It’s a bad idea to shoot terrorists

13 November, 2018

You know, people who are afraid will do pretty much anything. Morality goes out the window. It’s kinda the nature of fear – it shuts off all those higher brain functions that make us civilised. That’s how torture works, you know. It’s not the pain: it’s the fear. That’s what causes wartime atrocities. That, and the predator/prey circuitry in the brain, which is simply the flip side of fear. Every demagogue knows it. It’s a permanent truth of human affairs. The only thing more effective is hunger. Or being smothered.

I have an insight into Islamic extremists that most Australians simply don’t have. I was once sincerely religious. I believed in a literal, actual Hell where God would send people to be burned alive forever. I truly did, I thought it was a real thing.

The fear of that place is the bedrock of religious faith. When everything else is stripped away, all the clever arguments, all the chop-logic, it’s that terrifying thought “but what if it’s all true?” that brings the believer back. When you truly, deeply believe in the reality of hell, the one thing you want more than anything else is simply to not be condemned to go there. It’s a background, an undertone to your whole life. Subliminal. It conditions all your choices. Nothing else really matters, in comparison.

Christianity is a bit different from Islam in a couple of respects. In Christianity, everyone deserves to go to hell. Everyone. Deserves. Because Adam ate the apple. Everyone should go to hell, forever. The situation is so absolute that God had to pull some legal sleight-of-hand to make it possible for people to not go there.

But in Islam, Allah works on sort of a points system. Allah is merciful, Allah is forgiving. You can skip a few prayers and make it up later, no problem. All Allah wants is that you be Islamic enough. The problem being, of course, that you can never really know, never really be sure if you have been Islamic enough for Allah.

So you have these young men, and they have lived a western life – not taking the faith all that seriously, drinking occasionally, not being careful to eat hallal, maybe having sex with western whores, it’s no problem: they’ll make it up later.

And then one day they have a crisis of conscience. Maybe they hear a sermon. Maybe they read the Koran. And it all comes crashing back. Oh shit: I’m going to go to hell.

Happily, there’s one thing that makes up for any amount of sin: being killed while committing jihad.

Those terrorists, they want to die. It’s the whole point of the exercise. They want to get shot by the cops. And they are not doing it to spread Islam, they are not really doing it for ISIS, they are not doing it because it’s right, or holy. They are doing it purely and entirely to get their personal ticket to heaven, to avoid the other place. It’s a deeply selfish act, but that’s the nature of fear. Real, bone-deep, religious fear. They don’t care about anything but avoiding the other place.

Killing them is a bad idea. Because it will not deter the next one: it will encourage them. Nonreligious, or conventionally religious people just don’t get it.

Shoot ’em in the leg. Tase ’em. Tackle ’em. Absolutely do not kill them. No matter how much they deserve it. Lock ’em up for life, and never belive a word they say about promising not to do it again. The only thing that will deter these private acts of jihad will be if jihad doesn’t work.


Some thoughts about Saudi Arabia

23 October, 2018

So, why does the USA cuddle up to Saudi Arabia, a nation whose state religion is a form of Islam that requires the death or forced conversion of everyone who isn’t a Muslim? How come eleven (?) Saudis, organised by a the son of a Saudi millionaire, fly a plane into the WTC and damn near manage to fly planes into the Pentagon and the White House, and Bush sends the army to attack – wait for it – Iraq? Why did Obama have to go to Saudi Arabia and kiss ass?

It’s about the oil, dummy. It always was. It really is that simple.

The oil under the sands of the Arabian Peninsula is the greatest material prize in human history. If we discover Lasseter’s Reef, all that will happen is that the price of gold will nosedive. Gold isn’t all that useful. But oil – oil is another story. Never mind the energy – where do you think plastics come from? Fertilizer? You think we want to go back to making things out of wood and sheetmetal? You think we want to return to an age when almost everyone was engaged in simply growing the food?

Back in the 1950’s, the USA purchased it. Made a trade for it. The oil. All the oil. Oh sure, they didn’t take delivery right away, but what they bought was a right to unlimited amounts of the stuff. The deal was: the Sauds would sell their oil only in US dollars (which the reserve bank of the USA prints out of thin air for nothing), and would invest their profits only in US treasuries (a debt that you never have to make good is no debt at all, and in any case US treasuries have been paying 0% for over a decade).

