Where to begin?

April 25, 2009 at 8:34 am (Anti-Racism, Max Dunbar, media, Tory scum)

Kammo runs an occasional series called ‘Great Historical Questions to Which the Answer is ‘No’. This week he’s highlighted Ed West’s article, in the Torygraph, which asks: ‘Is Britain the world’s first politically correct totalitarian state?’

This is West:

[T]here are just too many cases of people being arrested for homophobia, racism or other thought crimes for this to be treated as anything other than state policy. Of course Britain isn’t Orwell’s Oceania or Bolshevik Russia yet, but it is a tyranny nonetheless.

Do you know anyone who’s been arrested on such a charge?

There is a strain of British conservatism that is inherently self-pitying and conspiratorial. Ed West is the equivalent of leftists who claim that democracy is no better than fascism. But while such pseudo-radicals are regularly and rightly laughed out of town, anti-PC hysteria is widely accepted in public life. It is unchallenged. It is a major factor in the resurgence of the far right. It will get worse as the recession deepens and the crowd starts looking for people to throw on the bonfire. Political correctness gone mad is the singular mainstream conspiracy theory.

For all their talk about standing up for common sense the rightwing commentariat does seem to be living in an alternate reality. As Kamm noted in another context: ‘It’s at times like this that I realise how oddly unmerited is the reputation of British conservatism for social pragmatism and working with the grain of human nature.’

The Torygraph’s champion of free speech slams Evan Harris for his part in getting the UK blasphemy law repealed. ‘If you want to fight for freedom,’ West says, ‘fight for the peoples’ right to be racist or sexist or Islamophobic or simply rude.’ Now, it’s vital that people have the liberty to make tedious ‘politically incorrect’ jokes. But what is West saying here? That there is no point in freedom unless you use it to say stupid and ugly things? Seriously? Is that all we’ve got?

This transcends politics. The personal slides into the political so easily. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told me that because they can’t get a housing transfer or find a city centre parking space we are living under a dictatorship. It’s a huge collective human failure of imagination and proportion and empathy.

In the comments, Tom Chivers puts West in his place:

It’s only 45 years since a Tory party candidate campaigned on the slogan ‘if you want a n***er for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour’. Political correctness might be clumsy, it might go too far, it might occasionally lead to silly situations, but it is infinitely preferable to what went before.

And what is worse is when people start making stuff up about it. ‘Winterval’, for instance, was never about not offending Muslims, but a PR stunt by Birmingham City Council in 1997-98 to get more people shopping, and yet it is brought forth EVERY YEAR as yet another ‘political correctness gone mad’ story.

And saying that Britain is a ‘politically correct totalitarian state’ would be laughable if it wasn’t so depressing that your comments box will fill up with agreement from blustering Colonel Blimps who miss the good old days of untrammelled racism and homophobia.

On that subject, Tom might want to check out West’s next piece, entitled: ‘South Africa is going down the plughole. What do the anti-apartheid campaigners have to say about that?’

600px-no_political_correctness

Political correctness: to blame for everything

36 Comments

  1. Laban Tall said,

    “what is West saying here? That there is no point in freedom unless you use it to say stupid and ugly things?”

    No. I think he’s trying to say that there is no point in freedom unless you CAN use it to say stupid and ugly things. If we’re only “allowed” to say things that are generally approved of, what sort of freedom is that ?

    (although I don’t agree with West’s main thesis re PC totalitarianism – we aren’t there yet and while we may be currently moving a tad in that direction, IMHO this is not a trend that will continue)

  2. maxdunbar said,

    But he’s slagging Harris for his part in removing a law that did proscribe speech.

  3. Jim Denham said,

    You’re absolutely correct, Max. But incoherent drivel like this:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/apr/25/liberal-islam

    from the ex-Marxist Eagleton, who now seems to be motivated entirely by cultural reletavism (a close relative and pregenitor of “political correctness”) and the worst kind of degenerate, Graun-style “liberalism”, must also be opposed. Interestingly, Eagleton (like the Torygraph’s Ed West) also opposes free speech: “on the whole they (ie ‘Western’ ‘rationalists’) are more preoccupied with freedom of expression than freedom from imperial rule.” What the hell does that mean? How is freedon of expression counterposed to “freedom from imperial rule”? Who is Eagleton gibbering about, and what examples of this counterposition has he got? We’re not told, but Eagleton’s degeneration (including a noticeable softness on religion) continues apace.

