Paul and Amber’s pad at Cottarton is becoming quite the place for big gatherings these days. We had the Dream Workshop earlier in the summer (which I still haven’t written about), we’ve had the international Gardeners’ Day – and now, most recently, we’ve celebrated Johanna and Jon’s tying-of-the knot, the culmination of a year’s headaching and wits-testing by Johanna’s devoted parent and step-parent. And every joy we wish them. The weather pulled a similar stunt to the one it pulled – fifteen years ago, it must be – for Rachel and Charlie R’s wedding: one cold windy day in a succession of warm fine ones, and just a sombre reminder that the weather (like any other natural thing) isn’t there for our convenience, but that indeed it’s we who are required to live under its aegis and make the most we can of it.
Cottarton certainly makes a dramatic backdrop for such occasions: I only wish I’d thought to take a picture of the whole scene – the garden in front, the little bunting flags leading down to the green just uphill from the Labyrinth where the principals were gathered for the Humanist-ceremony part of the day, the hill behind them presiding over proceedings and occasionally catching what sunlight there was on offer – but as usual when the occasion demands I forgot my equipment.
When the eating-drinking-and-talking part of the day began and Paul and I had sat down in our curmudgeons’ corner for a bit, he mentioned that the previous day had witnessed the annual Purging of the Drones in the Cottarton hive, which seems to have been having a bumper summer. The purging of the drones is a pretty dramatic event, more of a massacre than a mere purging – it sounded like a bad case of PMT among the hive ladies, and we (meaning, mainly, we males) should all take note. It wasn’t just the throwing-out-the-door bit, which I daresay is fairly run-of- the-mill, there was also the singing-to-death bit. I don’t know if there was any significance in this event for the happy occasion on the following day. After musing on this for a little we got down to some serious grumbling about – well, Humanism actually, whatever that’s supposed to be, though the Celebrant gave a short statement of one part of it in the ceremony – about how we only have one life and we should make sure it’s a good one, which is certainly the kind of thing one doesn’t mind one’s mother saying as one scampers out for a night on the town, but… “Who says we only have one life?” Paul questions, perhaps rhetorically. “How do they know we only have one life?” – “They don’t know,” I assure him (thus old-fashioned scientists require to be calmed), “it’s what they believe. It’s a Belief”. So we rumbled, snorting curmudgeonly.
It’s always a little tricky accommodating oneself to the beliefs of others: I presume that’s why in times past people quite often preferred the option of battering the shit out of each other to reaching any kind of modus vivendi. As far as I’m concerned you can believe whatever you like – believe in the tooth fairy or UFOs or Santa if you want – if it helps you to behave decently towards your fellow-creatures (I trust the decency of Humanists isn’t limited to their fellow-humans); but – a bit like people’s sexual proclivities, I prefer not to have Beliefs openly laid out in front of me, whether it’s Humanists or Jehova’s Witnesses or Jedi-ists (maybe Jedi-ists don’t exactly lay out their beliefs – just watch the films, man, just watch the films). If you tell people what your beliefs are, you’re surely setting out to open a debate (or a war), which it isn’t always the time and place for. But it is undeniably tricky: remember the case of that MP guy who walked out of someone’s wedding because the men and the women were segregated…. Ha, I also remember the debate which ensued one night at Coldhome between Charlie R and Amber over that very occasion (wow, is that how Texans debate stuff? we wondered. Amber still blushes over it, a little, to this day.)
I was probably feeling a little sensitive to the Humanist belief-system on the morning of the Cottarton wedding because I’d started my day hearing an item on the radio about James Burke (ex of BBC’s Tomorrow’s World), who was speaking about the advent of full-scale nanotechnology within the next 40 years. He was looking forward to this event – which he believed would bring about a “bigger change in human society than any since we stopped living in caves” – with much enthusiasm and optimism: how scarcity of any kind would become a thing of the past when with nothing more than a nano-factory in our house and a handful of “dirt” we could manufacture absolutely anything we required. And of course everyone would have a nano-factory. (Sorry, can I just interrupt to ask what this word “dirt” means? Is it American for “soil”? – If so, and I assume it must be, are we talking scientific concepts here? Did he mean topsoil? Sub-soil? Rock-dust? The top two inches of soil? The top eight inches of soil? And did he mean this wondrous new technology wouldn’t be some kind of re-enactment of the rape of the rain-forests, only on the microcosmic scale of the – still-living, amazingly enough – ecosphere that lies just below our feet?)
Burke’s thesis was predicated on the rational-sounding premise that complex societies and the rule of Law come about as attempts to manage scarcity, and in a world where there was no longer any scarcity society would tend to dissipate and Laws would become unnecessary…..
I don’t know – you shouldn’t let Radio 4 upset you – it’s supposed to calm you, surely…. But the sheer unbelievable folly of the assumption that Society and Law are based neatly on the “management of scarcity” (rather than, say, the thirst for power, control, domination, to which the male of our species is particularly prone) – that rocked me to the core. If James Burke is typical of the scientific community (to whom, as I understand it, the Humanist movement accords great authority), then the thought of a society dominated by scientists makes me tremble. It’s already fairly plain to me that, just as the Graeco-Roman Empire merged seamlessly (via a bitter struggle, of course – we’re talking Boys here, after all) into the Graeco-Roman Church, so for the last few centuries the Graeco-Roman Church has been merging seamlessly (via a bitter struggle) into a new Scientific Orthodoxy, and I can’t begin to think what horrors, or equally what extremes of naivety, or most likely a combination of the two, science will unleash on us if it gets into a position of authority – more than it already does of course. Why, didn’t I hear Prof Cockburn on the radio the other day declaring: “Homoeopathy isn’t medicine, it’s witchcraft”? Wow. I await the corollary: – and we burn witches. Indeed most practitioners of so-called complementary medicine will already be able to report that they’re experiencing a building head of persecution.
Rationalist materialism, totally uncomprehending as it’s always been of the nature and purpose of Story, of myth, has nevertheless cottoned on to the fact that people still need stories, and so has presented them, in these days of mass-communication, with the Science-story as the really-truly, verifiably-honestly Facts. Ah, the facts, the facts…. It all sounds suspiciously like the kind of nonsense the Christian Church used to foist on people, and in the name of which countless depredations and atrocities were committed. (Strike me down, the dark Emperor chortles, and you will become what I am – I think I’m going to go for this Jedi-ism thing).
Incidentally, I can’t remember if I mentioned the review of Harris L Coulter‘s book on “Homeopathic Science”, which I found on the Amazon site: it was posted by some kind of science buff and it began “one does not need to read this book to know that it is all nonsense”. Indeed, indeed -, one doesn’t need a scientific attitude at all when one has Belief….