In order for democracy to work we have to have a number of important factors:
a. One person one vote
b. An intelligent well-informed population
c. A good education system providing people with the tools to weigh up and make decisions
d. A media that has no bias and provides factual information.
e. Transparency and scrutiny of all politicians to ensure there is no corruption.
f. Accountability for all the actions and decisions taken by politicians.
g. A system where every vote counts.
h. Representatives elected who are intelligent, educated, informed and able to discuss, debate and make informed decisions better that the electorate can do (They possess all the facts and are better aware of the implications.
i. a system that is honest, free of corruption, free of self-interest and not open to bribery of any kind.
I said that you can be the judge. I’ve already judged.
If they really believed they’d turn the other cheek. Christians for guns is the biggest hypocrisy on the planet.
I was thinking of that Mexican mining disaster where so many died. They pulled one guy out from the rubble who promptly thanked god for saving him, not the rescuers. I wondered what all the others had done wrong. How had they offended god so that he abandoned them.
Seems that all the piety and prayer is not helping the slaughtered Jewish settlers or bombed people of Gaza. Perhaps the premature babies dying for lack of incubators didn’t know how to pray, or they’d committed a grievous sin. Shame they’re too young to wield a Kalashnikov.
Looking at the state of the planet it seems that those starving, being slaughtered or living in the worst poverty, pray the most.
Neil is a friend who goes back a number of years. We agree on a number of things but disagree on others.
That makes for an interesting exchange of views.
Neil sees himself as a liberterian. I am all for freedom but also want a social order where the powerful are held in check.
My response to Neil’s Rant – Part 1
Bloody hell Neil!! Fifteen thousand words is a book!
I shall do my best to respond to things as they come up.
Straight away we hit this major crisis that you brush off as a global conspiracy. Global warming. How you can think this is a conspiracy is beyond me. Why? What is the ulterior motive for all these diverse governments wanting to do this? What do they gain?
I can clearly see why the oil, gas, fracking, cement and steel industries might want to buy off bent scientists. They make big big money out of pollution. But all the governments around the world??? They hate each other. They couldn’t conspire if they wanted to.
You glibly brush over the devastating effects of global warming. That’s easy to do when living in a temperate country. We have our floods, heatwaves, droughts and, like this year, messed up weather, but we don’t get the full impact. For us it’s an inconvenience. We don’t get the massive floods like Pakistan, China and Bangladesh, the huge forest fires like Greece, Australia, California and Portugal. We don’t get terrible droughts like South Africa, Ethiopia, Texas and Spain. We haven’t had unbearable temperatures like they are getting in Africa, the Middle East and now in Europe. But that does not mean we aren’t going to be badly affected.
As more areas become uninhabitable due to arid conditions there will be mass migration. Millions, perhaps billions, will no longer be able to live in these extremes. They will either move or die. We are already suffering from an influx of immigrants. This is the thin end of the wedge. Who can blame them.
Food prices will soar. Crops will fail. We, as a planet, will not be able to feed a population of eight billion.
With the melting ice and warming seas we can expect more extreme weather, higher winds, storms and a substantial rise in sea levels. As most major cities are at sea level this will mean catastrophic flooding and billions spent on flood defences. New Orleans is testimony to what happens when that fails.
This is without consideration of the massive impact on nature and the delicate ecosystems already stretched due to the impact of human beings.
I know you always put people first Neil and take nature for granted but, as a biologist, I can tell you that it is not as simple as that. We are part of that ecosystem. Our food, oxygen and the chemistry of our own bodies depends on a delicate interaction of millions of species. Soil, on which our crops depend, is a living interaction of millions of organisms from bacteria, fungi, thrips, insects, nematodes and worms. Pollination is dependent on insects. Our health depends on the commensal and symbiotic organisms that inhabit our bodies. What we eat and how we interact with the world affects that balance. We are only beginning to understand how it works. Gut bacteria can affect your mood, your thinking and your health. They live on what we eat. We cannot live apart from nature.
