SocioSphere Editorials

April 2002 - February 2009 Archive
Reflections on Religion, Current Events, and Other Subjects

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Saturday,May 31,2003

lol. Wolfie's comments will hopefully accelerate the razing of the Euro-American-Israeli axis of evil:

Government blames spies over war

By Paul Waugh, Deputy Political Editor

30 May 2003

A senior minister warned yesterday that the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq would constitute "Britain's biggest ever intelligence failure" and would trigger an overhaul of the security services.

The minister told The Independent that the security services were responsible for Downing Street's uncompromising stance on Saddam Hussein's weapons. He spoke after a row erupted between politicians and the intelligence community over the Government's justification for going to war.

A senior intelligence official also told the BBC that Downing Street had wanted the Government dossier outlining Saddam's capability "sexed up" and that Downing Street included information against security service advice.

Meanwhile, Washington dealt another devastating blow to Tony Blair, who was visiting troops in Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz, the US Deputy Defence Secretary, said that disarming Saddam of illegal weapons was nothing more than a "bureaucratic reason" for war.

He told Vanity Fair magazine that members of the divided White House cabinet pushed the issue because it was the only way they could present a united front.

The row over weapons of mass destruction was fuelled this week when Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, suggested that Saddam might have destroyed his arsenal before the invasion.

While the British minister told The Independent he was confident weapons evidence would still be found in Iraq, he admitted: "If we don't find any weapons of mass destruction, it will be Britain's biggest ever intelligence failure. We would have to look at the whole set-up of how we gather intelligence in the future. It would have serious consequences. We saw some of this stuff, but Tony saw it come across his desk virtually every day."

In another development, Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces minister, admitted that Mr Blair's claim that Iraq could unleash chemical or biological weapons at 45 minutes' notice was based on uncorroborated information. The assertion was included in Downing Street's case for war, entitled: "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: the Assessment of the British Government''.

Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, reveals in The Independent today that he argued that the dossier was curiously "derivative" when it was discussed by the Cabinet. "There was no hard intelligence of a current weapons programme that would represent a new and compelling threat to our interests," he writes, adding that Mr Wolfowitz's comments proved that Britain had been "suckered" into going to war.

Mr Blair faced more embarrassment as MPs demanded a full-scale inquiry into intelligence claims that Downing Street had distorted the dossier, published last September. In the dossier, Mr Blair warned that Saddam was able to launch chemical or biological attacks within 45 minutes.

BBC Radio 4's Today programme quoted an unnamed "senior British official" as saying the claim was included against the wishes of intelligence officers, who had been ordered to "sex up" a drier draft version of the document.

The official said: "Most people in intelligence weren't happy with the dossier because it didn't reflect the considered view they were putting forward. The classic example was the statement that weapons of mass destruction were ready for use within 45 minutes. That information was not in the original draft. It was included in the dossier against our wishes because it wasn't reliable. Most things in the dossier were double source but that was single source, and we believe that the source was wrong."

Downing Street flatly denied that pressure had been put on officers. Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's director of communications and strategy, said in Iraq yesterday: "This is totally false. There is nothing there that was not the work of the intelligence agencies."

Mr Ingram acknowledged that the 45-minute claim was based on a single source. He said: "That was said on the basis of security source information ... it was not corroborated ... that was one element within a comprehensive report."

But he stressed that the security services had supported the report. "The whole world knew what Saddam was up to in terms of weapons of mass destruction. That's why we prosecuted that war," he said.

When questioned about the continuing controversy, Mr Blair insisted that he had "absolutely no doubt at all" about the existence of weapons of mass destruction. "And rather than speculating, let's wait until we get the full report back from our people who are interviewing the Iraqi scientists," he said. "We have already found two trailers that both our and the American security services believe were used for the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons."

Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, called for a special MPs' committee to be set up to investigate claims that the report was amended.

posted at 09:29:10 AM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Thursday,May 29,2003

The American national spelling bee, for kids, was won on the word pococurante ('pO-kO-kyu-'ran-tE). I must say that I am indifferent. ;-)

The axis of evil is coming down.

The case for war is blown apart

By Ben Russell and Andy McSmith in Kuwait City

29 May 2003

Tony Blair stood accused last night of misleading Parliament and the British people over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, and his claims that the threat posed by Iraq justified war.

Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, seized on a "breathtaking" statement by the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, that Iraq's weapons may have been destroyed before the war, and anger boiled over among MPs who said the admission undermined the legal and political justification for war.

Mr Blair insisted yesterday he had "absolutely no doubt at all about the existence of weapons of mass destruction".

But Mr Cook said the Prime Minister's claims that Saddam could deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes were patently false. He added that Mr Rumsfeld's statement "blows an enormous gaping hole in the case for war made on both sides of the Atlantic" and called for MPs to hold an investigation.

Meanwhile, Labour rebels threatened to report Mr Blair to the Speaker of the Commons for the cardinal sin of misleading Parliament - and force him to answer emergency questions in the House.

Mr Rumsfeld ignited the row in a speech in New York, declaring: "It is ... possible that they [Iraq] decided that they would destroy them prior to a conflict and I don't know the answer."

Speaking in the Commons before the crucial vote on war, Mr Blair told MPs that it was "palpably absurd" to claim that Saddam had destroyed weapons including 10,000 litres of anthrax, up to 6,500 chemical munitions; at least 80 tons of mustard gas, sarin, botulinum toxin and "a host of other biological poisons".

But Mr Cook said yesterday: "We were told Saddam had weapons ready for use within 45 minutes. It's now 45 days since the war has finished and we have still not found anything.

"It is plain he did not have that capacity to threaten us, possibly did not have the capacity to threaten even his neighbours, and that is profoundly important. We were, after all, told that those who opposed the resolution that would provide the basis for military action were in the wrong.

"Perhaps we should now admit they were in the right."

Speaking as he flew into Kuwait before a morale-boosting visit to British troops in Iraq today, Mr Blair said: "Rather than speculating, let's just wait until we get the full report back from our people who are interviewing the Iraqi scientists.

"We have already found two trailers that both our and the American security services believe were used for the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons."

He added: "Our priorities in Iraq are less to do with finding weapons of mass destruction, though that is obviously what a team is charged with doing, and they will do it, and more to do with humanitarian and political reconstruction."

Peter Kilfoyle, the anti-war rebel and former Labour defence minister, said he was prepared to report Mr Blair to the Speaker of the Commons for misleading Parliament. Mr Kilfoyle, whose Commons motion calling on Mr Blair to publish the evidence backing up his claims about Saddam's arsenal has been signed by 72 MPs, warned: "This will not go away. The Government ought to publish whatever evidence they have for the claims they made."

Paul Keetch, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: "No weapons means no threat. Without WMD, the case for war falls apart. It would seem either the intelligence was wrong and we should not rely on it, or, the politicians overplayed the threat. Even British troops who I met in Iraq recently were sceptical about the threat posed by WMD. Their lives were put at risk in order to eliminate this threat - we owe it to our troops to find out if that threat was real."

But Bernard Jenkin, the shadow Defence Secretary, said: "I think it is too early to rush to any conclusions at this stage; we must wait and see what the outcome actually is of these investigations."

Ministers have pointed to finds of chemical protection suits and suspected mobile biological weapons laboratories as evidence of Iraq's chemical and biological capability. But they have also played down the importance of finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Earlier this month, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, provoked a storm of protest after claiming weapons finds were "not crucially important".

The Government has quietly watered down its claims, now arguing only that the Iraqi leader had weapons at some time before the war broke out.

Tony Benn, the former Labour minister, told LBC Radio: "I believe the Prime Minister lied to us and lied to us and lied to us. The whole war was built upon falsehood and I think the long-term damage will be to democracy in Britain. If you can't believe what you are told by ministers, the whole democratic process is put at risk. You can't be allowed to get away with telling lies for political purposes."

Alan Simpson, Labour MP for Nottingham South, said MPs "supported war based on a lie". He said: "If it's right Iraq destroyed the weapons prior to the war, then it means Iraq complied with the United Nations resolution 1441."

The former Labour minister Glenda Jackson added: "If the creators of this war are now saying weapons of mass destruction were destroyed before the war began, then all the government ministers who stood on the floor in the House of Commons adamantly speaking of the immediate threat are standing on shaky ground."

The build-up to war: What they said

Intelligence leaves no doubt that Iraq continues to possess and conceal lethal weapons

George Bush, Us President 18 March, 2003

We are asked to accept Saddam decided to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd

Tony Blair, Prime Minister 18 March, 2003

Saddam's removal is necessary to eradicate the threat from his weapons of mass destruction

Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary 2 April, 2003

Before people crow about the absence of weapons of mass destruction, I suggest they wait a bit

Tony Blair 28 April, 2003

It is possible Iraqi leaders decided they would destroy them prior to the conflict

Donald Rumsfeld, US Defence Secretary 28 May, 2003

posted at 08:48:13 PM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Wednesday,May 28,2003

From the Yahoo! Group, Jewish Peace News. It is an important refutation of anti-Semitism:

[In this piece, JPN’s Mitchell Plitnick examines the history and

scope of the influence of the Jewish-American community on US

foreign policy. Jewish Americans are sometimes said to exercise

disproportionate control over both the media and US policy,

skewing them in support of a belligerent, right-wing, Zionist

agenda (supporting Israeli aggression and, more recently, the

war in Iraq). If we want to combat this perception, Plitnick

argues, we cannot just dismiss it as anti-Semitism; rather, we

need to examine what evidence there is to support it, and think

about how and by whom this perception has been shaped.

Plitnick gives a fascinating overview of the history of US

support for Israel, showing that the relationship between the

two countries developed in the context of Cold War alliances,

and was guided by a set of US strategic goals (with control of

regional oil topping the list). Only after Israel proved its

usefulness as a bulwark against Arab nationalism (in 1967) did

the US begin both sending astronomical levels of aid and

intervening aggressively to shield Israel from international

diplomatic rebuke. And only later, in the 70s and 80s (after

the fundamental ties were already in place), did the Zionist

lobby and pro-Israel policy makers really begin exercising

significant influence in the US.

AIPAC capitalized on this momentum, Plitnick argues, and voices

representing extreme right-wing Jewish opinion began coming to

prominence during the Reagan years. Yet the Christian Right,

defense industry lobbyists, and neo-conservative strategic

planners all have autonomous interests in supporting the Israeli

right; and it is this constellation of interests, not the

Zionist lobby alone, which is decisive in influencing US policy

(and explaining the bias in the US media, for that matter). Yet

the collective influence of this diverse group is often

attributed solely to some "Jewish cabal" controlling Washington

(or controlling the media). (Plitnick does not deny that AIPAC

is powerful, but shows that much of this image is over-hyped, a

function of good PR and a lack of effective opposition.)

The first step in combating this malignant constellation of

right-wing interests (and the anti-Semitism it both engenders

and draws from) is to be lucid about who really has power and

why. To this end, Plitnick’s piece is indispensable reading for

anyone who cares about justice in the Mideast. JN]

Who Decides US Mideast Policy?

Jewish Voice for Peace Newsletter Commentary

By Mitchell Plitnick

The comments by Rep. James Moran (D-VA), just before the

invasion of Iraq, regarding the role of the Jewish community in

the march to war set off a small firestorm in Washington.

Moran’s statement that “if it were not for the strong support of

the Jewish community for the war with Iraq, we would not be

doing this” was obviously offensive to many Jews, especially the

great many who were opposed to the war.

More than just ascribing a pro-war stance to an entire community

(one which, according to polls, was well in line with the

general population in its stance on the war and less supportive

than other groups of Americans of European descent), the

statement carries with it the implication that there is Jewish

control over American policy, a control that subverts US policy

to its own ends. On that level, the reaction of many Jews is

correct. Yet it does not suffice to simply react to such a

comment without a deeper analysis of what leads to such views.

It is insufficient, and in the long term quite dangerous, to

write such views off as nothing more than irrational hatred, and

ignore any basis it might have in fact, whatever one might think

of the interpretation of those facts. We need to ask what

evidence might support these views, if we hope to refute them.

Furthermore, as American Jews it is also incumbent upon us to

examine these questions fairly.

No one would deny that American Jews certainly work very hard to

have influence well out of proportion to our numbers in the

general population when it comes to matters regarding the Middle

East. On the one hand, there is no doubt that the notion that a

Jewish “cabal” has some sort of mystical sway over the

policymakers in Washington holds in it a familiar ring of

classical anti-Semitism. On the other hand, this notion that the

war on Iraq was executed at the behest of Jews and for the sake

of Jewish interests does not come out the ether. And while it is

likely the case that some of the proponents and adherents to

this idea are indeed motivated by hatred of Jews, it is also

true that many also do so because of the evidence. We need to

consider if that evidence is incomplete, deceptive or persuasive

and, as Jews, to act accordingly.

The most obvious link that is repeatedly drawn is the fact that

many of the key people in the Bush administration responsible

for our Iraq policy have a long history of backing, and even

recommending some of the most draconian Israeli policies.

Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz are the people most commonly

identified with this small group of neo-conservative hawks, and

they are two of the primary formulators of Bush administration

policy with regard to Middle East. There is also the fact that

Israel has, from the earliest rumblings of war on Iraq been the

most vocal supporter of military action against Iraq on the part

of the United States and Britain. Underlying all of this is the

near-mythical status the pro-Israel lobby enjoys.

All of these deserve careful scrutiny to see where Israel and

its supporters fit in to policy formation, but one can see

easily how these factors lead to a conclusion like that of Jim

Moran. Yet, if we are ever to hope to see American foreign

policy wrested from the hands of those who hold it now, we must

not ignore the fact that Israel, its supporters and its

political position are integral parts of foreign policy

formation. What we need to do is understand where and how they

fit in, and to what degree they hold sway. In order to do that,

we need to first review how the current state of affairs came


It is an obvious truism that American policy toward Iraq and

American policy regarding the Israel/Palestine conflict are both

parts of a larger American foreign policy regarding the Middle

East. In 1945, the US State Department referred to the vast oil

reserves of the Middle East as “…a stupendous source of

strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in

world history . . . probably the richest economic prize in the

world in the field of foreign investment." No major power, let

alone a superpower, would ever willingly allow the fate of such

a “prize” to be left to political chance or ideological whim,

let alone to the capricious interests of those who actually live

on the land above that great prize. If this was the case in

1945, how much more so is it now, with the global economy being

even more dependent on oil now than it was half a century ago,

and with anticipation that reserves may run dangerously low

within a few decades? Indeed, it can hardly escape one’s notice

that the current administration is stocked with people with

major interests in mid-level oil companies—companies which might

well have prime access to some of the world’s largest reserves,

and, subsequently, may become considerably less “mid-level”.

But we ought not only look at the prurient self-interest of a

few people in the administration, neither for greed nor for

fanatical ideological devotion. The large contracts handed out

to American corporations to “rebuild Iraq” were an inevitable

consequence of any war, whether fought for legitimate reasons

(whatever those might be) or not. Instead, we need to see the

entire US policy in the Middle East in the context of the US

desire to control “one of the greatest material prizes in world


After World War I, when the British and French carved up the

Arab world and set the (very problematic, in many cases) borders

that exist today, the preferred method of rule was to set up

puppet governments that would serve the interests of the

colonial masters. The British Lord Curzon described this as an

“Arab façade”, one which rules but which remains weak and

reliant on the imperial power to maintain its authority. Curzon

described the dynamics thusly: “There should be no actual

incorporation of the conquered territory in the dominions of the

conqueror, but the absorption may be veiled by such

constitutional fictions as a protectorate, a sphere of

influence, a buffer state and so on".

After World War II, and the global move toward decolonization,

the United States became the dominant power in the Middle East,

and refined and adapted the method of control employed by the

British. The US also had to contend with frequently shifting

rulers in various key Middle East countries, most notably in

Iraq and Egypt. And, of course, all of this happened against the

backdrop of the burgeoning Cold War. While the USSR never quite

had the reach of the United States, it certainly exerted its own

influence on the Middle East and served as some degree of

counterweight to growing US influence. But neither superpower

directly controlled the Middle Eastern countries they counted

within their respective spheres of influence. Instead, it was

the dependence on the superpower that they cultivated in the

Arab states, along with rewards to the elites who did their jobs

properly and continuing insurance that those elites would always

remain at risk from their own populations, thereby assuring the

need for the superpower’s weapons, aid and training. Thus,

Curzon’s “Arab façade” was cultivated and refined, allowing a

bit more autonomy for the Arab rulers, but maintaining the

essentials of control, with a much less visible physical

presence required from the superpowers.

After the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the first

Israeli prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, immediately set about

trying to secure and greatly enhance the support of the two

superpowers, the US and USSR. Correctly reading the political

landscape, Ben-Gurion maintained efforts to secure the support

of both, but was much more interested in US support, as America

was both more powerful than the USSR and had a Jewish community

which was in a much better position to aid the Israeli cause.

The US decided that, rather than rely only on the “Arab façade”,

which they still did maintain and do to this day, they would, in

addition, employ non-Arab states in the region, principally

Turkey, Iran and Israel to protect Western interests, especially

from popular and nationalistic forces in the Arab world. After

the rise of Gamal abdel Nasser in Egypt in 1952, there was great

concern over his pan-Arab ideology, a fear that Nasser was not

only a socialist (heaven forefend!—Israel’s less ideological,

and ever-receding, brand of socialism was much less of a concern

for US planners) but also a sufficiently charismatic and clever

leader that he might be successful in uniting much of the Arab


This was a great boon to Israeli hopes. Israel had certainly

impressed the US with its war for independence. It enhanced this

military reputation in 1956 with its part in the Suez war

alongside England and France. Israel’s reluctance to heed US

orders to back off after the war ended concerned the Eisenhower

administration, but in time, and with Democrats in the White

House after 1960, Israel would be able to overcome that

reservation. Indeed, Eisenhower was the last president to

threaten to cut off all aid to Israel, which he did to force the

Israeli withdrawal from Suez.

Support for Israel as a key Cold War ally grew steadily through

the late 50s and 60s, as Syria and especially Egypt drifted

closer to the USSR, sensing that the United States was not going

in their direction. During this period, the significance of

American Jews was minimal. Most of the lobbying for support came

directly from Israel, in the form of high-level meetings and

military cooperation in stemming the tide of “Nasserism”. The

perceived threat was that Nasser’s growing popularity outside of

Egypt represented a real possibility of widespread Arab unity,

which could lead to a great force in the Middle East that would

ally itself with the USSR and cause a huge shift in the Cold War

balance of power. Even more frightening to superpower thinking

(of both the US and USSR), such a unity of Arab states could

have independent control of the oil resources, creating a very

serious new player on the world scene, one capable of playing

hardball with the big boys. There was no political movement of

any gravity supporting the Palestinians at this time. The

Palestinians were a people who were essentially off the map,

never really discussed in any way in American (or most of the

rest of the world’s) discourse, beyond occasional, vague

references to the “refugees” who had no other name.

But while public attention was not on the Middle East at that

time, oil interests were paramount in US policy formation. US

policy in the Middle East was completely dictated by strategic

concerns regarding the control of oil and, to a lesser extent,

Cold War calculations. The 1967 war cemented Israel as the US’

chief agent in the region. It was after the 1967 war that aid to

Israel began to skyrocket and take on a status that was very

much removed from aid to other countries in the world. It would

be several more years before the American pro-Israel lobby

gained any serious strength, or before a devoutly pro-Israel

individual could be said to occupy a key role in policy planning

(that would be Henry Kissinger, the originator of both “shuttle

diplomacy” and the American policy of rejectionism).

So, all that had happened to that point had nothing to do with a

“Zionist lobby”. That does not mean, though, that sympathy for

the Zionist cause, from many different roots, did not play a

role. Tom Segev, in his book, “One Palestine, Complete” details

some intriguing sources of support for Chaim Weizmann’s early

push in support of the Zionist cause in Britain. What makes them

so intriguing is that they were frequently motivated by hatred

or fear of Jews in Britain, and often came out of the thinking

of Dispensationalist Christianity, relatively new at the time,

but quite popular among the elites of both England and the US,

and the direct ancestor of today’s Evangelical wing of Falwell,

Robertson, et al. But there is no basis for an assertion of any

significant power that Jews held in Britain at the time. Rather,

it was simply the case that Weizmann’s Zionist aspirations

melded quite perfectly with British imperial designs for the

Middle East in the early 20th century, and that, paradoxically,

it was the very anti-Semitism of many British nobles that led

them to wish to help the Jews and to see them move, en masse, to

the Middle East. The Zionists offered the British a way to draw

Europe’s Jews off the continent and to establish a reliable

colonial outpost in the key travel spot between Europe and Asia,

and an outpost for British control of petroleum resources. Thus,

the Balfour Declaration, which “view[ed] with favor the

establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish

people” is explicable by both a wish to rid Europe of its Jewish

citizens and British imperial designs.

This would be the case frequently over the decades. To be sure,

the situation in the United States regarding the

Israel-Palestine conflict shifted dramatically after the 1967

war. The Israeli giddiness over that victory was shared and

encouraged in the United States. And it was during this time,

the decade of the 70s and into the early 80s, that the “Zionist

lobby” began to grow more powerful. Israel’s assertion of itself

as a military power so vastly superior to any combination of

Arab states greatly elevated it in the eyes of American

strategists. An internal State Department battle was waged

between William Rogers, who wanted the US to force Israel comply

with UNSC 242 to resolve the 1967 war’s after-effects, and Henry

Kissinger, who believed that ongoing tension combined with an

Israel that the United States would maintain as a regional

superpower was the best way to safeguard US interests in the

region both against the Soviets and against Arab nationalism.

Only then did groups like AIPAC begin to wield significant


But the bedrock was laid from 1948-1967, and that foundation

came down without significant political pressure from the Jewish

community. What pressure there had been during that period was

the result of there being absolutely no advocates on Capitol

Hill for anything other than support for Israel, combined with

the clear preference American planners had for investing their

concerns in the one country in the Middle East they knew would

never fall to anti-American populists. AIPAC and other lobbying

groups have attained a nearly mythical status in the minds of

American political strategists and pundits. The reputation is

not without its merits. Capitalizing on the progression of

events described above, Jewish groups supporting Israel steadily

increased their influence on Capitol Hill. In the 1970s, much of

their people-power came from alliances with the major labor

unions, the AFL-CIO and others. The election of Ronald Reagan in

1980 caused a sea change in Jewish politics, and the leadership

began a dramatic shift from mainstream liberalism toward

conservatism, a trend that has reached its apex in the 21st

century, as the elements of Jewish leadership that have far and

away the most political influence are those which represent the

extreme right wing of American Jewry. The names are the familiar

ones, along with others whose politics, like Abe Foxman, Mort

Zuckerman and Morton Klein, have drifted farther and farther to

the right over the years. In subsequent years, the right-wing

Jewish leadership has forged strong ties with the Christian

Right and with major arms suppliers. These ties are kept

relatively quiet as they would not be met with enthusiasm among

many American Jews, most of whom still fall on the liberal side

of American politics.

In the past two years, as even American liberals have moved more

toward a conservative and fearful political position, these ties

have been kept somewhat less guarded. It was during the period

of Reagan’s assent that AIPAC gained national prominence, as it

worked hard to defeat several members of Congress, including

Senator Charles Percy, and Representative Paul Findley, whose

names have become symbols of AIPAC’s power. Percy in particular,

as a multi-term and popular senator, was seen as an extreme show

of power. Yet it was not an event likely to be replicated. A

private activist raised money and launched his own anti-Percy

campaign, thus imbuing a charge into the campaign against Percy

with a big boon. Yet the Percy campaign did not lose on money

alone, as they did raise and spend more money than his opponent,

Paul Simon. But the private activity probably did turn the tide,

something that has not been replicated and probably won’t be.

Subsequent targets of AIPAC have been carefully chosen. When

people like Pete McCloskey, Cynthia McKinney and Earl Hilliard

have been defeated in recent years, and AIPAC has been visibly

and publicly active in working against them, AIPAC’s power

reputation has been strongly reinforced. Yet, in every case,

there is powerful and persuasive evidence to suggest they all

would have been defeated anyway. Battles that AIPAC is not

positive it will win are not entered into, as any defeat might

greatly diminish the reputation AIPAC enjoys.

AIPAC is often used as a symbol for the political forces which

work to support Israel in Congress, the State Department and the

media. These are forces which are far vaster than any one

organization, and certainly AIPAC is not the most powerful of

them by a long shot. Campaign contributions from

military-related industries (which include those who deal

directly in weapons and planes and the like, but also hi-tech

industries which are profoundly dependent on military

applications for substantial percentages of their profits) dwarf

those from pro-Israel PACs. In terms of rallying voters, help

from trade and labor unions in the past, and the Evangelical

Christians today is the source, not Jewish groups. These forces,

put together, are a formidable combination. In terms of the

formation of policy, we can see its roots in several different

organizations these days. As regards the Middle East, much

attention has been paid to the Jewish Institute on National

Security Affairs (JINSA), and rightly so. It should be noted

that many of the people involved with JINSA are not Jewish.

Other groups include the Center for Security Policy (CSP), the

Washington Institute for Near East Affairs (WINEP), the Project

for A New American Century (PNAC), and such old conservative

stalwarts as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise

Institute. While many Jews are prominent in some of these

organizations, they are clearly and greatly outnumbered by

others, yet they reflect almost identical stances as regards

American foreign policy in the Middle East. Their conception of

what America’s “best interests” are is the paramount

consideration. All evidence suggests that the same could be said

for Henry Kissinger, as well as those today that might be

considered his disciples, such as Wolfowitz, Perle, Douglas

Feith and Eliot Abrams. Indeed, it is striking to note how much

greater a number of Jews who support both the Iraq war and the

Sharon government are publicly visible compared to their

relative numbers among those whose voices carry weight in policy

formation. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the Jewish

face is being put on these policies publicly, precisely to

encourage the perception of a Jewish “cabal” subverting US

policy. In reality, US policy regarding the Israel-Palestine

conflict has been remarkably consistent since 1967, no matter

what kind of administration was in power and no matter how much

relative political power pro-Israel or Jewish groups have had in

American politics.

Still, there is no doubt that members of Congress will go to

great lengths to avoid running afoul of AIPAC. Why is that?

There are several factors. One certainly is that AIPAC is

probably the best at what they do. They employ a slew of

analysts, strategists and marketing consultants and the results

are clearly very strong. They know how to run a campaign, and

how to exert pressure on representatives. But more important, in

my view, is the field on which they play. They are a foreign

policy action group, in a country where, in terms of elections,

foreign policy is not high on the agenda of most voters,

especially where American lives are not directly involved. They

are also virtually unopposed in Washington. Lobbying efforts by

groups supporting Palestinian rights or any other program aside

from blind support of Israel have been woefully inadequate over

the years. Thus, you have a group putting a great deal of energy

and resources into an issue that most Americans are not going to

base their votes on with little counterweight. Thus, there is no

political purchase for politicians to dissent upon. That is why

other lobbying groups, such as the National Right to Life

Movement (a deceptive name if ever there was one) or the

National Rifle Association, which have even more fundraising

abilities and more supporters in key official positions than

AIPAC are nowhere near as successful. There is significant

opposition to them and thus, a political leg for politicians to

stand on in opposition.

What about the media? Much has been made, and quite correctly,

about the way mainstream media portrays the Israel-Palestine

conflict. It is certainly true that the portrayal is distorted.

It is equally true that Jewish organizations focus a good deal

of effort and pressure on major media when they detect even a

hint of movement away from the party line. But it is wrong to

suggest, as many often do, that this is the result of Jewish

influence over the media. Again, it is true that Jews are

disproportionately represented in media industries. But if we

look at this question we see quickly that what is portrayed in

the media very much reflects US policy.

And the Israel-Palestine conflict is far from unique. There is

an ongoing problem in the Western Sahara, perpetrated by an

American ally, Morocco, which bears in many ways, a striking

resemblance to the Israel-Palestine conflict, yet few Americans

even know about it, nor did they when the conflict was at its

height in the 1980s. Exceedingly few Americans know that Kurds

even live in Turkey, thinking they all live in Iraq (in fact,

Kurds live in and face serious discrimination and persecution in

Iran and Syria as well, though the problem is by far the worst

in Turkey, far more so than in Iraq). Even fewer know about the

programs in Turkey geared to wiping out the Kurds, and even

fewer know that the US has actively supported these activities.

Few Americans knew about Indonesia’s brutal, 20+ years

occupation of East Timor before the explosions there in 1999,

and most have probably forgotten about them. Again, the real

issue is not Jewish control of the media, nor is it true that

the awful coverage of Israel/Palestine is unique, but rather

that we in the United States have a subservient media which,

particularly on matters of foreign policy, will avoid any

deviation from the “party line”.

The argument over the formation of US foreign policy is unlikely

to end. The perception of Jewish control is intentionally

enhanced both by right-wing Jewish leaders and others who may

see a convenient scapegoat in the Jews should the need ever

arise (a classic role of Jews over the centuries, and a

fundamental building block of classical anti-Semitism). The real

forces behind that policy formation are much more formidable.

