Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

DIARY: Hannan’s Brexit, Modern yuck, What Brussels should know, Advice to the BBC, Poppycock Watch: The Anarchy of Clegg, Profundity of the Week: Bertrand Russell

New helterskelter lookout on Exeter’s Canal Basin

If the Prime Minister needs a blueprint for British withdrawal from the European Union — and he will at some stage — Daniel Hannan has provided the outlines of one on his Telegraph blog: Switzerland is a more attractive model than Norway, but Britain could do better than either

Here’s a short series of extracts from the piece:

[I]t doesn’t seem to be getting through to the BBC or, indeed, to Number Ten [that] almost no British Eurosceptic wants to copy Norway. Our preferred model – with some adjustments – is Switzerland. … Both enjoy full access to the EU’s single market without being part of the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy, the European Court, Commission or Parliament, the shared jurisdiction in the fields of justice and home affairs or the Common Foreign and Security Policy. … But there is a difference. Norway is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) while Switzerland is not. … Norway has had to impose more than 5,000 EU legal acts since 1992. Yet Britain, over the same period, had to apply more than 3,000 every year. … Last year, the Swiss, in population terms, sold four-and-a-half times as much to the EU from outside as [Britain] did from inside. … [The] Swiss offer a useful template.

Beef that up and we have a realistic plan. If the EU gives that deal to the Swiss, they must surely allow much more powerful Britain the same menu.

They will only refuse it to a weak and tentative government and a Foreign Office with a tendency to cave in. A strong, single-minded leader is essential.

Is Dave up to the job?

* * * * *

Anish Kapoor has a lot to answer for.

His lacklustre helterskelter “sculpture,” which dominated the Olympic Park during the games this summer, seems to be spawning copycat versions.

The refurbishment of Exeter’s historic Canal Basin which was promised to be in keeping with its past, has now sprouted what seems to be a lookout point (see picture above) modelled on the aforementioned.

For many of us, the Kapoor monstrosity was in the tradition of most modern art: Tracey Emin’s incomprehensible scrawls and Damien Hirst’s self-indulgent grotesques — his giant pregnant woman with sliced open stomach on Ilfracombe’s seafront is one to avoid.

Kudos then to the BBC’s Arts Editor Will Gompertz for blowing the whistle on the whole gigantic con trick, from Nicholas Serota at the Tate to the rabble of the “modern art” school.

* * * * *

What advice can we find for Brussels and its current woes? Miguel Ruiz is the man.

We each have a personal myth, a story which builds gradually from our parent’s stories, our cultural myth, and many other factors. In this story, we are the main character, other people are secondary characters. They, however, have their own stories, which are usually radically different from ours.

Society is built on resolving the clash of these personal myths. Civilizations are constructed to preserve collective and national myths. When powerful people’s inner stories meet in dissent, whole continents can dissolve into war.

Such is the power of our personal story. Most people are not in command of their story because it’s formed from a ragbag of inherited ideas, and pressures from all manner of influences. This leads us to devalue ourselves and splits us from our essential authenticity.

That is the thesis of Miguel Ruiz, a Mexican doctor and surgeon, who grew up in the tradition of the Toltecs. In his book, The Voice of Knowledge, he distils it into four principles, or agreements, as he prefers to call them. At first sight, they could be taken for a boy scout’s creed : tell the truth, don’t take things personally, don’t jump to conclusions, and do your best. But this would be to miss the point. Used as talismans of action, the Four Agreements become a powerfully transformative path to happiness and success.

1. Be impeccable with your word.
2. Don’t take anything personally.
3. Don’t make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.

Strongly recommended to all members of the Brussels autocracy.

* * * * *

Who mediates the media? The answer is, in almost all cases, the zealots.

Zealots have a long history. You may remember them from the New Testament. Whatever the purpose, there is always zealotry in there somewhere.

Far from history being driven by “the economy, stupid”, as the Marxist zealots insist, it is in fact powered by all manner of zealousness.

