Racism then and now: a musical insight

In the middle of the 18th century, when the Atlantic slave trade was at its height, there was a then famous black composer working in France. Even those of you who are lovers of classical music have probably heard of him. His name was Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. He was a violinist, although that was only one of his talents. Others included athlete, military commander, huntsman and swordsman. He wrote several violin concertos for his own playing, and the slow movement of one of them can be heard here:

I think one might be forgiven for thinking it was a lost work by Mozart or Haydn. It seems extraordinary that a composer of such talent is today almost totally forgotten.

There’s a strange paradox here. When Saint-Georges was alive, it was a time that we like to think was one in which black people were very much worse off than they are now. It would be idle to pretend that wasn’t the case, and yet here we have a black man operating at the highest levels of the French aristocracy in a way that would perhaps cause comment even in 21st century England. Our aristocracy is not known for its multi-cultural plurality. Certainly it seems hardly likely that black people were seen as “animals” rather than “human”, as is widely supposed to have been a prevalent view during the slave trade, and yet for a black man to be tolerated in the highest echelons of society.

Of course, it must be remembered that musicians in the 18th century were nothing more than fancy servants, so not too much should be read into Saint-Georges’ social position. Indeed, and perhaps ironically, he was thrown into destitution after the revolution of 1789 since he was seen as a lackey of the hated aristocrats. But many composers died in destitution, Mozart being a prime example, and yet their reputations have survived and even perhaps been enhanced as a result of the romantic notion of the tortured artist. What has prevented Saint-Georges from being better known?

My suspicion is that his obscurity is a result of the racism that dominated Europe and the Americas after the end of the slave trade, rather than of the racism that existed during his lifetime. Be that as it may, Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges is yet another example of black people’s contribution to the arts and society having been effectively expunged in our modern consciousness. If anyone ever asks you if there have been black composers of classical music before the mid-20th century, you will now be able to say, “Yes”, even if you might have said, “No” yesterday!

Mind the gap: faith in the MediaCity

On the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal a massive experiment in economic engineering is nearing completion, at least of its first stage. MediaCityUK is being built, literally and metaphorically, around the BBC. Some studio recordings have already been made (including A Question of Sport), and from May this year a significant number of operations will begin to be transplanted from their existing home at Television Centre in London’s White City, along with the hundreds of technical and broadcasting staff involved in making programmes. The construction of MediaCityUK was entirely contingent on the BBC’s decision to expand its production presence in the north of England, and the site in Salford was chosen after some intensive municipal scrapping between the Manchester and Salford City Councils.

It’s a fascinating glimpse into modern Britain, and into how decisions get taken. The port operations that made this area an economic powerhouse in the early 20th century fell rapidly into decline as the century neared its close, and the banks of the Ship Canal, once a kind of maritime aorta supplying the life-blood of economic prosperity and employment to the entire area, became wastelands of dereliction and decay. MediaCityUK is a much more ambitious scheme than its two predecessors (the Lowry Centre and Imperial War Museum North, on the Salford and Trafford banks of the canal respectively) but is modelled on their success. It’s a “partnership” between political authorities, private enterprise, and a quango – albeit an unusually rich and powerful one. I put partnership in inverted commas because that’s too cosy a word, with its implications of friendly cooperation and an almost altruistic collective yearning after a common good. The reality is rather less saccharine, and more like an arranged ménage-à-trois in which each party has its own agenda, whether it be making a profit, securing political capital, or seeking lower production costs. MediaCityUK might glide effortlessly like a swan on the Ship Canal, but under the surface is a struggle for advantage altogether less elegant.

A mobile phone snapshot of the BBC's studios at MediaCityUK

During a visit to the site last week, I came across an institution called The Anchor. Its publicity blurb tells us that it is “the MediaCityUK Chaplaincy [which] is open to people of all faiths and none”, that “it will be the place where honest business values can be celebrated”, and that “the Anchor will root the new city to its surroundings, providing a firm place from which to float ideas, grow and engage.” Well, it certainly seems that the writers of this publicity have absorbed the literary values of the community the Anchor intends to serve since if one removed the references to faith in the leaflet then it could have been advertising a media consultancy or business development guru.

