Sunday, 27 September 2015

Shifting Position - On Rejoining the Labour Party

Two weeks ago, I decided to rejoin the Labour Party, I had left the Party in 2004 in growing disgust at the 'imperial' expansion by force of allegedly liberal values and the lack of progress in building a case with the public for a moderate and sensible democratic socialism in one country able to collaborate constructively with socialists, democratic socialists and liberals elsewhere in the world.

As recently as May of this year, I produced a fairly blunt analysis of why Labour had failed to win the 2015 General Election. This turned out to be one of my most widely circulated posts. Only last month I gave a similarly pessimistic view of politics under the two 'bourgeois' factions of one centrist liberal and increasingly culturally totalitarian 'National Party'. This latter piece had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the importance (to me) of transparency - I wanted readers to know where my biases and prejudices came from so that they could winnow them out when taking what they could from my work. Unusually, I am not trying to persuade anyone of anything. All I am trying to do is to get my readers to think for themselves and challenge their own assumptions as they challenge mine.

Last month, I hinted that I could rejoin the Labour Party but I was pessimistic: " ... the Labour Party is so appallingly decadent that the Tories now look relatively competent. How did that happen? ... The British Labour Party is little more than the defensive manouevre of conservative special interest groups terrified by the onward march of history. I may join it again if Corbyn wins even though his politics are not mine (though I know and respect the person)"  

Because of that pessimism, I declined to do what I considered to be dishonourable and send in my £3 to join a bandwagon, vote for Jezza and then claim to be one of the faithful. What I underestimated was not only the level of discontent within the Party (whose activists I had prematurely dismissed as variants of Orwell's cart horse in 1984) but the impressive personal performance of Corbyn and the radical shift of opinion within huge stretches of the trades union movement persuaded me that I was wrong to stand aside. The trades unions seemed to have finally got that being the servant of urban liberals was demeaning, that the union gift of power to the Blairites in the 1990s had achieved little and that trying to regain power through a quasi-Leftist intellectual Blairite like Miliband was not going to work.

I took time to decide whether to rejoin the Party but when the decision came, it seemed right even though much of the pessimism remains. It was helped by the estimable old Labour Right winger Tom Watson being elected as ballast (as Deputy Leader) and John Prescott's statesmanlike call for Party Members to respect the decision of the Members and rally round the new Leader. 

Meanwhile, the brutal negativity of the media, of the Blairite Right and of all but the most humanely civilised of Tories such as David Davis showed us that Corbyn would have an uphill struggle. His fundamentally decent principles may stand little chance against the crude sociopathy of the radical centre with its little trotters dug firmly in the pork barrel of late capitalism and its brute determination that its sty not be cleaned out. But I was wrong about Corbyn's victory as Leader (I thought up to the wire that Burnham would get it on second votes) and I could yet be wrong about him being Prime Minister. But perhaps it is time to drop my 'cold realism' and show a little faith in the democratic socialist dream.