Yet they also remain vulnerable. The more Americans we can make

aware of how their tax dollars are being spent, how much of

their own money is being used to finance the grossest of human

rights violations and occupation, and how that expense is being

used to fatten the already fat in the US while promoting intense

hatred of Americans (indeed, of Jews as well) in much of the

world, the more we will chip away at the control those forces

have over US foreign policy, a control they exercise very much

to the detriment not only of Palestinians but also Israelis and

Americans as well. As Americans, that is our responsibility. As

Jews, it is even more so, as well as very much in our own best


The continuing growth of the belief that a “cabal of Jews”

subverts US policy against its own interests, is only one more

reason for us to do so. But we can only accomplish that if we

get people away from their conspiracy theory beliefs and toward

a better understanding of US policy formation and how the

interests of military, corporate and political leaders differ

from those of peace and justice. Many people believe that it is

in American interests to be a truly fair player in the

Israel-Palestine conflict. That conclusion is dependent on how

those interests are understood, because the interests of arms

dealers, the hi-tech industry, and US imperial interests are

served neither by peace nor justice.

Mitchell Plitnick

Newsletter Editor

A Jewish Voice for Peace

posted at 08:45:51 AM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Saturday,May 24,2003

'Abdu'l-Bahá's Prayer for the Balkans:

"O Thou Kind Almighty, we supplicate at the Throne of Grace for mercy for the blood that has been shed in the Balkans; the children that are being made orphans; the mothers losing their dear sons; the sons who have become fatherless; the cities that have been destroyed; the many hearts that have been filled with sorrow; the many tears that are being shed and the many spirits that are in a state of agitation!

"O Lord, be merciful, extinguish this spirit of war, this consuming fire, this peril, this gloomy darkness! Cement together these hearts, let the sun of Thy Truth dawn upon all.

"O Lord, this world is dark, guide us toward a brilliant light. The horizons are glooming with the clouds of war; disperse these impenetrable clouds. Grant us holiness and calm! Dispose of these quarrels, illuminate the horizon of life, so that the sun of real loyalty may shine with its rays. May these dark hearts become illuminated, may these blind eyes become open, may these deaf ears become gifted with hearing.

"O Lord! cause Thy divine justice to appear in this world. Summon these people to the Banquet of International Peace, so that they may live together in the utmost state of love. May all the religions and all nations embrace each other with this spirit of universal kindliness, and may hatred be forgotten.

"O Lord! confirm this just government in the establishment of peace, so that it may hold aloft the banner of reconciliation in the Balkans. May the light of love shine and flame forth undefiled. O Lord! Thou art Almighty; Thou art Merciful; Thou art Clement; Thou art Kind!"

The Christian Commonwealth , January 1, 1913, pp. 262-3

posted at 04:00:41 PM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Friday,May 23,2003

This is an interesting article indicating a possible interest in spiritual experience, perhaps a neo-Transcendentalism, among Unitarian Universalists, at least according to the president of the denomination:

A Heated Debate Flares in Unitarian Universalism


Humanism has been on the wane as an intellectual and political force in America for many years, as more people question whether reason and science are adequate portals into the mystery of life. But humanists alarmed by the rise of religion in American politics and culture have at least been able to turn to certain liberal domains for comfort and confirmation.

One has been Unitarian Universalism, a liberal religious movement that pitches a large enough theological tent to include atheism, religious humanism, liberal Christianity, non-Christian theism and much else. Which may be why the Rev. William G. Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, sparked such a reaction this spring when he posed a challenge to its members.

Mr. Sinkford, who was elected in June 2001, has been urging the nation's 225,000 Unitarian Universalists to reclaim a "vocabulary of reverence." He has called the effort a main goal of his presidency of the noncreedal association.

In recent sermons, talks and articles, Mr. Sinkford said he was struck by the fact that the association's Purposes and Principles, or mission statement, "contain not one piece of traditional religious language, not one word." The statement has inclusive generalizations about human dignity, justice and "the interdependent web of all existence," but omits mention of God. It serves well as a broad ethic, he said, but does not do much "to capture our individual searches for truth and meaning."

Explicit religious language would better acquaint people with life's "religious depths" and "ground them in their personal faith," Mr. Sinkford said in a recent interview. It would also help liberals wrest religious language back from the religious right, he said.

In the interview, Mr. Sinkford, a 56-year-old onetime businessman and former "card-carrying atheist" who turned to ministry 10 years ago, said he was not formally proposing to change the principles, which are bylaws of the association and require a five-year process to be altered. Nor is he saying that any new language, wherever invoked, must mention God, so long as it "allows us to capture the possibility of reverence, to name the holy, to talk about human agency in theological terms." But it is clear that he is comfortable with that word. After his son recovered from a coma in 1997, Mr. Sinkford began to develop "a prayer life centered on thankfulness and gratefulness to God."

Mr. Sinkford describes his own faith with a reference to the merger, in 1961, of Unitarianism, a liberal offshoot of Puritan Calvinism that gradually shed its Christian identity, and Universalism, a small denomination that preached a theology of grace. "The Unitarian side tells us that there is only one God," he said, "one spirit of life, one power of love. The Universalist side tells us that God is a loving God, condemning none of us, valuing the spark of divinity that is in every human being."

Officials of the association say Mr. Sinkford's initiative has generated more e-mail, letters and telephone calls than any other issue in its history — a big statement for a contentious group that has had some huge blowups over race, war and gender issues.

"It's tender territory," noted Mr. Sinkford, who said he was talking with hundreds of individuals or groups on the topic. "But it's a conversation I think we need to have." He called it part of the process of Unitarian Universalism's "growing up" into "a more confident maturity."

Rhoda Miller of Concord, Mass., a member of the Unitarian Universalist church there who calls herself a rational atheist, said Mr. Sinkford's plea "makes me feel that atheists are less welcome in Unitarian Universalism."

The Rev. Kendyl Gibbons, minister of the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis and a leader of a national Unitarian Universalist humanist group, said that "some humanists certainly feel threatened" by the initiative. But she said she did not see the association slipping away from humanists. "I don't think Sinkford's use of theological language means he's unwilling to be disciplined by reason," she said.

One former president of the association, William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said he viewed himself as a religious humanist but supported efforts to use a "wide lexicon" of religious language. "I've long been critical of the position of some humanists that would sanctify secular language and lock us into a calcified rationalism," he said.

Mr. Sinkford's first sermon on the topic, in Texas in January, set off a firestorm of protest from humanists, who flooded a humanist chat room with cries of "creeping credalism" and warned of a "mass exodus" from the association. That was partly a reaction to a newspaper article that erroneously said Mr. Sinkford had called for including the word "God" in the principles.

In an open letter responding to that outcry, Mr. Sinkford said he would not twist anyone's arm to speak of God. "After that," he said in the interview, "people notched down their anxiety."

Mr. Sinkford said the flexible language of the mission statement dated from efforts in 1961 to find wording acceptable to Unitarians and the more traditional Universalists, and he noted that the culture had changed since then. "I think we are seeing a historical cycle," he said. "I sense a gradual shift in Unitarian Universalism," away from the Unitarian pole of doubt and toward its pole of faith.

Mr. Sinkford was asked what he thought of the coincidence that his initiative came amid the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who is often linked to Unitarian skepticism. "I'm delighted by that convergence," he said. "Emerson was deeply spiritual, of course, and he wanted people to think for themselves about these matters. I see this as the next stage in the conversation he initiated."

posted at 10:46:40 PM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Thursday,May 22,2003

Fox News Channel, news for neoconservatives and the Christian Right, is now interviewing this fellow - I won't mention his name - who just made the comment (without laughing), "It's nothing ... as we say in Brooklyn." Um. Um. Only in Brooklyn?

Terrorist militancy is on all sides:

Attlee warned over Jewish terror


THE Labour prime minister Clement Attlee was warned by MI5 that Jewish extremists planned an IRA-style terror campaign in Britain, according to secret files made public today.

MI5 warned that "special reference" had been made to the then foreign secretary Ernest Bevin as a possible assassination target by militant Zionists pressing for a Jewish state in Palestine.

The files, released to the National Archives, reveal that police also broke up what they believed was an attempt by Jewish terrorists to drop high explosives on London using war surplus aircraft.

The immediate aftermath of the Second World War saw a sharp rise in Jewish terrorism in Palestine, which was still controlled by Britain, in an effort to put pressure on the Labour government to make good what were seen as British promises to create a Jewish state.

One terrorist group, the Stern Gang, blew up the King David Hotel, the main British administrative centre in Jerusalem, killing about 80 people.

The other main terrorist group, Irgun, hanged two British sergeants in retaliation for the executions of Jews convicted of terrorist attacks.

Against this background, in August 1946 the director-general of MI5, Percy Sillitoe, personally warned Attlee that Irgun and the Stern Gang could come together if 18 more Jewish men sentenced to death were executed.

"Our Jerusalem representative has received information that Irgun and Stern Group have decided to send 5 ‘cells’ to London to work on IRA lines," Sillitoe wrote in his note for the meeting.

"To use their own words, the terrorists intend to ‘beat the dog in his own kennel’."

An internal report on "Zionist activity" spelled out MI5’s concerns.

"The Stern Group has been steadily recruiting in recent months, and may now number as many as 600 followers, most of whom are desperate men and women who count their own lives cheap," it said.

posted at 07:14:37 AM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Wednesday,May 21,2003

Another fascinating article. Especially see the reference to Fox News Channel's Rupert Murdoch:

The masters of the universe

By Pepe Escobar

05/21/03: (Asia Times) It may be instructive to learn what US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the "Prince of Darkness" Richard Perle were doing last weekend. From May 15 to 18 they were guests at the Trianon Palace Hotel, close to the spectacular Versailles palace near Paris, for the annual meeting of the Bilderberg club.

Depending on the ideological prism applied, the Bilderberg club may be considered an ultra-VIP international lobby of the power elite of Europe and America, capable of steering international policy from behind closed doors; a harmless "discussion group" of politicians, academics and business tycoons; or a capitalist secret society operating entirely through self interest and plotting world domination.

The Bilderberg club is regarded by many financial and business elites as the high chamber of the high priests of capitalism. You can't apply for membership of such a club. Each year, a mysterious "steering committee" devises a selected invitation list with a maximum 100 names. The location of their annual meeting is not exactly secret: they even have a headquarters in Leiden, in the Netherlands. But the meetings are shrouded in the utmost secrecy. Participants and guests rarely reveal that they are attending. Their security is managed by military intelligence. But what is the secretive group really up to? Well, they talk. They lobby. They try to magnify their already immense political clout, on both sides of the Atlantic. And everybody pledges absolute secrecy on what has been discussed.

The Bilderberg mingles central bankers, defense experts, press barons, government ministers, prime ministers, royalty, international financiers and political leaders from Europe and America. Guests this year, along with Rumsfeld and Perle (US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is also a member) included banker David Rockefeller, as well as various members of the Rockefeller family, Henry Kissinger, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Queen Sofia and King Juan Carlos of Spain, and high officials of assorted governments. The Bilderberg does not invite - or accept - Asians, Middle Easterners, Latin Americans or Africans.

Some of the Western world's leading financiers and foreign policy strategists attend Bilderberg, in their view, to polish and reinforce a virtual consensus, an illusion that globalization, defined under their terms - what's good for banking and big business is good for everybody else - is inevitable and for the greater good of mankind. If they have a hidden agenda, it is the fact that their fabulous concentration of wealth and power is completely dissociated from the explanation to their guests of how globalization benefits 6.2 billion people. Some of the club's earlier guests went on to become crucial players. Bill Clinton in 1991 and Tony Blair in 1993 were invited and duly "approved" by the Bilderberg before they took office.

There are innumerable shady, still unexplained connections between the early Bilderberg club and the Nazis, via Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, the father of Queen Beatrix, who founded the club in Bilderberg in 1954 (the name is taken from a Dutch hotel), aiming to "increase understanding between Europe and North America". Bernhard was a member of Adolf Hitler's SS. One of the founding members of the Bilderberg is Otto Wolff von Amerongen - who actively improved business links between Germany and the Soviet bloc and served on 26 boards of directors, including Deutsche Bank. Few people know him - and perhaps for some good reason: he has been linked to the Nazi's theft of Jewish holdings before and during World War II.

Rumsfeld is an active Bilderberger. So is General Peter Sutherland from Ireland, a former European Union commissioner and chairman of Goldman Sachs and BP. Rumsfeld and Sutherland served together in 2000 on the board of Swiss energy company ABB. And ABB happened to have sold two light-water nuclear reactors to North Korea. At the time, of course, North Korea was not an active member of the "axis of evil".

This year, the Bilderberg meeting in Versailles conveniently merged into the G8 meeting of finance ministers in Paris, a 20-minute car ride from Versailles, on May 19. The procedure is traditional: what happens in the Bilderberg is usually a preview of what is later discussed at the full G8 gathering, which this year will be held from June 1 to 3 at Evian-les-Bains in the French Alps.

On Bilderberg's first full working day on May 15, French President Jacques Chirac delivered a welcoming speech, trying to bury the bitter divisions among the guests over the war on Iraq by emphasizing that the US and Western Europe are longtime allies. But Chirac's gracious hosting may not have been enough to soothe the hawks in the US administration still miffed at "pacifist" France.

An influential Jewish European banker reveals that the ruling elite in Europe is now telling their minions that the West is on the brink of total financial meltdown; so the only way to save their precious investments is to bet on the new global crisis centered around the Middle East, which replaced the crisis evolving around the Cold War.

According to a banking source in the City of London connected to Versailles, what has transpired from the 2003 meeting is that American and European Bilderbergers have not exactly managed to control their split over the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, as well as over Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hardline policy against the Palestinians. As the Bilderbergers were chattering away, Sharon all but rejected Bush's Middle East road map, already endorsed by the other members of the so-called quartet: the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. This road map, as it stands, is over: even the presence of US Secretary of State Colin Powell - who stopped by Versailles to brief the Bilderbergers - was not enough to persuade Sharon to even discuss the dismantling of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.

American imperial adventures are usually rehearsed at Bilderberg meetings. Europe's elite were opposed to an American invasion of Iraq since the 2002 Bilderberg meeting in Chantilly, Virginia. Rumsfeld himself had promised them it wouldn't happen. Last week, everybody struck back at Rumsfeld, asking about the infamous "weapons of mass destruction". Most of Europe's elite do not believe American promises that Iraq's oil will "benefit the Iraqi people". They know that revenues from Iraqi oil will be used to rebuild what America has bombed. And the debate is still raging on what kind of contracts which rewarded Bechtel and Halliburton will "benefit" Western Europe.

Europe's elite, according to those close to Bilderberg, are suspicious that the US does not need or even want a stable, legitimate central government in Iraq. When that happens, there will be no reason for the US to remain in the country. Europe's elite see the US establishing "facts on the ground": establishing a long-term military presence and getting the oil flowing again under American control. This could go on for years, as long as the Americans can guarantee enough essential services to prevent the Iraqi people from engaging in a war of national liberation.

It was also extremely hard at the Versailles meeting to forge a consensus on the necessity of a European Union army totally independent of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The US establishment, of course, is against the EU army. But so are some Europeans, starting with anti-army cheerleader Lord Robertson, NATO's secretary general. Europe's elite can't stand US domination of NATO any more. Some Europeans suggest a separate force, but controlled by NATO. Americans argue that a separate EU force would dissolve NATO's role as the UN's world army. And Americans insist that NATO is no longer confined to the defense of Europe: its troops now could go anywhere in the world, directed or not by the UN Security Council. The impasse remains.

All these crucial developments were discussed behind closed doors. The Trianon Palace Hotel in Versailles was closed to the public and all non-Bilderberg guests had to check out. Part-time employees were sent home. The ones who remained were told that they would be fired if caught revealing anything about the meeting. They couldn't speak to any Bilderberger unless spoken to. They couldn't look anybody in the eye. Armed guards completely isolated and cordoned off the hotel. Some members of the American corporate press were there - but the public will never know about it: Bilderberg news is not fit to print - or broadcast. No journalists from any media controlled by Bilderberg multinational tycoons such as Rupert Murdoch were or will be allowed to report it. Even if they somehow managed to crash the party. There's no business like (private) elite business.

(Copyright 2003 Asia Times)

Interesting essay on the trinity as three gods:

Mary(P) & Tri-unity

Mustafa Ahmed & M S M Saifullah

© Islamic Awareness, All Rights Reserved.

Last Modified: 1st September 1999


Assalamu-alaikum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:

The following verses in the Qur'ân say about Mary(P) being the part of Trinity.

And behold! Allah will say: "O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, 'Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah'?" He will say: "Glory to Thee! Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, though I know not what in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden. [Qur'ân 5:116]

O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger from Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not "Three": desist: It will be better for you: For Allah is One God: Glory be to Him: (Far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. [Qur'ân 4:171]

Therefore, the Christian missionaries for quite sometime have been saying that Muhammad(P) 'misunderstood' the true concept of Trinity, i.e, which says the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit constitute the trinitarian godhead.

Rev. W. St. Clair Tisdall in his book The Original Sources Of The Qur'ân says under Muhammad's Misconception Of The Doctrine Of The Trinity.

...Muhammad heard certain Christians make that there are three Gods, that is to say God the Father, Mary, and Jesus. It is perfectly plain from these verses that Muhammad really did believe that the Christian doctrine inculcated belief in three separate Divine persons, Jesus and Mary being two of them. But our third quotation implies that Muhammad - probably from what he had seen of "Christian" worship - thought that the order was Jesus, Mary, God, or Mary, Jesus, God. No reasonable man will wonder at the indignation with which Muhammad in God's name abjures such blasphemy. We must all feel regret that the idolatrous worship offered to Mary led Muhammad to believe that people who called her "Queen of Heaven" and "Mother of God" really attributed to her Divine attributes.[1]

After a bit of Catholic-bashing, Tisdall laments:

Had he been taught that the doctrine of the Unity of God is the very foundation of the Christian faith, he might have become a Christian reformer. He can never have heard the true explanation of the doctrine of Trinity in Unity, otherwise he would have learnt that Christian theologians spoke of the Father not as "the Third of Three" but as the very "Fount of Deity".[2]

It is quite clear that Tisdall is pretty much aware of the famous heresies in Arabia during the advent of Islam. George Sale in the preliminary discourse to his translation of The Koran writes:

But, to be more particular as to the nation we are now writing of, Arabia was of old famous for heresies; which might be in some measure attributed to the liberty and independency of the tribes. Some of the Christians of that nation believed the soul died with the body, and was to be raised again with it at the last day: these Origen is said to have convinced. Among the Arabs it was that the heresies of Ebion, Beryllus, and the Nazareans, and also that of the Collyridians, were broached, or at least propagated; the latter introduced the Virgin Mary for God, or worshipped her as such offering her a sort of twisted cake called collyris, whence the sect had its name.

This notion of the divinity of the Virgin Mary was also believed by some at the Council of Nice, who said there were two gods besides the Father viz. Christ and the virgin Mary, and were thence named Mariamites. Others imagined her to be exempt from humanity, and deified; which goes but little beyond the popish superstition in calling her the complement of the Trinity, as if it were imperfect without her. This foolish imagination is justly condemned in the Koran as idolatrous, and gave a handle to Mohammed to attack the Trinity itself.[3]

Commenting on verse 4:171, George Sale says:

Namely, God, Jesus and Mary. For the eastern writers mention a sect of Christians which held the Trinity to be composed of those three; but it is allowed that this heresy has been long since extinct. The passage, however, is equally levelled against the Holy Trinity, according to the doctrine of the orthodox Christians, who, as Al Beidawi acknowledges, believe the divine nature to consist of three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; by the Father, understanding God's essence, by the Son, his knowledge, and by the Holy Ghost, his life.[4]

It is pretty clear that whether the 'Holy' Trinity composed of the Father, Jesus(P) and the Mary(P) or the Father, Jesus(P) and the Holy Spirit are equally condemned in the Qur'ân. Any association of partners with the God is unacceptable.

Further Edward Gibbon in his book The History of The Decline & Fall Of The Roman Empire says:

The Christians of the seventh century had insensibly relapsed into a semblance of paganism: their public and private vows were addressed to the relics and images that disgraced the temples of the East: the throne of the Almighty was darkened by the clouds of martyrs, and saints, and angels, the objects of popular veneration; and the Collyridian heretics, who flourished in the fruitful soil of Arabia, invested the Virgin Mary with the name and honours of a goddess.[5]

So, there existed a sect in Arabia which exalted Mary(P) to goddess and included her in the godhead along with the Father and Jesus(P).

St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Constantia, in Cyprus, writing in the fourth century against the Collyridians, says:

"After this a heresy appeared, which we have already mentioned slightly by means of the letter written in Arabia about Mary. And this heresy was again made public in Arabia from Thrace and the upper parts of Scythia, and was brought to our ears, which to men of understanding will be found ridiculous and laughable. We will begin to trace it out, and to relate concerning it. It will be judged (to partake of) silliness rather than of sense, as is the case with other like it. For, as formerly, out of insolence towards Mary, those whose opinions were such sowed hurtful ideas in the reflexions of men, so otherwise these, leaning to the other side, fall into the utmost harm...... For the harm is equal in both these heresies, the one belittling the holy Virgin, the other again glorifying her over-much. For who should it be that teach thus but women? for the race of women is slippery, fallible, and humble-minded...... For some women deck out a koutrkon that is to say, a square stool, spreading upon it a linen cloth, on some solemn day of the year, for some days they lay out bread, and offer it in the name of Mary. All the women partake of the bread, as we related in the letter to Arabia, writing partly about that...... Yea, verily, the body of Mary was holy, but was surely not God. Verily, the Virgin was a virgin, and was honoured, but was not given to us to worship; but she worships Him who was born from her according to the flesh, having come from heaven out of the Father's bosom......" This offering and eating of cakes was probably derived from the worship of Artemis.[6]

Apart from the misogynist comments, St. Epiphanius makes quite clear basics of the Collyridian heresy. It is worthwhile adding that even to this day, the Catholic Christians consider Mary(P) as the Mother of God and prayers are sent to her.

Recently, it was heard from the Christian missionaries that the Qur'ân does not condemn the 'true' Trinity, i.e., which says the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit constitute the godhead. In fact, the Qur'ân itself condemns all sorts of shirk, i.e., associating partners with Allah. It would not matter if the Trinity was composed of any permutations and combinations of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit or the Mary or even Martin Luther King or Calvin or Pope. It would still be considered as associating partners with Allah. The above verse of the Qur'ân 4:171, For Allah is One God, is enough to refute any such bizarre argument. It is equally clear even in the Old Testament & The New Testament that the God is one God without any partners.

Ye [are] my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I [am] he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, [even] I, [am] the LORD; and beside me [there is] no savior." [Isaiah 43:10-11]

"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God [is] one LORD" [Deuteronomy 6:4]

"And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment." [Mark 12:29-30]

The above verses speak of themselves.

W M Watt ponders in his book Muhammad At Medina:

One of the remarkable features of the relationship between Muslims and Christians is that neither Muhammad nor any of the Companions seems to have been aware of some of the fundamental Christian doctrines. Apart from the reference to the crucifixion (which is primarily a denial of Jewish claim), and the mention of the twelve apostles as the 'helpers' of Jesus, and of the miracles of healing and raising the dead, there is nothing in the Qur'ân about the adult life and teaching of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament. The early Muslims gave Jesus the title Messiah (Masih) but did not appreciate that it involved a claim to be 'God's anointed'. They did not understand the distinctive work of Jesus in redeeming the world and atoning for its sins. They did not realize that the Holy Spirit was regarded by Christians as the third person in the Godhead. It is indeed remarkable that there should have been among the Muslims over such a wide area this absence of knowledge of Christianity. The blame for this state of affairs probably rests on those Christians with whom Muhammad and his Companions were in contact, who may themselves have had little appreciation of the doctrines mentioned. Nevertheless the 'absence of knowledge' remains, and in the thirteen centuries since Muhammad's time few Muslims have done anything to fill the lacuna.[7]

It is amazing that even Orientalists like Watt cannot come out of the 'true' Trinitarian doctrine and think of the infamous Christian heresies which were in Arabia during the advent of Islam.

Finally, it is quite clear that the doctrine of Trinity evolved and took its final shape nearly 350 years of CE. But before that:

Christianity in the second and third centuries was in a remarkable state of flux. To be sure, at no point in its history has the religion constituted a monolith. But the diverse manifestations of its first three hundred years - whether in terms of social structures, religious practices, or ideologies - have never been replicated.

Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the realm of theology. In the second and third centuries there were, of course, Christians who believed in only one God; others, however, claimed that there were two Gods; yet others subscribed to 30, or 365, or more. Some Christians accepted the Hebrew Scriptures as a revelation of the one true God, the sacred possession of all believers; others claimed that the scriptures had been inspired by an evil deity. Some Christians believed that God had created the world and was soon going to redeem it; others said that God neither had created the world nor had ever had any dealings with it. Some Christians believed that Christ was somehow both a man and God; others said that he was a man, but not God; others claimed that he was God but not a man; others insisted that he was a man who had been temporarily inhabited by God. Some Christians believed that Christ's death had brought about the salvation of the world; others claimed that his death had no bearing on salvation; yet others alleged that he had never even died.[8]

So, in conclusion, there is no point calling the modern day trinitarian Christianity as 'true' Christianity and all others as 'false' since the evolution of this doctrine itself is very late. The early Christianity had bizarre beliefs about their doctrine as well as their Scriptures. Moreover the Jesus(P) and early Church Fathers were utterly unaware of this doctrine and they never practiced it. Would then the modern day 'true' Christianity brand them as heretics?

Other Articles Related To The Historical Errors

Mary, Sister Of Aaron?

Al-cAzîz & Potiphar

Qur'ânic Accuracy Vs. Biblical Error: The Kings & Pharaohs Of Egypt

The 'Samaritan' Error In The Qur'ân

Islamic Awareness Qur'ân Contradictions External Mary(P) & Tri-Unity



[1] Rev. W. St. Clair Tisdall, The Original Sources Of The Qur'ân, 1905, Society For The Promotion Of Christian Knowledge, London, pp. 180-181.

[2] Ibid, p. 181.

[3] George Sale, The Koran, IX Edition of 1923, J B Lippincott Company, London, p. 25.

[4] Ibid, p. 81

[5] Edward Gibbon, The History of The Decline & Fall Of The Roman Empire, 1994, Penguin Books, p. 177.

[6] Charles H H Wright & Charles Neil (Editors), A Protestant Dictionary, 1904, Hodder & Stoughton, London, p. 390 (Under Mary, The Virgin).

[7] W Montgomery Watt, Muhammad At Medina, Oxford At The Clarendon Press, 1956, p. 320.

[8] Bart D Ehrman, The Orthdox Corruption Of Scripture: The Effect Of Early Christological Controversies On The Text Of The New Testament, 1993, Oxford University Press, London & New York, p. 3.

posted at 01:14:40 PM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Sunday,May 18,2003

Given the level of collective denial (the class consciousness of the oppressor and the false consciousness of the oppressed), if someone started a Capitalists Anonymous organization, would any body come?

There certainly is an objective reality. One cannot do science without accepting the existence of an objective universe and the possibility of understanding it. However, how that reality is interpreted (understood), after having been sensed, is the task of theory. The objective of science, in this regard, is to design a theory which is isomorphic with reality, i.e., which results in the best fit. Since there can never be a necessary relationship between objective reality and the words we use to describe it, the best we can do is to produce historically dependent social constructions. Indeed, life itself is a process of lay theorizing, of attempting to model our experiences in the most subjectively (substantively) logical fashion

Ontological realism is a theoretical issue, and can be rejected by scientists. Epistemic realism is a methodological issue and cannot be rejected without transforming science into philosophical solipsism.

The following excellent article on science and social constructionism is taken from Science, Technology, and Social Change, Steven Yearly, Unwin Hyman (1988):


The Authority of Science:

Knowledge, Truth and



In the introduction to this book the idea was put forward that scientific knowledge should be regarded as socially constructed. This idea will be explored in greater detail in this chapter; objections to this view will be considered as well. Some important implications of the social constructionist view will also be examined; particularly, it will be necessary to ask whether a socially constructed science can still count as valid knowledge and what consequences the social constructionist view holds for the authority claimed by scientists.

To begin with we need an account of what is meant by the social construction of knowledge. The most well known account of the construction of social reality is to be found in the work of Berger and Luckmann (1971). These authors began with an apparent paradox. From a disinterested standpoint it appears that many socially important beliefs differ vastly from one culture to another; that is, they appear merely to be conventions. Yet for members of those cultures, the beliefs they hold are enormously real and seem simply to reflect the way the world is. As a prime example Berger and Luckmann cite beliefs about sexual morality. In most cultures there is a strong sense of correct sexual conduct and behaviour in conformity with the approved morality is held to be natural. But, these authors assert, virtually every conceivable sexual practice is regarded as normal somewhere. Hence the feeling


The Authority of Science

that one's own practices are die natural form of sexual conduct cannot be straightforwardly accepted.

