Dumb Atheists

I’ve encountered a couple of interesting stats about the British people lately. The most recent was that, according to some humanist survey, the majority of Brits are now non-religious. I greet this as good news, but I’m far less excited about it than I might have been a few years ago. The second stat, heard on a radio science programme, was that science literacy (however that was defined) has long remained around the 10% mark in the UK (as well as in the US).

Those two numbers seem to be a mismatch. I’ve long assumed, till recently, that atheists and the scientifically literate comprise roughly the same group of people. But it seems not. Certainly, most science-educated people are atheists; but that apparently doesn’t work in reverse.

I like to define science as the art of separating fact from fiction. A grounding in science allows you to quickly take a fact, assess its likelihood of being true, and then find the evidence to confirm or overturn your original assumption. Today, a scientific/reasoned approach (I use the terms interchangeably), allows one to plough through the piles of crap friends post on Facebook and decide how ludicrous each post is.

Judging from my own Facebook feed, the rise in atheism has not been accompanied by a rise in reason. A handful of my friends do post religious messages, but in terms of their dumbness, these are benign next to the other things I regularly see. What’s annoying and even frightening is that a high proportion of my friends subscribe to mythology in some way, and mostly it has nothing to do with a belief in God. Many of the new myths revolve around some badly defined, shadowy force, which secretly runs the world. For some, it’s the Illuminati or the New World Order. For others, it’s Big Pharma, genetic modication, the Davos summit. For feminists, its Patriarchy. Other are worried about the Zionist media, or the white supremacist hierarchy… the list is endless. Then choose from a series of conspiracies: apparently someone is using planes to put (undefined) poisonous chemicals into the air – you thought those contrails were just condensed water? No, they’re actually chemtrails! Sodium fluoride isn’t put into water to improve dental health: No! it’s a neurotoxin! Vaccines are being used to poison our kids! Fruit and veg can cure cancer, which means that actual cancer medicine (you know, the kind that works) is part of some kind of plot to poison us. Evolution messed up and so we need to consciously detox our bodies. The white man is hiding the Truth that Jesus was black! 9/11 didn’t happen! Muslims are [insert your favourite Islamic threat here]. Someone invented an engine that runs on urine but Big Oil is suppressing it! Patriarchy is simultaneously promoting nude imagery to degrade women, and banning nude imagery to prevent female empowerment (depending which type of feminist you are).

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins points out that 95% of people simply adopt the religion of their parents. He doesn’t point out though that it works the other way too. Once most people disbelieve in any god, so will their children. Humans are herd animals, and once atheist beliefs become dominant, the majority will quickly decide to be atheists. We appear to have reached that tipping point in the UK. There are additional incentives to adopt an atheist viewpoint: many on the far-right now use atheism as a stick with which to beat Muslims. I suspect atheist Nazis once used a similar tactic to attack Jews. Hence, it’s premature to celebrate the ascent of atheism as a sign that reason is also on the rise; on the contrary, it appears that reason is going through a particularly bad patch right now.

So Dawkins and his militant atheists have declared war on the wrong target. Religion has been in long-term decline for centuries, without their help. The decline has accelerated in recent decades as ideas have spread more quickly. But religious ideas have just morphed into new forms, the most dangerous of which are widespread within parts of academia, and on the liberal left, and are thus fashionable. Science denial has updated itself, and is alive and well. It’s fun – and easy – to attack creationism, but this misses the point. Creationism is a hangover of ancient, dying belief systems. It’s far harder, and much braver to take on the new dogmas.

Just like religion of old, the new dogmas are highly intolerant of heresy. Ask a fundamentalist why evil exists, and the (non-)explanation is: the Devil. People who would laugh at the invocation of Satan will happily invoke modern satans. I’ve seen “skeptics” invoke a modern devil, the Patriarchy (“the” is optional) to explain away differences between male and female behaviours that already have perfectly strong explanations in evolutionary biology and genetics. Today, it is heresy to suggest that “outdated gender stereotypes” are the result of evolution. “Biological determinism” (a term created by feminists to attack biological science that contradicts feminist dogma) is sneered at by postmodern fundamentalists, just as evolution is dismissed as nonsense by religious fundamentalists.

This now means that any attempt to explain human behaviour via evolution is attacked by many “liberals”. Just as creationists once claimed that humans are fundamentally different from the other animals, so now do many on the secular left. The academic “gender expert” who denies “biological determinism” is taking a creationist position that’s been updated for the 21st century. Both belief sets assume that we have some kind of essence (or perhaps soul) that can be separated from our physical self. That we can deny our underlying nature by some form of magical intervention. This new religious ideology underlies modern attempts to suppress human sexuality. Just as Christians claim that monogamy is a natural state of affairs (because God created humans, and he wouldn’t have made us promiscuous, would he?) so the conservative left attacks expressions of human promiscuity from pornography to sex work. Many skeptics laugh at the religious preacher who says that the female form is dangerous and must be covered up. And then applaud the feminist campaigner who uses very different words to say exactly the same thing, with an equal lack of supporting evidence.

