Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith

As I mentioned when discussing the introduction, today’s section (“The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith”) isn’t originally part of the Book of Mormon either, being an edited extract from Joseph Smith-History in the Pearl of Great Price, which was added in later editions (presumably for additional context). I bring this up as when reading through this today, one of the principal things to come to mind actually happens to be one of the things that was edited out:

The first paragraph as given in Testimony is as follows:

“On the evening of the … twenty-first of September [1823] … I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God. …

While here is Joseph Smith-History 1:29, which these lines were taken from (with the bits edited out in bold):

In consequence of these things, I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections; when, on the evening of the above-mentioned twenty-first of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him; for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one.

I don’t think there’s any great significance in the editing decisions themselves. After all, it’s hardly like JS-H was being hidden, especially since readers are being referred to there “for a more complete account”. Whoever edited the passage was clearly trying to abbreviate a significantly longer passage so that it would fit, and so removed things that could either be regarded as not strictly necessary (“above-mentioned”, retiring to bed etc), or which were part of the back drop of the wider JS-H text (the reference to the first vision Joseph Smith had already experienced, and his praying for forgiveness for his sins which he speaks about in JS-H 1:28). However, while reading today I couldn’t help but think of his motivations for praying as he did that night.

Something similar happened with the first vision too. Joseph Smith appears to have had several motivations for praying as he did then: as recorded in JS-H, there was his confusion over the Churches, and then as several other of his accounts record (and which is alluded to in D&C 20:5) there was again a concern for personal forgiveness of sins. Of course, much as with Moroni’s visit, the first vision ended up being about so much more. In both cases, the spiritual experience that Joseph received addressed so much more than what he was asking about.

I wonder about this. I wonder if sometimes we have a tendency to reduce our model of spiritual experiences down to transactional events. That is, even if we are careful to avoid thinking of God as some sort of Santa Claus (that is, we avoid the tendency for our prayers to devolve into simply asking for things we want), we can still approach spiritual experiences in which we produce the question, we meet certain conditions for an answer, and then God provides the answer as if he were a spiritual cash machine and the initiative is entirely on our part. I wonder if we sometimes forget that God himself has agency, more so than we do, and he has his own plan (indeed a crucial part of faith is accepting his own plan over ours). As part of that, we may have questions, but he may well provide answers to questions we haven’t asked. The two experiences Joseph had here are examples of this, and I think there are other scriptural examples too of revelation not being doled out according to certain preconditions, but at divine initiative (Moses and the burning bush, the angelic visitations to Zacharias and Mary, Saul & the road to Damascus and I think many more). I think also of my own experiences, and indeed of the most powerful were those that did not simply address the questions I had, but went far beyond it and addressed questions I didn’t have.

Of course, perhaps the very fact that Joseph was on both occasions seeking divine guidance in faith, even if about personal matters, meant that he was ready to also receive divine guidance about bigger matters too, which takes me onto the other thing that came to mind while reading (and which wasn’t edited out), namely the matter of motivation:

But what was my surprise when again I beheld the same messenger at my bedside, and heard him rehearse or repeat over again to me the same things as before; and added a caution to me, telling me that Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father’s family), to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich. This he forbade me, saying that I must have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building his kingdom; otherwise I could not get them.

Our motivations appear to be of crucial concern to both the Lord and to the adversary. But while the adversary would seek to use our motivations to manipulate us into doing evil, the Lord wants us not only to do good, but for good motives too (Moroni 7:6). What we want and how badly we want it appears to have great power and influence on our course through life, the gospel and our eternal destiny (see Alma 29:4). In Joseph’s case, his desires in relation to the plates not only has to be right, but not clouded by any desires, in order for him to receive them at all. And I think that sometimes too that can be the case for us: there may be some kind of blessing, or responsibility, or something that God would have us obtain, but which we can only obtain if our desires and motivations are right before him.

Of course, changing or purifying said motivations may not always be straightforward!

