THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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Of truth, reason and persuasion

I have left instructions that Paul Simon’s song “the Boxer” should be played at my funeral. Apart from the bit about “the whores on Seventh Avenue” I think it’s a good broad brush account of how my life has felt to me. It contains remarkable wisdom in the line;

A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. 

That a 16 year old Jewish kid from Queens was wise enough to know that still surprises me. I first heard the line when I was about that age myself and it should have been a helpful gift, but I was never able to internalise it usefully. I only ever remembered it too late; when my desire to believe something had led me astray.

One of my daughters once told someone “People have Dad wrong. He’s not a cynic. He’s a disappointed idealist.”  Time after time I have trusted when I shouldn’t and ventured where angels fear to tread because I was not as wise as young Mr. Simon. The will-o-the-wisps of my hopes and dreams led me through Life's swamp. I’ve been lucky and have no complaints. My regrets, such as they are. are actually about my more cautious moments. Inspirational hopes and dreams lead men where dry calculation never would and – up to a point – that may be a good thing.

in my brief career in student politics, I heard wise old sorts in the Conservative Party say things like “the facts of life are Tory” and “Tory at 20, you have no heart. Labour at 30, you have no brain.” Slightly advanced by Ricky Tomlinson*, my own trajectory confirmed the latter at least. My career as a business lawyer certainly confirmed the former — at least when the Tory Party was still Conservative and based its policies on the facts of economic life. 

So it’s not surprising that wave after wave of youngsters falls naively for the puffery of the snake oil salesmen of the left. Why, however, are there mature individuals who can’t see what poison Socialism is?

Partly it can be accounted for by the wisdom of the young Paul Simon. No-one wants to hear that the "facts of life are Tory" – especially if life is not going well for them personally. If the market values your labour less than you do yourself, it's obviously easier to believe that the market is wrong than to do something about improving your value to it. If you've trained for a dead industry, it's easier to demand that the state keeps it moving – zombie like – than to accept your mistake and retrain. Yet there is so much evidence that Socialism doesn't work. More than half of mankind lived under Socialist planned economies in the 20th Century. The empirical results of this monstrous experiment were uniformly terrible. Tens of millions died. Billions were impoverished economically, morally and in terms of liberty. 

This is recent history. Many of the people who lived through it are still alive. As this article shows, (behind a pay-wall but you can still read a couple of articles a month for free) young people who listened to their family's experiences learned the ideological lessons. They did so even when they belonged to identity groups courted by the left in its attempt to foment divisions and hatreds to be "resolved" by their panacea;  state violence to constrain free choice and free expression.

My childhood was awash with my family’s forlorn recollections about the hardships they endured under communism in Poland: the chronic scarcity of food, medicine and other basic necessities; outright hostility to basic liberties. And if we didn’t like it, too bad: they killed anyone who tried to leave.

Yet there are leftists in Poland today. Indeed there are statist authoritarians of both right and left who believe (though their grandparents are there to tell them otherwise) that an inexplicably virtuous state directing the masses will make them more moral, more patriotic and more productive than they would choose to be themselves. It would be funny if it were not so damned tragic. I lived in Poland from 1992 to 2003 and delighted in the fact that I met no-one, ever, who was inclined to believe such nonsense. In what is, perhaps, another example of my "hearing what I wanted to hear and disregarding the rest", I told myself the Polish nation was inoculated forever against the virus of statism. I was wrong. The ideological hog cycle may be even shorter than the economic one

Confirmation bias is another explanation of people's ability to ignore evidence. We are seeing it daily in the never-ending national shouting match over Brexit. Every twist and turn just leads each side to exclaim "See! I told you so!!" It is all (even for someone so enthusiastically anti-EU that his late wife once demanded he make a New Year's resolution to shut up about it for 12 months) so damned boring that I have stopped watching the news or reading my daily newspaper.

Not too long ago, we saw the British Left praise Hugo Chavez's socialist experiment in Venezuela as an example to us all. Now it has ended, as all previous experiments did, in shortages, hardship and oppression, the very same people "hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest". It wasn't socialism after all. Mistakes were made. There was external interference by agents of capitalism. There was sabotage. All the excuses, in fact, that the Stalinists used to explain the stubborn divergence of tractor production statistics from reality. 

