Strip it of its lame humour and we are left with gender studies Stalinism; feminism is the radical idea that women are people - with political views identical to my own. If you like to “kill stuff” - and I assume, with the Palin hunting reference, that also means animals - one cannot claim the feminist mantle. Do real feminists offer indulgences for those in remote parts of the world, where access to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s is limited and killing stuff is normal? What about impoverished and oppressed women in, say, Afghanistan who haven’t the time for weekly meetings on anti-racism and criticism/self-criticism sessions on how to be a Bay Area humanitarian?
Of course fighting out of uniform gives you a huge advantage; of course hiding amongst non-combatants gives you a huge advantage. Such tactics would give anyone — the British, the Israelis, the Americans — the same advantages, yet they don’t use them. There’s a reason why civilised people disallow such behaviour, and that is that every single time you step into battle disguised as just another member of the public, you make Bloody Sunday more likely.
Terry Eagleton has been one of the great minds of the European left seemingly since Cromwell.
This addition to our ongoing series comes from the author and Nation columnist Dave Zirin. It’s his opening line. The second line, however, notes Eagleton’s “absence of understanding” and subsequent sentences explain why the professor’s most recent article, discussed here, is a dusty old trope and “elitist hogwash” - a polemic that’s “more about Eagleton’s alienation than our own.”
I’m sure Professor Eagleton would have some achingly clever reply, given his ability to compare suicide bombing with “avant-garde theatre.” And bearing in mind our recent discussion, it’s perhaps worth noting the professor’s belief that, “being a champagne socialist is better than being no socialist at all.” This was said while gushing over the “great communist poet Hugh MacDiarmid,” a man who wrote a series of Hymns To Lenin, who renewed his party membership in 1956, and whose death, according to Eagleton, spared him from the “dark night of Thatcherism.” An elected Conservative government being so much worse than, say, Soviet tanks in Budapest and hundreds of thousands of fleeing dissidents.
Those who’ve followed Eagleton’s pronouncements will have spotted that the professor is often hostile to dissent, in particular to those whose thinking and experiences take them away from the boneyards of the left. According to the professor, the knighting of Salman Rushdie was “the establishment’s reward for a man who moved from being a remorseless satirist of the west to cheering on its criminal adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.” No evidence for this dastardly conspiracy was deemed necessary and Rushdie’s supposed “fondness for the Pentagon’s politics” is apparently all that needs to be said, signalling as it must the man’s innate wickedness.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Eagleton’s umbrage on the subject was shared by Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini, who told the world that the decision to praise “the apostate” had “insulted Islamic sanctities” and was “a blatant example of anti-Islamism.” While the Guardian’s Priyamvada Gopal railed against Rushdie’s apostasy as only a lecturer in postcolonial studies can. Rushdie’s divergence from Ms Gopal’s own cartoon worldview - including his dislike of tyranny and his defence of such heresies as intellectual freedom - had apparently reduced the author to “a giggling hack corralled into attacking his ruler’s enemies.”
Eagleton also hissed at Christopher Hitchens, denouncing him as an “establishment groupie” who has “made his peace... with capitalism” and “learned how to stop worrying about imperialism and love Paul Wolfowitz.” Like his Guardian colleague Bidisha, our esteemed literary theorist imagines he has some proprietary claim on proper, radical thought. Such that radical thought must entail “questioning the foundations of the western way of life,” which in turn must entail having opinions almost exactly like his own. Norm Geras, a lefty in an altogether different league, took apart Eagleton’s assumptions with admirable patience. A venture for which Norm will no doubt be condemned and cast out in due course.
In the comments following this, a reader, Rich Rostrom, notes my use of the term “egalitarian superiors.”
Isn’t that an oxymoronic construction? They can’t be both ‘superior’ and ‘egalitarian.’
If the idea is unfamiliar, perhaps I should elaborate. In my experience, the more egalitarian a person says he is, the more superior he wishes to be, or assumes he already is. Egalitarian sentiment is, and generally has been, a license for hypocrisy, double standards and exerting power over others. Much as a professed disdain for inequality is a way to signal one’s own moral, intellectual and social superiority.
A rummage through the archives reveals no shortage of illustrations.
The Observer’s Kevin McKenna displayed his egalitarian credentials by calling for a ban on private education: “The ultimate iniquity is that independent, fee-paying schools are allowed to exist at all.” Picture the big, generous heart behind those sentiments. It offends Mr McKenna that private education should be allowed to exist - even when those who pay for it also pay again via taxes for the state system. How dare some parents want the best for their children when the best is something not everyone can have, or indeed benefit from? According to Mr McKenna’s moral calculus, parents who view the comprehensive system as inadequate – perhaps because of their own first-hand experiences – are by implication wicked. And so they should be stopped. Therefore Mr McKenna or his ideological proxy must have power over others to stop all those evil people who work hard and save to pay for their kids’ tuition.
