Ask yourself only what are the facts

I have a cousin to whom I had been explaining how Roman Catholicism in Ireland is going through a crisis. The hypocrisy that underlay Bishop Casey’s love affair and then the problem he had in fully acknowledging and supporting his son may have been a starting point for many on this green island.

The protection of paedophile priests by the clergy up to the level of Abbot Kevin Smith and Cardinal Desmond O’Connell and the lack of support for their victims was another huge saga that alienated more and more of both the faithful and the secular in Ireland.

Another huge scandal that has become more and more apparent is how “Industrial Schools” and “Mother and Baby Homes” run by religious orders of Nuns operated both before and then for the most part of the 20th Century. The fire in Cavan that killed 35 girls and one adult in 1943 was bad enough in itself but the truth about how the children lived from day to day and the circumstances of their deaths was suppressed for a very long time.

The Magdalene Laundries in Ireland became an object of review in 1993 when a mass grave containing 155 corpses was uncovered in the convent grounds of one of the laundries. In the past 20 years or so it has become abundantly clear that the “fallen women” kept in these institutions were mistreated and used as slave labour. The last of these institutions was only closed in 1996.

The latest scandal is that of the Mother and Baby home in Tuam, where “significant numbers” of infant corpses (from premature to 3 years old) have been found following research by a historian who found a
discrepancy between approximately 800 death certificates issued and the number of official burials in the town. The investigation into this is on-going. There will also be a review of all the other similar homes that operated in Ireland with some saying thousands of bodies are yet to be discovered in the country as a whole.

After I had related some of the above to my cousin, she retorted “it is lies; it is fake news”. I was simply astounded to hear this but I looked up ‘Tuam Fake News’ on Google to discover the almost certain source as the American president of the Catholic League. I am sorely afraid that it his statement that is fake. Respectable politicians, the mainstream press and the public in Ireland do not doubt that some very disturbing things happened in association with these homes and that it relates to a very sad and scandalous episode that has been kept largely hidden from the public view for too long.

In this day and age of social media and information technology it may be ironic that it is so hard to tell fact from fiction, real from virtual and lies from truth. Whatever the truth about the actual numbers interred in Tuam, what is quite clear from interviews with living survivors (both children and mothers) was that to be kept in such “caring” institutions was an almost complete misery. The death rates were much higher than the national average; the children were marched to school, en bloc, and kept segregated from the other children before being marched back to the home again; the mothers were encouraged to have the children adopted and even encouraged to give them names that would be most attractive to potential adopters.

The general attitude towards such  mothers was made clear to me by a story recently told to me by a close friend. Her aunt had had a neighbour who was not the most intelligent of girls but who, after she became pregnant, asked her if she could live with her along with her new born child and that in return she would work for her for nothing. The parish priest heard of this and said it was impossible and that she must go into one of these homes. Subsequently, after the birth of the baby, the young mother wrote to my friend’s aunt asking again if she and her baby could live with her. The aunt was quite happy to do so but again the priest intervened. He was furious saying that it would be a complete scandal to have such a woman and her baby living in the parish. In the end the girl came home but never saw her child again. This was not a million years ago but it is just one real case that I know about personally and that shows the total lack of humanity and the total abuse of power of such clerics.

For sure, something is rotten in the current state of Catholicism in both Ireland and the Vatican. Pope Francis set up a “Commission into the Protection of Minors” to which one of the victims, Marie Collins, was appointed. The inaction by this commission has resulted in her resignation from it in protest. It seems that even the Pope cannot overcome the entrenched, retrograde and reactionary position taken by the Vatican elite.

The title of this essay is taken from a face to face interview with the philosopher Bertrand Russel after he was asked what message he would offer to people living a thousand years hence. It is of an additional relevance to me because just before my cousin told me that Tuam was false news she had stated that “God is Love” and I had added Bertrand Russel’s statement that “Love is Wise”. His full reply goes like this:

I should like to say two things, one intellectual and one moral:

The intellectual thing I should want to say to them is this: When you are studying any matter or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed, but look only and solely at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.

The moral thing I should wish to say to them is very simple. I should say: Love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other. We have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way, and if we are to live together and not die together we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.

Insect Alarms

Last year a really huge dragonfly flew in through a window in the car giving everyone inside a fright. I made a mental note that seeing an animal like that had become a rarity and this followed a winter when all my honey bees, those stoical workers in their seven hives, had perished.


The main thrust of an article by Anthony King (“The altered flight of the humble beeIrish Times 2nd March 2017) was aimed at the neonicotinoid insecticides. His article made me remember DDT because it took far too long before the invidious effects of its widespread use as an insecticide became apparent. The poor birds of prey at the top of the food chain, which had fed on birds and rodents, which had fed on insects poisoned by DDT, trying to hatch eggs so soft that they would collapse. So perhaps it should be no surprise that another substance with zoocidal properties released into the environment in substantial amounts might be at the heart of the ongoing threat to the insect pollinators and to many other insects and arthropods, as well as to those animals that feed on them. It is, for example, now postulated that the massive decline in the once ubiquitous and cheeky house sparrow may have resulted from the lack of insects needed in the diet of the hatchlings during their first few days of life. Indeed so common and widespread were they that one of the collective terms to describe the group was the very word ‘ubiquity’.

A ubiquity or quarrel or host or flock of sparrows.

When I was a child growing-up in the fifties I remember how, at our family home in County Leitrim, crickets and grasshoppers, many varieties of butterflies and moths, dragonflies, earwigs and pissmires (both the walking and flying varieties) were all commonplace. The sometimes sultry summers were punctuated by much bird and insect noise and the buzz of a humble bumble bee searching to escape through a window or tangled in a spider’s web was a signature sound of a sunny day. The same countryside nowadays seems so sterile and the rivers, once so full of fish, also much diminished in life.

Something really rotten is going on. Perhaps it really is too late for many species but repeated comprehensive audits of the insect world would seem to be a useful prognostic tool for measuring the future health of both the environment and ourselves, just as a miner’s canary warns of impending asphyxia or an explosion. The global threats to large land mammals are much easier to transmit to the public than threats to the relatively inconspicuous insect world but the destruction of the latter may have much more serious consequences for us all. We are the inheritors of the Garden of Eden and even though the mortal taste of its forbidden fruit is supposed to have opened our eyes to the knowledge of good and evil our eyes seem almost totally blinkered to the ongoing and almost wilful desecration of that inheritance.

There are other threats of course but it is perhaps corporate and individual greed that ultimately are changing not only the environment but also rural society so much. Just a half a century ago milk would have cream on the top of it in the morning and usually came from hand-milked cows, which had come in from flowery pastures and which was distributed through small farmer-owned cooperatives, where neighbours met each day. Now there is a move towards zero-grazing of cows, which seldom leave their sheds, fed from monoculture prairies, milked automatically and distributed centrally, even internationally, and onto the supermarket shelves as a watered-down and homogenised product in plastic containers. “Every little counts”. Really? Every little insect does however count.

I would love to be able to wander through wild flower meadows down to the lake’s edge, once again, in the certain knowledge of catching some perch or a pike for supper. Watching rabbits hopping into their burrows and rising snipe, curlew and lapwing on the way there. To watch cranes and coots and moorhens busy themselves at the mouth of the river, while my float, made from a cork from a bottle of Guinness and a match stick, bobbed up and down on the rippling waters of Dunaweel Lough. But, alas, all I have now are these little pearls of distant memories. I ponder can suchlike ever return, just as I mourn the almost complete loss of the jarring corncrake’s call, the twit-twooing of barn owls flying, like white-faced ghosts, past a window and even the terror caused by a bat circling round my candlelit bedroom not unlike what that dragonfly did, in the daytime, last summer as I was driving leisurely through the lakelands of Ireland.

Bat in bedroom
Bat in bedroom

Brexit a Pyrrhic victory

On July 1st The Financial Times concluded that the Brexit result was a Pyrrhic victory for Boris Johnston but this mad and unnecessary referendum, forged on foundations of deceit, self-agrandisement and opportunism, has huge potential to be a Pyrrhic victory for every man and woman who voted to leave.

We hear mealy-mouthed appeals for unity and calm but it is hard to see how politics can ever be the same again in what is likely to become the former United Kingdom. “Put the Great back into Great Britain” is not only an anachronism but somehow also perverse. There was once a Great Britain but it had become “Great” mainly because of its history of slavery, conquest and colonisation. One of the legacies of that colonisation has been the immigration from large parts of Africa and Asia yet, just as with the American West Indians (and indeed their Aboriginal Indians too), these groups remain the butt of much overt and occult racism.

The “West” has to live with that legacy just as it has to live with the legacy of the politics of greed and deregulation ushered in by Thatcher and Reagan. It was the almost complete deregulation of the markets, massive public and private debt and all sorts of insider dealing and misdealing that essentially spawned the economic crash of 2008. The austerity that resulted and the unequal way in which it has affected the rich and the poor is the real catalyst of the belief in Little-England that getting rid of Johnny Foreigner will solve these problems.

When times are bad there is a tendency to look for a scapegoat just as the Jews were latched onto by the Nazis in the depression of the 1930s. Such thinking is fundamentally wrong because it does not grasp that the heart of the problem nowadays is that the traditional working class population in a post-industrial UK is practically non-existent. It has been replaced by an underclass. A large underclass who have been ignored by all the traditional political parties. The disparity between the historically industrial parts of Britain versus the South-East has been blatantly obvious for a long time but no caring political group has addressed this problem in an open or pragmatic way. Only UKIP has tapped into this vacuum for their own xenophobic ambitions.

This underclass is also a group who, since “winning the war”, have had a particularly insular outlook towards the continent of Europe and who still believe that they are somehow “owed a living” – if not by having a cushy number then directly from the nanny state. It would probably be anathema to them to hear the words in J.F. Kennedy’s inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country“. It is mostly immigrants who do jobs which many Little-Englanders consider beneath their dignity. “They are taking away our jobs” they say but how many of them would actually go into the fields and pick vegetables or work in hospital laundries. Not too many, I guess.

The thing that could have helped keep the Great in Great Britain was to have embraced Europe more and not less. The European Union is unwieldy and also undemocratic when vetoes can be invoked. The British needed to be wholeheartedly involved to help to affect change within that institution, because this large economic bloc with the best of social aspirations needs to succeed if the totalitarian states, terrorists and a reactionary and insular USA are to have any effective counterbalance in an increasingly unstable world.

The big issues are not Johnny Foreigner in Little England but the increasing power of the multinationals, the concentration of capital in the hands of a few, the monopolisation of the media by oligarchies, the exponential growth of world population, the increasing incidence of severe weather and of global warming, the horrors brought about by islamofascism, the xenophobia of the far right, the neo-tzarism in Russia and even the prospect of an American President running the country like he ran “The Apprentice” on TV.

These big issues were hardly touched-on in the run up to the referendum. All one heard about were conflicting views about the economic effects and about the fear of immigration; of immigration that may well turn out to be less likely to be controlled in isolation. Nor did I hear any sincere discussion about the possible impacts on Scotland, Wales and Ireland (North and South) as well as on Gibraltar and any British Expats living within the European Union.

The Little Englanders (and some of the WASPs in Northern Ireland) can slap themselves on their backs and rejoice but if this result stands then these islands and indeed the world at large is a much more unstable and dangerous place. UKIP can moan that the politically induced assassination of Jo Cox was not of their making but for me she was a rare politician and human being who understood the difference between a Syrian refugee and an economic migrant; who loved her Yorkshire homeland and who might still be alive if Johnny Foreigner was not perceived as so rotten by Nigel Farage and his ilk. Never forget that it is individuals who really matter and not our institutions and that as Bertrand Russell once stated: “Love is wise; hatred is foolish“.

That this result can be called democratic is perverse. One can blame individuals for not having voted at all but it still seems crazy that about 35% of those with a vote could determine the fate of everyone and particularly against the will of Gibraltarians, Scots and the Irish as well as for those over the age of consent, who had no franchise at all. The electorate were lied-to and we now see the true colours of the main Brexiteers. Unfortunately National Polls were believed once again and the result undermines not only the Peace Process in place in Northern Ireland after the Good Friday Belfast Agreement but also all other decisions made by expats and others on the basis of an intact EU. Fintan O’Toole’s fine article “English nationalists put a bomb under the peace process” puts the case better than I can. That the “losers” of this referendum feel betrayed is completely understandable because the UK has reneged on so many of its obligations. This is not the result of a caring liberal democracy and for those, in areas where there was a majority desiring that the status quo be retained, they might now understand the iniquity of gerrymandering – even though no boundary changes have (at least yet) been involved.

The sovereign British Parliament needs to consider that the Referendum was fatally flawed, actually undemocratic and not obligatory and consider all other options before it triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The fearful and downtrodden underclass needs proper attention and the EU still needs reform. Baling-out now it is the worst possible option and can only be seen as morally bereft.

