Sunday, December 31, 2006

So that was 2006

(For last year, go here)

The year that Ollie arrived.

The year I started taking pictures.

The year I was featured in the Daily Mail, and misquoted.

The year I started to realise how far Peak Oil underlies world affairs, and became suspicious about 9/11.

The year I (think I) found my 'voice' in blogging and Learning Church.

The year the family chose the home schooling path.

A year bracketed by discovering two great singing voices - Johnny Cash at the beginning, and Martyn Joseph at the end - and a third poetic voice, Wendell Berry.

A year of settling in, on the whole. Solid progress in lots of areas. Just a suspicion that I'm going to be able to relax a little.

Lost some weight. Didn't drink as much. (I think those two things are related).

Enjoyed lots of films, but not so many really great ones: House of Flying Daggers, Inside Man, Apocalypse Now, Broken Flowers - they were probably the best.

Read lots of books, almost all of which have been reviewed here (one of last year's resolutions that I've kept to). Various favourites: Marsden on fundamentalism, Jared Diamond's Collapse, James Alison (various books), rediscovering the full range of the Dune sequence. Also Grant Morrison's The Invisibles (which was stunningly good, and will get a full-length review when I have a spare week in which to analyse and assess it) and From Hell.

I have a lot to look forward to in the coming year. Peace and goodwill to all.

Very clever

Remarkable what can be done by a creative editor.


'twas very dark this morning.

Saturday, December 30, 2006


Getting there.

I hate it here

I wanted to use a blog post to write down how I see things panning out. I’ll probably re-appraise this on a regular basis, to see how my expectations are matching up with reality. I am conscious of an element of wishful thinking in the analysis – the simple truth is that I hate the way that the world is presently arranged, and I long for it to end. Maranatha!

One background assumption – I believe that humankind will not change its behaviour until it has exhausted all the alternatives. So this is pessimistic.

Point 1: we are now at the peak in world oil production.

Point 2: the impact of a decline will spark a number of positive feedback systems, exacerbating the crisis. The positive side is that there will be some warning of what is coming, for those who can read the signs of the times. However, people will still not believe the scale of what is coming until it is too late. There will be a severe shortage of fuel throughout the West. Governments will ration it; at the bottom of the rationing heap will be the private user. Given the scale of the problem private commuting based upon fossil-fuels will cease, never to return. (This is a good thing. Kill the car! Let us be human!)

Point 3: one key positive feedback system will involve wider armed conflict throughout the world, especially in the Middle East. The key question there is whether the outcome will be an expansionist Islamist caliphate or an eventually nuclear Islamic civil war. I believe that the US/UK leadership is now actively fostering the latter. More widely, the West will outcompete the 3rd World for scarce petroleum and this will provoke die-off, especially in Africa. There are likely to be huge population flows towards the West in the coming two decades. Watch Mexico/US relations on this question, especially in the coming 18 months. Christians should also be aware of the push towards scapegoating of minorities, and be prepared to resist this.

Point 4: coal is the enemy of the human race. The solutions to global warming and peak oil are one and the same: powerdown and renewables. The most important long term question is whether we are able to resist using coal to give us another generation of this despicable way of life, or whether we are able, in this generation, to make the change. There are many possibilities for a more peaceful transition; these are what Christians must spend their time working towards, so far as they are able and the divine grace precedes them. The princes of this world will deny them, and the world of the flesh will ignore them. The key issue is how far the waters of destruction will rise up the hillside of human civilisation.

BTW “I hate it here” is the title of Spider Jerusalem’s column. Spider Jerusalem is my hero.

How to sell crap to Christians

Excellent post here from the i-monk: "Get your people reading the Bible, reading good books, talking to each other, doing ministry in your community and grounded in simple Christianity. Reduce your consumeristic discipleship by half, and then look at the half that’s left and see what you really think of it. Jesus said that if we find the treasure in the field, we don’t buy, we sell. We give away. It’s a revolution, not a convention or a market. Jesus went to a religious marketplace once. It didn’t turn out well. Do something as a disciple that makes sense: repent of and abandon this consumeristic Christian virus before it kills you."