How bizarre, and depressing, that science today comes under its strongest attacks from the secular left, not the (comical) religious right. Those who thought that eradicating religion would lead to a rise in reason (me included) have been proven wrong. So this is a call to skeptics and militant atheists: leave the old religions alone – they’re dying, albeit slowly. If you’re feeling brave, take on the dangerous new dogmas instead. You could start by questioning a friend’s belief in the Patriarchy. But be prepared to be burned at the stake.

How To Deal With UKIP: Yes, Let’s Talk About Immigration

A month ago, I was at a weekend music festival with seven friends, all black (as I’ve explained before, I’ve long been accustomed to the role of token whitey). Misreading a headline on my phone, I announced that Jeremy Clarkson had been sacked by the BBC for – allegedly – mouthing the word “nigger”. My friends’ reaction was an immediate groan: yet another dumb, politically-correct decision made by rich white people in the name of protecting the feelings of black people. It’s not, of course, that black people enjoy being racially abused: but such abuse is, in fact, incredibly rare. There is a huge difference between having “nigger” shouted at you in the street by a stranger and having it said as part of a nursery rhyme. This is a difference that black people tend to understand, and the white middle classes tend not to. Similarly, no black people (to my knowledge) were offended when a radio DJ accidentally played a tune containing the word (for which he was sacked) or when a One Direction band member affectionately called a friend “nig”.

Let’s not be under any illusion: the white media and political establishment has not, all of a sudden, become the champion of black people’s feelings. Indeed, by blurring the lines between genuine race hate and words that they deem to be “racist”, they are setting back the cause of race relations by years. When I attended marches and came face-to-face with the thugs of the National Front, Combat 18, the British Movement and the British National Party, I don’t remember being supported by hordes of Oxbridge-educated BBC executives; and yet today, the white British elite dares to tell me, and others who risked our necks to clear racism from our streets, what words we may or may not use, regardless of the context.

There is no such thing as a “racist word”. There is racism for sure, and there are words that might have racist connotations depending on context, but in their irrational fetishisation of mere words, politically-correct cretins have opened the door wide for racists to operate with free rein. The rise of political correctness – which is itself a politically-correct term for censorship – has been a victory for the far right.

UKIP can thank the white middle-class left for its rise. Nigel Farage must laugh daily at the ease with which he can navigate the rules of political correctness: each time a UKIP councillor says a “racist word”, he expels them. And yet he can easily formulate genuinely racist messages that pass the moronic PC check-list. Whether Farage himself is racist (he probably is) is irrelevant. What’s important is that he has mastered what the Americans call “dog-whistle politics”. He is the master of rallying society’s bigots without breaching the “don’t say naughty words” rules. Can’t say “nigger” or “paki”? No problem – just hint that the “complexion” of our society is changing, or that “somebody” from “somewhere” is taking your job.

What is most perplexing is that the left’s spokespeople on race are those members of society that have the least experience of it. The white middle classes are the most ignorant on racial matters; and yet, because the middle class possesses an immense self-confidence in its own abilities (and quietly scorns the lower classes that it claims to defend), somehow the liberal narrative on race and immigration has been written by those who least understand these issues.

When I was active in the anti-racist movement, it wasn’t like this. The unions formed the bedrock of the mainstream left, and unions (love them or loathe them) were the very bodies that encompassed working people of all races. Long before the ascent of moronic political correctness, the most powerful black man in Britain was Bill Morris, who led the mighty Transport and General Workers’ Union and then the Trades Union Congress.

The Blairification of the Labour Party made the party acceptable to the middle classes, and won it a generation in power; but simultaneously, it removed the party from its bedrock working class support. Now, none of the big parties could understand working class resentments, and now, UKIP has filled the vacuum.

Today, political leaders are being urged to “talk about immigration”: but this is euphemism for accepting the far-right position that immigration has damaged society, and must be reined in. Yes, we must have an honest discussion about immigration if we are to see off the rising threat from the far right: and for that to happen, the moronic censorship rules of political correctness must be stripped away. The narrative must be wrenched away from pompous, privileged commentators and the voices of those who have been most affected by immigration must be heard.

Let’s talk about immigration.

