We could go on. We could mention Deborah Orr in the Guardian, who somehow managed to link events in Cologne to the historical failings of European (and British) criminal justice systems; or Gaby Hinsliff (also, coincidentally enough, in the Guardian) who contrasted the “expensive smartphones” of the assaulted German women with the miserable lives of “young male migrants…scraping by at the bottom of Europe’s social and economic food chain” (query: what’s the Arabic for “with that iPhone she was asking for it”?). Suffice to say that to endure the Krakatoa-like eruption of cognitive dissonance from the feminist left in the aftermath of the obscenity of Cologne was to have a whole new dimension of unpleasantness added to what was an already thoroughly unpleasant ordeal: A bit like being hectored by One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’s Nurse Ratched during a particularly difficult colonoscopy.
Jeremy Corbyn has been a supporter of the Chagossians’ plight for a long time, and on this I agree with him. On his website, an article is published, which discusses the depopulation of Diego Garcia and notes that
“This was done in secret and with no consultation with the people who matter most, namely those people who lived there”
Hard to argue with, really. I’m with him so far. But it becomes difficult to square all of this with his attitude to the Falkland Islands.
Forty six minutes into this discussion about trigger warnings, freedom of speech and campus lunacy, Brendan O’Neill tackles Bea Campbell about her role in the Satanic Abuse witch hunts of the 1980s. He says he supports her freedom to make false allegations, though not to destroy working class families.
The conversation I really want to have is this, it’s about, not so much freedom of speech, but the difficulty of speech, the difficulty for those who need to speak, the difficulty of giving voice, particularly when what they need to say has been shrouded in shame, whether it’s about the shape of their body or somebody abusing their body. This is at the centre of experience of women for ever, as far as we know. Now, the thing that’s fascinating about that difficulty is that all sorts of other oppressed and marginalised groups have something to say about that as well.
Primo Levi describes, let me just remind myself of the way that he puts it, ‘the unlistenable to, the unlistenable to, the unheard things that need to be said’.
Let’s just remember where the great inspiration for the contemporary language of feminism came from. It came from people who defied death, in Mississippi, in Alabama, just to vote. Black people who in order to vote had to risk life and limb and had to actually recuperate some sense of personal worth, which they recovered amongst each other, to give voice and to enter the public realm.
Now, the thing that I think is shameful about you [O’Neill] and your Institute of No Ideas [some discussion because O’Neill isn’t formally attached to the Institute of Ideas] I want to refer to your article about… rape… you had a go about this current rape thing that you go on about and you likened contemporary feminism to the Ku Klux Klan. And you cite that great, heroic, astounding figure Ida B. Wells, who campaigned against lynching and particularly named the ways in which white people enlisted the spectre, your term, the spectre of rape to lynch black men. The thing that you do is to traduce, to erase, the history of black women at that time in the service of your repudiation of the implications of rape.
She went on from there, and you can listen to it if you like.
Let’s look at what she did.
First, she claimed primacy over other people. She claimed to be more important, to make her voice louder than O’Neill’s. She did this by playing to the natural sympathy everyone has for people who feel ashamed of themselves or who have been abused, then saying that’s a female experience, centrally so. She is, of course, female.
Then she made the inevitable leap to the civil rights movement in America.
So far, the logic of this is:
Victimhood is more important than equality and freedom
I am one of a victim class
I also claim honorary membership of an even more evocative victim class
Remember, this is a response to an allegation that she had been part of a campaign of lies about parents forcing their children to eat excrement during satanic rituals, a campaign that resulted in state child abduction.
What she’s doing here is drawing a veil of virtue over herself. How can you criticise someone without a voice? Campbell is without a voice despite having one of the biggest platforms of anyone in the UK; her voice has been heard in the national media, in books and in academia for decades. But she has no voice as a member of an unvoiced group.
How can you not reverently make room for a voice that has been kept hushed by shame, of body image and shame that stems from abuse?
How can you disagree with someone whose great inspiration, dammit, came from Black Americans who’d been denied a voice, just like her?