I said in my August posting that Corbyn's politics were not mine - I am probably an edge more nationalist, more libertarian, more aware of market reality and more wary of some of the ideological Marxists in his advisory circle - so the question arises - why? Why rejoin now as a moderate democratic socialist when a lot of middle class intellectual non-Marxist democratic socialists are running for cover. There are five core reasons other than blind sentiment to my old tribe and a mad desire to make an absurd existentialist commitment to something decent:-
  1. The man matters. I knew him as my Constituency MP in Islington North in the 1990s and I was struck then by his fundamental integrity, decency and intelligence. I saw him at close quarters act on a sensitive human rights issue and discovered how much senior Conservatives respected him as the 'go to' man in this area. Everything he did during the weeks of election campaigning confirmed that integrity and also his courage, courage in standing up to stupid and biaised journalists and for what he believed.
  2. I don't like fools and bullies and much of the attack on him (not admittedly by the competing candidates who conducted themselves well throughout) was either intellectually stupid or sheer thuggery. The attacks made me look more deeply into what he was actually saying and not what he was reported as saying. I was impressed
  3. The attack dog mentality on his economics was worse than overdone, it was criminally ignorant. There is, in fact, more in common between serious financial market practitioners and Shadow Chancellor McDonnell than there is between either of these and the fools who have run our country into the ground. The pragmatism of Corbyn was ignored - there was no absurd rhetoric from him in the end but only a systematic commitment to the betterment of the mass of the British people which became even more clear in the notes of Ann Black, elected NEC constituency representative of the first NEC meeting held under his auspices as Leader,
  4. I persist in seeing the Party as it is currently structured as decadent. This is a direct function of the democratic centralism of Tony Blair and his refusal to have an intelligent debate about party engagement at the 1996 Party Conference. An internal revolution ensuring that a democratic socialist was in control of the democrat centralism created by Blair would show up its internal contradictions and force some form of democratic reform and mobilisation on the Party. The rival candidates to Corbyn were remarkably lack-lustre and the brutes of 1997-2010 had clearly failed to create their own succession for the sake of country and party - liberal egoism at its worst.
  5. Although he had to undertake something of a u-turn because of the demands of the party elite that he had inherited and of the system of forums and fixing at the top, Corbyn was prepared to open the door to important debate on key isues where the Party had previously closed off debate - the European Union, Trident, the Monarchical Constitution and the State, and socialist economics. I would disagree with important aspects of Corbyn's position, including his u-turns on some of them, but what he was doing was opening up ground for serious discussion and political education in a way unseen in three decades. This was not an excuse for disunity and internal party warfare but an opportunity for serious debate and discussion on the facts.
So, on all these grounds - the man, the frightened negativity of the failed old guard, the pragmatism underlying the policies of the man, the opportunity to transform the Party into an agent of national debate and mobilisation and the fact that new ideas were being permitted to be heard even if they may later be rejected - the re-joining of the Labour Party became a 'no-brainer'.

What next? The first thing to recognise is that, once a field general in the struggles of the 1990s, I am now no more than a foot soldier in a back water so it behoves me to watch and wait for at least six months while I understand how this party has changed since I was last a member in 2004. I also have businesses to run and a hinterland of my own - interests that have nothing to do with politics. 

This does not mean I won't be involved in politics but my instinct is to show solidarity and support for the New Leader and for the Party while it negotiates the vicious attacks of the dim and lazy low lives in the Press and from cynical and opportunist political opponents from inside and outside. If a successful coup is mounted against him by Blairites before he has had a chance to prove that he is the wrong person for the job, then my pessimism returns - I shall just bugger off to a private life again - but the long haul is the reconstruction of a democratic socialist Party capable of reaching a mass base and winning an election in 2020 without falling into the hands of loopy ideologues, becoming authoritarian on private life under the influence of post-Marxists or showing weakness when faced by serious challenges like mass economic migration or the blow-back from the petty wars of the previous Labour administrations. Be in no doubt, the Party is never anything other than a means to an end - a better Britain - and loyalty to any other end such as office for the sake of office is sheer simple-mindedness.

My one political commitment is to a 'leave' vote in the British European Referendum that must take place before the end of 2017. My opposition to the European Union has been consistent since the first Referendum of 1975. It is based on a a rational critique of the sheer danger of its aspirations to become a liberal super-state based on bureaucratic centralism, the suppression of national self-determination and, ultimately, on the economics of the free market at the expense of welfarism in a 'competitive world'. It is German-dominated (albeit with France as junior partner) and I find this a problem. 

The appalling management of the Ukraine crisis (which might have brought us to war), incompetence in the handling of the refugee crisis and the morally repugnant treatment of Greek democracy by neo-liberal ideologues are only elements of my wider outrage at the presumption of this system which is designed to ensure that democratic socialism is impossible from the Atlantic to the Urals and from the Mediterranean to the Arctic. Take a look at the TTIP and that should be enough to know that the destiny they have chosen for us is to be happy serfs and little more except that we will get to vote for our serfdom every few years or so. I expect to say more on these issues in due course. 

Meanwhile, this blog may change tone a little. The Frontiers series will continue (and will eventually be packaged in a separate blog as we have done with the Tantra and Basic British History series) and there will be occasional essays on culture as before but you may see more politics. Let us leave it there ...