The Undiscovered Self

The Undiscovered Self is a short but very intense book by C. G. Jung. It was first published in 1958 at the height of the cold war when the “Iron Curtain” split the world in two. I have not found it an easy read. There are however interesting concepts in it so in order to make it more comprehensible for myself I have rewritten, précised and paraphrased it. I may or may not have done justice to the original and I hope I have not misunderstood him too much. My précis (chapter by chapter) follows and I will write some of my own comments at the end as well as add a few comments within the text, where they will be enclosed in square brackets

Chap 1. The Plight of the Individual in Modern Society

What will the future bring? What will become of our civilisation, and of man himself, if the hydrogen bombs begin to go off, or if the spiritual and moral darkness of State absolutism should spread over Europe”?

The plight, referred to in the title of the first chapter, stems from the fact that on either side of the Iron Curtain the moral responsibility of the individual was, for the most part, replaced by the state. Both by the absolutist states to the East but also by the constitutional, nanny states to the West. On both sides the state became, in effect, the primary ‘raison d’être’ with the individual coming second and with individuality being squashed by the effects of the conforming masses.

Instead of moral and mental differentiation of the individual, you had public welfare and the raising of the living standard. The goal and meaning of individual life (which is the only ‘real’ life) no longer lay in individual development but in the policy of the state.

Furthermore, in order to compensate for its chaotic formlessness, a mass always produces a ‘Leader’ who almost infallibly becomes the victim of his own inflated ego-consciousness, as numerous examples in history show. One of the chief factors responsible for psychological mass-mindedness is scientific rationalism, which robs the individual of his foundations and his dignity.

[This has echoes of the DH Lawrence poem, The Scientific Doctor: “When I went to the scientific doctor I realised what a lust there was in him to wreak his so-called science on me and reduce me to the level of a thing. So I said: Good-morning! and left him”.]

Towards the end of the first chapter is written: “The individual becomes more and more a function of society, which in turn usurps the function of the real life carrier, whereas, in actual fact, society is nothing more than an abstract idea like the State.”

[This brought back to me Mrs Thatcher’s famous quotation about society when she stated “I think we have been through a period when too many people have been given to understand that when they have a problem it is government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem; I’ll get a grant. I’m homeless; the government must house me.’ They are casting their problems on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no governments can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours. People have got their entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There is no such thing as an entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.” On reflection, though I disagreed with her at the time I have to reluctantly admit that maybe, after all, she was right.]

Jung perceived a significant danger that the spiritual and moral darkness of the East stood a real risk of invading the West, particularly because of the West’s inherent values of humanitarianism and sense of justice. [There would appear to be a parallel today with the invasions by Muslim radicals. Much easier to have a fifth column in a society with many open doors]. Jung warns: ‘The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that is still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional state should succumb to a fit of weakness’.

Most people confuse self-knowledge with knowledge of their conscious ego personalities. Anyone who has any ego consciousness at all takes it for granted that he knows himself. But the ego knows only its own contents, not the unconscious and its contents.

[It is a paradox for consciousness to comprehend unconsciousness but it is of course the bedrock that both Jung and Freud built their analyses on. They eventually split from one another with Jung developing his concept of the collective and archetypal unconsciousness whilst Freud continued to emphasise the role of sex and libido].

[There was, for me, a difficult passage relating to the difference between understanding and knowledge. Possibly it could have been translated better but it goes: ‘If I want to understand an individual human being, I must lay aside all scientific knowledge of the average man and discard all theories in order to adopt a completely new and unprejudiced attitude. I can only approach the task of understanding with a free and open mind, whereas knowledge of man, or insight into human character, presupposes all sorts of knowledge about mankind in general.’]

Chap 2. Religion as the Counterbalance to Mass-Mindedness

Jung writes: There are socio-political movements that want to manipulate the ‘fiction’ of the sovereign state. These invariably want to cut the ground from under the religions and thus increase the dependence of individuals on the state. The religions themselves claim to enable individuals to make their own judgements and decisions. They teach that there is another authority opposed to that of the world view. However, such dependence on God’s authority is just as great as that which comes from that of the world. An individual can therefore be led to forfeit his judgement and reason in both scenarios. The religions aspire to this – but may be compromised – especially when they conspire with the State.

When the religions do compromise themselves Jung calls them creeds and not religions. He calls a creed a defined collective belief whereas he uses the word religion to express a subjective and metaphysical relationship of the individual to God or, as in Buddhism, another path to salvation and enlightenment. The ‘creeds’ have thus become increasingly codified and externalised and in so doing have thrust the authentic metaphysical religious element into the background.

A creed coincides with the established church or, at any rate, forms a public institution whose members include not only true believers but vast numbers of people who can only be described as ‘indifferent’ in matters of religion and who belong to it simply by force of habit. The psychological life of an individual is not determined solely by the ego or by social factors but quite as much, if not more, by a metaphysical authority. This formulation, however, will not please the mass man or the collective believer.

Where dictatorships take the place of God they assume the mantle of religions with State slavery becoming a form of worship. When doubts creep in they are first repressed but the result will be, as always in such cases, fanaticism. Free opinion and morality are ruthlessly suppressed, on the plea that the end justifies the means, even the vilest. There can only be one truth, which is sacrosanct and above criticism.

Religion, Jung expands, is an instinctive attitude peculiar to man and its manifestations can be followed all through human history. The evident purpose being to maintain man’s psychic balance – particularly in the face of adversity. Rationalists incapable of psychological insight call it magic and superstition. They miss the point and overlook that the ‘magical’ effects of the rites (of whatever ‘religious’ tradition) have vital psychological effects.

Both the dictator State and the denominational religions emphasise the idea of community. But community can be a double edged sword. The promotion of the concept of community can aid in the organisation of the masses. However, fundamental change in individuals does not result from ‘enforced’ community. Such changes (for good or bad) result from personal encounters between man and man and not from communistic or Christian baptisms en masse whenever these do not touch the inner man.

Chap 3. The Position of the West on the Question of Religion.

There was a correct perception that the socialist dictatorships of the 1950s were not going to easily change. States of that sort had no social or economic crises to fear so long as their power was intact – that is, so long as they maintained a well-disciplined and well fed police-army. They did fear a real danger from outside, from the threat of military attack, but even this diminished as the power of East and West equalised. The West’s arguments were essentially futile since the arguments were only ‘heard’ on their own side of the Iron Curtain and so it seemed that the only real possibility for change was a breakdown from within and such possible change had to be left to follow its own inner development.

Jung portrays such communist ideology as a form of religious fanaticism and that the absolute States it spawned had armies of fanatical missionaries ready to do their bidding in matters of foreign policy. Those missionaries could also count on a fifth column guaranteed asylum under the laws and constitutions of the Western States. [Does not that sound so parallel to the situation regarding sections of the Muslim world today?]

There will always be upright and truth loving people to whom lying and tyranny are hateful but one can never judge their extent or influence, where they have to exist under huge duress. Whilst the West can both exhort and sympathise with them, most of its own rhetoric turns out to be mere sound and fury. High living standards alone are not enough to check the spread of the “psychic infection” produced by these foreign ideologies. Thus perhaps the only antidote could be an equally potent faith of a different and non-materialistic kind. However not only does the West lack a uniform faith but also such faiths exercise no noticeable influence on the broad course of politics.

The disadvantage of a creed as a public institution is that it serves two masters. Though it derives its existence from the relationship of man to God, it also owes a duty to the State as exemplified by the phrase “Render unto Caesar”. Such Church institutions may well stand for traditional convictions but for many of their adherents these convictions are merely instilled. They are not based on their own inner experience. They are based on unreflecting belief. Belief and knowledge are obviously different and are often on a collision course. Belief is no adequate substitute for inner experience. When it is absent even a strong faith (which came miraculously as a gift of grace) can depart equally ‘miraculously’.

Faith for the ‘faithful’ can be called a religious experience but Jung points out that the essence of scriptural faith comes from the Greek word pistis and that pistis (which he simply defines as trust and loyalty) happens to us in the first place and before any faith has been experienced. [This Greek word pistis appears repeatedly in the original collations of the New Testament and when later translated into Latin the word became fidele. These Latin translations were around for hundreds of years before Bibles were translated into modern tongues. Pistis and fidele can be translated from standard lexicons into trust, confidence, reliance and belief but ‘faith’ has since become to be generally understood as a ‘firm belief in something for which there is no proof.’ That is not the same thing at all as simple trust or fidelity and if one substitutes trust (pistis) for faith where it appears in modern scriptures one can understand some passages quite differently.]

Faith and knowledge almost, by definition, conflict. It takes knowledge that bread and wine are not meat and blood but it takes Roman Catholic faith to believe a ‘real’ change has occurred. Jung states that the standpoint of the creeds is archaic with all sorts of religious symbolism, which if taken literally, comes into conflict with knowledge. If, for instance, the statement that Christ rose from the dead is to be understood not literally but symbolically, then it is capable of various interpretations that do not collide with knowledge and do not impair the meaning of the statement. He also points out the danger that if ‘mythology’ is understood too literally it is more and more likely to be repudiated lock, stock and barrel. Rather than the creeds being wiped out he asks if Christian mythology might not be better understood symbolically for once? He returns to the theme of the fatal parallelism between the State religion of the Marxists and the State religion of the Church. Both demanding unqualified submission to faith and thus curtailing man’s freedom, whether before God or before the State. Both threaten the fragile existence of the individual – the unique carrier of life.

If anyone accuses the Germans of having forgotten what happened under Hitler they need to reflect on whether something similar might not happen again and not only in Europe but also in America, which Jung saw as even more vulnerable because of its “scientific” educational system and with a mixed population that finds it difficult to strike roots in a soil that is practically without history. Common to both Europe and America is a materialistic and collectivist goal, both lacking the thing that grips the whole man, namely, an idea which puts the individual human being in the centre as the measure of all things. On the contrary one could almost go as far as to assert that the valuelessness of the individual in comparison with the masses is the one belief that meets with universal and unanimous consent. In such a reality man is both slave and victim of the machines that have conquered time and space for him.

Chap 4. The Individual’s Understanding of Himself.

The psyche has a peculiar nature which cannot be reduced to anything else. It holds within itself one of the two indispensable conditions for existence as such, namely, the phenomenon of consciousness. The carrier of this consciousness is the individual, who does not produce the psyche on his own volition but is, on the contrary, preformed by it and nourished by the gradual awakening of consciousness during childhood.

The individual psyche, just because of its individuality, is an exception to any statistical rule and is therefore robbed of one of its main characteristics when subjected to the levelling influence of statistical evaluation. Note that the Churches grant the psyche validity only in so far as it acknowledges their dogmas – in other words, when it surrenders to a collective category. The will to individuality is regarded as egotistic obstinacy. Science devalues it as subjectivity, and the Churches condemn it morally as heresy and spiritual pride. [This reminds me of Bernard Shaw’s play Saint Joan, which portrays what can happen when an individual’s true inner belief is in conflict with the established church].

The ‘symbol’ at the core of Christianity is the ‘Son of Man’. This is regarded as a unique individuation process as the incarnation and revelation of God himself. The development of self hence acquires a significance whose implications are not well appreciated. The autonomy of the individual is the secret longing of many people. Without such autonomy this incarnation of God into an individual man would have been easy to suppress from either a moral or a spiritual standpoint.

There is a psychiatric experience that psychological enlightenment and the value of the psyche are both devalued or hindered in large measure by fear – on the fear that unwanted discoveries might be made in the realm of the unconscious. Freud and Jung disagreed about what the unconscious might eventually reveal but Jung was not dismissive of the occult or of other archaic vestiges, which he termed archetypes. Jung believed that these are the oldest part of the psyche, are grounded on instincts and have a numinous quality that sometimes can arouse fear. These archetypes are ineradicable and cannot be grasped intellectually. Fear of the unconscious psyche not only impedes self-knowledge but is also a grave obstacle to the study of psychology.

In Jungian psychotherapy, [as far as I can ascertain], as both patient and psychotherapist gain in mutual understanding, the situation between them becomes increasingly subjectivised. As this develops any ‘objective knowledge’ based on general principles loses meaning and what had been an advantage may turn into a dangerous disadvantage. Subjectivation (in technical terms, transference and counter-transference) creates isolation from the environment. Such subjective understanding may no longer be balanced by knowledge. [That is the best way I can describe this process, noting that the terms understanding and knowledge in these contexts relate to what are in the main subjective and objective respectively]. An important point is that skill of the therapist is needed to preserve the individuality of both partners and not allow it to be twisted out of shape by outside interventions. Such therapy can help the first stirrings of individuality into consciousness and to gain an ability to act on one’s own insight and decision and not from the mere wish to copy convention.