Fact 1: Immigration changes working class communities

When, a century ago, Jews flooded into the East End of London, the locals had never encountered anything like them. They were alien people with strange ways of talking, a bizarre religion, and weird food. Despite being white, they clearly looked different from English locals. The animosity that flared between Jews and locals was hardly surprising. Of course, the upper classes scorned the fascist street thugs; but they also scorned the Jews. The same happened in the 1950s, when certain, poor parts of British cities – such as Notting Hill and Brixton – rapidly filled up with black people. The Notting Hill race riots of 1958 blew up because poor white people were confronted with a culture they had never encountered, and left by the establishment to deal with it. The problem was solved, not by PC language policing imposed from above, but by the community itself. The Notting Hill Carnival (in my humble opinion, the world’s best party) is the lasting result of that. The same happened in Bradford in 2001, when working class communities had to deal with an influx of Asians. Communities can resolve these problems, so long as government responds to ensure that housing, health and education services cope with the new population. Political correctness makes the problem worse: When the sneering PC response is to tell people not to say “Paki”, when they are facing rapid changes to their communities and ways of life, the effect is to drive traditional Labour voters to embrace the far-right.

The message: yes, immigration has directly affected your community. This doesn’t make immigration a bad thing, but the authorities must take heed of your worries and problems.

Fact 2: Non-white people can be racist

Perhaps the single most ludicrous position of the politically-correct elite is to declare that only white people can be racist. This point (rightly) enrages people who live in areas of high immigration, and know from their own experiences that white people can be, and are, the targets of bigotry. It is a statement that can only be made by privileged white people who have had little, if any, contact with black or Asian communities. If any single sentence can be blamed for the rise of the BNP, the EDL and UKIP, it is this one. The truth is simple: some people are hateful morons, and those people exist in every community. To decide that a violent assault is more or less acceptable depending on who threw the punch, and who received it, is the height of idiotic thinking; and yet this appears to be the default position of today’s left. Those white people like me, who have spent much of their lives as a white minority in black communities know that there are a few people who hate us for the colour of our skin, not the content of our minds. When many Somalis migrated to the UK, it was primarily the black British community that resented their arrival, and violence between the groups was common. When I was at school, some black people turned on “Pakis”, pleased to find common cause with white skinheads. Many people in mixed relationships have learned that they experience far more bigotry from black people than from whites. This isn’t the “understandable” result of “racial oppression”, as too many white liberals appear to believe. It’s racism.

The message: No group is free from racial bigotry. Any victim of racism is as worthy of support as any other. This includes white people.

Fact 3: Free speech is ESSENTIAL

As the left has become increasingly dominated by the white middle classes, its messages have become increasingly ludicrous, and irrelevant to society as a whole. The new generation of left-wing journalists is called upon to comment on everything. Privileged white Oxbridge graduates from the shires write comment pieces on every subject under the sun, including race – a subject with which they surely have little direct experience. Even when they attempt to take on board working class views, they come across as patronising and ignorant. When editors select black commentators, they tend to pick those who will repeat the standard white narrative. The banning of “offensive” words has crippled the ability of the left to counter the UKIP threat. I urge those with politically-correct sensibilities to listen to the excellent N Word from the rap artist Greydon Square. As the introduction says: “There is no such thing as the N Word… the word is Nigger… how can we get past the word when we can’t even say it?”

The message: UKIP will not be countered by banning words. Political correctness has been the greatest friend of the far-right. It must go.

Fact 4: Some people have been disadvantaged by immigration

Economists are clear: immigration is a boon to economies. London, by far the greatest home to immigrants in the UK, is also by far the wealthiest city. This is not a coincidence. However, there have been both winners and losers. A bricklayer friend was clear to me that his wages dropped after mass immigration began from Poland. Prostitutes tell a similar story. This is not a reason to stop immigration; but the authorities must respond, identify those people who have lost out, and find strategies to help them. Scrapping university tuition fees for affected groups might be one of many ways to address the problem. One of the many disastrous legacies of Blairism was to close the door to working class people entering higher education.

The message: We accept immigration has not been a win for everyone.

Fact 5: Immigration is a good thing: long may it continue!

And once we’ve dispensed with the mealy-mouthed bullshit that has characterised the race debate for decades, we can make our case loud and clear. Immigration has enriched our culture. Immigration has enriched our economy. Sure, there have been inevitable cultural clashes, but these can be managed, as such clashes have been in the past. Yes, there have been losers, but we are richer as a society, and can afford the welfare state and education system that we need to fix these short-term problems. But ultimately immigration can and will continue, and will continue to make our country a better place to live. Let’s face it: much of the UKIP vote came from people least affected by mass migration. It came from the whitest areas of the country, and the older, more conservative individuals. It is an ultra-conservative reaction to inevitable change. We can sympathise with those who fear change, while pointing out that they’re wrong, they’re ignorant, and they will inevitably lose.

