David Thompson
Subscribe

Categories

Blog powered by Typepad

« Friday Ephemera | Main | Tidings (2) »

December 22, 2008

Comments

Anna

Maybe Winterson is turning into her mother.

Max Dunbar

I think South Park is crying out for a Jeannette Winterson guest appearance.

David

Max,

Well, the boys would have plenty to work with. The country’s most famous living literary lesbian - whose lesbianism is a major career asset - telling us that “we” have “created a society without values that believes in nothing.” Presumably those non-existent values don’t include the tolerance of, and acclaim of, literary lesbians. Even those who mouth bollocks, metaphorically, of course.

Rob

From that mad harpy's article:

"The likes of the Taleban and al-Qaeda, Sarah Palin and apocalyptic evangelism, that George W. Bush calls himself a Christian, and that Israel as a nation state believes as fervently in armed conflict as it does in the omnipotence of God, makes religion of any brand seem foolish and dangerous."

Classic lefty equivalence, linking the Taleban, al-Qaeda and Sarah Palin. Perhaps Msssss Winterson could point out where and when Palin massacred thousands of people? Thanks.

As for Israel, she deftly manages to avoid the fact that it is the only country in the region which is tolerant of homosexuality, ethnic plurality (Arab Israelis are disproportionately represented in the Knesset - you'll struggle to find an Arab country where you can say the same for Jews). Israel is a SECULAR country! It believes in "armed conflict" (actually, defence of its borders) because without this it would not exist.

Anyway, we are half way towards the goal of progressive liberalism recognising and understanding the disaster they have caused. The first stage is denial and ignoring the problem - we have had that for twenty years or so. The second stage is recognising the problem (because it has become to huge to ignore) but hysterically blaming something which is not responsible (i.e. capitalism). The final stage is acceptance. We are a long way from that.

The problem of why our society is fractured, which progressive liberals are finally waking up to, cannot be laid at the door of capitalism or its alleged "collapse". Capitalism suffered a calamity in the 1930s, but society stayed strong. It stayed strong through the 1950s, when capitalism made a strong recovery. How can capitalism tear up the roots of society, how people behave and act to one another? Isn't there a more obvious cause, one which progressives are desperate to avoid seeing?

Their creed is "do what thou wilt". Any cohesive society relies upon people reigning in their baser desires for the common good. Progressive liberalism detested that, so tore up those taboos and rules - on marriage, the use of drugs, religious belief, authority structures. The society we have today is the result of that - capitalism is the patsy.

TDK

I can't agree that the Food Programme is free of leftist bias.

This is a campaigning programme that overtly promotes anti Food Miles, Fair Trade, Slow Food, Wholefood, anti-intensive farming, supports sustainable development in third world countries (ie no development). I wouldn't even say that I oppose all these things but whenever any there is any debatable issue they take the default left position.

As an example DEFRA commissioned a study which showed that the CO2 produced by food distribution was far outweighed by the volumes involved in food production. So much so that it saves CO2 by shipping New Zealand lamb to the UK rather than grow it locally.

TDK

Upon reflection I might be confusing two studies. A university study showed the evidence about Lamb production. DEFRA showed that Food Miles was an inadequate measure in isolation. ie the focus on one measure rather than many was wrong and that if we wanted to understand an issue such as sustainability then we would have to balance several measures.

David

TDK,

“I can't agree that the Food Programme is free of leftist bias.”

I take your point. I spent a couple of weeks with Radio 4 on continually in the background and was struck by how relentlessly tendentious much of the content is. Some of it is extraordinarily smug in its assumptions and, in contrast, The Food Programme seemed less obviously irritating. But, yes, I see it fits the broader tendency, albeit to a less objectionable degree.

