And he will be missed

My morning began much like any other. The sun rose, the alarm clock chimed its morning message and slowly I opened my eyes to greet the world.

Like so many others in today’s world I use my smartphone in lieu of an alarm clock and so my first task (after silencing the electronically generated morning cacophany) is to use it to check the morning news online. It wasn’t the best start to the day.

Within minutes of opening my eyes I heard the awful news….

Tony Benn is dead. This world will be a poorer place without the wisdom and eloquence of this fine old man of the left. Tony Benn wasn’t just a politician, he was a gentleman. And he will be missed.

He was eloquent and insightful with an almost uncanny ability to boil down apparently complex concepts into the simple fundamentals that grunts like me can understand. Consider for example his five questions for those in authority.
I wonder how the unelected Tory government would respond to these questions. After all if it wasn’t for ‘Kingmaker Clegg’ there would be no tory government to represent the interests of the wealthy at all.

Tony Benn wasn’t just wise – he was compassionate too. Tony Benn wasn’t just a campaigner – he was a guru of the left. Tony Benn wasn’t just a politician – he was one of my heroes. And he will be missed.

Even well into old age he continued to campaign. I first heard him speak at a CND rally in the early 1980s. He was captivating. More recently he could be found demonstrating against the rise of fascism in UK and neoNazi groups such as the BNP and the EDL.
Tony Benn didn’t just believe in equality and human rights – he dedicated his long life to their attainment. And he will be missed.

Tony Benn was happy to rock the boat when morality demanded it.
And he respected those others who did the same.
And he will be missed.

Fallacies 14: Shifting the burden

“We must baptise dead people who didn’t believe when they were alive or they will not be saved. I know this to be true!”

“Can you prove that?”

“Can you disprove it?”

“No – it’s impossible to disprove.”

“Then it must be true.”

By the way – I haven’t made that stuff up. It’s part of doctrine for a very well-established worldwide religion. Devotees of The Church of Jesus Christ & Latter Day Saints (LDS) really believe that. You may have heard of this religion before. It’s more usual name is Mormonism.

Mormon missionaries don't always know about the racist beginnings of their church

Mormon missionaries don’t always know about the racist beginnings of their church

I use this example because of a discussion I had with a couple of Mormon missionaries who knocked on my door in an attempt to convert me to their way of thinking. They didn’t particularly want to talk about baptising the dead as it happens. It was one of a long list of topics they like to avoid with new ’prospects’ including:

The need to wear protective underwear (temple garments);
The belief that black people are unworthy;
The belief that black people can become “white and delightsome to the Lord” if they lead a good life;
The belief that women should be subservient to men.

There are many more unsubstantiable beliefs I could have listed but it isn’t my intention to pick on Mormonism particularly here. The LDS doctrine of post-mortem baptism is just an illustration to demonstrate how weak an argument becomes when the only way to support it is to show that others can’t disprove it.

The philosopher, Bertrand Russell illustrated this beautifully when he asserted that there was a silver teapot orbiting the earth and invited people to believe in it without evidence. To the best of my knowledge nobody did (not even Russell himself) precisely because there is no reason to believe in it.

Interestingly Russell’s assertion that nobody could disprove the existence of his teapot didn’t cut much ice with most people. I suspect that even Mormon missionaries can see right through that line of argument when it suits them.

Not being able to disprove something is no reason to assume it must be true. There needs to be positive evidence, not merely the absence of the negative.

But let’s not worry too much about religion here. Let’s face it, we’ve covered that enough in this series already. Instead we’ll turn to some other equally disreputable uses of this same tactic. The example I’m choosing here is used by various religions (including LDS as it happens) but I’m much more interested in its secular use right now. It’s the idea that white people are superior to other races.

Racism on the agendaThis idea has been around for centuries and is still a major blight on human society. Racism, like sexism and a host of other discriminatory ’isms’ makes no sense to the critical observer. B for those whose grasp of evidence and the nature of reality is at best tenuous it is convincing enough to prompt violence, even murder, segregation and a whole host of atrocities that are too well documented elsewhere to need much repetition here.