It reminds me of one of the Martyn Joseph songs - 'He Never Said':

He never said, God helps those who help themselves.
He never said, Blessed are the rich, and life is a bitch
He never said, Do unto others before they do unto you, like they’re gonna do
He never said, It’s too bad, buddy, but the weather’s gonna take it all
He never said, Success, that’s the key, you gotta be cruel to be kind, and
He never said, It’s a jungle out there where the weak must be left behind

No, he said, answer a stranger’s cry for help,
love your brother as you love yourself
You only need to seek and you will find
Forgive your enemy and drop that grudge,
if you don’t judge others you won’t be judged
Only knock and the door will open wide

He never said, Archbishops should stick to theology, leave all the political issues alone
And I never read, put your faith in the Lottery, Dale Winton and his balls
He never said, binding me is necessary, no no no
I don’t recall, y’all, My Country Right or Wrong
He never said, Send your money to me, touch the screen and you’re gonna be healed
He never said, every man’s gotta price, so do you wanna make a deal?

No, he said…

On that day, on the day that’s coming, ’cause I got a dream
Who’s gonna be walking? Who’s gonna be running?
When the first will be last, so that the last can come first
That’s if the meek can inherit the earth

And he said…

And I’m sick of hearing all the things he never, never said
He never said a woman couldn’t be a priest
He didn’t say you couldn’t get remarried in church if you’ve been divorced
He never said be exclusive like some golf club
He never said in my name go out there and steal money from the poor and the helpless… Like some guy I saw in Columbus Ohio.. he’s doing a ‘bill fest’ thing, where anyone in debt they can send him their bills and he’s gonna burn them on the altar, and Jesus is going to go into their bank accounts and sort it all out; as long as they send him $50 that is… for his part in the bargain…
He never said!
The guy’s a gangster, he should be put on trial
He never said!
He never said every little thing was going to be hunky dory, clappy happy, just smooth sailing, everything in its place this side of one heckuva better place than we currently stand in…


“The God I believe in ain’t short of cash”


Not having a 'sunset' setting makes a big difference! The colours seem so much colder than usual, but it's going to be fun learning how to do it all manually.

The forecast: light rain.
Max Temp: 12°C (53°F), Min Temp: 8°C (46°F)
Wind Direction: SW, Wind Speed: 16mph, Visibility: good
Pressure: 1010mb, Humidity: 69%
Sunrise: 08:04GMT, Sunset: 15:51GMT
High Tide at West Mersea Hard: 4.03m at 20:16.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Ladies in Lavender

Beautiful, wistful, melancholy and true.

Meet Herbert - find the attacker!

This is Herbert.

Herbert is dearly loved by son #2.

But Herbert has been attacked by a deadly monster.

Note carefully the ear on the right.

Note also the patch on the chest, which has been carefully stitched up.

Who could have done such terrible things?

Who is the prime suspect?

(And guess who has a mind-bogglingly complicated new camera?)


Or... That Was The Beach This Morning That Wasn't.

(One of the ones I didn't put up from 19th December)

The forecast: light rain.
Max Temp: 9°C (48°F), Min Temp: 9°C (48°F)
Wind Direction: S, Wind Speed: 15mph, Visibility: moderate
Pressure: 1016mb, Humidity: 82%
Sunrise: 08:04GMT, Sunset: 15:50GMT
High Tide at West Mersea Hard: 4.02m at 19:06

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Rev Sam is sad

Rev Sam is sad in all sorts of ways (ask MadPriest about my taste in music), and he can be downright melancholic when considering Peak Oil, but today Rev Sam is sad because he lost his camera on the beach.


So no TBTM for a bit. Perhaps I'll do a few highlights of the year gone by in the run up to 2007.

