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Issue #1444      24 February 2010

Culture & Life

Astounding beliefs

A chap I was talking to once informed me that “in Soviet Russia, you have to get permission to buy a pair of shoes”. There is no rational response to so daft a statement, is there?

You are left wondering how on Earth does he think such a society would – or could – operate, let alone last three quarters of a century in the face of war, sabotage, blockade and subversion?

That many people simply do not think rationally about current affairs, or indeed think deeply about anything at all, is all too evident. Just listen to commercial radio, especially in the mornings.

Capitalism encourages this state of affairs. The task of paying workers less than the value of what they produce would be a lot harder if workers were given opportunities and encouragement to think seriously about the matter.

Distracting the minds of the masses with bread and circuses has been a significant ruling class tool since the days when the bosses of Rome threw Christians and other troublemakers to the lions for the amusement of the crowds. Today they have football and television.

But just because capitalism takes advantage of unscientific thinking, and actively encourages it, don’t for one moment think that it is exclusively a capitalist phenomenon. Even long-time Party members, who should certainly know better, can be seduced into accepting glib anti-scientific answers. Especially if they are emotionally involved in an issue.

An old friend of mine, a veteran comrade, surprised me once by coming into my office and announcing that he was on his way to see an ABC Commissioner whom he knew, to protest about the operation of a “witches’ coven” at the ABC’s Gore Hill studio.

It seemed his son now worked at the Gore Hill studios, and had told his dad about the strange goings on there. According to my friend, the lad had reported that telephones would ring, but no one would answer them; when he asked “isn’t anyone going to get that phone?” they all smiled and went on with their work.

Then one of the staff offered him a lift into the city, but halfway across the harbour bridge the car “jumped from the south-bound to the north-bound lane and headed in the opposite direction with no disruption to the traffic”.

I suggested that the son had been imbibing substances of an hallucinatory nature and was having the customary flashes. His father preferred the witchcraft theory.

So then I had to talk to him, although he was considerably older than I was, like a Dutch uncle. I reminded him that he was a Marxist-Leninist, committed to a belief in a scientific universe. Witchcraft and magic are not scientific.

“Cars cannot jump around on the Harbour Bridge unnoticed and untouched by other traffic. Therefore something else is happening.”

When he took the time to think about it, he realised that a belief in witchcraft was incompatible with this materialist philosophy. He went home and fronted his son, who admitted he’d been using drugs for some time.

What might have been a spectacular confrontation with the ABC Commissioners instead became a medical problem.

I felt quite smug at the outcome, but withal I found it disturbing too. That a Comrade of many years experience in the Party could have so little grasp of our materialist philosophy that he could whole-heartedly embrace the notion of witchcraft was a real worry.

If Communists were to start believing in magic, what else would they believe in? Virgin births? The resurrection of the dead? World peace as a genuine goal of US imperialism?

A coroner in Wales was similarly perturbed late last year when investigating the death of a 32-year old baker who suicided after a row with his girl-friend. Psychics told police (why do they listen to these nutters?) that the dead man had been strangled by gangsters and had been forced to drink petrol and bleach. They also said that “a lion, a horse and a man called Tony Fox were significant”.

Instead of demanding that the so-called psychics provide some tangible evidence to back up their claims, the Dyfed-Powys police reportedly spent £20,000 on a murder hunt, visiting every pub called Red Lion or Black Horse in the region. Despite the supposed powers of the psychics, police forensic investigators found no evidence of foul play and a post-mortem found no trace of bleach or petrol in the deceased.

The coroner, when he finally got to sit on the case, expressed his astonishment at the police actions, as well he might.

Finally, somewhat tangentially but still on the subject of curious beliefs, remember what the famous economist John Maynard Keynes once said: “Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”

I think we can all agree that that is an astounding belief!

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