This state of affairs holds for other beliefs too, beliefs about morality, religion, educational practices, gender roles and so on. The vast diversity of beliefs which cultural anthropologists have been able to record appears to conflict markedly with people's intuitions that only their society's (or their subculture's) practices are justifiable and satisfactory. Whilst actually being hugely variable from one society to another, beliefs generally seem completely beyond question to the members of any particular culture. To Berger and Luckmann this indicates that a prime task for sociology must be to understand how widely differing beliefs are generated and how these beliefs attain their compelling quality for the members of a society. Accordingly, these authors state (1971, p. 15) that:

the sociology of knowledge must concern itself with whatever passes for 'knowledge' in a society, regardless of the ultimate validity or invalidity (by whatever criteria) of such 'knowledge'. And in so far as all human 'knowledge' is developed, transmitted and maintained in social situations, the sociology of knowledge must seek to understand the processes by which this is done in such a way that a taken-for-granted 'reality' congeals for the man in the street. In other words, we contend that the sociology of knowledge is concerned with the analysis of the social construction of reality [italics in original].

Berger and Luckmann do not directly address the issue of the status of scientific knowledge; instead they concentrate on beliefs which are of widespread importance in everyday life like morality and religion. But there is clearly a potential problem with the analysis of science hinted at in the above quotation since science is aimed at transcending 'whatever passes for "knowledge"' and at establishing findings of 'ultimate validity'. In the face of such an objective these authors' statements appear distinctly equivocal. Advocates of science would respond to Berger and Luckmann by claiming that it is an exceptional form of knowledge. Indeed, unless it is an exception, scientific knowledge would be in danger of losing the kind of authority which was described in the Introduction.


Science, Technology, and Social Change

The Status of Scientific Knowledge

The issue of the status of scientific knowledge is best approached through a direct consideration of the foundations of science's authority. There are two fundamental appeals which can be made in defence of its authority. Science may be said to be an exceptional form of knowledge because it is based on facts or because it is uniquely true - its truth being indicated by a variety of forms of evidence including its utility. Other important areas of human belief could be said to lack these forms of validation since, for example, moral convictions are known to be evaluative and are not based simply on generalizations from observed instances of moral conduct. Since moral beliefs do not reflect reality but are intended to dictate to it, sociological analysts are comparatively at ease with the idea that opinions may vary from one culture to another. It is said, therefore, that such beliefs are culturally relative. Scientific ideas, on the other hand, are thought to be validated by their correspondence with the natural world. Under these circumstances there ought not to be room for differences of opinion; diverging interpretations would have to be put down to one person's error or to uncertainty.

Our confidence in the ability of facts to validate scientific beliefs often draws support from the analogy with perception. Facts are often taken to be evident in the same way that the things we see are evident; we are passive recipients of knowledge in the same way as we receive the evidence of our senses. However, this analogy ironically works to undermine the case which it is supposed to support since perception is far from the passive operation that this argument implies. Observation goes far beyond the simple bombardment of our retinas with light, since objects which we 'see' as the same present very different appearances to the eye. As sunlight is reduced by a passing cloud, the colour and appearance of objects - as measured, for example, by a light meter - change yet we regard the image of objects as staying the same. We can retain the constancy of an object despite approaching it from many different angles. Equally, of all the potentially available visual information available at any time we use only a minute amount. Seeing is usually the imposition of interpretative schemas on to the available information; observation is a fusion of interpretation and the reception of light. The extent to which humans customarily depend on interpretation in seeing is demonstrable through trompes l'oeil (trick paintings which convince us, for instance, that a solid brick facade has windows in it or that a drinks cabinet is really


The Authority of Science

a set of bookshelves) or through experiments in the psychology of perception where, for example, we see lines drawn on a plane surface as a three-dimensional object (Collins, 1983a, pp. 88-90).

Just as perceptions have to be worked at, so do observations of facts. An unskilled observer allowed to wander in a forest will experience great difficulty in 'observing' the different kinds of trees, for there are likely to be as many variations between members of one species as there are between the differing types. The difficulties would be magnified if the observation were done over a protracted time period so that buds came and went, fruits appeared or leaves fell. Skilled sylviculturalists on the other hand would not only immediately see the kinds of tree but would be able to observe higher-level kinds of similarity between different species; see signs of health and vitality (or their absence); and see whether the season was late or early. This is not of course to throw any practical doubt on the usefulness of foresters' perceptions. It is, however, to cast suspicion on the idea that science is valid because scientists see the world plainly. All useful seeing is skilled seeing.

However, the status of scientific facts is even more complex than this analogy with perception reveals. Many scientific observations are made with machines; one observes an electric current or radiation from space not with one's senses but with an instrument. Scientific observations, particularly in the context of experiments, also have to be separated out from chance occurrences. Even scientific apparatus appears to be inhabited by gremlins, and the observation of a change in a meter reading or of blips on a pen-chart has to be divided into real facts and mere artefacts. Furthermore, the frontier of things which count as factual observations tends to shift as scientific ideas change, so that what would at one time have been regarded as hypothetical - images from an experimental telescope, for example - comes later to be regarded as unproblematic observation. Finally, the facts of interest to scientists are commonly not isolated facts but facts about classes of things such as that dandelions have runcinate leaves. Yet no one could have observed all dandelions, particularly not prehistoric or future ones, and so there is something undeniably conjectural about such factual claims.

In some ways, however, it might be argued that these objections to the idea of the primacy of observation are contrived; they are not real difficulties but are made-up problems. Academics, it might be said, often appear to be attracted to made-up problems like the stereotypical philosopher's anxiety that all life might be a dream. But these problems are not fictional ones; they do have a relevance for at least two reasons. First, the kind of certainty


Science, Technology, and Social Change

which the factual foundation of Science is supposed to offer is an 'in principle' kind. The factual basis of science should secure it even against imagined challenges or 'thought experiments'. Turning back for the moment to the implied contrast with moral relativism, we can easily imagine that claims to the effect that sexual practices or gender roles might be different would seem far-fetched in a morally closed society. Suggestions that women might participate in government might be seen as all too dreamlike. Yet we would not respect the argument that these challenges to morality were 'contrived' or 'fanciful'. Absolute moral certainty crumbles once one accepts the principle that all our beliefs could reasonably be otherwise. So too does the naive confidence in the factual basis of scientific belief Second, and more persuasively, it is anyway the case that just these sorts of issues do get questioned in scientific disputes. The study of controversies has been one of the principal areas of investigation in recent years by sociologists of science precisely because the apparent certainty of observation is undermined in these circumstances (Collins, 1981; Mulkay, 1980). In a recent study of solar neutrinos Pinch (1981) has provided a valuable example of these kind of factors. Solar neutrinos are curious, virtually massless and chargeless particles, generated as a by-product of the nuclear reactions in the sun, which travel through space to the earth. They are of interest because of the information they can impart about the nature of the sun. Pinch reports however that a conflict exists between the expected flux of these particles, based on other sources of knowledge about the form of reaction proceeding in the sun, and the actual measures of the flux. In such a clash of interpretations the observation of the flux at the earth's surface might be expected to take precedence; it is after all an observation.

But the nature of the observational activity makes this preference less obviously justifiable. Being massless and chargeless the particles cannot be observed in any routine sense; rather they can only be detected because the neutrinos are believed to cause a specific isotope of chlorine to transmute into an isotope of argon. This latter isotope is radioactive and the number of incoming neutrinos can be estimated on the basis of the amount of radioactive argon formed. The difficulty is that the target material, containing the chlorine, has to be of a vast size to generate a measurable number of transmutations. Around 100,000 gallons of the target material have to be contained in a tank. The tank itself must be housed underground in order to avoid the influence of other particles striking the earth which might affect the chlorine; these are believed


The Authority of Science

to be effectively filtered out by the burial beneath rock. Still, out of this vast mass of target only a few atoms will be affected, and so the argon has to be flushed out of the tank and concentrated before it can be accurately measured. The observation of the neutrinos is a far from straightforward process. For one thing the whole business of observing is dependent on pre-existing theories: theories about radiation counters for measuring the argon; theories about transmutation for reliably generating the argon from chlorine; and theories about the neutrinos themselves which account for their unique ability to penetrate the rock above the tank. There are huge areas for potential error, for example in the flushing of the argon out of the tank. As one interviewed scientist explained, 'The experiment is so complicated and it's so big ... there must be something in this experiment that's not coining out right' (Pinch, 1981, p. 140). Other participants made an even more explicit point about the dependence of the observation on other untestable assumptions (Pinch, 1981, p.140): 'He has to make estimates of the cosmic-ray background, for example ... It has to be calculated, it's not actually measured.. .1 think he has to extrapolate' (ellipsis in original). The opacity of the rock above the tank to other forms of radiation is queried by this scientist. All through, the observation is based on interpretations alongside the brute observing. Even the final counting of the number of argon atoms is done with a machine and not with one's senses.

Overall, therefore, this observation of facts about neutrinos is not free of any of the limitations on scientific perception listed above; in this instance those limitations are not contrived. The observation is based on machines and not on one's senses and it depends on prior theories (about, for example, other cosmic ray phenomena). Furthermore, the claim is about solar neutrinos per se rather than about the flux on any particular day; yet the expense of the experiment means that it can be done only in one particular location and for relatively short periods of time; so the practical problem resembles the case, mentioned earlier, of observing all dandelion leaves. Finally the success of the observation depends on the routine correctness of the steps in the experiment even when they are as problematic as looking for a few atoms in 100,000 gallons. As a nuclear physicist exclaimed (Pinch, 1981, p. 140): '1 find it very hard to see how we can pick up a few of these argon-37's, and maybe you are losing some of them.. .I just sit back here and think of this enormous big tank... and you are tying to flush out a few atoms' (ellipsis in original).


Science, Technology, and Social Change

Such problems are not confined to sciences dealing with invisible entities either. In the course of a series of interviews conducted by the author with life scientists researching the origin of life on earth, a palaeontologist stated that biologists unaccustomed to the difficulties of observing small traces of life in very old rocks had mistakenly 'seen' signs of organic life. He claimed (cited in Yearley, 1987a, p.85):

the people that did the work had never looked at the sort of, never looked down a microscope before, couldn't have done because there's paper tissues, there's bits off their jumper, hair and dandruff 'n' [laughing] all the pollen that you get out of the air in there.

No doubt every scientist has, in the most literal sense, looked down a microscope, but the speaker here discounts the kind of 'seeing' that other scientists have done. Seeing in science is evidently very difficult especially at the forefront of knowledge. Before the scientist knows what he or she is looking for it is very hard to spot it unequivocally. These biologists were looking for early life and found organic molecules in early rocks, but according to the palaeontologist above this was insufficient. Of course once the majority of scientists have agreed about the kind of life that is being looked for, it becomes relatively easy for the practised observer to identify it. This, however, is the crucial issue since it is precisely at the forefront where new knowledge is being established that observation should matter. Ironically, it is just at this point that observation encounters great practical difficulties. It supplies information but not indisputable facts. Just because science is based on observation, that does not mean that scientific knowledge is unquestionable or undeniably right. It could be observationally based and constructed at the same time. Current scientific beliefs may just be one way of construing the information we receive from the natural world.

The alternative argument for the non-constructed nature of scientific belief comes from the apparent truth of science. One could say that it is precisely because science works, for example that it allows us to develop new technologies, that we know it must be correct. Clearly the utility of science is a crucially important consideration, although, as will be seen in subsequent chapters, this utility is not as straightforward as might be thought. But if we return to the analogy with morals for a moment it will be easier to assess the strengths of this argument. While it would


The Authority of Science

be correct to accept that the utility of science is good evidence for its cognitive worth, it is at best only evidence for the truth of scientific beliefs and not proof In a directly analogous manner we find that throughout the world, as has been mentioned, a great variety of moral and religious belief systems are found to work. People behave in an orderly and emotionally satisfying way and that has always counted for them, if they have ever considered it worth thinking about, as evidence for the validity of their moral system. From an outside standpoint, however, we can say that its adequacy is no more than that - adequacy. It is not in any clear way evidence for the conclusive rightness of any particular system of morality. Equally, the utility and practical sufficiency of science can show only adequacy; we may believe that it hints at something more than this, at some kind of transcendental correctness, but this is a hunch. If one is going to take a disinterested look at the role of science in contemporary social development it is better not to stake anything on this hunch at the outset.

It can be seen, therefore, that this second anti-constructionist argument takes one of two major forms, neither of which should trouble the constructionist. The first form is that of an appeal to how certain we feel about science. Surely, it might be said, we would not feel this certain about a construct. But as we have seen, cultural anthropologists record that other peoples have equally strong feelings about moral or religious issues, and we do not regard those peoples' intuitions as indicating that their knowledge is really of a special order. Equally, we evidently used to feel strongly enough about religious heresy to burn people on account of it yet we now consider those intuitions to have been mistaken. Appeals to intuition seem to have been a bad guide in matters of epistemology. The second sort of claim - about evidence for the quality of science - actually comes very close to circularity. Commentators are often concerned to persuade us of the truth of science in order to get us to take science seriously - to take its advice or accept its authority. Science's truth is of interest because it gives us grounds for believing that the recommendations of science will work. Yet at the same time we are often invited to take the utility of science as 'proving' its truth. When these two halves of the argument are put together it appears that an abstract inquiry into the general truth of science is likely to be most unrewarding.

It should of course be borne in mind that to say that science is only adequate is not to belittle it. For one thing, to be adequate for the whole range of things it offers us is quite an achievement. Moreover, no other beliefs or theories could be any more than


Science, Technology, and Social Change

adequate in this sense either. The argument being advanced here is not that science is less true than other types of belief; it is rather that there is no point in rushing to give science more dignity than it currently holds by saying that, on top of all its other qualities, it is also true.

Revitalizing the Adequacy of Science

Up to this point the aim of the discussion has been to argue that the immediate and intuitive grounds for denying the constructed nature of scientific beliefs are not persuasive. Scientific beliefs can be about facts as well as being constructs; equally, they can be both adequate and constructed. But the argument has not rested there. Many commentators, mostly philosophers and scientists, have felt that science has to be more than a construct or at least a very special kind of construct. A number of authors have attempted to spell out formally the basis for this feeling that science is special. By and large they have adopted one or other of two strategies for identifying the special features of science. Either they have sought specific rules for the rational manipulation of constructs or they have looked for the particular values which inform the selection of constructs in science. Both these strategies centre on the ways in which scientists handle conflicting constructs; they focus on the resolution or closure of competing interpretations. Closure and resolution will turn out to be key themes. It is now worthwhile looking at these two strategies in turn.

Authors who adopt the first approach are often described as 'conventionalists'. This name indicates that they accept that scientific beliefs are in many respects a stylized and conventionalized portrayal of the natural world. For example, throughout the eighteenth century the influence of Newton's work was strongly felt in all the areas we would now regard as sciences. Accordingly the natural and experimental philosophers of the time generally looked for explanations of natural phenomena in terms of interactions between underlying particles. The reflection of a beam of light off a mirror could be accounted for in terms of light particles rebounding off the mirror's surface like a succession of balls off a wall. The interpretation of ill-understood natural phenomena as though they were made tip of the action of particles was a convention. It went beyond pure observation; indeed it made sensible observation possible since it directed people towards appropriate objects and experiments to look at.


The Authority of Science

The next step taken by conventionalist writers is to argue that what is special about science is the attitude adopted towards these conventions. Scientists are critical of the conventions they subscribe to at the moment. Conventions are only provisionally accepted. And there are particular circumstances under which scientists are willing to move from one convention to another. There are, so to speak, definite rules for moving from one interpretative set to an alternative. It is these rules which lend science its uniqueness and which lift the conventions of science above the status of mere constructs.

This position is clearly quite different from the ideal of science as a growing stock of observational knowledge. Such a view of the simple, incremental growth of science had anyway been disrupted by the argument, famously associated with the historian Kuhn (1970) but noted also by other authors (Hanson, 1965; Toulmin, 1961), that scientific knowledge tends to grow in an uneven way. Major cognitive changes are followed by long periods of quiet growth which, in turn, are interrupted by another cognitive revolution. Thus, for centuries people successfully believed that the sun rotated around the earth and managed to generate complex and accurate accounts of the planets' motions, the occasions of eclipses and so on. This whole tradition of work was interrupted by a cognitive change in which the sun was moved to the centre and the earth was relegated to the status of a middling planet. Such immense alterations of opinion look rather like a change in social constructs; they might be thought to resemble a society's religious transformation (the Roman adoption of Christianity) or a change in morality (concerning women's right to choose a marriage partner). Conventionalists accept that these changes are indeed changes in convention, or research programme as they term scientists' conventions. But they argue that these changes are rationally compelling. They are not just changes but changes for the better. And the fact that they are for the better can be demonstrated with respect to rules for choosing between research programmes. An example will usefully illustrate what is at stake here.

At the close of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth there was great interest in the natural history of the earth. It was widely accepted that a great many rocks occurred in strata and that these strata corresponded to the order of formation of the rock types. Other rocks, such as granites, were said to be unstratified. They did not appear to exhibit such a regular ordering and even seemed to cut across the other formations. There existed two predominant interpretations of the formation of rocks; some


Science, Technology, and Social Change

investigators (often referred to as 'Neptunians') argued that the prime factor in shaping the development of the earth was water. The rocks had been successively deposited from a primeval ocean, and this lent them their regular order. Such authors ascribed the unstratified rocks to short-term, local inundations.

Opposing views were put forward by scientists (or natural philosophers as they would have styled themselves) who concentrated on unstratified rocks. According to these 'Plutonists', such rocks had resulted from the cooling down of molten material which had flowed into place. There were thus two research programmes. One set of people claimed that rocks were basically deposits from oceans and that water was the most important geological agent. Others insisted that the most general model was the cooling of molten rocks and that heat was the predominant influence. Several points can be displayed from this short account of this episode. Neither side's views were wholly the result of observation, although supporters of both sides were careful to make observations By necessity, much geological information is buried beneath the ground, so that all the facts were available only by arguing by extension from what could be seen. Nobody had seen the formation of much rock in any case. On one side people had witnessed occasional volcanic eruptions and concluded that this was symptomatic of the formation of new rock from the molten state. Others had seen the build-up of sediments at river mouths and in lakes and thus seen the beginning of something that looked (somewhat) like mudstone or clay. But the formation of the earth's rocks had not been observed. In this sense both interpretations were conventions: they went beyond the facts at hand.

It should be stressed that both sides had good evidence; in this sense both cases were scientific. But, equally, both sides had weaknesses. There were limestones and sandstones which looked like hardened sediments. These argued for a watery origin for rocks. Yet rocks of this type were found high up on dry land, sometimes thousands of feet above sea level, and bearing all the marks of having been marine sediments. It was frequently asked where all the water had gone from the oceans. On the other hand, advocates of the importance of heat were faced with the problem that volcanic rocks formed today resembled only a small minority of the rocks on the earth's surface. Sometimes limestone rocks were found in close association with the rocks that were supposed to have formed from a melt, and yet limestones were known to decompose when heated. Worse still, in experimental trials in which common unstratifed rocks were melted down and then cooled, the molten


The Authority of Science

rocks turned into glassy substances rather than solids with a stony appearance. Both sides offered wide explanatory power going beyond the facts at hand, both had strong supporting evidence but both also were confronted with anomalies.

The rationalist argument is that this is precisely the point at which the particular rationality of science is displayed. The resolution of this conflict of interpretations is the place where the specific characteristics of science are revealed. Each research programme has central tenets which are linked to actual observations through a series of supplementary claims. Scientists will tend to respond to the criticisms of their opponents by seeking to make sense of and explain the anomalies to which their opponents have drawn their attention. They will attempt to bring the anomalies into line with their central commitments. These philosophers accept that from a logical point of view some alteration in the peripheral band of supplementary claims can always be made to account for the anomaly; none the less as the use of these alibis builds up, one interpretation will tend to become more and more plausible at the expense of the other.

To illustrate what is meant here: the existence of limestone in close association with the unstratified rocks can be made sense of if we employ the additional idea that at the time the two rocks were some distance underground and that the pressure of burial prevented the limestone breaking down by giving off gas. An Edinburgh scientist, James Hall, went to the trouble of building a pressurized apparatus in order to show that at great pressure limestones can endure high heat without breaking down. Hall was able to add a new, supplementary proposition which preserved the theory of igneous formation in the face of an apparent anomaly (Yearley, 1984a, pp.28-9). His experiment appeared to be widely accepted and thus provided a plausible defence of his central commitments. In this way, an apparent clash with known facts is tolerated and may spur scientists on to find new information which undermines the supposed counter-evidence. As scientists respond to each other's claims and counter-claims the relative merit or convincingness of the two sides changes. A second factor is also very significant: special importance is attached to the ability of one interpretation to anticipate some as yet unknown finding which the other does not predict. Many conventionalists claim that a great alteration in the plausibility of the competing sides is actually effected in this fashion. If, for example, the proponents of the influence of water had argued that the water had drained off into underground cavities and such cavities were found, then


Science, Technology, and Social Change

the prediction of a novel observation would have been especially deserving of favourable attention. Essentially, these philosophers argue that science is rational because the way in which choices are made between competing interpretations is bound by ground rules (like the injunction to value novel predictions over explanations of existing observations). As scientific work progresses, one interpretation will come to be favoured, and personnel will switch over to the research programme on the ascendant.

This modified rationalist account of science is both attractive and descriptively useful. It offers a view of the growth of science which does justice to the complexity of scientific argument. The question is whether this interpretation of the growth of scientific knowledge is sufficient to offer a prescription for the rational growth of science. This philosophers' account may be descriptively helpful but does it achieve the philosophical task it set out to perform? The rationalist argument is that rules are available for choosing between competing research programmes. There are two problems with the use of these rules. First, the rules face great practical difficulties. They appear to work best if there is an even contest between competing research programmes. Under these circumstances advocates of either side are free to respond to the new claims and counter-claims of their opponents. Suppose, to take the geological case cited above, the contestants had been free to develop their work and the advocates of rock formation by heat had achieved the following breakthroughs. They had succeeded in answering all the counter-claims of their opponents (for example, they had explained how rocks could form from a molten condition without forming a glass and they had shown how limestone and igneous rocks could occur in close proximity) and they had stated claims which their adversaries could not match. They might, for example, have been able to explain how volcanoes arose and how unstratified rocks like granites came into being whereas their opponents had to invoke ad hoc explanations to make sense of these phenomena. Under such circumstances the igneous theorists would be in a very strong position.

In practical terms, however, such a circumstance is unlikely. For one thing scientists have to decide for the present what is likely to be correct and what is not, and choose their work accordingly. They do not have the leisure to wait for the evidence to come out. Moreover, in any real scientific dispute the contest is almost certain not to be fair. It may simply be harder to get evidence for one theory than for another. Even two hundred years later we know very little about the earth's crust. Some sorts of evidence are just hard to conic by. Career pressures or the availability of


The Authority of Science

jobs, material and funds may influence individual scientists as to where to work and with whom to co-operate. New scientists will emerge from a prolonged period of training during which they are likely to have been persuaded that the view of one school or the other is more plausible. In all these ways social and psychological pressures militate against the occurrence of a truly fair contest. The rationalists' own position is unstable in this regard since they are obliged to talk of scientists being persuaded to favour the ascending programme. We cannot tell for anyone who is persuaded whether it was good scientific evidence alone or that and practical considerations which decided her or him.

Rationalists may retort by claiming that their theory is in any case an 'in principle' idea and not subject to criticisms for impracticality. Impractical rules are not of much use of course, but even if one accepts the restriction to in principle matters the outlook is not good. As has been stated, in most actual scientific disputes we cannot wait for the contest to run its course. One interpretation will not decisively oust the other; rather there will be a balance of pros and cons. This situation of balance cannot be handled by these rules. But even in the imaginary case outlined above, the issue is not straightforward. The philosophy is supposed to offer a procedure for telling when one programme is rationally superior to the other; but even if all the odds favoured the igneous theorists, a staunch opponent could still insist that time would favour the competitor. Unless some arbitrary time limit is imposed the rationalist argument does not instruct us when people must switch over. Thus the very things which lend this theory its descriptive attractions - the fact that it talks of persuasion and plausibility - are its undoing, for it makes it too subject to psychological and social pressures influencing judgement and unable to offer a logical and rationally compelling point at which beliefs must be exchanged. The description is attractive (although not necessarily more so than one which generalized from sociological or historical case studies) but it is philosophically insufficient to recover absolute rationality in science.

Scientific Values

If rules do not accomplish the task set out by rationalist authors of setting science apart from other forms of belief, another basis will have to sought on which scientific authority can be erected. The other popular recourse for philosophical analysts has been


Science, Technology, and Social Change

values. Kuhn, whose early work was mentioned above, sought to reduce or overcome the relativistic consequences of these earlier studies by suggesting that scientists used a number of values for assessing the merits of rival scientific theories or research programmes. He proposed (1977, p.322) that scientists prize highly the following five 'standard criteria for evaluating the adequacy of ~ theory': accuracy, consistency, scope, simplicity and fruitfulness. In assessing theories scientists will, on this view (1977, pp.321-2), evaluate them along the following dimensions:

(1) The 'consequences deducible from a theory should be in demonstrated agreement with the results of existing experiments and observations'.

(2) The theory ought to be consistent internally and 'also with other currently accepted

theories applicable to related aspects of nature'.

(3) The 'theory's consequences should extend far beyond the particular observations, laws, or subtheories it was initially designed to explain'.

(4) It ought to bring 'order to phenomena that in its absence would be individually isolated and, as a set, confused'.

(5) The 'theory should be fruitful of new research findings'.

Kuhn argues that scientists recognize that these features are desirable in scientific knowledge. To put it in the rhetoric of cereal-packet competitions, they use their 'skill and judgement' to assess the relative merits of contending interpretations in the light of these values. The scientific community is the sole authority on the comparative standing of scientific ideas; the values which guide the growth of science are those which scientists collectively decide on. There is no other authority to which appeal can be made. As Kuhn states later in the same paragraph (1977, p.322) 'they provide tire shared basis for theory choice' (italics added). These criteria are just a distillation of what scientists are found to do. One could, in an equivalent way, set out criteria encapsulating the activities of post-expressionist painters or fashion designers.

In Kuhn's statements, however, there remains an uncertainty about the precise nature, source and status of these criteria. For one thing he accepts that the above is not an exhaustive listing; of these five values he says (1977, p.321): '1 select five, not because they are exhaustive, but because they are individually important and collectively sufficiently varied to indicate what is at stake.' However, unless all the values could be listed it is hard to understand


The Authority of Science

in what sense the values can be said to direct scientific decisions. Second, the status of the individual values is unclear. There is a tension between the view that they are simply generalizations about the values which scientists happen to honour just as one might record the values recognized by Wall Street brokers - and the suggestion that they have some intrinsic logic or that they derive from some transcendental standard.

Partly in response to these ambiguities Newton-Smith (1981) has sought to provide a fuller defence of the use of values to preserve the rationality of science. His initial approach to the question differs from Kuhn's in that he begins with a realist interpretation of science. Newton-Smith is cautious in his realism. He claims that science is distinguished from most other forms of knowledge because it tends to get truer as it goes along. Still, we cannot accept that our beliefs at any particular time are the truth. Rather, we must accept the 'pessimistic induction' (1981, p. 14) that we will sooner or later abandon our current beliefs as untrue for, judging by the history of science, everything which we now believe is likely to turn out to be false in some regard. We can, though, pick out criteria which have been used in assessing scientific ideas and which we have good reasons for thinking are linked to an increase in truthfulness or, as he terms it, verisimilitude. Several of the criteria suggested by Newton-Smith are similar to those proposed by Kuhn. He lists a series of eight 'good-making features' of theories (1981, pp. 22-32). These are:

(1) That a theory should 'preserve the observational successes of its predecessors'.

(2) That a theory should be fertile in producing ideas for further inquiry.

(3) That a theory should have a good track record to date.

(4) That a theory should mesh with and support present neighbouring theories.

(5) That theories should be 'smooth', meaning that it should be possible easily to adjust the theory in the light of anomalies which are bound to emerge.

(6) That a theory should be internally consistent.

(7) That theories should be compatible 'with well-grounded metaphysical beliefs'; that is, theories should accord with the same metaphysical assumptions as sustain the rest of science.

(8) Although hesitant because of the ambiguity of this criterion, it is probably beneficial for theories to be simple.


Science, Technology, and Social Change

What is significant about this list of criteria is not just the individual recommendations but the claim that the values each have a double justification. Newton-Smith asserts that they are both the criteria by which scientists do judge and criteria which can lie shown to be rational in the light of the assumed goal of science, that is to become truer and truer. Thus. theories should he compatible with widely adopted metaphysical assumptions because it is very hard to see how science could he becoming more correct if major sections of it depended on conflicting metaphysics. If a new physical theory, for example, meant that while biology required the universe to be one way, physics entailed another ordering, that would be a retrograde movement.