I should say - I think I lost it when it fell out of my pocket. I was rather distracted because my 4 year old son was at that very moment thrusting a stick into the tenderest region of my body... I didn't realise it was lost until much later in the day, at which point I went back and did a search - but I expect it has been picked up, and probably pocketed by someone thanking God for a late Christmas present!

However, having consulted with beloved, and pondering some of the recent comments on the site (eg from Teresa) - I've decided to take the plunge (ie strain the credit card) and get an upgraded replacement, probably tomorrow. So perhaps there won't be a disruption to TBTM after all!


The forecast for Colchester (CO5), United Kingdom on Thursday: light rain. Max Temp: 10°C (50°F), Min Temp: 4°C (39°F), Wind Direction: W, Wind Speed: 12mph, Visibility: poor, Pressure: 1025mb, Humidity: 93%, UV risk: low, Pollution: N/A, Sunrise: 08:04GMT, Sunset: 15:49GMT

High Tide: 4.14m at 17:59.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas blessing

The recommended blessings given in CofE Common Worship can be pretty dire. Take the Christmas text:

Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one
things earthly and heavenly,
fill you with peace and goodwill
and make you partakers of the divine nature;
and the blessing …

I've always found this remarkably clumsy - clearly drafted by people who were used to reading prayers rather than saying them in worship. In a fit of spontaneously illegal re-drafting, I said this instead:

Christ, who by his incarnation bound together earth and heaven,
fill you with peace and goodwill
and make you children of God;
and the blessing...

I think I'm going to stick with it. It seemed to make more sense.


But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Laments have a purpose and laments have a cost
A requiem played will gather the lost...

Which is why a healing service should properly be 'A Service of Lamentation, Healing and Reconciliation'.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Unbelievable love

I would like to begin tonight by sharing three questions with you: Who is Mary? Who is Jesus? Who am I?

Mary is nobody significant. From what we can gather she was probably a young teenager; a servant girl, not from a good family; she’s having a child out of wedlock; and God chooses her to accomplish something tremendous. This is an incredible thing – literally unbelievable. It’s as if God is taking Vicki Pollard and asking her to be the mother of our Lord… but of course the real miracle is that Mary doesn’t say ‘no but yeah but no but… I can’t believe you just said that’ – instead Mary simply says – yes Lord. Simple as that. No buts. Yes Lord. And unbelievable things follow.

Which brings me to my second question – who is Jesus? For the Christian claim is that Jesus is God, and this too is unbelievable. It’s most unbelievable because God is so almighty and powerful and awesome and totally beyond our comprehension. He’s the biggest and the best. Yet the Christian claim is that this defenceless baby, settled in with the animal feed, warmed by the breath of the cattle – this totally helpless, vulnerable, pathetic creature – this is God. This is where we find God. This is where the meaning of all our lives finds its clearest expression – something which isn’t strong, which isn’t proud, which is wholly dependent on the kindness of strangers.

And what does this mean for my third question – who am I? Who are we? I’d like to suggest that the answer to that question depends on the answer to the other two questions. For if the living god himself isn’t interested in being the almighty and supreme being, even stronger than Superman – what we might think of as the great fascist in the sky – if he, if even he is prepared to empty himself, to take the form of a slave, a helpless human child, and precisely through being so weak to bring life to us, to redeem us, to set us free from the law of sin and death and allow us to become the people we are most deeply called to be – if our god is prepared to do this for us, doesn’t this say something about who we are? That perhaps we too don’t need to be quite so concerned about appearing strong? I don’t know about you, but if you’re anything like me then sometimes you’ll be concerned with keeping up appearances – that illusion that we are in control, an illusion that is so important we can occasionally even come close to persuading ourselves that it’s true. Of course, it’s never true – we’re never in control, we too are vulnerable, we are weak, we break down and things go wrong and we get them wrong and we blame ourselves but really what we’re most frightened of is someone else discovering that this façade of being in control is just an illusion... We’re like those guinea pigs running on their wheels – we can never get to the place of rest, and the faster we run the more the process destroys us. But if we don’t have to pursue this agenda of keeping our appearances up – when we’re not making ourselves weak by pretending to be strong – then we have a chance to live the way God is calling us to live.