Frontiers 6 - Precognition

Can we see the future? Is there any way that we can rely on our perception to predict certainly rather than our reason to extrapolate uncertainly what will happen in the future? Since reasoning has a very poor track record on prediction in practice (observe The Economist on the 2008 Crash) and often the best personal predictions are those made on instinct, it is not axiomatic that analysing the future should follow the same patterns of thought as analysing the past, especially as the data that we require is simply not there. The past has things and events in it which we might possibly know and any failures of analysis come down to our imperfect knowledge of those things and events. The future, of course, has no events or things about which we can reason except as extrapolations from the past and the present - and, as any fool investor knows, past performance is no predictor of certain future success.

The problem is that, notwithstanding the research and ideas of J.W Dunne in the 1930s and others since, we have no hard scientific evidence of our being able to know future events and things although that only means that we have no evidence of precognition and not that precognition does not and cannot exist.The most obvious challenge to precognition is that our experience of the world says that no effect can exist before its cause. Cognitive biases are also well attested that give cause to be suspicious of many claims of precognition. Yet what is puzzling perhaps - given the widespread fascination with the alleged phenomenon - is why no independent and open-minded scientist without a prejudice in either direction has yet conducted a series of experiments that can fully stand up to peer scrutiny in order to decide the matter one way or the other - either finally to quash this last bastion of irrationality or, alternatively, show some interesting effect that needs material explanation. Those experiments that come nearest to the necessary scientific criteria tend to show that there is no such phenomenon but not decisively.

Perhaps the only suggestive finding that one would think would be explored further, if only to eliminate it from the enquiry, is the possibility that precognitive effects exist for some persons in a heightened state of erotic or other arousal. This is intuitively interesting because, inconveniently for scientific minds, if shown to be true, it offers the hint of proof for the practice of sex magick and the claims of Alastair Crowley, altered states and magick and Austin Osman Spare. Of course, it has not been shown to be true, merely a possibility to be investigated further.

The argument that no effect can exist before its cause is not an absolute truth that can be demonstrated philosophically. It is true enough about the world in which we live and in which we experiment but it is not necessarily true. The best that can be said is that it is pragmatically true for a species whose existence arises from a series of causes and effects, whose relationship to the world is one of cause and effect and whose observations have always been made under conditions where time always flows in one direction and where no effect can exist before its cause.

Unfortunately, this also means that, though philosophically it might be possible to conceive of an effect existing before its cause (that time can flow backwards), scientifically and pragmatically we are 'stuck' in a world of forward moving time. Those physicists, psychologists and neuroscientists who poo-poo the possibility of parapsychology are probably to all intents and purposes correct - within their observable world. However, the assumptions of selective bias, unconscious perception, self-fulfilling prophecy, the 'law of large numbers' and memory biases may equally be presumptions since no psychologist can possibly know what is happening in another person's mind at any one time. That cognitive biases are possible or even probable is a reasonable working assumption but that they are certain is not something that any scientist can or, if they are honest, would claim.

Perhaps we should simply accept that 'to all intents and purposes' precognition is not possible from the perspective of not only rational science but also usefulness and probability but also that it is not proven that it does not exist simply because such a claim is impossible to prove. Just one precognition that is true by one person amongst the human billions taking place at just one moment in the long history of the species would mean that ... precognition is possible. And there are philosophical reasons for not entirely closing the door on the possibility because of a healthy scepticism about any scientist who makes absolute claims to knowledge (which no good scientist will do). But the 'to all intents and purposes' is sufficient to make precognition a non-issue for social and cultural investment. As we suggest below, the lack of interest in research may owe more to psychological barriers in dealing with the implications of a definitive answer far more than it does to rational engagement with the utility of such research. After all, the horrible discovery that sex magick might work might seriously frighten the horses.

