El Paso, Dayton and Washington, D.C.

You seldom have to wait long for mass shootings in the US, and then two come around together.

Amazing how people manage to kill even when guns are unavailable

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 251 mass shootings there in 2019, and the year is still young. Other, less partial, sources put that number at 36. Both agree that the one in El Paso, claiming 20 dead, is so far the bloodiest of all.

That’s why it’s perhaps not surprising that the reactions to it have been the inanest of all, with meaningless clichés dripping from every word.

Thus President Trump showed his inimitable sense of style by describing the El Paso and Dayton murderers as “really very, very seriously mentally ill”.

Mr Trump needn’t bother to apply for a position on Rees-Mogg’s staff. The latter enforces stylistic rectitude in his office correspondence, and preceding a noun with five modifiers, two of which are ‘very’, just wouldn’t cut the mustard.

As to the substance of his statement, Mr Trump’s qualifications for diagnosing a psychiatric condition aren’t immediately obvious. He has merely succumbed to the widespread temptation of trying to medicalise every social problem.

This is a cop-out that avoids serious analysis, without which Mr Trump’s stated objective of “doing more to stop mass shootings” can’t be achieved.

Once platitudes took hold, there was no stopping them. He described the El Paso shooting as “an act of cowardice,” adding that “there are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people.”

Those two murderers are many things, few of them nice. But one thing they definitely aren’t is cowardly.

I’d suggest that going to an almost certain death testifies to great courage. However, many people make the mistake of regarding bravery as an unconditional virtue, regardless of what purpose it serves.

However, if bravery serves an evil end, as in these cases, it’s itself evil – whereas cowardice becomes a virtue if it restrains a potential murderer from perpetrating his evil deed.

Then the president added that “hate has no place in our country”, which is false both factually and metaphysically.

Factually, hate manifestly occupies a prominent place in the US and elsewhere. Metaphysically, hate will have no place anywhere only after the Second Coming. Until then, original sin will continue to operate.

That also makes nonsense of Mr Trump’s platitudinous reference to there being no excuse for murdering “innocent people”. Until the aforementioned event has arrived, few of us will remain truly innocent.

Also, the implication is that it would be justified to shoot up a crowd wholly made up of bigamists, prostitutes and paedophiles. One does wish our rulers were able to find better words to convey their outrage and, more important, to suggest preventive measures.

But at least the president refrained from coming up with more spurious explanations for the tragedy, other than ascribing it to the murderers’ lunacy, as one does.

Now, someone wantonly killing and being killed clearly commits an aberrant, violent act. But not all violent acts are a result of a diagnosable psychiatric condition – in fact, in the US, less than five per cent of them are.

The explanations proffered by Mr Trumps’ detractors are even less sound. Some political southpaws even blamed the El Paso shooting on his anti-immigration rhetoric.

Yet such rhetoric was never muted even when I lived in Texas (1974-1984). Though since then El Paso’s Hispanic population has grown from about 60 to over 80 per cent, the city remains one of the safest in the country. Hence this act of random violence hardly reflects a link between demographics and murder.

The El Paso shooter explained that he was responding to the Mexican “invasion” of Texas, which shows an insecure grasp of history. After all, Texas was originally Mexican, and it was white settlers who invaded and ethnically cleansed it in an unjust 1848 war.

Nor does one see any persuasive evidence of a rise in white supremacism. On the contrary, such organisations as the Ku-Klux-Klan and the John Birch Society, if they’re still extant, have certainly lowered their profile to virtual invisibility.

During my time in Texas, I heard anti-Mexican sentiments expressed every day, yet no one discharged assault rifles in supermarkets. Ethnic animosity may sometimes be a constituent of criminality, but in this case it’s best to sheathe one’s Occam razor: this explanation is too simplistic to elucidate a trend, though it may account for a single incident.

Then naturally there’s a thunderous choir of voices clamouring for a ban on firearms, the Second Amendment or no. To be believed, such vocally endowed persons would have to find fault with the detailed and copious research presented by John Lott in his book, whose title is also its conclusion: More Guns, Less Crime.

Prof. Lott analyses reams of data for every state, reaching the conclusion that the availability of firearms is in inverse proportion to the crime rate. Yet, taking their cue from Rousseau, anti-gun fanatics insist on the inherent goodness of man, with each vile act therefore attributable to external reasons only.