Edit: I’d originally mistakenly attributed the adding of this excerpt of JS-H to the 1981 LDS edition (which added the “Introduction”), however upon checking, the 1920 edition has a very similar extract entitled “Origin of the Book of Mormon”. So while not original to the Book of Mormon, and I’d argue very much added for context, it was added earlier than 1981. The “Brief Explanation About the Book of Mormon” also seems to date from the 1920 edition, where an earlier version appears as “Brief Analysis of the Book of Mormon”.

Reading the Book of Mormon: Introduction

The front matter to the Book of Mormon has a variety of different origins. As discussed, the title page is part of the plates, and as the 2014 LDS edition is careful to note, “is part of the sacred text”. The testimony of the three and eight witnesses is obviously not part of the original plates, but has been included in every single edition of the Book of Mormon ever produced, is called for within the text itself, and as discussed one of the testimonies relates another revelatory experience in and of itself. The testimony of Joseph Smith is a more recent addition, not integral to the Book itself, but its contents are a selection of material taken from Joseph Smith-History in the Pearl of Great Price, and so is still regarded as scriptural. However, the “Introduction” and the “Brief Explanation of the Book of Mormon” are study helps, the first being added as recently as the 1981 LDS edition, and are not part of the sacred text. It’s for that reason that it should be seen as fairly uncontroversial when they are changed to reflect our different understanding of the text. An example of this would be the change in the introduction from the Lamanites being described as the “principal ancestors of the American Indians” in the 1981 texts to “among the ancestors of the American Indians”, reflecting increased readings that saw the Book of Mormon events as occurring within a more limited geographical area than earlier readers believed. The 2014 LDS edition is in general more careful to distinguish between such study aids and parts of the sacred text itself (hence many of the book headings – which are original and part of the inspired text itself – are now in non-italicised text, which chapter headings, which are purely a study aid and added in 1981 are kept italicised).

However, while the introduction may not be part of the sacred text proper it is worth reading and considering. Reading it today several things really came to mind, a couple of which I’ve written about fairly recently.

The first is the description that:

It puts forth the doctrines of the gospel, outlines the plan of salvation, and tells men what they must do to gain peace in this life and eternal salvation in the life to come.

As I recently commented in a brief article about the role of the Book of Mormon, “the Book of Mormon has a relentless focus on the most important and basic matters”. The Book of Mormon constantly returns to what might be thought of as the most basic principles, and experience of living, the gospel: faith in God, repentance of sins, baptism for the remission of sins, sanctification, and the basic challenge of trying to endure in faith and righteousness through the challenges that life throws at us. When it addresses “big” matters, they tend to be the ones that are central to our very experience of the Gospel and our own salvation, such as the fall, the Atonement of Christ, and the resurrection and final judgement. Indeed, the Book of Mormon has a particular aptitude for summarising the core thrust of the entire gospel into rather brief passages, such as in 3 Nephi 27:13-20, or in the likes of 2 Nephi 31. And since our perspective of the relative importance of different appendages of the gospel can easily become skewed (as President Oaks mentions here), I think the Book of Mormon’s sense of doctrinal priorities can serve as a corrective to our own, helping us to refocus on those very things that bring “peace in this life and eternal salvation in the life to come”.

The introduction also shares Joseph Smith’s well known quote, that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book”. One could easily speak at length of any of the three major elements in that quotation, and plenty of people have. That last element, however, made me think of another thing I recently wrote about in the article I mention earlier, in which I mention my own experience that there is a power in the Book of Mormon, a powerful devotional effect in which I stated that when I read the Book of Mormon more consistently that “I am closer to the Spirit, repent more readily, am more obedient, and find it easier to resist temptation”. I mention there that this is a power that goes beyond the words on the page, although we have to read those words to gain access to it. Reading Joseph Smith’s quotation, however, helps me to realise another crucial part to accessing that power: “abiding by its precepts“. It is when we seek to not only read, but to obey God’s word as found in scripture, that the power found therein flows most strongly into our life.

The final paragraph of the introduction also stood out to me today:

Those who gain this divine witness from the Holy Spirit will also come to know by the same power that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, that Joseph Smith is His revelator and prophet in these last days, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom once again established on the earth, preparatory to the Second Coming of the Messiah.