Of course most people don’t spend too much time thinking about racism. At least most people I know don’t. Race just isn’t relevant to many people. It’s reflects hereditary differences that are no more significant than eye colour or the particular shape of an individual’s chin.

Unfortunately though, the acceptance that race is irrelevant may not be enough. Maybe, just maybe those of us who aren’t directly affected by racism, sexism, homophobia, disablism etc should be more prepared to stand up and be counted in support of our peers (our very clearly equal peers) who are.

For those of us who do attempt to have reasonable discussions with racists the conversations are extremely illuminating. Admittedly such conversations don’t tend to teach us much about race but they do provide valuable insights into the way that many racists think (or perhaps more accurately don’t think) about what they believe.

A typical conversation goes something like this…

“White people are the best”

“How do you know”

“It’s obvious.”

“How is it obvious?”

“We just are.”

“I don’t think so. I’m white but I don’t think I’m particularly special.”

“You’re a traitor to your race.”

How can I be a traitor to something that doesn’t really matter?”

“But it does matter.”

“Can you tell me why it matters?”

“Because it does.”

“But can you tell me why?”

“Can you tell me why it doesn’t?”

wpid-1374337096.jpgOf course – it’s not actually that hard to illustrate that race doesn’t matter a jot. There are plenty of illustrations that can be used to show both the highest and the lowest forms of human behaviour and achievement from across all racial groups. But that, of course, can be reduced to anecdote and so dismissed by the racist. And in fairness I have some sympathy with that process. Anecdote isn’t proof of anything.

But then I don’t have to prove that race is irrelevant. I’m not the one making the claim that it matters. The burden of proof is on the racist to convince the rest of us that they have a point and that means provide some proper evidence.

If you want my agreement – you need to give me a reason to believe you. It’s not enough just to assert that I can’t prove you wrong.

Typically at this point the racist will trot out an anecdote of their own about some Asian bloke who looked at them funny or a black woman who didn’t say thankyou when they held the door open for her. But that’s just as weak as every other form of anecdote. It proves nothing that can be generalised to an entire race of people.

Whenever I point this out (and the fact that they are using the same sort of argument they quite rightly declared invalid when I used it earlier) they almost always resort to the shifting the burden argument.

“You can’t prove that black people are as good as white people.”

And of course, they’re right, I can’t. I can’t prove that there is a silver teapot orbiting the planet either but that doesn’t mean it’s really there.

The principle is simple. If you want others to believe something, be it racism, religion, scientific conclusions, claims about therapeutic treatments or anything else, then you need to provide a convincing argument for that belief. That is your responsibility. The rest of us don’t have to disprove your ideas. You need to show why you are right.

If the person trying to convince you of their point of view has no argument beyond “You can’t prove me wrong” then I’d strongly suggest you take that as evidence in itself. They have just demonstrated how weak their assertions probably are. They have, in fact, almost (but not quite) proven themselves to be wrong.

After all – when they have no evidence to support their argument what other conclusion are we expected to reach?

About the ‘Fallacies’ series

The ‘Fallacies’ project was built up from a series of instalments that first appeared online during the summer of 2012. It is republished as part of a larger set of changes intended to rationalise the contents of several different blogs into just 2. The other remaining blog focuses mainly upon social care and mental health related issues. It can be found at

Fallacies 12: The false dichotomy

Anders Breivik

Anders Breivik

The false dichotomy argument (AKA Black & white argument, false dilemma argument, fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses) is a favourite of a range of manipulators from quacks and politicians to clerics and snake-oil salesmen. It is a tactic used to convince the other person that there are only two possibilities when in reality there are more. For example…

The English Defence League claims to defend England from what it regards as the ‘Islamification’ of the Western world. You may have heard that argument before. It’s the one Anders Breivik used to justify his terrorist attacks in Oslo last year.

The argument is depressingly simplistic, allowing for only two possibilities….