God loves us more deeply than we can know – it’s an unbelievable thing, not least because we are not worthy – but it doesn’t stop him loving us. He has something in mind for us, a way of life that is more complete, more fulfilling, more exciting and moving than anything that we can devise for ourselves. But we spend our lives saying yes to the world – saying ‘yes’ I want that new car! Yes, I want that new toy! Yes I need to wear that deodorant in order to become attractive to the opposite sex! None of these things help us to become who we most truly are. The only yes that counts is the yes that we can say to God – the yes of Mary. No buts, just a yes. And trust that this unbelievable process – a god who is prepared to be so weak – for us – has the real power of setting us free from all the things which destroy our lives – which consume our souls and don’t even offer us a receipt, let alone a guarantee.

In Christ the light has come into the world; a light which sets us free, and allows us to live in the light. This is what John’s gospel calls becoming a child of god. We know what this sort of person is – we’ve all met people who seem to have a sense of peace or groundedness that immunises them against all the things which stress the rest of us mere mortals. These children of God are the ones who know that they are loved by the Father. That the Father sees right through them, isn’t taken in by all the pretences and the façades and illusions that we build up around ourselves to make ourselves appear worthy in the sight of the world – the Father sees through all that, he sees all the secrets of our hearts – yes, even those ones that we can’t admit to ourselves – he sees it all. And he loves us.

And don’t underestimate this. Don't underestimate what a challenge it is. It’s a very difficult thing, accepting that we are unconditionally loved. We find it unbelievable, so we don’t believe it, so we keep on destroying our lives trying to earn something that is given to us for free.

And because of this unbelievable love, which is there no matter what we do – it’s unearnt, unmerited – this unbelievable love is what sets us free to be ourselves. If you can’t make God love you any more than he does already then there is no longer any need to pretend to be what you’re not. We can become who we are.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Free to be ourselves, free to be the children of God, playing in the garden; trusting that the one in charge of it all loves us – no, more than loves us, he actually likes us, he likes who we are. Not the false stuff; not the destructive stuff – he hates that more than we do, because he can really see how it damages us – no, he sees the real me, and he likes what he sees.


The Father knocks on my door,
Seeking a home for his Son.

Rent is cheap, I say.

I don’t want to rent, I want to buy, says God.

I’m not sure I want to sell,
But you might come in to look around.

I think I will, says God.

I might let you have a room or two.

I like it, says God. I’ll take the two. You might decide to give me more some day. I can wait, says God.

I’d like to give you more, but it’s a bit difficult.
I need some space for me.

I know, says God, but I’ll wait; I like what I see.

Hmm. Maybe I can let you have another room.
I really don’t need that much.

Thanks, says God. I’ll take it. I like what I see.

I’d like to give you the whole house, but I’m not sure.

Think on it, says God; I would not put you out. Your house would be mine and my son would live in it. You’d have more space than you’ve ever had before.

I don’t understand at all.

I know, says God, but I can’t tell you about that. You have to discover it for yourself. That can only happen if you let me have the whole house.

A bit risky, I say.

Yes, says God, but try me.

I’m not sure. I’ll let you know.

I can wait, says God. I like what I see.


Christmas is unbelievable. God taking the form of a human baby, excluded from society, sleeping with the cattle. Yet this story, this truth, this light breaking in to our world – this is the good news of God; that finally, here is the answer to all our questions.


The two dog collars wish a very Happy Christmas to you all.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Abandoning church at Christmas time

Was delighted and surprised by a very large turnout at church this morning - I had pared back the normal 3 services into one, expecting that people would concentrate on this evening's or tomorrow morning's offerings - but the lesson to learn is, I suspect, never again to underestimate the faith of the faithful.

