It is often claimed that every contemporary ethical dispute is really a debate between Charles Darwin and the Pope. On the one side there is a secular (im)morality which finds it acceptable and desirable ruthlessly to use and sacrifice individuals. On the other, there is Christian morality which asserts that every single human being has an immortal soul and is thus sacred. In this context it’s interesting to note how, after the outbreak of the First World War, some social Darwinians were pacifists on account of their anti-egalitarian Darwinism; Ernst Haeckel, the leading proponent of social Darwinism, opposed the war because in it, the wrong people were killed: ‘The stronger, healthier, more normal the young man is, the greater is the prospect for him to be murdered by the needle gun, cannons, and other similar instruments of culture.’ The problem was that the weak and sick were not allowed into the army. They were left free to have children and thus lead the nation into biological decline. One of the solutions envisaged was to force everyone to serve in the army and then, in battle, ruthlessly use the weak and sick as cannon fodder in suicidal attacks.

Violence, Slavoj Žižek.

Any System

Any system you contrive without us
will be brought down
We warned you before
and nothing that you built has stood
Hear it as you lean over you blueprint
Hear it as you roll up your sleeve
Hear it once again
Any system you contrive without us
will be brought down

You have your drugs
You have your guns
You have your Pyramids you Pentagons
With all your grass and bullets
you cannot hunt us any more
All that we disclose of ourselves forever
is this warning
Nothing that you built has stood
Any system you contrive without us
will be brought down.

Leonard Cohen, The Energy of Slaves.



He’s here again. We’re in church. He’s a bishop.
He has a long pink forefinger which he
Keeps jabbing too close to my right eye.
He wears crowblack clothes. I’m all diced up

In a new suit myself. Confirmation Day.
He opens his mouth, I can see his lips,
His teeth off-brown, his tongue placid as a
Trout resting on a hot day in the shade

Of an overhanging bank. His face is
So near mine I could swim through his eyes.
What’s peace? he asks.

‘The ha-ha-harmony of the sus-sus-soul
With Gug-Gug-God’ I reply. ‘Beautiful’ smiles the trout,
‘You are now a soldier of Christ. Go out,
Fight for him. God bless you, my son. That is all.’

Brendan Kennelly, Cromwell.

Death penalty

Juror 8: You want to see this boy die because you personally want it, not because of the facts! You’re a sadist!

El precepto de la duda razonable -fundamental para un veredicto de culpabilidad- ha quedado violado esta noche, cuando se quitó, de forma legal, la vida a un hombre sobre el que siete testigos, no uno ni dos, siete, se han retractado sobre la acusación que hicieron en un primer momento. Demasiadas dudas para practicar tan definitiva -sin vuelta atrás- decisión: matar a un ser humano. Más en El País.

Poem from a Three Year Old

And will the flowers die?

And will the people die?

And every day do you grow old, do I
grow old, no I’m not old, do
flowers grow old?

Old things – do you throw them out?

Do you throw old people out?

And how you know a flower that’s old?

The petals fall, the petals fall from flowers,
and do the petals fall from people too,
every day more petals fall until the
floor where I would like to play I
want to play is covered with old
flowers and people all the same
together lying there with petals fallen
on the dirty floor I want to play
the floor you come and sweep
with the huge broom.

The dirt you sweep, what happens that,
what happens all the dirt you sweep
from flowers and people, what
happens all the dirt? Is all the
dirt what’s left of flowers and
people, all the dirt there in a
heap under the huge broom that
sweeps everything away?

Why you work so hard, why brush
and sweep to make a heap of dirt?
And who will bring new flowers?
And who will bring new people? Who will
bring new flowers to put in water
where no petals fall on to the
floor where I would like to
play? Who will bring new flowers
that will not hang their heads
like tired old people wanting sleep?
Who will bring new flowers that
do not split and shrivel every
day? And if we have new flowers,
will we have new people too to
keep the flowers alive and give
them water?

And will the new young flowers die?

And will the new young people die?

And why?

Brendan Kennelly en Staying alive. Real Poems for Unreal Times.