In a similar vein, the Fabian Society’s Sunder Katwala wants to “make life chances more equal” by minimising the role of conscientious parents and discussing “the impact of private education.” Mr Katwala seems very interested in the implicitly negative “impact” of private education on those who don’t experience it. The impact of state education and egalitarian sentiment on those who do experience such things – say, the curious and able - doesn’t seem quite so pressing.
Then there’s the socialist actress Arabella Weir, who deceived Guardian readers about her own education in order to display her egalitarian piety as a “good, responsible citizen.” So egalitarian is Ms Weir, she seems to view children not as ends in themselves but as instruments for the advancement of a socialist worldview. As formulated by Ms Weir, “the right thing to do” has a sacrificial air and entails mingling conspicuously with those deemed “disadvantaged.” By Ms Weir’s thinking, even if you had a grim and frustrating experience at a state comprehensive you should still want to inflict that same experience on your children. Ideally, by sending them to a disreputable school with plenty of rough council estate kids and people for whom English is at best a second language. Ms Weir tells us the advantages of this approach include, “learning street sense, who to be wary of, who to avoid,” and teaching clever children “how to keep their heads down.”
Zoe Williams went further, signalling her sense of fairness by conjuring scenarios in which parents would be humiliated and punished for trying to do the best for their offspring. (“As for vindictive, ha! Good.”) The Guardian’s advocate of “social justice” delighted in the idea of parents’ access to their preferred school being dependent on displaying a leftwing outlook and inversely proportional to the value of their car: “Do they have a 4x4? Can the parents provide a letter from any local leftwing organisation, attesting to their commitment to open-access state education?” In a move echoing Soviet educational policy of the 1920s, our embittered class warrior then went on to formulate her own punitive hierarchy: “At the very bottom of the waiting list, put the kids who have been removed from a private school, since the intentions of their parents are the most transparent: somewhat above them, but below everybody else, put the kids who have siblings at private schools.” And Ms Williams did all this while carefully omitting any mention of her own education at a school where extracurricular activities include visits to the Sinai Desert.
I fear it’s time for more classic sentences from the Guardian, this time care of Professor Terry Eagleton, who obliges with a volley of inadvertent nuggets:
If the Cameron government is bad news for those seeking radical change, the World Cup is even worse.
This bold declaration is followed by,
If every rightwing think-tank came up with a scheme to distract the populace from political injustice and compensate them for lives of hard labour, the solution in each case would be the same - football.
No finer way of resolving the problems of capitalism has been dreamed up, bar socialism. And in the tussle between them, football is several light years ahead.
The World Cup is another setback to any radical change. The opium of the people is now football.
It’s strange how readily the professor assumes that an enthusiasm for football is a “distraction” that’s “holding back” some “radical change” that would otherwise be embraced by enthusiasts of the game. Yes, that must be why the working man still hasn’t recognised radical socialism as the glorious thing it is. Isn’t it terrible when your revolution beckons and yet people would rather do something else, something they like? But football fans just don’t know their own minds, see, being mere dupes of the capitalist machine and its dastardly overlords. Thankfully, our esteemed literary critic knows what the people really want, secretly, deep down inside those dim and hoodwinked brains. Professor Eagleton spies some variation of false consciousness whenever the proletariat dares to see things differently from its egalitarian superiors - an enlightened caste of ageing, embittered Marxists whose keenness of vision shows them, and only them, how things really are.
Readers may recall the professor is also fond of the Unargued Assertion. And so we get some of this:
Modern societies deny men and women the experience of solidarity, which football provides to the point of collective delirium.
Quite how the experience of solidarity can be “denied” by modern societies remains oddly unspecified. Perhaps dear bewildered Terry imagines common interest is something that people can no longer experience - serendipitously or voluntarily - say, via the global communication tools made possible and ubiquitous by... oh yes, capitalism.
Vegan advocate of “militant action” is victim of “militant action” and gets terribly upset.
“The whole thing was designed for social humiliation,” said Keith, speaking Tuesday from her sister’s home in Kansas. “We’re supposed to be against sadism and cruelty and domination, and these people were willing to do this to me.”
Playwright Jonathan Holmes thinks he’s radical and heroic. And so you owe him money.
Note how the prospect of reducing coercive taxpayer subsidy is framed rather grandly as “censorship” of artists - and by implication an attack on democracy itself. No other genuine motive could possibly exist. Those who would rather keep a little more of their own earnings and choose for themselves which art forms they indulge are clearly monsters. We’ve heard this pompous guff before of course, as when Hanif Kureishi and the Guardian’s theatre critic Michael Billington conjured a world in which artistic “dissent” was being “suppressed” by suggestions that artists might actually consider earning a living.
Evidence be damned. Pretentious self-contempt is where it’s at.
Among the teachings on offer are, “racism is an outgrowth of capitalism” and “to ignore race is to be more racist than to acknowledge race. I call it neo-racism.” Ah, very clever. Guilt in all directions. It almost sounds like a trap. And the way to get past small differences in physiology is to continually fixate on small differences in physiology.