Vintage Wheels

My Fault Entirely

Speaking of phantom guilt and those it afflicts, over at the Augean Stables, another, related, malady has been found.

Like all potent and difficult psychological talents, however, self-criticism has its pathologies. Whereas most people dislike and avoid self-criticism at all costs, some few find it exhilarating, and engage in it unilaterally. This passion for self-criticism has created, in our day, a kind messianic pathology, what I call masochistic omnipotence syndrome, in which, “everything is our fault, and if only we could be better, we could fix anything.”

To this end, we forfeit normal protections. “Who are we to judge?” we say, as we accept as valid the stories and deeds of the oppressed “other,” no matter how dishonest the narrative and its intentions might be... From moral equivalence: “We’re as bad as you are”; to moral inversion: “No, we’re worse than you are.” The Muslim terrorists who blow up fellow Muslims at prayer in Iraq are thus to Michael Moore “Minute Men” resisting American soldiers who represent the forces of the evil empire. And if we just do this kind of moral reckoning enough, we seem to reason, we will eventually elicit good will and negotiate an end to all conflicts. “War,” we all know, “is not the answer.” We have the responsibility to repent for our imperialism and ask forgiveness for our crimes against native peoples. And all of this might be reasonable in the framework of good intentions on both sides.

But some use these principles to criticise us, not because they respect and admire the values they invoke, but only because of the positional advantage it gives them. They have no intention of reciprocating. They do not believe in these values, and they see us as irremediably stupid and effeminate for embracing self-criticism and commitments to treating others fairly... For them, our self-criticism registers as signs of weakness and an invitation to further aggression. The vulnerability we painfully but magnanimously adopt triggers not reciprocity and reconciliation, but predatory hopes.

Related ground is covered in the latest Shire Network News podcasts, which include a two-part exchange between Nick Cohen and Douglas Murray on left, right and the decidedly non-reciprocal nature of jihadi Islam. Part one. Part two. Well worth a listen.


Democratiya’s Alan Johnson chances his arm by sharing with Guardian readers a few unflattering truths.

By reducing the complexity of the post-cold war world to a single great contest in which “imperialism” or “empire” faced “anti-imperialism” or “the resistance”, parts of the left had transformed themselves into a reactionary post-left that took its enemy’s enemy for its friend. We were “all Hizbullah now” as the placards had it. Listen to John Rees, a leader of the Stop the War Coalition and Respect: “Socialists should unconditionally stand with the oppressed against the oppressor, even if the people who run the oppressed country are undemocratic and persecute minorities, like Saddam Hussein.”

America was the global oppressor and Bush was the “Number 1 terrorist”. Anyone shooting at Americans became, by that act, the resistance to empire. A collapse of sensibility followed. The reductionism in the theory licensed habits of mind and structures of feeling well-known among the older fellow travellers of Stalinism - apologia, denial, grossly simplifying tendencies of thought, moral relativism. The consequence was profound political disorientation. Tony Benn sat in front of the mass murderer, Saddam Hussein, and asked him, “I wonder whether you could say something yourself directly through this interview to the peace movement of the world that might help to advance the cause they have in mind?” Days later, Benn was less kind to an Iraqi oppositionist, spitting the words “CIA stooge!”

Naturally, Johnson’s comments don’t go down terribly well with the devout:

The only ones on the (supposed) left who “lost their way” were those who happily allied themselves with an unholy alliance of NeoConservative apologists for authoritarianism, free-market oligarchs and far-right fundamentalist Christians.

It’s dizzying stuff, and just a bit grubby.

Help fund my filthy excavations.