Why I bother (a very merry Radically Atheist Christmas)

christmas-lights31

For a teetotal halfway-to-vegetarian rejecter of all things consumerist, I actually quite like Christmas

On a good day, my strange lifestyle is a semi-successful attempt to boycott the worst bits of ecocidal consumer capitalism. And at this time of year, more people than usual ask me why I bother.

That’s probably because more people than usual notice it. Normally very much off the radar as far as most people I know are concerned, at Christmas the whole political extremist thing surfaces in polite society like a hippy-communist submarine – “how’s the Christmas shopping going?” “I don’t do any”, et cetera.

So. Why am I so cynical/miserable/judgemental/extreme/anti-fun/generally intent on making life more difficult for myself than it needs to be? Continue reading

Radical Atheism and Human Suffering

kevin-carter-vulture Further to last month’s introductory bit on Radical Atheism, the rubbish new secular belief system we recently made up – a post on Radical Atheism and human suffering.

There’s probably not a god. Life has no big, grand, capitalise-able ‘Meaning’. It’s just physics and biology. Humans are just sacks of chemical reactions. But there’s still right and wrong. And it’s intimately linked to our millennia-spanning pedigree as social animals.

It’s bad to hurt others. It’s good to help others. And it’s bad not to help others when you can help others. Without those basic moral precepts, humanity wouldn’t have survived anywhere near this long. For prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies, hyper-individualism wasn’t an option. You helped each other out, played fairly, shared the spoils equally. Or you died. For 90% of human history, nearly two hundred thousand years, that’s how we lived – millions of years if you count the earlier hominids we evolved from. And it was that social, co-operative lifestyle that the species uniquely adapted to suit. It fundamentally shaped what we are, and what humans need to life emotionally healthy, fulfilling lives.

Radical Atheism is about taking that basic morality – and the implications of atheism more generally – to radical conclusions. If it’s got a central, overriding belief, it’s this: that in an incalculably vast, godless, meaningless universe, the only thing left that really matters is human suffering. Continue reading

You Can’t Win: Charlotte Church and The Logical Gymnastics of the Sociopath Right

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Russell Brand at Saturday’s demo

Those text-on-picture memes that clog up the internet and mean nobody has to think of anything themselves any more are generally very annoying, but a few manage to be quite good. One currently doing the rounds quotes dead Canadian economist J.K. Galbraith: “the modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy – the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness”.

After last Saturday’s End Austerity Now demo in London, the Right did an excellent job of proving Galbraith’s observation still applies. Taking to their computers in droves, irate right-wingers condemned any and everyone who took part in the event – but saved particular disdain for Charlotte Church and other celebrity leftists who turned up.

In doing so, they demonstrated their usual logical flexibility when it comes to attacking egalitarians. If you’re poor and you complain about a politics scandalously tilted in favour of the richest, you’re jealous – engaging in divisive class warfare, being anti-enterprise, threatening Britain’s future prosperity. If you’re rich, and you do the same, you’re a hypocritical champagne socialist – the implication being that you can only complain about capitalism if you’re poor. Except you can’t, because then you’re engaging in divisive class warfare, being anti-enterprise, and threatening Britain’s future prosperity. Continue reading

Radical Atheism #01: The Church of the Friendly Apes

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Radical Atheism, the exciting new non-religion I’ve just made up, is the belief that a) there probably isn’t a god, an afterlife, or anything beyond the material, and b) that this has radical implications for the way we live and societies are organised.

Atheism implies an acceptance of the scientific understanding of the world, and how it, humanity, everything alive and everything full stop came about. Obviously, a lot of people can now tell you the basics of evolution, and they know that the universe wasn’t made in seven days four thousand years ago in some celestial Craig David video. But it’s clear from the way we continue to act that we haven’t really comprehended any of that at all.

Many religious accounts told people they were made by an all-seeing deity, and that life on earth was an extended afterlife-entrance exam. In secular society, not all that much has changed. Less people believe god made them and that heaven’s waiting for them than ever before, and life is now seen as a lovely theme park for their personal enjoyment rather than a test. But the idea that the individual is colossally important remains – arguably, it’s now even more prevalent, and not reined in by the moral compulsion to be compassionate that characterised religion at its best.