Newton-Smith thus seeks to tackle Kuhn's problem head on; his theory is avowedly empirical and normative. It is an account of the values which scientists as a matter of fact generally do take into account and it is a demonstration of why scientists are right to honour those values. It is this latter aspect which would potentially allow Newton-Smith to claim that science is rational and that scientific knowledge is uniquely authoritative. But how satisfactory is this normative element? As Newton-Smith himself makes clear, none of the criteria is inviolable. On occasions sonic values may have to be subordinated to others. For example, a theory (T1) with a poor track record may be preferable to some other theory (T2) because of (T1)'s assessment on the other values even though (T2) has a better track record. In the great majority of scientific decisions therefore a judgement will have to be made about the merits of different theories' 'scores' on the eight values. And with these eight criteria to be taken into account the scores can be totted up in very many different ways. Just using the criteria will thus demand a huge exercise of judgement by scientists. But the situation is even more complex than this, for the criteria are not automatic in their application. Taking criterion (4), for instance, meshing with and supporting neighbouring theories is a far from simple requirement. Which are the neighbouring theories? Looking back to the geological dispute outlined earlier, it would be evident for supporters of the Plutonist position that the study of volcanic activity was a field neighbouring the study of the formation of rocks. For Neptunians, however, the study of volcanoes would be only very remotely connected to the issue of the origin of rocks. But even if neighbours could be uncontentiously identified it would still be unclear how to evaluate the degree of support given to those neighbouring theories. Is it better to lend a great deal of support to a few neighbouring theories or to lend some


The Authority of Science

support to a lot of neighbours? When viewed in this way it appears that Newton-Smith's approach is subject to the same practical limitations as those Kuhn (1977, p.324) admitted for his own, since

When scientists must choose between competing theories, two men fully committed to the same list of criteria for choice may nevertheless reach different conclusions... With respect to divergences of this sort, no set of choice criteria yet proposed is of any use. One can explain, as the historian characteristically does, why particular men made particular choices at particular times. But for that purpose one must go beyond the list of shared criteria to characteristics of the individuals who make the choice.

Newton-Smith took Kuhn to task (1981, pp. 122-4) for not rooting his proposed values in the rational requirements of science. For him, Kuhn was making too weak a case for science by implying that the five Kuhnian values were just a statement of how scientists conducted themselves. As a realist, Newton-Smith cannot allow that science comprises a set of values or criteria one can choose to follow or not. The values must not just be a convention; they have to be the real values for getting on best in describing the world. But, as we have seen, the practical normative force of the proposed eight values is much less than Newton-Smith would seem to require.

One may accept that there is a certain plausibility to the values. They may describe the kinds of considerations which scientists appear to have in mind when selecting theories; they may even strike us as the kind of consideration which scientists ought to have in mind. But, unless we have good reasons for thinking that the values direct scientific choices in a strong sense, this normative force is of limited consequence. Providing a list of values which scientists should honour but which, in practice, does not constrain scientific choice at all closely, does rather little to revitalize the authority of any specific scientific judgements. Newton-Smith supplies us with general grounds for thinking that science as a whole is a reasonable undertaking but he does not reassure us that any particular scientific judgement could not reasonably have come out differently. By listing his suggested criteria in a chapter entitled 'Scientific method', Newton-Smith might be seen as implying that the criteria can be used as something like a recipe for scientific rationality. It should now be clear that they cannot serve in this capacity.


Science, Technology, and Social Change

Sociological Studies of the Construction of Scientific Knowledge

At the very beginning of this chapter and subsequently, in discussing the example of how neutrinos are observed, reference was made to sociological studies of the construction of knowledge. In the last fifteen years a large number of such studies have been undertaken (see Collins, 1983b; Mulkay, 1980; Shapin, 1982), the majority of which have concentrated on scientific debates and controversies. Under such circumstances there are generally two groups of scientists who are competing to have their interpretations of nature accepted. Since these groups are composed of recognized scientists one cannot argue that their differing interpretations could both be due to the same evidence from the natural world alone. The very existence of disagreement shows that beliefs are underdetermined by the evidence available. Just like the philosophers described in the last two sections, sociologists have been interested to determine how such disagreements are resolved. But instead of looking for a set of rules or a clutch of values which bring about this resolution, sociologists have sought, in the words of Kuhn cited above, to explain 'why particular men made particular choices at particular times'. That is, rather than look for a scheme which makes the choice appear rational, sociologists have studied scientific choices in the same way as other choices (about voting, divorce, career moves and so on) are studied. Such an approach is often said to be naturalistic. And because scientists are social beings

- they commonly work socially in laboratories; they attend social functions like conferences in the course of their work; and they make their careers in the social structure of the scientific profession

- their decisions are made in a social context also.

Such an approach to the study of scientific knowledge has led to some misgivings. Some supporters of the authority of science regard this naturalism as liable to compromise science. It is suggested that most of the time scientists make their decisions on rational grounds. They follow internal criteria for choosing between theories. Occasionally, however, scientists depart from such internal considerations and place external factors first: scientists may, for example, prefer a theory which reinforces their political or religious views over a better theory which is incompatible with those views. It appears, for example, that the mid-nineteenth-century British geologist Lyell insisted that humankind was the result of a separate creation even though he accepted the evolutionary descent of all other life. One might conclude that his religious preconceptions overrode his commitment


The Authority of Science

to internal, scientific grounds for evaluating theories of mammalian descent (Bowler, 1984, p. 221).2 Those who argue in this way equate occasions when sociological explanation is called for with occasions when science is subverted. Social factors may be called on to explain error since scientists are subject to human frailties; it is for this reason that the rationalist philosopher Lakatos (1978, p. 178) states that 'Because of the imperfection of the scientists, some of the actual history is a caricature of its rational reconstruction.' On this view, sociology deals with the occasional instances of 'imperfection'.

Ironically sociologists have sometimes lent weight to this interpretation. One study cited very frequently is an early essay on the socioeconomic roots of Newton's physics by a Soviet analyst,

Hessen (1931). Stated with all possible brevity, Hessen's argument was that the agenda and contents of Newton's work were determined by his socioeconomic environment. Early capitalist development required certain forms of knowledge and Newton supplied them. This argument became very influential because of the challenge it provided to customary ways of thinking about the history of science (Graham, 1985). But, in other respects, it is an unfortunate representative for sociology to have acquired. At an abstract level Hessen's claim is that external factors (in the sense outlined above) rather than internal ones explain the contents of Newton's knowledge. Curiously, therefore, Hessen becomes an ally of Lakatos in so far as he equates sociological explanation with external factors. That this equation of' sociological' with 'external' persists is attested by the following remark of Newton-Smith's (1981, p.266):

the rationalist regards the history of science as constituting, by and large, progress towards the

goal [of better knowledge]. The main explanatory role is accorded to internal factors. External

factors such as the social conditions of the times or the psychology of the individuals involved

come in only when there is a deviation from the norms implicit in the rational model.

Recent sociologists of science have not, however, wished to argue that internal factors are overridden by gross social factors. Science is very often a highly insulated, arcane pursuit. The study of neutrinos, for example, is hardly likely to excite many religious or political bodies, at least not in the same way as theories about human origins. People may become angry that so much money is spent on building a neutrino detector, but their annoyance


Science, Technology, and Social Change

will not be related to the 'internal' issues. They are as likely to be incensed by the unsuccessful pursuit of neutrinos as by a successful hunt. Thus the idea that broad social factors (like religious persuasions) directly determine the content of scientific knowledge is, with the exception of a small number of areas, becoming less and less plausible. Increasingly, scientific knowledge is constructed by small numbers of specialized workers. They are often very effectively insulated from broad social forces. But their construction of knowledge still goes on socially. To invoke Kuhn again, one can still examine the construction of knowledge by particular people in a particular social context. Or to put it in Newton-Smith's terms, one can study the use of 'internal' factors from a sociological point of view.

The 'Internal' Sociology of Scientific Controversy

By considering a case study concerning a dispute in physics we can see that a fully sociological analysis of scientific controversy is not limited to gross external factors. The dispute studied by Collins (1975) centred on an attempt to detect gravity waves. According to Einstein's general theory this type of radiation should sometimes be emitted by massive objects: for example, if a star were to collapse. However, the amount of radiation arriving at the earth would be very small and detection correspondingly difficult. In the late 1950s one physicist set about trying to build a detector which would be sufficiently sensitive to pick up gravity waves arriving at the earth. His apparatus had at the same time to be massively large and extremely sensitive. Only a huge piece of metal would be massive enough to be affected by the flux of radiation which reaches the earth and then it would move only by a microscopic amount. The detector bar thus had to be mounted in a vacuum and insulated from all other likely forces which might cause slight movement such as traffic passing the laboratory. Finally, the microscopic movements had to be observed, not of course by eye but electronically.

After more than a decade's work the pioneering physicist claimed to have successfully detected the radiation. Other scientists then decided to build their own detectors to replicate his finding. Some of these other detectors did not record any radiation, and a scientific disagreement ensued. Both sets of scientists were keen to do observations, but the observations they made did not decisively settle the dispute. Those, like the original inquirer, who recorded gravity waves argued that their opponents' machines were too


The Authority of Science

insensitive. The opponents, for their part, argued that the apparent detection of radiation was due to artefacts of the apparatus. Electronic signals which supposedly registered the effect of gravitational radiation were, in their view, due to ordinary vibrations penetrating the equipment or to random variations in the electronic pick-ups. Both sides could quite reasonably defend their own position and explain away the claims of their adversaries.

In Collins's account it appears that the scientists are concerned about internal factors; they want to build a device which correctly measures gravitational radiation. But the technical evaluations they need to make are not separable from more obviously social judgements. Collins asked representatives from each of the experimenting groups for their estimation of the other groups' work. The remarks he recorded about one such group (referred to as W) ran as follows (1975, p.212):

(a) ... that's why the W thing though it's very complicated has certain attributes so that if they

see something, it's a little more believable

(b) They hope to get very high sensitivity but I don't believe them frankly. There are more

subtle ways round it than brute force

(c) I think that the group at ... W ... are just out of their minds [original ellipsis].

Both the credibility of the group and that of the information it supplied were assessed in a variety of ways. Estimations of technical, 'internal' matters are not divisible from assessments of such 'social' attributes as trustworthiness, skill and practical good sense. Yet the decision whether to accept the claims of group W, for instance, is made by individual scientists. The great majority of scientists no doubt decide very carefully, conscientiously and reasonably. But their decisions are none the less practical decisions about what to believe, whose experiment to trust and whose word to accept.

There are two further aspects of scientists' decision-making which are characteristic of science. The first issue arises because scientists will tend to try to improve upon earlier apparatus. This means that, very often, the version of an experiment on which a repeat test is made differs from the original equipment. This may be because there is more credit to be got from devising a new apparatus than from merely copying or because testing on a different machine provides an element of cross-checking.


Science, Technology, and Social Change

Either way, the practical upshot of proceeding in this way was a considerable variety of gravity wave detectors. Disagreements about the phenomenon of gravity waves were then attributed to variations in the detectors. One consequence of the pursuit of a 'better' machine is therefore that another level of judgement has to enter scientists' decision-making; they now have to assess the rival merits of differing sets of apparatus.

The complexity of scientific choice is compounded by a second sociological factor. Any specific research area is likely to be fronted by a limited number of scientists. In the case of gravity waves Collins reports thirteen centres in the whole world; for a technically difficult and enormously expensive project like the detection of neutrinos there are likely to be even fewer. And even in comparatively inexpensive areas of research there will be limited numbers of scientists working. As we have just seen, the small numbers do not mean that the scientists agree or think well of each other. They may not even be well acquainted, being separated by many thousands of miles. But the consequence is that rather few scientists make up their minds about any particular scientific fact or theory on behalf, as it were, of the scientific community. These groups have been termed 'core sets' (Collins, 1985a, p. 143).

The significance of these last two sociological observations is that they provide further reason for thinking that internal scientific assessments are inseparable from social evaluations. Scientists must choose not only between each other's results but between each other's apparatus. And the numbers of people involved are sufficiently small that they could not possibly do every test and counter-test nor check all their opponents' results before they begin to make their decisions. They need to choose what to believe and whom to credit before they can get around to deciding what the facts are. If the group at 'W' are 'just out of their minds', apparent facts arising from W are likely to be treated with great caution. Thus, in practice, there are no purely internal factors in the sense that Newton-Smith intends. Naturally enough, scientists attend to matters internal to their laboratory life, but those matters are a fusion of social, personal and technical considerations.

The Social Closure of Scientific Debate

In the last section we saw how scientific knowledge can be regarded as a social construction even if scientists involved in a dispute appear to heed only internal considerations. A scientific dispute has no


The Authority of Science

logical end point. Any evidence for gravity waves could always be explained away or doubted by determined opponents. All the same, disputes do get settled. For the social constructionist, the settling of a dispute must be a social agreement. A dispute is settled when one interpretation triumphs. We may talk about this in much the same way as rationalist philosophers do. We might say that, for example, pro-wavers became convinced that their machines were unreliable and they came to believe that no gravitational radiation could be detected at the earth's surface. A conclusion to the dispute had been negotiated. The evidence plays a part in these negotiations but so do all manner of other considerations. The sociologist does not aim to dignify this coming to agreement by seeking a way to exhibit its rationality. Instead all the factors involved in the persuasion are treated equally.

Treating science in this way brings a further advantage since it allows the reopening of the question about the role of external factors in the construction of scientific knowledge. Once it is clear that internal factors are not asocial the formerly rigid distinction between internal and external factors crumbles. Factors which Newton-Smith would regard as external may influence science not only by overriding internal considerations, as was perhaps the case with Lyell, but also by playing an internal role. An example which illustrates this possibility comes from the history of brain science.

In early nineteenth-century Edinburgh there was great topical and scientific interest in the new science of phrenology. Phrenologists claimed that physically different parts of the brain corresponded to distinct attributes of personality and character. Accordingly 'diagnoses' of character could be read off from the physical shape of the brain. Areas of the brain were held to correspond to specific attributes such as a person's capacity for hope or his or her sexual desire. All things being equal, someone with large reserves of hope would have a large 'hope' organ. The brain's surface would therefore be expected to be bumpy, with the strongest character traits represented by the bumps. Phrenologists believed that the contours of the brain were reflected in those of the skull. Accordingly, psychological readings could be taken by carefully feeling a person's cranial contours.

This psychological procedure attracted many supporters. Great success was claimed by skilled phrenologists in reading the characters of people formerly unknown to them. Today phrenology is often held up for ridicule, but it must be realized that at the time it was a very reasonable scientific approach to the mind. Phrenology could, indeed, be held to be rather modern because it was avowedly


Science, Technology, and Social Change

materialistic; It identified the mind with the brain and brought the mind into the scientific field of inquiry. As a scientific theory it could be tested and refined.

In his celebrated study of the Edinburgh phrenology disputes, Shapin (1979) shows that a social and political campaign became associated with phrenological science. Phrenology was adopted by a group of reformers as the scientific basis for a programme of social improvement. Study of the brain would allow people's inherent qualities to be revealed; social change could then be planned to realize the potentialities of all classes of society. At the same time phrenology was opposed by various groups in what may be termed the Edinburgh 'establishment'. Some objected to its materialism, some to its potential to disrupt distinctions of class and some to its challenge to moral theories of the source of human action (Shapin, 1979, pp. l4~6).

The dispute was partly fought out in an overtly political way. Political, moral and religious debates between the sociopolitical groups ensued. But another strategy was also adopted. Attempts were made to test the validity of the phrenological claims, since, if they could be thrown into doubt, there would be no natural basis for the reform programme. One obvious route for this challenge to take was to penetrate inside the skull to see whether there was any basis in the appearance of the brain for the phrenologists' belief in distinct character organs. Shapin discusses four aspects of the brain which were closely observed in order to try to settle the dispute. The debate can be illustrated by concentrating on just one of these, the study of cerebral fibres.

According to phrenological observers white brain tissue was composed of fibres. In their drawings of brain structures the fibrous appearance is very clear. For them the fibres were straightforwardly visible. Anti-phrenologists in Edinburgh were by no means as sure. One of their number, John Gordon, claimed (Shapin, 1979, p. 159) that 'When we make a section of [white tissue] in any direction with a sharp scalpel, the surface of the section is perfectly smooth, and of a uniform colour. There is no appearance of any cells, or globules, or fibres whatever.' For Gordon the fibrous appearance was an artifact generated by the clumsy way in which phrenologists scraped the white tissue from the brain. Phrenologists, in reply, maintained that (Shapin, 1979, p.160) 'We seldom cut, but mostly scrape; because the substance, on account of its delicacy, when cut, does not show its Structure.' Both sets of scientists were intent on observing. Yet they persisted in seeing different things. Those differences were embedded in their


The Authority of Science

naturalistic drawings. They saw the world, or at least the brain, differently.

Shapin's claim, is that their different perceptions were structured by the different interests they had as observers. The phrenologists saw fibres as the real appearance because fibres were easily compatible with the idea that discrete brain parts served different functions. Their opponents saw the fibres as artefacts because it was felt that the white tissue was really undifferentiated just in the same way as the brain was largely undifferentiated. For Shapin this offers strong support for the proposal that an external factor (these scientists' commitment to the socio-political debate over the brain) had an impact on the very things they saw in the brain. The external factor was mediated through their evaluation of the phrenological theory of brain function. Political factors impinge on scientific observation not by overriding observers' commitment to science but by influencing their scientific practice. These scientists did not take positions on the phrenological controversy despite what they saw; what they saw was structured by their place in the controversy.

Shapin uses this case study as evidence for a general sociological theory of knowledge construction. According to this theory, knowledge is always generated by people in the context of their pursuit of some interest (Barnes, 1977, pp. 1-19; Yearley, 1984b, pp. 6872). On some occasions the content of that knowledge may relate directly to their interest. The Edinburgh phrenologists, for example, produced knowledge which was very closely linked to their political interests. For them phrenology was a powerful legitimation for their political campaign. At other times the interest may sponsor the knowledge only indirectly; Shapin (1979, p.146) reports that some established medics were opposed to phrenology not because they objected to the implications of the theory of brain function but because it threatened to hand over diagnostic skill to amateurs.

In many respects this theory goes further than the work of other social constructionists like Collins, since the contest between the interests not only accounts for the conflicting scientific beliefs; it should also allow the sociologist to explain the outcome of a dispute in terms of the triumphant interest. We would expect the downfall of phrenology as a body of scientific beliefs to occur when its social base was removed. However, there are two practical difficulties confronting this sociological theory. The first is a matter of evidence. No matter how many case studies have shown that beliefs are founded on social interests and that the belief which wins acceptance happens to be the one supported by the strongest


Science, Technology, and Social Change

interest, this would not prove that disinterested assessment was impossible. Just because the brain scientists disagreed about the cerebral fibres at that time, it is not clear that they could not have come to agree eventually. Given the practical constraints under which scientists work, social interests may be extremely influential in shaping their perceptions. But it is not certain that scientists are ultimately constrained by their interests. The second difficulty lies with the concept of interest itself. Any scientist is likely to have many interests: political interests, career interests, personal interests and so on. And even within the range of socio-political interests which interest theorists often stress (as Shapin does in the case of phrenology) there will be short-term and long-term considerations. Any actor can therefore be expected to have a number of interests at any particular time. Some will play a part In structuring his or her scientific beliefs; others may not. Once a variety of interests is admitted, the explanatory power of this general sociological theory diminishes, although the importance of particular case studies remains.


This chapter began by examining the claim that scientific know-ledge is exceptional because it is not socially constructed. But initial arguments defending its supposed exceptional quality were subject to many weaknesses. Science is about natural reality but it still depends on human judgement and human conventions. Two attempts by philosophers to demonstrate that science was a special sort of convention were then considered. These were not satisfactory either because, although they showed ways in which scientific beliefs were reasonable, they did not show how the 'correct' choice between competing scientific beliefs could be made. Both the rules and the values which were supposed to direct scientific choice were indeterminate. None the less those philosophical analysts provided a useful descriptive vocabulary for discussing theory choice in science.

The failure to make out a case for the exceptional status of science left scientific knowledge open to sociological study. Through the case studies of gravitational radiation and of phrenology it has been shown how scientific knowledge is negotiated and constructed both within the relatively insulated social environment of the laboratory and in the context of political debate. The sociological study of the making of scientific knowledge breaks down the apparent


The Authority of Science

divide between the internal and external factors affecting scientific knowledge. But the fact that science is socially constructed does not mean that it is indistinguishable from other facets of culture. The values proposed by Kuhn and by Newton-Smith give a useful sense of what science is like; by and large it is observational; by and large scientists pursue accuracy and so on. Just because science is socially constructed that does not mean that it cannot generally be told apart from art appreciation or pigeon fancying. The values describe science; they do not govern it. If we wish to understand why we have the scientific beliefs we currently hold, we cannot simply appeal to the values. We need to study the particular choices made by particular people. We must study the competition for credibility between scientists themselves and between the theories they support.

Finally, in regard to scientific authority, it is clear that although scientific knowledge is socially constructed it is the most authoritative account of the natural world we possess. Scientists are quite reasonably regarded as authorities on the natural world. But their authority is not absolute since it does not stem from indubitable knowledge. Scientific authority does not warrant the exaggerated respect associated (as was mentioned in the Introduction) with scientism. An appreciation of the sense in which scientific knowledge is socially constructed allows scientific authority to be regarded in the correct light. It is much closer to the authority of a skilled craftsman or legal adviser than the scientistic image implies. In the next chapter we will see how the social authority of science has been built up and maintained.

Notes: Chapter 1

1 I should like to express my thanks to the scientists who gave

time to be interviewed in the course of this research and to the

Economic and Social Research Council, which supported the

project (grant A33250031).

2 It should be noted that the case of Lyell is being used here

only in an illustrative sense. It could readily be argued that, at

the time, there were reasonable grounds for believing that the

human animal was radically distinct from other mammals and was

therefore quite probably the product of a separate creation event.


Science, Technology, and Social Change

Concluding Observations

Since we have covered a large number of topics and a great deal of material in this chapter it does not yield a simple conclusion. Two points should be mentioned. First, it should be recalled that the theories of development and dependency which frame the material covered in this chapter are themselves in flux. Dependency theory is partially in retreat; the theorists have been unable to agree about the precise mechanisms by which dependency is sustained and about the classification of degrees of underdevelopment. Equally, the economic, social and (even in some cases) political success of the NICs has thrown doubt on the inescapability of dependency. Technological dependence can therefore no longer be taken as the inevitable outcome of technology transfers. But neither should the success of the NICs be viewed as a simple endorsement of transfers of modern technology. Technology transfer should be studied in detail without presuming success or failure. But as an enduring background we must recall that technology transfers continue to be largely motivated by the benefits accruing to the agency doing the transfer rather than to the recipient.

The second point also concerns an uncertainty. It is very unclear how the problems of international debt are going to be handled. However, countries which face vast repayment charges are extremely unlikely to be able to industrialize rapidly. Debt may lead to the perpetuation of dependence in a new form. How debt and aid are handled will thus be very important in determining whether, and in what form, technology transfers continue and whether support for intermediate technology projects expands.

Notes: Chapter 6

1 Such a view is not the exclusive preserve of advocates of the free market. In most

respects it was the expectation of Marx also, a view recently revived by Warren, 1980.

2 It is worth noting that the ATP was introduced under the last Labour government,

although it was said to be the price the Cabinet demanded for an increase in aid spending:

Tanner, 1984, p.25.



Social Construction and

Scientific Knowledge


As described in the Introduction, this text has two chief goals. The first is to review the ways in which science and technology are connected with contemporary social change in the West and in the underdeveloped world. With regard to this goal the text has operated quite straightforwardly as a review. Each chapter has brought together the results of recent research on aspects of this connection and has offered such conclusions as are available. In some cases these 'conclusions' have had to be rather inconclusive: for example, in the case of the effect of science policy on scientists' day-to-day work or the inquiry into the sources of technical innovation. In other cases it has been possible to pass judgement more clearly. This was so, for instance, when we turned to the reasons underlying the mixed fortunes of intermediate technologies and when we examined the continuing role of elite, secretive decision-makers in the choice of military technology. This book has not aimed to describe forthcoming socially influential technologies nor to recommend particular scientific projects which should be adopted by Third-World nations (on this latter issue see the discussion in Clarke, 1985). Instead, the objective in presenting this review is to demonstrate the centrality of science and technology to a broad range of issues of interest to sociologists and to show that the apparently arcane worlds of science and technology repay sociological and political study.

The second goal was of a more theoretical character. In the Introduction, two sociological interpretations of the nature of scientific knowledge were outlined. Both are opposed to the


Science, Technology, and Social Change

notion that science is a body of neutral expertise which develops largely immune from social influences. The first, political economy view implies that the development of science and technology is continually and profoundly shaped by political and economic considerations. Support for this approach was brought forward in Chapter 4, where the work of analysts like Gorz and Klass was used to indicate that technical innovations are moulded chiefly by the needs of companies and not by a technical logic nor in response to customers' needs.

Social constructionism, the second view, suggested that social influences could always be detected at the heart of scientific and technical judgements. Although these social influences may be of a commercial or overtly political kind, this is far from universally the case. On this view, however, scientific evidence alone can never be sufficient logically to compel people to adopt one particular belief In principle, the evidence could always be interpreted in alternative ways. The beliefs which people actually do come to hold are thus underdetermined by the evidence from the natural world. Their beliefs are also partly influenced by the social context in which they are assessed. Thus, for example, in Chapter 2 it was argued that the scientific 'constitution' drawn up by early members of the Royal Society was not simply a reflection of how the study of the natural world had to proceed. It outlined a way of studying that world in accordance with particular politico-religious requirements. The demands of natural philosophy underdetermined the construction of the scientific enterprise. Similarly, in Chapter 1, we saw how observation and experimental dissection were essential to the disputes over phrenology but did not uniquely determine the outcome of the dispute nor the beliefs which the protagonists held.

At one level, advocates of the political economy view would be expected to welcome the constructionists' arguments. If social influences are present at the heart of scientific knowledge, it should prove possible to make strong claims about the political economy of science. Indeed, in the case of the phrenological disputes, overtly political issues were addressed by the disputants even when they were engaged in the most minute, technical observations of the brain. However, although a social constructionist analysis was given of the debates over solar neutrinos and gravity waves, nothing obviously commercial or political hinged on the outcome of these controversies. This implies that the political economy view entertains only a restricted notion of the social influences on science. Advocates of this view might reply that


Social Construction and Science

vitally important political-economic consequences of scientific and technical products sometimes stem from the effects of those products. How, they might ask, can these effects be analysed if science and technology are treated as mere social constructs?

The discussion in Chapter 5 was concerned with answering this difficulty. Military technology (a technology with a reasonably well defined objective) was examined. Many overtly political and commercial considerations were seen to influence decision-making over military technology; indeed, this was the essence of the claim about the military-industrial complex. However, by screening off occasions when technical decisions were seen to be overridden by such overt considerations, we tried to look at narrowly and (as far as possible) purely technical issues. When we did this, these technical decisions turned out to have a socially negotiated character also. Whether it was the speed of a plane, the utility of a gun, or the firepower of a tank, technical assessments contained a social element. They too, just like the efforts to measure the true flux of neutrinos arriving from the sun, were underdetermined by the evidence available.

No doubt the influence of overtly commercial and political considerations, such as the business opportunities which follow from the choice between competing fighter designs, commonly prompts technical decision making. No doubt civil technologies also are pervasively shaped in this way. That this occurs does not demonstrate that, under other circumstances, purely technical decisions could be made. No scientific or technical decision is free of elements of social construction.

Moderate Constructionism

In asserting this position I have no wish to imply that observation and testing, careful trial and measurement are absent from scientific and technical choice. Sometimes, perhaps for political reasons, they may be absent but characteristically they are not. They were not absent from the decision-making over Nimrod nor from the dispute over phrenology. Rather, the argument being proposed here is that, when an issue is subject to technical decision-making, the outcome will be underdetermined by the evidence at hand. In principle, alternative interpretations of the outcome are always possible. Social negotiations will complement the underdetermining technical evidence.


Science, Technology, and Social Change

On many occasions the social component may, to common sense, appear slight. It may simply be a matter of the trust and respect which the parties hold for each other's experimental skill and honesty. But assessments of skill and honesty in their turn may well be predicated on less personal, more sociological, or even political evaluations. Thus, in the case of phrenology, one of the dimensions along which people's testimony was assessed was their status as amateur or authorized medical practitioners. In the dispute over the technical merits of SDI, the question of whether people are 'hawks' or 'doves' routinely plays a part in the reception given to the arguments and evidence they present. And in the debate over Nimrod, the party political allegiance and armed-service or company affiliation of speakers was used by listeners in weighing up the value of their claims. No firm border-line can be drawn around the kinds of social issues which will be used by people in the course of technical decision-making. No sharp distinction can separate 'internal' and 'external' factors. When, therefore, sociologists study areas of social life in which technical decisions play a part, they should be alert to the elements of social construction which inform those decisions.

The characteristic concern of the political economy approach with overtly commercial and political influences can often direct analysts to issues of enormous practical significance. But only a thorough social construction approach, which recognizes how the apparently 'external' fuses with the apparently 'internal', can indicate how fully social are decisions based on scientific and technical reasoning.