  4. maxdunbar said,

    I read this today. I’ve kind of given up arguing with these people. Their arguments are so poor and repetitive that it’s just not worth engaging. If Eagleton and the rest of the pro-faith left ever change the record then I’ll get back into it.

    I reckon you should do a post on Eagleton.

  5. Jules said,

    The only four words you needed to read in that article were the sign off “Hat tip Mark Steyn” to file it under the “total wingnuttery” section of political commentary.

    His reference to “perfectly legitimate objections to ideas such as total sexual (sorry, “gender”) equality or sexual liberation” made me chuckle. I wonder exactly what level of gender inequality West thinks is desirable or what level of sexual repression he thinks is required?

  6. maxdunbar said,

    Good point. It’s a shame West didn’t list some of these ‘legitimate’ objections so that his readers could judge for themselves.

  7. Jules said,

    I remember in one of my seminars at uni a particularly moronic individual piped up that he didn’t think the repression of women’s sexuality was “de facto a bad thing”! Now surprisingly enough a crack team of ZaNuLiarBore stormtroopers didn’t burst in and frog march him off to the nearest gulag but he was ripped to shreds by the group. That’s what happens when you express astonishingly ignorant and offensive points of view – you get challenged. West and the rest of the PC gone mad brigade need to get their heads round this and stop wallowing in their self pity and bigoted stupidity.

  8. maxdunbar said,

    You didn’t go to Sheffield did you?

    I met a lot of undergraduates like that. I recall a couple of arseholes had a column in the student paper called ‘Politically Incorrect’ in which they urged students to vote against stocking fairtrade coffee, banning Nestle from the union over the baby milk scandal, on the grounds of ‘political correctness gone mad’.

    These motions still went through by referenda which shows how little connection that paper had to the student body which it purported to represent.

  9. johng said,

    In what sense is Terry Eagleton defending cultural relativism here Jim? In what sense is what he says “illiterate”? And where does he counterpose freedom of speech to freedom from imperialism? He merely makes the point that a number of self conscious liberals have somehow journeyed from opposing the reactionary side of religion to engaging in sub-paislyite ranting often allying themselves with extremely dubious figures in doing so (note an increasingly desperate David T at HP, where the penny finally seems to have dropped that a large part of their commentariate are little different to bog standard fascists). He also quite correctly notes that there is a large overlap between this and support for the war on terror and, at best, ambivulence towards western imperial adventures. It might be hard Jim, being in the AWL to see this, but its just obviously true to most on the left. Very hard to see what this has to do with ‘cultural relativism’. Its fascinating to me that you seem to have ended up on the right of even the author of this post, who like poor old David T, is attempting a belated left turn in the face of what has been obvious to most of us for a long period.

  10. johng said,

    I just saw this. as stimulating a materialist account of culture I’ve read in a long time. And funny with it…illiterate? How?

    http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=531&issue=122

  11. Rosie said,

    A good piece on Eagleton’s incoherent ramble over here:-

    http://metamagician3000.blogspot.com/2009/04/and-speaking-of-bullshit-try-this.html

  12. maxdunbar said,

    Rosie

    Also, good stuff from Ophelia

    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/notesarchive.php?id=2719

    John

    You’re a fine one to talk about dubious alliances!

    I agree, though, that the HP comments boxes are full of scum

  13. voltairespriest said,

    That’s not fair – it’s been a long time since the SWP had any dubious allies!

  14. Jim Denham said,

    John: if he’s not a reletavist, then what the hell *is* Eagleton defending in that incoherent article? As for your question, “where does he counterpose freedom of speech to freedom from imperialism? ” you should try learning to read (and then learning to think); it’s staring you in the face in the article, spelled out as plainly as could be asked: “On the whole, they (the so-called “liberal supremacists” -JD) are more preoccupied with freedom of expression than freedom from imperial rule.” Actually, I quote that in my previous posting, so perhaps John G really *can’t* read, or all this post-modern Foucault stuff he likes, has rendered him incapable of understanding the meaning of words.