The message: It’s time to man the barricades. The right is on the march; it’s time to let Labour die, and create a muscular new left that can counter it.

Nigeria’s Disaster Porn

There’s no doubt you’ve heard about the shocking kidnap of over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls by the moronic rebel group Boko Haram. This is one of those rare catastrophes that captures Western public attention. In part, this illustrates a positive trend: a mere generation ago, few people cared what happened in far away lands. But nothing is far away any more. Everything is within the reach of live satellite broadcast and the Internet reaches ever further. The empathy we once reserved for our close neighbours is now extended globally. Humans are becoming more caring.

But this doesn’t explain the focus on this particular incident. The kidnap and enslavement of the girls is doubtless horrific. The likelihood that they are being sexually and physically abused makes the episode even more sickening. But kidnaps in Nigeria are daily events: over 25,000 have been recorded in the past couple of decades.

My own Facebook news-feed has been filled with outrage of various kinds. Friends of mine who never normally protest have gathered in solidarity at the Nigerian embassy. Moronic rumours have been spread. From some black friends, the insinuation that the world isn’t paying enough attention because the girls are black. I’ve even seen the suggestion that Boko Haram are part of a CIA plot – thus neatly reviving the afrocentric meme that everything bad that takes place in Africa is somehow the fault of foreigners. Meanwhile, at least three of my white friends have taken to spreading far-right anti-Muslim propaganda, focusing on the fact that Boko Haram is an extremist Islamic group (but not the fact that most northern Nigerians, and many of the kidnapped girls, are Muslim, or that such episodes frequently happen in Christian regions too).

Of course, to Western eyes, this incident is a big deal. But everything is relative, and by the standards of much of what takes place in Africa, this is a minor thing. For years, the Democratic Republic of Congo has experienced warfare and terror. Six million people are said to have died there, and mass kidnaps and rapes are commonplace. Not so long ago, 48 women per hour were estimated to have been raped (and many men also have been raped). Yet this failed to catch public attention. Of my own Facebook friends, only one regularly posted about this, and she is of Congolese background.

Genocide has been raging across Sudan for years, and since the country split into two, South Sudan is now undergoing a new wave of genocide. Women and girls are kidnapped, raped and murdered in far greater numbers than in Nigeria. Yet this has failed to capture public interest.

It’s not just Africa: Sri Lanka just five years ago, an estimated 40,000 civilians were slaughtered, and hundreds of thousands rounded up into camps, where many still remain. Rape and summary execution has been recorded on a huge scale.

But not, apparently, on a big enough scale to warrant a hashtag.

So why is this event different from the others? In the case of my own Facebook feed, there are a couple of obvious reasons. I have a number of British-Nigerian friends, and it seems obvious that they will be interested in this. Also, given the dominance of Nigerians in today’s black British culture, many of my other black friends also feel close to the issue. Meanwhile, Sudanese people play little, if any, part in black British culture, so few people here are aware or interested in the South Sudan events.

But the fascination with this kidnap is global. Michelle Obama has expressed her outrage (though cynics have been quick to point out that her own husband’s foreign policy has slaughtered far more children than Boko Haram ever could). The British and Israeli governments have offered military support. And of course, both Britain and Israel have long records of providing international humanitarian support without asking for anything in return*.

The politically-correct and the far-right are united in presenting this as an unusual situation; the former are terrified to generalise about African human rights abuses; the latter are determined to blame this on Islamism, and add to the growing demonisation of Muslims around the world.

But the plain fact is that this is one of a long string of similar incidents in Africa, both in Muslim and Christian regions. African conflicts from Biafra to Congo to Sierra Leone to Sudan to Uganda are routinely characterised by mass abductions, child soldiers, industrial-scale rape and slavery.

Given the incompetence and corruption of Nigeria’s military and government, there is a strong argument for Western intervention to help find and free the girls, but we should not try to pretend that such interventions are primarily motivated by the fate of a couple of hundred girls. So why this place and this time?

To say “oil” would miss the point. Nigerian oil is already flowing freely to the West, and many billions of dollars of revenue are flowing into Nigeria… much of which then finds its way into Swiss bank accounts (this fact alone provides a far better explanation for Nigerian instability than the “Islamism did it” theory). The true explanation for the West’s sudden interest in African human rights is even simpler.

It’s The Economy Stupid

Last month, Nigeria’s GDP suddenly grew by 89%, catapulting the country ahead of South Africa to become the continent’s wealthiest, as the result of a long-overdue recalculation. Nigeria’s economy is now more than a fifth the size of the UK’s and is growing much faster. The West, long used to dismissing Africa as an economic irrelevance, and captivated by Asian and Brazilian growth, has only just woken up to a key fact: Africa is finally joining the big boys. By mid-century, Nigeria’s population will be bigger than America’s and (all being well) its economy will outstrip many Western ones.