Alas, that’s demonstrably not the case. It’s an immutable fact of life that people kill – with guns, if they are available; without, if they aren’t. London, for example, has some of the strictest gun laws in the world, which doesn’t prevent someone being knifed to death practically every day.

Moreover, since the US gun laws were liberalised in the early ‘90s, firearm homicides have decreased by about fifty per cent, vindicating Prof. Lott’s findings.

However, mass, showcase shootings (defined as producing four or more victims) have skyrocketed during the same period: from an average of just over three a year back then to one a week now, even if you only accept the lower figure cited above.

It takes more research than I can conduct to understand why. Conceivably, there’s some kind of Herostrates complex at play, a morbid desire for notoriety at any cost.

Since celebrity and achievement have gone their separate ways, obscurity may strike some losers as unfair. If someone can become an international star simply because her gluteus is very maximus, why can’t they? This is an injustice, which may be correctable by a few well-publicised shots – even at the cost of one’s own, hitherto worthless, life.

Drugs may have a role to play too, especially if the wrong ones are in fashion. Thus the murder rate in New York dropped appreciably when heroin replaced crack as the drug of choice. Heroin, being a downer, makes one less violent; crack, being an upper, more so. Currently popular crystal meth is an upper too, and it may encourage violence.

A constantly fostered culture of entitlement may also be a factor: the sense of being denied one’s perceived due may create a grudge against the world in general and the usual culprits in particular.

All this is sheer speculation, but the issue must be studied seriously, for the findings will shed light not just on crime, but on the world as it now is. Using these tragedies as an opportunity for mouthing banalities or scoring political points is in itself a tragedy.

P.S. While we’re on the subject of mental disorders, my cracker-barrel diagnosis is that Peter Hitchens suffers from perseveration, the urge to repeat the same things over and over.

His two idées fixes are the evil of drugs and the virtue of Putin. Displaying an enviable agility, he’s capable of squeezing one of those into any seemingly unrelated context.

Yesterday, for example, he wrote a good article about the sorry state of policing in Britain. Suddenly, out of the blue, came the conclusion: our police present a greater threat to our freedom than Putin ever will.

This is a blatant non-sequitur, and experienced writers know how to avoid those. That Hitchens was unable to do so surprised me no end – until I realised that the whole piece had been written for the purpose of emphasising Putin’s harmless nature.

I’m sure that if Mr Hitchens were to write a cookery book, he’d find a way of saying that Putin is excellent for one’s digestion.

Nietzsche was right: God is dead

For that coroner to divinity, God wasn’t a person whose life had come to an end. He was dead because clever people could no longer believe in him.

“God is dead, but he must be revived for the benefit of the stupid people.”

Nietzsche was absolutely right: scientific advances, social and political developments, new eudemonic philosophy with man as its fulcrum had all conspired to vindicate his conclusion – and it’s even truer now than it was then.

So yes, clever people can no longer believe in God. However, supremely intelligent people, serious thinkers, can’t function at any level above quotidian concerns without faith in a supreme being.

The tragedy of Nietzsche’s time, and even more of ours, is that many brilliant people who would otherwise be lavishly equipped to make the next step into supreme intelligence are held back by their atheism.

I can’t blame them, especially since some of them are among my closest friends. A man can no more be blamed for having no faith than for having no musical gift. For faith is a gift too, in the strict sense of something presented by an outside donor.

This is a blanket observation, one that applies equally to the lowliest of peasants, the loftiest of intellectuals and everyone in between. However, though none of the atheists can be blamed, some can be pitied.

These are clever people who really do try to understand the world, not just to survive in it comfortably. If they’re serious in that effort, sooner or later they’ll reach an impassable barrier with a sign saying ‘thus far but no farther’.

This isn’t to say that an equally intelligent believer will have no limit to his intellectual reach. He will, but for him it’ll appear farther down the road.

An atheist, however high off the scale his IQ, is by definition deficient in his ability to ask the next question. To paraphrase Wittgenstein, he may get as far as wondering how the world is – but not that it is, and especially not why it is.