In return, the USA would provide the House of Saud with “security”. That’s the USA’s main export, you know. “Security”. The wars are trade shows. The military bases are shop-fronts. All selling “security”. And what might “security” be? It’s when someone agrees to kill your enemies for you. Oh, and also to not kill you. Call it “protection”, if you like.

That’s why “gas” in the USA is so cheap – they are always shocked at the price of petrol when they come overseas.

This isn’t some conspiracy theory, by the way. It’s well-established history. The US/Saudi agreement established the “petrodollar”, on which the whole economy of the late 20th century was based. You have heard the term, right? It is totally a thing.

But, there’s a couple of things going down at present. First, Saudi Arabia will run out of the stuff – God isn’t making any more at present. Oh, there’s still plenty left, but we can see the horizon. The day will come – maybe in our lifetimes – when SA can no longer uphold its end of the deal.

Second, the USA has been busy losing wars for several decades, now. Turns out that you can’t actually defeat a modern nation by anything short of genocide. The days are long gone when defeating a nation was a matter of forcing its king to bend the knee and job done. Genocide, you know, is an expensive affair when the people you are trying to genocide shoot back and plant IEDs (unlike German Jews, or Tasmanian Aboriginies). That is: it’s starting to look like the USA can’t hold up its end of the deal either. Gays and women in the military (something abhorrent to Islam), and Central Americans streaming over the undefended US border. It’s not a good look, you know?

Machiavelli said that the primary concern of the Prince is war. If you can’t warfight (as they put it these days), then you don’t have a principate. Or an empire, as the case may be.

The USA has unrivalled control of airspace. How much gas, do you think, does a fighter jet or a bomber consume? How much diesel does an aircraft carrier – let alone a carrier group – chew through every minute? How much does a tank, an APC, a chopper need? And how much do you need to run the generators that power the electronic frippery that no modern infantryman can fight without?

Oh sure, if the price of oil rose dramatically, the USA and the west could still afford to field an army and blow the shit out of places that choose to diss us. Or can we? Can we really? Money, money, money – it’s seriously a thing. “Gold is the sinews of war”. Machiavelli disagreed, but he may have been wrong about that one.

So Trump can pound the table about whathisface the journalist, but the USA cannot break its symbiosis with Saudi Arabia. Not without doing it the hard way (or inventing Mr Fusion – the power source of the future).

But neither can King Whatshisname turn off the spigot, or raise the price to $400 a barrel (same thing, really) as he has threatened to do. Because the West must have its oil, the military must have its oil, and if the Saudis attempt to withhold it in any serious way, we will just fucking come and take it. If the deal is off, then that means the deal is off, doesn’t it? Kinda important, when one of the terms of the deal is “protection” and you yourself are a family man.

Oh sure, these days it wouldn’t be as overt as that. There’ll be a “Color Revolution” or some shit. But that’s how it is, and everyone who pays attention knows it. Remember Saddam Hussein, who decided to try to sell his oil to the Europeans in Euros? Yeah. That.

This will all simmer down and be forgotten. So what if the Saudis decided to off some dissident, and a whole bunch of people are upset about it? Neither side can actually do anything about it, public outrage notwithstanding. Happily, people are fickle, stupid, and have short memories. It will go the way of all the other crises.

The world will just keep rolling on exactly like it is until the oil runs out, or the USA cannot field an effective fighting force, or someone actually does invent Mr Fusion.

Everyone who pays attention knows it.


Environmentalism, Tony Abbot, and Satan.

11 October, 2017

A friend asked me for my perspective on this:

“Primitive people once killed goats to appease the volcano gods. We’re more sophisticated now but are still sacrificing our industries and our living standards to the climate gods to little more effect,”

Tony Abbot, reported by The Age.

My reply (which could stand a little editing):

I expect you are asking me specifically because of my past religious background, so I’ll add a perspective from that POV.

Some fundamentalist Christians see in environmentalism a strand of nature-worship. This may be understood as a philosophical pantheism, or a more naive tree-worship. There’s also an equivocation between the “paganism” of the modern hippie and ancient greco-roman “paganism”. They aren’t really the same thing at all, but we call them the same thing. And a person who isn’t a terribly clear thinker easily conflates pantheism with worship of the greek god Pan.