Since society at large is composed of too many de-individualised persons it is at the mercy of ruthless individualists. It is just such a banding together of groups composed largely of members, extinct of individual personalities, that makes it succumb so readily to a dictator. Such mass actions become blinded to the fact that the most powerful organisations can be maintained only by the greatest ruthlessness of their leaders and the cheapest of slogans. Jung also criticises the Churches when they too avail themselves of mass action such that the individual becomes morally and spiritually inferior in the mass and fail to really help individuals achieve any true rebirth of spirit. He sees it as a delusion when the Churches try to rope an individual into a social organisation and reduce him to a condition of diminished responsibility, instead of raising him out of the torpid, mindless mass and making clear to him that he is the one important factor and that the salvation of the world consists of salvation of the individual soul. One can also reflect on both Jesus and Paul as prototypes of those who, trusting their inner experience, have gone their own individual ways, disregarding public opinion.

The Iron Curtain, the boundary line that bristled with barbed wire, ran through the psyche of modern man, no matter on which side he lived. And just as the neurotic is unconscious of his shadow side, so the normal individual, like the neurotic, saw his shadow in his neighbour or in the man beyond the great divide. It became even a duty to apostrophise the capital of the one and the communism of the other as the very devil. This was done so as to fascinate the outward eye and prevent it from looking at the individual life within.

Both adults and children can suffer from fantasies. The normal fantasies of a child are basically nothing other than imagination born of instinctive impulses. Abnormal fantasies are particularly likely to happen when unfavourable influences emanate from the parents poisoning the atmosphere and producing conflicts which upset the psychic balance of a child. It follows that the fantasies of the neurotic contain a core of normal instinct, the hallmark of which is adaptedness. A neurotic illness always implies an unadapted alteration and distortion of normal dynamisms and the ‘imagination’ proper to them. Instincts, it should be remembered, are highly conservative and of extreme antiquity as regards both their dynamism and their form. Such form according to Jung, when represented to the mind, appears as an image. Since conscious activity is rooted in instinct it has the same significance for human psychology as for all members of the animal kingdom. He ends the chapter with: If the flow of instinctive dynamism in our lives is to be maintained, as is absolutely necessary for our existence, then it is imperative that we remould these archetypal forms into ideas which are adequate to the challenge of the present.

Chap 5. The Philosophical and the Psychological Approach to Life.

Our philosophy is no longer a way of life, as it was in antiquity; it has turned into an exclusively intellectual and academic affair. Our denominational religions express a view of the world which caused no great difficulties in the Middle Ages but which has become strange and unintelligible to the man of today. Despite this conflict with the modern scientific outlook, a deep instinct bids him hang on to ideas which, if taken literally, leave out of account all the mental developments of the last five hundred years. Even if impelled to criticise contemporary religion as literalistic, narrow minded and obsolescent, we should never forget that the creeds proclaim a doctrine whose symbols nevertheless possess a life of their own, on account of their archetypal character.

Intellectual understanding is only called for when feeling and intuition does not suffice, that is to say, with people for whom the intellect holds the prime power of conviction. Characteristic of this is the gulf that has opened up between faith and knowledge to the extent that they seem to be incommensurate. Theology rejects any tendency to take the statements of its earliest records as written myths and, accordingly, to understand them symbolically. Some theologians have made attempts to demythologise the object of their faith by drawing a line, quite arbitrarily, at certain points. To the critical intellect it is only too obvious that myth is an integral component of all religions and therefore cannot be excluded from the assertions of faith without injuring them.

The rupture between faith and knowledge is a symptom of split consciousness and where this occurs it is the role of any practitioner to attempt to establish a relationship with both halves of the personality because only from them both can he hope to put together a whole and complete man.

The supremacy of the ‘word’, of the Logos, which stands for the central figure of Christian faith is a specific achievement of the Christian faith. The ‘word’ literally became the Christian God and so it has remained. But no one seems to have noticed that the veneration of the ‘word’, which was necessary for a certain phase of historical development, has a perilous shadow side because it can be unlinked from its original link with the divine person. Both the Church and the State become personified and belief in the ‘word’ becomes a matter of credulity and creed [and not of intuition]. The ‘word’ turns into a slogan and is then capable of any deception or lie [for it is easiest to lie with words rather than feelings or instincts]. Credulity is one of our worst enemies but it is what the neurotic easily resorts to in order to quell the doubter in his breast.

Jung believes that it is highly probable that all man’s psychic functions have an instinctual foundation, as is obviously the case with animals. The two most fundamental instincts of sexuality and the power drive are the source of numerous conflicts. He notes that they correspond to Saint Augustine’s moral concepts of concupisentia (desire) and superbia (lust) and that they are the chief object of moral judgement, whose purpose is to prevent these instinctual collisions as far as possible. Jung, Freud and Adler put different emphasis on which aspects of the unconscious dominated but, regardless of this, neurotic symptoms could be explained using all these different models.

Man’s instinctual side is portrayed as being capable of suppression (unlike animals) largely because of his capacity for learning. This, along with his conscious knowledge of himself, can uproot him from his instinctual foundation at the expense of the unconscious. This separation from his instinctual nature inevitably plunges civilised man into conflicts between conscious and unconscious, spirit and nature, knowledge and faith. It is a split that becomes pathological the moment his consciousness is no longer able to neglect or to suppress his instinctual side.

There is both light and dark lying hidden in our instinctual unconsciousness. This dark side Jung calls the shadow and when, for example, there is a dictator it allows us to point the finger away from ourselves and at the shadow. He is clearly on the other side of the political frontier, while we are on the side of the good. But that is a fiction because deep within all of us a shadow lies in our unconsciousness and neglect of instinct can have painful consequences both physiologically and psychologically.

The forlornness of consciousness in our world is due primarily to the loss of instinct, and the reason for this lies in the development of the human mind over the past aeon. The more power man had over nature, the more his knowledge and skill went to his head, and the deeper became his contempt for the merely natural and accidental. In contrast to the subjectivity of the conscious mind the unconscious is objective, manifesting itself mainly in the form of contrary feelings, fantasies, emotions, impulses and dreams, none of which one makes oneself but which come upon one objectively.

The religious person stands directly under an influence of a reaction from the unconscious and, as a rule, this is called the operation of conscience. Where religious beliefs get lost, en mass, the believer is forced onto the defensive being at the same time aware of the weakening of the Church and the precariousness of its dogmatic assumptions. To counter this the Church recommends more faith – as if this gift of grace depended on man’s good will and pleasure. The seat of faith, however is not consciousness but spontaneous religious experience, which brings the individual’s faith into immediate relation with God. Here we must ask: Have I any religious experience and immediate relation to God, and hence that certainty which will keep me, as an individual, from dissolving into the crowd.

Chap 6. Self-Knowledge.

The discovery of important truths can result in an individual succeeding in deeming himself worthy of serious attention and sympathetic interest. To be capable of declaring his own human dignity and of accessing religious experience which stems from within the unconscious. That religious experiences happen (and of which Paul’s Damascus experience is the prototype) no longer needs proof. However, it will always remain doubtful whether what metaphysics and theology call God and gods is the real basis of these experiences. Psychology’s insistence on the importance of unconscious processes for religious experience is extremely unpopular, no less with the political Right than with the Left. For the former the deciding factor is the historical revelation that came to man from outside; to the latter this is sheer nonsense as man has no religious function at all, except for belief in party doctrine.

The horror which the dictator States have recently brought upon mankind is nothing less than the culmination of all those atrocities of which our ancestors made themselves guilty in the not so distant past. Quite apart from the barbarities and blood baths perpetrated by the Christian nations among themselves throughout European history, the European has also to answer for all the crimes committed against the dark-skinned peoples during the process of colonization. In this respect the white man carries a very heavy burden indeed. It shows us a picture of the common human shadow that could hardly be painted in blacker colours. The evil that comes to light in man and that undoubtedly dwells within him is of gigantic proportions, so that for the Church to talk of original sin and to trace it back to Adam’s relatively innocent slip-up with Eve is almost a euphemism. The case is far graver and is grossly underestimated.

Since it is universally believed that man is merely what his consciousness knows of itself, he regards himself as harmless and so adds stupidity to iniquity. He does not deny that terrible things have happened and still go on happening, but it is always “the others” who do them. The evil, the guilt, the profound unease of conscience, the obscure misgiving are there before our eyes, if only we would see. Man has done these things; I am a man, who has his share of human nature, therefore I am guilty with the rest and bear, unaltered and indelibly within me, the capacity and the inclination to do them again at any time. Even if, juristically speaking, we were not accessories to the crime, we are always, thanks to our human nature, potential criminals. None of us stands outside humanity’s black collective shadow. Failure to recognise this allows the projection of the unrecognised evil into the ‘other’. This strengthens the opponents position in the most effective way, because the projection carries the fear which we involuntarily and secretly feel for our own evil over to the other side and considerably increase the formidableness of his threat. What is even worse, our lack of insight deprives us of the capacity to deal with evil.

There can be no doubt that in the democracies the distance between man and man is much greater than is conducive to public welfare or beneficial to our psychic needs. True, all sorts of attempts are being made to level out glaring social contrasts by appealing to people’s idealism, enthusiasm and ethical conscience. One needs to be sure that the man who talks of ideals is himself ideal, so that his words and deeds are more than they seem. To be ideal is impossible and remains therefore an unfilled postulate.

Recognition of the shadow leads to the modesty we need in order to acknowledge imperfection. It is this conscious recognition and consideration that are needed wherever human relationship is to be established. A human relationship not based on differentiation and perfection, for these only emphasize the differences or call forth the exact opposite; it is based, rather, on imperfection, on what is weak, helpless and in need of support. The perfect has no need of the other, but weakness has, for it seeks support and does not confront its partner with anything that might force him into an inferior position. Such humiliation may happen only too easily, where idealism plays too prominent a role. It would therefore be very much in the interest of the free society to give some thought to the question of human relationship from the psychological point of view, for in this resides its real cohesion and consequently its strength. Where love stops, power begins, and violence and terror.

Chap 7. The Meaning of Self-Knowledge.

The point is made once again that, from the psychologist’s perspective, it is always a question of treating one single individual. The effect on all individuals that one would like to see realised may not set in for hundreds of years. What does lie within reach, however, is the change in individuals who have, or can create, an opportunity to influence others of like mind in their circle of acquaintances. Not by persuading or preaching but rather that anyone who has insight into his own actions (and has thus found access to the unconscious) involuntarily exercises an influence on his environment. The deepening and broadening of this effect is what the ‘primitives’ call mana; un unintentional influence on the unconscious of others. A sort of unconscious prestige whose effects last only so long as they are not disturbed by conscious intention.

There is such a thing as an unconscious Zeitgeist. It compensates the attitude of the conscious mind and anticipates changes to come. An excellent example of this is modern art. Though seeming to deal with aesthetic problems, it is really performing a work of psychological education on the public by breaking down and destroying their previous aesthetic views of what is beautiful in form and meaningful in content. The pleasingness of the artistic product is replaced by chill abstractions of the most subjective nature which brusquely slam the door on the naive and romantic delight in the senses and their obligatory love for the object. This tells us in plain and universal language, that the prophetic spirit of art has turned away from the old object relationship and towards the dark chaos of subjectivity. A peculiarity of our time is the expression of the unconscious man within us – and who is changing.

Does the modern man know that he is on the point of losing the life-preserving myth of the inner man which Christianity has treasured up for him? Does he realise what lies in store should this catastrophe ever actually befall him? Is he even capable at all of realising that this would be a catastrophe? And finally, does the individual know that he himself is the makeweight that tips the scales? Happiness and contentment, equability of soul and meaningfulness of life – these can only be experienced by the individual and not by a State, which on the one hand, is nothing but a convention of independent individuals, and on the other, continually threatens to paralyze and suppress the individual.

The book finishes with: I am neither spurred on by excessive optimism nor in love with high ideals, but am merely concerned with the fate of an individual human being – that infinitesimal unit on whom a world depends, and in whom, if we read the meaning of the Christian message aright, even God seeks as his goal.


Early on in the book it was asked: “What will become of our civilisation, and of man himself, if the hydrogen bombs begin to go off, or if the spiritual and moral darkness of State absolutism should spread over Europe”? The big ideological division at that time related to Communism. Today, in 2016, the equivalent “big issue” is with Islam. Note that both Communism and Islam have undergone much schism so both terms need to be understood in the light that neither is an integrated whole.

The first book that I read by Jung was his autobiographical “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”. I liked it very much and, compared to most of his other works, it was straightforward to understand. The many terms and concepts he uses in the body of his professional writing and from his perspective as a psychoanalyst are not so easy. I am sure that being translated from the original does not help. This book has the capacity to deepen understanding of both self and others.