Investors around the world want a piece of the action; but the instability of the country, and its neighbours, adds serious risk to any investment. If Nigeria wants to secure its place at the table of leading nations, it will need to play by global rules. It will need to ensure that taxes are collected, and that they’re spent on public services and infrastructure. It will need to accept that global economies don’t have most of their citizens living on less than $2 per day, and start distributing the nation’s wealth more fairly. It will need to adopt global human rights standards. Western liberals will need to swallow their dislike of “cultural imperialism”, if it means an end to child soldiers and slavery.

The kidnap of the schoolgirls is nothing new, but it might be the last straw. To focus on this one incident alone might be hypocritical, but if it is the catalyst that brings about African progress, it’s worth it.

*Sarcasm alert

Maria Miller, the Expenses “Scandal” and the Assault on Democracy

Knives are out today for the Culture Secretary Maria Miller. Having been caught over-claiming expenses, and forced to pay back £5,800, her latest crime was to issue an apology that was only 32 seconds in length. The public loves the spectacle of MPs, and especially ministers, in discomfort, and the press is unrelenting in pursuing this important story.

Except, it’s not an important story at all. Since the entire scandal over MPs’ expenses blew up in 2009, the press has revelled in its supposed assault on parliamentary corruption. But the biggest story to emerge was how tiny the extent of the corruption was, amounting to a mere £1m in total. Much of this was not really corrupt at all: MPs, having had their pay driven down in recent years, had been given a wink that they could use the expenses system to make up some of the difference. Only in a handful of cases was there a suspicion of criminal activity.

With honest reporting, the outcome would have been a handful of prosecutions, a review of MPs’ pay (which would probably have concluded that they are somewhat underpaid for what they do), and some national back-patting to congratulate ourselves on having one of the least corrupt political systems on the planet.

Instead, the incident has been endlessly replayed, twisted and exaggerated. I’m no fan of Maria Miller or her government, but I would point out that her original “crime” was almost insignificant; and pursuing her now on the basis that her apology was too short is pathetic.

Why has the scandal been so over-exaggerated? Because it has been used as an assault on our Parliament and our democracy. Five years of endless repetition have left the public with the idea that our parliamentary system is rotten to the core. It is one of a number of essentially false stories that are being used to weaken faith in democratic government.

Combine MPs’ expenses with other popular, but untrue memes: that the Labour government crashed the economy (actually this was caused by bad lending in the US); that the UK’s national debt level is unsustainable (it’s high but we could have paid it down without the need for Osborne’s cuts); and that open borders with the EU have somehow caused the country damage (although economists and business leaders are confident that the opposite is true), and you have a potent formula for undermining British democracy.

There’s no shortage of real scandals to obsess over, should the press decide to. Our police forces have recently been repeatedly exposed as being corrupt to the very top – far more so than MPs. We are spied on as a matter of routine. Our postal service was privatised at far too cheap a price, costing us around 750 times the cost of the expenses débâcle.

Many MPs are cowardly, display a faltering grasp of complex issues and fail to provide the parliamentary leadership we need. Many of them are morons. But they’re our morons. We created this Parliament by allowing ourselves to be distracted from big issues by dishonest reporting. By holding MPs to ludicrously high standards of behaviour that we apply to nobody else, we end up by filling Parliament with dull mediocrities. If we want better MPs, we should participate in politics, and elect better MPs. That’s a power we have, thanks to generations of people who fought for democracy.

But instead, the public (or its most moronic members, anyway) is increasingly convinced that democracy is failing, and that action must be taken. This benefits UKIP, the party that once pretended to be all about leaving the EU, but now openly stokes up hatred against immigrants. Never mind that Nigel Farage has claimed more in MEP’s expenses than any British MP – today, he is billed as the heroic outsider who will bring down a corrupt political elite.

The editors of the Mail, Times, Express, Sun and Telegraph (who each earn far more than an MP) know they’re stoking an anti-democratic insurgency. The dangerous rise in nationalism – whether the right-wing UKIP form, or the supposedly progressive variety in Scotland – risks destabilising a country that for centuries has probably been the most stable on Earth. And it risks destabilising a continent which is the most bloodthirsty on the planet, and has never needed a good excuse to go to war with itself.

MPs who over-claim expenses can be exposed and left to the electorate. We have far bigger problems to deal with than that.

Does the Black Community Have a Problem?

