On the nature of Evil

Ethics, theology, and belief seem to crop up a fair amount on this blog, and many of you may have formed the impression that I am a moral relativist, rejecting as I do the existence of any kind of absolutist law-giving deity, and remaining highly dubious of arguments attempting to demonstrate natural, intrinsic, moral norms.

In this you would be right, at least as far as the Good is concerned. But Evil is a different matter. I have a very, very clear concept of absolute Evil, and it is thus:


Let me be clear, I have no beef with sweet things (literally, as well as figuratively). Cake is fine. Biscuits, sure. We are coming to the part of the year where it is traditional to soak a wide range of confections in substantial quantities of whisky, rum, or brandy and of this I can but approve—though I frown slightly at the tradition of then burning some of it off, which rather defeats the point.

However—and I cannot stress this enough—the combination of sweetness of taste and gooeyness of texture is the nub, the pole, the lodestone, and the very epitome of Evil. That so many of you seem not only ignorant but actively in denial of this fact is a clear demonstration of the Fallen state of humankind.

Every nation commits this sin, in their own way. The British, of course, not satisfied with raping and pillaging the world through centuries of empire, made ourselves irredeemable by the infliction of custard thereupon. The Italians compound their popery and frilly shirts with panna cotta. The Germans gave us operas that last for whole weekends and Schokoküsse. The Turks and the Greeks compete not to deny but to lay claim to the eponymous delight of the former, and the French tauntingly burn a crust onto their puddles of sweetened cream, rather than committing the entire work of heresy to a justly-deserved auto-da-fé.

But Brazil! Oh Brazil! If the brigadeiro, the pudim, and canjica were not sufficient barbarisms to thrust upon your good, God-fearing people, the horrors of horrors of doce de leite alone place you at the height of the list of offenders. It is little surprise that so many of your folk devotedly attend church on Sundays and top up on Wednesdays, for you have much, much to repent of.

And the travesty pictured above? On a flight from Rio to Paris, some hideous, unforgivable individual, some spawn of Satan, some execrable inexcusable excrement of humanity had decided to celebrate this joining of nations by contorting together their greatest evils, and placed before each and every innocent passenger a doce de leite crème brûlée.

That the plane was not struck from the sky by a retributive bolt of divine lightning is the greatest evidence one could ever seek for the non-existence of God.

Punctuated model of inebriation

punctuated model of inebriation (phr.) theoretical model of consumption which proposes that, over an extended period, inebriation should occur due to short bursts of intensive consumption, interspersed with long periods of inactivity. Differs from the graduated model of inebriation, which proposes continual and uniform consumption of small quantities.

Being narcoleptic, the punctuated model works best for me, as it allows downtime for a recuperatory doze mid-session. As yesterday was a feriado here, it seemed rude not to have a couple of after-lunch caipirinhas, a trajectory which clearly could not be maintained through to the small hours of the morning. Careful application of the punctuated model resulted in, twelve hours later, a pleasantly woozy end to the evening on the beach with a bunch of friends, a guitar, and a bonfire, singing those slightly saccharine but catchy tunes which seem to fall off the pens of Brazilian songwriters almost as if—well, almost as if carousing sentimental melodies on a beach till the small hours of the morning was one of the simplest but greatest pleasures of life.

The Facebook Catechism

To be memorized and repeated at least five times a day, as a minimum before going online.

I saw this really cool thing on Facebook the other day. It said that if you—

No. Don’t. It’s not what it says it is.

But it’s on Facebook! Everyone reads Facebook, it must be trustworty.

No. You are confusing ubiquity with respectability. It’s precisely because it’s on Facebook that you have no knowledge of the real source, only what they themselves say they are.

But, look, loads of my friends have already—

No. Your friends might be smart people, but even smart people can be fooled sometimes.

OK, so it’s almost certainly not true: but what’s on offer is so cool and all I have to do is—

No. That’s exactly the gamble they want you to take. They exploit our natural cognitive bias to presume that things to our advantage are more probable or reliable than they really are. They offer something fantastic for apparently almost nothing, but then you find they’ve actually taken far more than you intended. And even if, once you’ve taken the apprently harmless gamble, you realize you’ve been conned, you’ve added your name to the millions who have taken it, and it looks more and more convincing, such that other people are less likely to realize it’s a con.

Once you have mastered this, you may progress to the Advanced Level, in which you repeat the entire exercise substituting the words “the Bible,” “the Qur’an,” or “the Torah” for “Facebook.”

I’m sorry to get all class war on you, but I ain’t gonna take advice on the direction of the Labour Party from a guy named “Tristram”

The private school and Cambridge-educated son of a peer has told Cambridge students that Labour is “in the shit” and that it is up to them—“the top 1%”—to take the mantle of leadership. How very egalitarian: this is exactly the kind of elitist born-to-rule stuff for which I rejoined the Labour Party.

Tristram Hunt—for it is he—claimed that Labour is becoming a sect because of “algorithmic politics” where “everyone shares the same views as you on social media.” Somewhat confusingly, however, he had previously said at Sheffield University (lowering himself to speak to the less-than-top 1%) that we must “move closer to the public” on a number of issues. Who would, presumably, then share the same views on social media. One wonders whether the necessary condition of popular opinion being sectarian is whether or not Hunt agrees with it. Hunt seems to object to consensus within the party, whilst avidly endorsing that the party abandon all principle to align itself with the wider public consensus.

Hunt has, in this, perfectly expressed what has bedevilled British politics since Tony Blair, and the reasons why I actually did rejoin Labour. He seems to feel that the job of a political party is to get its candidates elected, no matter what. That the primary purpose of standing for election is to gain power, and that the best way to achieve this is to “centralise” and to adjust most of one’s policies to fit current public opinion, whatever that may be. To me this is a ludicrous travesty of modern liberal democracy, which is (or should be) grounded in the discursive arena of civil society, and in which the job of the political party is primarily to represent the views of its members and to attempt, through discussion and persuasion, to convince the electorate to endorse them. To abjure that responsibility is to turn politics into nothing more than a beauty contest, with competing, unprincipled parties engaging in a cheap and unedifying race for votes.

If anything is algorithmic, it is the vision of policy-making as a brute mathematical function, taking inputs of public opinion, and generating an output of highest electability.

I rejoined Labour not because I agree with everything Jeremy Corbyn says or stands for, but because he, at last, was a leader who seemed to grasp this. I last voted Labour in 1997 and, since then, a whole generation have grown up who have never heard a mainstream politician articulate anything close to the social democratic—dare I even say socialist—principles which I support. Those of my generation who nominally support this position, yet insist that the Labour Party must be run by centralising ideology-free vote-whores such as Hunt, and believe that somehow, once the party has gained power by promoting these ciphers, they will suddenly turn socially responsible are fooling themselves.

An argument has to be won: the argument that there is an alternative route to prosperity and general well-being than that of laissez-faire, trickle-down, corporation-led, light-regulation monetarism. That argument won’t be won if it is not made, and it will not be made if the Hunts of this world have their way and keep Labour as a Tory Lite popularity-grasping machine. I believe that Corbyn has won that argument within the Labour Party—within their membership, who he recognises it is his primary responsibility to represent, though not the parliamentary party, who feel it is his primary responsibility to ensure they get re-elected. It is now time for the Labour Party to take that argument to the wider public and born-to-rule, top one-percenters who object to the consequent endangerment of their presumed privilege are welcome, as far as I am concerned, to jump ship to the other side, where I am sure they will feel quite at home.