The whole field of psychoanalysis (with its own inherent schisms) has always sat on the periphery of my own interest as a clinician. I have yet to be convinced that it is of great value. Indeed, I have seen the harm and pain that it can inflict, when practiced by poor, even sadistic, analysts. I am however interested if we can learn more about ourselves and others by considering how (both as individuals and groups) we are affected by what exists in the unconscious.

I have long puzzled over the mystical beginning of the Gospel of St John, which, in the King James version, reads: “In the beginning was the word”. I now understand that the English word ‘word’ had been translated from the Greek word ‘logos’ and that this Greek word, in particular, has posed problems for translators for millennia. There are those who state that the Bible should be taken as the literal “Word of God” but that is difficult for me to accept if for no other reason than it has been translated so many times. So many translations by different men and thus so many different interpretations.

In my naivety I believed, for a very long time, that the four Gospels were written down by the four Evangelists. In my head was a picture of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John sitting-down and writing-out their versions or maybe dictating them to a scribe. Of course this is not what happened. The New Testament was put together differently under the auspices of various Christian churches. Very many separate scraps of parchment had been gathered together and what became “gospel” (and indeed also what was not included or was apocryphal) was at the behest of the selection and interpretation by men – not God. Other Gospels (now known as the Gnostic Gospels) have since come to light. Whether or not these were known about when the New Testament was first being compiled are, I presume, a matter of conjecture.

I like the distinction that Jung draws between a Creed and a Religion. I personally can identify far more easily when faith comes from revelation rather than from an intellectual metaphysical argument or a literal reading of any scripture. The recurrent “leitmotif” throughout the book is the huge and vital importance of the individual and the danger that comes from all “mass movements” which tend to suppress what is uniquely important in everyone’s own individuality. That mankind has for aeons had a belief in “gods” seems obvious and in Jungian terms archetypal.  He is probably quite correct that such an instinct (if it can be called that) lies deep within our unconsciousness. I am reminded too of the character Levin in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, who after struggling with his own faith suddenly realises it is quite simple after all. “The sky is not infinite but a vault overhead, however irrational that may be. Lying on his back in a field, gazing up at the sky, Levin knows he has found faith and thanks God for it”. Perhaps mankind has, with so much recently acquired knowledge and science, become too focused on facts, too ready to preach atheism and more and more out of touch with its inner reality or soul or psyche.

The huge worry at the time of the Iron Curtain and during the Cold War was of a nuclear holocaust. That threat of course persists but the world today seems ever more dangerous. There are oppressive dictatorships in many countries, Russia and China remain isolationist and outside the pale of the constitutional democracies, the USA is deeply divided, the stability of the European Union is under threat and the more recent spread of violent islamofascism threatens us all in a way that was unimaginable not very long ago.

I have for some time been trying to get my head around what has been happening within the mind-set of both radical and not so radical Islam. Reading Jung has at least given me a new model to consider. I now perceive that there is very much Creed and very little Religion in nearly all branches of Islam today.  Perhaps it was always like this. The Islamic scriptures must, it would appear, be taken literally and even learned by heart from a very early age. The mass effect of Islam is exaggerated by “church and state” by “mosque and caliphate” coming together as one.

Suppression of individuality would seem to be the rule and all the power is concentrated in oligarchies that only fundamentally differ in the various schisms that have developed in the past. It is difficult to see how any “enlightenment” might evolve within Islam but if Jung is right we need to dwell on our own shadow, on our own collective unconsciousness of where our own ancestors did so much harm. We should not allow ourselves to be paralysed by fear of the black shadow being cast by the fanatical adherents of a distorted Creed. It will be necessary for individuals from both inside and outside Islam to stand up and speak the truth – the fundamental truth that every individual needs to be nurtured and encouraged to think for themselves; to question whatever is taught and not simply and passively to submit. But there lies the rub for the very word Muslim translates from I submit!

Jung also draws a distinction between understanding and knowledge. So if I have got this concept correct one can fairly easily derive all sorts of knowledge about Muslims and Islam but to understand an individual Muslim the first approach must be to discard all prejudices and to then enquire with a free and open mind. That may be very hard for someone who is not a trained analyst to do, but it is something to at least attempt. It will take a lot of time of course, but mutual understanding could be a way for us all to evolve and for the world to become a better and happier place.


Islam and me in the 21st Century

As I start to write down these thoughts, the year is 2015 AD and it is the 1st of March (St. David’s day), when the daffodils outside the door of my home in Ireland are normally in bloom. I love the way, how I love the way, they return each year just as I love the way the swallows return, up in the sky, a little later on. Right now an Irish spring is beginning at my Irish home and it is so unlike all the Arab and other “springs” that have burst onto the world stage in the last few years.

I have to say that I am less and less happy about being a member of what is commonly called the “human” race and what has prompted me to start this piece of writing today is the news that Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison, could now actually face the death penalty for alleged apostasy. This is mediaeval justice and I use the word mediaeval in the specific sense of it being the justice of men and not of god. The ‘dastardly’ crime of this thin, diabetic with high blood pressure was to organise an internet forum to allow some free expression by other people and so was charged with “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and with “violating Islamic values and propagating liberal thought”.

Now make note that this is being imposed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (a state which has adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights even though it abstained on the vote in the UN in 1948 especially with regard to Article 18, which states that everyone has the right “to change his religion or belief”; and Article 16, on equal marriage rights) and not by a bunch of terrorist islamofascists attempting to coerce everyone to submit to their particular form of inhumanity and barbarism. This is crazy to anyone, such as myself, that subscribes to the simplest, hopefully self-evident and rational, aspect of loving one’s neighbour as oneself. To “love thy neighbour as thyself” is invoked not only in the New Testament (Mark 12:31) but also early in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18). Such an exhortation must thus be relevant to both Christians and Muslims.

The crowd that watched the first fifty lashes (the first installment of twenty such planned public floggings) were cheering incessantly with what is fast turning into an infamous phrase: “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”). So what of submitting and allowing the one and only deity to decide who is guilty and how they should be punished. Man it seems knows better than his maker especially (and with the greatest irony) when it comes to matters of faith. All societies have civil laws and codes and this is always particularly the case with regard to such things as property, marriage and murder. But the punishment must also fit the crime. Deterrent punishments may have a different role but a punishment designed to deter others (rather than be simple justice for the perpetrator) has always seemed somehow suspect to me. Capital punishment itself never seems to be an effective deterrent for murder though it would probably stop people from parking illegally. This flogging and imprisonment of the Saudi Blogger can only be described as barbaric and not a judgement but a form of arbitrary revenge.

I don’t normally quote scripture because by “cherry picking” through the bible one can often find a passage to suit many points of view. Whether one takes its content literally or metaphorically doesn’t detract from the fact that it contains the collective wisdom of western society put together over millenia. It forms part of the canon of all three of the major semitic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam that had their origins in what can be loosely called the Caucasian peoples. It is in the best sense a “good book” and worth reading. I believe it is much better read than preached from so give thanks to the invention of the printing press that you can nowadays read it for yourself. We are no longer confined to hear it interpreted by a priest from the pulpit. I have already referred to the self-evident and logical statement of “love thy neighbour as yourself” and I will now add some of the words about judgement for everyone to ponder. Not only to the Saudi state (in respect of what started me to write these thoughts down) but to everyone. I believe the words have merit so please re-read them and reflect.

In the Old Testament (Jeremia 22:3) it is written “Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor. Do no wrong and do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place” and in the New Testament (Matthew 7:2) it says “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you.” So why is it that the barbarity of the literal “Eye for and eye and tooth for a tooth” seems to have centre stage under Shariah law and not the more temperate “Judge not that ye be not judged”. Man once again interpreting God’s will and not allowing God to be the judge.

Ever since the twin towers were toppled in New York I have been trying to get some inkling of what could be going-on in the minds of those assassins who flew airliners into those buildings. It was with the most grievous horror that I watched that tragedy unfold live on television. One of the most enduring memories is of a man at a window hundreds of feet in the air waving a white sheet or tablecloth in a hopeful but ultimately hopeless call for help. The two towers came tumbling down killing all and sundry in what was a unique moment of globally-watched horror. I read on the news next day that ordinary people in some places in the Middle East instead of lamenting or sympathising were cheering in the streets.

There also followed a deafening silence from the Islamic establishment as the identity and motives of the perpetrators became fully known. We are told that suicide is against the Islamic faith and yet this cult of mostly young male Muslims (for want of a better word) who kill themselves along with their perceived infidels seems not to lessen apace at all. A Muslim, I have learned from Wikipedia, translates as ‘one who submits’. But submission is passive and not active and there is a world of difference between the submissive actions of Gandhi and his followers and those of such “radicalised” members of Islam.

Time has moved on since I started writing these thoughts down and it is now November 2015 and a week after the terrible events in Paris on Friday 13th. In the last couple of days I watched a video of a minute’s silence in respect to all of those killed and injured, which was held before the start of a football match in Turkey against Greece. There was no respectful silence because a significant section of the Turkish fans booed and whistled and the infamous “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) could be heard from what I hope was a minority of the Turkish fans. It is the same term said by those beheading their kneeling victims with a knife, by those before blowing up a bomb in a crowded market and by those about to machine gun and kill over a hundred victims inside a hall as they watch a concert. Those who broke that minute’s silence were obviously not only emboldened enough to do so but should they also be numbered amongst the not-so-actually-moderate moderate side of Islam?

Over the past year or so there have been so many horror stories. The things that have been happening in the self-proclaimed Islamic State/Caliphate and similar areas occupied by such Islamic “fundamentalist” groups nearly defies my intuitive comprehension. I felt similar when wandering round Auschwitz and allowing the depths of depravity and evil perpetrated (and with the greatest cynicism possible) by Hitler’s fascism to fully invade my consciousness. My mind would have preferred to be able to suppress such horrors but it is important to acknowledge that humanity is really capable of such abominations and I am simply thankful that I was not around at the time. But what if I was? Could I have been coerced into that collective mindset? Could I have resisted not shaking hands when meeting someone in the traditional manner but giving instead the Nazi salute? Islamofascism is the best term I have come across to describe the “philosophy” of IS and Boko Haram and such-like groups. They, like all fascists, must force their ideals because there is no peaceful path to their ends.

Having now read more about apostasy in Islam it is obvious that the penalties for this have nearly always been severe. To me this does not make the religion more so but rather less robust. Any belief that is only sustained by a climate of fear is likely to be as hollow as any denunciations that are obtained by torture. Those in fear will probably do or say anything that will end or prevent their torture. I have said it elsewhere and I repeat it here: “all evil only comes about by the imposition, the imposition, of one person’s will on another”. Religions and their foot-soldiers do not escape this and before anyone gets too carried away with the state of Islam today it bears remembering the atrocities carried out under Christ’s banner in the past. It is bad enough when a sadistic dictator is in power but it is probably worse when the perpetrators are the so-called spiritual leaders of a faith. Only their creed is OK and only their creed will bring eternal happiness. Pooh!

As a child, I (having been brought up as a Catholic in a Protestant home) remember being told the story of someone arriving in heaven and being taken down a corridor with doors in it and that there was one door in it for each religious group. As this new arrival was being walked along the corridor a huge noise could be heard behind one of the doors as if everyone inside was having a wonderful party. The guide turned and said “Oh don’t mind. That’s just the Roman Catholics – they think they are the only people up here!” I guess it must be just the same for all the branches of the Islamic faith today.

I digressed a bit maybe but the point was a serious one. Members of many faiths obviously believe that their way is best and some believe it is the only way to find salvation. This mindset is particularly often found in the mind of an “evangelical” – a person who has “seen the light” – and not only seen it but who must now convert all those perceived to be in the dark. I am increasingly sure that this pertains to most Muslims as well as to various branches of the Christian faith – particularly to the avowed evangelicals. I am no theologian but Judaism, the third of the three main Semitic religions, seems less concerned with converting Gentiles to their way of thinking. They themselves are the ‘chosen people’ and so there is not a lot they can do about those not so chosen I guess. Religious elitism of one sort or another unfortunately affects so many faiths.

It is time to reflect on the terrible events that have happened recently in Paris: first ‘Charlie Hebdo’ and more recently what happened on Friday 13th. Time to reflect in the cold light of day and try and find a better way forward. It is not a nice contemplation and knee-jerk reactions are unlikely to help. Terrorists (and by any definition that is what the agents of these atrocities were) have always been hard to beat by systematic conventional force. Terrorism may eventually implode from a lack of support. More often the terrorists eventually evolve into some other politically “acceptable” entity. Such a metamorphosis would seem very unlikely just now and it is just as hard to see that the current support (that is the support from within mainstream Islam) is going to suddenly vanish. And let me be clear that silence from the mainstream is not silence. It is a silent vocal support – loud and clear.