That was the good news.

The other news - not sure it is 'bad', but it's definitely different - is here (HT At my clergy support group the other day, the distinction was raised between 'being a priest' and 'being an incumbent' - and how the workload of the latter drives out the workload of the former (a sort of Gresham's Law of Ministry). "How can someone spiritually shepherd hundreds?" - indeed.

The idea of just abandoning Church and getting on with being Christian can be very attractive, even if it's not something I plan on doing any time soon myself. For one thing, I can't imagine ever doing without communion on a Sunday, and gathering together with other people for the same purpose (doesn't need a church building - but I think they're inevitable). Yet there is certainly something in that post that needs to be heard.


A new dog collar. Flashing red for the season.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Thanks to Monbiot's Heat I was converted to the merits of having (some) groceries delivered at home by Tesco or Sainsbury or whomever.

Even better, however, is if it can be delivered by a firm which doesn't possess those temples of CO2 in the first place - Ocado.


Been researching lots about Martyn Joseph - and downloading an album or two from his site, 'coz he's obviously a bit of a songwriting genius - but a rather rude thought struck me.

This is Martyn Joseph:

This is Truman:

he he he...


Now you can say that I've grown bitter but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor
And there's a mighty judgement coming, but I may be wrong
You see, you hear these funny voices...In the tower of song

Friday, December 22, 2006


"All Bette's stories have happy endings. That's because she knows where to stop. She's realized the real problem with stories - if you keep them going long enough, they always end in death."

(From Neil Gaiman's Sandman sequence. A quotation which may just encapsulate the major theme of the sequence itself - not sure, because there's rather a lot in the way of profound themes - but I think it does. I was reminded of it by seeing the info about the new Harry Potter book. Farewell then, young Harry. It was good to know you.)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


I've been indulging myself hugely in photos these last few days. The light has been remarkable; I hope some of that has come across.

A quotation

"Darwinian selection couldn't ever have favoured contraception. That's simply a demonstration that it's possible to decide to do other noble things, like being nice..."
Richard Dawkins, quoted in the Spectator, 9 December 2006.

For PB

...who got me to listen to a song.
"He found an example within the field of music. He said, imagine that you walk down a street past, say, a car where someone has the radio on and it plays a tune you've never heard before but which is so fantastically good it just stops you in your tracks. You listen until it's done. Days later you remember exactly what that street looked like when you heard that music. You remember what was in the store window you stood in front of. You remember what the colors of the cars in the street were, where the clouds were in the sky above the buildings across the street, and it all comes back so vividly you wonder what song they were playing, and so you wait until you hear it again. If it's that good you'll hear it again because other people will have heard it too and have had the same feelings and that will make it popular. One day it comes on the radio again and you get the same feeling again and you catch the name and you rush down the street to the record store and buy it and can hardly wait until you can get it home and play it."(From Robert Pirsig's 'Lila')

See also here. The Martyn Joseph website is here.


Let us cast aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Tom Wright on the gnostic donatists

Here. He's not pulling any punches. I particularly agreed with "the root problem we face in the Anglican Communion is one of deeply faulty theology" - and his application of that to these incorrigibly self-righteous pagans.



For God alone my soul in silence waits.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.
For this was a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


And he'll take you down to Vaudeville Valley, with his hand up smothering your screams
And he'll screw you down in Tin Pan Alley, in the city of a billion dreams

Tuscan attitudes

Pleased with the Learning Church this morning, and numbers were back up. This is just a link to the article I mentioned about Tuscan attitudes to tree preservation - here.


Hmm. Wayne Grudem.

Friday, December 15, 2006


Two decidedly non-toxic members of the congregation here treated me to a Billy Bragg concert on Monday night, which was rather wonderful of them. The concert was great too!

Herewith a hopefully not-too-illegal presentation of one of his songs, with prefatory amusing dialogue (image quality is useless, but the sound is fine).

