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REPLY TO CHRIS WILLIAMS ON THE NATURE OF SIN (Chris's piece can be found at the end of this) At the end of his reply to my reply to his reply to my piece on the International Compensation Commission, Chris Williams says he is working for something which he calls 'international solidarity'. This came as something of a surprise for me because the rest of his piece seemed to be arguing for the freedom and irresponsibility of the individual. Behind it one could almost sense the presence of the words: 'there is no such thing as society'. Certainly, Chris Williams was arguing that there is no such thing as Britain, no such thing as Iraq, no such thing as Serbia. If he cannot feel any sense of solidarity with his fellow Britons, any sense that he shares with them some sort of common destiny, it is difficult to know how he can feel any sense of solidarity with the world as a whole. Or perhaps he only feels solidarity with good people throughout the world, or at least with people he can think of as being innocent, the victims, the refugees, the workers? Certainly not with those who have political opinions, or who fulfil economic functions, he doesn't like ‹ Hayekians, Zionists, arms manufacturers, 'murdering feudal bastards' and the like, whom he characterises en bloc as 'scum' before going on to inform us that he's 'never really got off on this morality-based approach'. The position I am arguing is an attempt to overcome this habit (which we all have. I have it too) of dividing the world sharply into good people and evil people. If I think of people like Saddam Hussein or Robin Cook as being 'evil men' (or even 'scum'), then I am defining myself as a good person in opposition to them (and also disregarding the words of my Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ: 'Judge not lest ye be judged'). But if I think of them as being 'sinners' then immediately I recognise what we have in common. And that seems to me to be the only basis on which it would be possible to have a real sense of 'international solidarity.' I take the view that 'evil' in the world is usually a consequence of some sort of necessity. That is why I continue to have a great deal of time for Marxism as a means of understanding the operations of the world. I have always liked the expression of Engels to the effect that slavery only became morally intolerable when it ceased to be economically necessary. I'm not at all sure that that is true in its historical detail but I think it is true in its overall principle. Similarly, I have long been quite clear in my mind that had I been an 'Aryan' German living in Germany in the 1930s ‹ had I experienced what Germany (oh, there I go again! Germany!) experienced in the 1920s, I would most probably have been a Nazi unless I had already become a convinced and 'fanatical' Communist. I have a deep suspicion of anyone who is incapable of understanding that. I certainly think their capacity for 'international solidarity', which implies at the very least some ability to understand and sympathise with the different historical experiences of different peoples, must be very limited. I suppose we are all glad that the Nazis lost the war. John Smith's "The Straight Line Connecting World War Two to Iraq", one of the most precious documents to have come my way through the CASI list, gives some indications as to how we (that is, the good people, the anti-fascists. We are all anti-fascists now, are we not?) won that war. We won it by outdoing the Nazis in brutality, and that took some doing. But could it have been done any other way? That is the sort of consideration which leads me to say that 'our' (the good people, the anti-fascists') hands are drenched in blood. And I gave the example of the present Palestinian conflict. Palestinians are being shot as they attempt to invade Israeli settlements on the West Bank. It doesn't take much to imagine what would happen if they actually succeeded in getting their hands on the settlers ... But international solidarity certainly obliges us to understand their feelings ‹ which I continue to call the feelings of 'the Palestinians' even though I know that there are Palestinians who do not share them, or who only share them a little bit, or who are doing quite well out of the Oslo agreement and are afraid that their little comfortable lifestyle might be threatened by all the trouble. International solidarity also obliges us to recognise that after what happened to them in Europe, the European Jews (some of whom had imagined themselves to be something other than Jews, to be free, atomised individuals, before Hitler appeared on the scene) felt they had to have a state of their own, whatever it might take to get it. 