Mainstream atheism is shallow and individualistic. Often, it’s used as a sort of moral-philosophical Get Out Of Jail Free card: you’ve decided there’s no god, there’s no heaven, so you don’t have to worry about big ethical questions anymore. All that matters now is you – your life, your family, your career prospects. You’ve been issued your guilt-free hyper-individualism license by the universe, and can happily get on with buying things you don’t need and helping consume the planet to extinction. Continue reading

Charlie Hebdo and our erratic internationalism

Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo

This week, something horrible happened. In Paris, France, three armed men arrived at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo – the closest English equivalent would probably be Private Eye – and shot 12 people dead. The perpetrators, one in custody, two still at large (Edit: now dead, shot by police), are apparently French-Algerian Islamic extremists.

There are already reports of firebomb attacks on mosques, as the logically challenged exact ‘revenge’. In fact, as anyone level-headed knows very well, the jihadis are about as representative of mainstream Islam as Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Brievik is of mainstream Christianity. Grimly, given the ever-provocative magazine’s staunchly leftist editorial stance, the only person likely to do well out of all this is Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s neo-Nazi Front National.

But now comes the delicate bit. In the 48 hours since the atrocity was committed, a wave of international solidarity has rolled France-ward. World leaders rightly condemned the terrorists. Social media rightly abounded with Spartacus-style ‘I Am Charlie Hedbo’ hash-tags. And left-wingers shuffled precariously along the moral tightrope, rightly expressing their solidarity with the French, but rightly pointing out that radical Islamism is just a fanatical, ultra-conservative backlash to decades of Western abuse in the Arab world. Continue reading

Doing It For The Kids: The Environment, The Future, and Whether They Have One

Melting polar ice caps

Melting polar ice caps

Modern mummies and daddies pedestal their progeny to an almost nauseating degree – but without radical change, there won’t be much of a world left for them to inherit.

We’re living in a society where people obsessively dote on their children. Contrary to what practically everyone seems to think, that’s not a good thing. It’s not the doting itself that’s the problem, of course – that’s natural. It’s the extent of it, and what that means for everyone else in the world.

Dismayingly often, modern parenting boils down to prioritising your own little brood over everyone else’s little brood, if not the rest of the species. “You-and-your-family” politics was re-established with a vengeance back in the 1980s, but it’s been hammered ever deeper into the popular consciousness by every government since. It’s pure Thatcherism – really just the cuddlier-sounding flip-side of “there’s no such thing as society”. Strip away the frilly language and you’re left with the “fuck you, buddy” individualism of countries where any notion of social responsibility beyond your own four walls has been decisively smashed. Let the other poor saps’ kids drown – we’ll put little Billy through private school so he’ll come out ultra-competitive/emotionally stunted enough to make it big in market society, while doing his bit to perpetuate horrific social inequality.

Of course, it’s quite a lot to ask of parents to think of other people’s children when they’re proving so spectacularly bad at thinking of their own. They keep popping out sprogs left, right and centre – but most pay startlingly little attention to the world they’re bringing the poor things into. Continue reading

London Isn’t Very Equal (Part Three) – Canary Wharf

The oligarch's den

The oligarch’s den

Click here for Part One.

… and here for Part Two.

Our unexpectedly politicised amble around the capital had been equal parts fascinating and grim, but it was time to go. The rubbery sandwiches on the coach back to Somerset weren’t going to eat themselves.

Despite our rampaging cynicism, The Bemolution is a sucker for a poetic conclusion. And of all the places we could’ve ended our London adventure, a climactically big square surrounded by international banks seemed especially apt considering everything we’d seen, thought and talked about along the way.

It was completely by accident. We thought we’d try and squeeze in a last rendezvous with a third friend – sassy and savage-witted writer type from home, spent two maddening years bombarding the capital with fruitless job applications, finally got hired and is now doing quite well – before making a mad dash across London to catch the last escape pod out of Hammersmith Bus Station. Travelling to meet her in Greenwich, our witless provincial brain almost overloaded trying to work out where the Jubilee Line met the DLR – you have to physically leave one station at Canary Wharf and walk to another, it took us an embarrassingly long time to realise. And as we glided ethereally up the escalator and emerged from the glass Teletubby dome of the station entrance, it suddenly hit us that Canary Wharf was that Canary Wharf. Continue reading