It seems that every fact is Janus-faced to those informed by ideology or faith. The closest the left has come to acknowledging this was in developing the doctrine of post-modernism, This denies the very existence of truth and argues that all "facts" are mere social "constructs" shaped by the class, ethnic or other identity of the people positing them. How that can be true, when there is no "truth" is a question for longer-lived humans than I expect to be. I need time to have some more fun before I die, thank you very much.

Jeremy Bentham, perhaps the most pragmatic of all English philosophers, is said to have died regretting the great error of his life. which was to assume that it was only necessary to show Man what was right in order for him to embrace it. We who aspire to be rational must learn not to despair when Man cleaves to the irrational. In winning people over to the cause of Reason we must work with, and not merely scorn, their foibles. Were any religious people persuaded to renounce their faith by the late, great Christopher Hitchens' (probably correct) characterisation of their views as the product of "wishful thinking" for example? I have a close friend who is religious and, when I fear he is making a mistake, I rack my brain for the teachings of my long-ago Sunday school to construct a theological argument for him to act differently. Sometimes it works – at least a little better than telling him his faith is "wishful thinking" would! I care about him enough to shape my arguments to his beliefs when I want to help him. Perhaps I should extend that courtesy to others? How far though can I extend a courtesy that costs little when dealing with a kind and (mostly) rational man before I am respecting the monstrous views of barbarians?

If there is no Truth, life is just a pointless frolic. Yet, as Professor Peterson tells us convincingly in his books and videos, all the research suggests that the search for meaning is what makes us happy, not (pace the Founding Fathers) "the pursuit of happiness" per se. We don't need there to be Truth or Meaning to be happy, but we do need to be looking for both. Post-modernism is quite literally a counsel of despair and I suspect is only meant to dispirit most of us into inactivity while its hypocritical proponents get on with their quest to rule the world. 

Where, gentle reader, do you stand? Is there truth? Should it be sought? Can it be found? To the extent that it requires others to accept it in order to improve the world, how best can one persuade them?

*In the linked post, I said I couldn't be sure that it was Tomlinson. My father has since read that post and confirmed that it was.



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You’re on! I’ll send you a guest author invitation  


Sorry, I missed your response this week, as I was travelling. I’d be happy to write as you suggest, but you’d be much better served reading Aquinas’ five ways. I’ll lend you a copy or a summary, but you can also find it. It’s been around a while!! What I might be convinced to write about would be the modern conceit of the faith vs reason dichotomy: the proper question of course is do you choose to believe in God, or do you choose to believe in anything else. There is no proof for either proposition, so you choose which faith you wish to have.

As to my Church, the lunatics who took over the asylum when the West lost its mind are reaping what they sow. Those who remain attached to the faith and orthodoxy are isolated to be sure, but we’ll be fine, and our part of the Church is, literally, booming. The leftist establishment and media will never be on our side, so i don’t worry about them.....


This article is another example of confirmation bias. Thugs beat an immigrant = evidence of the spread of a particular political viewpoint – in this case "far right". Immigrant thugs beat a local = an example of individual misconduct, suggestive of mental health issues and to see any pattern in it or draw any wider conclusions is "racist" or "islamophobic" or (ironically) "far right"

In fairness, many who hate and/or fear Islam will play this wicked incident down in the same way as the left plays down Muslim violence. Either both incidents can be read as evidence of a group problem or both are individuals behaving badly. "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest." "Like the others, the priest saw only what he brought."

Baron Jackfield

"A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest"...

Not quite the equivalent of actually being in situ.


I was there. It was them. They are lying.


Tom - I did read your original post.

The campaigners fully admit there was violence but they maintain that it was not them. I have seen physical (photographic) evidence to see that the media manipulated the story.

It is not for me to say who is guilty of the violence but I have seen enough evidence to suspect that what is widely reported is not the true version ov events.

Thinking a bit wider on this... The occurrence was at a time when the government was trying to supress Trade Union activity. For example miners striking for more pay. Alongside the miners were government employees (police/army) posing as strikers and instigating violence.

This gave legitimacy for imposing more laws... In this instance against Trade Unions but the imposing of laws to stop all sorts of inconvenient (to the state) activities.