It’s drivel, of course. So is what follows. O’Neill has erased black women by quoting a black woman. This is gibberish. But not even O’Neill is brave enough to challenge it as she comes out with it.
If you want to know how it is that someone could help tear families apart, causing irreparable trauma to children, over an obviously bogus piece of hysteria and yet retain both a sense of personal virtue and an always-warm seat on BBC discussion programmes, as well as a lifetime sinecure in a university, this is your answer. It’s the veil of virtue.
This veil acts as a turbocharger for the motte and bailey doctrine (if you haven’t yet read the paper at the end of that link, take a few minutes and rectify that right now). Motte and bailey arguments have a solid, defensible inner core (the motte), and a fatuous or worse hinterland (the bailey). If challenged on the bailey, the proponents retreat to the motte until it’s safe to come out again. An example motte and bailey feminist approach was given on the starslatecodex blog a year or so ago:
The feminists who constantly argue about whether you can be a real feminist or not without believing in X, Y and Z and wanting to empower women in some very specific way, and who demand everybody support controversial policies like affirmative action or affirmative consent laws (bailey). Then when someone says they don’t really like feminism very much, they object “But feminism is just the belief that women are people!” (motte) Then once the person hastily retreats and promises he definitely didn’t mean women aren’t people, the feminists get back to demanding everyone support affirmative action because feminism, or arguing about whether you can be a feminist and wear lipstick.
The turbocharged version is, instead of “But feminism is just the belief that women are people!”, you get “But feminism is the only way the marginalised can ever have a voice, especially those who men have made feel bad about their bodies, and it’s exactly the same as the civil rights movement, and you don’t want to lynch black people do you, you bastard???”
Campbell isn’t the only person who does this. It’s characteristic of her generation of political activists. This is why it’s ironic, and often quite funny, when younger activists, the current crop in particular, attack those of the 1970s using exactly the same tactics and shout them down for being trans-exclusionary – transsexualism not having formed a part of the identity politics that set, like concrete, in the minds of 1970s activists thirty years ago.
This inflexibility is a serious problem now. In the aftermath of the mass sexual assault of women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, we read that
Barbara Steffens, the minister for emancipation in the North Rhine Westphalia (NRW) government, said the New Year’s Eve incident was “the tip of a very unpleasant iceberg”. She called for a “larger societal condemnation of a male abuse of power”.
This incident in Cologne was created by migration without assimilation, not by masculinity, and European men don’t behave like that. A politician who can’t understand that can’t deal with it either. But by falling back on this call to ossified identity political roles, distraction can be achieved. Distraction without effective action, that is.
This is how several thousand children came to be raped in full knowledge of the authorities in northern English towns like Rotherham for a decade and a half or more. The crumbling, Soviet-era concrete of the political priorities of the Labour Party meant that imaginary white racist backlashes were more important than the actual racist rape of white children. And you know, you wouldn’t want to be suggesting there was anything systematic about the rape of white people by non-whites would you? I mean, not even if we both know the statistics show exactly that.
Just as nobody on the panel in the clip above was willing to challenge Campbell’s ridiculous attempt to co-opt US civil rights as a cover for British witch hunts because they didn’t want to risk appearing to attack the US civil rights movement, nobody was willing to risk being called racist in Rotherham.
It’s time to stop buying this crap.
It’s time to say that Bea Campbell stands in a line of descent from Matthew Hopkins, not Ida B. Wells. In more current issues, it’s time to stop letting the descendants of Bantu colonisers of southern Africa pretend their anti-white crusade is anti-colonialist.
It’s time to challenge not just the ideas of the regressive left, but also their false assumptions of virtue.
Apropos of Greece and the Euro, the words of U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, in a 1999 court hearing, in which Microsoft tried some extraordinary stunts to convince the court that Internet Explorer was an integral part of the operating system, spring to mind.
“The code of tribal wisdom says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.