I am sure there are many “moderate” Muslims who probably do not agree with what is being done in the name of Islam. No more so than there were many Germans who did not like what Hitler was up to. No more so than a large proportion of the population of Irish Catholics who disagreed with the tactics of the IRA. Yet all these silent majorities are complicit in the actions of those acting “in their name”. All these three silent groups kept quiet for basically the same simple reason; from fear. It was John Hume who bravely “came out” and trumpeted exactly what the IRA were at that time; they were fascists. They were fascists because they created a climate of fear. They may not have gone to the extremes of the Nazis but moderate men and women all over Ireland did not “speak out” until the twin tragedies of Enniskillen and Tyrone made people begin to lose their fear. Or at least if they didn’t lose it they were no longer prepared to tolerate what was being done “in their name”. It was different in Germany because the Nazis (though terrorising in the most brutal, cynical and arbitrary manner) were part of a state machine that was eventually destroyed militarily.

I suppose there were many moderate Germans in Hitler’s Reich and I have met what at least appear to be moderate Muslims (notably a self professed Sufi woman in Brussels and a previous colleague in Cavan General Hospital) but I more and more question just how “moderate” they are for, behind it all, they not only believe that they are right and that everyone else should bow to their faith. This has to be coupled with the fact that to leave their faith is a capital offence. Yes it is frightening, when polled, just how many (moderate) British “Muslims” uphold that an apostate deserves to be killed.

So what of the Islamofascists (a good term I think) of today. The fear they produce is not random or ill thought out, it is deliberate and is focused to be as brutal and horrible as can be imagined. It also has a huge arbitrary element in that whether it is bombing an airliner, bombing a market place, shooting the occupants of a building or whatever, that they know there will not only be many innocents and children but even good members of their own faith killed.

I fear that moderate Islam will never rise up and maybe cannot rise up and thereby effect a change. At this point I want to mention Richard Dawkins. He himself doesn’t believe in God but that is not what I want to talk about. He has written some truly fantastic science and my only problem with his stance on religion is mostly one of style. He too quickly uses sarcasm, for example, and in doing this he belittles much of what he sets out to inform about. Having said that I find myself more and more agreeing that it is the moderate Muslim or “moderate Islam” that one needs to fear. Perhaps to fear most of all. If interested then read him for yourself. He has affected my thinking to now believe that what is instilled into the minds of the vast majority of children (in this context by their Muslim parents and pastors) remains deeply embedded within them for life. These fundamental ideas and beliefs instilled within them are the rich soil in which radicalisation can, oh so easily, be instilled. It was little different when Christendom was brutal. The concept is little different than the Jesuit motto: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”.

The reactions and statements and fatwas of some of Islam’s clerics, particularly in the relation to real or imagined blasphemy, is something I would love to be able to abolish. It strikes me just how fragile the basis of such a faith must be when the faithful have to be controlled by fear. It is not all that different (historically at least) from most of the Christian churches except that the punishments (at least for centuries) have not been capital ones. “God is great”, “God is omnipotent”, “God has the power to grant or reject salvation” but it is the priests, the clerics, the ayatollahs, the inquisitors and so forth that take it on themselves to judge and condemn individuals instead of simply leaving it to the almighty to do the work that he is perfectly capable of doing. For me this is a great and fundamental hypocrisy; an absolutely gigantic hypocrisy; a hypocrisy only designed to maintain the power and influence (and oh so often the treasure chests as well) of those that preach in such a way.

When Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” was released it was rebuked by certain members of the establishment for being blasphemous. It, like much satire, may have been irreverent but it was not, from my standpoint, blasphemous. There was a renowned TV debate with the Bishop of Southwark and Malcolm Muggeridge on one side and John Cleese and Michael Palin on the other that I must revisit sometime. The po-faced establishment rather at a loss against the fun and health and healing power found in real humour is what I remember. Indeed it is so often the lack of humour, the inability to laugh from their hearts or their stomachs that seems to be part and parcel of the puritan, the reactionary and the foot soldiers of all forms of fascism.

The frailty of Islam in the face of any such humour is manifested by the outrageous actions that its adherents are invoked to do “in God’s name”. Whatever real harm did Salman Rushdie ever do or a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed do? The reply by the Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel (in the context of a Miss World contest taking place controversially in Nigeria) when asked; “What would Mohammed think?” she replied, “In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from one of them.” This was enough for a fatwa and so a death sentence was passed on her. Unbelievable.

It is worth stating that in the last five years or so there have actually been Fatwas against terrorism, Al-Qaeda and ISIS. They may be steps in the right direction by some in the Islamic world but for me it is not only too little too late but of dubious intent – other than that of self-preservation. At the moment ISIS and suchlike are on the upsurge and it seems pretty obvious that there will be more and more murderous incidents and thus more and more reaction to them. An emboldened far right will thus be able to garnish their ideologies and move onto the political stage with much greater success. I fear that happening and I am sure there are more and more adherents of Islam (in countries where they are now in a minority) that will feel increasingly fearful for themselves and their communities. These fatwas remind me a little of the so-called infallibility behind Papal bulls. The invincibility and conceit of certain mortal men over and above those of its faithful are abhorrent to me.

There is another question that I now ask myself : “How did Islam co-exist with its ‘neighbours’ for so very many years without the overt and pernicious way that its radicalised elements have evolved in recent years?” It seems too simple to blame the Taliban in Afghanistan , the Iraq war and its consequences and all the revolutions that have taken place around the Mediterranean but a deeper understanding of the nature of all of the divisions within Islam. No more so than with Christianity there have been divisions and schisms right from the start. And with every split comes the inevitability of “I’m right and you’re wrong” like little children unable to agree. Unfortunately however the consequences are severe – only too often deadly severe. In a way that is the hardest thing to understand about all these different monotheistic religions and their offshoots. They all believe in one almighty supreme being but, but, their own interpretation of things is the only one that can be correct.

At this point I will interject that I was born of a Roman Catholic father and an Anglican Catholic mother and educated as a Roman Catholic. I pursued that faith until one day I realised that I had been saying the creed, like a parrot, for years. What appalled me and what made me stop “blindly” following that faith was not that the words were right or wrong but that they had been instilled into me. I was saying “I believe” in things I had never ever considered for myself. This just seemed to be so wrong that it started my rejection of such a church as run by men. Over the years I have vacillated a bit and right now I am really not sure in what I believe. I am neither agnostic nor an atheist – I am simply perplexed. For me it shouldn’t matter whether there is a God or not as to the manner in which we should all lead our lives. I am a reluctant “muslim” only in the sense that I submit to my maker and to whatever unfolds in the future.

My maker whether a deity or not has not yet empowered me to understand what has always been an unanswerable paradox that centres on the nature of time and infinity. Did “stuff” always exist or was there a time when “stuff” came out of nothing. I don’t pretend an answer. I don’t understand the rather mystical “I am the alpha and I am the omega” nor do I understand the imagined singularity at the source of the Big Bang. In all probability it may be impossible for anything to understand its own existence let alone its own creation. I don’t want to waste time or lose any sleep on such “unanswerables”. Like others before me I simply wonder at the nature I have been blessed to live within and of the unbelievable sight of the night sky particularly when devoid of both the moon and artificial night: it can be literally overpowering to see the limits of the visible universe and it can make one feel very small indeed. Yet, small as I am, I am yet a part of that whole. That is what I believe in; that is the most part of my credo right now.

It is a creed supported scripturally by “Live and let live”; “Judge not that ye be not judged”; “Love thy neighbour as yourself”; Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us” and never forgetting that “Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it”. If you are a professed Christian it will bear you well to fully comprehend and understand the last two of the above statements for to ignore or misunderstand them could be fatal for your soul. If you come from a different persuasion I think it will still be hard to better them as the tools for a good and productive life. So, just as the Irish comedian, Dave Allen, used to end his shows I will just say “Goodnight and may your God go with you”!

Lies, Truth and Courage

A lie can be defined in more than one way. I have found it useful to define a “real” lie simply as the intention to deceive. There are members of our species who can tell such lies with the greatest of ease and unfortunately they are far too often believed. We, as a species, seem to be particularly vulnerable, even naive, in this respect. Maybe that is because we concentrate too much on the meanings of words and have, unlike dogs, lost the innate ability to immediately see/feel deception when it is staring us in the face.

Neurologists have understood that there are a group of patients that cannot be lied to. They suffer from aphasia and so because they can no longer grasp your words so they can no longer be deceived by them. This dog-like behaviour is very well described in “The President’s Speech” a chapter in the strangely named but wonderful book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” by the neurologist Oliver Sacks.

I try very hard never to lie and those that ever lie to me really do risk losing my friendship and respect. Trust flies away at the same moment and is unlikely ever to return. My reasons for avoiding lying do not stem from any high moral standpoint. They are far more functional than that.

In the first place, very few lies stand the test of time. The truth nearly always eventually comes out. I was once told of a Polish expression whence “a lie has short legs”. This provided me with an amusing vignette of a lie trying to escape detection but unable to do so because it couldn’t run fast enough.

In the second place, a lie once told has to be remembered or else the game is likely to be given away in the future. This involves unnecessary effort and usually it gets more and more complicated as subsequent lies have to be created to cover-up for earlier ones. The ability to remember what had been told in the past gets worse if  different lies get told to different people. If you prefer a simple life then avoid lies. Some “economy of the truth” may be necessary at times but even then be careful.

Most of us know the oath taken by a juror: “To tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. This may apply in court but in real life the whole truth can sometimes be too much. If a patient is diagnosed with cancer should one immediately explain this and all the ramifications or is it acceptable to use some euphemism and then wait to truthfully answer any follow-up questions? How explicit should one be when a child asks “where did I come from”? To say “the stork brought you” wont satisfy the child for long so some restraint in “telling all” whilst not saying anything untrue would seem sensible. There are no real guidelines in such cases because each case is unique and will benefit from good judgement. Good judgement is more likely if such dilemmas have been thought about and discussed with others in advance.

It is so, so easy (perhaps even natural or instinctive) to want to always be seen by others in a good light and to never be in error. So much so that a lie can so easily slip out. We all have a degree of innate pride that is necessary for our psychological well-being and yet our stature can (paradoxically or not) actually be increased by being able to openly acknowledge when one has been wrong. No one is always right. We are all fallible. Thank goodness for it.

For me, amongst the most destructive lies are the ones that one tells to oneself. It takes the sort of courage that DH Lawrence’s poem refers to in order to live with the greatest integrity. It reads: “What makes people unsatisfied is that they accept lies. If people had courage, and refused lies and found out what they really felt and really meant and acted on it, they would distil the essential oil out of every experience and like hazel-woods of Autumn, at last be sweet and sound. And the young among the old would be as in the hazel-woods of September nutting, gathering nuts of ripe experience. As it is, all that the old can offer is sour, bitter fruits, cankered by lies“.

The complexities of truth lie at the heart of Kurosawa’s film “Rashomon” in which at least four different characters relate different versions of the murder of a man and the rape of his wife. Other complexities of truth can be seen when police witnesses of the same event tell different tales. The point is that truth is easily distorted particularly when people intend to deceive but also because the mind can fill in or alter holes in its own memory to make everything “fit together”. So untruths can told without any intent. That is why an untruth differs from a lie. One is a mistaken fact the other pure deceit.

The word deception is a “false friend” between the English and the French. Deception in French means disappointment in English and deception in English becomes tromperie in French. So be neither deceived nor disappointed by such usage. False friend is a good description of such words that don’t translate literally but there is another sort of false friend and that is the sort that bears false witness. For me amongst the most invidious lies are those that involve false witness. The reasons for blackening someone else’s character are bad enough if true but disgusting when they are untrue. Such false witness may come from envy or to hide one’s own fault but when it comes from pure bigotry and prejudice (and especially from state institutions) the results for mankind can be devastating. If the world stands silent at such times it has to share in that culpability and share in the shadow that it creates in the unconsciousness of us all. The dark shadow in our collective, hidden, instinctive and inherited unconsciousness that we would love to deny but which we cannot escape from.

Caution too is needed when making any promise, for a broken promise very rapidly can become a lie that not only hurts the other but also damages one’s own integrity. To borrow and never to repay is a well known way to lose friendship, whether by intent or by simple default. Either way such a debt is often rationalised as being something the lender can afford to lose. If that is the mentality in place it denigrates both borrower and lender. The same is true of any broken promise be it by intent or not. Hurtful to everyone.

Lies can also be “told” by omission and these are no better than those that are explicit. My sister and I were half-siblings because of an affair my mother had with her dying father’s nurse. We were brought up believing my father to be our father until we were aged twenty or thereabouts. Once we knew the truth it became clear why there had been certain ambiguities in the past. Why, for example, there had been an awkward silence in the room when someone said to my sister “Oh Mary you are so like your father”. During our childhood my sister and I had seldom been really close but knowledge of this particular truth brought as much closer together. In the end she was almost certainly my best friend and a person whom I still love unreservedly.