One of the Anchor’s more popular events has been the bacon sarnie mornings (with suitable alternatives for the pork-averse) which, with the enticement of an early morning breakfast calorie boost, have been a means of making contact with the wide range of people currently employed on or visiting the site. Whilst initially some were wary of a dog-collar-sporting provider of victuals, these occasions have provided a platform for engagement and discussion, and perhaps the seeds of a greater sense of community.

I did not visit MediaCityUK alone, and many of those I was with seemed to be more impressed by the Anchor and its message than by the great and good from Peel Holdings (the developers), the BBC and Salford City Council whom we also met. But what should we make of all this, and what does it tell us about the current debates around the place of faith in society; about the allegation that it is now Christians in this country who are the victims of discrimination; and that the secular state is now preventing freedom of conscience and religion?

I was struck by the almost total absence of religion in the way that the role of The Anchor was described in its publicity. The references were seemingly entirely to concepts such as “community development”, to the fostering of “a sense of identity”, to values such as “respect”, “support”, even “humanism”. It was all about building links, making connections, creating partnerships. Although I discovered that Morning Prayer is also offered along with the bacon sandwiches, albeit not at the same time, such aspects of the Anchor’s work seemed somewhat under-stated, even apologetic. I make this observation not as a criticism, but merely as a way of illuminating the awkwardness of the current relations between the secular and the sacred in our society. It seemed that everyone acceded to the notion that the normal everyday discourse of secular concerns is missing something of importance. My fellow visitors, not bound by any religious allegiance, certainly felt that the Anchor was identifying some need that was not being met in other ways. And yet these needs are not remotely religious. They are needs for community, to look after and to be looked after.

It seems that on the one hand secular society, the big, bad world of commerce and politics, is unable to articulate these deficiencies without embarrassment, without feeling that these human concerns are somehow not truly their business: their true business being making money, or securing political advantage. On the other the Church seems equally embarrassed to admit that it has anything to contribute that isn’t merely greasing the wheels of secular society, of ensuring the presence of “honest business values” as The Anchor’s media-savvy publicity puts it. Both sides of this divide seem to need the other to offer them legitimacy and purpose. Without the veil of religion, Peel Holdings was never going to provide any direct input to community development; but in contradiction to those that claim religion is now demonised, Peel felt it legitimate to provide the Anchor with free office space, thus enabling it to tick the box of social responsibility. The Church no longer appears to have the confidence to sell its wares directly, but relies on a secular agenda that maybe is informed by faith, but in which faith is no longer a necessary part. And just in case anyone might not appreciate its commitment to the secular morality of the age, The Anchor assures us that it works “within the remit of Equality and Diversity (note the capitals) legislation…irrespective of race and ethnic origin, gender and gender identity, disability, mental health, sexual orientation, age, religion and belief, learning abilities, economic and social need.” It reads like a modern creed, the new equivalent of “we believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church, we acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

But I suspect this seemingly post-modern diffidence is nothing new. It is, it seems to me, merely the latest and equivalent expression of that disjuncture between the sacred and the secular that was hitherto symbolised by the hapless curate wielding a table-tennis bat, and offering the love of God via a youth club and its concomitant opportunity to snog in the toilets.

Don’t be fooled – the Libyan no-fly zone has very little to do with humanitarian angst

I wrote recently, and admittedly cynically, about how the West seems to go about deciding which oppressed peoples it “defends” by armed intervention, and which through platitudinous cliché. The UN approval for an enforced no-fly zone in Libya is presented as purely and simply a response to humanitarian need. That is not, sadly, what this is about.

Whilst America was seemingly sitting on the fence, a supporter of Barack Obama made a refreshingly sanguine assessment of the situation. He said plainly that American strategic interests were not particularly threatened by Colonel Gaddafi re-taking those parts of Libya over which he has recently lost control. American interests were served by “stability”. It is of little interest to America whether that stability is achieved at the expense of the peoples of the region, or not. Indeed, as I have also argued in this blog, the West generally and America in particular have been very happy indeed to support oppressive régimes where they have judged the oppression to result in a stable and predictable geo-political environment.

So what’s changed? Ignore the heartfelt pleas on behalf of the endangered people of Benghazi. Disregard the sudden emergence of humanitarian rapprochement between Britain and France. Dismiss the rhetoric about democracy. You will find no answer to the question there.