To my surprise, I found a relevant point in a book I read today called “Why Photography Matters” by Jerry L. Thompson. He quotes Henry Adams on his 1892 visits to the memorial he had commissioned to his wife by the artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

“...numbers of people came, for the figure seemed to have become a tourist fashion, and all wanted to know its meaning. Most took it for a portrait statue and the remnant were vacant-minded in the absence of a personal guide ... The only exceptions were the clergy, who taught a lesson even deeper. One after another brought companions there, and, apparently fascinated by their own reflection, broke out passionately against the expression they felt in the figure of despair, of atheism, of denial. Like the others, the priest saw only what he brought. Like all great artists, St. Gaudens held up the mirror and no more.”

I agree a great artist holds up a mirror and (ideally) no more. I am sickened by artists who hold up what purports to be a mirror but is only their warped caricature of the world. But if everyone only sees what he brings, then the cynical post-modernists may be right and life may be worthless. I’m not having that. Are you?


If there was ever a post on which I’d hope you’d weigh in, James, this was it.

James Higham

Nice piece, Tom.


CherryPie — click the link in the original post please. I was there. I witnessed violent intimidation. They were guilty. The campaign is Marxists trying to rewrite history to sanitise violence


The more I think about religion, the less likely I seem to rediscover my lost faith. The path to that is not through Reason, or my reason at any rate. So, for the sake of my immortal soul (if any) perhaps it would be better for *you* to write about it as a guest author here?

The Catholic Church is at a dire point in its history. Attendances at the Papal Mass in Ireland were about ⅓ of the last such occasion and calls for Comrade Francis’s resignation abound. I’m not one of those indulging in schadenfreude over the church’s travails (though I openly revel in those of the Red Pope). The Church does much charitable good in the world — for example as the single largest provider of genuinely free healthcare. If it is not to fail entirely (and I think that’s more likely than you might think) good Catholics like yourself will have to step up to demonstrate that it’s *not* the force for evil the Leftist Establishment and its media now claim.


I quite agree with your comment about the Church being more secular. I had dinner last night with a lapsed Catholic, now in a narrow part of the Anglican Church here in England. One of his criticisms of the Church is the office of the papacy, which currently leaves much to be desired. I'll try and convince our host to write more on the topic at some point!


There is more to the Shrewsbury Two or is it Shrewsbury 24? than can be found on the internet. I met (a few years ago) some of the campaigners. They have provided sufficient evidence to show that they were made scapegoats. There is evidence to show that the media version of events is highly suspect.

This is not about the political convictions of the people involved but more about state and big businesses looking out for themselves. Think Hillsborough!

I don't think of myself as a leftist or rightist, I examine information, assess it and after deliberation come to my own conclusion. My conclusion is always open to debate ;-)

With regards to the comments on God... God exists but our current Religious Institutions have become more secular and more detached from (in our culture) what Jesus was teaching. I could go on and explain further, but I will leave it there for now :-)


The Foundation for Economic Education has an article on pretty much the same point I’m trying to make


Hi, the answer to your questions is yes, yes and yes. If you get that right, then life has the maximum possible meaning - to eternal life. It would be irrational to pursue anything else!!!


Interesting. No, I don’t know for certain there is no God. I live on the working assumption He doesn’t exist because no one has adduced evidence He does. Mankind has an evident psychological need to believe, as witness the rich variety of supernatural (and now ideological) trumpery around the world, but there’s no consistency to it. Accident of birth and upbringing determines which imaginary friend a child has. When one has been replaced by another (eg the Inca by Jehovah) very human agencies (eg conquistadores and Jesuits) were visibly at play.

Religious institutions are similarly more easily explained by the evident self interest of their human members than their stated purpose. Pope Francis is more able to shape the world to his wicked Leftist ideas in his current career than any other he was likely to have. The motivations of the Princes of the Church are easily explained without reference to God. Look at their wonderful lives! As for their underlings, we now know that the calling of many thousands of priests was to sexual opportunity not service for example. Their lives are lies from soup to nuts. If the Church is here to speak for God He’s saying some odd thinigs to Man at present. Or He’s turning up the difficulty of His credulity test called “faith”. A test I was already failing. All I can infer of the nature of God from the conduct of your church is that He values childlike credulity over rational thought. He has the same taste in people as a con man. Hmmm.

