Is it coz I is Catholic?

Childhood beliefs do not maketh the man.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics

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  • Is it coz I is Catholic?

Last week, my comments to the effect that ‘men are violent and self-seeking by nature’ solicited some mocking comments from people who know me. Common responses were ‘So you believe in original sin then?’, or ‘Once a Catholic, always a Catholic’ – suggesting that I evidently believe in the inherent wickedness of humanity.

Up to a point. I was raised a Roman Catholic, but I have been agnostic since the age of 12 and atheist since 19. Still, that does not stop people resorting to ad hominem arguments. When I say I believe that the week at which a fetus can be aborted in the UK is too high, it’s ‘only because I’m a Catholic’, which begs the question: ‘Are you for it only because you’re a feminist?’ But this is mostly irrelevant. The question is: if, and when, is abortion acceptable? (Just for the record, I believe those who argue that life begins at conception are as absurd as those who say it only begins at birth.)

In any case, Western civilisation is intimately bound to Christian values. Much Enlightenment, humanist and rationalist thought appropriated and reinvented Christian theology. The uniquely Western idea of the individual is a secularised form of the soul; progress is what we used to call providence; free will became reason. Christians may have been the most famous proponents of the notion that man is not in essence a nice creature, but so did Hobbes and Freud, and so do today countless sociobiologists – a group not famed for its number of Bible-bashers.

This is not to say that man is irredeemable. We alone in the living world possess culture (chimpanzees using sticks don’t count as ‘culture’), enormous intelligence, and thus the unique potential to rebel against nature and not bow to its diktats. Which is what in turn makes us so great. Then again, unlike your Eastern or Native American religions, and much more so than Islam or Judaism, Christians have always believed man was different from the animals.

  • The invention of railway crashes

One can’t but feel for Pam Warren, the woman scarred for life both physically and mentally as a result of being involved in the Ladbroke Grove crash. Yet we must also feel sorry for the way she has been manipulated by a media that seeks to exploit her pain and by a public that mysteriously believes that the status of victimhood lends one authority.

It’s almost as if some people regard her terrible injuries as a direct consequence of what happens when you hand over the railways to ‘fat cats’. Her scars now have moral status. Victims of Ladbroke Grove, Southall and Hatfield are today presented as martyrs to privatisation.

Railway privatisation was certainly botched by the Conservatives. But judging by today’s discussion you would think there was no such thing as train crashes before the age of Railtrack and Network Rail. In fact, British Rail’s safety record was often much worse. In 1957 alone, according to Railway Inspectorate figures, 92 passengers were killed in crashes. Seventy-one died in 1967, 47 in 1975 and 34 in 1988. The annual average of deaths in the 1950s was 33; in the past six years the rate has been half that.

Yet during the era of British Rail, there was no outcry over such incidents, no finger-pointing, wailing, gnashing of teeth or prosecutions for manslaughter. Can you imagine the reaction today were there to be a repeat (heaven forbid) of the Harrow crash of October 1952, when 112 people were killed and 340 injured after two express trains collided in north-west London, and a third train ran into the wreckage? This is because Britain was not paralysed by the fear of risk. The public appreciated that to travel in enormous metal structures on rails at speeds of over 100 miles per hour was always going to involve an element of hazard.

In addition, it was because people expected no better. When the state operates an industry, the public assumes that it will do so incompetently. After the Clapham disaster of 1988, in which 34 perished, nobody said ‘this is exactly what will happen when the railways are in public ownership’. When it is privately run, we expect better service.

All those complaining about privatisation would appear to have higher expectations of an independently owned industry. It is thus ironic that those who criticise ‘selfish capitalism’ subconsciously appear to have more belief in it, demanding better service from it than something owned by ‘the people’.

  • Bring back whistling

Another accusation I get from friends is that I am a Tory. I prefer the term ‘Tory anarchist’, or even better, ‘reactionary humanist’. So, it is in my capacity as spiked’s resident fogey that I pose the question: why do you never hear people whistling in the street anymore?

I have three theories for its disappearance. One is the growth and proliferation of radios and personal stereos. These ensure that we are always bombarded with artificial aural entertainment – thus we never have to create our own. Secondly, there is no longer a taboo about eating or drinking in the street, thus our mouths are always occupied stuffing our faces. Thirdly, we have become a neurotic nation of ‘kidults’. We constantly need our mouths to be occupied with fast food, fizzy drinks, cigarettes or chewing gum. In a Freudian kind of way, we have become the orally fixated generation who want to return to our infancy by eating burgers, crisps and cans of Coke, that is to say, the food of our youth.

Studies have shown that whistling is mentally and physically relaxing. If we brought about its return we could also help to fight the three main evils of Western civilisation: the hissing of other people’s personal stereos, people eating in the street and the menace of litter.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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