48 hours

My New Year's Resolution, following some lengthy conversations.

As in: I'm not going to work more than 48 hours per week. It's not sustainable. And sustainability, as we all know, is something I believe in. (I average 55-60 at the moment, tho' that includes some blog reading).

I might even try to bring it under the legal limit - but that's probably too ambitious.

Anyhow, that's what lies behind this morning's photo-comment; more fully: "Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep." (Ps 127, KJV)

Training in how to read the Bible

Excellent stuff from Alastair:

If I were to construct a course, training students to be biblical scholars, I would go out of my way to avoid critical theories for at least the first two years. During that period I would expect my students to read the biblical text from cover to cover four times, at the very least. I would expect them to learn at least a dozen passages of ten verses or more by heart and at least a dozen important psalms. I would expect them to be able to pass challenging comprehension tests on their reading. I would get them to express the arguments of books such as Romans in their own words from memory. I would get them to sing psalms and would expect them to participate regularly in worship.

I would teach them methods of biblical reading before I ever began to teach them critical methods. For example, I would teach them lectio divina and would expect them to have a good knowledge of various church’s lectionaries and the manner in which they shape biblical reading and the reader of the Bible himself. I would get them to think critically about the way in which they read, teaching them to be critical of their own posture towards the text before they ever learn to be critical of the text itself. They would be expected to have some knowledge of the relationship between modes of engagement with the Scripture and theology and to have thought about the way that technology moulds our relationship with Scripture. Later in the course, they would be taught such things as the art of public Bible reading.

After this extensive and intensive training in the art of biblical reading I would hope that my students were sensitive, attentive and receptive readers of the biblical text. At this stage I would expose them to the biblical critics and train them to read them sensitively also. Delaying this exposure to the biblical critics by a few years would, I believe, do the field of biblical scholarship a world of good. I have no problem with reading biblical scholars and critics, but I believe that there is something very seriously wrong when the training of such students focuses on the reading of biblical critics and scholars to the neglect of the ability to read the actual biblical text well.

I couldn't claim to have read the Bible from cover to cover four times(!) - once was enough...

Overrated and Underrated

I thought this was revealing about the state of the literati.

Most over-rated book:
Richard Dawkins' delusion.

Most under-rated book:
Why Truth Matters, Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom (Continuum).

"In every generation, intelligent people insist on embracing the irrational...."

Practical virtue

"We are the richer for having such people among us - and honoring them, recognizing them, and teaching the virtues they stood for is part of our basic responsibilities as members of a civilization."

I think this is true, irrespective of the pros and cons of a particular conflict.

Scruffy shoes

A new shoe looks wonderful and shiny. Yet until it has been broken in it can be uncomfortable to walk in. It needs to become less perfect in order to be more useful.

It is when we stop trying to be perfect that God is able to walk in us.


God gives to his beloved sleep.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


So I'm sorry if I ever resisted
I never had a doubt you ever existed
I only have a problem when people insist on
Taking their hate and placing it on your name

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

From Hell

Sadly, I am reminded that I never posted a review of this amazing book. Thing is, having been reminded, I'm not sure that now is the time to talk about it. Suffice to say: a profound exploration of the human tendency to evil, wrapped within a retelling of the Jack the Ripper narrative.

Whilst I don't think that Alan Moore's work is as theologically interesting as Gaiman's Sandman sequence, he's undoubtedly a visionary genius. If you haven't read 'Watchmen' - well, I don't know what to say. Do you read at all?

(Haven't seen the film; don't feel a particular need to. In other words, I'll catch it when it comes out on Sky next...)

Some thoughts on genetic determinism

This is something I wrote a few weeks ago about genetic determinism, for a Peak Oil list. Haven't had a chance to pursue it much, but I thought I'd throw it up here just in case anyone is interested.

