Tag Archives: Northern Ireland

‘Life in the United Kingdom’, a Criticism: Part 2

Off to a bad start…

Having delved into the bizarre ‘Early Britain’ section of Life in the UK’s chapter entitled ‘A long and illustrious history’ (a problematic title, even if one is being kind) (see Part 1), we now move on to a section called ‘The Middle Ages’ (pp. 21-25). This title is immediately explained in the first paragraph as ‘The period after the Norman Conquest up until about 1485’ (p. 21). Here, in the very first line, we are confronted with inaccuracy. The Middle Ages/Medieval Period began much earlier, around the 5th century CE/AD (the specificity of the terminal point is also curious, but more on that later). By stating that Medieval History began with the Norman Conquest in 1066, the authors of this book have incorrectly designated about 500 years of British history, a period usually known as the Early Middle Ages, as ‘non-Medieval’. The fact that they slide this period into the ‘Early Britain’ section is made especially strange by the fact that this 500 years is when the Anglo-Saxons turn up, y’know, those people who spoke English, defined much of the territory of England, and gave the UK some of its greatest works of literature (Beowulf), art (the Lindisfarne Gospels), and scholars (like Bede, who is actually the guy who came up with the idea of an ‘English People’, uniting all the various and disparate Anglo-Saxon peoples). No, 1066 is when they say the Middle Ages begin, and this tells us something very interesting about the authors of this book.

Onward!

Advertisements

Creationism, Fuck Off?*

Creationism is stupid. Intelligent design is an imprudently oxymoronic term.jesusdinosaur While belief in a divine creator is, in my opinion, misguided at best, it is not necessarily stupid; many intelligent people believe in some kind of God. God should be a matter of opinion, but sadly it is an instrument of institution and oppression. I can allow for this latitude concerning divinity as, speaking scientifically, there is a possibility, an exceptionally remote possibility, that God is real. On the other hand, speaking philosophically, I can happily and unequivocally announce that there is no God. This is a debate that will never be resolved. Creationism, and its misshapen child, Intelligent Design, however, is indisputably without any intellectual or scientific merit. While those who believe in it may have been led astray or not truly understand the nature of the argument, those who advocate Creationism/ID are committing acts of a most profound and disturbing level of intellectual deceit and moral repugnance. Creationism is quite literally a preposterous proposition; it stupefies me that people believe in it.

In the last few days (May 26th) it came to light that a minister in the Northern Ireland parliament asked a museum to, among other things, to create exhibits which displayed alternative views of the creation of the universe in the name of equality. One might hope this to mean that he wanted competing versions of string theory, planetary accretion, and the provenance of certain species, but sadly this was not the case. He was seeking out a space for the fatuous fallacy of Creationism. It seems some people need reminding of some very basic principles; Facts don’t care about equality, the Truth is not often politically correct, and Reality doesn’t give a damn about your feelings and opinions. The Creationists and ID cretins of Europe are using this new tactic of demanding equality for their farcical notions because their attempts to be accepted on the merits of their arguments have failed. Sadly this is not true of parts of America, such as Texas. Sure, they can have their exhibits in museums, but only if there is a laughing-track playing at all times, or a large sign saying “We apologise for the obvious idiocy of the exhibit but the law demands equality, and those Creationists kicked up such a fuss… Next week Geocentrism Rediscovered!”

James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh (4 January ...

Image via Wikipedia

Creationism and Ireland have an interesting connection.A man from Dublin by the name of James Ussher (sadly a bishop, but I forgive him for reasons which will become clear presently) decided that the world was created on the night preceding Sunday, October 23rd, 4004BC.You might at first think that this is a bizarrely accurate date, and then laugh at the preposterous proposition, but it is not as crazy as it first seems. First of all Ussher was writing in the early 17th century. The Enlightenment had not begun, the Scientific Revolution had barely begun to gain the momentum which would transform the following centuries; Ussher was operating under the accepted paradigm of the day. Hutton (father of modern geology) was over a hundred years away from proposing that the Earth was really, really, really old, and Darwin was over two hundred years away from pointing out the small fact of evolution. Ussher had no other option but the account found in the Bible. But even then Ussher, a great academic to whom historians and the Irish owe a great debt to for his exemplary work on our history, did his research. He didn’t just pull a number out of the air, he investigated many Christian and Jewish texts, he made exceptions for the inaccuracies of ancient dating systems, and he came up with the best answer for the data he had. You can’t blame him for making an omelette when all he had were eggs, even if what you really want is cake. Ussher’s academic achievement and impressive research might even lead one to think that he would dismiss his own theory, had he possessed all the facts.