The position advocated here might be termed 'moderate constructionism'. Science and technology are not mere social constructions; but constructions they are all the same. In Chapter 1 we examined arguments for the rationality of science put forward by Newton-Smith. He concludes his argument by calling for a 'temperate rationalism' (1981, pp. 26~73). Loosely expressed, he wishes to argue that scientific knowledge is more of a construct than most philosophers have been willing to admit but that it is a very special construct which tends to become truer and truer. Although I share his moderating language and am trying to stake out a position between epistemological extremes, real distinctions between us remain. We are not just disputing whether a beer glass is half empty or half full.

For example, in accounting for the historical success of science as a form of knowledge, Newton-Smith would point principally to its cognitive merits and technical utility. When I addressed


Social Construction and Science

this issue in Chapter 2, 1 drew attention also to the rhetorical and institutional resources which scientists had mobilized and to science's ideological usefulness which had attracted political sponsorship for it. Similarly, when studying technical change, rationalists - even temperate ones - would explain change in terms of technical improvement while constructionists would focus on the negotiations which underlie the decision that, for example, the new fighter counts as an improvement. The moderate constructionist does not wish to do science down, but wishes to point out that there is inevitably an element of social construction in all decision-making. That element may have great political and economic consequences.

We can conclude with an illustration of this last point. In disputes about arcane technical matters (say, about neutrinos) the element of social negotiation and construction will probably not be of public concern. But scientists and technologists are increasingly called on to make decisions which will affect the public, its health, diet, or environment. The rationalist view of decision-making tends to be too sanguine here. Often an issue is of such urgency, as with public health questions arising from AIDS (Nelkin and Hilgartner, 1986), that it comes to public attention before scientists have arrived at a decision. The constructionist's advice to look for the impact of social and, perhaps, political influences on the apparently 'internal' scientific and medical issues surrounding the case is clearly of practical value in such instances.

Equally, there are some cases, such as the siting of dumps for hazardous waste or the evaluation of risks from radiation, where decisions plainly have political as well as technical aspects. If the decision is disputed, as it commonly is, an attractive strategy for the disputants is to try to claim that their opponents' supposedly factual statements are contaminated by political considerations. Their own technical arguments, on the other hand, are presented as purely factual (Wynne, 1982, pp. 16~5). Both sides frequently adopt this tactic. Called on to analyse this situation, the rationalist is likely to say that, in the long run, one or other will be shown to be correct. The other will have been in error. If anything, this diagnosis will tend to fuel both sides' feelings of self-righteousness. The constructionist, on the other hand, can describe the situation in a more even-handed way. He or she can accept that both sides may have 'internally' technical arguments. The technical arguments may none the less diverge since, as well as evidence from the natural world, they will embody social and political elements. Thus, the constructionist view allows us to explain how a technical dispute


Science, Technology, and Social Change

Science, Technology, and Social Change

can continue unresolved (often growing increasingly acrimonious as accusations of political bias are levelled). It prepares us for the frequently contentious nature of science in public and does not tend to exacerbate such disputes.

The constructionist clearly accepts that science and technology are the best resources we have for dealing with the natural world. But their prominence should not insulate them from critical scrutiny. Constructionism indicates how that scrutiny can best be channelled. And by showing that the evidence underdetermines scientific and technical decisions, this view allows us to explain why, particularly in matters of public controversy, scientific experts often cannot deliver the definitive answers which a simple, scientistic faith often leads planners, politicians, protesters and (sometimes) even scientists themselves to expect.

Although I am a heterosexual, I was fascinated by following article, relating constructionism, realism, nominalism, etc. to homosexuality:

Revolutions, Universals, and Sexual Categories

By Professor John Boswell

In Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus and George Chauncey, Jr. (1989), Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past. New York: Meridian.


One of the revolutions in the study of history in the twentieth century might be called "minority history": the effort to recover the histories of groups previously overlooked or excluded from mainstream historiography. Minority history has provoked predictable skepticism on the part of some traditional historians, partly because of its novelty - which will, of course, inevitably wear off - and partly because the attitudes that previously induced neglect or distortion of minority history still prevail in many quarters. The most reasonable criticism of minority history (aside from the objection that it is sometimes very poor scholarship, against which no discipline is proof) is that it lends itself to political use, which may distort scholarly integrity. As a point about minority history as a genre this is not cogent: Since the exclusion of minorities from much historiography prior to the twentieth century was related to or caused by concerns other than purely scholarly interest, their inclusion now, even for purely political ends, not only corrects a previous "political" distortion but also provides a more complete data base for judgment about the historical issues involved. Such truth as is yielded by historical analysis generally emerges from the broadest possible synthesis of the greatest number of viewpoints and vantages: The addition of minority history and viewpoints to twentieth-century historiography is a net gain for all concerned.

But at a more particular level political struggles can cause serious problems for scholars, and a curious debate now taking place among those interested in the history of gay people provides a relevant and timely example of a type of difficulty that could subvert minority history altogether if not addressed intelligently. To avoid contributing further to the undue political freight the issue has lately been forced to bear, I propose to approach it by way of another historical controversy, one that was - in its day - no less heated or urgent, but that is now sufficiently distant to be viewed with dispassion by all sides.

The conflict in question is as old as Plato and as modern as cladism, and although the most violent struggles over it took place in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the arguments of the ancients on the subject are still in use today. Stated as briefly and baldly as possible, the issues are these: Do categories exist because humans recognize real distinctions in the world around them, or are categories arbitrary conventions, simply names for things that have categorical force because humans agree to use them in certain ways? The two traditional sides in this controversy, which is called "the problem of universals," are "realists" and "nominalists." Realists consider categories to be the footprints of reality ("universals"): They exist because humans perceive a real order in the universe and name it. The order is present without human observation, according to realists; the human contribution is simply the naming and describing of it. Most scientists operate - tacitly - in a realist mode, on the assumption that they are discovering, not inventing, the relationships within the physical world. The scientific method is, in fact, predicated on realist attitudes. On the other hand, the philosophical structure of the modern West is closer to nominalism: the belief that categories are only the names (Latin: nomina) of things agreed upon by humans, and that the "order" people see is their creation rather than their perception. Most modern philosophy and language theory is essentially nominalist, and even the more theoretical sciences are nominalist to some degree: In biology, for example, taxonomists disagree strongly about whether they are discovering (realists) or inventing (nominalists) distinctions among phyla, genera, species, etc. (When, for example, a biologist announces that bats, being mammals, are "more closely related to" humans than to birds, is he expressing some real relationship, present in nature and detected by humans, or is he employing an arbitrary convention, something that helps humans organize and sort information but that bears no "truth" or significance beyond this utility?)

This seemingly arcane struggle now underlies an epistemological controversy raging among those studying the history of gay people. The "universals" in this case are categories of sexual preference or orientation (the difference is crucial). Nominalists ("social constructionists" in the current debate) in the matter aver that categories of sexual preference and behavior are created by humans and human societies. Whatever reality they have is the consequence of the power they exert in those societies and the socialization processes that make them seem real to persons influenced by them. People consider themselves "homosexual" or "heterosexual" because they are induced to believe that humans are either "homosexual" or "heterosexual." Left to their own devices, without such processes of socialization, people would simply be sexual. The category "heterosexuality," in other words, does not so much describe a pattern of behavior inherent in human beings as it creates and establishes it.

Realists ("essentialists") hold that this is not the case. Humans are, they insist, differentiated sexually. Many categories might be devised to characterize human sexual taxonomy, some more or less apt than others, but the accuracy of human perceptions does not affect reality. The heterosexual/homosexual dichotomy exists in speech and thought because it exists in reality: It was not invented by sexual taxonomists, but observed by them.[1]

Neither of these positions is usually held absolutely: Most nominalists would be willing to admit that some aspects of sexuality are present, and might be distinguished, without direction from society. And most realists are happy to admit that the same real phenomenon might be described by various systems of categorization, some more accurate and helpful than others. One might suppose that "moderate nominalists" and "moderate realists" could therefore engage in a useful dialogue on those areas where they agree and, by careful analysis of their differences, promote discussion and understanding of these issues.

Political ramifications hinder this. Realism has historically been viewed by the nominalist camp as conservative, if not reactionary, in its implicit recognition of the value and/or immutability of the status quo; and nominalism has generally been regarded by realists as an obscurantist radical ideology designed more to undercut and subvert human values than to clarify them. Precisely these political overtones can be seen to operate today in scholarly debate over issues of sexuality. The efforts of sociobiology to demonstrate an evolutionary etiology of homosexuality have been vehemently denounced by many who regard the enterprise as reactionary realism, an effort to persuade people that social categories are fixed and unchangeable, while on the other side, psychiatric "cures" of homosexuality are bitterly resented by many as the cynical folly of nominalist pseudoscience: Convince someone he shouldn't want to be a homosexual, persuade him to think of himself as a "heterosexual," and - presto! - he is a heterosexual. The category is the person.

Whether or not there are "homosexual" or "heterosexual" persons, as opposed to persons called "homosexual" or "heterosexual" by society, is obviously a matter of substantial import to the gay community, since it brings into question the nature and even the existence of such a community. It is, moreover, of substantial epistemological urgency to nearly all of society,[2] and the gravity and extent of this can be seen in the case of the problems it creates for history and historians.

The history of minorities poses ferocious difficulties: censorship and distortion, absence or destruction of records, the difficulty of writing about essentially personal and private aspects of human feelings and behavior, problems of definition, political dangers attendant on choosing certain subjects, etc. But if the nominalists are correct and the realists wrong, the problems in regard to the history of gay people are of an entirely different order: If the categories "homosexual/heterosexual" and "gay/straight" are the inventions of particular societies rather than real aspects of the human psyche, there is no gay history.[3] If "homosexuality" exists only when and where people are persuaded to believe in it, "homosexual" persons will have a "history" only in those particular societies and cultures.

In its most extreme form, this nominalist view has argued that only early modern and contemporary industrial societies have produced "homosexuality," and it is futile and misguided to look for "homosexuality" in earlier human history.

"What we call 'homosexuality' (in the sense of the distinguishing traits of 'homosexuals'), for example, was not considered a unified set of acts, much less a set of qualities defining particular persons, in pre-capitalist societies… Heterosexuals and homosexuals are involved in social 'roles' and attitudes which pertain to a particular society, modern capitalism."[4]

If this position is sustained, it will permanently alter, for better or worse, the nature and extent of minority history.

Clearly it has much to recommend it. No characteristics interact with the society around them uniformly through time. Perceptions of, reactions to, and social response regarding blackness, blindness, left-handedness, Jewishness, or any other distinguishing (or distinguished) aspect of persons and peoples must necessarily vary as widely as the social circumstances in which they occur, and for this reason alone it could be reasonably argued that being Jewish, black, blind, left-handed, etc., is essentially different from one age and place to another. In some cultures, for example, Jews are categorized chiefly as an ethnic minority; in others they are not or are not perceived to be ethnically distinct from the peoples around them, and are distinguished solely by their religious beliefs. Similarly, in some societies anyone darker than average is considered "black"; in others, a complex and highly technical system of racial categorization classes some persons as black even when they are lighter in color than many "whites." In both cases, moreover, the differences in attitudes held by the majority must affect profoundly the self-perception of the minority itself, and its patterns of life and behavior are in all probability different from those of "black" or "Jewish" people in other circumstances.

There can be no question that if minority history is to merit respect it must carefully weigh such fundamental subtleties of context: Merely cataloguing references to "Jews" or to "Blacks" may distort more than it reveals of human history if due attention is not paid to the meaning, in their historical setting, of such words and the concepts to which they apply. Do such reservations, on the other hand, uphold the claim that categories such as "Jew," "black," or "gay" are not diachronic and can not, even with apposite qualification, be applied to ages and times other than those in which the terms themselves were used in precisely their modern sense? Extreme realists, without posing the question, have assumed the answer was no; extreme nominalists seem to be saying yes.

The question can not be addressed intelligently without first noting three points. First, the positions are not in fact as clearly separable as this schema implies. It could well be argued, for example, that Padgug, Weeks, et. al., are in fact extreme realists in assuming that modern homosexuality is not simply one of a series of conventions designated under the same rubric, but is instead a "real" phenomenon that has no "real" antecedent in human history. Demonstrate to us the "reality" of this homosexuality, their opponents might legitimately demand, and prove to us that it has a unity and cohesiveness that justifies your considering it a single, unparalleled entity rather than a loose congeries of behaviors. Modern scientific literature increasingly assumes that what is at issue is not "homosexuality" but "homosexualities"; if these disparate patterns of sexuality can be grouped together under a single heading in the present, why make such a fuss about a diachronic grouping?

Second, adherents of both schools fall prey to anachronism. Nearly all of the most prominent nominalists are historians of the modern U.S., modern Britain, or modern Europe, and it is difficult to eschew the suspicion that they are concentrating their search where the light is best rather than where the answers are to be found, and formulating a theoretical position to justify their approach. On the other hand, nominalist objections are in part a response to an extreme realist position that has been predicated on the unquestioned, unproven, and overwhelmingly unlikely assumption that exactly the same categories and patterns of sexuality have always existed, pure and unchanged by the systems of thought and behavior in which they were enmeshed.

Third, both extremes appear to be paralyzed by words. The nominalists are determined that the same word can not apply to a wide range of meaning and still be used productively in scholarly discourse: In order to have meaning, "gay," for example, must be applied only as the speaker would apply it, with all the precise ramifications he associates with it. This insistence follows understandably from the implicit assumption that the speaker is generating the category himself, or in concert with certain contemporaries, rather than receiving it from a human experience of great longevity and adjusting it to fit his own understanding. Realist extremists, conversely, assume that lexical equivalence betokens experiential equality, and that the occurrence of a word that "means" "homosexual" demonstrates the existence of "homosexuality," as the modern realist understands it, at the time the text was composed.

It is my aim to circumvent these difficulties as far as possible in the following remarks, and my hope that in doing so I may reduce the rhetorical struggle over "universals" in these matters and promote thereby some more useful dialogue among the partisans. Let it be agreed at the outset that something can be discussed, by modern historians or ancient writers, without being named or defined. (Ten people in a room might argue endlessly about proper definitions of "blue" and "red," but could probably agree instantly whether a given object was one or the other [or a combination of both].) "Gravity" offers a useful historical example. A nominalist position would be that gravity did not exist before Newton invented it, and a nominalist historian might be able to mount a convincing case that there is no mention of gravity in any texts before Newton. "Nonsense," realists would object. "The Latin gravitas, which is common in Roman literature, describes the very properties of matter Newton called 'gravity.' Of course gravity existed before Newton discovered it."

Both, of course, are wrong. Lack of attention to something in historical sources can in no wise be taken as evidence of its nonexistence, and discovery can not be equated with creation or invention. But gravitas does not mean "gravity"; it means "heaviness," and the two are not at all the same thing. Noting that objects have heaviness is entirely different from understanding the nature and operations of gravity. For adherents of these two positions to understand each other each would have to abandon specific nomenclature, and agree instead on questions to be asked of the sources. If the proper questions were addressed, the nominalist could easily be persuaded that the sources prove that gravity existed before Newton, in the sense that the operations of the force now designated gravity are well chronicled in nearly all ancient literature. And the realist could be persuaded that despite this fact the nature of gravity was not clearly articulated - whether or not it was apprehended - before Newton.

The problem is rendered more difficult in the present case by the fact that the equivalent of gravity has not yet been discovered: There is still no essential agreement in the scientific community about the nature of human sexuality. Whether humans are "homosexual" or "heterosexual" or "bisexual" by birth, by training, by choice, or at all is still an open question.[5] Neither realists nor nominalists can, therefore, establish any clear correlation - positive or negative - between modern sexuality and its ancient counterparts. But it is still possible to discuss whether modern conceptualizations of sexuality are novel and completely socially relative, or correspond to constants of human epistemology which can be documented in the past.

To simplify discussion, three broad types of sexual taxonomy are abbreviated here as types A, B, and C. According to Type A theories, all humans are polymorphously sexual, i.e., capable of erotic and sexual interaction with either gender. External accidents, such as social pressure, legal sanctions, religious beliefs, historical or personal circumstances determine the actual expression of each person's sexual feelings. Type B theories posit two or more sexual categories, usually but not always based on sexual object choice, to which all humans belong, though external pressures or circumstance may induce individuals in a given society to pretend (or even to believe) that they belong to a category other than their native one. The most common form of Type B taxonomy assumes that humans are heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual, but that not all societies allow expression of all varieties of erotic disposition. Subsets or other versions of Type B categorize on the basis of other characteristics, e.g., a predilection for a particular role in intercourse. Type C theories consider one type of sexual response normal (or "natural" or "moral" or all three) and all other variants abnormal ("unnatural," "immoral").

It will be seen that Type A theories are nominalist to the extent that they regard categorizations like "homosexual" and "heterosexual" as arbitrary conventions applied to a sexual reality that is at bottom undifferentiated. Type B theories are conversely realist in predicating categories that underlie human sexual experience even when obscured by social constraints or particular circumstances. Type C theories are essentially normative rather than epistemological, but borrow from both sides of the universals question in assuming, by and large, that people are born into the normal category but become members of a deviant grouping by an act of the will, although some Type C adherents regard "deviants" as inculpably belonging to an "abnormal" category through mental or physical illness or defect.

That no two social structures are identical should require no proof; and since sexual categories are inevitably conditioned by social structure, no two systems of sexual taxonomy should be expected to be identical. A slight chronological or geographical shift would render one Type A system quite different from another one. But to state this is not to demonstrate that there are no constants in human sexual epistemology. The frequency with which these theories or variations on them appear in Western history is striking.

The apparent gender blindness of the ancient world has often been adduced as proof that Type B theories were unknown before comparatively recent times. In Plutarch's Dialogue on Love it is asserted that

"the noble lover of beauty engages in love wherever he sees excellence and splendid natural endowment without regard for any difference in physiological detail. The lover of human beauty [will] be fairly and equably disposed toward both sexes, instead of supposing that males and females are as different in the matter of love as they are in their clothes."[6]

Such statements are commonplaces of ancient lore about love and eroticism, to the extent that one is inclined to believe that much of the ancient world was completely unaware of differentiation among humans in sexual object choice, as I have myself pointed out at length elsewhere.[7] But my statements and the evidence on which they rest can easily be misapprehended. Their purport is that ancient societies did not distinguish heterosexuality from homosexuality, not that all, or even most, individuals failed to make such a distinction.

A distinction can be present and generally recognized in a society without forming any part of its social structure. In some cultures skin color is a major determinant of social status; in others it is irrelevant. But it would be fatuous to assume that societies that did not "discriminate on the basis of" [i.e., make inviduous distinctions concerning] skin color could not "discriminate" [distinguish] such differences. This same paranomastic subtlety must be understood in regard to ancient views of sexuality: City-states of the ancient world did not, for the most part, discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and, as societies, appear to have been blind to the issue of sexual object choice, but it is not clear that individuals were unaware of distinctions in the matter.

It should be obvious, for instance, that in the passage cited above Plutarch is arguing against precisely that notion that Padgug claims had not existed in precapitalist societies, i.e., Type B theories. Plutarch believes that a normal human being is susceptible to attraction to either gender, but his comments are manifestly directed against the contrary view. Which attitude was more common in his day is not apparent, but it is clearly inaccurate to use his comments as demonstration that there was only one view. The polemical tone of his remarks, in fact, seems good evidence that the position he opposes was of considerable importance. The whole genre of debates about the types of love of which this dialogue is a representative[8] cuts both ways on the issue: On the one hand, arguing about the matter and adducing reasons for preferring one gender to the other suggests a kind of polymorphous sexuality that is not predirected by heredity or experience toward one gender or the other. On the other, in each of the debates there are factions that are clearly on one side or the other of the dichotomy not supposed to have existed before modern times: Some disputants argue for attraction to males only; some for attraction to females only. Each side derogates the preference of the other side as distasteful. Sometimes bisexuality is admitted, but as a third preference, not as the general nature of human sexuality:

"Zeus came as an eagle to god-like Ganymede, as a swan came he to the fair-haired mother of Helen. So there is no comparison between the two things: one person likes one, another likes the other; I like both."[9]

This formulation of the range of human sexuality is almost identical to popular modern conceptions of Type B: Some people prefer their own gender; some the opposite; some both. Similar distinctions abound in ancient literature. The myth of Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium is perhaps the most familiar example: Its manifest and stated purpose is to explain why humans are divided into groups of predominantly homosexual or heterosexual interest. It is strongly implied that these interests are both exclusive and innate; that is stated outright by Longus, who describes a character as "homosexual by nature [physei]."[10]

[Note: Among many complex aspects of Aristophanes' speech in the Symposium as an indication of contemporary sexual constructs, two are especially notable. (1) Although it is the sole attic reference to lesbianism as a concept, male homosexuality is of much greater concern as an erotic disposition in the discussion than either female homosexuality or heterosexuality. (2) It is this, in my view, which accounts for the additional subtlety of age distinctions in male-male relations, suggesting a general pattern of older erastes and younger eromenonos. Age differential was unquestionably a part of the construct of sexuality among elements of the population in Athens, but it can easily be given more weight than it deserves. "Romantic love" of any sort was thought to be provoked by and directed toward the young, as is clearly demonstrated in Agathon's speech a little further on, where he uses the greater beauty of young males and females interchangeably to prove that Love is a young god. In fact, most Athenian males married women considerably younger than themselves, but since marriage was not imagined to follow upon romantic attachment, this discrepancy does not appear in dialogues on eros. David Dalperin argues in "Sex Before Sexuality" (in this volume) that the speech does not indicate a taxonomy comparable to modern ones, chiefly because of the age differential, although in fact the creatures described by Aristophanes must have been seeking a partner of the same age, since, joined at birth, they were coeval. What is clear is that Aristophanes does not imagine a populace undifferentiated in experience or desire, responding circumstantially to individuals of either gender, but persons with lifelong preferences arising from innate character (or a mythic prehistory).]

It is true that there were no terms in common use in Greece or Rome to describe categories of sexual preference, but it does not follow that such terms were wholly unknown: Plato, Athenaeus, and other writers who dealt with the subject at length developed terms to describe predominant or exclusive interest in the apposite gender.[11] Many writers, moreover, found it possible to characterize homosexuality as a distinct mode of erotic expression without naming it. Plautus, for example, characterized homosexual activity as the "mores of Marseilles," suggesting that he considered it a variant on ordinary human sexuality.[12] Martial found it possible to describe an exclusively heterosexual male, even though he had no terminology available to do so and was himself apparently interested in both genders.[13]

One even finds expressions of solidarity among adherents of one preference or another in ancient literature, as when Clodius Albinus, noted for his exclusively heterosexual interest, persecutes those involved in homosexual behavior,[14] or when a character who has spoken on behalf of love between men in one of the debates bursts out, "We are like strangers cut off in a foreign land…; nevertheless, we shall not be overcome by fear and betray the truth,"[15] or when Propertius writes, "Let him who would be our enemy love girls; he who would be our friend enjoy boys."[16] That there is a jocular tone to some of these statements, especially the last, is certainly attributable to the fact that the distinctions involved in no way affected the well-being, happiness, or social status of the individuals, owing to the extreme sexual tolerance of ancient societies; but it does not cast doubt on the existence of the distinctions. Even when preferences are attributed ironically, as is likely the case in Plato's placing the myth of sexual etiology in the mouth of Aristophanes, the joke depends on the familiarity of the distinctions.

Subtler indications of Type B taxonomies can also be found. In the Ephesiaca, a Hellenistic love novel by Xenophon of Ephesus, sexual categories are never discussed, and are clearly not absolute, but they do seem to be well understood and constitute an organizing principle of individual lives. Habrocomes is involved throughout only with women, and when, after his long separation from his true love Anthia, she desires to know if he has been faithful to her, she inquires only if he has slept with other women, although she knows that men have been interested in him, and it is clear that sex with a man would also constitute infidelity (as with Corymbus). It seems clear that Habrocomes is, in fact, heterosexual, at least in Anthia's opinion. Another character, Hippothoos, had been married to an older woman and attracted to Anthia, but is apparently mostly gay: The two great loves of his life are males (Hyperanthes and Habrocomes); he left all to follow each of these, and at the end of the story he erects a stature to the former and establishes his residence near that of the latter. The author tidies up all the couples at the end by reuniting Anthea and Habrocomes and introducing a new male lover (Clisthenes) for Hippothoos. This entire scenario corresponds almost exactly to modern conceptualizations: Some people are heterosexual, some homosexual, some bisexual; the categories are not absolute, but they are important and make a substantial difference in people's lives.

Almost the very same constellation of opinions can be found in many other preindustrial societies. In medieval Islam one encounters an even more overwhelming emphasis on homosexual eroticism than in classical Greek or Roman writing. It is probably fair to say that most premodern Arabic poetry is ostensibly homosexual, and it is clear that this is more than a literary convention. When Saadia Gaon, a Jew living in Muslim society in the tenth century, discusses the desirability of "passionate love,"[17] he apparently refers only to homosexual passion. There is the sort of love men have for their wives, which is good but not passionate; and there is the sort of love men have for each other, which is passionate but not good. (And what of the wives' loves? We are not told.) That Saadia assumes the ubiquity of homosexual passion is the more striking because he is familiar with Plato's discussion of homosexual and heterosexual varieties of love in the Symposium.[18]

Does this mean that classical Islamic society uniformly entertained Type A theories of human sexuality and regarded eroticism as inherently pansexual? No. There is much evidence in Arabic literature for the very same Type B dichotomies known in other cultures. Saadia himself cites various theories about the determination of particular erotic interests (e.g., astrological lore),[19] and in the ninth century Jahiz wrote a debate involving partisans of homosexual and heterosexual desire, in which each disputant, like his Hellenistic counterpart, expresses distaste for the preference of the other.[20] Three debates of this sort occur in the Thousand and One Nights, a classic of Arabic popular literature.[21] "Homosexuals" are frequently (and neutrally) mentioned in classical Arabic writings as a distinct type of human being. That the "type" referred to involves predominant or exclusive preference is often suggested: In tale 142 of the Nights, for example, it is mentioned as noteworthy that a male homosexual does not dislike women; in Night 419 a woman observes a man staring longingly at some boys and remarks to him, "I perceive that you are among those who prefer men to women."

A ninth-century text of human psychology by Qusta ibn Luqa treats twenty areas in which humans may be distinguished psychologically.[22] One area is sexual object-choice: Some men, Qusta explains, are "disposed towards" [yamilu ila] women, some toward other men, and some toward both.[23] Qusta has no terminology at hand for these categories; indeed, for the second category he employs the euphemism that such men are disposed toward "sexual partners other than women"[24]: obviously lack of terminology for the homosexual/heterosexual dichotomy should not be taken as a sign of ignorance of it. Qusta, in fact, believed that homosexuality was often inherited, as did ar-Razi and many other Muslim scientific writers.[25]

It has been claimed that "homosexuality" was viewed in medieval Europe "not as a particular attribute of a certain type of person but as a potential in all sinful creatures."[26] It is certainly true that some medieval writers evinced Type A attitudes of this sort: Patristic authors often address to their audiences warnings concerning homosexual attraction predicated on the assumption that any male might be attracted to another.[27] The Anglo-Saxon life of Saint Eufrasia[28] recounts the saint's efforts to live in a monastery disguised as a monk and the turmoil that ensued: The other monks were greatly attracted by Agapitus (the name she took as a monk), and reproached the abbot for bringing "so beautiful a man into their minister" ["forþam swa wlitigne man into heora mynstre gelædde," p. 344]. Although it is in fact a woman to whom the monks are drawn, the account evinces no surprise on anyone's part that the monks should experience intense sexual attraction toward a person ostensibly of their own gender.

Some theologians clearly regarded homosexual activity as a vice open to all rather than as the peculiar sexual outlet of a portion of the population, but this attitude was not universal and was often ambiguously or inconsistently held even by those who did most to promulgate it. Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas both wrote of homosexual acts as sins that presumably anyone might commit, but both also recognized that it was somewhat more complex than this: Aquinas, following Aristotle, believed that some men were "naturally inclined" to desire sexual relations with other men - clearly a theory of type B - and Albertus Magnus considered homosexual desire to be a manifestation of a contagious disease, particularly common among the wealthy, and curable through the application of medicine.[29] This attitude is highly reminiscent of psychiatric opinion in late Victorian times, and a far cry from categorizing homosexuality simply as a vice.