You pose a false choice between God and self. I know I exist. There’s a sense in which — as my consciousness is the only tool I have to experience life — that I know nothing else. But I don’t worship myself. I often don’t even like myself very much. There are many people I respect more than me. You, for one.

This blog exists for such debates. Thank you for attempting to answer my questions. You’ve focussed predictably on my minor reference to religion but feel free to answer them more broadly too.



This is your blog, with an informed and intelligent readership, who don’t need to see our debates. If you would rather I moved my comments to another forum please let me know.

To try and go in order of your comments:

1. Of course there is a spectrum of ‘beliefs’. I would argue, and in reference to the question you posed, that one is true - the Church Jesus founded. The others sit on a spectrum determined simply by how much they reflect the revealed truth. Some overlap to a great extent. Others less so.
2. The answer to the second Hitchens’ question is: whichever is closer to the truth, is better - although his question isn’t quite as sound as he would like it, as the proper question is to ask whether someone lives in accordance with that erroneous faith. The shameful lives of certain, numerous Catholic bishops currently demonstrates that the profession of faith is one thing, but what really counts is how one follows it.
3. A flippant point deserves an answer too: because they are stories made up by someone as story, not as a revealed truth. I think you are raising accidentally though an interesting question, about why these stories are attractive, and some work, and some do not, which I think would rest in how ‘true’ they might be; or as Prof Peterson describes them, as the hero story, I think.
4. I quite agree with your definition of faith, and its significance. So does St Paul.
5. But you keep dodging my question! (Thrice now.....). Those who denounce God do so as they BELIEVE God doesn’t exist, not because they can prove it. They place their argument in science (to which I say all science supports the existence of God, too, as the True faith must be consistent with reason, too, with thanks to Aquinas and Augustine), or in, fundamentally, themselves - their own intellect suffices to have a better a answer, but in both cases it is a BELIEF they are correct, not a demonstrable scientific certainty. My point is that it isn’t a choice between faith, and reason. It is a choice between two different faiths. Fundamentally broken down to choosing to believe in an external, greater being, or to believe in oneself.

I’d love to hear, or read, your answer to that proposition.

As a side note, I am what is I believe called a Thomist - as Acquinas did - one exhausts all other rational explanations and then one ends up at God. I’m in good company. The biggest question to my mind that science fails to meet is what was at the beginning - wherever the process of discovery takes us back in time or into the micro world, there remains the question of how did it begin. From what. The most rational answer to that that I have seen is creation.


I am not expressing myself well. I apologise. I am not calling all people of faith barbarians. That would be silly. Our civilisation (the opposite of barbarism) was largely formed by (or at least against the background of) Christianity. I am saying that there is a spectrum. At one end there is civilised religion (which I sought roughly to define as not presenting a threat to innocent third parties). At the other end there is barbaric religion (e.g. the kind that throws sinners off roofs and condemns those who leave it to death).

I am surprised you think you don't have a problem with Mr Hitchen's test and I am now very curious to hear your answer to his questions!

You're being less than genuous in saying "there is no proof of the absence of God". There is no proof of the absence of Iron Man or Thor either. If you want us to engage in a discussion as to whether they might be real (and who wouldn't like them to be!?) rational people will politely ask you to offer a prima facie reason to suggest they might be.

If you ask us to take your organisation's stories more seriously than Marvel's, please offer a reason. Your problem, because "faith" is explicitly NOT based on proof (and that *is* the definition, whether you have ever said it to me or not) is that you can't. Here's the first definition presented by Google, for example.

"Faith: strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction *rather than proof* [my emphasis]"

So the discussion simply doesn't begin. Your religion is worthy of historical study because of its influence in shaping our society, but its tenets are – as far as I can see – every bit as contrived by humans as those of the Ancient Egyptians or the Vikings. Or Marvel.

Incidentally, on the subject of proof and religion, there's a fascinating lecture here by a Christian scholar on the origins of Islam.