But so what? So what if Greenies think trees are nice? So what if some of ’em have Viking rune tattoos?

It’s important to understand that a fundamentalist christian believes that demonic spirits are literally real. Jesus cast demons out of people. Now, either Jesus was wrong, or demons are actually a thing. There a story of Jesus fasting for 40 days in the desert and being personally tempted by Satan. The story is clearly, clearly allegorical, but the biblical literalist takes the position that if this story was meant to be understood allegorically, God would have told us so.

The ancient Christians believed that the miracles of the pagans were perfectly real, and accomplished by demonic power. Fundies more-or-less regard anything in the least bit “spiritual” that isn’t christian to be of the devil. Whether the gods of Greece and Rome, or the vague woo-woo of the hippies, it’s all demons. When a hippie talks about a sense of connection with nature, they are being connected to the devil.

Fundamentalist Christians see “spirits” everywhere. This modern notion that we ought have a care for the natural world is probably spirits, which is to say demons. It’s all part of the same old big ball of wax that Jesus came to deliver us from. We know it’s spiritual because it’s about values. The abstract idea that values like environmentalism are spiritual and the more concrete idea that the Druids were in literally contact with actual, real demons gets all muddled up and stuck together in a big tangled mess of worrying ideas. (A person who believes in devils is afraid all the time, despite their protestations that their faith in Jesus keeps them safe from them. It’s a constant undercurrent of worry, especially for parents.)

The general notion that science is a good thing, also, is a spiritual force in our society. “Science” itself is a spirit, perhaps. Or perhaps blind trust in science – scientism, if you like – is a spirit, a great evil spirit sort of hovering in the air over humanity. An evil spirit clearly of the devil, because we should be putting our trust in Jesus alone. From it springs a multitude of lies, perhaps the greatest being that we don’t really have eternal spirits and that the devil is not real.

I appreciate that none of this makes much sense, that there’s a truckload of non sequitur in all this mess. But it doesn’t have to make sense. These are fragmentary ideas in the minds of (many? most?) Christians and especially fundamentalist Christians. Remember that most people are not terribly bright. [edit – perhaps what I really meant here was that most people are intellectually lazy, and perhaps what I mean by that is that I was]

This next bit is important, and perhaps I should edit this mail to make it more central:

Fundamentalist, biblical literalist Christians are creationists. The bible says what it says about where the world came from. In order to believe in creationism, you must conclude that the theory of evolution is wrong, or a lie. Consequently, creationists must and do believe that the scientific community is committing a fraud against all of humanity. And has been for hundreds of years. The idea that “science” is actually a vast conspiracy to deceive humanity is not new. It was not invented recently in reply to this latest climate science business. It’s as old as Gallileo and Newton. I mean, sure – not every scientist is an active conspirator. Some are misinformed by other scientsts (we all know that those white-coats are intelligent only in their specific area, and outside that they are absent-minded fools, unlike us reglar folks who have common sense). Some are mistaken. Most are just going along with the general consensus. But “the general consensus” is, of course, a spirit. The bible speaks of a “spirit of the age”. And it all comes back to The Devil.

Now, not all fundies take the whole thing as seriously as all that. And many who do literally belive this stuff don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about the implications of it all. But these ideas are all part of the package, the big old mess of ideas sloshing around in the Hillsonger’s brain pan.

So we get to Tony Abbot, who is not a Hillsonger but is a Roman Catholic. There’s what the americans call a “dog-whistle” in this message – something that is heard by the people that it’s intended for, and is inaudible to anyone else. And that dog-whistle is the charge that environmentalism and the climate science establishment is literally Satanic. Literally motivated and orchestrated by The Devil. Ol’ Scratch. Lucifer himself. Really.

Sure, it’s a long stretch to cast coal-fired electricity plants as fighting the good fight on the side of God against the general corruption of the age. Ludicrous, when you think about it, particularly given Jesus’ views on excessive wealth. The trick, as always, is not to think about it, but to know it. What Orwell called “bellyfeel”, what Steve Colbert calls “truthiness”, what the average Christian calls “knowing it in your heart”. You just know by faith that those greenie ideas are all from the devil, and so we should dig up and burn more coal just to spit in the devil’s eye as much as for any other reason.