En palabras del autor: I like to write about children, especially about their talk because they say very wise things and ask very strange and wonderful questions. And also they love to play in the middle of it all frequently. So asking questions and loving to play- I sometimes think that’s what education should be about.

Ateísmo y moral

In the course of the Crusade of King St Louis, Yves le Breton reported how he once encountered an old woman who wandered down the street with a dish full of fire in her right hand and a bowl full of water in her left hand. Asked what she was doing, she answered that with the fire she would burn up Paradise until nothing remained of it, and with the water she would put out the fires of Hell until nothing remained of them, ‘Because I want no one to do good in order to receive the reward of Paradise, or from fear of Hell; but solely out of love for God.’ The only thing to add to this is: so why not to erase God himself and just do good for the sake of it? No wonder that, today, this properly Christian ethical stance survives mostly in atheism.

Fundamentalism do(what they perceive as) good deeds in order to fulfil God’s will and to deserve salvation; atheists do them simply because it is the right thing to do. Is this also not our most elementary experience of morality? When I do a good deed, I do not do it with a view to gaining God’s favour, I do it because I cannot do otherwise- if I were not to do it, I would not be able to look at myself in the mirror. A moral deed is by definition its own reward. The eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume, a believer, made this point in a very poignant way when wrote that the only way to show a true respect for God is to act morally while ignoring God’s existence.

Violence, Slavoj Žižek.


(Oh friends, .. don’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. If you’re in love 
with somebody, these are the words that you got to learn to say. Now 
listen carefully. Here it comes…) 
I’ll be loving you always 
with a love that’s true, always 
When the thing you’ve planned 
needs my helping hand, 
I will understand, always, always 

Days may not be fair, always 
Yeah but that’s when I’ll be there, always 
Not for just an hour, 
Not for just a day, 
Not for just a year, but always. 

I said that I’ll be loving you, always 
with a love that’s true, always. 
When the thing you’ve planned 
needs my helping hand, 
I will, I will understand, always, always 

(Oh that’s pretty … that’s pretty too … Oh darling) 

The days may not be fair, always 
Yeah but that’s when I’ll be there, always 
Not for just a second, or a minute, or an hour, 
Not for just a weekend and a shake down in the shower, 
Not for just the summer and the winter going sour, 
But always, always, always 

(Ok if you don’t want to quit, let’s try it one more time) 

I’ll be loving you, always 
with a love that’s true, always. 
When the thing you’ve planned 
needs my helping hand, 
I will understand, I will, I will understand, always, always 

The days may not be fair, always 
(Don’t worry, baby) 
That’s when I’ll be there, always 
Not for just an hour, 
Not for just a day, 
Not for just a year, but always. 

Comeclose and Sleepnow

it is afterwards
and you talk on tiptoe
happy to be part
of the darkness
lips becoming limp
a prelude to tiredness.
Comeclose and Sleepnow
for in the morning
when a policeman
disguised as the sun
creeps into the room
and your mother
disguised as birds
calls from the trees
you will put on a dress of guilt
and shoes with broken high ideals
and refusing coffee

Roger McGough, The Mersey Sound.

Shall we choose death?

Bertrand Russell

BBC Radio, London, 30 December 1954

Bertrand Russell’s claim to be remembered by his history rests on his work in mathematic and symbolic logic and his profound influence on philosophy. Yet he was also constantly involved in political affairs. Russell (1872-1970) was deprived of his fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge, during the First World War because of his pacifism. He was imprisoned in 1918. During the Second World War, however, he abandoned his pacifism because of his hatred of Fascism. When the atom bomb was followed by hydrogen bomb, he became a campaigner for nuclear disarmament- and this speech on BBC Radio was a characteristic example of the powerful rhetoric he used against the arms race that built up between the United States and Soviet Union, the two great superpowers, and which, he argued, was endangering the human race.

The broadcast was made after the explosion of the first H-bomb, his thin singsong voice charged with the detached intensity of a prophet.