In an excellent overview of the state of play in research as at May 2014, Schwarzkopf tell us what is at stake:
Such findings of “psi” effects fuel the imagination and most people probably agree that there are things that current scientific knowledge cannot explain. However, the seismic nature of these claims cannot be overstated: future events influencing the past breaks the second law of thermodynamics. If one accepts these claims to be true, one should also be prepared to accept the existence of perpetual motion and time travel. It also completely undermines over a century of experimental research based on the assumption that causes precede effects. Differences in pre-stimulus activity would invalidate baseline correction procedures fundamental to many different types of data analysis.
Which is precisely why precognition is recognised in our series as a Frontier. It is not only the implications for science and religion if a scientifically validated discovery of precognition is presented to the public that matter here but equally the implications for human culture of a major unquestionable test of the claim that appears to prove or disprove beyond any reasonable doubt (and in a replicable form) that precognition exists. At the moment, the fact that psi has not been discovered to be true is not taken (by any reasonable scientist who has not turned his appropriate scepticism into a rationalist cult) to mean that it is not existent but only that it cannot be demonstrated to exist and so only 'to all intents and purposes' does not exist. The door is open at all times to a genuinely fool-proof replicable experiment by open-minded scientists that demonstrates its probability. This must then raise questions of the sort raised by Schwarzkopf.

This is where it gets interesting because the recurring problem in parapsychological research is poor methodology and blatant distrust between the scientists involved. It should not, however, be impossible - though one suspects rationalist and believing partisans are both reluctant subconsciously to put the matter to the test, given what is at stake culturally, lest the experiment comes up with the 'wrong answer' - to construct a devastatingly simple large-scale controlled psi investigative experiment using artificial intelligence within a few years as the objective assessor of the statistics involved, including such variables as sexual or erotic or other emotional excitation. This is the Frontier to be broken - a decisive experiment that sends our culture in one clear direction or the other.