'International solidarity' obliges us to refuse the division of the world into good people and bad people. It might indeed oblige us to sit down in despair on an ashpit (especially if, unlike Job, we were unable to say "I know that my Redeemer liveth". Job's life, incidentally, wasn't that futile, since it has managed to engage the imagination of a very large slice of mankind for over two thousand years). Chris Williams may be right to think that we need to nurture certain illusions if we wish to be effective in the world. But if we are concerned with understanding the world rather than (or perhaps prior to) changing it, then we are obliged to recognise that there is a logic at work in it, and in ourselves, and in the interaction between the two (the world and ourselves) which corresponds more or less to the Christian notion of 'sin'. For the moment I can't think of another word which will cover this essential reality; even though I know that the concept of sin doesn't have much meaning for those people who don't believe in God, people who think consciousness is the eventual consequence of a process of cooling down after a big explosion. However, if Chris is right in his estimation of the number of people to whom the word 'sin' makes sense (70% he thinks. I think he is being generous) then it is clearly a useful word to use in propaganda especially at a time when political leaders such as Mr Blair, not to mention our masters in Washington, make much of their Christian convictions. And that touches a general point. Which is that CASI should be able to accommodate the language of a very wide variety of differing world views. CASI is a single issue pressure group, not a political party or a school of philosophy (to use a general term that embraces both religious and non-religious philosophies). Consequently each of us should feel free to use the language that corresponds to our own world views. The debate between the world views is very interesting and is a temptation that I for one, like Chris, find all but irresistible, but it is not the business of CASI. Before finishing, I would like to mop up a few stray points on the subject of our various responsibilities. Chris Williams thinks it is a dangerous overstatement, of the sort that discredits our overall case, when I say that all European governments are implicated in the sin that is being committed against the people of Iraq. But if I know that my neighbour is beating his wife and raping his children and do not even protest against it then surely I am, shall we say, at fault (and yes, I know: this is the argument that has been used to justify the interventions in the Balkans and in the Gulf). I have not heard that the governments of Sweden or Malta have protested very vigorously on the sanctions issue, even though it is something that is being done in their name since they are, after all, members of the UN. And it requires their active participation. They too are refusing to import dates grown in Iraq. Chris Williams may be right to take me to task for 'sneering' at the smaller parties in the UK. But my main point is that the British culture in which we all share because there IS such a thing as society, has generated no substantial opposition to the government policy of murdering a million people. It is worth noting, if only because it helps us to understand what is often presented as a mystery: how could the people in Nazi dominated Europe have failed to protest against the treatment of the Jews? The fact that Chris Williams doesn't really know what the policy of the small parties is confirms my point. They may have a very sound policy, but it (the systematic murder of around a million people) is not at the top of their priorities. Chris accuses me of contradicting myself when I reproach Mr Cook et al for 'not dissociating themselves from the past'. There seems to be a bit missing from his argument here but I assume it goes something like this; had Cook et al dissociated themselves then (he thinks I think) they could have redeemed themselves, a privilege I deny to lesser mortals. No. As it happens I don't believe that human beings, even those who work for HMG, are capable of redeeming themselves. But obviously there is a difference between declaring that such and such a sin is bad (even though the effects of it are still operative within me) and declaring that it is good, which is what Messrs Cook and Blair have done. With regard to the Lib Dems' resolution against sanctions, I too welcome it. The point I was making was exactly the same as the point Chris is making. It isn't the absolute argument that will win against sanctions but what I called the weasel argument (which will accompany the force of material circumstances, or necessity). Actually as I said some time ago in my 'Note on strategy', it is the Arab world, particularly 'Saddam's neighbours', the people on whose behalf, so the story goes, the evil is being done, who could do most to stop it, and we can only hope that that is what is happening at the present time (the country which could have done most, and done itself a lot of good at the same time, is Kuwait ...) Why then should we bother with the absolute argument? In my view it is because human nature is made that way. We open up all the time to 'the absolute', which is transcendent to practical activity. We need it, as the hart needs the running brook. For myself that absolute is 'eternal