Rather, what has changed are three interconnected adjustments in the assessment of strategic advantage by different players. First, the Arab League now judges that it is time to cut Gaddafi loose. They have supported him heretofore, fêted him, and called him a brother. Now they see what is happening elsewhere in their backyards and feel worried. The calculus has changed, and they feel that naked oppression will no longer work. This is no conversion to humanitarian commitment. It is neither more, nor less, than a calculation of risk.

Second, America is playing a very canny game indeed. It knows that being in the vanguard in yet another Muslim country in order to pursue its strategic interests will isolate it further, cost it more, and reduce its influence more rapidly, than if it appears to be a reluctant guest at a democratic party.

Third, Russia and China no longer see a balance of power in the Middle East as being of much significance to them. The energy game is changing. Russia is stronger, America weaker, and China more needy than they were 10 years ago. At the same time, the Chinese economy will soon be bossing the world as the American economy has done since WW2. America and China will need to deal with their political differences directly with one another, rather than through the proxies of Middle Eastern influence.

Put all this together. The Arab League supports the no-fly zone. America can play the part of supporter rather than instigator. Russia and China do not need to play veto games in the Security Council. Hey presto, a no-fly zone is agreed in record time.

Don’t think I’m being cynical. If I were, I might also point out that Britain and France both need some external distractions just now. Protecting endangered Libyans might be just the ticket.

The power of poetry: a Lenten reflection, and some French music from the Reformation

This is where I ‘fess up to being something of a philistine. I’ve never been much of a connoisseur of poetry. Obviously I’m partial to the odd Shakespeare sonnet, can recall some bits of Tennyson, Wordsworth and similar worthies from school, and like everyone else can’t resist any poem that starts, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.” But that’s about as far as it goes. In part I blame Radio 4 and any other such outlet for poems being read out loud. Why by all that is sacred do poets have to read their work with that ridiculous sing-song voice that seems to be saying, “This poem is deep, profound, and brimful of meaning. If that’s not apparent from its banal sentiments or, alternatively, from its opaque mode of expression, then rest assured that this voice is a guarantee in itself.”

So no, poetry is not one of those things without which my life would be merely an empty husk. On the whole I’m more at home with dense prose and complex sentences. Rather like my recent treatises here on free-will and determinism. But every once in a while a poem seems to express with economy and precision a thought, or a perspective, that captures some truth or another in a way that 100 pages of closely argued text could never do. It’s Lent, and as part of my reflections on the season I came across just such an instance. It’s a poem in French written around the middle of the sixteenth century. The poet is Antoine de la Roche-Chandieu. He was part of the Calvinist reformation, and he wrote a collection of poems entitled “Les Octonaires de la Vanité du Monde”, and they were set to music by the little-known French composer, Paschal de L’Estocart.

The particular poem that caught my eye is called, “Mondain, si tu le sçais, di moy” (Earthling, if you know, tell me)

Mondain, si tu le sçais, di moy quel est le Monde ?
S’il est bon, pourquoy donc tant de mal y abonde ?
S’il est mauvais, pourquoy le vas tu tant cerchant ?
S’il est doux, comment donc a il tant d’amertume ?

S’il est amer, comment te va il allechant ?
S’il est amy, pourquoy a il ceste coustume
De tuer l’homme vain sous ses pieds abatu ?
Et s’il est ennemi, pourquoy t’y fies tu ?

(Earthling, if you know, tell me what is the world?
If it is good, then why is there so much evil all around?
If it is bad, why do you search for it so much?
If it is sweet, then why is there so much bitterness?

If it is bitter, how are you so attracted by it?
If it is your friend, then why is it in the habit
Of killing proud men, trampling them under foot?
And if it is your enemy, why do you trust it?)

This poem captures for me the duality of the world and our experience of it. The horrors of life (so poignant now given what’s happening in Japan at this very moment) crowd in on us, and yet we go on regardless. For Christians especially the problem of evil, the seemingly limitless suffering that comes not only from what we have collectively done to the world (the nuclear element in Japan’s current tragedy) but also from what the world does to us (the earthquake and tsunami elements) and how this can be compatible with “a loving God”, has dominated our spiritual and intellectual struggles from the beginning.

I suspect that no amount of analysis, no amount of intellectualising, will get us closer to that dialectic core than this poem does, and which is enhanced even more by de L’Estocart’s haunting setting:

Libya, Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan: what should inform deployment of force?