And that is quite apart from the joy of interacting with wild life.
We already live in a vastly impoverished world. Our ancestors lived in a far richer world. We have the rump of nature; of what was. The teeming herds, flocks and shoals have gone. We have the vestiges.
I move on.
You make the point that mankind seeks to ‘make its mark’. That is certainly not the case. We are hunter/gatherers. All humans were hunter/gatherers. There is hardly any evidence of the hunter/gatherer societies that filled the planet. That is because they did not seek to leave any mark. They lived in some kind of harmony with nature (even though they wantonly and stupidly hunted all the mega fauna to extinction). Black Elk talked of walking through the landscape without leaving so much as a footprint and castigated the whiteman for wanting to make everything that lives crawl.
It was with the advent of farming, ‘civilisation’, huge populations, cities and nations, that we started having powerful leaders, politics and religions, and narcissistic power which made individuals want to ’leave their mark’.
That’s an aberration.
As for politics; we might be on a slightly similar wavelength, but with vastly different reasoning.
I agree, the world is run for a powerful elite for their own benefit. We are given the least they can get away with without provoking a revolt. The system was set up by the rich for the rich. Politicians are bought and sold. Profit for the wealthy is all that matters. They deal with megabucks; we get the crumbs. They do not care about the impact of what they do on people, nations, or the planet; as long as it makes them very rich.
That means most (not all) politicians are crooks, in it for themselves. They seek power and wealth. They are bought off and controlled by the wealthy.
However, this is where I think we digress.
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but your solution is to devolve into small autonomous communities, each controlling itself.
My solution is much more global. I want complete scrutiny and accountability. I want the bank accounts and all communications open to scrutiny. I want the elite and politicians held accountable.
You always claim not to have exterminated any species and that you are innocent. That is not true. We are all guilty. What we have with species destruction and global warming is an incremental damage. Your defence does not hold.
If a fatal dose of a poison is a million moles and one million people all deliver 1 mole so that the person dies, it is no good all those million people all claiming innocence.
By living we impact on the environment. By using power, eating and moving about we add to the destruction around us. Of course, some individuals have far greater impact than others.
Under your system there would be no accountability for the international organisations, nations and individuals who are presently plundering, exploiting and killing with impunity. We’re beset by wars, tyrannies, massive pollution and environmental degradation. These greedy, power-mad nutcases require controlling and being brought to justice.
War, exploitation, tyranny, pollution, crime and poverty have no national boundaries. If we retreat into our own communities we leave them to do what they like. They are bad enough now; with no controls they would be beyond all levels of bad.
The only way of dealing with this is a fully accountable, fully scrutinised global government.
And yes, I can see all the dangers involved with that, but……
A short extract from my novel – The Antitheist’s Bible – a novel who’s central theme is about the absurdities of religion and how it has been used to control people and gain power.
‘So what do you think the world’d be like without religion, Oph?’ Kathy demanded, draining her glass and topping it up, passing me the spliff.
That was an interesting question. I wanted to say straight off how much better it would be but there was more to it than that. Phew. The more I pondered that the more the implications were enormous.
‘I dunno Kathy,’ I mused, frowning and pulling on the spliff. ‘It’d be a lot different. Just think – if we didn’t have all that energy put into building all those churches, temples and cathedrals; if everyone hadn’t wasted all that time and energy in pointless ceremonies and prayer; if we hadn’t been held back for thousands of years with all that superstition.’ I was warming to it. My imagination was already extrapolating out the possibilities, all the better uses those energies could be put to —– ‘If all that energy was put into more positive things!!’
‘Yeah but Oph,’ Kathy retorted rather aggressively, reaching across for the spliff, ‘those temples are beautiful, and the music and art. Wouldn’t the world be a dreary place without it?’
I grinned at her. Kathy playing her usual role of devil’s advocate. I wasn’t falling for that. But then again it was true. There were many great things that had come out of religion and many religious people would point to the sense of community and togetherness that religion produced, but I wasn’t about to acknowledge any of that. My beef was with the power structure.
