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The Absinthe Thinker

On the 17 April 1984, a group of demonstrators outside the Libyan Embassy in London were fired upon from a first-floor window. Several were injured and a 25-year-old British WPC, Yvonne Fletcher, killed outright. Police investigators found shell casings on a first-floor landing and after it came to light that Colonel Gaddafi himself had authorized the shootings, the embassys staff was expelled; relations between Britain and Libya worsened dramatically and within a year the British Government had even granted permission for US warplanes to bomb Tripoli from an air base in East Anglia. Twelve years later, Channel 4s Dispatches demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that the single bullet that had entered Yvonne Fletchers body could not possibly have been fired from the embassy and, moreover, had been specially doctored to kill her outright. The finger of suspicion pointed towards the building next door that was tall enough to have facilitated the steep, 65-degree angle of entry of the bullet and had been used by the CIA and MI5 to spy upon the embassy for the previous six months. The young WPC, it seemed, had been deliberately assassinated in order to sway UK public opinion against Libya.

The issue was debated in the House of Commons and although a government investigation was ordered its findings were never made public. The years passed. Despite strenuously denying the assassination of Yvonne Fletcher and the Lockerbie bombing for which it had also unjustly been held accountable, Libya eventually paid compensation for the latter incident, concluding it was easier to buy peace than to continue to protest its innocence. It was a shrewd move. In 2004, Prime Minister Tony Blair flew to Libya and presided over the signature of a number of high-profile trade deals. Several weeks later, in a news item referring to the recent rapprochement, Channel 4 newsreader Samira Ahmed commented that although Libya had been responsible for various acts of terrorism in the past, including the shooting of Yvonne Fletcher, the country was now well on its way to being reintegrated into the international community. It was as though the Dispatches documentary had never been made. History has not recorded why the news editor who had written the script for Ms Ahmed repeated the assertion that Channel 4 had so painstakingly and conclusively disproved, but it is unlikely he or she did so under duress. It is far more probable that the person concerned had simply compiled the background information for the item from a mainstream news source.

This is a small, although particularly sad example of a rarely observed fact about human life and society: namely, there is nothing inherent in the process of the truth being uncovered that will necessarily prevent it from being covered up again even, as in this case, by the very people who strove to reveal it in the first place. It may even be argued with some justification that the larger and more outrageous the calumny, the less impact evidence to the contrary will have upon it, however often that evidence is repeated or however increasingly obvious it becomes over the passage of time. Having driven the Arabs from central Spain in 1105, the Christian West suddenly found itself in possession of the works of Aristotle in the libraries of the city of Toledo that had been translated into Arabic from the original Greek by Moorish scholars. Those writings proposed a far more credible view of the universe to that contained in the Bible and their discovery duly set Western reason on a collision course with Western faith. Six hundred years later, by the time of the Age of Enlightenment, it would not have been unreasonable to suggest, as indeed some thinkers did, that religion would all but disappear from the civilized world within a few generations. Three hundred years and innumerable scientific facts later, however, it continues to blight the intellectual landscape in as irrational and subversive a manner as ever.

It is the intellectual landscape and the many blots upon it that is the subject of this book. Vandalism, as we have observed, is a perennial problem: it seems that as soon as one corner of the landscape is beautified someone always wants to come along and try to smash it up. Other parts are totally obscured by heaps of litter: post-modernism trashes the learning of past generations whilst being unable to replace that learning with any definable theories of its own; political correctness and multiculturalism are happy to sanction all sorts of rubbish being strewn about the place rather than face up to the uncomfortable but self-evident fact that some people and some societies do things better and in a more civilized fashion than others. Other areas are carved up by huge, insurmountable walls. Plants and animals have Latin names because the Victorian taxonomists who first identified them were schooled in both the arts and the sciences. The present-day separation of the arts and the sciences may well have increased the number of specialists but can all too easily prevent those specialists from beholding the landscape as a whole, trapped as they often are in a little corner of their own particular field. Then there are the advertising hoardings, lining the by-ways and thoroughfares far into the distance brash, garish, illusory granting the young in particular ever fewer fleeting glimpses of the verdant, sun-lit pastures they conceal.

Some might argue that none of this really matters: it is perfectly possible for human beings to lead happy, fulfilled lives without understanding the complexities of the world and to suggest otherwise is merely intellectual elitism. This argument would be valid but for the fact that there wont be a single person on planet earth able to lead any sort of life intellectual or otherwise if the human race destroys it. The two great world wars of the 20th century were caused by a combination of financial/economic instability and racial/ethnic enmity. At the beginning of the 21st century those two problems are arguably worse than they were 100 years ago and, moreover, are further compounded by the modern-day global perils of pollution, climate change and resource depletion.

An understanding of the true nature of the human condition, and how these problems ultimately derive from it, is surely an essential precondition of our ensuring that we do not tear ourselves to pieces as a result of them. However, any meaningful attempt at such is automatically doomed to failure against the backdrop of a distorted intellectual landscape and making the appropriate corrections to it is nigh on impossible in the modern world. Anyone doubting this assertion is invited to give it a try: the moment you endeavour to rectify any of its widely perceived misconceptions the look of stunned incomprehension from those around you will provide ample testament as to the difficulty of the task. Should you persevere and continue to suggest that the terrain they know so well does in fact possess substantially different contours and features from those to which they have grown accustomed, their reaction will then more often than not become quite angry especially if you have the temerity to advance straightforward solutions to problems they have long been led to believe are intractably complex. Your ideas are simplistic, radical or even fascist. If you refuse to be intimidated, in time you will find that their ire does eventually subside but only to be replaced by a sort of condescending pity. You are a wayward eccentric a Bohemian figure. You are The Absinthe Thinker, whose colourful but intoxicated mind wanders back and forth between reality and fantasy. The CIA does assassinate British police officers, but only in the movies.

And it is all too easy to start conforming to this caricature: in the face of majority disbelief and derision, the temptation to shun the crowd and slink off by oneself to a quiet table at the back of the room is naturally quite strong. And should you later burst out laughing at the contemplation of some hilarious new absurdity, heads will of course turn in your direction and begin sadly to shake up and down. Bright spark once, apparently, but lost it years ago. More or less gaga now. Yet you should not despair not at all for we have just what you need. A curative tonic a potent draught to reinvigorate the spirit and send you right back out there fighting. We are confident it will help restore your senses, the first crucial step in the burdensome but unavoidable obligation of Absinthe Thinkers everywhere of assisting others in coming to theirs.

The Absinthe Thinker Sample Chapter click here


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