“In law firms,” the judge continued, “we often try other strategies with dead horses, including the following: buying a stronger whip; changing riders; saying things like, `This is the way we have always ridden this horse’; appointing a committee to study the horse; arranging to visit other firms to see how they ride dead horses; increasing the standards to ride dead horses; declaring that the horse is better, faster and cheaper dead; and finally, harnessing several dead horses together for increased speed.”
We’d be in real trouble without an effective opposition and regular changes of government, so even though I’m glad about this result, I’m worried about Labour. Boundary changes and, perhaps, some reform of the BBC will work against them, and even though the large number of new SNP MPs will, necessarily, include some car crashes I can’t see Labour sweeping back in Scotland soon.
The party that was born in an industrial landscape that no longer exists, and that fell prey to a mid-twentieth century nationalisation fallacy that destroyed volume car production, prevented heavy industry from modernising so it died (Thatcher was just the undertaker) and closed the branch railway system, has only come close to re-inventing itself in a sectarian identity politics most people find repulsive, and that has led to obscenities like Rotherham.
UKIP’s appeal to Old Labour voters was apparent, not least in the ‘uneducated’ east coast from Clacton to Hull, where they came second in 120 constituencies. They made sweeping inroads into councils without denting Tory gains. Old Labour always was a ‘stop the world I want to get off’ party, yearning for a past of jobs for life no less fictitious than the Express’s nostalgia for the 1950s. UKIP gives that voice more effectively than Labour, today.
Worst of all for Labour, though not so obvious, were the liberal supporters who couldn’t vote Labour, or who did so holding their noses. Most of them were prevented only by tribalism from voting Conservative. How long can that last? How long can a party with Lutfer Rahman-supporting UNISON as Kingmaker, that has refused to expel Livingstone, that only expelled Galloway (for Christ’s sake) when he called for mutiny in the armed forces – but not before then – keep their loyalty?
Even thoughtful Labour partisans adopt tribal positions on questions like the EU, the Human Rights Act, the NHS , Welfare reform. Even when they write about Labour’s need to stop hating the provinces and the self-employed trades, contempt drips through. There’s still the unexamined narcissism that believes the poor are hated by the Tories, and only they can provide clean hay and warm barns – the notion people want to stand beside them rather than beneath them doesn’t seem to occur. The idea that the general rise in prosperity means more and more people don’t just want that, they expect it, is unimaginable to them. The idea that the people who know most clearly that there are freeloaders and scroungers are the fucking working class who live next door to them isn’t anywhere near their horizons.
Backwoods Tories are, literally, dying off. Oddly, and entirely unanticipated, demographics favour the Tories. They’re becoming more liberal because the illiberal ones are pegging it. Labour didn’t realise that immigrants are actually natural Conservatives, ambitious, hard-working, socially conservative.
I don’t want fifty years of Conservative government with UKIP emerging as the main opposition. I’d like an increasingly liberal Conservative Party kept like that because the main threat is further to the left. I’d like a party that is still too close to inherited privilege and wealth moderated by meritocratic and liberal pressure.
But unless Labour guts itself, there’s a possibility – no more than that – of it becoming irrelevant. And what party has ever gutted itself?
Russell Brand’s book Revolution has probably received more criticism from the left than the right, despite being superficially of the left. In this, there’s a reminder of a phenomenon that has been present in all modern political extremism and which also defines the various contemporary Islamist movements: the claim of small utopian movements to be perfected forms of broader demographies.
Racial purity movements, like white supremacism, claim to be perfected, pure forms of patriotism and the broader and more vague patriotism of the majority is seen by supremacists as wishy-washy, lacking the courage of its conviction. In fact, they’re different ways of thinking entirely, one based on race, the other not based on race. Far right movements like the BNP rarely gain much electoral traction and when they do it’s because of conflicts based on alienation resulting from rapid demographic change or competition for, mainly state, resources. It is not because of race; Polish plumbers are as much of an issue as Pakistani villagers for the Labour supporters who drift in and out of BNP voting. So while race-based politics seems like it’s an extension of ordinary patriotism and parochialism, it isn’t.