I gurned at her. ‘Yeah, shame about the butchery, intolerance and torture’ I mused, raising my eyebrows. ‘Shame that so many were flayed alive and burnt to death in agony,’ I nodded my head and pursed my lips, warming to the task. ‘It’s a shame about 9.11, the bombings and misogyny. Shame about the cultural castration and the enslavement of women, all those women locked up in burqas.’ I could tell from her eyes that I was doing what she had wanted me to do – she had succeeded in getting me going. ‘Apart from that…… and all the bollocks about heaven, paradise ……….. and the hypocrisy …………. and the ridiculous contradictions, homophobia, intolerance ……….’ I was floundering around for all the many facets that had so infuriated me as Kathy smiled encouragingly, judgmentally apart, drawing on the spliff and studying my agitation. ‘And the way they all have their little stories that they hold to be gospel,’ I was now having to prevent myself from prodding a finger in her direction, ‘while denouncing everyone else’s versions as fabricated nonsense …….’ I was getting into my stride, placing the glass down on the floor so I didn’t spill it, waving my hands around. ‘You know, the way they claim to be the chosen people who are favoured by God and that all others, the heathen non-believers, are to be cast into the fiery pits forever……….. and the intrinsic stupidities of replacing the unfathomable reason for life with an equally unknown substitute, some magically manifest supernaturally powerful being………’ I couldn’t help myself. I was becoming more and more animated. ‘After all – where did this all-powerful god come from? …………… and what was the purpose of this eternal life? ……. Religion has no answers. They just tell you to believe. Bollocks. None of it makes sense.’
‘Ah come on Oph,’ she said insincerely, smiling sweetly, cutting me short, feigning an American accent. ‘You know god moves in mysterious ways. It is not our place to understand the working of god’s mind.’
I shook my head at her in a theatrical show of despair. She grinned back at me obviously warming to her task. ‘Besides, You’ve got to admit that the world would be a lot drabber without all those costumes and customs? If religion hadn’t determined things then the State would have done. There would have been bigger wars, bigger castles and more powerful warlords. Ordinary people might be in an even worse state.’
There was nothing I liked better than to argue on matters such as this. It got my grey cells buzzing, forced me to examine my own views and crystallize them. Religion was one of my pet themes and she knew it. It was also one of hers.
‘Or we might be living in a more liberated world where the enlightenment took place thousands of years earlier and everything was fairer and more advanced,’ I suggested, tilting my head to the side.
‘So you don’t believe that morality and ethics originate in religion?’ She poured herself another glassful and sipped trying to look quizzical and earnest. I laughed out loud. From my standpoint she’d only succeeded in looking comical. I knew she didn’t believe what she was suggesting.
I chuckled some more. ‘No, No Kathy, no I don’t. I think fairness, morality and ethics are basic human attributes.’ I frowned and took a big gulp of what was a cheapish red shiraz that had proved surprisingly smooth, then topped up my glass before replying. ‘I think that religion’s got fuck all to do with it. Religion is just about power. That and the State. All about power. It’s all primitive stuff. All the boys vying to be the great chief or shaman; white-backed gorillas. They are just seeking dominance and the right to fuck all the women. It’s all about DNA playing its games to get its genes into the next gene pool.’
‘But Oph,’ Kathy objected keenly, stubbing the dead roach in the ashtray. ‘Every culture has its creation myths and code of morality. They all regulate society and bring some order to it. Perhaps people need that? Perhaps religion helps produce that?’ Kathy continued her ploy. She was enjoying it just as much as I was.
‘Yeah, and they all create a pile of complicated dogma and use it to bash each other with, to shackle themselves,’ I began rolling another jay.
‘But there is order and there are restraints,’ she argued forcefully, ‘religion has restricted the power of the state, hasn’t it? It has helped produce order and structure.’
Of the destruction left in the wake of their path.