‘The Muslims’ will take over the world
We will stop ‘the Muslims’ from taking over the world

It’s not hard to see that there are many, many more possibilities than this. Other possibilities include…

People can learn to live harmoniously together.
Many parts of UK are peacefully integrated.
‘The Muslims’ is no more an homogenous group than ‘The Christians’ is. There are ‘good and bad’ in both religions.
The extremist antics of the EDL and other far-right neoNazi organisations is a bigger threat by far to our society than the presence of people whose creed or colour differs from the stereotypical ‘Aryan Christian’ ideal.
All people, regardless of race, colour or creed have equal rights.

And yet, by creating a false dichotomy this divisive group of neoNazis have managed to convince themselves that standing around in car parks and attacking anyone who looks a bit foreign somehow constitutes defending the nation.

An equally silly false dichotomy involves the political nonsense that led David Cameron and Theresa May to inform us that the UK’s only options were:

Scrap the Human Rights Act
Watch the collapse of the British economy.

Dale McAlpine preaching

Dale McAlpine preaching

It’s true that the British economy isn’t doing particularly well right now but there’s much more to the argument than workers’ rights and a legal system that protects minimum wages and opposes unfair dismissal. Reducing tax for the highest earners, destroying the public sector and using tax payers money to boost private profits might have something to do with it too – not to mention the global financial crisis.

One of my least favourite false dichotomies came from a West Cumbrian, Christian street preacher who kindly informed my autistic, teenage stepson that he had only two options…

Convert to fundamentalist Christianity
Burn in Hell for all eternity

As you may imagine I was sure to point out a range of options to that preacher when I saw him in the street some time later.
And yet the narrow focus of the false dichotomy continues to influence people and can actually sound quite convincing if we accept their assessment of the situation at face value.

So I’ll set up a little dichotomous argument of my own. You can judge for yourself whether or not you consider the dichotomy to be a false one……

When you are presented with only two options ask yourself if
there may be more things to consider

Remain vulnerable to these manipulators and their superficial assessments of reality

About the ‘Fallacies’ series

The ‘Fallacies’ project was built up from a series of instalments that first appeared online during the summer of 2012. It is republished as part of a larger set of changes intended to rationalise the contents of several different blogs into just 2. The other remaining blog focuses mainly upon social care and mental health related issues. It can be found at

The Convention 13: When Islamophobia goes unchallenged

I purposely avoided focussing upon the English Defence League’s antics in the last entry on article 9. That was because ‘The Convention’ series aims to remain relevant for longer than the EDL’s limited lifespan. Let’s face it, like all such paranoid groups they will break up as infighting and internal mistrust takes over. This is already happening and the group probably won’t last for too much longer.

But then I came across this report on today’s EDL rally in Dagenham:

It seems that a limited police presence has given these anti Muslim ‘demonstrators’ a chance, once again to show their true nature. So far 3 Asian youths have been hospitalised and ‘HopeNotHate’ photographers have also been assaulted. This event is continuing as I type. Who knows what the final toll of violence will be by the end of the day.

It may be that the lack of police presence is due to the Islamophobic EDL’s recent decision to exclude police from the planning stage of their demonstrations. This is unlawful in itself and based upon today’s events it’s easy to see why. Peaceful demonstration is one thing. Violent discrimination is quite another!

Update from HopeNotHate blog:

“I’ve just spoken to one of our people on the ground. He confirms that three Asian teenagers were attacked, one seriously enough to require urgent hospital treatment. We do not know how badly this lad was attacked but there was a lot of blood.”

Here’s a photo of the assault itself.

Racist EDL mob violence in Dagenham

Racist EDL mob violence in Dagenham

Members of the EDL, of course, deny that any violence occurred at their ‘peaceful demonstration’.
And here’s an interview given by one of these young Muslim men (from his local hospital’s A&E department) following the EDL mob’s attack:

HopeNotHate blog continues….

“We’ve also received more information about the police operation. It seems that Dagenham police were prepared and had 12 vans waiting for the EDL march as it was to enter their borough. The problem, it seems, was in Redbridge, where the march began. The only police presence was a community support officer on a bicycle and he did not intervene when the three lads were attacked. Apparently the police in Redbridge had no intention of diverting any resources to the EDL demonstration.”