There are probably no better clues to the problems presented by psychical phenomena than those provided by Professor Broad, a serious mid-twentieth century Cambridge analytical philosopher but also twice President of the Society for Psychical Research. Psychic phenomena, in his view, would challenge five basic limiting principles of philosophy (he proposed nine basic limiting factors in philosophy but it is these five that 'stick' in this case). He is not saying that these limiting principles actually are limits but that they are only unquestioned principles that underpin our view of the world and are hard to refute in terms of experience, habit and experiment. Here, I update the five limiting principles to take account of some beliefs and theories about quantum mechanical processes that have emerged as classical physics has not so much been superceded as added to. Part of the problem of 'psi' is that it does not fit into a materialist view of the world based on classical physics but that quantum physics has introduced concepts that seem to permit the theoretical possibility of something materialist permitting, in turn, something approximating psi effects. It is quite possible that one, some or all of the limiting principles could be shown to be philosophically unsound or not quite as sound as they appear at first sight though, as humans living in a human-centred material world, the struggle to do so and be credible is immense. However, accepting that the limiting principles as not necessarily absolutely true philosophically gives us an argument similar to that which notes how 'common sense' is frequently overturned by science: in short, current science may be being faced with subversion by the possibility that it is the common sense now to be overturned by itself.
  • Backward causation - that effects can precede causes is the most evident limiting principle although at the quantum level, it is clear that there is plausible theory that posits something like this actually occurring though not in ways that affect the world which we experience. Quantum backward causation is the straw which those determined to see psychic phenomena as really existing will clutch at without any proven basis for any link between quantum physics and psychic experience other than belief. However, if a 'psi' phenomenon is proven, the scientists have nowhere else to go but here to describe what is happening without having to abandon a materialist conception of the universe. Cause and effect will not be abandoned, just redefined in the context of new thinking about time and matter.
  • An argument is that, if minds are non-physical and the world is physical, there is no means by which non-physical things can act on the world without actually being physical. Psychokinesis would seem to demonstrate that dualism is wrong (a major event in philosophy) and that monist materialism is correct, raising only the issue of the physical process by which minds can move matter - which brings us back to the current fantasies but theoretical realities of quantum level events in the mind having physical effects.
  • If minds can actually communicate with each other (as in 'mind-reading') then the notion of minds being of a separate substance from the physical might start to fall apart (although, of course, it is possible, that insubstantial entities might be able to communicate on equal terms even if that stil begs the question of how insubstantiality communicates with substantiality in order to crerate effects). Skepticism about the non-interaction of apparently non-physical things becomes dubious. The cat is set amongst the pigeons because scientists, again, either have to accept some mystical spiritual explanation or seek a material mechanism by which information can flow over distances between minds. This, again, might be resolved by minds being material and being connected at another level of materiality - which brings us back again to quantum physical effects as the only current road to go down (or to postulate some materiality undiscovered).
  • The ability to perceive events in other places than those available to the senses in one body located in one particular place not only offends human reason but offends our assumptions about perception, that perception is limited to five senses plus prioperception (our groundedness in the world), in order to add a sixth sense or set of senses. This is the key claim of those who champion a strong view of parapsychology and the subject of the experimentation by these scientists (for scientists at their best, they are) though not yet proven. If they do prove the existence of a sixth sense, then the offense to reason begins to place reason itself in doubt insofar as reasoning in the human being is calculated on the evaluation of sensory inputs combined with logic. Mental reasoning finds itself having to take account of intuitions that may be pulling data private to the individual from other sources that cannot be evaluated by an outsider ... such 'romanticism' becomes 'true' if science finds that the mind's perception of things outside immediate sense-data observable by others is true. Psychology and the social sciences become far more problematic as alleged sciences on the uncovering of such a 'sixth sense'. Power shifts a little from the expert to the 'volk'.
  • A final limiting principle is that persons cannot live without their bodies. The denial of this belief represents the very heart of the transition from folk culture to modern rational and scientific culture. It offends or puzzles many folk with strong beliefs in spiritual matters but educated and rational man can see no means by which persons can live without their bodies. Elaborate schema have been proposed by such religiously-minded scientists as Tipler to give persons their bodies back at the resurrection of the dead but few are persuaded according to the dictates of reason. The idea that persons can live without their bodies is a matter of mere belief while speculative transhumanist science still presupposes that persons as information can only survive if embodied elsewhere - in machines as emulations. Although the least likely of all parapsychological phenomena to be true (because of the complexity of the claim compared to simple experiences of sensory psi), if ghosts (for example) were shown to be 'true', then the idea of insubstantial immateriality as capable of existence in the world as (say) pure thought or experience shatters the rational materiality of the age or at least forces the scientific community to reconsider the material underpinning of reality, It might lead to a sceptical belief that we cannot know our own deep materiality: the uncertainty in itself will shift power a little back from the expert to the volk.
So where we are left is in a state where any form of proven psi (not only precognition) might unravel the materialist assumptions of our time (and so the ultimate reliability of science) if science cannot reasonably quickly and certainly come up with an alternative material theory that can be tested through experiment. It is one things to prove that 'psi' exists. It is entirely another to demonstrate how it works if it exists. The 'mystery' left by scientific inability to prove rather than surmise the processes involved leaves sufficient gap for folkish spirituality to slip through the gaps. There is no philosophical reason why any of these unravellings of accepted reality could not be theoretically possible even if they cannot currently be reasonably argued for. All it takes is one piece of super-verified, fully tested, replicable proof that backward causation exists beyond the quantum level, that quantum effects have material effects on higher levels of matter, that psychokinesis happens, that the 'sixth sense' exists or that a ghost exists (the least likely of all) and a lot of rethinking has to be done about the nature of matter (though not necessarily about materialism) and of reality. Perhaps Cramer's ideas on testing retrocausality based on the quantum entanglement of photons (which might have important communications benefits) will get the funding and interest it requires. If it does and it proves retrocausality at the quantum level, then the first tiny crack may have appeared in our current cultural paradigm. A lot is at stake and scientists and funders seem to be steering clear of the psi area not only because of the unlikelihood of results given current understanding but also because the implications might be beyond what they can cope with in terms of career or mental models. It might be left to a major trading house or the Mars Programme to follow through on retrocausality but that still won't tell us anything about human precognition.