All that moves is brought down,
As wars rage regardless of black, white or brown.
One species, with the aim to expand,
Will destroy everything that comes to hand.
Profit is the recurring war cry
Blood for money; an eye for an eye.
The finite resources are under strain
Everywhere is death, destruction and pain.
Yet that large brain houses another side
To take another route – we can decide.
For love and compassion lurk there too,
And we can care for others in this human zoo.
We can give up violence and selfishness
And cherish a life not based on destructiveness.
There’s room for all of life on this great ark,
We don’t have to live in a plastic park.
Wildernesses full of creatures and song,
In which we humans can get along.
So will we use our great brains for creative invention?
And solve the problems we create?
Can we learn to care, share and find room for all life?
Or will we leave it all too late?
I fear the answer will seal our own fate.
Human beings are the Jekyll and Hyde of the animal kingdom. We are often thoughtless, cruel and positively evil. We enjoy inflicting pain and causing death. We seem to gain pleasure from it. Give a man a weapon and he will feel the desire to take lives. Not content to shooting at targets they prefer to shoot birds off the wire.
We wish to subjugate nature and control it all. Chopping down trees, filling in swamps, killing anything that threatens us. Nothing is sacred.
Our worst aspects are the desire for power and wealth. We are prepared to sacrifice the whole earth for it.
Yet our altruism is also renowned. We will take huge risks to save an injured animal. We care.
Our brains are resourceful and ingenious. We can solve the most complex of problems.
We have the capacity to put right the mess we have created.
Do we have the will? Or are we going to allow the same greedy, power-seeking elite to continue to lead us towards the precipice?
For some reason the journey back across the Atlantic only took three days this time. Perhaps the captain was in a hurry to get home?
We were heading for Cape Verde – that volcanic archipelago off the coast of Africa. This time it was Santiago and its capital Praia. But that was three days away.
The captain thought that we might get bored so they put on quizzes and organised a chocolate event. I slunk away for the quizzes and read or wrote elsewhere but I was intrigued by the chocolate. I am a nascent diabetic and alcoholic. I show no signs of being either but I think it is something you have to work on. Chocolate was, as the Incas well knew, the food of the gods. Wine is the drink of the gods.
I was expecting big things. What I got was chocolate cakes in every shape and size. That was OK but I found that there is only so much chocolate that even I could consume.
What I was more taken with were the amazing sculptures the cook put together using fruit and vegetables. He was quite an artist. He also did these remarkable ice sculptures. It was quite incredible, in the heat of the tropical sun, to see a guy attack a block of ice with a knife – ice shards spraying in all directions, and end up with a couple of intertwined birds or fish. He did it so quickly.
There were great sunsets but the journey was choppier than it had been on the way across when the sea had been silken. It seemed troubled. We soon lost the boobies and there were few sightings of whales, turtles or dolphins. But the sun still shone and we were in the tropics. Life was good.
The coffee machine – the most important bit of equipment.
We went up to the bridge and had a go at steering the ship. It was easy. I’d quite like being the captain. You just told people what to do, sat in your seat with your cap on, and everyone did it. From what I could see the boat was being commanded by a young guy with a pair of binoculars.
The radar was good. You could see all around for tens of miles. It could even pick up whales. It confirmed my suspicions. We were all alone in the middle of the Atlantic. There wasn’t even another vessel over the horizon and even the whales had buggered off.
I was suffering from a feeling of despondency. At the beginning of the trip those fifty five days had stretched out before me like an infinite universe. I had not been sure if I would enjoy the motion of the boat, the relentless drone of the engines or being confined to a small ship and the company of an assortment of humanity. I thought I might find the tiny cabin claustrophobic and the endless days boring. But there were the delights of those destinations to look forward to. Well there were lots of things about this trip that I had grown used to and thoroughly enjoyed. I felt as if the cabin was home. The motion of the sea and constant drone was soothing. I had greatly relished having time to read, write and think without the constant distraction of chores or people to contact. In the middle of the ocean you could not communicate with people and if something went wrong at home there was nothing you could do about it. That was a weight lifted. There was a freedom to cruising and being pampered – meals and drinks on demand. I was enjoying it. But we were running out of destinations and soon would be running out of sun.