The Book of Mormon – and the process by which we gain a knowledge of its truth – points to wider truths, as a sign “[p]roving to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old” (Doctrine & Covenants 20:11). I’ve written about this topic elsewhere (Chapter 5 of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, for those who are interested), but to summarise, the Book of Mormon is both a sign from God and a means he employs in the broader work he is engaged “in these last days”. It, and the spiritual experience we gain from engaging with and seeking confirmation of the truth of the book, are a key to a wider and (for the moment) invisible world.

The Testimony of Three & Eight Witnesses

Reading through both the testimony of the three and the testimony of the eight witnesses today, I was struck by the contrast between the two. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought this, and I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice this, but the two sets of witnesses really experienced very different events: the three had a supernatural experience, stating that God “hath declared it unto us” and that “an angel of God” showed them the plates. The eight had a more sensory experience, with no supernatural events: they saw and handled the plates (the three only saw), and examined them physically.

Today when reading, however, it seemed to me that that contrast can be seen not just in the type of experiences the two sets of witnesses are trying to relate, but also in what they are seeking to convey from that, and even how they talk about it. So the three witnesses begin early by speaking about the experience they have had “through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ”. Their witness is not just that the plates exist, but that “they have been translated by the gift and power of God” and that “the work is true”. They assert that they too are acting under divine authority, having been commanded by God to bear witness of their experience, and conclude their witness by speaking of faith in Christ and the final judgement, before finishing with a doxology.

In contrast, the testimony of the eight witnesses only invokes God once, at the end: “And we lie not, God bearing witness of it”, which has more the character of a legal declaration rather than the revelatory one of the eight witnesses. Otherwise their remarks are limited to what they handed and what they infer, in which they are quite restrained: the plates “have the appearance of gold”, and the plates and engravings have “the appearance of an ancient work” (my emphasis). They restrict themselves purely to what they were able to determine with their senses, to the extent that they don’t simply declare that the plates are ancient, but that they appeared to be so. It has the character of a legal testimony, in which they simply (“with words of soberness”) recount what they can observe with their eyes and hands, while the testimony of the three is a religious testimony, in which they bear record of a revelatory experience which they were commanded by God to share with the world, with consequences for their immortal soul.

Upon thinking about this, it really strikes me that both experiences are not just complimentary, but may even be necessary. It’s tempting to see the witness of the three as the more expansive, and in many respects it is, but notice that they don’t recount having actually handled the plates, nor do they give any physical description of it and its contents; only the eight do that. I think this touches on the same duality seen in the commandment that we are to learn “by study and also by faith“: we are expected both to use the capacity of our own minds, reason and other resources to find truth, and supernatural means also, and we really need both when it comes to learning about eternal things. Likewise, in our own efforts to gain a knowledge or witness of the truth of things like the Book of Mormon, I think upon my own experiences and think we may need to exert both: to use what we can learn through reason, experience and our senses, but also be able to seek the spirit and look with an eye of faith. And it is when the two work together, reason and revelation, that we are on the surest ground for seeking truth.

Link: The Strange, Contagious History of Bulimia

Interesting article here about the history of Bulimia, and the significant evidence that it is in fact a social contagion: that is that it is spread by awareness of the condition. Hence its explosion from relative non-existence, and (as the article discusses), even cases like Fiji, where there were no cases up until 1995: the year television arrived:

After just three years of exposure to American television shows, 11 percent of Fiji’s adolescent girls admitted to Becker that they had purged their food at least once to lose weight. In that time, the risk of developing an eating disorder jumped from 13 percent to 29 percent. More than 80 percent revealed that television influenced them or their friends to be more conscious about body shape or weight. By 2007, 45 percent of girls from the main island reported purging their food.