Now, there is nothing wrong with some elements of zeal per se. Without enthusiasm there would be no progress, and probably no fun either. But we must distinguish between zealotry and enthusiasm. The latter is harmless, the former has an unbreakable intent.

Since the media — especially television — will not tolerate anyone who is dull or superficially uninteresting, the zealots have a head start in the race to be media performers, and even controllers of the pipes.

That brings us on to what a zealot does and why zealotry is bad for us.

The present zealotry can be summed up in a few words and phrases: “BBC”, “European Union”, “New Labour”, “carbon footprint”, “green”, “climate change”. Even religion has become the possession of zealots the world over.

Zealots rule. They mediate us from their positions in the media, religion, politics, education and much of current discourse.

If we refuse to follow their harsh prescriptions, they have ways of subtly ostracizing us from society, with weasel words like “right wing”, “eccentric” (once a noble estate in England), “Extremist”, “not one of us”.

In the age of an overwhelmingly powerful media, especially the BBC, we must learn to mediate ourselves or become slaves of the new zealotry.

* * * * *

Poppycock Watch
The “Anarchy” was a period in the Middle Ages when the throne was bitterly contested by the Empress Matilda and her relative, Stephen of Blois — often cited as the “worst Monarch in English history.”

The long conflict between 1135 and 1153 originated in a crisis of succession at the end of the reign of Henry I, when the King’s only legitimate son died. Both Stephen and Matilda held the crown before being toppled in bloody fighting.

The long, bitter civil war of attrition between the forces of the two rivals laid waste the countryside and forced most of the population into grinding poverty. For a vivid description of “the Anarchy”, the Cadfael books give an excellent account of the period, as good fiction often does.

Why is this relevant now? Because ultra-wet David Cameron has given in to Nick Clegg over the Act of Succession. If William and Kate’s first child is a girl, she will become Queen.

Most of Clegg’s grandiose projects eventually unravel, so it’s no surprise that this one is already. Mini civil wars are breaking out in country houses across Britain where the eldest child is a girl. They are demanding that they should inherit the family fortune ahead of their younger brothers, overturning centuries of law.

It will not end well. There will be blood spilt over the profiteroles.

Dave’s impetuous nature and his unthinking attempts at appeasing Nick Clegg even though he has nowhere else to go, will lead to a host of consequences, conflicts and complications that are unpredictable.

It might not be quite as bad as the Stephen/Matilda Anarchy, but my guess is that in retirement he will cite this decision as the worst he made in office.

* * * * *

Profundities of the week
War does not determine who is right — only who is left.
Bertrand Russell

The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.
General Omar Bradley

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Coming soon: Mystology: A different way of looking at the world. Also a website,

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Midweek Mysticism: Neuroscience confronts reality of the spiritual

Out of body

“Old wives” traditionally tell us that everything comes in threes, especially bad luck.

The BBC had a distinctly old wifeian series of disasters this week, the consequences of which are still unclear, but which conceivably could spell the end of its monolithic structure and alleged metropolitan bias — surely not!

Let’s be kind, the Beeb does some things very well. One of them is occasionally to report on moments when the assumed infallability of science — a demigod at Broadcasting House — is rent apart.

A great deal of science is based on theory and supposition, and yet chunks of it are reported as if they were true in an absolute sense.

One of those moments is at hand. It began with the report by neurosurgeon Dr Eben Alexander that, while the human part of his brain was effectively “dead”, he was given a tour of Heaven, or at least a higher stage of reality.

This week BBC medical correspondent, Fergus Walsh, broke a story of doctors discovering ways to communicate with people categorised as being in a “vegetative state”, and hence as good as dead. One wonders if they know that traditionally the “vegetable body” (situated around the solar plexus) is the gateway to the spiritual world?

In the new case, a man who had lost all sense of himself, his essential attributes, and presumably, most of his cortical brain function, could answer questions put to him by activating parts of his brain visible to the scientists in an MRI scanner.