To the list of countries in the title one might add Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and a host of others. In some of these cases the West has intervened militarily with, let’s just say, mixed results, whereas in others it has not. It is interesting to reflect on these various actions and inactions in the light of the increasingly urgent demands of many in the West for some kind of military intervention against Colonel Gaddafi as he begins to retake Libya from the “rebels” and shows signs of doing so both brutally and quickly.

This post is not intended to be some kind of contribution to international diplomacy, nor an attempt to formulate a new doctrine to underpin British or anyone else’s foreign policy. More it’s a response to what seems to me a remarkable moral and intellectual inconsistency amongst those now urging no-fly zones and regime change in Libya, who in many cases seem to be exactly the same people who’ve basked in moral superiority over the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the subsequent morass in which the West now finds itself in both countries.

Personally I’ve always taken a pretty cynical approach to this. Notwithstanding the language of moral force that both sides in these debates have used to formulate their arguments, I have never believed morality has had much to do with it. The mythical “ethical foreign policy” is just that. So I make no apology for the following schema for determining whether or not the West will invade or otherwise intervene militarily in an international crisis. The list is in decreasing order of likelihood relative to some crude aspects of the country that might become the victim or the beneficiary, according to taste, of Western military interest. The country has or is:

  • white citizens in danger, and also some strategic significance
  • brown citizens in danger, and a lot of fossil fuel reserves
  • white citizens in danger, but no strategic significance
  • a place where Western holiday-makers might like to go, or have perhaps bought second homes
  • black citizens in danger, and some mineral deposits of interest
  • black citizens in danger, no strategic relevance, but most Western people have heard of it and can pronounce it
  • black citizens in danger, but Western people have never heard of it, don’t know where it is, can’t pronounce it, and don’t give a toss

It now occurs to me that we can construct an analogous list which can be used to predict whether Western people generally, and the Twitterati in particular, will call for military action from their governments, or berate them for taking such action. In this case the list is is descending order of the likelihood of calls for military action, and ascending order of the likelihood of moral outrage at military intervention. The country has or is:

  • non-white citizens with lots of access to mobile phones, Twitter, Facebook, or Al-Jazeera
  • a dictator hitherto supported by the West
  • a country about which America doesn’t seem to know what to do
  • important strategic significance in the supply of fossil fuels, about which the Western citizens concerned are in denial
  • the good or bad luck to require an intervention that is likely to be led by America
  • black citizens in danger, but Western people have never heard of it, don’t know where it is, can’t pronounce it, and don’t give a toss

So what am I saying? Simply this. That foreign policy has at best a tangential relationship to anything remotely connected with ethics or morality. And that many of us who are citizens of Western countries are not as honest with ourselves as we might be about what foreign policy we would like our governments to pursue. We express our outrage at the way fossil fuel distorts our strategic judgement, but want to fill up our cars cheaply and without restriction. We want to urge our governments to bomb Colonel Gaddafi’s air defence systems, whilst continuing to play the moral card in condemnation of Tony Blair and George Bush who did just that in the case of Saddam. I’m not raising that issue as a means of expressing my support for the Iraq war, but simply to ask why that war against that tyrant was so self-evidently immoral, whilst a similar exercise against another tyrant is so morally pure.

If there’s one lesson about foreign policy I think we should learn, it’s this: if it seems obvious where right lies, we’re almost certainly wrong.

Public health and public policy: the alcohol controversy

Six organisations concerned with health have withdrawn their support from the Government’s attempt to broker a “responsibility deal” on alcohol and public health between what might be broadly characterised as “the industry” and “the health lobbies”. The latter have complained that the Government is kowtowing to the former and allowing them to dictate health policy. Profit before health is the claim, with an undercurrent that the Government’s close association with business generally is leading them to distorted and partial conclusions. You can read more detail from the BBC here.