Possibly because it’s Black History Month (US/Canada), I’m seeing a burst of Facebook discussions among my black friends on that old favourite: why do black communities underperform others? Various economic, education and health metrics still demonstrate large gaps between black and other populations, and inevitably people wonder why. The old white supremacist explanation – that black people are simply biologically inferior – has gradually faded from grace in recent decades, although this idea is often still hinted at.

Discussion among black people tends to swing between blaming others (it’s caused by racism/colonialism/the aftermath of slavery/etc.) and blaming themselves (why don’t black people invest in each other like Indians and Jews seem to do?) Meanwhile, many white liberals tend to blame racism and colonialism while simultaneously showing an almost colonial lack of faith in black societies to sort out problems for themselves.

It appears to me though that the truth is better, and the outlook more optimistic than any of these viewpoints might consider. I admit that I long supported the “white guilt” viewpoint. The Caribbean Londoners I grew up with undoubtedly suffered greatly from racism and police brutality. They also lagged far behind white people in educational achievement and economic success. There was an obvious correlation between race and disadvantage; many people (me included) therefore assumed that one was the cause of the other. But of course, assuming causation from correlation is the oldest mistake in the book.

It was my own black friends who helped set me straight on this, pointing out that they had escaped council estates, made careers and raised stable families, despite experiencing persistent racism. From their micro-perspective, the difference was clear: those whose families valued literacy and education succeeded. Those who came from families that placed little value on education did not.

The disparities between different racial groups should cast doubt on the idea that racism causes communities to fail. In the 1930s, Jews faced immense prejudice. They were also mostly economic migrants, and lacked capital. And yet many – including both of my grandfathers – opened businesses and moved out of the East End ghetto into the suburbs.

The Caribbean immigrants who began arriving in the late-1940s did not follow the same pattern of success as the Jews. But the East African Asians who fled Uganda in the 1970s did. The Pakistanis who came later did not do so well. But the West Africans who came in the 1980s and 1990s did better.

What kind of “racism” is so selective? When Indian and Chinese children do better in school than whites, but Pakistanis and Bengalis do worse, how can anti-Asian racism be blamed? And now, West Africans (mostly from Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone) outperform white children but children originating in the Caribbean do not. How can this be explained by anti-black racism? In short, it can’t.

I attended the “blackest” school in the UK, where around 75% of the kids were first or second generation immigrants from the Caribbean. While some of the Caribbean migrants had come from educated, middle class homes, the majority didn’t. Many of my school friends left school with scant literacy and no qualifications. Many of their parents too were semi-literate, having come from rural island communities to take up work as bus conductors. Today, I still have friends in their 40s and 50s who have limited literacy.

This generation of black Londoners faced savage racism in the 1970s and 1980s, especially from the police; they also were excluded, by their lack of qualifications, from universities and well paid jobs. It was easy to combine the two things in folklore: to say that Babylon (the Rastafarian word for the white power structure) would never offer opportunities to black people. This was easy to believe. I believed this. To add to the confusion, black British people compared their position to that of black Americans and South Africans. This was deeply inaccurate; Britain never had racial segregation laws or traditions to overturn. The racism may have been superficially similar, but the political reality was incomparable.

But when, starting in the 1990s, many West African immigrants breezed into universities and professional jobs, it became clear that this racial model of British society was wrong. I had to question my own beliefs, forged among the afro-centric viewpoints I absorbed in my teens. When a Nigerian friend graduated as an accountant and invited me to her awards ceremony, I saw a new British reality. Expecting to see a line-up dominated by Jews and Indians, I instead saw Chinese, Nigerian and Ghanaian graduates collecting their certificates.

So does the black British community have a problem? The question is meaningless. There is no coherent black community. Grouping people together based on their skin colour is nonsensical, and indicates a racist world view. The key deciding factor in a person’s economic success in the UK is their level of literacy and education. It turns out that working class black people originating from the Caribbean have far more in common, economically, with white British people than they do with those of West African origin. The same applies to those immigrants from rural Pakistan versus those from urban India.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem with racism – this is still alive and well, and the rise of UKIP reveals a strong xenophobic streak in British society. For black parents wondering how to give their children the greatest chance of success, the answer is the same as for any other parent: teach them to read and write young, to behave at school, and to develop a thirst for lifelong learning. And most of all, tell them that the colour of their skin is no excuse for failure.

The BBC Kills Teenagers

On Monday, a 16 year old from south London, Daniel Spargo-Mabbs, tragically died after taking ecstasy. Yesterday, the BBC’s London TV News carried extensive coverage of the boy’s funeral, focusing on the faces of crying teenagers, while solemnly reporting another drug death.