What I mean by 'genetic determinism' is the belief that an analysis of our genetic inheritance, coupled with the evolutionary history by which that inheritance has come down to us, is a sufficient explanation for human behaviour. Specifically, what I think is missed out by accepting genetic determinism is the role played by beliefs, ie the cognitive structure of the mind, both in terms of social and cultural forms and practices, and individual judgement. Put differently, what I understand genetic determinism to deny is a substantial causal role for the individual consciousness, ie genetic determinism claims that our sense of making decisions is an epiphenomenal illusion.

What I have in mind is this sort of language (examples taken from Jay Hanson's paper "ON HUMAN NATURE"): "In order to understand our collective future, one must understand individual human nature. Our individual behavior derives entirely from genes and environment (lifetime environment, but mostly present environment)."

Here human behaviour is described as derived “entirely” from genes and environment. Later on in the paper Jay writes: “When our subconscious feels our fitness is best served by lying, cheating, stealing, raping, or killing, then we will do so. It's human nature.” Hence the example of Jekyll and Hyde, whereby the conscious mind is merely the puppet of the subconscious: “About 1/2 second after Mr. Hyde makes a decision, he invents a socially acceptable excuse for Dr. Jekyll, and then Jekyll tells the neighbors. Unfortunately, Dr. Jekyll has no way of knowing whether Hyde is telling the truth or lying. This makes it literally impossible for anyone to know for certain what Mr. Hyde is up to.”

I think there are a number of problems with this approach. To begin with, it falls foul of the need to be falsifiable. If any decision is open to the description of ‘bad faith’ (ie that the stated reasons are not the real reasons – in fact, the language of ‘reasons’ no longer has purchase, and we can only talk of cause), then there are no decisions that might qualify as a counter-example. This reveals the axiomatic nature of such genetic determinism – it’s not open to falsification, so it’s not something driven by an empirical investigation but rather by a philosophical (ideological) presupposition.

More to the point, this form of genetic determinism renders indistinct the (perceived) difference between virtuous and non-virtuous actions – each type of action is equally illusory, as both are wholly explained by the genetic and environmental inheritance. Thus the investigation of human behaviour runs into the ground from the start – for the differences in human behaviour can no longer be distinguished. That which is claimed to explain everything in the end explains nothing of interest, for it is precisely the differences in human behaviour which are important.

An analogy may make my point of view clearer. The laws of physics are universal and binding; such laws include the law of gravity, whereby all matter is attracted together. Yet when a bird flies through the sky it is not being constrained by the the law of gravity. In order to give a full account of the flight of the bird, we need not only to incorporate the other laws of physics but also refer to the evolution of wings etc. Reference to the law of gravity is not an adequate or sufficient explanation for the behaviour of a flying bird.

In the same way, reference to the genetic and environmental inheritance is – in my view – an insufficient explanation for human behaviour, and a full account of human behaviour requires an analysis of the cognitive processes which we experience as guiding our decision making.

A little while back Antonio Damasio was referenced. I have a great deal of sympathy for his approach (the ‘somatic marker hypothesis’) which seems to provide precisely the link needed between our human decision making and our genetic and environmental inheritance, through the emotional reactions presented by our minds to our bodies. Yet it is precisely this ‘imagination’ that needs to be explored, it seems to me. In other words, what are the factors and understandings which lead decisions in one way rather than another.

I was prompted to write this by reading this article: The writer, Robert Sapolsky argues that to see genes as 'determining' behaviour is a mistake, a misunderstanding of the nature of genetic properties. He writes "Sure, some behaviors are overwhelmingly under genetic control. Just consider all those mutant flies hopping into the sack with insects their parents disapprove of. And some mammalian behaviors, even human ones, are probably pretty heavily under genetic regulation as well. These are likely to code for behaviors that must be performed by everyone in much the same way for genes to be passed on. For example, all male primates have to go about the genetically based behavior of pelvic thrusting in fairly similar ways if they plan to
reproduce successfully. But by the time you get to courtship, or emotions, or creativity, or mental illness, or any complex aspect of our lives, the intertwining of biological and environmental components utterly defeats any attempt to place them into separate categories, let alone to then decide that one of them has got to go."