"Sodomy" was defined by many clerics as the improper emission of semen - the gender of the parties and their sexual appetites being irrelevant - but many others understood sodomita to apply specifically to men who preferred sexual contact with other men, generally or exclusively, and sodomia to apply only to the sexual acts performed in this context.[30]

Medieval literature abounds in suggestions that there is something special about homosexuality, that it is not simply an ordinary sin. Many writers view it as the special characteristic of certain peoples; others argue that it is completely unknown among their own kind. There are constant association of homosexual preference with certain occupation or social positions, clearly indicating that it is linked in some way to personality or experience. The modern association of homosexuality with the arts had as its medieval counterpart a regular link with the religious life: When Bernard of Clairvaux was asked to restore life to the dead son of a Marquess of Burgundy he had the boy taken to a private room and lay down upon him. No cure transpired; the boy remained lifeless. The chronicler, who had been present, nonetheless found humor in the incident and remarked, "That was the unhappiest monk of all. For I've never heard of any monk who lay down upon a boy that did not straightaway rise up after him. The abbot blushed and they went out as many laughed."[31]

Chaucer's pardoner, also a cleric, appears to be innately sexually atypical, and his association with the hare has led many to supposed that it is homosexuality that distinguishes him.[32] Even non-Christians linked the Christian clergy with homosexuality.[33]

Much of the literature of the High Middle Ages that deals with sexual-object choice assumes distinct dispositions, most often exclusive. A long passage in the Roman d'Énéas characterizes homosexual males as devoid of interest in women and notable in regard to dress, habits, decorum, and behavior.[34] Debates of the period characterize homosexual preference as innate or God-given, and in the well-known poem "Ganymede and Helen" it is made pellucidly clear that Ganymede is exclusively gay (before the intervention of the gods): It is Helen's frustration at his inability to respond properly to her advances that prompts the debate.[35] In a similar poem, "Ganymede and Hebe," homosexual relations are characterized as "decreed by fate," suggesting something quite different from an occasional vice.[36] Indeed, the mere existence of debates of this sort suggests very strongly a general conceptualization of sexuality as bifurcated into two camps distinguished by sexual object-choice. Popular terminology of the period corroborates this: as opposed to words like sodomita, which might designate indulgence in a specific activity by any human, writers of the High Middle Ages were inclined to use designations like "Ganymede," whose associations were exclusively homosexual, and to draw analogies with animals like the hare and the hyena, which were thought to be naturally inclined to sexual relations with their own gender.

Akkain of Lille invokes precisely the taxonomy of sexual orientation used in the modern West in writing about sexuality among his twelfth-century contemporaries: "Of those men who employ the grammar of Venus there are some who embrace the masculine, others who embrace the feminine, and some who embrace both..."[37]

Clearly all three types of taxonomy were known in Western Europe and the Middle East before the advent of modern capitalist societies. It is, on the other hand, equally clear that in different times and places one type of theory has often predominated over the others, and for long periods in many areas one or two of the three may have been quite rare. Does the prevalence of one theory over another in given times and places reveal something about human sexuality? Possibly, but many factors other than sexuality itself may influence, deform, alter, or transform conceptualizations of sexuality among peoples and individuals, and much attention must be devoted to analyzing such factors and their effects before it will be possible to use them effectively in analyzing the bedrock of sexuality beneath them.

Nearly all societies, for example, regulate sexual behavior in some way; most sophisticated cultures articulate rationalizations for their restrictions. The nature of such rationalizations will inevitably affect sexual taxonomy. If "the good" in matters sexual is equated with procreation, homosexual relations may be categorically distinguished from heterosexual ones as necessarily excluding the chief good of sexuality. Such a moral taxonomy might create a homosexual/heterosexual taxonomy in and of itself, independent of underlying personal attitudes. This appears, in fact, to have played some role in the Christian West. That some heterosexual relations also exclude procreation is less significant (though much heterosexual eroticism has been restricted in the West), because there is not an easily demonstrable generic incompatibility with procreative purpose. (Compare the association of chest hair with maleness: Not all men have hairy chests, but only men have chest hair; hence, chest hair is thought of as essentially masculine; though not all heterosexual couplings are procreative, only heterosexual acts could be procreative, so heterosexuality seems essentially procreative and homosexuality essentially not.)

In a society where pleasure or the enjoyment of beauty are recognized as legitimate aims of sexual activity, this dichotomy should seem less urgent. And in the Hellenistic and Islamic worlds, where sexuality has traditionally been restricted on the basis of standards of decorum and propriety[38] rather than procreative purpose, the homosexual/heterosexual dichotomy has been largely absent from public discourse. Just as the presence of the dichotomy might be traceable to aspects of social organization unrelated to sexual preference, however, its absence must likewise be seen as a moot datum: As has been shown, individual Greek and Muslim writers were often acutely conscious of such a taxonomy. The prevalence of either Type A or Type B concepts at the social level, in other words, may be related more to other social structures than to personal perceptions of or beliefs about the nature of sexuality.

Another factor, wholly overlooked in previous literature on this subject, is the triangular relationship of mediated desire, beauty, and sexual stereotypes. It seems safe enough to assume that most humans are influenced to some degree by the values of the society in which they live. Many desires are "mediated" by the valorization accorded things by surrounding society, rather than generated exclusively by the desiring individual. If one posits for the sake of argument two opposed sets of social values regarding beauty and sex roles, it is easy to see how conceptualizations of sexual desire might be transformed to fit "mediated desire" resulting from either pole. At one extreme, beauty is conceived as a male attribute: Standards and ideals of beauty are predicated on male models, art emphasizes male beauty, and males take pride in their own physical attractions. Greece and the Muslim world approach this extreme: Greek legend abounds in examples of males pursued for their beauty, standards of beauty are often predicated on male archetypes (Adonis, Apollo, Ganymede, Antinous), and beauty in males is considered a major good, for the individual and for his society. Likewise, in the Muslim world, archetypes of beauty are more often seen in masculine than in feminine terms, beauty is thought to be a great asset to a man, and the universal archetype of beauty, to which even beautiful women are compared, is Joseph.

This pole can be contrasted with societies in which "maleness" and beauty are thought unrelated or even contradictory, and beauty is generally predicated only of females. In such societies "maleness" is generally idealized in terms of social roles, as comprising, for example, forcefulness, strength, the exercise of power, aggression, etc. In the latter type of society, which the modern West approaches, "beauty" would generally seem inappropriate, perhaps even embarrassing in males, and males possessing it would be regarded as "effeminate" or sexually suspect to some degree.

In nearly all cultures some linkage is expressed between eroticism and beauty, and it should not therefore be surprising that in societies of the former type there will be greater emphasis on males as sex objects than in those of the latter type. Since beauty is conceptualized as a good, and it is recognized to subsist on a large scale - perhaps even primarily - among men, men can be admired even by other men for their beauty, and this admiration is often indistinguishable (at the literary level, if not in reality) from erotic interest. In cultures of the latter type, however, men are not admired for their beauty; sexual interest is generally imagined to be applied by men (who are strong, forceful, powerful, etc., but not beautiful) to women, whose beauty may be considered their chief - or even sole - asset. In the latter case, expressions of admiration for male beauty will be rare, even among women, who will prize other attributes in men they desire.

These descriptions are deliberate oversimplifications to make a point: In fact, no society is exclusively one or the other, and elements of both are present in all Western cultures. But it would be easy to show that many societies tend more toward one extreme than the other, and it is not hard to see how this might affect the prominence of the homosexual/heterosexual dichotomy: In a culture where male beauty was generally a source of admiration, the dividing line between what some taxonomies would define as homosexual and heterosexual interest would be considerably blurred by common usage and expression. Expressions of admiration and even attraction to male beauty would be so familiar that they would not provoke surprise or require designation as a peculiar category. Persons in such a society might be uninterested in genital interaction with persons of their own sex, might even disapprove of it, but they would tend not to see romantic interest in male beauty - by males or females - as bizarre or odd or as necessetating special categorization.

In cultures that deemphasize male beauty, however, expressions of interest in it by men or women might be suspect. In a society that has established no place for such interest in its esthetic structures, mere admiration for a man's physical attraction, without genital acts, could be sharply stigmatized, and a strict division between homosexual and heterosexual desire would be easy to promulgate and maintain.

Female roles would also be affected by such differences: If women are thought of as moved by beauty, even if it is chiefly male beauty, the adoption of the role of the admirer by the woman will nor seem odd or peculiar. If women are viewed, however, as the beautiful but passive objects of a sexual interest largely limited to men, their expressing sexual interest - in men or women - may be disapproved.[39] George Chauncey has documented precisely this sort of disapproval in Victorian medical literature on "homosexuality": At the outset sexual deviance is perceived only in women who violate the sex role expected of them by playing an active part in a female-female romantic relationship. The "passive" female, who does not violate the expectations of sex role by receiving, as females are thought naturally to do, the attentions of her "husband," is not considered abnormal. Gradually, as attitudes and the needs of society to define more precisely the limits of approved sexuality change, attention is transferred from the role of the female "husband" plays to the sexual object choice of both women, and both come to be categorized as "homosexual" on the basis of the gender to which they are attracted.[40]

Shifts of this sort, relating to conceptions of beauty, rationalization of sexual limitations, etc., are supported, affected, and overlaid by more specific elements of social organization. These include patterns of sexual interaction (between men and women, the old and young, the rich and the poor, etc.), specific sexual taboos, and what might be called "secondary" sexual behavior. Close attention must be devoted to such factors in their historical context in assessing sexual conceptualizations of any type.

Ancient "pederasty," for example, seems to many to constitute a form of sexual organization entirely unrelated to modern homosexuality. Possibly this is so, but the differences seem much less pronounced when one takes into account the sexual context in which "pederasty" occurs. The age differential idealized in descriptions of relations between the "lover" and the "beloved" is less than the disparity in age between heterosexual lovers as recommended, for example, by Aristotle (nineteen years). "Pederasty" may often represent no more than the homosexual side of a general pattern of cross-generation romance.[41] Issues of subordination and power likewise offer parallel structures that must be collated before any arguments about ancient "homosexuality" or "heterosexuality" can be mounted. Artemidorus Daldianus aptly encapsulates the conflation of sexual and social roles of his contemporaries in the second century A.D. in his discussion of the significance of sexual dreams: "For a man to be penetrated [in a dream] by a richer and older man is good: for it is customary to receive from such men. To be penetrated by a younger and poorer is bad: for it is the custom to give to such persons. It signifies the same [i.e., is bad] if the penetrator is older and poor."[42] Note that these comments do not presuppose either Type A or Type B theories: They might be applied to persons who regard either gender as sexually apposite, or to persons who feel a predisposition to one or the other. But they do suggest the social matrix of a system of sexual distinctions that might override, alter, or disguise other taxonomies.

The special position of passive homosexual behavior, involving the most common premodern form of Type C theory, deserves a separate study, but it might be noted briefly that its effect on sexual taxonomies is related not only to status considerations about penetration, as indicated above, but also to specific sexual taboos that may be highly culturally variable. Among Romans, for instance, two roles were decorous for a free adult male, expressed by the verbs irrumo, to offer the penis for sucking, and futuo, to penetrate a female, or pedico, to penetrate a male.[43] Indecorous roles for citizen males, permissible for anyone else, were expressed in particular by the verbs fello, to fellate, and ceveo, not translatable into English.[44] The distinction between roles approved for male citizens and others appears to center on the giving of seed (as opposed to the receiving of it) rather than on the more familiar modern active/passive division. (American prison slang expresses a similar dichotomy with the terms "catchers" and "pitchers.") It will be seen that this division obviates to a large degree both the active/passive split - since both the irrumator and the fellator are conceptually active[45] - and the homosexual/heterosexual one, since individuals are categorized not according to the gender to which they are drawn but to the role they play in activities that could take place between persons of either gender. It is not clear that Romans had no interest in the gender of sexual partners, only that the division of labor, as it were, was a more pressing concern and attracted more analytical attention.

Artemidorus, on the other hand, considered both "active" and "passive" fellatio to be categorically distinct from other forms of sexuality. He divided his treatment of sexuality into three sections - the natural and the legal, the illegal, and the unnatural - and he placed fellatio, in any form, among illegal activities, along with incest. In the ninth-century translation of his work by Hunain ibn Ishaq (the major transmitter of Aristotelian learning to the West), a further shift is evident: Hunain created a separate chapter for fellatio, which he called "that vileness of which it is not decent even to speak."[46]

In both the Greek and Arabic versions of this work the fellatio that is objurgated is both homosexual and heterosexual, and in both, anal intercourse between men is spoken of with indifference or approval. Yet in the Christian West the most hostile legislation regarding sexual behavior has been directed specifically against homosexual anal intercourse: Fellatio has generally received milder treatment. Is this because fellatio is more wildly practised among heterosexuals in the West, and therefore seems less bizarre (i.e., less distinctly homosexual)? Or is it because passivity and the adoption of what seems a female role in anal intercourse is particularly objectionable in societies dominated by rigid ideals of "masculine" behavior? It may be revealing, in this context, that many modern languages, including English, have skewed the donor/recipient dichotomy by introducing a chiastic active/passive division: The recipient (i.e., of semen) in anal intercourse is "passive"; in oral intercourse he is "active." Could the blurring of the active/passive division in the case of fellatio render it less obnoxious to legislative sensibilities?

Beliefs about sexual categories in the modern West vary wildly, from the notion that sexual behavior is entirely a matter of conscious choice to the conviction that all sexual behavior is determined by heredity or environment. The same individual may, in fact, entertain with apparent equanimity contradictory ideas on the subject. It is striking that many ardent proponents of Type C etiological theories who regard homosexual behavior as pathological and/or depraved nonetheless imply in their statements about the necessity for legal repression of homosexual behavior that it is potentially ubiquitous in the human population, and that if legal sanctions are not maintained everyone may suddenly become homosexual.

Humans of previous ages were probably not, as a whole, more logical or consistent than their modern descendants. To pretend that a single system of sexual categorization obtained at any previous moment in Western history is to maintain the unlikely in the face of substantial evidence to the contrary. Most of the current spectrum of belief appears to have been represented in previous societies. What the spectrum reveals about the inner nature of human sexuality remains, for the time being, moot and susceptible of many divergent interpretations. But if the revolution in modern historical writing - and the recovery of whatever past the "gay community" may be said to have- is not to be stillborn, the problem of universals must be sidestepped or at least approached with fewer doctrinaire assumptions. Both realists and nominalists must lower their voices. Reconstructing the monuments of the past from the rubble of the present requires quiet concentration.


This essay was written five years ago, and several of the points it raises now require clarification or revision. I would no longer characterize the constructionist-essentialist controversy as a "debate" in any strict sense: One of its ironies is that no one involved in it actually identifies him- or herself as an "essentialist," although constructionists (of whom, in contrast, there are many)[47] sometimes so label other writers. Even when applied by its opponents the label seems to fit extremely few contemporary scholars.[48] This fact is revealing, and provides a basis for understanding the controversy more accurately not as a dialogue between two schools of thought, but as a revisionist (and largely one-sided) critique of assumptions believed to underlie traditional historiography. This understanding is not unrelated to my nominalist/realist analogy: One might describe constructionism (with some oversimplification) as a nominalist rejection of a tendency to "realism" in the traditional historiography of sexuality. The latter treated "homosexuality" as a diachronic, empirical entity (not quite a "universal," but "real" apart from social structures bearing on it); constructionists regard it as a culturally dependent phenomenon or, as some would have it, not a "real" phenomenon at all. It is not, nonetheless, a debate, since no current historians consciously defend an essentialist point of view.

Second, although it is probably still accurate to say that "most" constructionists are historians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a number of classicists have now added their perspective to constructionist theory. This has broadened and deepened the discussion, although, strikingly, few if any historians of periods between Periclean Athens and the late nineteenth century articulate constructionist views.[49]

Third my own position, perhaps never well understood, has changed. In my book, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality I defined "gay persons"[50] as those "conscious of erotic inclination toward their own gender as a distinguishing characteristic" (p. 44). It was the supposition of the book that such persons have been widely and identifiably present in Western society at least since Greco-Roman times, and this prompted many constructionists to label the work "essentialist." I would now define "gay persons" more simply as those whose erotic interest is predominantly directed toward their own gender (i.e., regardless of how conscious they are of this as a distinguishing characteristic). This is the sense in which, I believe, it is used by most American speakers, and although experts in the field may well wish to employ specialized language, when communicating with the public it seems to me counterproductive to use common words in senses different from or opposed to their ordinary meanings.

In this sense, I would still argue that there have been "gay persons" in most Western societies. It is not clear to me that this is an "essentialist" position. Even if societies formulate or create "sexualities" that are highly particular in some ways, it might happen that different societies would construct similar ones, as they often construct political or class structures similar enough to be subsumed under the same rubric (democracy, oligarchy, proletariat, aristocracy, etc. - all of which are both particular and general).[51]

Most constructionist arguments assume that essentialist positions necessarily entail a further supposition: that society does not create erotic feelings, but only acts on them. Some other force - genes, psychological forces, etc. - creates "sexuality," which is essentially independent of culture. This was not a working hypothesis of Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality. I was and remain agnostic about the origins and etiology of human sexuality.


1. For particularly articulate examples of "nominalist" history, see Robert A. Padgug, "Sexual Matters: On Conceptualizing Sexuality in History," Radical History Review 20 (1979): 3-33, reprinted in this volume; and Jeffrey Weeks, Coming Out: Homosexual Politics in Britain from the Nineteenth Century to the Present (London, 1977). Most older studies of homosexuality in the past are essentially realist; see bibliography in John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (London, 1980), p. 4, n. 3.

2. It is of substantial import to several moral traditions, e.g., whether or not homosexuality is a "condition" - an essentially "realist" position - or a "lifestyle" - basically a "nominalist" point of view. For a summary of shifting attitudes on these points within the Christian tradition, see Peter Coleman, Christian Attitudes to Homosexuality (London, 1980), or Edward Batchelor, Homosexuality and Ethics (New York, 1980).

3. Note that at this level the debate is to some extent concerned with the degree of convention that can be sustained without loss of accuracy. It is conventional, for instance, to include in a history of the United States treatment of the period before the inauguration of the system of government that bears that title, and even to speak of the "colonial U.S.," although while they were colonies they were not the United States. A history of Greece would likewise, by convention, concern itself with all the states that would someday constitute what is today called "Greece," although those states may have recognized no connection with each other (or even have been at war) at various points in the past. It is difficult to see why such conventions should not be allowed in the case of minority histories, so long as sufficient indication is provided as to the actual relationship of earlier forms to later ones.

4. Padgug, "Sexual Matters," p. 59.

5. For the variety of etiological explanations to date see the brief bibliography in Boswell, Christianity, p. 9, n. 9. To this list should now be added (in addition to many articles) three studies: Alan Bell and M.S. Weinberg, Homosexualities: A Study of Diversity Amond Men and Women (New York, 1978); idem, Sexual Preference: Its Development in Men and Women (Bloomington, Indiana, 1981); and James Weinrich, Sexual Landscapes (New York, 1987). An ingenious and highly revealing approach to the development of modern medical literature on the subject of homosexuality is proposed by George Chauncey, Jr., "From Sexual Inversion to Homosexuality: Medicine and the Changing Conceptualization of Female Deviance," Salmagundi, no. 58-59 (Fall 1982-Winter 1983): 114-46.

6. Moralia 767: Amatorius, tans. W. C. Helmhold (Cambridge, Mass., 1961), p. 415.

7. Boswell, Christianity, Part I passim, esp. pp. 50-59.

8. See Boswell, Christianity, pp. 125-27.

9. Greek Anthology, trans. W. R. Paton (Cambridge, Mass., 1918) 1.65.

10. Daphnis and Chloe, 4.11. The term paiderastes here can not be understood as a reference to what is now called paedophilia, since Daphnis - the object of Gnatho's interest - is full grown and on the point of marriage. It is obviously a conventional term for "homosexual."

11. For Plato and Pollianus, see Boswell, Christianity, p. 30, n. 56; Athenaeus uses philomeirax of Sophocles and philogynes of Euripides, apparently intending to indicate that the former was predominantly (if not exclusively) interested in males and the latter in females. Cf. Scriptores physiognomici, ed. R. Foerster (Leipzig, 1893), 1:29, p. 36, where the word philogynaioi, "woman lover," occurs.

12. Casina, V.4.957.

13. Epigrams 2.47.

14. Capitolinus, 11.7.

15. Boswell, Christianity, p. 127.

16. 2.4: Hostis si quis erit nobis, amet ille puellas: gaudeat in puero si quis amicus erit.

17. Saadia Gaon, Kitab al-'Amanat wa'l-I c tikhadat, ed. S. Landauer (Leyden, 1880), 10.7, pp. 294-97 (English translation by S. Rosenblatt in Yale Judaica Series, vol. 1: The Book of Beliefs and Opinions).

18. Kitab, p. 295.

19. Ibid.

20. Kitab mufakharat al-jawari wa'l-ghilman, ed. Charles Pellat (Beirut, 1957).

21. See discussion in Boswell, Christianity, pp. 257-58.

22. "Le Livre des caractères de Qostâ," ed. and trans. Paul Sbath, Bulletin de l'institut d'Egypte 23 (1940-41): 103-39. Sbath's translation is loose and misleading, and must be read with caution.

23. Ibid., p. 112.

24. "…waminhim man yamilu ila ghairihinna mini 'lghilmani…," ibid. A treatment of the fascinating term ghulam (pl. ghilman), whose meanings range from "son" to "sexual partner," is beyond the scope of this essay.

25. Qusta discusses this at some length, pp. 133-36. Cf. F. Rosenthal, "ar-Râzî on the Hidden Illness," Bulletin of the History of Medicine 52, no. 1 (1978): 45-60, and the authorities cited there. Treating "passive sexual behavior" (i.e., the reception of semen in anal intercourse) in men as a hereditary condition generally implies a conflation of Types A and C taxonomies in which the role of insertor with either men or women is thought "normal," but the position of the "insertee" is regarded as bizarre or even pathological. Attitudes toward ubnah should be taken as a special aspect of Muslim sexual taxonomy rather than as indicative of attitudes toward "homosexuality." A comparable case is that of Caelius Aurelianus: see Boswell, Christianity, p. 53; cf. Remarkds on Roman sexual taboos, below.

26. Weeks, Coming Out, p. 12.

27. See Boswell, Christianity, pp. 159-61.

28. Aelfric's Lives of Saints, ed. and trans. W. W. Skeat (London, 1881), p. 33.

29. Discussed in Boswell, Christianity, pp. 316 ff.

30. "Sodomia" and "sodomita" are used so often and in so many competing senses in the High Middle Ages that a separate study would be required to present even a summary of this material. Note that in the modern West the term still has overlapping senses, even in law: In some American states "sodomy" applies to any inherently nonprocreative sex act (fellatio between husband and wife, e.g.), in others to all homosexual behavior, and in still others only to anal intercourse. Several "sodomy" statutes have in fact been overturned on grounds of unconstitutional vagueness. See, in addition to the material cited in Boswell, Christianity, pp. 52, 183-184; Giraldus Cambrensis, Descriptio Cambriae, 2.7; J. J. Tierney, "The Celtic Ethnography of Posidonius," Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 60 (1960): 252; and Carmina Burana: Die Lieder der Benediktbeurer Handschrift. Zweisprachige Ausgabe (Munich, 1979), 95.4, p. 334 ("Pura semper ab hac infamia/nostra fuit minor Britannia"; the ms. Has Bricciavia).

31. Walter Map, De nugis curialium 1.23, trans. John Mundy, Europe in the High Middle Ages, 1150-1309 (New York, 1973), p. 302. Cf. discussion of this theme in Boswell, Christianity, chapter 8.

32. Prologue, 669ss. Of several works on this issue now in print see especially Monica McAlpine, "The Pardoner's Homosexuality and How it Matters," PMLA, January 1980, pp. 8-22; and Edward Schweitzer, "Chaucer's Pardoner and the Hare," English Language Notes 4, no. 4 /1967):247-250 (not cited by McAlpine).

33. See Boswell, Christianity, p. 233.

34. 8565ss; cf. Roman de la Rose 2169-74, and Gerald Herman, "The 'Sin Against Nature' and its Echoes in Medieval French Literature," Annuale Mediaevale 17 (1976): 70-87.

35. "Altercatio Ganimedis et Helene: Kritische Edition mit Kommentar," ed. Rolf Lenzen, Mittellateinisches Jarbuch 7 (1972): 161-86; English translation in Boswell, Christianity, pp. 381-389.

36. Boswell, Christianity, pp. 392-98.

37. The Anglo-Latin Satirical Poets and Epigrammatists, ed. Thomas Wright (London, 1872), 2:463.

38. The relationship between the words "propriety" and "property" is not coincidental, and in this connection is highly revealing. Although social attitudes toward sexual propriety in pre-Christian Europe are often touted as more humane and liberal than those which followed upon the triumph of the Christian religion, it is often overlooked that the comparative sexual freedom of adult free males in the ancient world stemmed largely from the fact that all the members of their household were either legally or effectively their property, and hence could be used by them as they saw fit. For other members of society what has seemed to some in the modern West to have been sexual "freedom" might be more aptly viewed as "abuse" or "exploitation," although it is of course silly to assume that the ability to coerce necessarily results in coercion.

39. Lesbianism is often regarded as peculiar or even pathological in cultures which accept male homosexuality with equanimity. In the largely gay romance Affairs of the Heart (see Boswell, Christianity, pp. 126-27) lesbianism is characteried as "the tribadic disease" [tes tribakes aselgeias] (s.28). A detailed analysis of the relationship of attitudes toward male and female homosexuality will comprise a portion of a study I am preparing on the phenomenology of homosexual behavior in ancient and medieval Europe.

40. Cf. n. 5, above.

41. Since the publication of my remarks on this issue in Christianity, pp. 28-30, several detailed studies of Greek homosexuality have appeared, most notably those of Félix Buffière, Eros adolescent: la pédérastie dans la Grèce antique (Paris, 1980); and K. J. Dover, Greek Homosexuality (Cambridge, Mass., 1978). Neither work has persuaded me to revise my estimate of the degree to which Greek fascination with "youth" was more than a romantic convention. A detailed assessment of both works and their relation to my own findings will appear in the study mentioned above, no. 39.

42. Artemidorus Daldianus, Onirocriticon libri quinque, ed. R. Park (Leipzig, 1963) 1.78, pp. 88-89. (An English translation of this work is available: The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. R. J. White [Park Ridge, N.J., 1975]).

43. "non est pedico maritus:/quae faciat duo sunt: irrumat aut futuit" Martial 2:47 (cf. n. 14, above: pedico is apparently Martial's own coinage).

44. Ceveo is, that is, to futuo or pedico what fello is to irrumo: It describes the activity of the party being entered. The vulgar English "put out" may be the closest equivalent, but nothing in English captures the actual meaning of the Latin.

45. Futuo/pedico and ceveo are likewise both active.

46. Hunayn ibn Ishaq, trans., Kitab Tacbir ar-Ru'ya, ed. Toufic Fahd (Damascus, 1964), pp. 175-76.

47. For an overview of this literature since the material cited in note 1, see most recently Steven Epstein, "Gay Politics, Ethnic Identity: The Limits of Social Constructivism," Socialist Review 93/94 (1987): 9-54; also John D'Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970 (Chicago, 1983); and the essays in Kenneth Plummer, ed., The Making of the Modern Homosexual (London, 1981). See also note 48.

48. Three recent writers on the controversy (Steven Murray, "Homosexual Characterization in Cross-Cultural Perspective,"in Murray, Social Theory, Homosexual Realities [Gai Saber Monograph, 3] [New York, 1984]; Epstein, "Gay Politics"; and David Halperin, "Sex before Sexuality: Pederasty, Politics, and Power in Classical Athens" [in this collection] identify among them a dozen or more "constructionist" historians, but Murray and Halperin adduce only a single historian (me) as an example of modern "essentialist" historiography; Epstein, the most sophisticated of the three, can add to this only Adrienne Rich, not usually thought of as a historian. As to whether my views are actually "essentialist" or not, see further.

49. See, for example, Halperin, "Sex before Sexuality." Much of the controversy is conducted through scholarly papers: at a conference on "Homosexuality in History and Culture" held at Brown University in February 1987, of six presentations four were explicitly constructionist; two of these were by classicists. On the other hand, the standard volume on Attic homosexuality, K. J. Dover, Greek Homosexuality (New York, 1985), defies easy classification, but falls closer to an "essentialist" point of view than a "constructionist" one, and Keith DeVries's Homosexuality and Athenian Society, when it appears, will be a nonconstructionist survey of great subtlety and sophistication. See also David Cohen, Law, Society and Homosexuality in Classical Athens," Past and Present 117 (1987): 3-21. For the (relatively few) recent studies of periods between Athens and the late nineteenth century, see Saara Lilja, Homosexuality in Republican and Augustan Rome (Helsinki, 1983) (Societas Scientarium Fennica, Commentationes Humanarum Litterarum, 74); Alan Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England (London, 1982); James Saslow, Ganymede in the Renaissance: Homosexuality in Art and Society (New Haven, 1986); Guido Ruggiero, The Boundaries of Eros: Sex, Crime and Sexuality in Renaissance Venice (New York, 1985); Claude Courouve, Vocabulaire de l'homosexualité masculine (Paris, 1985).

50. An expression I use to include both women and men.

51. Of course, if a constructionist position holds that "gay person" refers only to one particular modern identity, it is then, tautologically, not applicable to the past.


posted at 02:48:10 AM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Thursday,May 15,2003

I just changed my imood to introspective. The descriptive summary I wrote of this mood on the imood site was:

I can feel it in my bones. How am I going to relate to the coming earth changes, of some nature, which appear to me to be imminent?

posted at 09:11:08 PM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Wednesday,May 14,2003

Christopher HItchens explanation for why 9/11 was chosen. It seems plausible to me. However, I suspect that al-Qa'ídá also had the emergency number, 911, in mind:

"I've also frequently heard it suggested that the timing of the recent attacks was linked somehow to the signing of the Camp David agreement in September 1978. I thought this sounded a plausible reason for the death-squads circling that date in their diaries - until I discovered that the agreement was in fact signed on September 17. Fanatics don't make mistakes like that.