The extent to which one can fool oneself can be exemplified by the human ability for self-denial. One of the grossest examples of this that I recall was a woman (she was in fact the wife of a GP) who presented in an out-patients’ clinic with such an advanced breast cancer that it had perforated through the skin and was purulent and ulcerated. “I only noticed it last week” she claimed. I, myself, carried-on smoking cigarettes until, one night, I had a heart attack having previously lived in a state of denial that nothing bad would ever happen to me.

There is another sort of invidious and often unrecognised deception when an individual (or group) manipulate or selectively collect data to “prove” their own ideas or concepts or, possibly worse, to disprove or denigrate opposition. I have seen specific examples of this in so-called scientific medical research. I remember a professor at university, who had an unconventional theory but instead of initiating proper research to prove it he spent an inordinate amount of time in the medical libraries searching for anything that he could quote in his favour but also, and crucially, disregarding those articles against his belief.

This is a growing problem on the internet, which can so rapidly disseminate deception and misinformation and which helps contribute not only to conspiracy theories but also to the promulgation of erroneous theories and frank deceit. The causal relationship between types of immunisation and autism should, by now, have been totally debunked. The chief perpetrator of this idea has not only been proved to be wrong but has also been removed from the medical register for falsifying his results. The sad thing is that too many still believe his findings and many children have suffered and died as a result of not having protection from certain and preventable infectious diseases.

An attendant conspiracy theory runs that the advice from the WHO (regarding the benefits to certain groups from influenza vaccination) is simply a result of lobbying from the multinational manufacturers. It is then believed that therefore the advice must be wrong and should be ignored. Whether there be lobbying or not, it is the facts alone that need to be understood and circulated.

There are and always have been (right back to the serpent in the very first garden) false prophets. One of Christ’s warnings (and one that I wholeheartedly endorse) is: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits“. The whole of Islam nowadays rises up in anger if there is the slightest criticism of their prophet and incite their followers to riot. I merely say look at the current fruits of Islam and its associated Islamofascism and judge for yourself. Pretty rotten fruit right now I would say.

I am writing these thoughts down to help me reflect on my own integrity and maybe to cause any readers to contemplate some of these things for themselves. I do not deny that I have sometimes wanted to be other than I actually was. I had, as an example, and like many of the “Anglo-Irish”, a romantic attachment to Ireland for a long time and was appalled by the way the country had been treated by the British for centuries. The lie that there had been potato famines in the eighteenth century being just one of these. It was in fact a starvation because large quantities of grain were exported to Britain during these times as cash for the absentee landlords. It was I suppose because I wanted to identify and feel solidarity with the Irish than I became a bit more Irish than was my natural state. I even developed a sort of Irish accent so that the Irish mostly still thought me English but the English would take me as Irish. It was a sham, of course, but as I have grown in my own self-confidence I have managed to drop these illusions excepting for such times that it is simply for fun or entertainment.

Thus I am wholly fallible in many ways but if I have learned anything in my life to date it is to, at least, attempt to never be afraid of being myself. In important interviews I have twice answered truthfully even though my replies were unconventional and would normally have been viewed badly. On both occasions I got the job – probably because truth is nearly always simple and more easily seen for what it is. I try not to wear any masks and in the end this is important to me in the following “spiritual” sense. If I get to stand on my maker’s threshold I want to be still recognisable as the me that was created; was created naive, naked and wearing no mask or disguise at all. If I am not recognisable what hope for my future thereafter.

That was going to be the punchline of this epistle but in recent months I have been reflecting on many things and that includes the nature and importance of “self belief” because it is real self-belief and not pride; it is real self-love and not vanity; it is real self-confidence and not ones fragile ego; it is real self-truth and not simple belief that can help one sleep well at night and make life on this planet more worthwhile and less nonsensical.

Such self-confidence and self-conviction can achieve much against the odds but to do so may take a lot of effort and a lot of pain. I recently saw the film about “Eddie the Eagle” (the only British Ski Jumper to participate in the Olympics and against all sorts of opposition). But he had great self-belief and although he came last in the competition his personal achievement was simply fantastic. Some people are lucky enough to have various talents. Usually having talent is not enough on its own but if worked-at it can bring huge rewards – materially, physically and psychologically. To deny such development to oneself is a sort of lie if it happens because of laziness or apathy or by being side-lined to other things of little real importance. Few achieve much in life without good work, study and practice.

I believe that to achieve a state of true self-reliance and self-belief one must eschew deceit and question most things that one is ever told in order that they become truly one’s own. Such freethinking is too often decried by the established order whether from a state or from a religion. Without the freethinkers of the enlightenment; without the self belief of such as Saint Joan; without the so-called nihilism of philosophers like Nietzsche and Sartre; without the evidence of “our eyes” and the doors opened by the real science behind Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Darwin and others I believe that the collective unconsciousness of the “West” would be in a much worse place. Those that fear the Islam of today would do well to reflect on the days when Christendom was extremely brutal. It appears that Islam needs some free thinkers more than ever before.

So the world may yet have to suffer much at the hands of the new Russian “Czar” or to the Caliphates of revolutionary Islam or from the effects of global warming and exponential population growth but there is still hope and no need yet for despair. It is individuals who have been the main catalysts for change and not the masses or the results of ‘consensus groups’ or, by definition, the reactionary stance of most of the world’s religions. I believe that there is much truth and eloquence in the statement that: “Individuals are sometimes guided by reason. Crowds never“. It will take much time, maybe too much time, for the world to evolve into a better state of harmony and détente but for it to do so will require that we see more individuals of stature with real courage and not the grey mess being expounded by most of the political and religious institutions of today.

So stay alert, don’t be afraid to be a sceptic and bear in mind Alexander Pope’s words; “Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of mankind is man“.


Hard Arteries & Soft Bones

There is a known paradox that as the body ages there is a tendency for minerals to disappear from bone (osteoporosis) whilst, at the same time, increasing calcification is seen in blood vessels (atherosclerosis). However, in the absence of disease, the blood calcium levels remain remarkably constant despite wide variations in the amount of calcium ingested in both food and drink.

It is vital that the body maintains the concentration of calcium in the blood and ECF (extracellular fluid) within very narrow limits and it is very good at doing this. It has to be good at doing this because vital physiological actions (such as normal nerve conduction and all forms of muscle contraction) depend on the levels being very accurately set. Even quite small changes in blood calcium levels can have serious consequences for the whole nervous system and for the heart.

This finely tuned calcium homeostasis is achieved long-term by an ability to store excess in bone and also to excrete it in urine and faeces. When too little is ingested  the opposite happens – excretion is slowed  down and the blood level can be restored from the huge quantities stored in bone. Up until about the age of 25 the total amount stored in bone keeps rising. Thereafter this large store gradually falls, particularly in women after the menopause.

Other reasons than simply looking at calcium intake need to be found to explain the “calcium-out-of-bone and calcium-into-blood-vessel paradox”. Some yet unknown linking factor may yet come to light but for now these two contradictory effects would seem to be unrelated and not a paradox at all.

I need to say that I am not a specialist in the highly complex field of mineral metabolism though I used to be a specialist in Intensive Care and had to deal with the clinical consequences when such metabolism goes astray. It must be pointed out that soft tissues, other than blood vessels, can become calcified and that this can happen in both the young and the old. Leaving aside the formation of stones in urine, which can be understood by straightforward chemistry, there are numerous other examples of where calcification occurs in tumours, in bacterial nodules and other areas subject to chronic inflammation or irritation.

It is a straightforward postulate that the actual reason for “hardening of the arteries” is the chronic deposition therein of cholesterol-related plaques damaging the lining of the blood vessels and thence attracting calcification by attachment to adjacent Ca++ ions present in blood and the ECF of the the endothelium (the cellular lining) of the vessels. Also, and somewhat critically, that this will occur regardless of the blood calcium level. Such calcification in soft tissues is almost entirely a one way process with little or no reversal possible – unlike the active processes going on in bone formation and resorption.

Calcification takes place in the inner layer of arteries in the process known as atherosclerosis. The process begins with the  production of atheroma. This process, perhaps  surprisingly, begins in everyone in childhood and progresses at different rates in different individuals. Low density lipoproteins enter the inner endothelial layer of arteries and so do monocyte cells which then turn into macrophages. These phagocytic cells ingest these lipids. Some of the lipids can be exported to the liver by high density lipoproteins but the phagocytes eventually die and break apart leaving lipids and cell debris behind them. This is thus an inflammatory process and new macrophages then gobble up the mess and the process is repeated. Sequential calcification of these atheromatous plaques completes the process eventually leaving the vessels hard, inflexible, the lumen reduced in diameter and the whole vessel weakened both on the inside and on the outside. Sacs known as aneurysms (which can burst) may form on the outside and internal tears release substances which promote the formation of blood clots or thrombi. It is these thrombi that are the commonest cause of heart attacks and strokes.

Uncrystallised/dissolved calcium in the body fluids exists in two forms. As free chemically active calcium ions (Ca++) and also in another bound form where these cations (positively charged ions) are attached to corresponding (negatively charged) anions. Many of these bound anions will be chloride ions (Cl-) but the majority of bound calcium is tied to plasma proteins such as albumin. These proteins bind to Ca++ ions where they have negatively charged electrons available on their surface. These electronegative spots can also bind to any other available cations such as hydrogen (H+) and magnesium (Mg++) ions, all of which constantly compete with each other to pair up with any available electrons (e-).

It is most important to understand that it is the concentration of the unbound, free, ionised Ca++ ions that plays the critical role in the physiological reactions involving calcium in an organism. Any sudden change in the acid-base status, for example, is just one way of altering the bound to unbound ratio of the Ca++ ions since hydrogen (H+) ions constantly compete for their share of any available electrons. Thus if the blood becomes less acid (fewer H+ ions) some are then freed-up from where they had been bound to proteins in order to compensate for the induced alkalosis. The thus liberated  electronegative spots on the proteins can then be occupied by Ca++ ions causing a temporary fall in the free ionised levels of calcium. The resulting lowered ionised calcium levels (clinical hypocalcaemia) can rapidly cause symptoms such as tetany (muscle spasms) despite the fact that the body has enormous stores of calcium, in reserve, in its bone.

There is another closely related element, magnesium, that also plays a vital role in mineral metabolism. In like manner to calcium it dissociates into Mg++ ions and it too contributes to the large store of minerals in bone. Calcium and magnesium play intimately related roles, despite the fact that their clinical and physiological effects are often completely opposite to one another. It may seem surprising that atoms of calcium and magnesium (which are so similar both chemically and in size) can have such different effects. For now a simple approach is to say that when and where calcium levels cause excitement to nerves and muscles, magnesium tends to damp these effects down. Calcium does not exist in high concentrations inside cells, whereas magnesium is found there in significant amounts.

When a lot of people think of bone they imagine a hard, inflexible, dry and rather inert material. Nothing could be further from the truth. Living bone is a dynamic, flexible and metabolic tissue with a large blood supply. The fracture of a just a couple of large bones can lead to the need for a blood transfusion. In its marrow lie cells that are important in the formation of blood and for support of the immune system. When bones are broken they can, with certain limitations, rejoin and remould themselves. Bones are in fact constantly being dissolved and rebuilt. This is brought about respectively by osteoclasts and osteoblasts – two sets of very different specialised cells under hormonal control, which are capable of releasing and fixing calcium. Dissolving bone fairly obviously raises free calcium and rebuilding bone lowers it.

A very simple and classical overview of the hormonal control of calcium metabolism is that parathyroid hormone (PTH) corrects low levels and calcitonin (made in the thyroid) corrects high levels. These effects are mostly mediated by the control of osteoclast and osteoblast activity and by regulating renal excretion and reabsorption.

Vitamin D (or calciferol) in a number of forms plays an important ancillary role particularly where it can promote the absorption of calcium from the gut. Sub-optimal levels of vitamin D are particularly prevalent in the elderly and in northern latitudes or in those not exposed to enough sun. This can lead to a degree of secondary hyperparathyroidism (the release of PTH in response to lowered calcium levels) which in turn accentuates the demineralisation of bone so that blood levels of calcium are restored. A small daily intake of 400 to 800 IU is a straightforward, safe and inexpensive way to minimise this effect, particularly in the elderly. In postmenopausal women and in other conditions where there may be lower than normal levels of oestrogen (or testosterone in men) supplements of vitamin D will have little effect if the body’s levels are already OK but can help offset demineralisation if taken in conjunction with adequate calcium intake.

