Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Stars Down to Earth.....

The spare (and rather old) pc I have been temporarily using is near it's dying day. Hopefully I should have a new one by the weekend (fingers crossed). My own phase of depression right now has stopped me also from keeping abreast with the current affairs as I do normally. Hence my recent absence from the blogosphere in general. But while this pc may be dying I can assure you all that I am still alive and so will this blog be. I will soon update my links as to include Ms Melancholy's interesting blog among them, and Elle's too.

Something I have found worthy of blogging about - I have been reading a curious essay by Theodore Adorno, a philosopher who was involved in what was known as the 'Frankfurt School'. It is the first time I have given him a shot. It is not easy reading but nonetheless it is worth persevering with. The name of the essay is 'The Stars Down to Earth' - it is an indictment of astrology. I intend also to read 'The Culture Industry' when I get the chance.

'The Stars Down to Earth' has made me think. While I have never presumed to take astrological columns seriously I have regarded them as mostly being for their part harmless. I have thought twice after reading that.

As far as Adorno was concerned their insidiousness lied partly in the fact that nobody really professes to read them for anything other than a bit of fun. He compares their sense of unseriousness with some of the exagerration involved in some fascist propaganda. However, if the columns had no psychological appeal they would not be so widely read. He points to the fact that their 'predictions' usually say nothing or at least very little about the source from where their supposed authority derives. There is also the irrational belief that astrology not only can predict what may happen in our day and how our time should be used but can also tell us about our respective personalities.

What the newspaper and magazine columns promote is a very bland form of social conformity. They both condescend to and similtaneously flatter their readers. The intended audience is comprised of what Adorno termed the 'semi erudite', or the lower middle classes. The columns address their audience as though their actions are far more important to the scheme of the system than they actually are.

The status quo is taken for granted, and the readers are advised (no matter what their date of birth) to roll along with it so that things run smoothly. Work and pleasure must be kept strictly seperate and one may never intrude upon the other. Hence work must remain pure drudgery while no seriousness should intrude on leisure, making it in effect rather empty. This is one of the legacies of the protestant work ethic and the effects of industrialisation and a technological society, bringing in work which is largely monotonous, tedious and even pointless a lot of the time.

The stars are an external authority that cannot be challenged. The only control the believer has over his or her fate is to behave according to the advice of the experts so that disaster may be averted and they may prosper in the system which is taken as pre-ordained. The columns give the illusion that the reader is in control while at the same time promoting obedience to a higher authority which is as impersonal as the social system itself.

The appeal of these superstitions is largely down to people losing what was their animistic attachment with nature (dependence on the will of the gods and the seasons, etc) while not yet developing the maturity to be able to think with complete independence and rationality. Hence the contradiction with modern superstition. Astrology columns are also unique in the sense that they find their circulation via mass media, there is no direct contact with the witch doctor or shaman. Hence Adorno's description of them as being a 'secondary' rather than a primary superstition. They do not fulfill the function of religion yet they are a small daily dose of comfort rather like a soap opera.

I will not go too far in debunking astrology myself - but I have long been amazed at the unquestioning faith displayed by believers. By modern calculations there should not be 12 but 13 signs of the zodiac. Everybody's sun sign by traditional standards would therefore be wrong as it would be one month ahead. Hence I would not be Pisces but Aquarius, the preceeding sign. Yet the 'experts' have ignored this and so do their followers when it is pointed out to them. See: here and here.

I have a friend who bores me endlessly with her astro babble. Every quirk in a persons' behaviour is, according to her, down to when they were born. Despite my protests that I am not a believer she still works on the assumption that I am or must be deep down as who can deny what is to her the ultimate truth? My mother is also a believer and I recall having that nonsense rammed down my throat even as a child. I tire of men using astrology as a chat up line on me, working on the assumption that all women believe in astrology. Unfortunately more women do seem to go for this than do men, and I don't have the time in this post to explore the reasons why. Perhaps it is partly due to the fact women have been more likely to be in a subordinate or dependent position. People who are or have been oppressed in a particular way may be more inclined to look for certainties, when they themselves have little control over their lives. This, for Adorno, was one explanation for the general appeal of astrology. Also it offers a sense of comfort to a weak ego or a low sense of self worth. Whatever one's educational level or place in the hierarchy they can still find themselves 'in the know' via possessing knowledge not shared by the ignorant or uninitiated.

The only grain of truth this superstition may have is the simple law of gravity. The phases of the moon do affect women's menstrual cycles and it has been speculated that it may affect our moods too (both sexes). Maybe the location of other bodies can have some impact on our bodily chemistry and our minds, but this is by no means a scientific fact but a mere speculation. And it gives me no reason whatsoever to treat an entire superstititon with no scientific basis or rationality at all as though it were fact. There is far more sense behind traditional religion as while unproven the existence of a creator may be a philosophical possibility. Not astrology, though.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

UK Worst Place for Kids....

This story has distressed me for several reasons. It serves to remind me of why I have strong doubts about bringing children into this world for one thing. Living in a non child friendly country like Britain does not help.

