Hilton and Gray libel case struck out of court

No outcome in a libel trial is a good one, but a celebration is allowed for Alex Hilton and John Gray who had a case against them struck out today, adding to another unsuccessful attempt by political activist Johanna Kaschke to sting bloggers.

Mr Justice Stalden ruled Kaschke’s lawsuit an “abuse of process” and refused permission to appeal.

In May Kaschke’s libel case against fellow blogger David Osler was also struck out in the High Court.

As Index on Censorship reported it:

Mr Justice Eady ruled that Kaschke’s lawsuit constituted an “abuse of process” as established in the Jameel case.

He also ruled that there was no evidence that Osler’s blog post had been “published” within the 12 months prior to Kaschke bringing the suit. Kaschke had waited over a year from the original publication of Osler’s blog post to sue.

John Gray, in 2008, pontificated on the incoming libel action brought against them, saying:

I do think that with regard to Alex and Labourhome that it is just absolutely outrageous that they are facing any such legal action. I posted the original article on Labourhome and accept responsibility for it. Sue me if you must. If this legal action was to be successful then there would be no Labour, Conservative or whatever blogs which allowed un-moderated comments or posts. Even moderated blogs would be under threat since the law allows spurious claims to be made which cost £1000’s to defend.

Alex “Hilton [was] awarded 10k in interim costs. Gray 250 quid” while the “Claimant [was] ordered to pay £4k interim payment on account of costs” shortly after the “[c]laimant [told the] court that the strike out is a “setback for blogging.”

The case for libel law reform could not be any more urgent (the campaign for which can be found here), but today’s result should send a pretty strong message to Johanna Kaschke – again – that issuing libel writs “like confetti” will not work (to paraphrase Robert Dougans, who represented Osler, Gray and Hilton pro bono).

The background to the case has been provided on the Jack of Kent blog by the tireless David Green.

The full judgement can be read here (essential)

The contested case of Johanna Kaschke is as follows (quoted from Harry’s Place):

Ms Kaschke, as a student and member of the centre-left SPD in her native West Germany in the 1970s, helped to organise a benefit concert for Rote Hilfe, an organisation officially designated ‘left-extremist’ by the state; the gig was designed to raise funds for the legal fees of Baader-Meinhof Gang suspects; that she was herself subsequently arrested on suspicion of terrorism; and that she spent several months on remand, after which she was released and compensated for unfair imprisonment.

It is further uncontested that Ms Kaschke nominated herself as Labour candidate for Bethnal Green & Bow in 2007; that she received just one vote; that shortly thereafter she defected to George Galloway’s Respect party; shortly after that, she joined an as-yet-unspecified Communist Party; and that shortly after that, she became a Conservative.

She was, in other words, a member of four political parties in 12 months.

She also appears in the following “video outlining her thoughts on the New World Order here. ‘Even Jesus is such a personification of naturally occuring solar lifecycles’. ‘All great men in history were involved in Masonic lodges, from Lenin to Clinton’.”


A model for Christian atheism

Sigmund Freud, that ever-controversial figure, is more known for his views on the unconscious and the Oedipus complex than for his theological work, but indeed, as time spent in his house, now museum, in North West London will reveal, a lot of his efforts and interests were devoted to religious symbols, figurines, artworks and texts. From as early as childhood Freud viewed religion as merely a fantasy based entirely upon a childish wish fulfilment, this view most explicitly stated in his work of 1927 entitled The Future of an Illusion where he made clear that though many childhood wishes were unlikely, they were not impossible.

Freud held this particularly negative view of religion up until 1935 when an evident sea-change became apparent in his manner. In private correspondence Freud started to acknowledge the intellectual qualities of God on thought and enquiry, after all the speculation of an absent property had immense benefits for abstract contemplation. Freud’s understanding of the concept of God changed from illusion to promoting sapience. Rather than bogging one down with idle introspection, the concept permitted investigation.

What Freud’s more mature work suggested was that there are substantial benefits to accepting the limits of our knowledge, and having something akin to faith in a truth not necessarily interpreted by the senses. For Freud, Moses represented such an intellectual leap (PDF file), that he refused to accept a life of sun idolatry for something more intellectually cultivating, meant that religion was more than simple childishness, and that even as an atheist – as Freud persistently was throughout his life – Freud realised that there was something important to be maintained from the Judeo-Christian legacy.