Even support groups – which effectively try and combat the social contagion by spreading healthier ones – can be vectors:

Further inquiry only seems to justify Russell’s troubling conclusion. In 2004, the British National Center for Eating Disorders reported that inpatient treatment and specialist units serve to create opportunities for exposure to the worst cases, allowing participants to catch more severe eating disorder symptoms, dangerous behavioral modeling, and harmful attitudes towards treatment that perpetuate well beyond the formal group therapy. Peeling back the processes even farther, the psychiatrist Walter Vandereycken examined ethnographic reports and qualitative investigations to find that sitting within close range of others exposes people to the worst cases and leads patients to unintentionally contend for the worst symptoms. Treatment, he reported, can do more damage than good by allowing the harsher and crueler strain to jump to new hosts.

In short, it’s a rather fascinating but troubling look at how the human condition is affected by mere awareness of ideas and habits, one with significant implications for other rapidly growing conditions (gender dysphoria, where referrals have increased by over 3,200% in a few years, being but one example). Unfortunately there seems to be little that can be done to reverse such things:

With this knowledge, Russell’s discovery took on characteristics of a pandemic that was set to claim 30 million people, but neither he nor anyone could do a thing at that point to stop it. He was confronted, he says, by a problem of entropy, a gradual decline into disorder with devastating implications for social contagions: once they are out, they are virtually impossible to rein it back in again.

Read the entirely thing at “The Strange, Contagious History of Bulimia”.

Academic Freedom Under Threat: What’s to be Done? Session 3.1 – YouTube

A very interesting presentation about the bias towards particular political/social viewpoints (and bias – to the extent of willingness to affect hiring decisions and paper reviews – against others) within Anglo-American academia, especially within the Humanities and qualitative Social Sciences, from a conference held in Oxford.

via Academic Freedom Under Threat: What’s to be Done? Session 3.1 – YouTube

One particularly interesting finding discussed (at around the 20:50 mark) is the extent to which academics admit their colleagues or they themselves would discriminate against conservatives in matters of reviewing papers, hiring decisions and so forth. 37.5% admit that they personally would discriminate against conservatives in academic hiring.

Balancing Scripture

I’ve often been interested in how scriptural books relate to each other. As Latter-day Saints, of course, we have multiple books of scripture in our canon: The Bible (which itself is a compilation of books); the Book of Mormon, a record of ancient prophets in the Americas; the Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of revelations from the modern era; and the Pearl of Great Price, which is rather a small miscellaneous assortment. How these connect, and the way they draw on each other and shed light on each other, drew my attention enough that I wrote my erstwhile thesis (and now book) on the Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible.

Sometimes, however, we can neglect particular parts of our canon. There’s a particularly powerful warning in the Doctrine and Covenants about the Saints neglecting the Book of Mormon:

And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—

Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.

And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.

And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—

That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion.

(D&C 84:54-58)

This warning was notably reiterated by Ezra Taft Benson in his first conference address as President of the Church, a message he continued to repeat throughout his presidency. I think that now, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, one can see many blessings that have come from members heeding that warning and paying more attention to the Book of Mormon, including a greater understanding of Christ’s atonement and the role of his grace, topics about which the Book of Mormon teaches emphatically.

One can neglect the other books too, of course. One conclusion of my own work was that the Book of Mormon prophets saw all scripture as part of one vast, interdependent collection, and that to reject one part is to reject all, as seen in the warning in 2 Nephi 28:29-30:

Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!

For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.

Indeed, I believe one can sometimes take a focus on the Book of Mormon too far, if it causes one to neglect completely the Bible, the Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. To do this is hardly something the Book of Mormon writers would approve of, when one purpose in writing the work was “for the intent that ye may believe that [meaning the Bible]” (Mormon 7:9); nor would it be in keeping with Christ’s instruction to read Isaiah and the other prophets (3 Nephi 23:1, 5). It’s for that very reason – in response to comments that Latter-day Saints didn’t need to read the Old Testament – that I wrote a series of posts about why they should (including that it’d help them understand the Book of Mormon)!

Having said that, however, there does seem to be a particular focus on the Book of Mormon itself, enough to provoke a divine warning in revelation, not to mention the continuing focus by present day Apostles. And I have often pondered why that is the case. It was written with prophetic foresight for our day (Mormon 8:34-35), of course, and wasn’t read by the people of the time, but then again the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants were actually written in our era. There is also the sense in which the Book of Mormon is described as “the keystone of our religion”: it simultaneously bears witness of past scripture, of the prophethood of Joseph Smith, and of the divine authority of the Church today (D&C 20:11). But if one has already received this witness, are there any other reasons to focus on the Book of Mormon in particular?