Except of course, Daniel didn’t die from taking ecstasy. If he’d taken ecstasy, he would still be alive today. His parents have been tricked into joining yet another crusade against ecstasy, just as Leah Betts‘ parents were, two decades ago. Betts wasn’t killed by ecstasy either (she died of water intoxication after drinking rapidly 7 litres), but for a decade after her death, morons would scream her name at anybody who tried to argue against the moronic criminalisation of the drug. If you read the reports carefully, you’ll see that Daniel’s post-mortem was “inconclusive”. He may have died from drinking, or from water intoxication, or from some other drug that adulterated the pill he took. But not from taking ecstasy.

Daniel is being used to orchestrate a moral panic over a safe drug, just as Leah was. It’s not hard to see who might benefit from such a panic. 9,000 people died last year after using Britain’s second-most dangerous recreational drug, alcohol. 9,000 died the year before, and the year before that. Can you name any teenager who OD’d on booze and was used by the media to highlight the dangers of drinking? No? Me neither. And yet alcohol kills around 1000 British people for every one who dies after using ecstasy.

Morons don’t understand statistics, but they understand sad stories. They remember Leah and they will remember Daniel, but the many more victims of alcohol will go to their graves unnamed.

Why this panic, and why now? Because ecstasy is at its most popular in many years. Clubbing is back, dance music is back, and ecstasy (MDMA) is back. Parents should be pleased that their kids are choosing an alternative to the killer drug, ethanol; they should be pleased that their kids are dancing rather than drinking and fighting; but the alcohol industry is seeing its revenues dented by the club scene, as it did in the 1990s, and it’s fighting back hard. Daniel is the face of their new advertising campaign. And it hasn’t cost them a penny.

The moronic BBC, and the other media outlets that deliberately mislead the public about the relative safety of drugs, should be held to account for their lies. They are pushers for the alcohol industry. They should tell the truth, and they should apologise for the many deaths that they’ve caused.

This is the truth:

People die from drinking because every competitor to alcohol is banned. The alcohol industry must be delighted; imagine if the government intervened in every market in this way.

People die from taking dodgy pills because the government refuses to regulate the recreational drugs industry, and allows pills to be sold without testing or labelling.

People die from water intoxication because the government refuses to allow teenagers to be taught how to take drugs safely.

People die from snorting dodgy cocaine because the cocaine industry too is unregulated, and the powder sold as coke in the UK is cut with various other things.

The alcohol industry kills kids. The government kills kids. The BBC kills kids. The mass media kills kids. It’s an insult to Daniel Spargo-Mabbs that he should be exploited in this way after his unnecessary death; but a multi-billion pound industry requires that teenagers continue to die.

Please sign this petition TODAY and get parliament to hold a long overdue debate.

Free Speech, “Rape Threats” and the War on Twitter

Control-freaks hate Twitter (cartoon released into the public domain by Carlos Latuff)
Control-freaks hate Twitter (cartoon released into the public domain by Carlos Latuff)

British leaders often invoke the idea that Britain is a “beacon of freedom”. Anyone paying attention though, will note that free speech has always been strongly restricted in the UK: far more so than in the United States, where it is constitutionally protected. Sadly, most British people seem to have a vague understanding of what free speech is, or why it is so important. This lack of love for free expression runs across the political spectrum; of the three large parties, only the Liberal Democrats show any real interest in protecting it.

But the rot isn’t just within the political parties. By demoting free speech behind “security”, “protecting children” or simply “protecting against offense”, our political leaders are merely reflecting the attitudes of their supporters. I’m regularly told, by both righties and lefties, that “free speech doesn’t mean all speech” or “free speech is all very well, but there must be lines in the sand”. Thus demonstrating they don’t understand the basic meaning of the word “free”. Protection of free speech must include “bad” speech, by definition. After all, the ideas that women should get the vote or that homosexuality should be decriminalised were once “dangerous” ideas.

Despite the regular self-congratulations about how free we are, Britain has always had a censorious, paternalistic culture towards “protecting” its citizens from the menace of genuinely free expression. Our television is the most censored in Europe, and our government regularly blocks bigoted loud-mouths from entering the country (as if we didn’t excel in creating our own bigoted loud-mouths). This situation was suddenly disrupted by the arrival of the consumer Internet around 20 years ago, which brought truly uncensored expression to British people for the first time. With the later appearance of Web 2.0 – meaning tools that allowed non-technical people to easily publish content – true free expression accelerated further.

So the powers that be – government, police and media corporations – have always had an unspoken desire to rein in online free speech; to take us back to the 1980s, when they could largely control the flow of information to the masses.

Twitter, a classic Web 2.0 creation, is quite probably the most free mass medium of them all. It represents America’s First Amendment distilled and productised. It allows people to publish what’s on their minds in an instant, and for popular ideas to be rapidly propagated. Twitter is the great leveller: it favours the unknown over the famous. Well-known individuals will always find themselves the butt of jokes and personal attacks, simply because they’re famous. On Twitter, the bigger they come, the harder they fall.