He “said” he was happy and not in pain, much to the relief of his family. This is a fascinating breakthrough. The doctors would do well to look at the views of genuine mystics who have studied the subtle interfaces between body, mind and spirit for literally millennia.

Let’s start with some definitions, almost always the infernal flies in the ointment:

Spirit is the ancient word for consciousness and thus equivalent to it. I often use “Spirit/Consciousness” to convey that this is not what science calls consciousness — many neuroscientists believe (and it is a belief) that there is no consciousness outside the brain. I hope the current batch of new developments will nail this frankly illiterate notion once and for all.

Consciousness is both personal and impersonal. The latter is what we call God, the personal is “soul”. Consciousness (with upper-case “c”) is soaked into the Universe and, indeed, is indistinguishable from it, seen spiritually. Some Zen masters make this distinction as Big Mind/Little Mind, although I prefer to use “mind” — originally “heart” in old texts — for something else.

Mind is the contents of consciousness — our everyday thoughts and impressions. It’s what dies with our body, leaving consciousness (soul) to carry on to the next stage. I should point out that all these stages exist simultaneously, only our level of understanding determines where we are at any one time.

Once you look at the events of the recent “discoveries” by neurosurgeons and scientists in these terms, everything becomes simple and explicable. Anyone who studies their own consciousness, through meditation — methods of quieting thoughts and seeking stillness — will eventually arrive at this hierarchy of understanding.

It’s not rocket science, but with a little humility, it could be Science.

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

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DIARY: Larky Starkey, Poppycock Watch: Lancing Danny Boyle, Exercise or die, Profundity of the Week

David Starkey

David Starkey is a very good historian. However, his description of Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond as “a Caledonian Hitler” shows another aspect of his personality.

He is an outrageously irascible fellow who delights audiences on the BBC’s often stodgy Question Time and Any Questions with his witty outbursts of feigned rage against the inevitably ponderous folk around him, including the studio audience.

There’s nothing we British enjoy more than irascibility in the face of tedium. Perhaps that explains the success of the Olympics Opening Ceremony.

In historical mode, Starko has a current Channel 4 series on the two Churchills, Winston and John (first Duke of Marlborough), and it is fine watching.

Starkey’s point is that it was Winston’s writing of a four-volume biography of his illustrious ancestor that led to his own place in history, defeating Hitler and Nazi Germany.

General John Churchill triumphed over the French tyrant, King Louis XIV, who had previously dominated the Continent by force of arms. It has become a forgotten war in our age of historical illiteracy. It is also relevant to 21st-century power grabs by a Brussels elite.

Is there no young Churchill today who can beat back the tide of European “union” — always a sly word for hegemony — and save Britain’s independence and freedom?

It seems unlikely. Our leaders are a compliant lot, with sweet smiles and soft words to turn away wrath — and happy to sign anything put in front of them.

That reminds me of one of England’s medieval kings who, watching an interminably long and dreary play, shouted out: “Enough, bring on the jesters!”

A bemused stage manager replied: “These are the jesters.”

* * * * *

Poppycock Watch
Every newspaper commentator on the planet seems to have had a go at the Olympics Opening Ceremony, which was choreographed by one Danny Boyle — not exactly a household name outside the West End.

Danny boy is probably best known for two niche hit films: Slumdog Millionaire (entrepreneurship in downtown India) and Trainspotting (set in drug-besotted Scotland).

He’s clearly hot on the underdog, hence the widespread muttering that he’s a Marxist-Leninist running dog who wants to turn England into something akin to the former East Germany.

It’s easy to understand the schizoid reception for the ceremony, it was certainly a “game of two halves”. But I also suspect the critics’ verdict was coloured by their state of inebriation at the time.

Anyone sitting through it as sober as a judge would certainly pick up the leftie bias: NHS beds, for God’s sake, coal-blackened workers of the Industrial Revolution, Jarrow marchers and much else along those lines.