I don’t think The Food Programme is quite as disagreeable as, for instance, Radio 4 arts coverage or the afternoon drama, both of which regularly default to pretentious sanctimony. One recent offering called Development featured a cartoonishly “capitalist” family getting its inevitable comeuppance, but not before the listener had been assured that the entire family - and everything they symbolised - was devoid of redeeming, even tolerable, characteristics. In itself, this shouldn’t have surprised me, but what I found remarkable was the laziness and self-satisfied air. It was all so glib and artless, as if its assumptions were self-evidently true and no other views were conceivable. I can’t recall a Radio 4 drama in which the villains of the piece were signalled as left-of-centre in any comparable way. The idea that socialism might have serious moral shortcomings is not, so far as I can tell, a common dramatic theme.

erm

capitalism is readily distorted into a cartoon of pure greed & walking all over people to get ahead.
socialism has a fluffy image of kindness & helping out the less well off.
how this came about im not sure.

Anna

"how this came about im not sure."

Listening to Radio 4 maybe?

Horace Dunn

David

“…Radio 4 arts coverage or the afternoon drama, both of which regularly default to pretentious sanctimony.”

It’s also interesting to spot the odd little ways in which they bolster “their” side in any argument. Last night I listened briefly to a programme about the Little Red School Book controversy of the early 1970s. I noted that the people who were in favour of the book were allowed to speak for themselves (i.e. they were interviewed for the programme). Those who were concerned about the book’s content, however, were not. Rather, their letters and newspaper columns were read out by actor’s putting on their best, cartoonish, stuffy old colonel voices. I gave up after about 15 minutes, since I realised that the programme was not going to offer a serious discussion.

David

Horace,

As someone who doesn’t usually spend the day listening to Radio 4, I found the default bias striking and all but unrelenting. It seems to be pretty much everywhere in the schedule. I heard a broadcast from the Cheltenham Literary Festival that gave great prominence to DBC Pierre reading his own long and woolly tirades against capitalism (taken from an unpublished book, Lights Out in Wonderland). It was awful - pure adolescent boilerplate - and remarkable only in that it was presented as though listeners would be in total agreement with its premise and thus forgiving of its naffness. Given the political nature of literary festivals I suppose this isn’t terribly surprising, but it’s the fact that so much of the BBC’s schedule is informed by such things and has a centre of gravity decidedly to the left. A kind of bien-pensant consensus.

A recent Crossing Continents programme on aboriginal Australians touched on the prevalence of alcoholism, rape and child sexual abuse. Predictably, the presenter was much more concerned by the authorities’ alleged “insensitivity” towards aboriginal culture than by that culture’s numerous dysfunctions and how they might be changed or escaped from. Listeners were given the distinct impression that whatever the pathology being discussed, white folk were culpable and aboriginal people themselves had little, if any, personal responsibility for the upbringing of their children.

I also caught part of Francine Stock’s The Film Programme, in which a procession of disgruntled left-leaning directors bemoaned how the industry that employs them and pays their mortgages is “driven by capitalism.” (What else would it be driven by? It is, after all, an industry, not a social service.) It goes without saying that public subsidy was viewed as an unassailable good, especially for projects involving the featured directors, while commercialism was regarded with either condescension or ambivalence. One could easily get the impression that making films that large numbers of people want to see is something to be frowned upon.

What’s strange is how accustomed one can get to this level of filtering and omission, much like the editors and programme makers themselves. It’s all just so institutional and assumed.

prm

But that's just it, no? The 'Institutional Leftism' of the BBC is what is at issue here. It's not necessarily that it's horribly biased in some nefarious, indoctrinating way (though one could no doubt make a case), more that it is all taken for granted. They genuinely seem to believe they hold the straightforward, obvious, assented to middle ground. They are sincerely shocked to find - to grab a few examples: that there is a case to be made against the EU; that free markets are the least worst way of organising things; that immigration may be problematic if uncontrolled; there are serious scientific questions regarding Global Warming (or 'Climate Change' as it is now. What we used to call 'weather'). And when such viewpoints are allowed rare expression there is the underlying dismissive sneer of the swivel-eyed lunatic holding such wacky views.