Islamism claims to be a purer, more correct application of religious teaching. But there isn’t a core of pure religious teaching at all, not in any religion. They’re all agglomerates, and they’re all shaped by humans. There are contradictory verses in all scriptures. Genesis starts with two, different, creation myths. The New Testament flatly contradicts most of the Old. Some Koranic verses recommend violence, some recommend peace; some are intolerant, some are tolerant. Movements of religious ‘enthusiasm’ have been a constant problem for the mainstream religious. Ronald Knox put it like this:
He expects more evident results from the grace of God than we others. He sees what effects religion can have, does sometimes have, in transforming a man’s whole life and outlook; these exceptional cases (so we are content to think them) are for him the average standard of religious achievement. He will have no “almost-Christians,” no weaker brethren who plod and stumble, who (if the truth must be told) would like to have a foot in either world, whose ambition is to qualify, not to excel. He has before his eyes a picture of the early Church, visibly penetrated with supernatural influences; and nothing less will serve him for a model. Extenuate, accommodate, interpret, and he will part company with you.
“Extenuate, accommodate, interpret, and he will try to kill you” is perhaps the current version, but the principle is the same. Yet most religious people do “like to have a foot in either world”, or even both feet in this one. Even when they acknowledge that some of the supernatural claims of their religion are unlikely to be true, they consider themselves to be religious. For them, it’s about rituals that bind villages, cities or nations, it’s about social interaction, festivals and holidays, rites of passage, families and a code of behaviour that includes charity and self-denial for those so inclined. And it’s about identity, of continuing the defining rituals of your predecessors and neighbours. The broad mass of religious behaviour has little to do with the actual belief systems at its core. It’s a social phenomenon. Again, while the very religious might seem to be at an extreme of ordinary religious behaviour, they’re not. They’re something else.
The same is true of the left. Broad left movements are a blend of self-interest and a sense of justice, or injustice. I don’t mean ‘social justice’ as defined by the far left, just ordinary, everyday scales-of-justice justice. The distribution of wealth in all countries includes a fair amount of the legacy of armed robbery. You can argue about how much, and how much this has been over-written by subsequent economic activity, but the wealth of all monarchs comes from this, and so does that of most aristocrats. The sense that it’s unfair, that aside, for one child to be born a pauper and be so poorly fed in infancy that their brain development is affected, while another is born into great surplus, through no individual merit, is both understandable and widespread. This is true, for many people, if the parents’ wealth difference comes about through indolence on one side and enterprise on the other. It doesn’t depend on the merit of the parents.
So redistribution, at least some transfer of wealth, is favoured by the broad left, by most liberals (starting with Adam Smith), and indeed many on the meritocratic right. Others on the broad left see themselves as the recipients of redistribution, and not just the less well-off. The narcissism of much of the middle class left is tautological, considering that they are people born into above average affluence who still feel they should get other people’s money because their art, or environmental campaigning, or political thought – rather than their need for subsistence – merits it.
The popularity of nationalisation and the appeal of trades unions today, decades past their usefulness, are also forms of self-interest, based on a conservative wish to return to a past, no less imaginary than the 1950s of the Daily Express, in which people have jobs for life in large organisation that are immune from the uncertainties and competitors of market environments.
On the face of it, people who want complete redistribution, a complete remaking of society, have just reached the logical conclusion of this form of thought. It’s hard to dismiss out of hand a charge of narcissism against those who would reshape the lives of every other person in the country, or world, but more significantly they want an even fairer society than does the milquetoast democratic left. This makes them purer, better leftists than the rest, according to them.
The problem for people in the broader groups, for the ordinarily patriotic, for the Anglican Christian or Sunni Moslem, for the mainstream Labour voter, is that they often have a suspicion that the Ultras are right – that they are purer forms of their own broad ideals. This is why these movements manage to gain traction in large groups, why they can successfully attach themselves to these groups. When any such movement gains serious traction in a broad demographic, it can start using intimidation and punishment to suppress dissent, and the world faces a serious problem – fascism, communism, theocracy.