Given this, it seems that what we should be concerned with is how to structure environments in such a way that the fitness-maximising of alpha males - and all the other males and females - tends towards sustainability, and minimising destruction. To argue that this is impossible seems to be a) giving genes (or, more broadly, the evolutionary heritage) more authority than it deserves, and b) a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To my mind the existence of the condom is the overwhelming proof that genetic determinism is false, and that wider factors in the environment, and most importantly in the cognitive structures of an individual human mind, are much more important to the behavioural choices made by any one individual. A response to Peak Oil, therefore, needs to engage with those cognitive structures. We need, to use a Wittgensteinian expression, to change the language games that people play.

So, if it is true that “The human mind is optimized for "politics"” – and, with a slight caveat about what counts as ‘politics’ I think it is – then the issue is about what sort of political structure and value system needs to be established that gives the rewards that benefit the wider society as a whole.

The assumption that I’m questioning is that, in the context of the severe stress that Peak Oil will place upon human communities, human life will rapidly become nasty, brutal and short. I can accept that this is quite plausible – indeed likely – what I am questioning is whether it is an inevitability; and therefore whether it is worth putting any effort into trying to change the political setup.


Disaster will come upon you, and you will not know how to conjure it away.
A calamity will fall upon you that you cannot ward off with a ransom;
a catastrophe that you cannot foresee will suddenly come upon you.
(Isaiah 47)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


And if you ever have to go to school
Remember how they messed up this old fool.
Don't pick fights with the bullies or the cads
'cause I'm not much cop at punching other people's dads.
And if the homework brings you down
Then we'll throw it on the fire and take the car downtown...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Bring out the peacock

Some point soon there will be a long post explaining this....

(It's by way of a follow-up to this one.)

he he he he he

It's simple really

How about this for a wonderful opening paragraph:
On a hill outside Jerusalem, a carpenter from Nazareth, condemned by the Roman Procurator of Judea and the high priest of the Jews, died upon a cross. Four historians of the time soberly reported that he was buried, and that on the third day the carpenter, Jesus, rose from the dead. Since that first Easter, his followers have defied all reason to proclaim that the Jew of Nazareth was the Son of God, who, by dying for man's sin, reconciled the world to its Creator and returned to life in his glory. Christianity has always been content to stand or fall by this paradox, this mystery, this unfathomable truth. "If Christ has not been raised," wrote St. Paul to the young church of Corinth, "then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins."

Full article, about Karl Barth, is available here (HT David Peebles Williamson)


They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

(1 Thess 1.9-10)

Not a verse that I have previously been that familiar with, but one that makes an awful lot of sense to me now. We had it this morning at Morning Prayer.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Last time we met was a low-lit room
We were as close together as a bride and groom
We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time
Except you…
You were talking about the end of the world

Friday, December 08, 2006


Average literacy in the US fell after the introduction of centralised schooling in the mid-nineteenth century.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Significantly better than expected.
(By virtue of no expectations whatsoever. Also helped by virtue of Keira Knightley being pretty, even with a nose bleed.)

The moral of the story is: look after your goldfish.

We all fall down.


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

(Dylan Thomas. I have often worked in the room he worked in. One day a little of the fairy dust might rub off...)

An inquiry into living

A serendipitous discovery. Reminds me of Zen (ZMM). Very helpful for me today. Go well.

A small note on apocalypse

Have a read of this (HT Energy Bulletin) which I tend to agree with. However, having read Alison, it is difficult to see apocalypse as the specifically Christian genre, as opposed to eschatology. (More on this after the weekend, when I am doing a talk on it!)

See also his 'Apocalypse Not' on his sidebar.


Not the result of a high tide, but of exceptionally heavy rain last night.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006