I spent over an hour listening to it tonight. Christ lived. He believed himself to be the Son of God. Some people at the time believed him. Eye witnesses wrote two of the Gospels. It seems however that Mohammed may just have been made up more than two hundred years after his supposed life in order to serve the contemporary political purposes of a ruler.

h/t James at



I’m pretty sure I didn’t say all those things you think I said!! My point is that that there is no proof of the absence of God, yet those who claim such a position claim the high ground of being ‘rational’, and deride those of faith - in this case I think you might have labelled those with faith barbarians? I see a fundamental contradiction there. My challenge to you remains that you deny yourself Truth, as you don’t believe. Yet your ‘truth’ is also ‘only’ a belief. It’s a serious question.

(And as you know I would have no problem with Mr Hitchen’s test).

You also know better than to suggest I don’t believe in one Truth! As entertaining as it is to see you wind up for another rant, on this count you cannot wrap it up and leave it outside my door.......


There's a spectrum of religious views from civilised to barbaric, surely? Just as there is for secular ideologies. Christopher Hitchens had fun asking the religious how many religions were wrong (to which they would of course answer all except theirs) and then asking them whether it was worse for him to be a disbeliever or a follower of a false god.

The relatively trivial point to which you take exception was that being (as you put it) "courteous" to the civilised (i.e. harmless to innocent third parties) end of the religious spectrum might raise an expectation of similar "courtesy" at the barbaric end. It certainly gives rise to the problem of drawing a line between civilisation and barbarism. In today's world, as BoJo found out, that can be characterised as "discrimination" or worse. "Respecting" faith eventually comes up against calls for criticism of it to be silenced. In England we abolished the law of blasphemy in relation to your Jehovah only now to face pressure to restore it for their Allah.

As to being "fully rational", I hate to disagree with you but surely faith is – by definition – irrational? Faith *means* belief without evidence, no? Faith to a believer is an insight or perhaps intuition *superior* to rational judgement, isn't it? Or in some cases, it's based on an actual spiritual "meeting" with the object of belief or one of His angelic or saintly agents. If you tell me you have met Jesus, Jehovah or the Virgin Mary, I can only reply "I haven't." I know the Mother of Christ has a penchant for occasionally appearing in person to young French and Spanish girls and the odd group of Irish villagers, but the rest of us are left to find Fatih without any such help. And that seems to be an intentional test. from which I am puzzled that they were exempted.

Finally, I am astonished that you have made the post-modernist argument that in the end all our judgements rest on mere belief. If there are no facts, no verifiable truths to be found or inferred by Reason, then we can all certainly skip off happily into any of the extant religions, civilised or barbaric, or indeed into any new religion we would like to conceive. Or we can become "trans-sane" and believe any damned thing that we like – e.g. that gender is a social construct and that a man can menstruate if he only truly believes.

Marx's "scientific socialism" having failed so conclusively. it's quite alarming how the post-Soviet Left is lurching towards a quasi-religious ideology where belief combined with status trumps not only difficult-to-understand science but even the bleeding obvious. Even the Catholic doctrine of original sin is echoed in the inherent privilege and racism of white people in general and white men in particular. I'm disappointed to find you their fellow-traveller on this anti-factual odyssey. For myself, unless the Holy Mother would like to give me the privileged French or Spanish teenager / Irish peasant treatment, I'd rather stay cis-sane and look for factual evidence before committing to anything.


Sir, with courtesy hopefully there is humility, too.

One who is with faith considers himself to be not merely mostly rational, but fully rational. There is belief, but all rational signs point to that belief.

Those without faith considers themselves rational too; but surely they can only believe that there is no faith: there is no proof that there isn’t.

That being so, we all rest on belief.

So why is one view characterised as that of a barbarian?! 9History suggests it should be the other way around, no?)


That’s true of the politicians certainly. The motives of a greedy chancer like Kinnock, Prescott or Blair are not hard to fathom. But I have family and friends with no hope of personal power or advantage who still vote Labour, sincerely believing — for all that history is giving them the Alex Ferguson hairdryer to the face — that people organised into a state are more moral and less greedy than the same people organised as a company or family. It’s baffling.


"Why, however, are there mature individuals who can’t see what poison Socialism is?"

They can. They just hope and plan to be at the other end of the socialism snake.

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