Cutting through the bullshit.

Thursday, 25 December 2008


It's true. I’ve been slack. I blame it on the capitalist system. If I didn’t have to squander so much of my waking life to ‘earning a living’, I’d have more time to think and write. When I last posted, I was thinking about a piece on racism, but eventually realised I needed to do a whole lot more reading and thinking before I’d have anything to say that I hadn’t already said. Maybe that’s what discouraged me. But more likely it’s just sloth.

Anyway, the spirit of xmas present has got the better of me. Like every year, I’m totally inundated with xmas hype, not just in the media and the shops. After all, as the fundamental underlying principle of xmas is an orgy of consumerism, you can hardly expect to escape it. But it still never fails to gives me the shits when it intrudes into my workplace, with all the xmas parties and xmas decorations and xmas decoration competitions... It would be an exaggeration to say I wish I was back in Pakistan, where xmas is nearly invisible, but that is one of the country’s many charms.

In deference to the festive season, Rasmussen reports on their 16 December poll, ‘…61% of adults nationwide say life in the United States would be better if more Americans lived as Christians…Just 13% disagree and say life would be worse’. Rasmussen acknowledge that ‘Living as a Christian can mean different things to different people’, but decline to tease out what those differences might be apart from a link to another recent poll that does nothing to clarify the issue. They are similarly silent on what respondents might think they meant by ‘life in the United States would be better’.

Presumably, few respondents would have had turn the other cheek pacifism in mind, as suggested by the discrepancy between responses from ‘political conservatives’ and ‘liberals’.

There is a strong ideological divide on this question. By an 80% to seven percent (7%) margin, political conservatives say life would be better if more lived as Christians. Among liberals, just 38% say life would be better with more Christian living…

On this occasion, Rasmussen uncharacteristically do not provide the questionnaire, crosstabulations (except to ‘Premium Members’), or even a fuller report. But I surmise that the classification of political ideologies comprises just ‘conservative’, ‘moderate’, and ‘liberal’, thereby exhausting the spectrum of bourgeois political opinion, and that respondents are classified strictly on the basis of self identification. I am deeply skeptical of self perception as a measure of political orientation. A point that Chomsky frequently makes, and Jon Stewart reiterates, is that many Americans who identify as conservative, actually support policies like free choice, universal health care…widely regarded as liberal. So I’m not convinced that any correlation was with actual political orientation, as distinct from self perception. As I understand the terms as used in the US, the range of political orientations from ‘liberal’ to ‘conservative’ is very narrow. Certainly I couldn’t place myself anywhere along that continuum. That said, I suspect that many of those identifying as conservative are not pacifists.

Another troubling finding is that, ‘Only 15% of those who rarely or never attend church say those who believe in Jesus as the Son of God are stupid’. The population in question probably comprises the 17% who ‘attend occasionally’, the 7% who ‘profess a religious belief other than Christianity’ and the 25% who ‘rarely or never attend church’. I gather those who profess no religious belief are among those who ‘rarely or never attend church’.

Maybe the other 85% were trying to be polite. Or maybe they were feeling insecure about their own weird beliefs. According to a Harris poll conducted in mid November,

80% of adult Americans believe in God…Large majorities of the public believe in miracles (75%), heaven (73%), angels (71%), that Jesus is God or the Son of God (71%), the resurrection of Jesus (70%), the survival of the soul after death (68%), hell (62%), the Virgin birth (Jesus born of Mary (61%) and the devil (59%).

In response to the question , ‘To what extent do you believe that the following represents the word of God?’, 37% said that all of the Old Testament is the word of god, while only 14% thought that the Torah deserved that status. As Harris astutely observe,

Interestingly, only 26% of all adults believe that [all or most of] the Torah is the word of God, even though it is the same as the first five books of the Old Testament. Presumably many people do not know this.

Not only don’t they know it, they clearly have not absorbed the maxim not to judge a book by its cover. Harris also reports that

Slightly more people – but both are minorities – believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution (47%) than in creationism (40%).

It’s kind of interesting that Harris reckon ‘Darwin’s theory of evolution’ is something you can ‘believe in’ in the same way as you might believe in virgin birth, and that 47% of their respondents bought into that fiction. If it’s any consolation, only 40% admitted to believing in creationism.

One hesitates to speculate how many believe in Santa Claus.

And now, for your holiday delectation, Miles Davis [hat tip to Roland Rance for the audio link] and Bob Dorough’s 1962 classic, ‘Blue xmas (To whom it may concern)’. I was surprised and delighted to learn, by the way, that Dorough, who celebrated his 85th birthday on 12 December, is still around, still touring, and still recording.

Merry Christmas

I hope you have a white one, but for me it's blue

Blue Christmas, that's the way you see it when you're feeling blue

Blue Xmas, when you're blue at Christmastime

you see right through,

All the waste, all the sham, all the haste

and plain old bad taste

Sidewalk Santy Clauses are much, much, much too thin

They're wearing fancy rented costumes, false beards and big fat phony grins

And nearly everybody's standing round holding out their empty hand or tin cup

Gimme gimme gimme gimme, gimme gimme gimme

Fill my stocking up

All the way up

It's a time when the greedy give a dime to the needy

Blue Christmas, all the paper, tinsel and the fal-de-ral

Blue Xmas, people trading gifts that matter not at all

What I call


Bitter gall.......Fal-de-ral

Lots of hungry, homeless children in your own backyards

While you're very, very busy addressing

Twenty zillion Christmas cards

Now, Yuletide is the season to receive and oh, to give and ahh, to share

But all you December do-gooders rush around and rant and rave and loudly blare

Merry Christmas

I hope yours is a bright one, but for me it bleeds


  1. Like Ernie, I'm not a fan of Christmas (or, as I call it, the Feast of Coles Myer - though, now Coles has sold Myer & been taken over itself by Wesfarmers, I'll have to come up with a different term to express the concept). I have to participate, however, because of my family (the one I was born into, not the one I've built - they're on my side). It's an orgy of consumerism and gets worse every year. This time, I found a "Santa-Free Zone" image & put it up on my desk. I hope to find a better one next December.

    Where I disagree with Ernie, however, is in his mocking attitude towards religion. I'm no longer a Catholic, but I know a lot of people who are, and the majority are not stupid. Like almost everybody (in all departments of ideas and not just religion), they have a contradictory consciousness, because they haven't had both the time and the motive to think through all their beliefs consistently and search out & evaluate the relevant current knowledge.

    People will think things through when they get around to it - and they'll get around to it when they have pressing material reasons to.

  2. Hey, he's back. Good news, in time for the new year.

  3. Christmass - hmmm

    A mix of Saturnalia, Paganism, and potlach. Not only that - it's against Quaker practice to celebrate it.

    What's there not to like? We had a wonderful tree and lots of ornaments. Some going back generations. We have cut back on the capitalist aspect of it though. Potlach ties in too closely to consumerism. It's a delicate task.


  4. Welcome back Abim, Christian and Edwin. Thanks for your comments. Sorry it’s taken so long to get back to you. Work, Gaza, sloth…

    First of all, Abim, I hear what you’re saying. Derision isn’t always the most persuasive way to encourage reflection. And yet, I can’t help thinking that incapacity or unwillingness to think things through would make quite an adequate on the fly definition of stupidity. Actually, it’s hard to imagine a situation when you don’t have pressing material reasons to do so.

    What’s not to like, Edwin, among many other things, is the annual slaughter of conifers, although I’m sure your mob decorated the sequoia in the back yard.