I am speaking not as a Briton, not as a European, not as a member of a western democracy, but as a human being, a member of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt. The world is full of conflicts: Jews and Arabs; Indians and Pakistanis; white men and Negroes in Africa; and, overshadowing all minor conflicts, the titanic struggle between communism and anticommunism.

Almost everybody who is politically conscious has strong feelings about one or more of these issues; but I want you, if you can, to set aside such feelings for the moment and consider yourself only as a member of a biological species which has had a remarkable history and whose disappearance none of us can desire. I shall try to say no single word which should appeal to one group rather than to another. All, equally, are in peril, and, if the peril is understood, there is hope that they may collectively avert it. We have to learn to think in a new way. We have to learn to ask ourselves not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps. The question we have to ask ourselves is: What steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all sides?

The general public, and even many men in positions of authority, have not realized what would be involved in a war with hydrogen bombs. The general public still thinks in terms of the obliteration of cities. It is understood that the new bombs are more powerful than the old and that, while one atomic bomb could obliterate Hiroshima, one hydrogen bomb could obliterate the largest cities such as London, New York, and Moscow. No doubt in a hydrogen-bomb war great cities would be obliterated. But this is one of the minor disasters that would have to be faced. If everybody in London, New York, and Moscow were exterminated, the world might, in the course of a few centuries, recover from the blow. But we now know, especially since the Bikini test, that hydrogen bombs can gradually spread destruction over a much wider area than had been supposed. It is stated on very good authority that a bomb can now be manufactured which will be 25,000 times as powerful as that which destroyed Hiroshima. Such a bomb, if exploded near the ground or under water, sends radioactive particles into the upper air. They sink gradually and reach the surface of the earth in the form of a deadly dust or rain. It was this dust which infected the Japanese fishermen and their catch of fish although they were outside what American experts believed to be the danger zone. No one knows how widely such lethal radioactive particles might be diffused, but the best authorities are unanimous in saying that a war with hydrogen bombs is quite likely to put an end to the human race. It is feared that if many hydrogen bombs are used there will be universal death – sudden only for a fortunate minority, but for the majority a slow torture of disease and disintegration…

Here, then, is the problem which I present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race1 or shall mankind renounce war? People will not face this alternative because it is so difficult to abolish war. The abolition of war will demand distasteful limitations of national sovereignty. But what perhaps impedes understanding of the situation more than anything else is that the term ‘mankind’ feels vague and abstract. People scarcely realize in imagination that the danger is to themselves and their children and their grandchildren, and not only to a dimly apprehended humanity’ And so they hope that perhaps war may be allowed to continue provided modern weapons are prohibited. I am afraid this hope is illusory. Whatever agreements not to use hydrogen bombs had been reached in time of peace, they would no longer be considered binding in time of war, and both sides would set to work to manufacture hydrogen bombs as soon as war broke out, for if one side manufactured the bombs and the other did not, the side that manufactured them would inevitably be victorious…

As geological time is reckoned, Man has so far existed only for a very short period one million years at the most. What he has achieved, especially during the last 6,000 years, is something utterly new in the history of the Cosmos, so far at least as we are acquainted with it. For countless ages the sun rose and set, the moon waxed and waned, the stars shone in the night, but it was only with the coming of Man that these things were understood. In the great world of astronomy and in the little world of the atom, Man has unveiled secrets which might have been thought undiscoverable. In art and literature and religion, some men have shown a sublimity of feeling which makes the species worth preserving. Is all this to end in trivial horror because so few are able to think of Man rather than of this or that group of men? Is our race so destitute of wisdom, so incapable of impartial love, so blind even to the simplest dictates of self-preservation, that the last proof of its silly cleverness is to be the extermination of all life on our planet? – for it will be not only men who will perish, but also the animals, whom no one can accuse of communism or anticommunism.

I cannot believe that this is to be the end. I would have men forget their quarrels for a moment and reflect that, if they will allow themselves to survive, there is every reason to expect the triumphs of the future to exceed immeasurably the triumphs of the past. There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? I appeal, as a human being to human beings: remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, nothing lies before you but universal death.

The Penguin Book of Twentieth-Century Speeches.