Two principle reasons suggest themselves to my mind (there are more, but these seem key).

Firstly, the Book of Mormon has a relentless focus on the most important and basic matters. It is noticeable, for instance, that in contrast to the rather loose and expansive way we tend to use the word doctrine (and slather that term on top of everything), in the Book of Mormon it is only used in two senses: doctrines, plural, always referring to false doctrines; and doctrine, singular, always referring to the “doctrine of Christ” or “the gospel”, a term used of the most basic core of the gospel. As seen, for instance, in 3 Nephi 27:13-20, the description of this gospel is succinct (just 8 verses there!), but covers the most important matters: the incarnation of Christ, redemption through his death and resurrection, our resurrection and final judgment and the basic principles of faith, repentance, baptism, and sanctification through the receipt of the Holy Ghost. Likewise, the basic themes announced on the title page – revelation, the restoration of Israel, and the messiah-hood and divinity of Christ – are emphasised again and again (including, as I discovered, in the Book of Mormon’s use of the Bible). The Book of Mormon aims like a laser at the things that matter most, while hardly talking at all about some things we tend to think are very important.

This may be seen as part and parcel of its mission to restore “plain and precious things” (1 Nephi 13:40), but I also wonder if it ends up going beyond that. It seems quite easy, from observation, that when people principally read other portions of scripture for them to not see the wood for the trees: that is, to end up focusing and losing perspective on principles that may be true, and may even be necessary, but which are an appendage to more basic things. Likewise, in such circumstances it seems easier for people to over-complicate the gospel, or get focused on overly-speculative matters. But if we are reading the Book of Mormon as well, perhaps its focus can help to keep us focused. By serving as a lens in our reading of other scripture, it may not only restore plain and precious things, but help us to see the plain and precious things in the other books too.

Secondly, there is a power beyond the text itself. I’ve had some powerful experiences with scripture, with a range of different passages, throughout the standard works. But when I look back over my life, I find that in general that it is those periods when I am reading the Book of Mormon regularly (rather than just the other books) that I am spiritually better. On an average basis, I find it has a more powerful devotional effect than almost any other passage, save perhaps for the Gospels (and perhaps even just the Gospel of John). When I am read the Book of Mormon over a prolonged period, I am closer to the Spirit, repent more readily, am more obedient, and find it easier to resist temptation.

Part of a reason this comes to mind is a feeling that I have a personal need to refocus a little. Most of my reading of scripture this year has been from other books, particularly the New Testament, and that’s certainly not bad (especially with Come Follow Me), but I have been reading less from the Book of Mormon this year than those immediately prior (especially compared to the thesis years). Everyone is probably in a different place on this front, and would need to judge for themselves where their balance currently is, but personally speaking I feel a need to re-balance in the direction of reading the Book of Mormon more consistently than I have recently. Because there’s a benefit that I feel that comes from it that extends beyond the words themselves.

There’s many things in the gospel, and our experience with God, that cannot be put into words. Indeed, I think that’s part of the key to the book of Job: Job’s questions aren’t answered in the book of Job, but he does learn something that puts him at peace, something he learns from seeing God (Job 42:3-6), something which cannot be put into words, but can only be learned the same way Job did. Likewise, in reading scripture I feel that there is something we can experience that is more than simply taking in the text on the page. There have been times in my life – I found quite often as a missionary, since I’d often have one in my hand – that I could feel the power within the Book of Mormon simply by holding it. That power comes from God, and I believe, and have felt, that when we read the book with a sincere heart and real intent that we receive not only the words that are written into our minds, but also receive that power into our souls. Christ himself taught that God’s word, and his word, has a sanctifying effect upon us (John 15:3, 17:17). And as President Benson said, quoting an earlier apostle:

“But there is another reason why we should read it,” President Romney continued. “By doing so we will fill and refresh our minds with the constant flow of that ‘water’ which Jesus said would be in us—‘a well of water springing up into everlasting life.’ (John 4:14.) We must obtain a continuing supply of this water if we are to resist evil and retain the blessings of being born again. …

“If we would avoid adopting the evils of the world, we must pursue a course which will daily feed our minds with and call them back to the things of the Spirit. I know of no better way to do this than by reading the Book of Mormon.”