I won’t pursue the issue of motivation since I have no direct knowledge of the players, and I’m not sure how useful it is to try and infer the inner workings of the minds of other people from indirect evidence such as their political or financial sympathies. But in any case, there are more fundamental matters at stake here. To enumerate the most obvious:

  • efficacy: what is most likely to work, if by working we mean bearing down on the ill-health which everyone agrees flows from excessive alcohol consumption along with its toll in personal suffering and costs to the public purse?
  • individual responsibility: to what extent should the weaknesses of some members of society be moderated at the expense of others who do not display those weaknesses?
  • liberty: should we limit personal choice even when some choices are clearly to the detriment of the choosers?
  • collateral damage: what is our collective responsibility for the collateral damage alcohol does to those not even involved in its consumption – for example domestic violence or street violence?
  • ethics: should we tolerate the making of profits from the vulnerabilities of some members of society?

It is pretty obvious that none of these questions can be answered with a definitive yes or no. In some cases the evidence is too uncertain, and in others even when evidence is unassailable, the ethical issues are far from clear. To that extent I think the health lobbies are not responding with much discrimination. They are mistaking certainty of end with certainty about means. Because the medical charities see in stark relief the damage that alcohol does, and know just how much the health interventions cost, they are rushing to conclusions about what to do. This would be mistaken even if there were no dispute about efficacy: but there is a lot of dispute.

However, efficacy is just one of the issues I’ve rehearsed in my list. Most of the others have to do with values, not outcomes. The real problem with the Government’s approach is that it is bringing the wrong combatants to the table. The problem of alcohol in our society is nothing to do with the sellers or manufacturers of the stuff. That may seem an odd thing to say, but I believe it’s true. The social problem is the excruciating conflict between alcohol as a social good which many people enjoy, and alcohol as a social evil that some people are unable, for whatever reason, to control. We need to make decisions as a society about how we want to trade these issues off. The issue of profit is entirely secondary, and only serves to cloud the matter. I have not heard many people say with outrage that profits made by the Château Lafite-Rothschild are immoral – more that some people are prepared to pay crazy sums for fine wines, but that’s their look-out. Profits from alco-pops – oh, well that’s different. It’s not different, and to say that it is is merely to expose one’s snobbery.

Far from discussing the issues with those with a clear vested interest (and that’s not to say the interest is immoral) we should be discussing it with, on the one hand, those of us (all of us, of course) who pay the financial and other costs of alcohol as social evil, and, on the other, those of us (also the vast majority) who enjoy drinking and want to drink alcohol as social good. Once we’ve got that balance right, we can then explain to the producers and sellers of alcohol what restrictions we wish to impose on them. Their opinions about the matter aren’t important.

We are adults. We should be capable, and be encouraged to be capable, of balancing one thing against another. If we want cheap alcohol so we can consume it at reasonable cost and with responsibility, we must also accept that we’ll probably need to pay higher taxes because that liberal approach will cost the health service more, and society more. On the other hand, if we want low taxes, and low demand in the health service, we may have to accept paying much higher prices for alcohol if that can be shown to be an efficacious policy. If we want to prize liberty, we must also accept consequences. If we want to prize outcomes, we may need to accept the infantilising consequences of the “nanny state”. What none of us can have is a free society in which we are shielded from all bad outcomes, or a society that is concerned primarily to protect us but which also sets us free. And finally, everything has to be paid for. The libertarians who want low alcohol taxes and no restrictions cannot also have low social costs, either in taxes generally or in harmful consequences. But they are right to draw attention to the primacy of choice. That applies to all of us, regardless of political or indeed any other kind of allegiance.

If it exists, free-will is limited and contingent: a follow-up post

I wrote a couple of days ago about the radical determinism which has grown out of recent discoveries and experimentation in physics. By recent, I probably mean the last 100 years or so, but mostly I’m referring to the rash of new fundamental particles that now litter the field as it were. My previous post was concerned in the main with the almost complete disjuncture that there is between what some physicists, and the philosophers they’ve influenced, say they believe about reality on the one hand, and the way they and all the rest of us actually live our lives on the other. Despite what I believe are the entirely unsuccessful attempts by some of those philosophers to have their determinist cake whilst simultaneously munching happily away at that very same confectionery using their free-will, I don’t know anyone, anywhere, that really believes that they have no agency, no possibility of making choices between equally possible alternatives. The nearest that anyone comes to a synthesis is to say that free-will is an illusion. We think we possess it, but in fact we do not. This might deal with the existential problem – the fact that all of us experience our lives as if the choices we make are real – but it cuts no ice at all when it comes to dealing with the social and political consequences. I repeat here the inescapable corollary of the determinist position: without real (as opposed to illusory) choice there can be no responsibility for action, and no accountability for it. There can be no morals. And there can be no justice, for to punish people for actions that, whatever they may have imagined at the time they committed them, they in fact had no control over is patently and self-evidently unjust. None of the philosophers or physicists of the determinism of fundamental particles is arguing for the removal of criminal responsibility. There can be only two reasons: first, fear that they will be ridiculed or second, that they don’t believe their own theories.