Creationists who use this man’s work, or anyone’s work which came before the 18th century, are ignoring over two hundred years of scientific progress for no good reason. They are committing the crime of anachronism; they are taking the data out of context to suit their own personal beliefs. They then wish to impose their beliefs on others in a puzzling display of equality, a concept granted to them by the profoundly anti-clerical Enlightenment. Creationism was a perfectly reasonable idea before the Enlightenment, but to maintain a belief in it in the face of staggeringly overwhelming evidence from a variety of unconnected scientific fields is beyond ludicrous, somewhere in the region of the assuredly absurd. The desire to return to an age before science is utterly baffling, an era where most people died before the age of six, you were considered lucky if you reached your fifties, an era when a simple infection could kill you, and the diagnosis for epilepsy was demon possession.

In the modern, rational world we resolve conflicts with words. Creationism is the intellectual equivalent of anal leakage, a symptom of a serious issue that needs to be resolved promptly and most effectively with the aid of qualified experts. It is what toxic effluent is to a delicate eco-system; viciously corrosive, harmful to all forms of life, and it takes decades to repair the damage. Those who maintain their belief in Creationism, or its infectious offspring, must surrender all claim to the benefits the modern world has bestowed upon them; everything from antibiotics to the i-pod. Every scientific, medicinal, and industrial advance since the 18th century should no longer be available to them, as they are all founded on the very same principles from which we derive evolution, geological time, archaeology, and other such things with prove their crazy theories to be nothing but abject nonsense.

In this day and age, Creationism is a stupid idea which has no reason to be held by any individual. It was a valid notion at one point in time, like trepanning, and it did once fit within a paradigm which was widely accepted, but we have moved on. We found better, more elaborate and elegant ideas, and more interesting and stimulating answers for questions its proponents could never dream of. So, Creationism, and all your adherents in all their various guises, it’s time for you to join the absurd theories of the past, and become a historical oddity, a relic of ignorance. It’s time you left us alone. It’s time for you to just fuck off.

Ceterum autem censeo, religionem esse delendam.

*While some might find the use of such language offensive , I believe that it is the only language one can use when dealing with such an abhorrent and insidious ideology as Creationism and its spawn.

What’s in a Name?

The Way It Is

Have you ever wondered why these islands are called British?British Isles 1877 Sometimes, in this age of extreme political correctness, they are referred to as ‘the Western Isles’, or simply ‘the Isles’. People think that they are called ‘British’ because one of the islands was home to a people who were very, very good at conquering almost everywhere. They also had a flag. Oddly enough these conquerors weren’t ‘British’ in a certain sense, but were in another. History, terminology and politics confuse the issue terrifically. As it stands the ‘British Isles’ are occupied by two sovereign nations, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The latter contains four countries; three which make up ‘Great Britain’, England, Scotland, and Wales, and Northern Ireland. Great Britain only appeared in 1707 when the kingdoms of England and Scotland were united for the first time in a situation which may seem odd to modern eyes; Queen Anne passed a law that said so. Even more oddly, they had been united somewhat half-officially before that since 1603 when King James IV of Scotland inherited the crowns of England and Ireland (and, in theory, France) from Elizabeth I, making him a triple monarch. None of these peoples called themselves ‘British’, they were English, Scots, Welsh and Irish. ‘Great Britain’ was a political fabrication called after a very ancient name. As you can see, the whole situation is rather confusing. So, let’s go back to the beginning, like Vizzini said to do…

Blame it on the Greeks

A very long time ago, before the Romans became so obsessed with building things that they had to invade places in which to build more things, the Greeks were sailing around the Mediterranean looking for places to settle in and trade with. Eventually one Greek explorer made his way out of the great sea and sailed up the Atlantic coast of Spain towards places no Greek had ever heard of. He eventually arrived at two big islands, and on these islands he met people. Clearly being the curious sort, he asked the first people he met “what are you called?” Except he would have said it in Greek. When he got back to Greece he told his mates that he had met the Celtic-speaking “Pretanike” on one island and the “Irene” on the other. What these names mean is up for debate. In any event, when the Romans went and borrowed everything worth knowing from the Greeks they also took their maps and such other things that would be useful when one sets about conquering everywhere. Not being very good at speaking or reading Greek the names of these two islands became “Britannia” and “Hibernia” in Latin. When it came time to conquer and build things in this part of the world the Romans decided to call the whole place “the British Isles”. Sadly the Romans were very bad at naming things, they spent too much time building roads through them and killing everyone before someone thought to ask where exactly it was that they were and who they were killing. They didn’t bother conquering the whole of the islands however. They said it was because they were tired of building roads and aqueducts everywhere, and you can’t grow decent wine north of Bordeaux, but it was really because of bees. They heard the Irish distrained bees and knew that they must have had a highly developed society. Or that they were all as mad as badgers and not worth the trouble. Either way, Ireland and Scotland were left alone and the Romans hid behind a wall. They named the Roman province ‘Britannia’, made up of ‘Cambria’ (Wales) and ‘Albion’ (England). The bits they left were Scotland, calling it ‘Caledonia’ and ‘Scotia’, and Ireland, calling it ‘Hibernia’ and ‘Scotia’. Notice that they called Ireland and Scotland the same name, but more on that later. But most importantly, it was the Greeks after meeting a Celtic tribe, followed promptly be the over-achieving Romans, who first called these isles ‘British’, not king, nor queen, nor act of parliament.