"I now think I can provide a more persuasive explanation, however. It was on September 11 1683 that the conquering armies of Islam were met, held, and thrown back at the gates of Vienna.

"Now this, of course, is not a date that has only obscure or sectarian significance. It can rightly, if tritely, be called a hinge-event in human history. The Ottoman empire never recovered from the defeat; from then on it was more likely that Christian or western powers would dominate the Muslim world than the other way around. In our culture, the episode is often forgotten or downplayed, except by Catholic propagandists like Hilaire Belloc and GK Chesterton. But in the Islamic world, and especially among the extremists, it is remembered as a humiliation in itself and a prelude to later ones. (The forces of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza once published a statement saying that they could not be satisfied until all of Spanish Andalusia had been restored to the faithful as well.)

"If my speculation is correct, then whoever wanted to destroy the hearts of New York and Washington was animated by something more than a recent grievance over the West Bank or the Iraqi sanctions."

posted at 06:15:34 PM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Tuesday,May 13,2003

Here is a good article on American fascism:

The Other 'F' Word

By Ben Tripp, AlterNet

May 9, 2003

You could fill your lederhosen with razor blades and ride a bicycle down some steps. You could administer yourself a boiling-hot clyster of Drano and minced cactus. You could irritate a pride of lions whilst bedecked in a ham waistcoat. But why take the easy way out? It’s better to stand and fight. I refer to the deeply Sisyphean task of opposing the neofascist regime which has taken over the United States. There, I did it. I used the word ‘fascist’, which places me in that camp, even if the word was prefixed with the modifier ‘neo’ as in ‘o neo f the worst ideas ever’.

It’s been a long time coming, and not just because of Bob Dole’s Viagra (humorous joke, get it? Long time … never mind). For all its strenuous efforts, I could never give the Bush administration that much credit before. Fascism is such a heavy term, so loaded with images of greasy newsreel dictators in Sam Browne belts and tall boots. Too many commentators leapt on the ‘Orwellian’ and ‘fascist’ bandwagons too quickly into Bush’s sic volo, sic jubeo term of office. After all, wasn’t the WWI Sedition Act far worse than Ashcroft’s Junior Inquisition? How about the McCarthy Era, when a ventriloquist’s dummy nearly destroyed our nation’s freedoms, just to deny Dalton Trumbo the screenwriting credit for ‘Roman Holiday’? For a long time I couldn’t quite slap the ‘F’ word, as fascism is coyly known among lefties, on Bush and his minions. No matter how naughty the Man Who Would be President might be, for my tastes he never hit that perfect Kafka note – until recently. Him and his people weren’t really fascists. Just execrable excrudescent assholes. But 2003 has changed all that.

These people are fascists, and they make Mussolini look like a mezzafinook. There is no component of American liberty of which they are unwilling to relieve us, and no aspect of American life upon which they are unwilling to relieve themselves. Where to begin? First, we must define ‘fascism’. It is a term like ‘love’, about which it can be said that everybody knows exactly what it means, and nobody knows what they’re talking about. Luckily I know everything and so can clear the matter up, particularly if I consult Mussolini’s own diary, which I picked up on Ebay for a song (the song was ‘That’s Amore’ as sung by Dean Martin). For those not fluent in Italian, I will paraphrase the definition before me in Il Duce’s crabbed hand:

Fascism is an extreme right-wing ideology which embraces nationalism as the transcendent value of society. The rise of Fascism relies upon the manipulation of populist sentiment in times of national crisis. Based on fundamentalist revolutionary ideas, Fascism defines itself through intense xenophobia, militarism, and supremacist ideals. Although secular in nature, Fascism’s emphasis on mythic beliefs such as divine mandates, racial imperatives, and violent struggle places highly concentrated power in the hands of a self-selected elite from whom all authority flows to lesser elites, such as law enforcement, intellectuals, and the media. What a rush. Must buy Clara a new hat.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. If we accept this general definition of fascism, we can be forgiven for rushing to the bedroom and throwing some clean underwear into a portmanteau ere catching the next train to Toronto. But we must stand our ground, however eroded it may be. Our freedoms have been undermined at home. Our nation has engaged in an outrageous military adventure overseas, the tissue-thin justification for which has disappeared completely, leaving America in the awkward position yclept ‘hostile invader’ by entities such as the United Nations (you remember them, those nice colored folks over on 39th Street?) Meanwhile our states have mostly gone bankrupt, the first tax cut during wartime since the 1840’s – more wealth for the wealthy – is in the works while corporate feudalism runs rampant, our ability to respond to authentic terrorist threats has been hobbled, the voting system has been co-opted by digital pirates in the Republican party, the electoral system in general is hostage to big money, our healthcare system is in meltdown, our national budget is so far in the red we have to import ink from China just to keep up; the prison population is exploding while our schools implode, civil rights are verklempt and vivisepulturated, our businesses are folding by entire sectors while the military-industrial complex thrives, and our environment is sinking into crisis with the North Pole melted and environmental regulation evaporating like so much ozone. Meanwhile, Jesus Christ is sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom.

But because the American media has ceased to make its own news, relying instead on a kind of government-hosted charabanc tour for journalists, nobody is questioning this lunatic national retrenchment in a public forum – instead, we demonize Arabs and teenagers and black people and homosexuals and poor folks and drug users and anyone, God bless them, who has ever performed fellatio. And that’s only the tip of the scheisseberg. These are all harbingers and symptoms and outcomes of fascism. But still, fascism is such an extreme notion. Once could argue that these many fresh hells are the result of simple criminal mismanagement, and for some time I have been so inclined (to argue thus, not to criminally mismanage. For the latter I’d need an MBA).

What specific enormity cemented the notion of Bush and his cabal as ‘fascists’ in my mind? If I could sit out all of the above, surely nothing could compel me to apply the scarlet ‘F’ to these vendible quantum-larrikins and their erstwhile leader, the Ivy-League demagogue bogtrotter George W. Bush. I can tell you the very moment, and if you missed it, it’s worth finding a dog-eared copy of the video and viewing it entire, although I caution you to keep a bucket handy – these images are too graphic for many American stomachs.

An aircraft carrier in the Pacific, about an hour from San Diego, California. You could row that far. A couple of jets on deck as props, lots of giddy sailors. Here comes an airplane! It lands in the accustomed manner. Out springs the Boy Prince, the Dauphin of D.C., the VIP of the GOP, George W. Bush in full military flight suit, with his ejector harness giving him the worst moose knuckle in presidential history. A bit of video for the election commercials just in case the Democrats don’t all curl up and die on their own, what’s the harm in that? I wish it was that simple. But what we really saw in that moment was a coup d’etat. The president isn’t supposed to wear a uniform. He’s a civilian. Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt strapped on a pistol now and then and we’ve had generals who made president before. That Kennedy fellow was a war hero, too, and Bush Senior, the one who got elected, did his bit in the Pacific while Grampy Prescott was supporting the Nazis in Europe. But when they were president none of these men put on military uniforms. They understood that there are three sacred lines with regard to American democracy that can never be crossed: the line between privilege and power, the line between Church and State, and the line between civilian and military leadership. Cross any of them, and you’re at fascism’s doorstep. Cross two, you’re on the threshold with your hand on the doorknob.

George W. Bush, son of unimaginable privilege, crossed the first line when he was selected to be president by the Supreme Court and accepted the job. He crossed the second line when he revealed his divine imperative, such as when (after the disaster of 9/11) he spoke of being “chosen by the grace of God to lead at that moment." (Attributed by Tim Goeglein, deputy director of White House public liaison and a barrel of laughs at any party.)

When George climbed out of that airplane in his shiny new war suit, he didn’t just carry his own cute little self across the deck: son of privilege, chosen of God, and wearing a military uniform, he passed through the doorway from mere wickedness to fascism. Our struggle in the time ahead is to resist the urge to follow him.

Ben Tripp is a screenwriter and cartoonist.

Usama the secret ally of the Bush's, the neoconservatives, and neoliberals?

Iraq and Afghanistan were the convenient scapegoats. 9/11, the new American mantra, allowed the U.S. to attack those countries, spreading the message, "Don't tread on me," throughout the world.

Now, that message also means: "Hey! Don't even think about stopping U.S. imperialism and neocolonialism." Interesting, isn't it, that, right after the end of the Iraqi war, the U.S. is proposing a free-trade zone in the Middle East?

We are only in the earliest stages of witnessing the real objectives of the capitalist globalists. Anyone care to object? Well, there is always the Patriot Act and, possibly, Patriot Act II in the not-too-distant future to keep you in line.

Countries act in their own interests. A nuclear Israel is the friend to the U.S. because it discourages acts of disobedience to the neoconservative and neoliberal visions of an American dominated world order. Now, the U.S. has Afghanistan, a neighbor of Iran, in its pocket and will make sure that Iraq, another Iranian neighbor, remains in its pocket, too.

How long can the empire be built before the U.S., the most corrupt country in the world, goes the way of Rome and the U.S.S.R.?

posted at 09:57:56 AM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Sunday,May 11,2003

Parts of the Midwest, the Southwest, the Mid-South, and the Southeast have been ravaged by storms - tornados, hail, and thunder. A tornado destroyed an entire neighborhood here in the Kansas City area. One touched down about 4 miles from my home.

I am not an especially apocalyptic person, but did the U.S. think she could deceive the world - pretending to care about liberating Iraq and freeing it from alleged WMD (which still have not been found) even while now proposing to establish a so-called "free-trade" zone in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf - and suffer no penalties? IMO, this is just the beginning of the devastation. America has a lot of negative karma to atone for.

posted at 02:07:59 AM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Saturday,May 10,2003

The U.S. is a good example of what needs to happen in Israel. The European Americans, after a long struggle, eventually gave the Native Americans the "right to return" (or the right to live on reservations).

For better or worse, Israel does not have the luxury of a political struggle lasting several hundred years. The Palestinians are empowered and largely educated. The Native Americans were neither.

There is no realistic alternative. Israel and Palestine must transform themselves into a new multi-ethnic "Palestine" with Jews and Palestinians having 50% of the vote regardless of their numbers.

posted at 10:53:40 PM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Friday,May 09,2003

If anyone ever had a doubt about the real reasons for the Iraqi war, as I have been saying all along, here it is: freedom. Well, Bush's version of it, economic freedom (the expansion of the global corporatocracy):

Bush proposes Mideast free-trade zone

'The momentum of freedom is growing'

Friday, May 9, 2003 Posted: 6:32 PM EDT (2232 GMT)

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) -- The United States will use its "influence and idealism" to "replace old hatred with new hopes" in the Middle East, establishing a free-trade zone with countries in the region within a decade and working to improve their educational and legal systems, President Bush said Friday.

"Reformers in the Middle East are gaining influence, and the momentum of freedom is growing," Bush told graduates at the University of South Carolina in a commencement address. "We have reached a moment of tremendous promise, and the United States will seize that moment for the sake of peace."

"The way forward to the Middle East is not a mystery. It is a matter of will and vision and action. The way forward depends on serving the interests of the living, instead of settling the accounts of the past."

The president also said the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks showed that reform in the Middle East is directly in the U.S. national interest.

"The bitterness of that region can bring violence and suffering to our own cities. The advance of freedom and peace in the Middle East would drain this bitterness and increase our own security," he said.

Bush made his remarks on the same day Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves for the Middle East to discuss a U.S. "road map" for the peace process with regional leaders, including new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.(Full story)

The president said Powell will carry his "personal commitment" to work "without tiring" toward establishment of an independent Palestinian state, living side-by-side in peace with Israel.

"If the Palestinian people take concrete steps to crack down on terror, continue on a path of peace, reform and democracy, they and all the world will see the flag of Palestine raised over a free and independent nation," he said.

'Economic progress'

Noting that the gross domestic products of the Arab nations combined are currently smaller than that of Spain alone, Bush called for creation of a U.S.-Middle East free-trade area within a decade. Advancing economic gains would create an impetus for political reform in the region, the president said.

"The Arab world has a great cultural tradition but is largely missing out on the economic progress of our time," Bush said.

If corruption and "self-dealing" are replaced by free markets and fair laws, "the people of the Middle East will grow into prosperity and freedom," he said.

The United States currently has trade agreements with two countries in the region -- Israel and Jordan -- and is pursuing another with Morocco.

In addition to moving toward a regional free-trade area, similar to one now contemplated for Central America, the United States would also lobby on behalf of some Middle Eastern countries that want to join the World Trade Organization, a senior administration official told CNN. New bilateral treaties between the United States and countries in the region are also possible, the official said.

Bush, who received an honorary doctor of laws degree during Friday's commencement, also told graduates the United States would co-sponsor, with Bahrain, a forum on judicial reform in the Middle East, led by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman appoint to the high court.

Oppression of women in the Arab world, including denying them legal rights and educational opportunities, is holding back the region, Bush said.

"No society can succeed and prosper while denying basic rights and opportunities to the women of their country," he said. "As trade expands and knowledge spreads in the Middle East, as women gain a place of equality and respect, as the rule of law takes hold, all peoples of that region will see a new day of justice and a new day of prosperity."

Bush also said the United States would pay for translation of early reading books into Arabic and donate them to schools in the region, in an effort to improve literacy, especially among girls and women.

"Making the most of economic opportunities will require broader and better education, especially among women who have faced the greatest disadvantages," he said.

--CNN White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.

Fascinating reported statement about Israel and the Palestinians by `Abdu'l-Bahá, the Son of the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith:

The Zionists should make it clear that their principle is to elevate all the people here and to develop the country for all its inhabitants. This land must be developed, according to the promises of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Zachariah. If they come in such a spirit they will not fail.

They must not work to separate the Jews from the other Palestinians. Schools should be open to all nationalities here, business companies, etc.

The Turks went down because they attempted to rule over foreign races.

-- From an interview with the "Globe and Commercial Advertiser," New York, July 17, 1919; reprinted in Star of the West, 1919-1921, pp.195-196

posted at 12:15:07 AM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Wednesday,May 07,2003

Well, this article contains blatant admissions of lying and claims that Islam is about to be wiped out by a Western Christian crusade??? What is happening with this world?

All mapped out

By Daniel Ben Simon

Feeling betrayed by their once-sympathetic prime minister, members of the Yesha Council prepare for the coming struggle and describe visions of a world without Islam

The settlers in the territories are fed up with having to confront a new peace plan every few months. They have had it up to here with the tension and the anxiety generated by the talk about painful concessions that have to be made for the sake of peace. They have neither the interest nor the energy for a new round of battles. They are convinced that they will bring about the death of the new plan, as they did with others, when they sent tens of thousands of people into the streets. Now the guillotine is poised over their heads again, in the form of the American "road map," and wielding the guillotine is none other than the person considered the chief architect of the settlement project. The settlers are stunned that Ariel Sharon has given his consent to the U.S. plan.

Dozens of members of the Council of Jewish Settlements of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District (known as the Yesha Council) met on Monday of this week in order to prepare for the struggle that will be launched after the road map is presented. There was an ominous atmosphere in the meeting, which was closed to the press. "We wanted to discuss things among ourselves," said the chairman of the council, Benzi Lieberman. "The situation is very bad."

Lieberman and his colleagues are battle-weary. It's been almost three years since they declared an uncompromising war against the peace plan presented by the then prime minister, Ehud Barak, at Camp David.

"After the shock of Camp David, it will take a major disaster to make people deeply anxious," one of the settlers' leaders admitted. "Barak placed 100 settlements to be removed on the negotiating table. Fortunately, nothing came of it - not because of Barak but because the Arabs are stupid and didn't agree to accept the gift he was handing them on a platter. We were saved by their stupidity."

This time the settlers were prescient and met for marathon sessions to look for ways to repulse the latest peace offensive. For fear of being viewed as chronic peace refuseniks, they looked for alternatives that would reflect their mood.

"People are always asking us what we propose," Yehiel Hazan, a new Likud MK and a resident of the West Bank city of Ariel, said at the emergency meeting this week. "I made the point that we have to come up with proposals of our own, so we will be able to tell the public `yes' and not only `no.'"

Are the settlers talking about a true peace plan or a bluff? It depends on whom you ask. Most of the participants tended to agree that it's a bluff, but none of them was willing to say so openly. "Our true goal is to block the road map," said Yehoshua Mor Yosef, the spokesman of the Yesha Council, candidly. "But we know that the Israeli public isn't enthusiastic about ruling over Arabs, so we are telling them that we have a plan, too."

Shaul Goldstein, the head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, explained that the Yesha Council plan contains a very generous package for the Palestinians. "We are creating an alternative plan, but without maps," he said. "It's a plan that doesn't have a Palestinian state at the center, but does have possibilities for civil rights for the Palestinians."

More dangerous than Oslo

After examining the road map thoroughly, the members of the Yesha Council reached the uniform conclusion that it will be a death sentence for the settlement enterprise. "It's definitely an earthquake," asserted Prof. Aryeh Eldad, a new MK from the National Union during a lunch break between sessions. "If I'm not mistaken, this is the first time there has been agreement between an American president and an Israeli prime minister on the establishment of a Palestinian state."

There was no dispute over the need to launch a relentless battle against Prime Minister Sharon. "I have to admit that I didn't believe Sharon would be worse than Barak," sighs Goldstein, "but Sharon is 1,000 times more dangerous than all his predecessors. This is the first time an Israeli prime minister has agreed to three points: to freeze building in the settlements, to evacuate outposts and to work for the creation of a Palestinian state."

The settlers make it sound like they have been betrayed by a close relative. The more they ponder Sharon's personality, the less they are able to explain the peace gene that has suddenly appeared in him. "I just don't understand him," Goldstein said irately. "The man is out of joint with history. Just now, when everyone understands the danger of Islamic terrorism, he is establishing a state for them."

Goldstein believes that the road map will not win a majority in the Likud Party Central Committee and that it's unlikely Sharon will be able to push it through the Likud Knesset faction: "The Yesha Council will fight him with all its might, just as it fought against [Yitzhak] Rabin and Barak. I have gone through three prime ministers, but Sharon is the toughest adversary because he is one of the family here."

The settlers are concerned about the day on which they will give the order for their legions to take to the streets. They know the settlers are exhausted after two and a half consecutive years of intifada. It's doubtful whether they will find the strength to block Sharon. "It's hard to get people to demonstrate today," admits Yisrael Rosenberg, chairman of the Beit El Council. "Our public is tired and wants to return to normal life. But if they have to go, they will."

The settlers were always suspicious of Sharon's true intentions because of two events, which they found traumatic, in which he was involved. They will never forget his uprooting of the northern Sinai settlement of Yamit in 1982, following the peace agreement with Egypt. And they will not forget the moral and political backing he gave then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the Wye agreement in 1998. Initially, 8 percent of the territory was supposed to go to the Palestinians, but with Sharon's backing, Netanyahu agreed to up 13 percent.

"We will never forget his uprooting of Yamit," Lieberman asserted, to which Goldstein added, "We will never forget these two events. But now we are dealing with a far more serious decree. The road map is far more dangerous than Oslo."

`Founders' syndrome'

In another few days, Tourism Minister Benny Elon (National Union) will make public a plan he has prepared that seeks to resolve the Palestinian question once and for all. Sharon is unlikely to adopt the plan, though. True, it proposes a two-state model, but as part of the plan, the Palestinian state will be established in Jordan and will then, of course, maintain friendly and peaceful relations with Israel. King Abdullah will not have to abdicate and there will be no urgent need to bring about the collapse of the Hashemite regime. Abdullah can become part of the new regime.

Elon saw no need to attend the emergency meeting; He has his own way to torpedo attempts of this kind by prime ministers. His immediate plan is to make a tour of the Bible Belt in the United States in which he will meet with politicians, public figures, lobbyists and thousands of Evangelists whose soul goes out to Zion. This is the new arena of activity for the Israeli right. For everyone who wants to thwart a political move involving Israel and the Palestinians, everyone who wants to organize a petition against the president of the United States, everyone who believes that the Land of Israel belongs in full and forever to the Jewish people - a visit to this community is mandatory.

The Christian fundamentalists have hooked up with their Jewish allies and created a formidable messianic alignment. The events of September 11, 2001, intensified this Jewish-Christian alliance, which includes some 40 million Americans. "I am very much at home among the Christians who support Israel," Elon stated proudly. "These are people who are wild about Israel and believe in the annexation of Judea and Samaria and even in the transfer of Palestinians from the soil of the Land of Israel. Compared to them, I am considered a dove."

These believers are not acting solely for the sake of heaven. While many are motivated by the divine imperative in the Bible, from which they conclude that they should love the Jews, others are driven by messianic fervor. A war of Gog and Magog, they believe, will herald the second coming of Jesus, and the Jews will have to become Christians; those who refuse will be put to death.

But that bridge will be crossed when we come to it. In the meantime, they say, until that critical period arrives, the world can expect good things: Islam will disappear or undergo a radical transformation.

"It's clear that Islam is on the way to disappearing," Elon asserts with certainty. "What we are now seeing across the Muslim world is not a powerful surge of faith but the dying embers of Islam. How will it disappear? Very simply. Within a few years a Christian crusade against Islam will be launched, which will be the major event of this millennium. Obviously, we will be up against quite a large problem when only the two great religions of Judaism and Christianity remain, but that's still a long way off."

Until then the road map is stuck in Elon's throat like a bone. Like his settler colleagues, he too suspected Sharon's intentions from the beginning. His apprehension only increased in the wake of Sharon's interview with Haaretz last month in which he ceded Beit El, Shilo and Bethlehem. Elon, a resident of Beit El, was appalled. "I felt a terrible pain, I even cried," he relates. "I told the others that we will fight Sharon with all our might. He should know that we will cut ourselves off from him long before Israel cuts itself off from Beit El."

Elon has a complex relationship with Sharon, who, he says, suffers from a "founders' syndrome." He refers to people who established the state and fought for it, but were seized by weakness in their old age. Elon is convinced that Sharon's ambition is to leave behind a peace treaty after he dies. "He was the one who established the settlements and the outposts, and now he feels the need to close the circle and evacuate them. We will not let him ... Just as Ashkelon was once Majdal, Ramallah will cease to be Ramallah. It will become Ramat El [`height of God']. I have no doubt that within a few years the refugee camps will no longer be here. The whole people of Israel will return to the Land of Israel."

No empty caravans

Until the arrival of the road map, the settlers were engaged in reordering and rehabilitating their lives. They fortified their homes, placing iron bars in the windows and fences around their houses to prevent Palestinian infiltrations. The past few months saw a decline in the tension and anxiety, and the residents of the settlements readied themselves for the resumption of the routine they were accustomed to before the outbreak of the intifada at the end of September, 2000.

They began driving on the main roads again, and Israelis and Palestinians drove alongside one another, as they had in the past. There were also fewer checkpoints and the wait to get through them was shorter. Israelis and Palestinians feel that life is about to change.

A few hundred meters from Beit El are the high-rise buildings of Ramallah. Until a few months ago, the sounds of gunfire kept everyone on edge. Now it's quiet. Even Ayosh Junction, which was a lethal arena of battle during the intifada, has returned to normality. Some of the buildings whose walls were blown out by Israeli army tank shells have been repaired and the occupants have moved back in.

Despite the hell of the past 31 months, the settlements expanded. New neighborhoods were built and outposts appeared on the nearby hills. In Beit El, 30 families moved into a new neighborhood, whose construction was completed last summer; construction will soon begin of another neighborhood, consisting of 28 dwellings. The new families will join the 900 families that already live in this large settlement on the outskirts of Ramallah.

"I don't have room for even one new family," Yisrael Rosenberg, the head of the Beit El Council, complains. "I don't have even one empty caravan."

The settlements have diverse methods of expanding. Over and above natural increase, political developments and terrorist attacks actually bring about a growth in the population: In the period of the intifada, 15 new-immigrant families from France settled in Beit El. Another group of 80 families is expected soon.

"That's how it is," says David Schawat from France, who settled at Beit El nine years ago, "the Jews are returning home." Similarly, the road map is expected to strengthen rather than weaken the settlements. "The prime minister's miserable remark about Beit El will bring more new immigrants here," he says, "because whenever we are wronged, new people come to live with us."

Matti Ehrlichman, the physician of Beit El, has an answer to all these blows. Whether it's terrorism or the road map, what makes the difference as far as he is concerned is the womb of the Jewish mother. "I have 170 babies in Beit El every year," he exults. "That means there is life, young couples, a reality that is beyond any government plan. If you want to know whether a settlement is a concrete fact or a bluff, check its birth rate - 170 infants mean that Beit El is not just a hill or an outpost or even a settlement: It's a whole slice of life, and that's what counts."

At mid-morning the siren sounded to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day. Beit El stopped working. The girls in the religious school placed a large yellow patch in the form of the Star of David on the wall, and in its center the word "Jude." The Jewish past plays a central role in setting the agenda of the settlements. Perhaps that is the secret of their strength.

>>How do you define Hinduism?<<

I define "Hinduism" as the beliefs and practices of those who call themselves as Hindus.

>>So, perhaps you would concede to Dee that Hinduism represents "the world's oldest family of religions?"<<

Before or after the Indo-European influence? "Hinduism" is just a name. I don't know if it is possible to be definitive on this subject. I have read papers which argue that some of the indigenous reliigons of Africa are the world's oldest living religions. They trace these religions back to the influence of the Mesopotamian (Persian Gulf) civilization. However, it all impresses me as speculative.

>>One would surely need to know the beginning date of every sect of every religion within a family, as well as the number of members in each to determine by weighted average which family is oldest. Is that about right?<<

No, just the oldest religion in that family.

>>You've perhaps heard the old saw about missing the forest for the trees. Have you visited any nice forests lately?<<

Well, you tried to anticipate what I would say, and you were incorrect. In any event, I don't know why should matter to anyone except a historian of ancient religions which is oldest.

>>And we could create Babel right here on the board, eternally cutting and slicing and otherwise complicating communication. Even as I write this I'm reminded of your article that I browsed through recently. I'm also reminded that to a hammer everything looks like a nail. I guess to a college professor who spends his life trying to deconstruct the universe, that this conversation looks like an opportunity to clean up our lack of contextual clarity.<<

I do try to deconstruct ideologies. However, it is not my "life." And I don't see this conversation as an opportunity. It is just the way I think. Among academics, I think that my approach would be in the majority.

>>My guess, from the conversation we've been having, is that she is more interested in one's feelings and experience with one's spirituality than ideas about people, places and things. I'm sure she'll let us know.<<

Diversity, eh?

>>Hinduism is among the oldest of the world's faiths.<<

It depends on how one defines "Hinduism." However, I think it is more accurate to regard Hinduism, like Christianity and all other major religious traditions, as a family of faiths.

I had written:

>>>>Hinduism" was an intentional historical construction. It would be like coining the term "Semeticism" and including under it the various judaisms, christianities, and islams.<<

You replied:

>>You're not suggesting that Hinduism is any different in that regard than say Christianity are you?<<

No, the pluralizations I made above are indicative of the judaisms, christianities, and islams being, in my view, social constructions. **All** religions are social constructions. Even if there is a spiritual source to a particular religion, once it is contextualized by humans, it becomes a social construction.

>>It seems to me that the farther one moves from the historical roots of a religion, the more likely it is that what we see is an "intentional historical construction." This seems to me a bit of a distinction without a difference.<<

Yes, but my point is that treating a so-called religion, such as Hinduism, as an objective reality is fallacious. Just because one attaches the same name to different religious constructions doesn't mean that they have something in common.

>>As yes, but as with most people, Hindis forget the accommodations and subtle changes that occur over time in their beliefs. How many of the elements of Christianity, for example, have come about through assimilation of rituals associated with pagans who were invited to join this new religion?<<

Of course, as is generally known, almost all of the holidays of Christendom are rooted in pre-Christian "pagan" customs.

>>Tibetan Buddhists assimilated beliefs from the Bon religion that existed among the tribes of Tibet at the time Buddhism was brought from India.<<

And there is some evidence that Zen Buddhism was strongly influenced by Taoism.

>>I understand that you have this thing about accurate attribution but it seems a bit of overkill on a board like this. There are very few Talmudic scholars present excited about the prospect of counting angels on heads of these particular pins.<<

Not attribution so much as contextualization.

posted at 12:50:16 AM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Tuesday,May 06,2003

>>I just don't incorporate fanciful tales to give me my reasons for what I do. Well, maybe an analogy or two, but certainly not a 2000-page document.<<

I think that we all incorporate fanciful tales into our lives. We just don't define them as such.

The ideologies, or myths, which affect most of us are fanciful, and yet they are fundamental to our lives. Nationalism, ethnicism, classism, atomism (the illusion of the absence of social structures), racism, ageism, elitism, ableism, and adultism are collectively held ideologies which justify a spectrum of institutionalized oppressions in various social structures. Even if some of us may not "consciously" accept them, they affect us all in subtle, and not-so-subtle, ways.