Such questions aren’t answered, nor indeed asked, by natural science, politics, sociology, economics or double-entry accounting. The questions of being and existence are the domain of metaphysical philosophy and, ultimately, the highest of all sciences, theology.

This is a matter of fact, not opinion, and any intelligent atheist will accept it. The admission would be easy for him: he has implicitly agreed to apply dampeners to his thought and doesn’t see that as a problem.

He’ll usually just say that such things are so far beyond human understanding (meaning his understanding of course) that one might as well not bother. Being able to figure out today’s trials and tribulations is both hard enough and rewarding enough. Life’s too short.

That’s where he does a disservice not only to himself, but, if he has an audience, which some of my brilliant friends do, also to others. For, without understanding that, rather than being short, life is eternal, it’s impossible to solve even the simple problems he has set out to solve.

In my book The Crisis Behind Our Crisis, I analysed the far-ranging effects of atheism on economic behaviour, specifically the kind of behaviour that had caused the 2008 crisis – or rather the crisis that had come to the fore in 2008, the year in which it neither began nor ended.

It takes a book, rather than an article, to cover such issues adequately – and even a longer book to expand beyond economics into such areas as law, education, crime, social interactions, public morality and so on.

All such areas are beset with problems, and any ultimate solution can only come from an approach springing from fundamental philosophical verities. Intelligent atheists know this, and even a cursory investigation makes them realise that, in the West, such verities can only be found in Christianity.

The investigation doesn’t have to be more than cursory because ample empirical data, their ersatz deity, are in plain view.

Any honest observer will know that every attempt to replace Christianity with a secular alternative has failed miserably and catastrophically. The twentieth century, the first atheist one from beginning to end, spilled more blood than all the prior centuries combined – and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that the worst may yet come.

That’s why Douglas Murray most recently and many brighter atheists before him have concluded that a return to Christianity is necessary to anchor reality and prevent it from being cast adrift.

At this point, I stop pitying atheists and start blaming them. For they effectively return to Nietzsche, with themselves cast in the role of der Übermensch.

Yes, they imply, of course God is dead, but only for us extremely or, as in Murray’s case, moderately clever people. We know better than to believe in all that mythical nonsense. However, our better knowledge can’t keep hoi polloi in check, maintaining social order, stability and liberty.

The masses need to be kept on the straight and narrow, for if they’re allowed to deviate, they may well threaten the existence of the clever people who know better. And centuries of trial and error have shown that only Christianity can steer the human herd into the right avenue.

I’ve stripped this kind of thinking to its essentials the better to show its hubristic, megalomaniac dishonesty.

After all, these people are atheists. Hence they believe that Christianity is false. To them it’s a lie, but a socially useful one, the kind they, clever people who know better, can use to build a successful society.

Well, I’ve got news for them: if a society is built on a lie, it won’t stay successful for long. And conversely, if it stays successful for long, it’s built on truth.

Christianity can only deliver a lasting social success if it’s true. And because it’s true, it did indeed deliver such success for centuries. Things only went terminally awry when God died – that is, when clever people could no longer accept the truth of Christianity.

Thus these neo-Nietzschean atheists can’t solve the problem for the simple reason that they themselves are the problem.

They should really stay off the subject of God altogether and concentrate instead on social commentary or, as in Murray’s case, the dangers of Islamic homophobia. They just might do some good that way.   

Sticks and stones

My oh my, aren’t we sensitive. Use the word ‘man’, singly or in compounds, and you brand yourself as a troglodyte everywhere, Personhattan and Personchester alike.

Liberalism in action

Tell a joke along the lines of “an Irishman, a Jew and a black man…”, and you’re a racist troglodyte.

Mention in jest that one can tell a gay bar by the fact that the stools are upside down, and you’re a homophobic troglodyte and, quite possibly, a criminal.

Universal scorn is your immediate punishment, accompanied with suggestions that “there ought to be a law…” Calm down, dears, the law already exists. Or if it doesn’t, it soon will. No one says anything we’re mandated to regard as offensive and gets away with it.

Thing is, most people aren’t really offended by masculine personal pronouns and some such. To think that they are would be tantamount to diagnosing a pandemic of madness, and one has yet to hear a government health warning to that effect.