 

Why revoking Article 50 or suchlike would make me really really angry

I voted leave in the 2016 referendum, for reasons outlined here, and would vote the same again. What has happened since then has in my mind rather served to confirm my reasoning, and indeed emphasis the need for accountability in some nearer places too. Obviously a number of people disagree with the result – the majority of MPs for one – and a number of these figures – the Liberal Democrats as a whole, key figures amongst Conservatives and Labour and so on – have proposed revoking Article 50 (our notice to leave) altogether, or holding a second referendum (which for some reason they dub a “people’s vote”; I suspect the hand of Tony Blair in this, since he liked to add “people’s” to all sorts of things in an attempt to generate support) or a “confirmatory vote”.

The issue has become highly contentious, and there seem to be some who think if the whole thing can be undone, such disagreements would disappear. For those who liked or benefited from the political status quo prior to the referendum, such is likely to be highly attractive. It is also impossible. Setting aside the arguments over Brexit itself, what I want to communicate is why I personally find the suggestion to revoke article 50 or similar so objectionable, and why in many respects this issue is now far bigger than Brexit itself.

What should not be forgotten is that the referendum itself, voted for by an overwhelming majority of Parliament, was presented to the British public as:

This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide.

Upon the result, many MPs now committed to revocation or to a second referendum spoke about the need to respect and implement the referendum result (including luminaries such as Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry and Chuka Umunna). Many of them subsequently stood on an election manifesto in the 2017 election promising to implement the result, the Conservative members explicitly on a manifesto that no deal would be preferred to a bad deal.

So when MPs argue for revocation, they are explicitly arguing that Parliament should break a promise it made to the British public to respect the public’s vote, one that many of the members subsequently remade by the platforms they stood upon for the 2017 election. Some might argue that legislatively, the referendum was “non-binding”. But that doesn’t change the commitment made to the electorate, the assurance that it was there decision. To argue this is to confuse legality with legitimacy. It would be legal, but it would be illegitimate. And Parliament’s authority to make laws for the rest of us depends on its legitimacy.

To revoke article 50 would in short be to void my vote; it would effectively disenfranchise me by making my vote of null effect. This strikes at the very heart of the implied social contract by which we give Parliament any right to rule over us at all. We permit Parliament to fill this role because we are assured we have a say in what happens, via our exercise of our vote. Thus even if a vote doesn’t go our way, the result is legitimate if we had the opportunity to have our say. This has been the situation for most of my life: there are very few decisions the Blair government made that I agreed with. But while I disagreed with that government and its decisions, I could give a broader consent to the legitimacy of that government, because I’d had the opportunity to vote but was sadly on the losing side.

That calculus changes if it appears that my vote is to be ignored if it is on the winning side: then it appears my vote is a fraud, designed to give the illusion of a say, but to be ignored lest there be any danger of me having an actual say. It breaks the implied social contract upon which our system of government depends. To attempt to defend any such moves on the idea of Parliamentary supremacy is to ignore the question of why should we permit that supremacy. What gives Parliament the right to rule over us? Until now, it has been that it has, imperfectly perhaps, reflected our communal decisions. But if my vote is to be outright rejected, then Parliament doesn’t reflect or allow for my input at all. It is, perhaps ironically, making a new claim to a “divine right”, but in this case a divine right of MPs. A right I must reject. As I must likewise reject any supposed “government of national unity” that takes as its starting point excluding the votes of the largest vote in British history. They would be no government of mine, and I’d reject their right to rule over me.