life'(most definitely not the rule of the saints on earth); for Chris it is 'libertarian socialism' (which I think is just another variant of the rule of the saints on earth, with all the immense opportunities for evil that that implies). Pie in the sky for me; fun in the future for Chris. Peter Brooke CHRIS WILLIAMS WROTE: Reply to Pbrooke: * Correction - I may have been wrong about the SNP. Salmond opposed Desert Fox - but do they oppose sanctions? I can't find evidence. Anyone? * Peter talked about the 'sins' of a society. I don't hold with this 'sins' stuff: and I think a large part of the difference between Peter and myself (which I am about to set out at great length) is down to the fact that I'm a secularist. I don't feel personally guilty about sanctions, or about many other crimes going on this minute around the globe. To take all the guilt in the world onto my shoulders would render me powerless to act. I even shield myself from a lot of knowledge about Iraq because it would probably drive me to despair rather than to renewed activity: no solution. The thing to do is not to reach any kind of mystical identity with the victims, or to save my own soul. It's to solve the problem. So, no, I don't feel guilty. As well as the 'sins and guilt' issue, I think that I also differ from Peter in my view of what the best 'unit of suffering' is. Because I'm also an anarchist, I don't like to talk about the objective existence of nations with measurable experiences. Peter writes about 'Britain's experience' in the second world war. But 'the British' didn't have an experience. Nor did 'Serbia'. 'Iraq's' not having one, either. For some Britons (think about the bocage, Burma, Coventry) WW2 was every bit as horrifying as what many Iraqis have been through in the last 20 years. Some Iraqis (many, but not all, within the Ba'ath Party) are doing very well indeed at the moment. I do not think that I can apply average standards of suffering to 'a society'. I'm forced to talk in terms of 'Iraq' because that's how the sanctions operate, but this is the definition that my enemies' acts force me to repeat: not one that I should consider as objectively true. And even within geographically defined 'Iraq', there's not a unity. If the south and centre had the sanctions regime of the north, for instance, I would expect mortality in those areas to have been substantially lower. Peter then moves into overstatement. How can 'all European governments' be responsible for a policy that some of them have had absolutely no hand in formulating and implementing. Sweden? Malta? We need to get our facts right in this argument, or our credibility suffers. Everyone - please do me a favour and point out any factual errors in what I write. I disagree . . . er . . . 'vigorously' with Peter's assessment that the attitudes of 'minor parties' are 'belated and half-hearted'. Let's take the Scottish Socialist Party as an example. It's minor (only has 1 MSP) and hasn't been in existence long. Yet its progenitor organisations have always been against imperialism. If Peter expects me to join him in sneering at its stand, then he has a long wait ahead of him. Last year I marched through London against sanctions. Lots of people from minor parties were there. The mainstream was totally absent. Yes, Dalyell is an honest man (when I was in the Labour Party I used to vote for him in NEC elections for precisely this reason, despite the fact that I disagree with him *spectacularly* on most policy issues) but why is he any more honest than Tommy Sheridan or any member of the Green Party? Answer - he isn't. I do not hold a brief for the LibDems, I disagree with their foreign policy, and I have an inherent mistrust for anyone whose real surname is probably 'the Merciless, Emperor of Mongo'. Still, their announcement that they oppose sanctions is welcome. Along with the Chicago Tribune - and many many other institutions whom we must convince, if we are to end sanctions this side of a world revolution - they are not particularly nice people. They have some reprehensible views. So what? Who cares about 'virtue'? What matters is results. As long as they helping to end sanctions on Iraq, they could be doing it to win souls for the church of Satan as far as I'm concerned. It ain't the way that you do it, it's what you do, as the Fun Boy Three and Bananarama didn't say. When sanctions collapse, in a couple of years time, it will be because there is highly disparate coalition of interests and organisations ranged against them. Hayekians will oppose any interference with free trade. Foreign Office and State Dept Arabists will oppose them on the basis that they are undermining their cosy relationships with murdering feudal bastards. Intelligent Zionists will oppose them because they are worried that if the double standard gets yet more obvious, they might suffer a backlash. Lobbyists for manufacturers of spy satellites and precision weapons will oppose them on the grounds that their hardware can do the same job for less money. V-P Cheney will oppose them because his old mates in the oil services