On the one hand, a decisive probability for precognition (even if highly specialised and rare), to take our main example, will raise questions about the second law of thermodynamics and so about the inherent nature of the cosmos that will overnight thrust our cosmology and physics from near-certainty into the more pragmatic realms of 'to all intents and purposes' true for nearly all available situations but yet not all. The gap created may encourage all sorts of spiritual nuts and loons to project their fantasies on to the results but that particular effect does not necessarily follow on from that cause. More likely, the discovery would have a lot of immensely clever mathematical minds considering how, why and when such things might be - assuming every aspect of the experiment had been passed as viable and replicable. It would be a revolutionary event if only because of its effects on the presumption of man in his claims to knowledge if no mathematician or physicist can come up with a viable explanation or an explanations that are not demonstrable except as dodgy but entertaining thought experiments ('speculative science').

On the other hand, a decisive and relicable proof that there really is no replicable scientific basis for precognition (and the psychologists have a slew of alternative explanations for most claimed phenomena) and the matter can be passed finally to the realm of private folk belief and left for its expansion into public life to the fraudster and aforesaid spiritual nuts and loons. Outside these areas, the elimination of precognition as last hope (for many) of the mystery of existence that underpins much private spiritual belief will be an important final cultural nail in the anti-materialist vision of our condition. Not enough to destroy it for all the reasons that make precognition still a viable subject for research today (no proof to date does not equate to non-existence of a phenomenon) but enough to make it an even stronger signifier of difference between the educated (and so culturally 'intelligent') and the uneducated (or culturally 'stupid').

So much is at stake and yet the lack of interest in this field - given the extent of folk belief in it - is curious from this perspective. It is as if no one actually wants to have to deal with the answer to the question. The risks of being proven wrong are far too great for the world-views of the competing radical spiritualist and radical materialist camps. Perhaps that final decisive set of experiments is held back because it is a weapon in the cultural equivalent of a nuclear exchange and some instinct - some sixth sense - stops the species from taking any decisive move that would force humanity to choose one or other fork in the road towards either absolute materialism or renewed uncertainty.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Church and 'Auctoritas' - The Heart of the Problem

In Trier (Germany) in 1231, the local Archbishop, a significant temporal power in his own right, convened a Synod to consider how to implement a particular papal order - Pope Gregory IX's institution of an Inquisition to crush heresy. His concern was with dissident or aberrant religious views - that meant people who did not conform to a system of thought imposed by authority from above.

The local Church answerable to Rome had discovered that in a prosperous part of Germany (Trier, Mainz and Cologne) a counter-Church was developing with its own hierarchy of authority very similar to that of the Catholic Church itself. We know little of their true beliefs. The dissidents may have been close to the Cathars or derivative from them, or not connected at all, but what we do know is that they were (literally) 'demonised', positioned publicly as 'Luciferian' or 'Satanic'.

Key figures were isolated and burned at the stake over the next three years. Women were noted as part of the cult and accusations of sexual perversity were made. Whatever the truth of the matter, in 1231 in Germany, the Church crushed a group whose only crimes were almost certainly limited to not accepting the authority of Rome and flouting norms dictated by that Church and perhaps, though not proven, to have developed a sexual code different from the standards of a sterile priesthood.

But, of course, you might believe the Church. The Papal Bull of 1233 was to advise us that the Luciferians kissed the back side of a cat and that Lucifer appeared in the form of a cat. The accusation was much the same as that against the Cathars a century earlier. It is perhaps why, even today, black cats are regarded as unlucky and as the familars of witches.

Yet there is an intelligent argument that the Inquisition was a relatively progressive organisation. It bureaucratised mob rule. In the long run of history, Catholic areas under the Inquisition were generally less murderous in the Early Modern era than Protestant areas. It replaced lynch mobs with some form of due process, albeit one with scant justice in it. More mercy than we think perhaps but one only granted from above without any voice for the judged.

Most killings of dissidents in primitive societies are folk-based. Old women and gay men are certainly safer today in the modern West than they would be in any rural past or present and the Church has played a relatively civilising role in that respect. The Inquisition may square up better than we might think. Catholic justice was undoubtedly to be preferred to the brute volkish moral enforcements of Indo-European paganism. But this incident in Trier strikes us differently. This is not a central police force coming in to clean up an area but a local churchlord dictating terms. It smacks of an opportunity to deal with a rival faction through selective murder, commanding the heights of propaganda in a deliberate and calculated way.