Needless to say, British authoritarians, control freaks and the fascist-minded hate Twitter. Our authorities have tried to keep American free speech at bay since the US Constitution was written, but now it has invaded our country: and we should be pleased of that. Since Twitter’s birth, it was only a matter of time before war was declared on the platform. The police have been flexing their muscles for some time. Since Paul Chambers went to court in the infamous Twitter Joke Trial in 2010, authorities have increasingly tried to take control of online speech. But Chambers attracted great public support; the authorities had chosen the wrong target.

The real War on Twitter began in mid-2013, when a well-orchestrated moral panic was launched. The clear aim of the panic is to create support for the idea that Twitter is a dangerous medium, and must be controlled. And sadly, many people – conservative and liberal – have swallowed the propaganda hook, line and sinker. The word “troll” – which originally referred to deliberately provocative posters in online chat forums – was appropriated by the media and redefined to mean “someone who is offensive online”. This now appears in a variety of contexts such as “abusive Twitter troll”, “misogynistic troll”, and so on.

Twitter has a block button, which easily hides future tweets from people one doesn’t want to see. I try not to ever use it (it would be pretty hard to watch morons if I did), but the mechanism works well for those who do. This means that the more delicate souls can forget that there are rude, foul-mouthed, abusive people on Twitter, if they want to.

The panic had clearly been primed and ready to go for some time. It found its perfect moment when a campaign was launched in 2013 to keep women on British banknotes, following the announcement of a new £5 note to be launched in 2016. A journalist, Caroline Criado-Perez, tweeted in support of the campaign, and received a number of offensive tweets in response: some of the abuse reportedly featured rape threats. Criado-Perez is an attractive, middle-class, young, blonde woman; the War on Twitter had its perfect victim, and operations commenced.

Another female journalist, who followed events on the day, tells me that Criado-Perez only received a handful of abusive tweets; and yet the event was picked up by the press and massively exaggerated. The tweets, from a handful of morons, became a “torrent”, and a “barrage”. A number of female journalists began an ironically patriarchal campaign, the subtext of which was that women are more delicate than men, and should not have to tolerate the nasty language that men do. Online death threats to men (of which I’ve received, and laughed off, many) are just boys being boys, but rape threats to women are beyond the pale.

Over the past six months, the campaign has been pumped up by the media on a regular basis. Learning from the Criado-Perez experience, the bulk of the coverage is dedicated to the online abuse of attractive young women. Feminists of the Women’s Lib generation might spot the misogynistic message being deployed here, but it appears not to have been widely noticed, with many self-declared feminists attacking “sexist Twitter trolls” rather than the sexist concept that women, unlike men, can’t handle nasty words being thrown in their direction.

Eventually, two young morons – a man and a woman, came to trial for abusing Criado-Perez. Yes, a total of two, despite the “torrent” of abuse reported at the time. The trial’s coverage was riddled with misogyny and class snobbery. Photographs of the overweight, unattractive pair were juxtaposed with the blonde demureness of Criado Perez. “Look at these oiks, abusing such a nice, middle class lady”, the news outlets (almost) screamed.

The hysterical coverage of “Twitter trolls” has set out to demonstrate that the problem of unregulated speech is real, harmful, and getting worse. The prosecution stated that:

“Caroline Criado-Perez has suffered life-changing psychological effects from the abuse which she received on Twitter”

The poor, delicate little thing (did I mention she’s blonde?)

I’m probably being unfair to Criado-Perez here; the Crown Prosecution Service were clearly desperate to get a conviction and extend British law into controlling what people can say in public. The prosecution may well have misrepresented and exaggerated her true feelings in their lust to increase their power over public discourse.

In my 25 or so years of online discussion, I’ve experienced far more abuse than I can remember. It includes threats of harm, anti-Semitic and racist comments, and endless personal attacks. And yet the idea of people being prosecuted for mere speech – however ugly the speech – horrifies me far more than the worst Holocaust joke I’ve seen. One of the preconditions for the Holocaust to take place was to silence Jews and other minorities. Free speech protects the most vulnerable in society. The idea that police should have any role in controlling expression is a horrific one, and can only have horrific consequences; and yet those who should be defending our free speech have fallen at the first hurdle because – shock horror – free speech means people might say nasty words to nice people.

It is tragic that, centuries after the Enlightenment, liberals still need educating in why free speech – even including nasty, bigoted, hateful speech – must be protected. Women, minorities and the poor are never protected by giving increased censorship powers to the state. In 1789, America’s founders recognised this and outlawed censorship in their Constitution. 235 years later, it’s about time Britain followed their example.