>>Regardless of the exact dates, there is little doubt Hinduism arises from a civilization among the oldest on earth.<<

"Hinduism" was an intentional historical construction. It would be like coining the term "Semeticism" and including under it the various judaisms, christianities, and islams.

There have been numerous religious traditions in the Indus Valley. However, mosf of the modern buddhisms have a great deal more in common with most contemporary hinduisms than these hinduisms have with the Indus Valley religions predating Shakyamuni.

It is a bit like using the term "Judaism" to refer both to the tribal religions of the supposed descendents of Isaac and to the many expressions of rabbinical Judaism.

>>Hinduism is the world’s oldest religion, has no beginning and it predates recorded history.<<

IMO, it depends on how one defines "Hinduism." You appear to be using Hinduism as a metaphor for the philosophia perennis. If one wants to say it has "no beginning," that may have meaning from one perspective, but that is still an awfully long time ago. ;-)

If, on the other hand, one defines "Hinduism" (or Santana Dharma) as the teachings of the Vedas, its various branches are really more recent than Buddhism.

Finally, if one defines Hinduism as the philosophia perennis, Hinduism in that sense was basically a social construction, albeit an extremely successful one, of 19th-century Orientalists and of Vivekanda. It was accepted as such not only by many in the "West" but by many educated Indians, too.

Fascinating article:

War sparks revival of doomsday predictions


Knight Ridder Newspapers

CAIRO, Egypt - The end is near.

From Egypt to the United States, books about Armageddon and the return of Jesus Christ are once again big sellers. The war in Iraq, a region central to both Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions, has sparked a revived interest in predictions of the end and led to an usual convergence of the apocalyptic visions that percolate on the edges of both American and Middle Eastern societies.

Web sites discuss end-of-time signs in the Bible and in the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Christian preachers and Muslim prayer leaders link today's headlines about war in the Garden of Eden and the birthplace of Abraham to centuries-old descriptions of humanity's final hours.

"The U.S.-led war on Iraq is an introduction to the battle of Armageddon," Yusef Faqr, an Egyptian attorney, recently told guests in his home. "It is very, very near."

In the United States, fundamentalists thumb through the Book of Revelation, which twice mentions the Euphrates River that runs through Iraq. According to Revelation, before Armageddon begins, "the four angels that are bound in the great river Euphrates" will be loosened and the river will be dried up so "that the way of the kings of the East might be prepared" to march to battle in Israel.

In Cairo, believers also are watching water levels in Iraq. According to Amin Mohamed Gamal El-Din, author of "Armageddon: Last Declaration of the Islamic Nation," the damming of the Euphrates was prophesied by Muhammad as a sign that Judgment Day, known in Islam as "The Hour," is nigh.

The river continues to flow, but Gamal El-Din says other prophetic signs have already come to pass, including an economic siege on Iraq (United Nations sanctions), a siege on Palestine (the Israeli occupation) and the appearance of people with black flags (the Taliban). "I expect a severe war to start in the near future," Gamal El-Din said. "Maybe in weeks, maybe in months, not in years."

Muslims and Christians share strikingly similar views of the final days. Both believe that a demonic leader - Dajal to Muslims and the Antichrist to Christians - will take over much of the world, and that Jesus Christ will return and defeat him prior to the hour of final judgment.

"The commonalities are overwhelming," said David Cook, a religion professor at Rice University in Houston who is finishing a book on classical Muslim apocalyptic literature.

Cook has traced these ideas to the founding of the religion in the 7th Century when some Muslims believed they had less than 100 years to unify the world under the belief in one God. Cook and others believe this helped inspire the victories of early Islamic warriors.

At a teashop near Al Azhar University in Cairo, the oldest Islamic institution of higher learning, students crowd around rickety tables to discuss Gamal El-Din's book. One student notes that Saddam Hussein's name itself is a sign of the last days, because its meaning is related to conflict.

The student believes this agrees with Muhammad's prophecies. The notion has a counterpart in apocalyptic Christianity, which finds a similarity between "Saddam" and "Abaddon," the evil leader in Revelation Chapter 9, Verse 11.

"When (Gamal El-Din's) first book came out it caused a big scandal because it was based a lot on the Torah and the Bible," says Osama Mohamed, a 29-year-old graduate student in criminal law. "The Christians and the Jews were treating Armageddon as their own secret. There were very few Muslims who knew about the details, but when the book came out, it became more known."

It's hard to know how many doomsday believers there are. In the United States, opinion polls and book sales indicate the ideas are widespread. Apocalyptic authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins have sold 55 million copies of their "Left Behind" series of fictional novels and children's books. "Armageddon," the 11th book in the adult series, debuted on various best-seller lists when it was released on April 8, the day before the fall of Baghdad.

In the Middle East, similar statistics don't exist, but Cairo booksellers say books dealing with events at the end of time are among their strongest sellers besides the Koran.

El-Din, a 49-year-old petroleum engineer, believes his "Armageddon" book, published in October 2001, has sold more than a million copies throughout the Middle East. The publisher, Abdel Hamid Shaalan, wouldn't discuss sales figures, but complained bitterly that pirated editions of "Armageddon" are available in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, the Emirates and Morocco.

The publisher of another popular work, "Armageddon: Truth or Fantasy," accused a reporter inquiring about sales of being a spy. "This book is very famous in America," Fathi Hashem, of the Island of Roses Bookstore said. "They want to know our point of view of who will win the Battle of Armageddon."

Belief that the Last Days are close not only spurred Islamic warriors in ancient times, but has also altered events in the modern era. In 1979, the last year of the 14th century of the Islamic calendar, apocalyptic conviction helped fuel the brief takeover of the Great Mosque in Mecca by armed militants and the revolution that toppled the shah of Iran, said Rice University's Cook, who is also an associate of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University.

Leading up to 2000, Islamic writers predicted Jews would destroy Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock during the millennial year. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to the mosque in September 2000 fed that anxiety. "I think the second intifadah was also sparked by apocalyptic fears," Cook said.

Now, with interest in doomsday building, observers are again wary.

Gamal El Shaer, a member of the Egyptian Supreme Council for Islamic Matters and a professor of mass communications at Al Azhar, said he invited Gamal El-Din to appear on a two-hour program on state television so that the ideas in his book could be rationally discussed - and rebutted.

"This really worries me," he said. "I am afraid this book will lead to the implementation of these beliefs."

posted at 09:02:48 AM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Monday,May 05,2003
Huh? U.S. Hires Christian Extremists to Produce Arabic News By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman, AlterNet May 2, 2003 The U.S. government this week launched its Arabic language satellite TV news station for mostly Muslim Iraq. It is being produced in a studio Grace Digital Media controlled by fundamentalist Christians who are rabidly pro-Israel. That's grace as in "by the grace of God." Grace Digital Media is controlled by a fundamentalist Christian millionaire, Cheryl Reagan, who last year wrested control of Federal News Service, a transcription news service, from its former owner, Cortes Randell. Randell says he met Reagan at a prayer meeting, brought her in as an investor in Federal News Service, and then she forced him out of his own company. Grace Digital Media and Federal News Service are housed in a downtown Washington, D.C. office building, along with Grace News Network. When you call the number for Grace News Network, you get a person answering "Grace Digital Media/Federal News Service." According to its web site, Grace News Network is "dedicated to transmitting the evidence of God's presence in the world today." "Grace News Network will be reporting the current secular news, along with aggressive proclamations that will 'change the news' to reflect the Kingdom of God and its purposes," GNN proclaims. The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the U.S. government agency producing the television news broadcasts for Iraq, likes to say it is the BBC of the USA. BBG runs Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, and Radio Sawa Arabic language radio for the Middle East. "Our mission is clear," BBG's Joan Mower told us. "To broadcast accurate and objective news about the United States and the world. We don't do propaganda, leafleting we are like the BBC in that respect." Well, then why hook up with Grace? BBG's Joan Mower said that Grace Digital Media is a mainstream production house used by all kinds of mainstream news organizations. "Grace will have nothing to do with the editorial side of the news broadcast," she said. "They are renting us equipment, space, studio. The Grace personnel we use include technicians, production people but no editorial people." But Mower said she couldn't get us a copy of the contract between BBG and Grace Digital Media. Nor could she say how Grace Digital was chosen as the production studio. Grace News Network proclaims that it will be a "unique tool in the Lord's ministry plan for the world," according to the company's mission statement. "Grace News Network provides networking links and portals to various ministries and news services that will be of benefit to every Christian believer and seeker of truth." The CEO of Grace News Network is Thorne Auchter. The same Thorne Auchter who began the dismantling of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under Presidents Reagan and George Bush I. Auchter did not return our calls seeking comment for this story. While it's unclear whether Grace News Network actually produces any news, it has produced a documentary movie titled "Israel: Divine Destiny" which it showed at the National Press Club in September 2002. The film is about "Israel's destiny and the United States' role in that destiny," according to Grace News Network. Grace News said that it could not make a copy of the film available to us at this time, since it is now undergoing post-production editing. Nor could it provide a transcript. The mainstream media has documented strong and growing ties between right-wing Republican Christian fundamentalists and right-wing Sharonist Israeli expansionists. This alliance is personified in Ralph Reed's Stand Up for Israel, a group formed to "mobilize Christians and other people of faith to support the State of Israel." President Bush has very strong ties to fundamentalist Christians, most notably Franklin Graham, the son of Rev. Billy Graham. Last week, Franklin Graham delivered a Good Friday message at the Pentagon, despite an uproar over his previous slander of Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion." Don Wagner, a professor of religion and director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at North Park University, an evangelical Christian college in Chicago, has written extensively about what he calls Christian Zionism, whose leaders he identifies as, among others, Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, and Franklin Graham. "Christian Zionists have historically pointed to Genesis 12:3-96 I will bless those who bless you. And the one who curses you, I will curse," Dr. Wagner said. "They have interpreted this to mean that individuals and nations who support the state of Israel will be blessed by God. It has come to mean political, economic and moral support, often uncritically rendered to the state of Israel." Grace News Network seems to fit the mold. Joan Mower says that BBG is currently producing and transmitting six hours of news into Iraq including a dubbed version of the daily evening news from ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and PBS, plus three hours of original news programming from BBG. BBG says it sees no problem in having Grace produce the evening news broadcast for Iraq. Given the brewing anti-American revolt through all sectors of Iraqi society, maybe it should reconsider. We called Grace Digital Media to speak with Cheryl Reagan. Her secretary told us that she has been away in extended vacation for more than a month in Israel. When will she back? we asked. No one knows, the secretary said. Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of "Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy" (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).

posted at 06:33:23 PM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Sunday,May 04,2003

>>Ah, but didn't Wittgenstein refer to language as a game?<<

Early Wittgenstein was interested in studying "language games." Late Wittgenstein learned to play them quite well.

>>And so I read in William of Ockham. I respect that you are serious in your pursuit of understanding these things within this context and that you are expressing your opinion.<<

Even if one has little use for these ideas, or if one regards them as language games, knowing the language of those games is important for understanding the Western intellectual tradition. In sociology, my own social constructionism (qua critical constructionism) owes a great deal to both Derrida and Foucault, but it is ultimately grounded in Ockham's razor.

>>I'm afraid I've been captivated by the invitation of teachers such as Longchenpa to look beneath maya to Truth not explicated by philosophies or theories. Perhaps it is a fool's exercise but then, the crazy wisdom tradition has been alive for centuries.<<

I am somewhat familiar with it.

A really good article

'A kind, really nice boy'

What drives Western Muslim adolescents into the arms of fundamentalism and deliberate death?

Nick Cohen

Sunday May 4, 2003

The Observer

With the IRA, it was relatively easy. If young so-and-so was the son of old so-and-so of the Belfast Battalion, the security services would know it was worth taking a look at him. Violent republicanism passed down the generations. The death of volunteers wasn't a part of the IRA's strategy - it was as careful with its members lives as it was careless of the lives of others.

If he blew himself up, it would be an accident, but an understandable accident. His friends wouldn't be stunned. They wouldn't say, as Hamida Akhtar, a friend of Omar Sharif's mother, said last week: 'They were always a very nice, quiet family and very Westernised, not fundamentalist. The girls wore skirts and tights and they all spoke English at home.'

Sharif's father was a successful businessman. His kebab shop, launderette and amusement arcade in Derby earned him the money to give his son a good start at a prep school. If, by a fluke, an MI5 officer had met the boy, he might have predicted many futures. He wouldn't have predicted that Sharif would be a target for the Israeli police as they tried to solve a suicide bombing in a Tel Aviv bar.

The British police said on Friday that Sharif wasn't on their books. They hadn't marked him down as a suspect. Nor did they know anything about Asif Hanif, his alleged co-conspirator. Hanif did kill himself and three innocent bystanders at the bar. The Hanifs lived in west London and were more religious than the Sharifs. But then, friends of Hanif said last week that his teenage religious passion was for Sufism. If this is true, it's incredible. Sufi mysticism is about as far away as you can get in Islam from the doctrines of Osama bin Laden.

To hear that someone who was once Sufi has turned himself into a human bomb is like hearing that a former Anglican nun has bombed an abortion clinic. People who thought they knew Hanif were flabbergasted by the fate he had brought on himself and strangers. Kevin Prunty, his former head teacher, said the news was a 'complete shock which is extremely hard to contemplate'.

The shock is becoming commonplace as terrorist tourism grows. No one who knew Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, when he was young could have imagined his subsequent career. He had no connection with religious extremism. He wasn't even Muslim until he converted in prison. After release, he ended up at Abu Hamza's Finsbury Park's mosque, moped about and then joined a trans-atlantic flight with a sophisticated bomb hidden in his boot.

It's too early to be sure of all the details of Sharif's and Hanif's stories. But their friends' testimony chimes with the memoir Abd Samad Moussaoui has written about his brother, Zacarias Moussaoui, who is accused by the United States of being the 'twentieth hijacker' in the 11 September bombings. The book is written in a spirit of bitter astonishment. The Moussaoui family were Moroccan immigrants to France who wanted to assimilate. The mother didn't teach the children Arabic or take them to a mosque. The brother remembered Zacarias as 'an ideal younger brother. He was smart, clever and kind, a really nice boy'.

There were plenty of teenage miseries. The father wasn't around and Zacarias didn't get on with his mother. He had a French girlfriend from a high-bourgeois family and local racists beat him up for going out with a white girl. There were other instances of racism, real and imagined, but as Abd Samad Moussaoui says: 'Other people have childhoods and adolescences that are worse than ours. How come someone so open, so communicative and warm, so involved in working towards his degrees, let himself be swallowed up by such scum?'

In all cases, friends remember the change brought by the embrace of a suicidal faith which gave life and death purpose. Sharif went to London, where he ended up being influenced by Hamza's Finsbury Park mosque and the al-Muhajiroun group. When he returned, he was a changed man. He dressed in long robes and wore a full beard.

Zacarias Moussaoui moved from Narbonne to study in London and, inevitably, found his way to Finsbury Park. When he came back, his brother was 'aghast' at the transformation. On one occasion, his sister was about to head for the shops in a short-sleeved dress. Zacarias screamed: 'You're not to go out looking like a whore!' then burst into tears. He told Abd Samad Moussaoui's wife, Fouzia, there was no point in women studying. Later, when the three of them were watching a TV film in which a wife was hit by her husband, Zacarias muttered: 'Serves her right. That's what women need.'

The fact that Sharif and Hanif went to Israel provides a superficial rationality. Radical Islamists who deplore the atrocities of 11 September believe that suicide attacks on Israelis are fine and that Hanif is heading to heaven. The Palestinian cause is the Muslim Spanish Civil War, a struggle which inspires the Islamic world. In Palestine, the main force of suicide bombers isn't composed of foreign volunteers, but Palestinians from Hamas and the other Islamic groups. They are fighting against Israeli occupation for comprehensible motives.

But reason breaks down when you wonder why Hamas doesn't behave like a conventional guerrilla army. Why suicide bombing? Why the indiscriminate targeting of civilians? When Hanif went to the Tel Aviv bar, he must have assumed he would have killed Jews, and their deaths would have made him happy. But he might just as easily have killed Palestinians or tourists.

In his recently published book, Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman says that there should not be too great a surprise in the US and Europe at cults of death. Nazism and communism were ideologies whose programmes were unhinged but which, none the less, persuaded millions to kill and be killed. European history is instructive because the 'clash of civilisations' between the West and Islam is nowhere near as clear as bigots on both sides of the divide make out. 'They' are 'us' and 'we' are 'them'.

The clash of civilisations is inside people as well as between them. Osama bin Laden was as Westernised as Omar Sharif, Asif Hanif and Zacarias Moussaoui. All of them, all of us, are in a Salman Rushdie world of multiple identities, although bin Laden probably wouldn't thank you for explaining this to him.

Four conclusions follow. The first is that a solution to the Palestine question based on enforcing UN resolutions, not some aimless 'road map', is a matter of urgency as well as of morality and justice. The second is that liberal Westerners should accept that Hamas will no more be happy with the return of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem than the Israeli Right. Both are irrational movements which dream of ethnically cleansing the other.

Berman follows in a tradition of writers who have tried to get earnest liberals to accept that rational explanation can only go so far. There is a moment when they have to realise that once a religion or ideology takes hold, it has a logic and life of its own. Did the injury to Germany brought by the Treaty of Versailles explain Hitler? Does the presence of US bases in Saudi Arabia or Israeli colonies in Gaza explain bin Laden?

Acceptance of the power of murderous ideology takes us to our third point - that all ideas matter, however deranged. It isn't always wise to dismiss Abu Hamza and the members of al-Muhajiroun as braggarts or clowns.

Forty yearas ago, historian Norman Cohn anticipated Berman when he looked back on the horrors of the first half of the twentieth century and wrote: 'It is a great mistake to suppose that the only writers who matter are those whom the educated in their saner moments can take seriously. There exists a subterranean world where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and half-educated fanatics for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious. There are times when this underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures, and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people, who thereupon take leave of sanity and responsibility.'

The final conclusion is that the security services might keep an eye on families after all. Abd Samad Moussaoui said that the men from al-Qaeda who had ruined his brother's life looked for 'young people who have become estranged from their families, the strong moral anchors that are their father, mother, brothers and sisters, and even friends'.

Beware adolescents panting for an answer to their angst. Such boys are dangerous.

posted at 05:34:32 AM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Saturday,May 03,2003

I would suggest that developing an understanding of one's humanity is considerably helped by a careful study of metaphysics and epistemology.

IMO, it is not possible to understand medieval philosophy and theology without knowing the meaning of nominalism, of realism, and, perhaps, of conceptualism; and it is difficult, if not impossible, to clearly grasp modern philosophy and social theory without a prehension of these three ontological and epistemic positions.

posted at 07:03:18 PM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Friday,May 02,2003

>>I'm not quite certain what you mean by all bets are off.<<

You had suggested that something like a police state might develop in the U.S. to protect the wealthy. What I proposed is that, in the event of a series of major "terrorist" attacks, there might not be a wealthy to protect.

>>From my view, it seems clear that any threat, including that posed by terrorist attacks, will, as in Israel under Sharon, become the occasion for increased oppression and higher approval ratings among the masses who feel their security threatened. In other words, terrorism fits hand in glove with oligarchic oppression.<<

Yes, which is, of course, the objective of Hamas and Palestinian Jihad. They appear to be looking for a resurgence in the cycle of violence, but I don't know why, rationally, they believe that this will help them achieve their objectives. All the evidence suggests otherwise.

The only thing I can think of is that they are reacting from the heart, not the head. They must feel really hopeless. Nonetheless, my view is that the Palestinians should practice nonviolent civil disobedience. I actually suggested a Gandhi-like approach to a few friends of mine who are Palestinian.

>>Perhaps I read history differently than you do but I've never observed the nation state as primarily an instrument to satisfy basic human needs.<<

So were the manor and the fief.

As we witness at the moment, this administration surely has very little interest in satisfying basic human needs.<<

I am not much interested in politics or politicians. IMO, the hope lies in massive structural change, through some sort of revolutionary movement, hopefully nonviolent. Rather than harnassing national interests, such interests must become irrelevant.

>>I couldn't help but chuckle at the large assortment of two dollar words in the introduction to your article.<<

That is a good way to get published. ;-)

>Sociology has always suffered because of its standing midway between the humanities and sciences. I guess if one is committed to being a scientist, one is obliged to develop arcane jargon.<<

Well, that is true, I think, in all fields. However, I do try to use words which allow me to convey my thoughts with the greatest precision - not because they are two-dollar words.

>>I've been forever grateful to the history professor who encouraged all his students to buy a copy of William Strunk's classic Elements of Style.<<

I relied a great deal upon that little book in training to work as a broadcast journalist, which is what I did in my previous "life." However, if I am going to communicate with others, especially my colleagues, I need to use specialized terms which they will recognize. There is, unfortunately, no way to say nominalism - except to say nominalism (except maybe particularism).

>>Perhaps you recall when the federal government made a billion dollar loan to the Chrysler Corporation, then run by Lee Iacocca, based on the premise that the corporation was too big to be permitted to fail.<<

I remember it like it was yesterday, unfortunately.

>>I've suggested elsewhere on this board that we may be entering a transitional period in world history in which the nation state will begin to lose its efficacy as an organizing principal. We've witnessed, some of us with increasing horror, the growing power of multinational corporations ....<<

I suggested something similar in my paper, "An Anti-Terrorist Manifesto: Praxis for a Radical Sociology of Religions.

>>... My guess is that the United States will remain too valuable to these oligarchs for them to permit this country to fail. Instead we will have increasing dislocation and disenfranchisement, as the gap in wealth between rich and poor grows and police power is used to protect the gated communities where wealthy Americans will live.<<

The implications of the imposition of an external iron law of oligarchy on a a nation state, with police protection for the nouveaux riches, is a police state. How much power does would the U.S. have in this case?

>>The disparity in income growth has continued over the last decades and the disaffection with the political process has increased.<<

And paleoconservative pundits, like Bob Novak, say they would prefer Bush's reduction in dividend taxes to universal health care, replicating Reagan's insensitivity and ignorance when he held up a copy of the Washington Post classified job listings and chided the poor for their poverty. Even ignoring the obvious, that the poor don't generally have stocks, an elimination of all taxes would hardly enable the underclass or working poor to afford health insurance. How long can a country governed by bourgeois class consciousness continue without a revolution?

>>... entertainment become increasingly perverse and jarring.<<

With Jerry Springer and other talk show hosts exploiting the sufferings of the poor for ratings. I can't comment on the new "reality" shows, since I have never seen one.

>>Corporate controlled media offers little in the way of depth and great swaths of the airways are filled with mind numbing crudity.<<

Fortunately, there are alternative news outlet. I put together a listing of some of the more progressive and leftist ones:

>>It has the distinct flavor of the end of the Roman empire in which ever more extreme entertainment was necessary to distract the dissipated masses.<<


>>So, if world government ever happens, in my opinion it will be government controlled by oligarchs, who will utilize the most powerful military available to assert their power against anyone who objects to their cultivating even greater wealth.<<

However, in the event of a series of new so-called "terrorist" attacks, all bets are off.


Sightings 5/1/05

Good News for the Tolerant

-- Jonathan C. Gold.

The Religion and Values department at Gallup recently initiated a new index

called the "Gallup Religious Tolerance Index," which will now be part of

Gallup's regular polling. To publicize this new initiative, Gallup

organized an on-line seminar led by Al Winseman who described the format of

the new index and some preliminary findings. The web seminar was March 25,

and I "attended" along with 60 or 70 other subscribers to Gallup's web


Winseman and his team use five questions to categorize individuals into

three "levels" of religious tolerance: Isolated, Tolerant, and Integrated.

The figures show America today as 17 percent Isolated, 46 percent Tolerant,

and 37 percent Integrated..

The least tolerant, "Isolated" individuals have a view that Winseman

describes as "my tribe or no tribe," believing that their faith is right

and others wrong. Individuals with a medium level of tolerance are called

"Tolerant," which is here described as a "'live-and-let-live' attitude

towards people of other faiths" that is "not a negative view, but not a

positive view" of other faiths. The most tolerant, the "Integrated"

individuals, not only respect other traditions but "feel respected by them

as well," and "actively seek to know more about and from others of

different religious traditions.".

Once these categories were defined, Gallup investigated break out analyses

in order to determine the social and psychological "consequences"

(statistically speaking) of tolerance. One of Gallup's most significant

discoveries (if, in fact, it can be shown that this has not been smuggled

into the definitions of the categories) is that a higher level of tolerance

is correlated with a higher likelihood of membership in a faith community.

As Winseman writes, this suggests that "most faith communities are doing a

good job in promoting respect for other faiths." What's more, Integrated

individuals -- the most tolerant among us -- are distinguished as being by

far the most likely to be actively Engaged in their faith communities.

(Religious "Engagement" is itself a new Gallup category summarizing answers

to a separate group of questions.).

Life is better for those most open to other faiths. In answer to Gallup's

standard "Life Satisfaction" question, a full 47 percent of Integrated

individuals say that they are "Completely Satisfied," compared to a mere 35

and 36 percent of Isolated and Tolerant individuals, respectively. When

Winseman suggests in this context that people "pay the price" for

intolerance, he is mistaking a correlation for a cause: perhaps satisfied

people are more likely to be open to others. Nonetheless, even this

alternative possibility suggests that an intriguing characterology lies

behind these statistics..

To round out this characterization of tolerance, it turns out that the more

tolerant you are, the more likely you are to serve your community and to be

spiritually committed -- statistics that belie the paranoid notion that

learning about others undermines one's own faith commitments..

Whites are far more often Tolerant (48 to 38 percent) and far less often

Integrated (35 to 45 percent) than non-whites, while whites and non-whites

have an equal number of Isolated individuals (17 percent). Females are in

general far more tolerant than males, with only 13 percent Isolated as

compared with 22 percent of males, and 43 percent Integrated as opposed to

only 33 percent of males..

The more education a person has, the more likely he is to be Tolerant,

rather than Isolated: this we would have hoped for and expected. But

increased education levels are also correlated with decreased levels of

Integration -- suggesting that education teaches one to be tolerant, but

does not teach one to be outgoing..

Still, this way of putting it suggests that the index would more properly be

called the "Religious Integration Index." (We would not ordinarily say

that my wanting to be your friend would make me more "tolerant" of you than

my wanting to be left alone.) This points to the reason academic

institutions fail to promote the full measure of "tolerance" that the index

measures. Religious integration -- that is, the cross-fertilization of

religious groups -- is innately an activity of religious communities, not

of non-religious academic ones..

One hopes that in upcoming studies Gallup will be able to break out these

findings into other relevant categorizations, especially age, religious

denomination, and geographical distribution. In any case, as global events

place religious communities into ever closer connections and confrontations,

these will be numbers worth watching..

Jonathan C. Gold is a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy of Religions at the

University of Chicago Divinity School.

posted at 12:51:32 AM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Thursday,May 01,2003

The problem is not anyone's ethnicity. It is simply a convergence of interests. Secular Jewish neocons see Israel as a place of protection for Jews. Many non-Jewish neocons see Israel as a stable democracy in the region and, therefore, a good basis for economic and political empire building in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

It has nothing to do with being Jewish or not being Jewish. It is simply that the interests of some interfere with the interests of others. Personally, I am in greater sympathy with the Palestinians than the Zionists. However, I can also understand the political Zionist position (though I don't agree with it).

>>I visited your site and note that you are a serious gentleman with the bona fides to speak intelligently on this topic.<<

Thank you.

>>Having said that, I believe your solution to the problem can best be described as utopian, considering the state of politics in this country. You should ask your Senator what he believes about world government. Mr. Brownback is surely among the most conservative Senators now serving. The story below is listed on his website.<<

I am familiar with Senator Brownback, but I thought there might be something about world federalism, or globalism, on that web page.

I have no illusions about whether most U.S. officials will cooperate with the growing world federalist movement. U.S. officials. Certainly, the Bush administration, at least, has dealt its hand in refusing the ratify the new world court (along with Russia and Mainland China).

>>As you no doubt know, conservatives, who seem to be in the ascendency in this country, at the moment, have no interest in handing the reigns of government to any international body.<<

Compared to Europe, conservativism has always been on the ascendency in the U.S. Most Americans, especially in middle America I have lived for the last ten years, are more or less conservative on cultural, political, and economic issues. I do not expect the U.S. to cooperate in world government.

Since no single country can, individually, rival America's power, the only hope, from my perspective, must come from other countries willing to form alliances against U.S. interests, similar to what France did before the Iraqi war.

>>As well-meaning as are your thoughts on the matter, you should perhaps save them for a course on the history of American utopian movements. I'm pretty fond of the Transcendentalists myself, to be honest with you. <<

Emerson was an individualist. Any meaningful changes must be a result of **transcending** the individual.

Bush will now call an end to the hostilities stage of the war. What about calling an end to the power of the neoconservative warriors?

posted at 07:34:39 AM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Copyright © 2002- Mark A. Foster, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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