This explains why the National Union of Students is continually plagued by extremist politics. The anti-imperialists who think condemning ISIS would be Islamophobic are the successors of the communists who turned out not to be super-liberals, but to be supporters of Honecker and his secret police. Students think these people are even more concerned about justice or racism than they are, instead of the truth, that they’re happy to use either as leverage, but are mainly interested in power over other people.
This is where Brand fits in. But there’s an irony. It’s also where some of his critics fit in. Take Chris Dillow’s post, criticising Brand for anti-intellectualism. It’s a fair charge. But then Chris wrote this:
Any serious revolution would, of course, disempower political and business elites and empower people. Which raises many questions: why is there so little popular demand for worker management or even direct democracy? How do we promote anti-managerialism? Could we achieve worker democracy without weakening incentives to innovate? What institutions do we need to create a healthy deliberative democracy rather than debased populism?
Of course, people have been working on questions such as these for years but their efforts have, to put it mildly, not greatly entered the mainstream of the British left.
The efforts he mentions haven’t ‘entered the mainstream of the British left’ because they have nothing to do with the mainstream left. They might be better thought-out, but they’re ideas that are interlopers as much as is Brand (I’m not going to suggest he has any ideas). Like most Muslims, Christians and vaguely patriotic people, most of the left just want to rub along, with reasonable freedom and safety, living their lives as they see fit and raising their kids. They don’t want the dawn of a New Age, be it the revolution, racial purity, the Apocalypse or a Caliphate.
That’s not a failure to be ‘proper’ believers, it’s not being a believer in utopia at all.
That was Douglas Adams’s description of Sunday afternoons. It won’t make a lot of sense to anyone under 25, because they live in the time of the Internet but, as xkcd points out today, before the internet instead of enjoying peaceful, meditative calm people were just frequently bored.
In the UK there was another problem. Before 1994 there were severe restrictions on shop opening times. That there should be any government regulation of business opening hours is grotesque, Methodist bullying. The weird post-apocalyptic feeling of deserted streets and shuttered shops gave Sundays a unique and bleak, lifeless desolation.
I remember the passage of the shop hours reform legislation. It would lead to appalling exploitation of workers, Labour screamed. People would be chained to supermarket checkouts, unable to have any family life.
Instead, we have some extra employment, some extra flexibility in when we choose to work and when we choose to go shopping. Nobody is complaining about the loss of empty Sunday. In fact, any move to abolish Sunday opening now would be met with incredulity and anger from the general population.
This shows up two things, I think. Firstly, that Labour politics are founded on a belief that people, humans, are intrinsically and unalterably evil and need to be shepherded by an elite to prevent them from mercilessly exploiting others. This is similar to the Christian view of the Fallen nature of humanity, and it comes from the religious as well as the political traditions so even Labour atheists can believe themselves to be one of a Fabian elite.
The second thing it shows is that this view is wrong. The terrible exploitation of vulnerable workers hasn’t happened, we’ve just had more opportunity for employees and for consumers. Labour restrictions in the name of our own good just restrict, they don’t do any good and they do a great deal of harm, suffocating the people they’re designed to help.
Of course, this paternalistic view is present in Conservatives too. But that’s more obvious, we expect Tory Conservatives to treat the mass of humanity with contempt. Labour likes to think it is different. If anything, it is worse. At least Tories are content to leave people alone in their hovels, and not go in after them and badger them about their diets, weight and recreational habits.
There’s a line in a recent Chris Dillow post that says:
Whereas social democrats try to work within the confines of what the public considers “fair”, and try to tweak those perceptions, we Marxists fear that this is a forlorn task because the power of ideology warps those perceptions.
I’m sure Chris know this is how non-Marxists often think of Marxists, that their ideology warps their perceptions. It’s more appropriate to talk of Marxists being indoctrinated than it is most people, who take less doctrinal, more experience-based and pragmatic approaches to issues.
Indeed, Marxism belongs with traditional religions to a bracket of improbable, dogma-based belief systems that require faith to maintain, in the teeth of what could politely be called conflicting data. As with traditional religions, you get ‘Why I am still a Marxist’ and ‘Why I am no longer a Marxist’ essays and columns – Chris himself wrote one – which are very similar to ‘Why I am still/no longer a Christian’ type pieces.
