Before going further I wish to make clear that I am not using the term ‘nonsense’ as a substitute for the word ridiculous. By using nonsense I am not suggesting that people’s beliefs should be automatically ridiculed, even if some forms of belief are scarcely credible. I am using the word nonsense throughout this article, in the sense of being applicable to forms of belief for which there is no direct, reliable, sensory evidence. Those beliefs for which there is an absence of direct sensory observations by sight, touch, hearing, smell or taste (aided or not) by reliable instruments designed to enhance these five senses. In other words, beliefs for which there is no such reliable, independently confirmed sources of sensory evidence are therefore quite literally non-sensory or as I suggest, nonsense beliefs.
Since they have no basis in the direct, independent and confirmed reality of the senses, it doesn’t matter how many people subscribe to and accept such beliefs. That fact along with any numbers produced in support of its popular acceptance, does not by itself, make a belief sensible. Actually such statistical evidence only proves that beliefs without appropriate evidence can frequently be widely held. Large majorities once believed the earth was flat, that the moon was a perfect sphere and the sun went around the planet earth. That majority opinion did not make them reliable and sensible beliefs because, in some cases, immediate unaided sensory experience is insufficient and therefore unreliable. However, these particular inaccurate beliefs were at least based upon the senses rather than imagination and therefore could be later revised when further aided sensory evidence contradicted them.
It is different for those forms of belief not dependent at all upon sensory evidence, because, they are based primarily upon imagination. They are therefore established and perpetuated by imagination and generally impervious to sensory evidence. Such nonsensical beliefs start at childhood where adults feed their own and others children myths and falsehoods. Some fright-based falsehoods are allegedly to protect children from harsh realities, that they are supposedly not able to understand or cope with. Other more pleasant falsehoods such as fairy tales and Santa Clause are supposed to enrich their childhood experiences as if there were not many less deceitful ways to do this. Later, some of these falsehoods and myths are openly admitted to the children to be false – but not all. Children are easily duped because they trust that the imaginary information their adult counterparts have fed them was accurate.
Yet these imaginary stories (nonsense beliefs and downright lies) to children are continuing the already historically elite-established right to propagate and believe nonsense. And trust in parent (or surrogate parent type) authority continues well into adulthood for many individuals. God or a cleric becomes the substitute father figure, dispensing their own manufactured nonsense along with borrowed nonsense and naive trust is transferred to these surrogate parents. I am not now or in the future going to suggest depriving people of the right to believe whatever nonsense they find satisfying. However, I am suggesting that there should be the parallel and counterbalancing of that right to believe in nonsense, with another. That counterbalance is the right to refuse to believe in nonsense and the right to criticise that nonsense openly. This is particularly important where that nonsense belief negatively impinges upon the lives of others. For example, children of all cultures who are fed nonsensical beliefs are in fact victims of deception and should be entitled to hear and consider a critical appraisal of those nonsensical beliefs.
Similarly, adults who have continued believing non-sensory (nonsense) information fed to them as children or as adults (by surrogate guru parents) are also victims. This is particularly the case where women and children in patriarchal or patrifocal societies have been led to believe that the human rights granted to men have been correctly (and divinely) curtailed by their god and inherited religious beliefs. I have in mind, those religious beliefs, which insist that female and child sexual and economic oppression is divinely ordained, rather than being the preferred situation of dominating patriarchal men. But a word of caution. Even those males who practice and perpetuate their patriarchal preferences against others are also victims as well as perpetrators, albeit not in equal proportions. The perpetrators in this case are more privileged victims of nonsense than those they oppress. This does not excuse prejudice and discrimination but does explain the twin sources of them; ideology and practical preference. It is this element of contradiction which the political correctness movement, for example, fail to address.
In defending the right to believe nonsense as an act cultural respect for the other and celebrating diversity, political correctness advocates fail to defend the rights of the victims of such non-sensory belief systems. Furthermore, such bourgeois elite inspired political correctness at the same time fails to defend the hard won rights of secular working class struggles to ameliorate or end the worst features of the capitalist mode of production. Some of those features being the ideology of the naturalness of a religious, economic and political elite and their right to determine what people think and say. According to the political correctness movement, there is an unalienable right to believe any kind of nonsense, but not an unalienable right to criticise such beliefs. Furthermore, as if this intellectual and political asymmetry was not bad enough, this right to believe nonsense has been supplemented by the right of believers in nonsense to be offended by criticism of their particular form of nonsense.