  15. maxdunbar said,

    “On the whole, they (the so-called “liberal supremacists” -JD) are more preoccupied with freedom of expression than freedom from imperial rule.”

    That’s just struck me… as if we’ve got to choose between free speech and anti-imperialism: as if we can’t and don’t support both.

  16. Ed said,

    Eagleton appears to be arguing that even Dawkins, despite actually opposing the Iraq war, is on the side of imperialism in the war on terror by virtue of his arguments against religion.

    I have criticisms of Dawkins on religion. But this is – what’s the word? Preposterous? Johng, do you really endorse it?

  17. voltairespriest said,

    Quite, Ed. I think Eagleton’s argument is bizarre, for precisely the same reason that you do. I can’t recall Dawkins ever endorsing the war on terror, even tangentially, yet Eagleton appear to want to lump him in with the neocons on the basis that he agrees with (some of) them about a different subject entirely. It’s a really feeble argument, although one suspects that the Graun needed someone to fill the “Saturday Be Nice To Religious Conservatives” spot which seems to be becoming a fixture.

    And predictably the miniature online cult who appear to think that “liberal imperialism” as opposed to global capitalism is the great enemy de nos jours, all start jumping up and down. Ah well, maybe they’ve been promised extra sandwiches at the next “Is Christopher Hitchens is worse than Hitler” round table discussion…

  18. Rosie said,

    Also a good piece from Norm:-

    http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/

    I suspect the Verso rationale – Islam=Islamism=anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism so let’s not say anything nasty about it. Except for saying things in a general way like it’s bad to bomb people, Eagleton has said nothing about it, unless it has been “contexted” by some vague, non-specific “national injury and humiliation that underlie it”.

    “the slanderous reduction of Islam to a barbarous blood cult” – that’s what some of the uglies who comment at Harry’s Place say, not Amis, Hitchens, Rushdie and the rest of them.

  19. maxdunbar said,

    The irony is that of the people who so offend Eagleton only Hitchens is consistently, unapologetically pro-war. This means that anything Hitchens says on any subject can be cheerfully dismissed. I’ve seen reviews of ‘God is Not Great’ that focused exclusively on Iraq even though Iraq barely features in the text.

    The others, though, are mostly antiwar. I actually did a post on this ages ago:

    ‘As Norm points out, Richard Dawkins – the man most people are talking about when they speak of ‘militant atheism’ – is a strong opponent of the Iraq war. Ditto Sam Harris, ditto Martin Amis, ditto A C Grayling.’

    http://maxdunbar.wordpress.com/2008/03/29/sellout-of-the-century/

    The links are in the post.

    And this is McEwan on Iraq:

    ‘I mean, I had great ambivalences about the invasion of Iraq, I was terribly torn about it. The left-winger in me made it difficult to protest against the removal of a fascist dictator. But the deep suspicions I had about the Americans being able to occupy a country made me very, very fearful.

    I mean, by the week before the invasion I really was in a sweat, thinking this is a TERRIBLE mistake.” Now, he thinks the whole adventure has been “a disaster. An absolute disaster. It would have been a lot better to have done nothing than to do it badly.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2007/aug/18/film.aidaedemariam

    Basically most of these ‘liberal imperialists’ opposed the war but have still been excommunicated for their view that Islamic fundamentalism is a bad thing rather than a bulwark against imperialism/Zionism.

    This creates a problem for Eagleton because he wants to portray them as gung-ho colonialists. So he goes out of his way to contrive evidence that Dawkins, Grayling etc either a) didn’t oppose the war strongly enough, or b) supported the war on a subconscious level (‘Whiggish rationalism’).

    The antiwar left’s intellectual poverty and its parochialism have led it to the point where commentators like Eagleton hate liberals more than they hate fascists, and define morality entirely in terms of whether you are pro-war or antiwar.

  20. sackcloth and ashes said,

    Talking of Tory Scum, has anyone read the ‘Sindie’ today?:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/camerons-freebie-to-apartheid-south-africa-1674367.html

    So David Cameron took a freebie to South Africa in 1989 at a time when its police death squads were murdering anti-apartheid activists. Why am I not surprised?