Funny, then, that the new atheists – who include well-known figures such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens – all include in their anti-religious polemics appeals to the, slapdash, early Freud view that religion is illusory, a view that, as Ana-Maria Rizzuto reminds us in her excellent book Why Did Freud Reject God: A Psychoanalytic Interpretation, was born out of a rebellious reaction to his Father’s beliefs. Less is said by these bestselling authors about what is valuable about the Judeo-Christian legacy, and there is one simple reason for that, they are in denial of it. At best the so-called humanistic values to which they espouse are offshoots of elements otherwise unparalleled in Christian ethics (to be sure, if there is no God, the guidelines attributed to religion are in some ways expressions of a humanist imperative, but more than that the Golden Rule, as only one example, is a most impressive humanist guide) and at worst they represent the most foul turns of immorality imaginable, from the anti-Christian Adolf Eichmann’s part played in the Final Solution, to Sam Harris’ more recent enthusiasm for torture and the morality of collateral damage. This is not to conflate atheism with immorality, by no means, but by pretending to hold the moral high ground on the basis of non-religion alone, is a grave flaw unlike any other, an illusion.

John Gray, in his take on the phenomena of the new atheists, rightly identified that ‘zealous atheism renews some of the worst features of Christianity and Islam’. The character trait he most deplores in Dawkins et al is their insistence of a new socio-cultural shift that will emerge on the advent of decreased religious influence/tolerance. For Gray, any agenda for dramatic change on a massive scale is doomed to failure before it starts, he imagines that societal thirst and energy for grand narratives has all but dried up, and any remaining hopefuls of radical transformation are setting themselves up to fail. He holds new atheism in this esteem, subtly mocking scientific ‘consciousness raising’ – the analogy of the day – as overoptimistic bunkum.

Though for me it is not because of this hope of societal shift that I find the new atheist project to be largely detrimental, but rather because of the denial of such a transaction’s Christian heritage. Instead of avowedly viewing their conscious-raised utopia as being not too dissimilar from the Christian efforts for transformation by salvation of the existing social order, it instead chooses to caricature religion as indefinitely and unalterably evil, while upholding the folly that atheism is fully grounded on reason, humanism and a pursuit of good, morally superior as a consequence. Such is the nature of the new atheism delusion.

On Assisted suicide and other wicked issues

Optimists who before the economic crash blindly believed that the world was heading for a global economic convergence in liberal capitalism were as deluded as they were then as now if they still believe. For those who felt that this economic singularity was opening up space for world harmony, then only drugs can save them now. Once upon a time disease, poverty, food shortages were real issues that needed real solutions, and, lo and behold, much has not changed. In fact, we have new items to add to the list of problems that require many solutions, some of them almost economically impossible with our current urgencies.

Last November Demos released a report entitled Connecting the Dots, taking a look at “joined-up” methods of tackling the so-called “wicked problems“. The examples they look at are the drugs trade, climate change and gang crime, which are issues that at best need global action to solve, and often seem not possible to curb, calling instead for attempts to harness the problem. Climate change is not the fault of one place more than another, and even if nation states are more to blame than another, even then pinpointing the exact point of blame from within that nation state is a long, unfruitful affair. This, like the drugs trade, then begs for a global solution – and it’s not looking good.

Also like the drugs trade, gang crime is often not as easy to curb as “cracking down” on it, sociologists on the issue, like Professor John Pitts of the University of Luton, look at where the need to feel the unity of a gang stems from, places where the state can not retroactively counter like bullying, weak households, histories of physical, mental and sexual violence. The drugs trade, in the same category, to start with relies on an all to willing consumer – where, here, is the traceable point of blame?

John Gray in his book Black Mass looks at the wider expressions of political outlook, those congruent with Christian notions of End Time, such as aspects of Communism (End of History), Fascism (global anti-Semitism), neo-liberalism (Fukuyama’s notion that the fall of the Berlin Wall points to global liberal capitalist convergence), neo-conservatism (the export of democracy to backward countries), and condemns them for their appeals to a utopianism that is not only impossible, but the harbinger of a global delusion – that everything will soon be just fine. A very negative outlook indeed, which is not testimony to ignoring it, but what is his political solution thus? What he calls political realism, which is akin to saying politics should address, acknowledge, and harness global problems, instead of supposing that one day everything will be fine.

Gray’s thesis is much like the Demos report in that it shows political problems to be uneasy to deal with, though made all the worse by pretending to have a single solution, for example gang crime will be phased out by 20?? or by 2050 carbon emissions will be cut down to ??. The latter calls for multi-agency approaches, youth offending networks assessing the local problems so as to address wider ones, looking towards results emanating from the Boston Gun Project in the US etc etc. Gray, from his work, criticises those illusions which suggest solutions come easy, noting such a political motives’ legacy in Plato’s “noble lie” – the notion that to maintain social harmony, a social elite must hold untruths (it has been suggested that the basis of the Iraq war was based on a noble lie, though how noble this might be is questionable).