People react that way because they’ve been brainwashed to do so. The combined efforts of the state, the media and our non-education create a zeitgeist that plays by contrived ethical rules.

Though it’s false through and through, most people have no mental strength to swim against the zeitgeist current. They are vulnerable to propaganda, both overt and surreptitious.

So no, no pandemic of madness is under way. But there’s no question that such vulnerability testifies to at least a mild form of mass idiocy.

Because everything about modernity is supposed to be progressive, this is a progressive condition. When it comes to mandated and affected sensitivity, what was a silly quirk when I first came to Britain, 31 years ago, has become unassailable etiquette.

In those days, a few chaps from the office and I often went for lunch to a local pub that had two pool tables and its own team. Since hustling pool was part of my misspent youth, I could hold my own and even once won a pub tournament.

That earned me the affection of the landlord we called Big Al on account of his girth. He’d always flash an avuncular smile when I walked in and say, good-naturedly: “Here comes the Russian c***.”

In response, I’d order a pint and ask Al how the fatties were doing. We’d then play a frame or two, which I’d usually lose.

Today something like that would be classed as a hate crime. I’d be expected to froth at the mouth, threaten to call the police or report Big Al to the Equality Commission.

It’s hard to escape the observation that, as people get thicker, their skin gets thinner. In the process, one of the most endearing traits of the English, a sense of humour and an ability to laugh at oneself, is falling by the wayside.

People are denied the right to say anything they wish as a joke, for shock value or simply because they like the line. We’re held responsible for every word we utter, and every word is taken at face value regardless of the speaker’s intent. Nothing is a joking matter any longer.

For example, if the IRA is discussed in mixed company, some people will look askance at anyone saying “I could murder a McGuinness”. A joke? A pun? Not on your nellie. It’s the utmost in crudeness at best, and quite possibly a statement of murderous intent.

And if the object of a quip is a member of an ethnic minority, a cripple, a mentally retarded person or a homosexual, the wag can confidently expect everyone present to contort his face in a gurning grimace of sanctimonious opprobrium.

The other day I was watching my lapidary five minutes of Sky News, where some lachrymose gorgons were waxing cloyingly sentimental about a boy with “special needs”, who, according to them could still have a rewarding career.

“Yeah,” I said to Penelope. “As a doorstop. Or else, with some rudimentary training, he could learn to bring you your slippers in his mouth.”

My long-suffering wife is used to such humour. But had I said the same thing at a large dinner party, I’d be seen as a ghastly man, which I probably am. But I’m not so ghastly as to hold such views in all their literal seriousness.

It was simply a line I thought funny at the time (I know opinions may differ on that score). That was the top layer. Underneath, however, it was Newton’s Third Law of Thermodynamics at play: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

When the zeitgeist pushes, some intrepid individuals will push back, and this doesn’t just apply to jokes, funny or otherwise. The counteraction may have far-reaching social consequences.

People will always bend under the weight of the zeitgeist. However, when the weight becomes oppressive, they may spring back to action.

Racism may well strike back at hysterical anti-racism, misogyny at fire-eating feminism, xenophobia at enforced ideological internationalism, fascism at ‘liberalism’ run riot and so forth.

Because human nature isn’t a physical phenomenon, the problem with an opposite reaction may be that it won’t be equal. It hardly ever is when popular resentment spills out.

The reaction to a king who didn’t respect Parliament wasn’t a king who did. It was Civil War.

The reaction to France’s weak monarchy wasn’t a stronger monarchy. It was revolutionary terror.

The reaction to the wishy-washy liberalism of the Provisional Government in Russia and the Weimar Republic in Germany wasn’t a better liberalism. It was Bolshevism and Nazism.

One detects all over Europe an incipient reaction brewing against the ideological influx of cultural aliens and the frenzied effort to erase the borders of nation states, with national laws overridden by international bodies. What form this reaction will take is anyone’s guess.

But not mine. I’m loath to impose on you my inveterate pessimism. Cracking irreverent jokes is safer – and certainly better than speculations about the cracking of human skulls.

Hug trees, hate avocados

Three news items have caught my eye this week, and, in a radical departure from my usual format, I’ll comment on all three.

Delayed-action bombs ticking away underneath the planet

But first an admission: when in France, I watch Sky News at breakfast. Each morning I bet with myself how long I can stand it, and I’m pleased to announce that the other day I broke by 25 seconds my previous personal best of nine minutes.