Horace Dunn

David

The real danger with this, though, is that it warps public debate and, in effect, rules certain viewpoints inadmissible. On R4 recently there has been a great deal of talk about government borrowing and how taxation must eventually be used to balance the books. I think only once (out of dozens of in-depth discussions I’ve heard) has anyone hinted that a cut in public expenditure might be wise in order to reduce the eventual tax burden. And on that occasion it was presented as a kind of last desperate solution. In effect, R4 has made it impossible for any politician to suggest that controls on public expenditure should be introduced. The canny politician knows that he will be derided and marginalised. Certain things, therefore can’t be said. Much the sameis true about reforms to the National Health Service. Anyone suggesting reform will get the but-what-about-all-those-hard-working-and-underpaid-nurses and my-poor-old-mum-would-never-have-survived-treatment.

Other than that – the whole thing is rather comical. If I were a younger man and my liver had not long since shrivelled to the size of a walnut, I’d enjoy playing the “climate change” game. In this you get together with your friends and a supply of booze. Every time a R4 presenter refers to climate change you take a drink. You take two shots if the reference is entirely gratuitous, and three for especially imaginative contrivances (for example, an increase in knife crime can be partly blamed on global warming as warmer nights mean that youngsters are more likely to stay out late). Pissed by mid-morning. Guaranteed.

David

Horace,

“The real danger with this, though, is that it warps public debate and, in effect, rules certain viewpoints inadmissible.”

I’ve tried to explain to several American friends how Radio 4’s political leanings are often expressed in subtle but habitual ways. News coverage of the Middle East came up, predictably, along with the lexicon of standard euphemisms and false equivalences. I also had to explain how the key assumptions can become almost invisible with prolonged exposure, so that one registers dimly that, for instance, the term “rightwing” is implicitly pejorative and associated with far-right figures, while left of centre activists, even extreme ones, are often presented as politically neutral and thus as a yardstick from which all else is measured.

I suppose what irks is the belief that what’s being offered is representative of a mainstream consensus or a broad spectrum of common views, when in fact it’s often – very often – representative of a fairly small but influential social class. (A lot of Guardian, certainly, but not much Daily Mail. Yet, for better or worse, the Mail can claim a much larger constituency.)

Candice

David,

The assumption that one's world-view is the default seems a common failing. It is not only the Left, but the Right, and the Center that often fall into it. Being an erstwhile Republican, it grates on me that this party which I support due to (supposedly) lower government interference in my life is actively trying to interfere with it based on the unassailable assumption that same-sex marriage is wrong.

The War on Drugs, socialism is evil, trade unions being outdated humps of lazy uncompetitive workers - all this and more are the established assumptions of the Republican Party. Yet I must vote for them because the alternative has assumptions which are even more grating.

Was it always like this? Has it always been impossible for humans to organize without the need for common assumptions so ludicrously simple that they cannot be true? I despair that though we have sentience and freedom of thought, all that is cast aside in the relentless biological imperative to organize for maximum survivability. We will always form herds, be they ideological ones.

Anna

Horace,

Love the climate change drinking game. I'll give that a shot.

David

Candice,

Well, I’d guess quite a few people (of all political shades) imagine their particular outlook is The Reasonable Default, from which all else is reckless deviation. It’s certainly not an exclusive attribute of any one group. But the only credible solution I can think of is a free and frank debate in which all assumptions are tested. Which is sort of the problem.

The situation with the Beeb (and Radio 4 in particular) is of special concern. It’s the UK’s state broadcaster and publicly funded, yet it’s remarkably selective in whose views it most often represents or deems worthy of discussion. It’s the fact that almost everyone in the UK has to subsidise a vast and enormously powerful media organisation, the political assumptions of which are not entirely palatable.