    ‘I agree, though, that the HP comments boxes are full of scum’

    From the hard left as well as the hard right. And johng is one of them.

    Incidentally John, are you aware that Omar Barghouti has just begun a PhD at Tel Aviv? I hope he’s able to complete his doctorate – unlike some people I could mention.

  21. Rosie said,

    Eagleton’s an ex-revolutionary Marxist. There are two ways for a revolutionary Marxist to go when he gives up on it – he can take the rabid right wing route like David Horovitz or Paul Johnson, or, as is more likely, he will settle into normal liberalism. Eagleton does not want to take either of these routes. So he’s settled for a kind of religious and other-cultural apologetics. That leads him into all sorts of slipperiness and incoherence.

    When Eagleton writes on his own subject, literature, he’s very good – he knows a lot, he has insight and passion, as a professor of literature should. When he gets on to other subjects he can talk incoherent nonsense.

    Since we’re swapping self-links here’s a fisk I did of one of his articles on multi-culturalism:-

    http://rosiebell.typepad.com/rosiebell/2007/02/terry_eagleton_.html

    Quote:-

    “They may have different customs and beliefs, but what is striking is the vast extent of common ground between them on the issue of what it is for men and women to live well.”

    And what is even more striking – and shocking to some of us -is how different cultures have very different ideas of what it is for men, and especially women, to live well. In some cultures women are living “well” if they stay in the house and will only leave it if escorted by a male relation.

    Another disgusting article he did was a kind of prose poem on suicide bombers.

    “Suicide bombers and hunger strikers are out to transform weakness into power. Because they are ready to die while their enemies are not, they score a spiritual victory over them. The ultimate freedom is not to fear death. If you no longer fear it, political power can have no hold over you. Those with nothing to lose are deeply dangerous. But suicide bombers also cheat their antagonists of the only aspect of themselves that they can control: their bodies. By depriving their masters of this manipulable part of themselves, they become invulnerable. Nothing is less masterable than nothing. By slipping through the fingers of power, leaving it grasping at thin air, they force it to betray its own vacuousness. It is, to be sure, a pyrrhic victory. But it proclaims that what your adversary cannot annihilate is the will to annihilation. Like the traditional tragic hero, the suicide bomber rises above his own destruction by the very resolution with which he embraces it.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1398445,00.html

    Ophelia gave it a good kicking.

    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/notesarchive.php?id=696

  22. Rosie said,

  23. voltairespriest said,

    Actually Sackcloth I wouldn’t put JohnG in the same category as a fascist, because it’s fairly obvious that he isn’t one. The group that he’s in has bad politics I admit, but they’re not fascists either.

  24. maxdunbar said,

    Voltaire

    I think it’s more a question of tone. The Harry’s Place commenters are just boring, repetitive scum. Our comments have trolls but our trolls are at least entertaining.

  25. voltairespriest said,

    It’s true. You do get a better class of headbanger at Shiraz Socialist..

  26. sackcloth and ashes said,

    VP, johng may not be a fascist, but he and his pals are happy to march with them (‘We are all Hezbollah/Hamas’ etc) and call them ‘progressive’.

  27. Ed West (Tory scum) said,

    I thought Chivers’ arguments were weak. If you think that tediously over-used phrase political correctness is about councils banning Christmas carols, you don’t understand the real issue. It’s like saying the European debate is only about whether we ban bendy bananas or use lbs and oz.

    I don’t care whether Brum bans Christmas at not, but the complete lack of diversity of opinion in academia and education and politics and the public sector is totalitarian in its mindset.

    I wasn’t claiming there are gulags packed with Daily Telegraph readers, only that, now the left had driven their opponents out of academia and other areas, it’s not surprising that non-right thinking people were now being arrested for their views.

  28. voltairespriest said,

    The left hasn’t “driven its opponents” out of anywhere, Ed. Don’t believe the hype – we certainly don’t.