Part of the reason for this record-breaking endurance was that I was confused. A professional dietician and a full-time environmental activist were preaching nutritional and moral goodness, the kind of lesson I, keenly aware of my own deficiency in both virtues, always welcome.

The dietician praised avocados for their taste and high content of good fats, adding that it’s a quarter of an avocado, not a gluttonous whole, that constitutes a proper portion. However, it was the activist who led the discussion.

He agreed that avocados taste good and are good, but we shouldn’t eat them anyway because doing so destroys the planet (presumably the Earth). My breakfast that morning actually was avocado on toast, so I felt suitably shamed. Still, an explanation of some sort was in order and it duly came.

It turned out that avocados aren’t cultivated sustainably, which destroys the environment and therefore the planet. And the undestroyed part is then finished off by the need to transport avocados from Mexico to England, thereby trampling the planet under a giant carbon footprint.

Since we don’t grow avocados in Britain, explained the activist, they should be replaced with things we produce locally and don’t have to transport across the planet.

The dietician readily betrayed avocados and crossed over to the other side. Saving the planet was high on her agenda too. The nutrients we derive from this offensive fruit, she said, ought to be replaced with olive oil for moral reasons.

That confused me twice over. First, I couldn’t quite figure out a way of replacing avocados with olive oil in my guacamole. Second, I couldn’t for the life of me remember ever seeing many olive groves anywhere in England.

The activist spotted the geographical contradiction too and objected that, to improve our diets and save the planet at the same time, avocados must be replaced not with foreign olive oil, but with home-grown animal products, such as red meat and cream.

My confusion deepened. Both virtuous substitutes are full of cholesterol, which, as we all know, rivals cyanide for deadly potential and crystal meth for moral decrepitude.

As to red meat, I wonder what animal rights people will have to say about the recommendation to devour the carcasses of murdered creatures. Since man is nothing but an animal, such a diet is a moral equivalent of cannibalism.

I was again confused, and so was the dietician. The urgent need to save the planet clashed with the need to eat ethically, sensibly and without annihilating whole herds of innocent animals who are just like us.

Since I could bear neither her confusion nor mine, I switched to another channel, where Prince Harry was being praised for his own commitment to saving the planet.

Harry spoke, barefoot for some unfathomable reason, at a Google climate retreat in Sicily, where HRH was joined by swarms of A-listers, including every Hollywood actor and pop star I know and dozens of others who are so universally famous that I’ve never heard of them.

The A-listers pledged to do all they could to save the planet from warm weather, which, we must remember, is caused by carbon emissions.

Fair enough, the participants in this worthy event should redouble their planet-saving efforts just to counteract the effect of the 114 private jets and an armada of superyachts on which they had arrived in Sicily.

In addition, Harry also promised to save the planet by having no more than two children. I don’t know about the planet, but the royal family and all of us should be saved from having to cope with too many sprogs of Harry and Meghan.

Harry has clearly inherited his brains from his mother and possibly also his father, if those malicious, vindictive and manifestly false rumours are true. Ever since Harry met Meghan, he has been ignoring the anatomical fact that the thinking organ is located between the ears, not between the legs.

On an unrelated subject, I was privileged to receive the transcript of Joe Biden’s opening remarks at yesterday’s debate among more Democratic candidates than you can shake a machete at. Mr Biden used the opportunity to attack President Trump’s record. This is what he said:

“Friends, Americans, countrymen, lend me your ears. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown of US presidency, and Trump’s head has been lying throughout his elitist tenure.

“Never in the field of US politics was so much taken from so many by so few. That’s why I come to bury Trump, not to praise him.

“Trump has nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. He creates a desert and calls it peace. Hence we have before us many long months of toil and struggle until the next election. But we shall not flag or fail… We shall never surrender!

“The buck stops here – this man, the first Biden who has ever gone to university, is not for turning. And it’s time my opponents stopped banging on and on about my having plagiarised that Neil Kinnock speech. Immature politicians plagiarise; mature politicians steal. That brings me back to Trump…”

Following the news is such fun, isn’t it? I’m happy to be able to share my enjoyment with you.