The complete picture of mineral metabolism is much, much more complicated than outlined so far. The relevant hormones and their co-factors interact in a complex manner. The interplay between calcium, magnesium, the acid-base status and other dissolved particles is equally complex. Low secretion of PTH, as just one example, can have the reverse effect of higher secretion. The fine control of the blood levels of these vital minerals and the mechanisms by which they affect their target cells (both directly and through various channels and gates in the cell membrane) is a very interesting subject but too big to consider right now. Newer research and understanding about this whole area may yet determine important roles for some of the vitamin K groups and a variety of other compounds such as the interleukins (which are involved in the production and control of osteoclasts).

A general overview of the body’s calcium stores is that, in youth and while the skeleton is still developing, a maximal store of calcium phosphate is created and laid down in bone in the form of the mineral hydroxyapatite (a type of calcium phosphate). Those that had a healthy youth and who have a big body frame get off to the best start. Thereafter there is gradual demineralisation of bone in just about everybody. One other noteworthy effect is that bones stay stronger when they bear weight. Being bedridden or being suspended in outer space or having one’s limbs immobilised in plaster are all examples that have detrimental effects on bone density. It is one area where a degree of obesity can actually be beneficial – perhaps this is because of the extra weight-bearing involved.

Suffice it to say that in the absence of disease and in the presence of a “normal” diet one is most unlikely to ever suffer the bad consequences of too much calcium or magnesium in the system. Eating and drinking adequate amounts of calcium and magnesium would actually seem to be sensible and not controversial. Taking small supplements of vitamin D (particularly for those not exposed to much sunlight or who are otherwise at risk of developing osteoporosis) has merit. There is increasing evidence that many (if not most) people do not consume enough magnesium and so perhaps, without overdoing it, regular supplements could have beneficial effects on maintaining not only an improved calcium status but also to give a bit of protection from some of the cardiovascular diseases that plague humanity now at the beginning of the third millennium.

Diet is one thing and it is so often regarded as the first port of call when things in one’s system seem to not be going to plan. For those truly interested in their health I would simply ask that, rather than concentrating on their diets, they concentrated on their whole lifestyle. Both smoking and excessive alcohol intake have a negative effect on bone mineralisation. Smoking puts people at a real risk of heart attack or stroke and a sedentary life will only exacerbate all these problems. I will not lecture others on what they should or should not do so, in return, please don’t lecture me.

I intend to write about my views on “diets” elsewhere but let me also say that I am not a health saint. I have always drunk a certain amount of alcohol and I smoked pretty heavily between the ages of 28 and 55. I was not overweight, not diabetic, my total cholesterol was normal, my blood pressure was normal, I was active on my farm and unstressed mentally and then one night I had a heart attack. I can certainly say that it was a shock and that I was very lucky that it was small and posterior (at the back of the heart) and very rapidly treated with “clot-busters” and a stent. As I lay in the Mater Hospital in Dublin, watching the radiologist doing the angiography and admiring his skill, I was able to see where a plaque of cholesterol had torn the lining of the artery. At that moment I also realised that about the only known risk factor in my life was that I was a smoker. So I determined, there and then, that I would never smoke again. I never did and I was never even tempted to begin.

Others can fool themselves if they want to and (just as I had done many times before) make periodic attempts to stop smoking or simply not care at all. With hindsight I know these two things. The first is to never even be tempted to start smoking – it is as easy (or easier) to become addicted to cigarettes as to heroin and for this the manufacturers and suppliers have to bear a share of the blame. The second point is that when I had tried to stop smoking, on a number of occasions, it was always in a rather “hopeful” way but that when I did finally stop it was because I had made a definite decision to do so. So you can do it if you want to but I believe you will be unlikely to succeed unless you make it your own conscious and definitive decision. A decision no one can take away from you.

I know I have already digressed away from mineral metabolism but while it is still in my mind I would like to add that the reason I started smoking tobacco was actually because I was tempted to try that “harmless” drug marijuana when at university in the 70s. I never became a regular user of the stuff and for me it was never (and was never likely to become) a “gateway” drug to heroin, cocaine, etc but it did lead me very quickly to an addiction to cigarettes. Be warned.

“A Portrait of the Artist”, Evil and Institutional Evil

Lying on its battered side, a 1960 edition of James Joyce’s autobiographical “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” came into view. One or two penciled notes inside indicated that it must have been mine for ‘O’ level GCE. I don’t know how much I really appreciated it then but as I thumbed through it, towards the end, I found just one place where I had marked something in ink: “… and if Jesus suffered the children to come why does the church send them all to hell if they die unbaptized? Why is that?

Anyway that helped me to decide to re-read it and in doing so it has re-awakened issues related to my own upbringing as a Roman Catholic brought up in an Anglo-Irish Protestant environment.

Before I relate how the book was evocative of my own education at the hands of the Benedictine monks at Ealing Abbey, I will just tuck to one side the deeply divisive effect created within Joyce’s own family (and elsewhere) by the descent into “disgrace” of that political colossus of the nineteenth century, Charles Stewart Parnell. His monument today stands proudly at the north end of O’Connell Street in Dublin. Another monument in O’Connell Street used to be Nelson’s Pillar, which was blown up in 1966 by the IRA, and at the other end stands the emancipator Daniel O’Connell. There was always a certain irony that Ireland had these three adulterers standing up on high pedestals in view of one another in the main street of “catholic” Ireland’s capital city.

The Liberal leader H. H. Asquith called Parnell one of the three or four greatest men of the 19th century, while Lord Haldane described him as the strongest man the House of Commons had seen in 150 years. The thing that destroyed this Irish political colossus (for Land Reform and for Irish Home Rule) was because of a long-standing relationship with Kitty O’Shea with whom he had fallen in love at first sight and fathered three children. Quite cynically her husband Captain William O’Shea would not grant a divorce because his wife had expectations of coming into a legacy but eventually he changed his mind after Parnell and he clashed over a by-election in Galway and after the rich aunt of his wife died but left her money in trust. Once the affair became public Parnell was ‘shot to pieces’ by the Church and every like-minded sanctimonious individual and institution. It truly was the beginning of the end for him and even two of his own children were placed in the custody of Captain O’Shea!

The news of Parnell’s death in Joyce’s own home is recaptured in the following scene. “At the door Dante turned round violently and shouted down the room, her cheeks flushed and quivering with rage: – Devil out of hell! We won! We crushed him to death! Fiend! – The door slammed behind her. Mr Casey, freeing his arms from his holders, suddenly bowed his head on his hands with a sob of pain. – Poor Parnell! he cried loudly. My dead king! – He sobbed loudly and bitterly. Stephen, raising his terror-stricken face, saw that his father’s eyes were full of tears.

At that time, of course, and for many years afterwards the “church” wielded enormous influence in Ireland but how things have changed now following the overt hypocrisy that lay behind the ‘adulterous affair’ (for want of a better term for a prolonged sexual relationship between a proclaimed celibate and a divorcée) of Bishop Casey of Galway and later-on the cover-up of paedophile priests right up to Ireland’s most senior Catholic cleric Cardinal Sean Brady. One thing that particularly blackened Bishop Casey in many peoples’ eyes was that he had a son that at first he wished to be adopted and then later, when the whole business became public, he was reluctant to even acknowledge. The French are right to keep Church and State as separate as possible. Both can do harm, of course, but the almost boundless harm done when they can act in unison is perhaps now best seen in those Islamic States that aim to keep the Mosque and the State (or Caliphate) as one.

Adultery at that time was enough to finish a man (or woman) and of course it remains, in many parts of the Muslim world, a capital offense. Not only is it a capital offense that can be carried out by stoning but to increase the penalty they may use small stones to make the death even slower. Barbaric and cynical are the words that come to mind. I hope that Islam can move as far as Ireland has in the last century, though it would seem to be unlikely that they could move as far as to become a country that could legalise same-sex marriage. Such an act could only realistically happen in a country that can make a distinction between church and state and very many people around the world were astonished when “catholic” Ireland became the first county to do this by a popular mandate in a referendum.

I have a Roman Catholic background for sure and there have been times, for one reason or another, that I have flirted with the idea of re-establishing better contact. On the last two occasions that I was tempted to go spontaneously to mass on my own, the priest from the pulpit turned me away again. On the first occasion the congregation were admonished for not singing properly ‘as they do in Protestant churches’, etc, etc, and the second occasion was just before the same-sex marriage referendum and I leave it to your imagination just what the oratory was like.

It interests me that Pope Francis is a Jesuit. James Joyce was educated by Jesuits. First at Clongowes and later at Belvedere. Re-reading his memories was just so, so, so, evocative of my own experiences at the hands of the Benedictines. He and I both experienced the corporal punishment that was prevalent in such a system. He and I both experienced the terror, the humiliation and the pain of its execution. He and I both experienced the additional hurt of it being inflicted in an arbitrary way and when no offense had actually been committed. At the age of 13, I simply walked out of the school and would not return. There was never any apology of course. He, at about the same age and at a boarding school, had the guts to go the “head” (the rector) to complain but the rector simply made some measly excuse and didn’t have the guts or the inclination to correct things. It is so often easier to do nothing than to correct a wrong but such inaction is also very wrong.

Another Irish literary giant, George Bernard Shaw, in typical hyperbolic style, made the point that: “If you strike a child, take care that you strike it in anger, even at the risk of maiming it for life. A blow in cold blood neither can nor should be forgiven.

I don’t intend to speak in any depth about my own faith at this moment-in-time though the establishment would, I am sure, consider me a “lapsed catholic”. What I will say is that my drift away from the mainstream kick-started when I suddenly realised that I had been saying the creed (verbatim and without any thought) for far too many years. What appalled me at that moment was that I had been so indoctrinated as to say something (about belief of all things) that I had never, at any time, been encouraged to think about myself and thereby make my own. The words had just been slipped into my mind; a sleight of hand; a neat conjuring trick.

The next rather extended, but still evocative, passage from “A Portrait” was all to do with an “Easter retreat” peppered with its associated hell-fire sermons, confession and absolution. Oh! such relief and purity that could be engendered now that one had been made acceptable to God. The grim reaper could now come to call.

Everything about such a system is brutal and lacks humanity, humility and even wisdom. I would go as far as to say that it is actually wicked and probably evil. Just as evil as the indoctrination going on with the modern ‘islamofascist’ movements and particularly the mind-games and rote-learning that is forced into those children’s minds.

Of course that begs the question: “What is evil?” I have thought about this a lot and so, keeping semantics out of it, I think that a simple, self-evident approach has merit. I think the majority of people know what is and what is not evil. People and institutions may of course become implicated in evil and attempt to justify what they are doing. The Nazis, when the war was lost, rushed to try to hide what they had been up to and notable members committed suicide. They knew very well and had realised for sure that what had been going-on was pure evil. No rationalisation could help them now they were to be exposed.

I have come to the conclusion that although a cast-iron definition of evil may be impossible I do however think that all evil only comes about when people attempt to coerce others to do their will. Let me be clear that I do not think that all acts of coercion are evil but I do think that one should always take a step back and think carefully when one desires others to do as one would have them do. If there is any concept of the goodness of God versus the evil of the Devil that helps embellish this, it is the concept of the gift of Free Will on the one hand and the coercive and intentional seduction that things must be done “my way” on the other.

Traveling in a car once with my Uncle Wynne, I raised this topic with him. He agreed with me but he made his point that it was even more evil when evil was institutionalised. It was a good point because often individuals can hide within their club or their party or their tribe or their religion or their employer or their whatever and somehow thus justify their own complicity – however blinkered they had become.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is described as a Christian martyr. He was indeed a remarkable man, though I personally do not warm to him or anyone who is imbued with evangelical zeal. Where he was a giant was that he continued to speak out against evil – and in particular the evil of Hitler’s rise to power – and this despite deprivation and imprisonment and then leading finally to his murder just before the end of the war. That he did this as an individual is particularly worthy of note.

There were “institutions” and “states” that were unbelievably silent during those terrible times and in that respect much of humanity must share some of the culpability for not having been much more outspoken. Certainly it was known in many high circles that such acts of evil were being perpetrated. The clichéd expression of uncertain origin runs: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing“. Bonhoeffer put it much more strongly: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” To say that “not to speak is to speak” must, I think be tempered by the situation. It takes one sort of courage for an individual to speak out against wrong-doing in the face of violent opposition and another for an organisation to stay silent when it has very little to lose by speaking out.

Many others than the Jews were persecuted in the “Holocaust” but unfortunately the roots of antisemitism go down deep and no institution is more culpable of this than the Catholic Church. The roots of empire are also very long and its own chauvinism has often played its part in the more rotten affairs of mankind.