  29. sackcloth and ashes said,

    Nonetheless Ed, do you think it is a good or bad thing that we will never see politics brought down to the gutter as it was in Smethwick 1964? Because if you think the former, then you should be thanking ‘political correctness’ as one of the reasons why no mainstream politician can campaign in the same manner as Peter Griffiths did.

  30. maxdunbar said,

    Ed

    ‘I don’t care whether Brum bans Christmas at not, but the complete lack of diversity of opinion in academia and education and politics and the public sector is totalitarian in its mindset.’

    I don’t think this is right. For example, the silliest excesses of academia, such as postmodernism and boycotts of Israel, has been challenged mainly by other academics.

    Also you’ve repeated the claim that ‘non-right thinking people’ are ‘now being arrested for their views’. Can you give examples?

  31. links for 2009-04-27 « Embololalia said,

    [...] Where to begin? « Shiraz Socialist There is a strain of British conservatism that is inherently self-pitying and conspiratorial. Ed West is the equivalent of leftists who claim that democracy is no better than fascism. But while such pseudo-radicals are regularly and rightly laughed out of town, anti-PC hysteria is widely accepted in public life. It is unchallenged. It is a major factor in the resurgence of the far right. It will get worse as the recession deepens and the crowd starts looking for people to throw on the bonfire. Political correctness gone mad is the singular mainstream conspiracy theory. (tags: pcgonemaaaaaad uk politics conservatism) [...]

  32. johng said,

    No Jim. he is not counterposing. its the decents who counterpose. and he is simply pointing this out. I’m just reading Eagleton’s really excellent recent book on ethics. a real treat for historical materialists. In terms of ‘ignorence’ its a remarkable contrast with the utter dross you come out with. You could learn something by reading it Jim. I am still perplexed by your strange belief that anyone who does not share your rather peculiar politics is a ‘cultural relativist’. It reminds me most of all of fundementalists who believe that anyone who does not believe in god has no credible basis for having any moral beliefs. it is possible to have moral beliefs and not be a liberal you know. you could be a socialist. why not give it a try?

  33. sackcloth and ashes said,

    ‘It reminds me most of all of fundementalists (sic) who believe that anyone who does not believe in god has no credible basis for having any moral beliefs’.

    It’s funny how despite this you and the rest of the swuppie crowd were happy to team up with a bunch of these guys, though (until they threw you out of RESPECT).

    ‘it is possible to have moral beliefs and not be a liberal you know’.

    From a party hack who thinks that small matters like gender equality and gay rights are mere shibboleths, that’s pretty rich.

    ‘you could be a socialist. why not give it a try?’

    Why don’t you give it a try yourself?

  34. Red Maria said,

    Ed West:

    [T]here are just too many cases of people being arrested for homophobia, racism or other thought crimes for this to be treated as anything other than state policy. Of course Britain isn’t Orwell’s Oceania or Bolshevik Russia yet, but it is a tyranny nonetheless.

    Max Dunbar:

    Do you know anyone who’s been arrested on such a charge?

    Answer:

    George Staunton in 1999 and Harry Hammond in 2001

    Now reconsider your blogpost accordingly.

  35. Max Dunbar said,

    Who are they?

    Why were they arrested?

  36. Jim Denham said,

    An unanswerable answer from the progressive side, to the reactionary socialists (and degenerate, relativist liberals), like John ‘G’ and Terry Eagleton (letter in today’s Graun)::

    “Terry Eagleton writes of liberals sliding into superiority and supremacism (Comment, 25 April). He says they ought to balance condemnation of Islamist terrorism with consciousness of the “national injury and humiliation” that underlie it. Eagleton’s own position carries an air of superiority, with his apparent knowledge that such terrorism is not grounded in what are perceived as God’s words. That to one side, a society that does not rest its laws on “revelations” centuries ago, does not force women to be veiled, and does not persecute homosexuals and the sexually promiscuous – yet permits freedom of thought and speech about such matters – is morally superior to societies that do the opposite. In asserting this, I am not saying Islam is nothing but a “barbarous blood cult”. As an atheistic humanist and liberal, I see much of value in religions; but that does not justify a wishy-washy slide into silence about elements of religions that are morally beyond the pale.
    Peter Cave
    Chair, Humanist Philosophers

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