Life without choice, without morality, without accountability, is meaningless. It is simply the playing out of an immutable and pointless script. It makes us all the unwitting observers of our lives, rather than active participators in them. But if there is free-will, and I say if advisedly because I genuinely don’t think we know, it is clearly not limitless. I drew a distinction in the last post between what I described as “lesser determinisms” and this radical, fundamental determinism. Just as life is meaningless if radical determinism is true, so it is impossible if free-will is unconstrained. Some elements of our lives obviously are determined by factors over which we have no control. Some of those determining factors operate in ways which are hidden from our consciousness, whilst others are not. For example, it may not be clear to us in what subtle and yet fundamental ways our personal histories determine the kinds of people we are, and the kinds of choices we make. Again, it is unlikely that we’ll be conscious of the ways in which the majority of our genes constrain and circumscribe our lives. The point here is that there is much more determinism in our lives than we are aware of, and I do not claim that the radical determinism I’ve described is not true. It may be. There is nothing impossible about the idea that we can think we’re acting freely when in fact we are not. This illusion of freedom happens all the time, and is woven into the very fabric of our consciousness. On the other hand, it is equally possible that, despite all the constraints, despite our lack of awareness of many of those constraints, we do still have real freedom to choose albeit within a heavily circumscribed space.

The last post grew out of my listening to Melvyn Bragg’s “In our Time” programme on BBC Radio 4. That mundane event – me hearing a radio broadcast – is illustrative of some of the points I’m making. Did I choose to listen to the programme? Well, yes and no. I had no idea it was on. If it hadn’t been on then I couldn’t have chosen to listen to it. Obvious enough, but clearly the choice, such as it was, was contingent. Once I became aware of it, could I have chosen to listen to it, or not to listen to it? Were those equally possible choices? Again, yes and no. If I had not had the education I have had, the family upbringing I have had, the interest over many years in philosophy, morality and religion that those experiences have given me, I would probably not have listened to it. After all, if the programme had not been “In Our Time”, but “You and Yours”, I’d have been out of my front door and on my way to work like a shot! So the obvious degree of determinism that operated (that the programme first had to be on air, that my radio had to be on when it was broadcast) is coupled with a much more subtle and contentious bit of determinism that flows from my personal history.

I mentioned going out to work. When I first heard that the programme was discussing determinism and free-will I was tying my tie, polishing my shoes, and generally sprucing myself up to get to work at 9.30am. I chose to delay my leaving. I think I chose, anyway. I was torn. I’m fascinated by the topic (as these two posts bear witness, if you’ve got this far, that is!) and at the same time I needed to go to work. I could have noted that the programme was on, and scribbled myself a note to catch it later on the BBC’s “Listen Again” feature. I didn’t. Actually, I’ve only just thought of that, and at the time it never occurred to me. So could I have chosen to do that or not? What controlled the fact that I forgot about “Listen Again”? I heard as much of the programme as I could. I was getting increasingly anxious about being late. Eventually my guilt overcame my fascination. I left for work, and arrived at the office about 10 minutes late. So did I choose to be late? How culpable for my lateness was I? The guilt that finally forced me to abandon listening and get my arse in gear is entirely the consequence of my upbringing. It didn’t matter that I was late, I had no 9.30 meeting, and no-one checks up on my arrival time. I could perfectly easily have listened to the entire programme. So one might turn the question of culpability on its head and ask instead how virtuous was my choice to give up listening and mitigate my late arrival.

Even in this entirely trivial instance, I think it is clear just how unclear is the boundary between freedom of choice and unfreedom of choice, between moral agency and amoral contingency. Although I cannot accept the notion that every tiny thing I do is just an inevitable consequence of the sub-atomic state of the universe a billionth of a second before, I am in fact grateful to the determinists for forcing us all to think the unthinkable.