Plato preferred the political noble lie to democracy, saying that the latter was informed by a compulsion for mob rule. Wrong. But how can we extend the utility of a noble lie, whilst not ignoring Gray’s thesis, to a societal ill that at the same time not only harnesses it as a problem that can be considered wicked, but also curbs its “criminal” conclusions? The problem is assisted suicide.

Critics of the current system say the state should have no part on the pursuit of the individual, whereas the opposite charge is how can the state allow, and thereby sanction, suicide as a means to an end. I hold the view that nobody is in a position to say whether suicide is the right thing to do for whatever reason, but that the state should act as an overseer for justice and suicide falls under this category, therefore the state has the right to act accordingly, and therefore its institutions, with expertise from the health department, should inform what diagnosis fits where – and suicide is never such a diagnosis. Suicide as such should remain illegal, but of course if successful, the punishment is rendered obsolete anyway. However daft this might seem, it makes sense inasmuch as suicide is illegal in the eyes of the law. Just because a person cares not about the punishment that fits a crime of passion (say a person kills their partner for cheating, irrespective of the consequences), does not mean that legal status should not be bestowed upon a crime if the person committing that crime feels nothing for that legal status. Assisted suicide is another matter though. Now of course this is a crime, and usual procedures fit in my opinion. That person who has assisted should go through the usual legal route of court proceedings, however, again in my opinion, that person should be assessed for his crime and have their sentence duly suspended. Why bother, you ask. The trial will assess what surrounds the crime, whether there is anything dodgy about it (because, remember, there could be), and whether it was really an act of compassion. It might help to remember that crimes of supposed necessity – like assisted suicide usually is – happen, and are still criminal. Who would ever really scorn a poor Mother who stole bread from a shop. Some compassion by the judiciary should be bestowed to that Mother, but to decriminalise her act would be to open up the space for people with less than compassionate intentions.

The ideal end to a trial where a person has committed the act of suicide assistance would be where they have their sentence suspended on compassionate grounds, but after due legal examination to check as best as possible that nothing dubious has crept through the cracks, which is where I depart from the current perception of this crime, that often compassion is not bestowed upon the offender.

But this is not exactly a noble lie. My suggestion, however, is that if this was carried out, it should be in effect a noble lie in that it would not be broadcast outside the legal domain, therefore a small section of society would know a little more than transparency would allow. It would be my wild guess that for all those who want to commit suicide, many of them would not get this same decision passed through the most objective medical examination. Therefore if we can curb assisted suicide where unnecessary that would surely be a good thing. If my proposal was carried out in full view of the public it would render the move pointless, because if you knew you would get away with it in the end anyway the law would not function in the way it should properly (to stop crime). But in knowledge of a scrutiny panel, maybe alternatives would be considered, even in the toughest of cases.

I have no criticism for those who wish to pursue suicide, but everyone should be agreed that it would be better without it. And though we can not stop it where it might seem necessary, and is indeed crucial, legalities still need to be adhered to. But for those people who do deserve, compassion should be extended, the legal process is to filter those who deserve it from those who do not, exactly like in any other case. The noble lie would be to make sure the whole thing is not pointless, and should not carry exactly the same weight as it did with Plato and his elitist, anti-democratic ideas. This would be an act of compassion, strategic thinking, and realist measurement.

Do we want God back?

A simple message was uttered by Tony Blair this year in the staggers, we must do God. There is an element to which this is already true, and so embedded it is, that to suggest doing is pointless. But is how Blair meant it so true?

For Blair, doing God is more about globalisation than it is theology. The marketplace, a global landscape, must promote and understand different religious pratices and peculiarities, so as not to jeopardise trading with countries where religion and economics are not separated.

When we see it this way, Blair, in saying do God, did not actually mean do God in any way shape or form. He meant be sensitive to faith in order to avoid getting your fingers burnt in the economy.

But doing God generally is dificult not to do, though many have tried. John Gray for example, in his great book Black Mass argues that the bouts of militant atheism and secularism are features of the western christian tradition. Calvinism in the sixteenth century actually foregrounded the view that while theology was ‘an echo of the biblical text‘ it was not, stricto sensu, so much a commentary of the text, but an interpretive framework by which the text may be understood. As such, Calvin saw the stories of the creation and the fall as simple renditions, certainly not to be taken literally, so rather than being an obstacle to science, he was actually an obstacle to biblical literalism.