Stephen Fox

David,

Interesting to note that sales of organic produce have slumped 10% in the three months up to the end of November. So the organic farmers are asking Hilary Benn for permission to bend the rules, and use the same feed as the rest, which costs half as much: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/article5380546.ece
One commenter expostulated that the 'increasing numbers' of consumers happy to spend more on organic would soon stop if the standards were compromised. He must have meant to write 'decreasing numbers'.
It seems he was so convinced that the organic movement was still surging onward and upward that he was unable to conceive of the opposite occurring, even when commenting on an article that had just clearly stated that opposite.
Such confusion...

TDK

"I don’t think The Food Programme is quite as disagreeable as, for instance, Radio 4 arts coverage or the afternoon drama"

Actually I take the reverse view.

I can listen to something which is artsy and left and the default assumptions are perfectly acceptable because of the fact that this is by its nature one man/woman's opinion. The stuff that gets into the Food Programme and/or Today is far more irritating because this is required to reflect a neutral opinion.

Let me give you an example of the former. I quite like Radio 4 comedies like Old Harry's Game, Clare in the Community and these share the default left wing assumptions. [The latter is slightly different in that it gently mocks them but it never seriously challenges them.] But the fact is they are well written & entertaining. On the other hand I loathe the ones that are on on Friday night and Saturday that seem to rely on moronic repetition of the latest talking points - I know "Bush is a moron". I've been told that he is for 8 fucking years. I never liked him before he was elected and my continued dislike of him is despite not because of BBC comedy. I somehow doubt the same comedians will ever make a joke about a president who thought there were 55 states.

I loved the 4th Series of Black Adder for the same reasons even though I knew it was factually daft. Do you know my kids get taught about WWI at school using this series as a teaching resource. As each gets to that age I have to show them the real statistics to prove that officers were more likely to die than enlisted men. That public school boys such as those from Eton suffered a higher casualty rate than average. That the soldiers were generally well fed. That leave was common. That no soldier would normally take duty in a front line trench for months or years on end continuously.

Do you know, even the teacher refused to believe me when I claimed these facts to her. We have gone so far that even the teachers of history believe Black Adder over recorded history. That's the power of the media and the BBC in particular.

TimT

I don't mind that piece by Winterson. It's a rant, yes, but far better written than most rants, and I think all she's doing is addressing the typical concerns of upper-class lefties by using the typical examples talked about in the media.

As an added bonus, I think her general theme - that a broadly secular culture that has relinquished, and in many cases forgotten the religious traditions that it came from, will in many cases unconsciously begin adopting the vices that those religious traditions were designed to guard against - is well made, and one many conservatives and right-wingers could agree with.

David

TDK,

“Actually I take the reverse view.”

I suppose in my case it depends on how little I register food as being political. I don’t doubt that endless, persuasive arguments can be made to the contrary; I just mean it’s not a topic I regard as political by default. I don’t often think of it in those terms. So when I occasionally hear The Food Programme I listen in a fairly detached way, fascinated by Sheila Dillon’s voice and the gleeful chomping (which is fairly odd as a radio activity). It’s sort of a curio to me.

I reacted much more to the other items I mentioned, and to the gradual accumulation of bien-pensant prejudice. On a fairly trivial level, we get habitual recipients of public subsidy telling us that public subsidy is a basic entitlement and measure of virtue, which probably isn’t the most dispassionate perspective. More serious concerns arise in terms of news coverage and political commentary, and in general terms of a persistent low-level bias, as touched on above. As I see it, it’s not really any single example of bias or outright idiocy that’s the problem; it’s the fact there’s so much of it, all the time, and little by way of contrasting perspective. The bias and idiocy eventually become normative, familiar and thus legitimate. It becomes the worldview one expects.

TimT,

I’m not sure which “vices” you’re thinking of, or why secularism per se would encourage them.

The Thin Man

I can see that, as usual, it is my job to lower the tone.

The "Solution" to the BBC problem is simple. It consists of an Act of Parliament and a couple of helicopters. "The BBC Political Re-alignment Act" would establish a review committee, chaired by myself, with a mandate to oversee the output of the BBC.