You don’t get ‘Why I am still a slightly conservative pragmatist’ essays in the same way.
So Chris is on very swampy ground, making charges against non-Marxists that are better, perhaps only appropriate if, aimed at Marxists like himself. It gets worse.
What does ‘fairness’ mean? In particular, what is the objective test for fairness?
Obviously, there isn’t one, for a very good reason: nobody agrees what ‘fair’ means. And it’s Chris’s fault.
Not just Chris, but the whole of the Marxist left that for a century or more has been trying to bludgeon through un-argued propositions by disguising them in wrappings labelled ‘fairness’ and ‘social justice’. The egotism and narcissism involved in this approach are extraordinary: my views aren’t just me doing my best to understand the world and what’s best, they’re Objective Truth, Fairness and Justice!
But this is a wrapping for something genuinely vile. The argument being made is summed up in Chris’s final paragraph:
Public opinion might decide what is a successful political strategy, but it is more questionable whether it should decide what is a morally right one. One of my fears about Labour politics is that this distinction is often ignored.
Although people disagree with Chris – because of some mental deficiency in them and not because he might be wrong, or wrong for them as individuals – he feels entitled to impose his own preferred outcomes on them by force, because there’s no other way to do so. Indeed the point of this whole piece is that the failure of Marxists to persuade others of their ideas is because of the mental deficiency of the others, and not because Marxism is a peculiar mid-nineteenth century fallacy, like Homoeopathy or the modern Druid movement.
This has nothing to do with fairness or justice. It is a form of psychopathy.
But so is being a Marxist at all, knowing what that particular faith has been responsible for in the past hundred years.
Ominously, Libya’s chaos is spilling across the region. The country is awash with up to 15 million rifles and other weapons, and a report by the UN panel of experts this month found that “Libya has become a primary source of illicit weapons“. These arms are fuelling chaos in 14 countries, including Somalia, the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Niger. Qatar is helping to deliver Libyan armaments to Syria, where Russian-made weapons bought by Gaddafi’s regime are being given to fundamentalist Islamist rebels.
In what has all the hallmarks of mission creep, a small number of US soldiers are being sent to Tripoli to begin training troops. But a stable future for Libya seems remote, however much the country’s strife is safely hidden away from the headlines. It is dividing along every fracture line imaginable: whether it be ethnic, tribal, regional or political. Most Libyans have failed to even register for upcoming elections.
There is a real prospect of the country collapsing into civil war or even breaking up. Unless there are negotiated settlements to its multiple problems, Libya will surely continue its descent into mayhem, and the region could be dragged into the mire with it.
No wonder western governments and journalists who hailed the success of this intervention are so silent. But here are the consequences of their war, and they must take responsibility for them.
I give such a large quotation because it’s lovely to see Jones worrying about Libya being a source of illegal weapons as though this doesn’t go back to before the little lad was born, as though Libya didn’t turn into the IRA’s main weapons supplier, as though this didn’t extend to being a member of the Axis of Evil WMD-making tyrants – and as though Libya didn’t leave this select club as a result of the Western intervention in Iraq that Jones so strongly opposed.
We’re used to this sort of amoral and cynical banking on the ignorance of the reader from what a friend calls the Justin Bieber of the British left and, as the comments show, he has not underestimated the readership of Comment is Free.
But yes, there will be some consequences of the intervention and some of those consequences will be bad – some will be good, like the eradication of a sadistic, rape-fuelled, torturer state – not that I expect Owen to care very much about this. As a supporter of the Libyan intervention I completely accept this responsibility.
But Jones has never shown any sign of accepting his responsibility for the consequences of his campaigning, and that of others like him: more than 140,000 dead SO FAR, no sign of an end to the violence, all the sectarian division and violence of Iraq but no possibility of removing the tyrant, no possibility of peace, the certainty of genocidal reprisals when Assad regains control, no prospect of the introduction of democracy or the rule of law.