Todays new atheists tend to draw their guns at biblical literalists, though suggest that through reason all believers can be dismantled. It’s hardly observant of fact that they produce a caricature of people of faith, then attempt only to critique one portion of the religious body. Calvin didn’t see himself as part of the traditional institution, was a radical as such, and his theology is now widely regarded as a most popular strand of christianity. In fact, according to Alister McGrath, a biographer of Calvin, if Calvin’s ideas were even more popular, the structure of the religion vs. science debate would take a far different form, since for Calvin the story of creation was an illustration rather than a literal truth, room is apparent for evolution science, seen of late as the sole domain of post-religious enlightenment.

John Gray, this time in his book Straw Dogs, noted that strains of thought seen to be of the legacy of the enlightenment – the liberal philosophers for example, A.C. Grayling – tend to be progressive, and therefore, for Gray, doomed for failure since the realm of progressivism, either borrows heavily from preceding philosophies, rendering it non-progressive, or else nihilistic and destined for bankruptcy. It was because of this that Gray earned himself the reputation as a pessimist, which may be evidently true, but it cannot be forgotten his indebtedness to Isiaah Berlin and elements of Eastern philosophy – he’s not simply pessimistic, but partly unrecognisable by traditional western standards.

The so-called secular, progressive projects, according to Gray, have their own eschatology and are therefore either forever inseperable with demythologised christianity, or else inseperable to failed projects such as Nazism or Communism, which for Gray, have a religious, totemistic quality about them anyway.

This is something that atheists like A.C. Grayling would agree on, that, in his words, “Nazism and Stalinism … emulate … religions in being monolithic ideologies demanding absolute subserviance to a supposed ideal”. But this is true only insofar as religion is idolatry. Stalin of course was an atheist, Hitler in the thirties disuaded the religious from appealing to his ideology until he realised the amount of Catholic money he could get his hands on, and Eichmann even up until his death rejected the presence of a priest visit to his cell for his anti-religious sentiments were so strong.

There is the notion that Calvin works in both the Blair reference to God (Calvin and Calvinism was a product of Genevan society, an early hub of capitalism and profit) and also the way in which Gray understands it, that the secular projects of today are simply rejuvenated versions of the christian legacy. Whatever the case, and whatever your beliefs, God is still done today, both demythologised and capitalised, to change the world one must change God in these forms, not get rid of God.

Could John Gray reveal the appeal of N-dubz?

I spent a large part of today without the internet so I decided to re-read John Gray’s glorious book Straw Dogs. Whilst reading this in the front room of my girlfriend’s flat, her flatmate started to half-watch a music channel, and on came that bad boy rapper N-dubz. I watched him, to begin with, pouring armchair scourn all over him. Then I married my book reading with my N-viewing and realised that I understood ‘dubz’ appeal.

Gray’s main thesis is that progressive society doesn’t really exist, anything that we might call post-enlightenment (certain modes of science, progressive politics to a large extent) is really just a rearticulation of crass christianity, and this even goes for today’s atheism which so often is played in the court of the believer. Along with Gray’s links to Indian philosophy and appeals to philosophies that end the reign of the ‘self’, he really enlists himself to a group of nihilistic warriors, fighting Nietzsche’s wars and constantly unravelling their huge sulky bottom lips. Grand political schemes have all failed, society is trapped in an endless circle, we ought really to embrace the freedoms that can be found about automata, and die.

That endless circle that society is trapped within, has meant morality, where once appealed to as way of protection over anarchistic anomie, is now the very thing we seek to overcome, in our postindustrial, postmodern lives. Gray imagines a time when “‘morality’ is marketed as a new brand of transgression”.

And is this not the very reason why N-dubz has become popular, that he is such an exaggerated version of himself and the image to which he is attributed, that he has started to take the form of the transgression of this very image? That what we like about him, is not that he takes his fashion statements seriously, bur rather they are so hyperbolic that they begin to be unreal, uncanny.

That Gray imagines that a society operates in a circle of morality and then morality transgression, N-dubz has operated in the form of image and then image transgression, owing to the fact that he is a caricatured version the thing he once represented – that of the boiler suit wearing, baseball-capped, white working class rapper from the streets of London.

Where audiences once liked this for what it is, the popularity of N-dubz seems to be something more,perhaps something that embraces the perception that he is something of a spin-off of his own self-image.

I’ll let you decide.

Of course, as I now know, who I mean when I say N-dubz is actually Dappy from the group of artists collectively known as N-dubz.