In the end, evil involves brutality of one sort or another and results in both physical and mental pain. There is an additional aspect of brutality that needs careful thought. The brutalised tend to become brutalisers themselves. I believe that the evidence shows that the abused are the most likely to become abusers. Paedophiles so often were victims of their own (commonly incestuous) childhood rape; the bullied learn to become bullies, when it’s their turn; the beaten foe wants revenge and not to turn the other cheek. That seems to be the way of the world far too often and it is a circle or cycle of violence that tends to perpetuate itself. The old testament book of Esther has much in it about the futility of revenge. I have a recurrent dream, where a black-garbed Benedictine monk turns into a spider, whose legs I pull off one by one. I will never forget that school, which all but finished my proper formal education, and the revenge I desire is to see is that the system itself is turned into legless and impotent dust.

Spare the rod and spoil the child was once a common catchphrase but I believe that the free use of the rod did far more harm than good. Thank goodness there has at last been a reformation, a modern enlightenment, of education in “the West”. Youth always did have and always will have “problems” but I believe there is more hope for us all when the brutality and evil of coercive education is minimised or abolished. I also believe there is more hope for humanity when the clerics learn more to lead by example and not by their rhetoric from the pulpit or the minaret.

Joyce, I salute you. I salute your unique style and intellect. Finnegan’s wake still largely alludes me but everything else you wrote is full of perception, observation and wit that I do understand. Your self-exile from Ireland is a sad fact yet it was laudable and the literary world is much enriched by those who persevered to see your work published against the wishes of many of the establishment. Any evil was in their attempted coercion to silence you and not in the way you lived, observed and worked.


Seventy Years Young

Have just read “SEVENTY YEARS YOUNG” the memoirs of Elizabeth (“Daisy”) Countess of Fingall née Burke born in Moycullen, County Galway in 1866 into a rather ‘stately’ Roman Catholic family and married at the age of 17 to a man of 24, whose passion was hunting in County Meath. I enjoyed it for lots of reasons. She lived through some of most turbulent times of the modern Irish Nation and was acquainted with many of its most important historical figures. She was vivacious and perceptive and just a few clips will illustrate better what I mean than any analysis by me.

p45. “I had never seen Mr. Parnell then. But … had a schoolgirl already heard or felt something of his fascination? His picture had been in all the papers. He was no wild Irishman, no stage Irishman for the English to mock at. He was, like many Irish leaders, far more English than Irish in temperament. (Perhaps the love that Ireland wins from the stranger has some greater strength and magic than that which she wins from her own sons. There is enchantment in it, like the wonder of love at first sight that can never be touched by a slow falling in love, however good that may be.)”

p79. “Hunting, he learnt to know the country, the mystery and wisdom of it as it must be learnt in boyhood or girlhood if it is ever to be fully possessed.”

p120. “There is – I repeat it, as I have often repeated it – no better test of the man you consider as a husband than to spend a day hunting with him. The other alternative (less easy) is to go on a journey with him. For, after all, what is life, but a journey?”

p123. “There were two Percies, both of whom the King liked: Percy Chubb, the American, and Percy La Touche, the Irishman. ‘The two old men,’ he called them, and would ask for them to be included in the Jamesons’ party at Stowlangtoft when he was going there. Percy’s stories took ages to tell. There were long and inimitable conversations, told with a sly look in the teller’s eye. No one would listen to Percy now. He said one or two very witty things, which I have always remembered. Once we must have been discussing marriage, for he said: ‘It doesn’t much matter who you marry, my lady, for at the end of a week you will find you have married someone else.’ And on another occasion he assured me: ‘Believe me, little lady, you’ll find out some day that the pain of regret is far worse than that of remorse, for though you may be sorry for what you have done, you can never get back what you have missed.’

p148. “He (Horace Plunkett) loved slogans and presently he found one for Ireland. ‘Better farming, better business, better living.’ Another saying of his was: ‘The more business there is in politics and the less politics there is in business, the better for both.’ And another wise one, ‘Irish history is for all England to remember and all Ireland to forget.’

p152. “I loved my tower and the security of soul that it gave me. I think every one needs some such fortress of their own into which no one else may enter. The French have a saying that most of our troubles come from not being sufficiently alone. They can come from being too much alone, of course, also. But my tower-room gave me the sense of isolation and security that one may derive from the secret and impregnable places of one’s soul.

p190. “‘This place must be lovely in the spring,’ I said to Lady Zetland. ‘Oh, my dear,’ she said, ‘I am sure it is. But we never see it in the spring. We have to be in London then. And then in the summer, Scotland, and in winter South for the shooting. We only get just this glimpse of Aske.’ Poor prisoners of their many possessions! There were many people like them then, who were never free, and never saw their country houses at the loveliest time.”

p206. “‘I’ll be there, Miss, when the night kisses the dawn,’ he answered.

p211. Once, going to Mount Stewart, I travelled to the North, via Carlingford Lough and Newry, and as I drove through the town I noticed the great number of churches in it, and said to the jarvey: “What a religious people they must be here!”“God bless your soul, ma’am,” he answered. “Sure, it’s not religion at all—it’s shpite!”

p225. It was a very hot summer, even in Meath—the only cool place being the house, within its thick walls. I lay on the sofa in the library, with Fingall and the dogs running in and out. And how glad I was, at evening, to slip into my big four-post bed, and lie there, listening to the lovely sound of silence, broken now and again by the bleating of the sheep and the cawing of the rooks.

p231. Unlike other Englishmen and Scotsmen who came to Ireland in one capacity or other, Arthur and Gerald Balfour never fell in love with Ireland. Fortunate and wise men! They kept their heads and their hearts and their vision clear, where men in love lose all these faculties. Gerald did not give his heart to Ireland. He gave his brain instead and he left her, for his service, more I believe, than any other Chief Secretary.

p271. But he (George Wyndham) was a wonderful welcomer, and a welcome is as precious a thing as love or friendship. It is of the spirit and not to be made with hands. It is there or not there, and you could never imagine it, or light its fire in the cold, empty place where it had not been.

p289. But it is not beauty that makes success, even with men, although they may think that it is so. I think the chief reason for my success was that I liked every one and enjoyed everything so much. I loved life and do still. Which is why, but for the years, I should not know that I had grown old. And, of course, I could talk. Like all Irish people, I was a spendthrift with myself, giving out everything. I often envied the more stolid English who could sit in silence, taking in and not giving out and so hoarding their strength and vitality.

p294. “You should not,”the proverb says wisely, “choose women or linen by candlelight.”

p348. Kitchener never liked or trusted the Irish and I always believe that but for him, Ireland would have been wholeheartedly in the War, and that there would have been no rebellion. When John Redmond made his famous offer at the outbreak of War, Kitchener refused to take the Irish on their own terms—that they should fight together, in an Irish Brigade, under their own flag. Geraldine Mayo’s School of Art had been busy embroidering that flag, but alas! it was returned to us. Questions were asked in the House about that incredibly stupid and hurtful gesture. The enthusiasm was allowed to cool. The Irish were distrusted and knew it. They distrusted in their turn. There was no Irish Brigade; although thousands of Irishmen joined the Irish regiments, while their brothers, who might have gone with them, joined the Volunteers, to fight eventually against England in 1916 and the troubled years that followed. And John Redmond, who had trusted those who would not trust him, was broken by it.

p350. He said at once: “Oh, yes. Let’s sell it.” I was horrified. “Oliver,” I protested, “you can’t sell a place where your ancestors are buried and which has been in your family for eight hundred years, as you would a Waterbury watch or a pound of tea!” This made him thoughtful. “Oh,” he said slowly. “Have we had it all that time, Mother?”“Yes,” I told him. “Nearly eight hundred years.”“Well,” he said. “Surely if we have had it all that time, it’s somebody else’s turn now!”

p358. We heard how, on the way back to barracks, the military were stoned by the Dublin crowd, and the rearguard lost its head and fired, killing an old woman, a man and a boy on Bachelor’s Walk, and injuring several more. Those three deaths in Ireland, and the assassination of the Austrian Archduke, lit a torch that set fire to Europe. Our eyes had been turned West to Ireland those last days of that incredible Season of 1914, when we were all riding madly towards the gulf, and had nearly reached it. From another quarter, as a thunderbolt, came the War.

p360. “The lights are going out all over Europe,”he said. “We shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”That saying of his is now as famous as his speech. He spoke the truth, alas, for all of us. We returned to Killeen. In Ireland we had forgotten Bachelor’s Walk, and remembered only Redmond’s dramatic offer of his Irish Volunteers. The Irish leader, being a gentleman, put his cards on the table and did not try to bargain with England in her hour of need. In spite of Kitchener’s fatal mistake in refusing the Irish Brigade, the Irish regiments formed new battalions, asked for recruits and got them. The 10th Division emptied Dublin of young men and was cut to pieces on the grim rocks of Suvla Bay in 1915. But that is history. My War story concerns only my personal memories.

p366. Colonel House was then the power behind Wilson and they say that Wilson broke away from him at Versailles and that if he had not done so, but had listened to House, European history would have been different.

p368. Then he (Lord Northcliffe) talked about France and his great admiration for the bourgeois and peasant women of France. He spoke of how the indemnity to Germany was paid after 1870, from the stockings of the peasant women—those hard-earned, hard-saved little fortunes, wrung from the earth, and brought out to clear French earth of the enemy.

p375. It was all over in a week or so. The end of the Rebellion left the greater part of the country still unstirred; and once again England blundered. Sir John Maxwell had been sent over as Commander-in-Chief—a soldier used to dealing with such situations, according to his ideas, in Egypt and India. The Rebels were tried by court-martial with scrupulous justice, each case given full trial on its merits, although there was no plea for the prisoner and no doubt ever of the verdict. Then there were the slow executions. So many each morning. Sixteen in all. A small number in men’s minds in that time of war, with daily casualties of thousands. But death in action is another matter. To the Irish people, being told of these executions in barrack yards, it was, as someone wrote: “As though they watched a stream of blood coming from beneath closed door.”

p439. And Fingall woke up and listened and was unbelieving. “You should not give the Irish anything that they do not ask for.” That was what the English were always doing; and now they had given them what they had once asked for—too late—when they no longer wanted it, but something else, and we were paying for that. And Kilteragh was in ashes. And they were on their way to burn Killeen…. But Oliver had said: “If we have had it all that time, it’s somebody else’s turn now.”

So it is a book that I enjoyed. I would have liked to have got to know the authoress a bit better because she only gives snippets of her own life and her own feelings. It is in that sense a book of memoirs and not much of an autobiography. It is mostly written with a light, even modern, touch but also using some outmoded words like gay and fey quite often.

She certainly knew and mixed with a wide circle of influential people – particularly in Dublin and in London and one of the reasons it took me some time to finish was that I was constantly having to Google people and places that were mentioned. It has been a good revision of Victorian and Edwardian Irish History.

She obviously loved an Ireland where ghosts and fairies still were to be found and that I myself remember from my own childhood in the days before rural electrification. The bitterness and strife and treacheries involved in the transition of Ireland from within a United Kingdom with England to a Republic was great indeed and it is pointless now to say maybe there could have been a better way.

Daniel O’Connell of course predated Daisy having died in 1847 nineteen years before she was born. He of course was the great fighter for Catholic emancipation and later wanted the 1800 Act of Union to be repealed. He, like Daisy, was a Catholic but in reading this book it is remarkable just how many Anglo-Irish protestants played crucial roles in the road to Irish independence. Not without any pain of course. I am reminded of Daniel O’Connell’s famous remark: “The Altar of Liberty totters when it is cemented only with blood.”


Horace Plunkett often features in the book. He was a close friend and almost certainly in love with Daisy. In later years she stated that she had never slept with either him or the Prince of Wales. Horace was apolitical in his work as a pioneer of the agricultural co-operatives and also what was to become  the Department of Agriculture and the Marine. It is true that he would have been an advocate of Home Rule and would liked to have seen a united Ireland. The cooperatives were a really great success and legacy. For me, the effective dissolution of most, if not all, of the rural cooperative creameries (sold out by the farmer shareholders to big companies with multinational association) about 20 years ago was a mistake. Admittedly farming has changed and the common agricultural policy has had huge impacts as well but there was a structure still in place for real cooperation and self help. Look at the milk industry today, the milk price controlled by the multinationals selling it off as a loss leader in supermarkets. Look at the insipid homogenized product on sale. Look at the milk farmers struggling to survive with quotas gone and the need to keep huge herds of cows to remain profitable. The loss of these businesses as a focus for integration and discourse has, in my opinion, had the effect of making the countryside poorer both socially and economically. I say this without nostalgia even though I remember, with affection, the queues of horses and donkeys waiting to have have their carts offloaded of their milk and to then to return home with the skim. I wonder if Horace Plunkett rests peacefully in his grave.

Irish co-operatives from creameries at the crossroads to multinationals

Lady Fingall

The social cultural and political connections of Elizabeth Fingall