However dull they must have seemed to outsiders, they are part of our history, although were they the right material for a world showcase event like this?

What lifted the whole crazy shebang above the mediocre was its pounding energy and driving invention. A Celt had descended upon us and removed all pretense and Victorian stolidity from the landscape. It was merry shambles all the way. Take note, George, that’s how you get away with it.

I could have done without the ancient rockers, though, especially Paul McCartney, sell-by-dates long rotted away. I won’t even comment on the Queen’s bloomers.

Boyle handled the long march-past of athletes very well, percussing it with a constant rhythm of drums and bouncing drummers that gave it a Celtic celebratory air.

The cauldron at the end embodied a Celtic mystical symbol of rebirth, the womb of life and, of course, the Holy Grail. I do like a bit of mysticism with my razzmatazz.

And I absolutely rocked at seeing the head of the IOC making his speech on what looked like a hay bale set against a high backdrop of overgrown grass. It was the image of the night for me. Pomposity brought down to earth with a rustic thump.

I forgive Danny Boyle his political manifesto for that scene alone. A triumph!

* * * * *

Lots of press lately on the need for exercise. The British are singled out for our stubborn reluctance to get moving. As someone who works in a home-office I’m always aware of the need for getting physical.

I once ran marathons before badly crocking a knee. A simple transition to brisk walking maintained the cardiac and mental feelgood factor. Now I do a six to eight mile trek on most days.

The outward segment is all uphill so it conditions the backs of the legs which do the pushing.

Returning, often with a rucksack full of books, and other necessities, the downhill section strengthens the upper-front of the legs (the quadriceps), which restrain velocity on the down slopes.

My ideal example is the “mountain man” who walks uphill and downhill at the same pace. Try it, it’s not as easy as it sounds. The secret is: power up, restraint down.

As backup for inclement days, I have a long passageway in the house that crosses three rooms in a straight line, if all the doors are open. It’s perfect for a perambulation while reading a book, especially a Kindle which can be held in one hand. The iPad needs two hands if used landscape, but is manageable.

Reading runs away with time if you are slumped in a comfortable chair. By this simple expedient, a great deal of useful exercise can be totted up on a rainy day while simultaneously feeding the mind.

The world is not only your oyster, but also your gym — a boutique solution to life’s constant demands.

* * * * *

Profundity of the Week
Time waits for no man, says the amateur philosopher. Actually, it does, or we wouldn’t be here.

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Mystics in the Modern World is coming soon.

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Saturday Ramble: The behemoth begins

Beach Volleyball
Ladies Beach Volleyball Team

So, it is upon us at last. The longed-for event will arrive next week and dominate our lives into the near future.

I refer, of course, to the British summer.

How strange then that it should coincide with that other event of the year, the Olympic Games, a behemoth of gargantuan proportions that is, in fact, just a collection of minor sports that most of us ignore most of the time.

We in the far West Country will not be spared. Weymouth is hosting the sailing, as anyone who has tried to drive in south Dorset for the past year will be aware. Charming country lanes are even now being turned into major trunk roads to accommodate the expected traffic.

Oh, and the dock at the ferry port has collapsed, possibly from horror, leaving anyone coming in by sea stranded at Poole. An omen, surely!

You probably already know that sailing is not in any way a spectator sport. It’s fun to do, but paint drying over-emphasises the excitement for those who watch from the shore. Not even local hero Ben Ainslie can rustle up a frisson of interest in the rest of us, the poor punters who are paying for it all.

Like many others, I suspect, the BBC will be a no-go area for us during the long interregnum of this painful occasion. Apart from the early morning slots on Radio 4, our allegiance will be transferred to the Beeb’s American cousin, PBS.

PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) has been available in Britain for a while, languishing in the downmarket swamp where the digital channels hang out. A pity, it is by far the best provider of intelligent documentaries and docu-dramas on British television. To coin a phrase, it is Olympic Gold all the way.