News back home was of cold, rain and snow.
I sat on the deck with my book, visited the Jacuzzi, wrote a few pages and contemplated our last visit to Brazil – probably the last time we would ever come back.
As we approached Natal the sun was rising, filling the sky with pink, orange and mauve. By the time we were passing under the famous suspension bridge it was already up and the light was bright. The tub brought us in to dock and I peered over the rail. On one side was the sky-scrapers of Natal with its traffic and hordes. On the other was the verdant mangrove swamp. I knew which side I preferred.
We knew what we wanted to do – we were off to see the biggest cashew tree on the planet.
On the way through the city we saw the familiar tall buildings of concrete and glass, the new concrete evangelical churches, and ubiquitous graffiti. Natal looked a bit more prosperous than most places in Brazil. There did not appear to be either shanty towns or favelas – but then perhaps they were in another part that we weren’t driving through.
We headed out of the city on a highway and into green fields and countryside. We stopped briefly to see the Brazilian contribution to the space race. There was a launch site for satellites complete with a very slender missile, which looked little more than one of the ten penny rockets I used to buy as a kid, and a device that looked as if it sent out death rays.
Eventually we reached our tree. It was not quite how I had imagined it but was very impressive none-the-less. The tree was a low sprawling affair – about twenty feet high but covering the area of a football pitch.
We made our way through the myriad of stalls selling everything from snacks, coconut drinks and coffee to cashew nuts and trinkets. There was no time to shop; we had branches to peer at.
There was a path laid out so that you could walk in a circular fashion under the whole tree. Above my head the branches interlaced and dived back to the ground. The tree went on and on, dipping and rising. It was very impressive – like being in the middle of a giant rhododendron bush!
At the end we climbed up on to a platform that enabled us to look out over the whole huge expanse of the tree. It was a great green mass of bright leaves. I bet it produced a pound or two of cashews. There were brown lizards charging around fighting with each other and defending territory. I guess we had come in the mating season!
We sampled a cashew juice drink supposedly high in antioxidants and bought enough cashew nuts to sink the ship. Then we headed for the beach and a welcome cooling coconut or two.
The beach was a long expanse of yellow sand with bright beach umbrellas but of more interest to me was the black volcanic rock that formed reefs at intervals along it.
Back in Natal we went along the beach to the fort that stood at the entrance to the port. There was a shelf of volcanic rock alive with sea birds.
The Atlantic pounded in with crashing rollers that sent spray up into the air. I noticed they had one of those goddesses of the beach here as well.
Perhaps they had them everywhere in Brazil. It was a superstitious country. Those beaches were very beautiful. I wasn’t sure about the way they built their high-rise apartment blocks on the edge of the beaches – but that was Brazil. The temperature was hot – the breeze pleasant – the people friendly. I would have like to have stayed longer and chilled out; to have bathed and soaked it up. I would have liked to have gone inland and checked out the jungle and wild-life. Brazil was a violent place but it was also the place for lovers.
And that was it. Our South American adventure was at an end.
We had three more stops on the way home but they felt to be like fillers. We were leaving Brazil and South America.
Once again the timing was immaculate. There was a party on deck and the samba beat belted out as we glided under that huge suspension bridge. Two little boys were in the middle of that bridge as we passed under and they waved us away. I waved back.
The sun was setting. It was setting on us, on South America and on our voyage.
As we passed I looked back along reef along the beach and the fort where we had walked. I looked back at the bridge as it receded with the sun setting behind it. It seemed appropriate.
I could see that bridge in the orange light for a long, long time.
There were eleven days still to go and three more destinations, that was as much as most people had as a whole vacation, but it felt as if the adventure was already over. we were on the return leg.