me believe any more, I thought they were time machines. A famous representation of this idea is found in the 1980 Play For Tomorrow ‘The Flipside of Dominick Hyde’, whose main character travels back to 1980 and becomes his own ancestor, as one does. However, Dominick Hyde is from the fairly near future. My own version of this hypothesis was that they were from many millennia into the future, because they were significantly physically different from us.

I’m not sure exactly where to fit this bit in, so I’ll put it here. It’s been noted that UFOs tend to take one of three forms: “cigars”, “saucers” and spheres. A four-dimensional hyperspheroid analogous to the shape of an oblate spheroid (a squashed ball with long axes of symmetry in one dimension and a short one in the other, like a slim discus) would intersect with our own three-dimensional space in these three ways. Imagine a discus being sliced in various ways. It could look like a sausage shape, a circle or an oval, and a four-dimensional analogue could manifest the same way in our space. Then again, glimpsing an object of an approximately discoid shape would also be mistaken for those three shapes, so there may be no need to jump into hyperspace for this one.

Avro Canada VZ-9 Avrocar

This is a VTOL aircraft called an Avrocar, introduced in 1958 as part of a secret Cold War aircraft programme. It uses the Coandă Effect, which is the tendency for a jet to remain attached to a convex surface. This is undoubtedly a real aircraft which is also undoubtedly saucer shaped. It is almost literally a “flying saucer”, and this is where I think an explanation for UFOs of the more convincing kind is. I’m afraid this is going to be a bit of a conspiracy hypothesis on my part.

Back in the late 1970s, I saw a “flying banana”. Actually, not a flying banana, which is a heavy helicopter with rotors at front and back, but a Mil V-12, which looks like this:

I don’t understand how I can have seen this helicopter, because it’s a Soviet aircraft and the Cold War was seriously on at the time. Nonetheless I did, and it flew over my house in Kent. I remember the red, white, blue and silver colour scheme and it took me a long time, several years ago, to track this down, but this is undoubtedly what I saw. However, I drastically overestimated the distance and thought it was three miles long, and genuinely believed it to be an alien spacecraft for quite some time. I still don’t know what it was doing there, but presumably the British government knew about it because there are no reports of it attacking anything or being attacked, and it seems unlikely that that could’ve been hushed up. It happens to be the largest helicopter ever built, but it is not three miles long. As far as I know there are no similar NATO helicopters in the sense of the colour scheme, although there are transverse rotor ‘copters aplenty.

I have built up a hypothesis around this single data point which I think accounts for many UFOs. I believe UFOs are sometimes secret military aircraft. Governments are at peace with the idea that a lot of people think they’re alien spacecraft and make a big fuss about there being a cover-up, because the people concerned are, not wishing to insult anyone, “useful idiots”, as the phrase has it. That is, people supporting a cause without realising the full implications intended for that cause. The LGB Alliance comes to mind here, for example. Incidentally, although this phrase is attributed to Lenin, he doesn’t seem to have said it. Anyway, reports of UFOs by untrained observers when they are in fact secret military aircraft combined with public perception of the people concerned as delusional would be a convenient way of hiding such a programme. I’m not saying that’s definitely what happens, but as far as we know there’s only one species able to discover this kind of technology, it’s a fact that NATO used flying saucer-like craft in the 1950s and it is at least a more plausible explanation than the idea that they’re alien spacecraft. I am, however, not particularly attached to this idea. I think probably most of the time people see Venus and misidentify it.

One of my favourite little details about British post-war history is that British Rail once designed a flying saucer. The way this happened is rather convoluted and the craft involved would’ve been pretty environmentally unfriendly. A diagram is shown above, appearing in their patent application, GB1310990, made in March 1973. Here’s an extract of their text:

A space vehicle includes a platform under which is provided a thermonuclear fusion zone to which liquid fuel is supplied under pressure to be ignited by beams from lasers. The platform mounts electromagnets, possibly superconducting magnets, to deflect charged particles produced by the fusion reaction; some particles are deflected so as to be received on insulated electrodes for generation of electric power. Excess thermal energy produced in the reaction is removed by cooling tubes to a radiating surface. The lasers may be energized by an homopolar generator. The latter may also be used as a reference for stabilizing the vehicle by varying the electrostatic voltages on sections of the electrodes to apply a correcting couple to the vehicle. By controlling voltages on sections and also the fields from magnets, the thrust on the vehicle can be directed to control the attitude and direction of the craft. A passener cabin is included.