Last weekend it gave us two 75-minute docu-dramas on Luther — Martin Luther, the German monk who single-handedly destroyed the might of the grasping Vatican “Corporation” back in the Middle Ages, eerily echoing the downfall of our own Masters of the Universe. Amazingly, the Medici Popes of the era were bankers.

No expense was spared. Top British thesp, Timothy West played the older Luther amid fine location filming and reconstructions. It also boasted a magnificent score of plainsong, and some expert talking heads.

The absence of contrary voices, deemed essential by the Beeb, gave a pleasing unity to the whole production. Fine broadcasting, indeed.

This has been adroitly followed up with four docu-dramas on successive nights about the Medicis themselves. The cast of characters include, Leonardo, Botticelli and Michelangelo, superbly filmed and dramatised.

The section on Brunelleschi’s creation of Florence’s cathedral dome is a masterpiece, as is the gem of Michelangelo’s torrid time painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

PBS is not preachy, nor politically-correct. It doesn’t summon up a trade union leader to “balance” a programme. It tells it like it is. The best of its output is in the 10 – 11.30pm slot, an arid zone of politics and paper reviews on British TV.

Goodbye, Newsnight. Farewell, Olympics.

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Mysticism in the Modern World is coming soon.
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Midweek Mysticism: A personal introduction to God

God and Adam

Richard Holloway’s superb radio series on religious doubt* illustrates mainstream Christian agonising over whether their faith is true in any historical or even meaningful sense.

Simply to assert that it is would be philosophically limp. That is why doubt is considered to be more honest and worthy of admiration, at least in western intellectual circles, which include the churches.

Whole theologies have been built around doubt. Atheism has become a powerful force in society in recent years. Ironic then that the best Gospel to arise from the confusing family of movements, now known as Christianity, is attributed to Doubting Thomas.

Christian mystics have long settled this thorny topic and all the misery that accompanies it. When I say “Christian mystics”, I mean those few who have reached heights of experience that render all human religions redundant … at least for the perceiver.

Example is always more efficacious than precept, as Dr Samuel Johnson pointed out, so let us demonstrate the fact.

“Where is God?” you have probably asked at some points in your life and how can God preside over all the pain and suffering in the world? I’m now going to introduce you.

Not that I have special access, nor even special knowledge, but, as I keep writing here: it is staring you in the face.

This, by the way, is open to anyone, of any religion or none. No tickets or journey are required.

Find a quiet place and just relax into yourself. Sink your awareness into your body and feel its aliveness. Allow your consciousness to become wider. Let it spread out from the physical you.

Your mind by now should be fairly still, thoughts mere objects passing by. Hold that moment, for what you are experiencing is the “feel” of God, a gossamer touch that confers tranquility of mind.

Now, the limit of that experience is that “God” may not yet have noticed you. It is only by persistently “knocking on Heaven’s door” that the Divine will reciprocate your attention. But that wide sense of being more than you thought you were is the Presence of God.

It is always there, of course, but you are usually unaware of it, so slight and unobtrusive is it. God’s Presence hides in your presence, waiting for you to reach the stage when you are capable of knowing this.

Everything you do, you do on behalf of God. Thus the idea arises that God does nothing to alleviate the world’s pain.

Only you, and the rest of us, can bring divine bounty and goodness into this life. The tools are there. Most of us ignore them out of ignorance.

All the suffering in the world is not divine retribution, nor a lack of sympathy. Earthly woes arise solely from the human ego and its psychological misunderstanding of what this world is in its essence.

That spaciousness is the Presence of the Divine, the beginnings of an exhilarating journey into the Unknown that paradoxically has always been known.

* Richard Holloway’s Honest Doubt: The History of an Epic Struggle is on BBC Radio 4 at 1.45 pm on weekdays.

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Mystics in the Modern World is coming soon.

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