Interestingly in the 21st century, criticism of nonsense has been conflated with hate and the thought crimes of the 20th Stalinist and Fascist state-capitalist period have been replaced with the liberal promoted hate crimes of the neo-liberal stage of 21st century global capitalism. Clearly the motives behind the political correctness tendency are most forcibly supported and backed up by the dominant economic and political elites. This cannot be surprising. It should be obvious that if a capitalist firm or business wish to sell their products or services to a buying public – on as wide a basis as possible – then they have no incentive to offend or upset large numbers of the buying public who have internalised their inherited beliefs – no matter how absurd these might be. The same applies to those who capitalist concerns wish to employ. Criticising the ideas of the very workers they wish to encourage to work hard enough to extract surplus-value (profits) from is probably not the best way to exploit them efficiently.
Similarly, it should be obvious that since politicians need the votes of as many voters as possible, they have no incentive to question or contradict the beliefs of those whose votes they seek to attract. Since the power and influence of these two sectors of modern capitalism (employers and politicians) is considerable, then their views inevitably carry considerable weight in the media and elsewhere. In the past decade, the representatives of economic and political elites have thrown their intellectual and financial weight behind combined efforts (of believers and political apologists) to stifle criticism of Islam and Zionism by use of the term phobia, This concept, borrowed from psychology, with its connotations of an irrational mental imbalance, has now been applied to rational criticism of the intellectual connections between these religious belief-based systems and the oppressive and aggressive practices associated with them.
So the the concepts of Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism have been increasingly used to discredit and criminalise any attempt at criticism of the beliefs and practices pursued and perpetuated by Islamic and Jewish fundamentalist ideologues. This attempt to outlaw and discredit criticism of dangerous fundamentalisms includes discrediting any exploration of the intellectual and practical ideas which connect the mainstream religion with those among them who pursue these beliefs and practices with knives, guns and bombs in their hands. In this way the liberal and left advocates of political correctness carry out (unwittingly or not) the policy needs of the economic, financial and political elites of the present mode of production. In addition, they also defend the rights of the religious and political elites of various persuasions to propagate their version of nonsensical belief unchallenged.
Yet it is important that a defence of the right to criticise is taken up by all who can contribute to this defence. This is particularly important with regard to the religion of Islam for it has long been a desire of Muslim intellectuals and scholars to recreate the Caliphate and it is at least some of these intellectuals and religious scholars who feed the ambitions of those fundamentalists prepared to take up arms in pursuit of this ambition. For example, in a 1981 book entitled ‘The future of Muslim Civilisation’, Ziauddin Sardar, borrowing western dialectical terminology, wrote;
“The realisation of the state of Islam is a constant state of becoming…..Each step forward requires readjustment; new problems have to be tackled from epoch to epoch so that the state of Islam can be reached and it’s true dimensions realised. Only in the constant process of becoming and in the continuous state of striving can we implement the dream that comes to us from the depths of our historical consciousness. The dream constitutes an inspiring challenge for future generations of Muslims as we move toward the Medina state with complete trust in Allah.” (‘The future of Muslim Civilisation’, Ziauddin Sardar, page 260. Emphasis added RR)
This is dangerous dream nonsense piled upon fantasy nonsense and like other such nonsense needs seriously countering and exposing, for it will undoubtedly influence some Muslim readers who lack nonsense detecting skills. For of course, in the non-dream world, the choices of governance types offered by Islam are now clear for all to see. At the least extreme end of the Islamic spectrum of governance are those offered by Hamas in Gaza, the revolutionary guard in Iran and the semi-military Islamic form in Egypt (routine beatings and torture). At the most extreme end we have had the recent ISIS Caliphate in Syria. We know the most extreme extreme examples include multiple be-headings, stoning to death, burning to death along with the capture and buying and selling of young women. In between these two examples we have the Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Africa and the hierarchical (chop critics up) regime in Saudi Arabia. None of which present attractive alternatives even to the corrupt and incompetent examples currently on offer in the capitalist west.
However, even the least extreme forms of Islamic governance include the practice of honour killings of men and women for transgressions of the patriarchal sexual choices prescribed for them. In addition all of them maintain oppressive, restrictive, exploitative and forced relationships with their female members. All of them support the most extreme, near slavery employment conditions for working people. All of them perpetuate rule by unelected religious, economic, financial and political elites. All of them produce an abundance of individuals who think it OK to kill in the name of their religion and their imagined god. None of them advocate or allow critical free speech. These reasons are why there is much anti-Islam feeing in secular societies and in view of the abundant evidence, this is a rational reaction, not a phobic one.
R. Ratcliffe (May 2019)