‘I am not the Dread Pirate Roberts, my name is Ryan’

“But what,” you may cry, “did they call themselves?” It is very hard to know. Cultural identity is a very complex issue which I will now thoroughly abuse.

Ireland

The Irish, called Hibernians or Scots by the Romans, called themselves ‘the Gaels’ which may have meant something like ‘wild-persons’ or ‘raiders’. They may not have know what that meant, but when you go somewhere and everyone runs away screaming “oh crap, it’s the Gaels” you might start to think “we must be the Gaels they keep yelling about.” They also called themselves the ‘Féni’, which means ‘us, ourselves’. The Irish called all of Britain ‘Alba’, and they called the Romans a lot of unpleasant words. These names refer to the people, not the places, which is why after the Anglo-Saxons started conquering Britain ‘Alba’ became the name of the part they didn’t conquer, Scotland.

Scotland

The people who lived in Caledonia were called the Picts, but then a bunch of Irish folk (who were called Scots by the Romans, remember?) decided that they wanted to live somewhere wetter, colder and more miserable, moving in to where the Picts were. The Irish-Scots either killed or married the Picts and eventually made a new kingdom, Scotland. Except they called it Alba.

Wales

‘Wales’ comes form the Germanic (Anglo-Saxon) word for ‘foreign’, that is to say, ‘not us’. The Welsh called their own land ‘Cymru’ which means something like ‘us’. So the names of Wales are ‘us’ and ‘not us’. The people who lived in Britain before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons were the Britons, the only surviving element of whom were the Welsh. So, the Welsh are Britons because they were from Britain, and the Anglo-Saxons are Brit-ish because they moved into Britain.

England

This part of the island was first full of Celts called Britons, who were conquered by the Romans, becoming the Romano-British. Then the Anglo-Saxons came and killed everyone. The Angles made a deal about names with the Saxons; all the kingdoms would be named after the Saxons but the whole place would be called after the Angles. Which is why we have places like Wessex, Sussex, Essex and Middlesex after West, South, East and Middle Saxons (very imaginative), which are all part of England. Then the Normans came. The Normans are very good at two things; conquering and ruling. They took the whole place over from top to bottom, which no-one else had never managed, but never named it after themselves. The Normans were led by a man who was “a French bastard landing with an armed banditti, and established himself as king of England against the consent of the natives.” (- Thomas Paine) The Normans ruled over the various people of Britain, the Anlgo-Saxons and Welsh, and later the Irish and Scots, while being very French for a long time. Eventually they gave up being French and pretended to be Irish, English or Welsh.

So, to surmise, there were basically three people on the two islands first, the Picts, Gaels and Britons. A bunch of Gaels made the Picts disappear, took their land and became Scots. The Britons were driven to Wales, thus becoming Welsh, by the Anglo-Saxons who became English. And they were all conquered by the Normans. Except the Scots, they just inherited everything. James IV of Scotland became James I of England and called this union of the Scottish and Anglo-Normans ‘British’. Which is what it was called to begin with. Then these newly renamed-with-the-old-name-that-they-already-had ‘British’ went and conquered for themselves the biggest empire ever.

A Note on the Naming of Places

You might be saying to yourself “how on earth could they have all made such a mess of name these places and peoples, surely they could’ve asked someone.” Well, they did, but that doesn’t always work. When explorers first landed in what is now called Canada they found a village and asked the natives their “What is this place called?” The natives looked around to what the foreigners were pointing at and replied “kanada.” The Europeans went home all very proud of themselves and drew maps of ‘Canada’. One day someone thought to ask a native what ‘kanada’ meant. He replied, now that they had known each other for some time and learned the lingo, that ‘kanada’ was their word for village. The name of the second biggest country in the world is Village. Canadians are thus the Village People.