This seems to involve the expulsion of large amounts of ions. Apparently, and I’m speaking from memory here, there was a department within British Rail which was given free rein to come up with projects like this, and it seems that this evolved out of an idea for a train station platform which could raise itself to ease access to carriages by passengers. It employs two pieces of technology which have yet to be cracked properly. One is fusion power, which is always thirty years away from being realised, and has been since the War, a bit like a human mission to Mars really. The other is superconducting magnets, which exist and are even used in MRI scanners, suitably cooled, but superconductivity at room temperature may never be achieved although there has been some progress in recent decades. It was designed by someone called Charles Osmond Frederick. The patent lapsed in 1976 and is quite famous, and also taps into the optimism following the Space Race, and really the question is not how far out of touch with reality this is, but why something like it didn’t happen. I don’t think technology could have advanced fast enough for it to have happened in the twentieth century, but maybe if the will was there it could have. Fusion reactors, though, have various problems. One is that the radiation inside them is so intense that it would make the casing dangerously radioactive and also brittle, meaning that although there may not be radioactive waste from the fuel itself they would still produce it and be remarkably unsustainable. It’s possible to trigger a fusion reaction but only recently has more energy been gained from it than had to be put in to create it. The alternatives are pellets and magnetically confined plasma, the problem with the latter being turbulence in the plasma making it hard to contain. It also uses tritium, which is rare – one hydrogen atom in 32 million is tritium. This tritium is also lost into the casing and the water in the coolant, or most other coolants. Tritium is radioactive. As for superconductivity, this can be done using liquid helium but with both of these technologies lots of massive matter is involved, so it seems unlikely that the flying saucer could take off.

The picture at the top of this post shows the Futuro Pod, a mainly fibreglass structure which was mass-produced in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It probably counts as a “tiny house”. There are about four dozen of them, designed by the Finnish architect Matti Suuronen as a mountain cabin, and were killed off by the Oil Crisis as they’re made of plastic. Today they’re very expensive. They aren’t even particularly suitable as permanent accommodation but are more like log cabins or bothies, so it can be presumed from “real” flying saucers that the people on them are either very small, and they are after all little green people, or on a day trip, perhaps from a mother ship, in which case they’d probably have to travel much faster than light. Having said that, a Futuro is eight metres across and four metres high, which is a lot more space for a being of half human stature, so maybe.

Finally, there’s the obvious religious aspect of the whole thing. If someone lacks the option to believe in some of the old-time religion due to either rationalising it away or not being exposed to it in the first place, it does make sense to project spiritual beliefs onto the sky, so these craft and their occupants could be seen as angels or deities, or even perhaps demons. I personally find it a little difficult to dispell this idea and I’m theistic, so it’s understandable that belief in UFOs would fill the vacuum. But I’ve discussed this in depth elsewhere so I shan’t bother with it now.

2021 Local Elections And Hartlepool

Current live results as of 9:07 am – nothing much there.

There’s an argument for continuing with my usual detachment rather than plunging into the melée of the British elections, but in general I just post on what’s on my mind and this certainly is.

I’ve just heard the Hartlepool results, where there was a by-election. The losing Labour candidate, Paul Williams, was from my home town, Canterbury, although I didn’t know him at all. Now, recently Canterbury was able to achieve the apparent miracle of getting a Labour MP elected. Anyway 15 529 votes went to the winning Conservative candidate (I think that’s right) Jill Mortimer. Hartlepool had previously voted 69% to leave the EU and was also the constituency where the Brexit Party got the highest vote in the whole of the “U”K. In the short term, none of this is a surprise.

It occurs to me that a candidate who wasn’t local is at a disadvantage, and whereas this isn’t why Labour lost it doesn’t seem like a good idea to have a Southerner stand in a northern constituency, which seems like a fairly typical miscalculation. What I don’t know at the moment is where Jill Mortimer is from. She was a councillor in North Yorkshire before that, so she might be fairly local.

But the obvious reasons why the Tories won Hartlepool are the poor presentation of the Labour Party to the public generally and in particular because they didn’t support Brexit, and still don’t. I find this deeply ironic. In the supposèd “longest suicide note in history”, the 1983 Labour Party General Election manifesto, Labour were what we would now call pro-Brexit. Since the neo-liberal drift of the EEC/EC/EU, it makes even more sense for Labour to be pro-Brexit. This is not to say that the current neo-liberal Westminster government doesn’t have its own psychopathic agenda, bearing in mind incidentally that although I’m socialist I recognise that psychopaths may have an important and valuable rôle in society, just not in positions with that sort of power.