About ‘The Convention’

This series of posts first appeared on Stuart’s blog in June 2011. It is not intended to be a comprehensive or even particularly authoritative reference guide to the ECHR. Rather it is a brief introduction to a much larger and infinitely more fascinating subject. You can download the entire series in PDF format here:

The convention 9: No punishment without law

In an earlier post I mentioned the appalling events that took place at Winterbourne View Hospital, a private establishment owned by Castlebeck.

wpid-Panorama-abuse-allegation-007.jpgThere have been some excellent blogs written about the scandal since it broke on a Panorama programme last week. These have mainly been from the perspective of liberty. For example This ‘Fighting monsters’ blog or this one from Lucy Series at ‘The small places’.

Of course this is important. In fact it’s vital that those of us who work in health and social care understand and respect the right to liberty. However there’s another, equally important principle to consider here. The idea that there can be no punishment without law. Welcome to Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

According to Article 7 people have the right not to be convicted of a crime that was not an offence at the time they committed it. They also have the right not to be given a harsher sentence than the maximum allowed at the time of the offence. This seems eminently fair and reasonable and few people object to it – at least in theory. It’s when we start to look at the wider implications that things become interesting – especially in health and social care.

wpid-winterbourne_2376241b.jpgThe Panorama footage from Winterbourne View leaves no room for doubt that staff were taking it upon themselves to ‘teach residents a lesson’ whenever their behaviour didn’t meet expectations. At least it leaves no doubt in my mind but of course, I’m not the court. This apparent abuse is all the more poignant when we learn that the expected behaviours involved passive acceptance of mistreatment and that the punishments meted out to them were torture by any definition.

But torture is not the focus of today’s blog. Instead I want to concentrate upon the widespread practice of people taking the law into their own hands. That’s what the staff at Winterbourne view did (allegedly) when they decided who to punish and who to let be. They were setting themselves up as judge and jury. But they were not judges or jurors and they most certainly were not entitled to act as executioners. Remember the maxim:

No punishment without law.

There is no law that allows care workers to punish anyone. That’s not what our work is about. If a criminal offence has been committed then we have a legal system designed to deal with it. A legal system that abides by the laws of the land and that understands proportionate punishment – not using a hammer to crack a nut.

Winterbourne View staff wrestling someone to the ground because they ‘looked at them’ is neither lawful nor proportionate. It’s a punishment meted out by someone with no right to decide upon guilt and penalty in the first place. That really is punishment without law. Throwing cold water over residents, pinning them to the floor with chairs or standing on their hands is equally indefensible.
The simple truth is that only the courts can condemn and only the courts can punish. Private citizens are not authorised to take the law into their own hands, especially if they are in charge of vulnerable people.

But this principle goes much further than Winterbourne View. One of the most common misunderstandings I come across when delivering training on challenging behaviour work is the belief that behavioural regimes involve punishment. They do not. Punishment is both illegal and unethical. It’s abuse.

edl rioters in BradfordA more obvious example of Article 7 at work is in the field of ‘hate politics’. From animal rights campaigners to religious fundamentalists there are always individuals ready to hurt those with whom they disagree. They see a difference of opinion, of race or of religion as an offence worthy of punishment and sometimes they take the law into their own hands.

Currently the UK group most often prosecuted for condemning and punishing others is the English Defence League whose members, ironically enough, regularly ‘defend’ England by attacking and harassing English citizens.

It is ironic that the ECHR not only prevents groups like the EDL from getting their way but also ensures that the Islamic ‘Sharia’ Law they fear so much could never hold sway in Europe. If EDL members would only stop and think for a moment they’d see that the very convention they oppose so vehemently protects them from the thing they fear the most.

It really is true that the more people know about the ECHR the more they appreciate it and the positive impact it has for us all.

About ‘The Convention’

This series of posts first appeared on Stuart’s blog in June 2011. It is not intended to be a comprehensive or even particularly authoritative reference guide to the ECHR. Rather it is a brief introduction to a much larger and infinitely more fascinating subject. You can download the entire series in PDF format here:


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