This was, in short, gangsterdom covered by religion. It is the cover given by religion to moral warlordism that interests us here because it shows only one case amongst very many of special interests making use of the cover of the whole to do their dirty deeds. There is nothing spiritual going on in Trier - it was murder and oppression and there's an end of it.

When the Catholic Church looks into its own soul and recognises that what it has done over the centuries to ensure its own institutional survival and to preserve its ideology and vows never to do such things again, then and only then should it have the right to be consulted as a moral force in a modern liberal democracy. This has not yet happened even under the latest in a long line of charismatic hero figures for different Catholic factions.

The fashion today is for the Left to fall at the feet of Pope Francis because he speaks of the rights of the poor as once Las Casas spoke against the exploitation of the indigenous Indians of the Americas but we should not be too easily seduced by this. This is still the Church whose most significant philosophical father Augustine introduced persecution of rivals as an act of policy (in the case of the Donatists). There are no signs of such persecution policies in place today - quite the contrary, it is Christians who are persecuted in the Middle East - but that is merely a function of powerlessness: what happens when power is restored to the Vatican is another matter.

The Church is an organisation whose primary purpose (once the saving of souls is taken as a given) is to establish its 'auctoritas' over the human universe, pragmatically expanding and withdrawing with the resources at its disposal but always seeking total control of the human condition - literally, it is totalitarian in instinct and it becomes more liberal only when it is on the defensive.

Two thousand years onwards from Christ, it was not the Church that exposed endemic child abuse in society and within its own ranks. Instead it tried to close ranks and then quietly and inadequately reform itself without further external scrutiny - not because it believed something was fundamentally and existentially wrong but because society, secular and liberal society, had developed the ability to point out that it was wrong and the Church was eventually forced to respond.

Within the doctrine of 'hate the sin but not the sinner', ironically, human judgements on complex evil cannot be made easily but must often be left to God. Coercing a child into sex acts is a question of coercion as much it is one of sex yet coercion is the lifeblood of the historical Church. The problem for the Church is that it had got use to condemning sexual acts but had only a limited vocabulary for dealing with coercion - its approach to coercion was deived from a medieval moderation and mollification of warlord abuse rather than one involving a fundamental critique of the very fact of coercion as an intrument of policy.

The Church was accidentally complicit in the mental map of the adult who saw a child as the subject of his authority. The adult's claims on the child could even be seen as a sort of delegated power from God, the simple matter of taking ancient pagan Roman attitudes to children and absorbing them into a new and apparently more compassionate religious order directed at helping women and the adult masses. The child got abandoned in the process.

The first instinct of the Church was thus, like the State, to protect itself (as guardian of higher values in its own eyes) and not the child. This defensive and self-protective way of thinking, in both Church and State and elsewhere in society, needs to be called out. The central doctrines of the Church are 'taught', from above to below. The essence of the Church lies in Authority and the protection of the claims of Authority becomes axiomatically good. It is certainly not a question of consent for and by the governed.

It is above all not a question of encouraging consent or at least some balance in social, let alone economic, power relations. The only claim Pope Francis is making now is that Authority can be switched in a new direction, towards selective support for the aspirations of the poor, towards a shift in economic power relations, but there is no awareness here that all power relations are worthy of the same critical position. There is no critique, in other words, of the very fact of Authority. What can be switched in one direction can be switched back again in a puff of white smoke.

The Church is a complex creature with many genuinely decent and good people within it but one suspects that the Communist Party and even the National Socialist Party in Germany had some good and kind people within it. The Church can be selectively compassionate to people who obey its value commands but it is imbued with a model of 'the greater and the lesser evil' where what is higher and what is lesser is dictated by a very few whose traditionalism is based on institutional loyalty within a closed ideology. But it is Authority itself which must be challenged and at every opportunity - above all, the Church should not claim to speak for the poor and abused, it should be engaged with the poor and the abused in enabling them to speak for themselves.