Whatever else is going on, I think it’s an uncontroversial statement that if the Labour Party had been pro-Brexit it would’ve won this election, and in fact would’ve won the 2017 General Election. I also strongly suspect that Jeremy Corbyn himself is pro-Brexit because he was of the tendency that would’ve been when he was first elected MP. I don’t have a firm idea of what Keir Starmer is like. I don’t know why this is.

I happen to be very reluctantly in favour of us being in the EU. The reasons for my reluctance are twofold. One is that it seems to be a club of rich White majority imperialist nations bent on encouraging global capitalism and the devastation of the planet. The other is that it ought to be a democratic federal republic that replaces most national sovereignty. We shouldn’t have been having a by-election to the Westminster parliament at this point, but a by-election to the Brussels government which has sovereignty over the British Isles, a by-election which, moreover, should have been carried out by proportional representation. But as I said, it should be a federal republic and there should be representation at a more local level, such as a Northumbrian parliament as proposed by the Northern Independence Party, which incidentally is basically pro-Brexit and to the left of Labour as it currently is.

Even so, I am in favour of EU membership. This is because it’s the least worst solution. In spite of the fact that the European Union puts the boot in on workers’ rights and is frighteningly racist and xenophobic, the motivation for Brexit in some voters’ minds does seem to have been racist. However, it’s also patronising to assume that they were simply being racist. There are reasons for that racism. Wrong ones, which are to do with dividing the proletariat against itself and making it easier to oppress it. Nonetheless, I don’t get the impression that the Labour Party has a clear understanding of what’s going on there. But the people are easy to exploit in this situation, to their own disadvantage, and in a way which distracts them from wider issues. Global capitalism enables jobs to be taken away from Britain to places where death squads murder trade unionists, thus enabling multinational companies to make more profit by facilitating slave labour and the like, and this does indeed mean that jobs will be lost from this country. The response is clearly to make our own working conditions worse so we can compete with totalitarian dictatorships more effectively, and to do that we need to leave the EU so that even their pathetic and awful standards of workers’ rights don’t need to be maintained. But in any case, there’s not much manufacturing industry left here anyway because this island has decided to specialise in stealing money from the poor, which is one of our main industries, finance. It doesn’t actually do very much which is worthwhile or of any use.

I’ve been talking about this as if automation never happened, but then much of politics operates as if it hasn’t. The reality is that the jobs which exist are very often useless in the richer countries, and may simply fulfil the function of bogging people down in meaningless toil in order to sap their will for revolution. Speaking of revolution, there is a difference between the political, social and economic analysis of humanity and the operation of political parties and their own belief systems. Marx, who is broadly correct but outdated in various ways, was keen for the world to change but also provided an adequate analysis of the economic and social conditions of Britain in the nineteenth Christian century. Its accuracy doesn’t depend on any particular political party espousing the ideology he seems to imply. Rather, he saw the idea of a proletarian revolution as operating as a result of natural forces. It might or might not throw up relevant political parties in the process of being fulfilled. Consequently, we can look at our society and note that there are a number of inadequate major political parties which are not addressing the problem of capitalist exploitation, and a number of smaller political parties which lack the collective force to bring about change, but all of this might just be irrelevant because of the facts of capitalism and the oppression of the proletariat.

This has been a short post. I want to finish by returning once again to Olaf Stapledon. I’ve just finished reading his ‘Darkness And The Light’. This portrays two possible futures proceeding from the Second World War. One of them involves the imposition of a totalitarian and dystopian world order which ends with the collapse of civilisation and the whole human race being eaten by rats, which incidentally dovetails quite neatly with Dougal Dixon’s ‘After Man’. The other proceeds from the triumph of a both communist and religious movement in Tibet which brings about a global communist utopia. The difference between the two, the pivotal moment so to speak, is that the people involved is in the dark timeline dominated by pessimism and in the light one by hope. Ernst Bloch is known for his ‘Das Prinzip Hoffnung’, which argues for the position that hope is subversive and positive, and therefore that we need utopianism. I can’t go into much detail about this because I haven’t read it, but in this situation, I would wish to emphasise that politics is, and this probably doesn’t even need saying, not just what happens at the ballot box, or in political parties, but may operate in such a way that parties themselves are a mere epiphenomenon. Therefore I wouldn’t lose heart at this situation because it probably has little to do with real politics.