It is particularly infuriating when many of those pushing for revocation within and without Parliament have been seemingly happy to go along with the system so long as the results were congenial to upper middle-class politicians and lawyers. It is a seeming double standard that I have had to consent to results I disagree with most of my adult life, but the moment a result is reached they disagree with it is the result that is to be dispensed with. I say a seeming double standard, because in reality it sets up a new single standard: they get to decide, whereas the rest of us will have things decided for us. We are to be effectively disenfranchised, while they effectively enthroned as our new masters.

What then of a second referendum or a “confirmatory vote”? Note again the double standard. The Blair government, for instance (and indeed feel free to use the example of any post-war government of your choice), introduced sweeping changes to public life and law. Do we get a confirmatory vote on all of those? Why not? If some argue that the referendum result was too close (despite having an outright majority of votes cast, by over a million votes), then what do we say of the Blair government with 43.2% (1997), 40.7% (2001), and 35.2% (2005) of votes cast, i.e. no majority of votes at all. No British government since 1935 has had a majority of votes. Once again, my vote is to be subject to confirmation, while their vote is to be implemented without question. Of course, the leaders of the Liberal Democrats and the Greens have already admitted that were a second referendum produce a leave result, they’d ignore that too.

In a democracy, the ultimate civic right and the ultimate means of redress is the ability to vote. It is this that allows Citizens to reign in their governments and to secure their interests and all other rights. Conversely, establishing a principle by which votes may be ignored if they go against the desires of the influential is to effectively strip people of that civic right and render effectively meaningless that means of redress. And so I ask of you, if MPs and others are to ignore my vote and render it null and void, what means of redress remain open to me?

A False Quotation

I was reading the news, as one does, and came across an article talking about the implications of Israel’s current political gridlock during a period of increasing conflict between Iran and the likes of Saudi Arabia. Such articles, of course, tend to attract those who argue that the Israeli nation itself is illegitimate and/or is responsible for all the Middle East’s problems (usually turning a blind eye to the rest of the Middle East), and comments tend to become swiftly impassioned.

There’s a lot I could say on that topic, but what caught my attention was an excerpt of an article that someone produced in support:

After studying the establishment and fall of old empires, and the existing conditions early in the twentieth century, they drew up their suggestions in a report, which ended with a declaration stating that the dangers facing colonialist empires lay in the Arab land if and when they are liberated, united and progress. Thus they recommended to the seven colonialist powers to maintain the prevailing status quo in the region, divided and backward, and keep its people in their current status: disunited, backward, ignorant and quarreling.

The report also recommended fighting the unity of the people of the Arab nation culturally, spiritually and historically, resorting to strong scientific means wherever possible to separate its components from each other, namely keeping apart its western wing away from its eastern wing, that is separate its African wing from the Asian wing, by establishing a foreign and powerful barrier on the land bridge that connects Arab Asia with Arab Africa, which connects them together with the Mediterranean Sea, and near to the Suez Canal, a powerful entity friendly to western colonialism and enemy to its people.

This was, it was claimed, “the plan of Prime Minister Campbell-Bannerman”.

Something didn’t seem right about this. Campbell-Bannerman was Prime Minister was Prime Minister from 1905-1908, a period where the European powers were hardly acting in concert (as would be proved just a few short years later). Furthermore, North Africa and Egypt were already separated from the Levant and Arabia: the latter at the time were not governed by any European colonial power at all, but were territories of the Ottoman Empire. And of course it would certainly be nonsensical to attribute the origins of Zionism to this, considering political Zionism (that is the belief in establishing a Jewish homeland) and other such movements arose in the 19th century.

A quick search on the above text found found the full article, attributed to an author called Awni Farsakh, and claimed to be translated by an Adib S. Kawar; I find little more details of either. although the article itself was supposedly published in Al-Khaleej, based in the United Arab Emirates, on May 11, 2007, while the latter individual is a member of the website, tlaxcala.es,  that had the supposed translated version. Virtually all searches head back to that website, however, as do all other citations. The full article, however, made an extended argument along the lines of the excerpt above, and furthermore attempted to support it from a quote attributed to “the Campbell-Bannerman Report, 1907”:

There are people (the Arabs, Editor’s Note) who control spacious territories teeming with manifest and hidden resources. They dominate the intersections of world routes. Their lands were the cradles of human civilizations and religions. These people have one faith, one language, one history and the same aspirations. No natural barriers can isolate these people from one another … if, per chance, this nation were to be unified into one state, it would then take the fate of the world into its hands and would separate Europe from the rest of the world. Taking these considerations seriously, a foreign body should be planted in the heart of this nation to prevent the convergence of its wings in such a way that it could exhaust its powers in never-ending wars. It could also serve as a springboard for the West to gain its coveted objects.