Like most people I can only speculate on the reasons for it. The individualism of the 1980s with it's economic restructuring went a long way towards breaking down community ties and led to a greater degree of social atomisation, for one thing. The Scandinavian countries with their strong Welfare States seem not to have so much of a problem with their youth, and neither do countries where family ties remain strong.

Alongside this goes the long work hours culture of Britain. Most two parent families these days have little choice but for both parents to work, often full time, and this results in them not being able to spend as much time with their children as is ideally needed for their growth. The State is still trying to grasp an idea of flexible working hours and a family friendly workplace but much of it remains hot air. A rush to make profits now appears not to make for good investment in the future - children of course being the future.

It is little wonder that the birth rate is declining as the incentives for having children are highly neglible in the UK. But something will have to be done to reverse this trend if the government do not want to struggle with an ageing population with not enough people of working age to support them.

Aside from the obvious things which spring to mind such as flexible working, better welfare for poor families and children, accessible child care etc we could also do with treating our children as human beings in their own right, not as mere extensions of ourselves. A child friendly society recognises children's needs and accepts them as part of that society. We have a long way to go. The constant demonisation youth receive in the media is a big part of this problem.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

I have a working pc once again at home so I should be back in circuit. It has not only been that inconvenience which has kept me away but a slight lack of motivation for writing. Not having a pc always to hand does not really help with a case of writer's block (for want of anything better to call it).

But I shall get myself back in gear by beginning my musings once more, starting with a controversial subject (as is my nature!).

What dominated the news when I returned from my disaster of a trip was the issue surrounding Catholic adoption agencies and gay adoption. It may be a bit old now but the issue has had me thinking.

To be blunt I have been wondering what the big fuss is really all about. To begin with it strikes me as unlikely that a gay couple would use a Catholic adoption agency to anyway. If it is the issue of public money being spent then a clause could have easily been added that obliged the respective organisations to refer the hypothetical couples elsewhere in the unlikely scenario in which they were approached. Who would be hurt by this, really? But as always this has brought out the usual chorus of Catholic bashers in the form of militant secularists and intolerant liberals.

Now it may be argued that an exemption on religious grounds could set a dangerous precedent. It could be speculated, for instance, that a Muslim restaurant could refuse to serve Hindus, or vice versa. Or that religious hoteliers of any persuasion could refuse to admit gay couples. However, accessing a public service such as a hotel or restaurant is not the same thing as adopting a child. It raises a different set of issues.

However, setting an exemption clause for religious organisations alone on this matter raises other problems. For instance, an organisation could conceivably object to gay adoption on non religious grounds - merely on a traditionalist belief that a child needs both a father and a mother. Why should such a secular group have to comply while religious groups have an opt out clause?

Surely a simple solution would have been to allow it to be a matter of conscience.
A simple clause that obliged organisations which objected to refer potential adopters to other organisatons which would be able to help them would have seemed a fair enough compromise. There would of course have been some people on either side of the spectrum who this would not have sufficed for but you cannot please everyone. Most reasonable people understand that in life there will come situations where one must compromise.

Despite the commonly held liberal orthodoxy I do not feel that objecting to gay adoption on the belief that children need both a father and a mother amounts to homophobia or even discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Ask me honestly if I think a child would be better off in a traditional family set up and I will give the honest answer that I simply do not know. Who can say in all seriousness that they do? There have not been enough case studies to find out and it may be unlikely that there ever will be.

The closest parallel I can think of is the opt out clause doctors and other medical staff have been given in regards to performing abortions. 'Pro choice' extremists have sometimes opposed this, voicing the ludicrous idea that it amounts to a form of discrimination. This idea is ludicrous simply because refusing to perform an operation because it is against your ethical code is not the same thing as refusing to treat somebody on the grounds of their colour.

Enforcing by law adoption agencies to serve gay couples may indeed set a dangerous precedent. It may well encourage people like those described above to be bolder in demanding that abortion be recognised as a legal right. If this was to be the case then the right to opt out could become a thing of the past. Doctors who refused to participate could find themselves struck off on the grounds that they would be refusing patients what is their legal right. Or people with ethics not unlike my own would cease to enter the profession in the first place. Catholics and Muslims would in effect be barred from the practice.

Such a framework is not what amounts to tolerance. Paradoxically it is an authoritarian form of liberalism that is unable to accept that not everyone shares it's value system. It is willing to use the force of the State to ensure that everybody does share it at least in practice. Whether or not they really do in their hearts is secondary - why use a carrot when the stick suffices to do the job?

Using the might of the State does nothing to shift people's basic value systems. All this will result in will be Catholic adoption agencies shutting up shop, organisations which by all other means have provided a good service over the years. What it will not do is change the view of the church towards homosexuality. A view that for the record I will say that I would like to see change. But I certainly do not believe that this is the way to change it. If anything it has merely created more pain and tension with the gay and Catholic communities (leaving aside gay Catholics for the moment, who I would suspect don't like being once more in the middle of this). I for one would not like being pitted against my own organisation by an agressive and intolerant 'liberal' State.