industry will make giant profits on the rebuilding contracts. All these people are scum, and we all know that. So what? As long as they do the business, people will stop dying, which is something that I care about. This, I think, takes us back to the question of faith, or lack of it. I don't have any, so I don't care about motives on anything other than a tactical level; it is after all generally useful to know what peoples' motives are in order to figure out the best way to change their minds. But aside from that, results, measured materially, aren't the most important thing, they're the only thing. There are two alternatives to 'working with bastards': the first is to wait for some kind of spiritual awakening and the rule of the saints on the earth; the second is to work for a world libertarian socialist (I'd settle for an anarcho-syndicalist one, though - I'm not choosy) revolution that will overthrow all these evil governments. Sometimes I put a bit of work into trying to accelerate the revolution, but it's not something I think can arrive in the next decade (more's the pity). As for the blood that drenches the hands (so Peter writes) of everyone living in state whose government supports sanctions, I disagree there, too. As far as I'm concerned, there is an equation for us all: have we done enough to offset the personal benefit we get from the imperialist world in which we live? I might well be guilty of this - I am a notorious lazy hedonist. But is John? Is Dave? Mil? Colin? Seb? Felicity? From the dealings I've had with these people I've reached the conclusion that they, along with many others, have put in far more than enough hours to offset any possible material benefit they get from living in an imperialist country. I am unlikely to change my mind on this issue. There is also the issue of 'sins' verses 'crimes'. Peter is right in pointing out that 'crime' is breach of a man-made law. But I still prefer it to 'sin', which implies breach of a God-made law. This is rhetoric that about 30% of us in the UK will automatically discount, because we don't believe that there is a God. 'Crimes' is still consistent. There are all sorts of things that I consider to be crimes, though the law of the land does not. As a human, I can make laws (though I can't enforce them very well) and define things as crimes. So I do. Perhaps here we might be able to compromise (as Peter apparently does in his title) on references to 'evil', which I imagine we can mainly agree on. Peter then appears to contradict himself with the issue of the responsibility of Cook et al. He holds them personally responsible for not dissociating themselves from the past. If redemption is possible on this basis for people who continue to work for HMG, surely it's possible for us to reduce the level of responsibility we personally bear by dissociating ourselves from the past. Has Peter ever heard of the slogan 'Not in my name', which is a fave in peacenik circles? I'll not respond to the anti-Marxist comments - this is a different kind of rant altogether! Now, (and here is where many of you lot who are nodding along with me might stop nodding), I've never really got off on this morality-based approach. I think that there are limits to the amount of people it can mobilise, precisely because it bases itself on a spiritual process: recognition of sin, responsibility for sin, renunciation, and symbolic dissociation. Historically, evangelists in the UK have never managed to hold onto more than 10% of the population for long. They have a better record in the US, so it might be a viable tactic there. But here? Hmm.... Evangelists have won here in the past - they abolished slavery. They did so by successfully labelling it as something that was chiefly done by nasty other people: something that 'we' - the people they were talking to at the time - could dissociate ourselves from the consequences of so long as we joined the movement to abolish it. More recently, socially committed Christians have tried the same thing with the Jubilee 2000 project. This also has tended to say 'these specific named people are guilty of not doing something about it' rather than 'we are all guilty'. Of course, Jubilee 2000 hasn't worked yet either. But really, I'd be happy to line up alongside people advocating all sorts of distinctions of personal guilt (or its lack) provided that the line ends up being wide enough that it can't be ignored. As for 'penitence', where's the good in that? As the motto of Leicester Secular Society goes: 'Hands that help are better than lips that pray'. Job, conscious of his sinful nature did sod all on the ashpit except feel sorry for himself and praise the Lord. Peter, of course, does a lot more than that, for which I am grateful, but I don't think his world-view is necessary, or even necessarily helpful in the struggle for a better world. for international solidarity Chris Williams -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email firstname.lastname@example.org Full details of CASI's various lists can be found on the CASI website: http://www.casi.org.uk