This is a supposed quotation from this report in 1907. Yet there are already issues with it. There’s the claims, for instance, that the region has “one faith, one language”, claims that anyone familiar with the Middle East should recognise as simply not true, now or in 1907. They are, however, claims that are often advanced both by Arab Nationalists and by Islamic Fundamentalists, and indeed the last few years have witnessed the efforts of groups like ISIS to try and make such claims reality by eliminating groups such as Yazidis, Assyrian Christians and so on.

Furthermore, there’s anachronistic elements to the quotation, such as the idea that the region could “serve as a springboard for the West to gain its coveted objects”. First, the European powers – who were very much focused on their rivalry with each other – were exceptionally unlikely to think of themselves as acting as a unified “West” (in fact that term would be used by the likes of the UK and France to define themselves against other European powers, such as Germany). And then springboard to what? The British Empire of 1907 already included all of India. If one were following the expansive definition of “West” employed here and includes all the other colonial powers, there’s little else left in 1908.

The most fundamental problem with this quotation, however, is that it appears to be a complete fabrication. One can find the full minutes of the proceedings of the Colonial conference of 1907 here. It does not contain that text. Nor is there is any evidence of any other such report; indeed the only sources in English of such a text go back to the article mentioned above. Digging deeper I found a lengthy but interesting recording of a seminar on the topic at the Oxford University Website: Eugene Rogan – The Myth of the Campbell-Bannerman Report: Arab views on Israel after the Suez Crisis, in which Rogan recounts his own research, including interviewing Antoun Canaan, the Egyptian lawyer who is the first to have made claims about the existence of said report in a paper he presented following the Suez Crisis. It appears Canaan himself was unable to explain quite what his sources where, and his paper did not include any citations or quotations. All other references to said report appear to rely on Canaan, and it is some of these later sources that appear to have invented the wording found above. In other words, the above quotation is spurious, and little more than a conspiracy theory. So once again, one should never believe something just because it’s written down, especially if it’s written down on the internet.

“An Abraham Lincoln keyed to base uses…”

Just came across this bit of description in a Sherlock Holmes story today, and loved it:

As I looked upon him I understood not only the fears and dislike of his manager but also the execrations which so many business rivals have heaped upon his head. If I were a sculptor and desired to idealize the successful man of affairs, iron of nerve and leathery of conscience, I should choose Mr. Neil Gibson as my model. His tall, gaunt, craggy figure had a suggestion of hunger and rapacity. An Abraham Lincoln keyed to base uses instead of high ones would give some idea of the man.

The Problem at Thor Bridge, Arthur Conan Doyle

On Prorogation

It’s worth pointing out:

1) Prorogation is what happens – every single time – before a new session of Parliament with a new Queen’s speech can take place.

2) The current Parliamentary session is the longest since the Rump Parliament was dissolved in 1653, which had similarly out-stayed its welcome. It’s been over 2 years since the last Queen’s speech and anything like a legislative programme existed. If we’re looking to constitutional “outrages”, one can begin there.

3) Anything we are proceeding towards in the meantime – such as an exit from the EU on WTO terms in the absence of any alternative treaties – will happen only because of legislation voted for by the current crop of MPs. They legislated that into law.

4) Of course, the reason certain MPs are protesting this (in rather overblown terms) is because of the desire they have to undo the laws they’d already agreed to and effectively void the largest vote in British history. Their proposed “government of national unity” would be a real outrage, since it wouldn’t represent national unity, only parliamentary unity against said vote and the nation.