Then, every time the BBC puts out one of these panel shows and I find the content to be offensive, the presenter, the producer and the invited guest speaker would be loaded onto a helicopter and defenestrated, sans parachute, 40 miles from landfall over the North Sea.

I envisage a prime time TV show to cover the resulting plunges, compared by Bruce Forsyth, with profits from the telephone voting going to a charity set up to buy up, and destroy, modern art.

Actually, thinking about how often I feel like throwing the radio out of the window - I am going to need several dozen helicopters. Or possibly a 747 with all the seats removed.

Lets face it - the hook worm of political bias has now crawled so far up the BBCs collective ass that only a colostomy will save the patient - if, indeed, saving the patient should be a consideration at this stage. I prefer to see a slow, painful euthanisation, starting with a 50% cut in the licence fee.

I look forward to Winterson's odious politics being among the first to be consigned to the sluice.

Oranges are not the only Fruit?

Marxisms are not the only Politics!

David

“I can see that, as usual, it is my job to lower the tone.”

Hereabouts, lowering the tone has become a minor art form.

“…with profits from the telephone voting going to a charity set up to buy up, and destroy, modern art.”

Someone call the Arts Council. A grant could be had. After all, Robert Wolf did quite well burning money and smearing himself with the ashes. In protest against the credit crunch, of course.

http://www.daylife.com/photo/0aph3W039N9BP/Robert_Wolf

TDK

"I suppose in my case it depends on how little I register food as being political. I don’t doubt that endless, persuasive arguments can be made to the contrary; I just mean it’s not a topic I regard as political by default."

The thing is during the sixties they made the slogan "the personal is political" and thereafter nothing was free of politics. The decades since have seen the left collapse in terms of intellectual arguments to deal with economic matters. Sure they don't like capitalism but they have nothing beyond the mixed economy to replace it. So they focus on the social sphere instead.

I don't fundamentally disagree with your analysis of the default bias and its effects. However I notice it more in places where it surely can have no place. For example the revived Doctor Who visited World War II London and after saving the world yet again grandly told the assembled Londoners not to forget to create the welfare state (from memory). This grated. My deepest irritation is at the placement of a political shibboleth within a children's drama. It served no purpose whatsoever except to repeat the writer's prejudice. On a more historical level I think the Liberal party might have had some complaint about who started the welfare state.

That fits your complaint.

In contrast many of the dramas on Radio 4 are so far up the leftist trail that they are risible. They cannot persuaded and merely serve to confirm the prejudices of the converted.

David

TDK,

“…many of the dramas on Radio 4 are so far up the leftist trail that they are risible… and merely serve to confirm the prejudices of the converted.”

Indeed. The example I gave above, which is hardly atypical, was adolescent in its moralising and served exactly that purpose – to flatter the prejudice of people who already think in similar terms. If the dramas were a little more thoughtful I might be less hostile – there are, I’m sure, points worth making – but the self-congratulatory air and glib caricatures are grating dramatically and politically. The drama, such as it is, is revealed as little more than a pretext to sermonise.

But this is what happens in an echo chamber; the arguments become blunt and gestural.

TimT

David, re: this -

"I’m not sure which “vices” you’re thinking of, or why secularism per se would encourage them."

Greed and vanity are obvious examples. Though I wouldn't say that these have been 'encouraged' by secularism, just that in the past 50 years or so people have turned away from longstanding traditions that, in many cases, identified them as vices to be avoided. I can think of two examples of this:

- In the 50s, 60s and 70s baby boomers and others rebelled against what they saw as the excessive self-sacrifice and denial urged on them by their parents. What was originally a counter-cultural movement consisting of freaks and hippies gradually became part of the establishment, and hence the original satirical intent of this movement was forgotten.

- In the wake of philosophical movements like postmodernism, and various political movements from both right and left, obvious moral precepts tended to be disregarded and forgotten: to a politician, what is useful is more important than what is moral. In some cases - perhaps in many - people thought they could live amoral lives. In some cases this leads to simple moral laziness; in others, perhaps more serious cases of solipsism. (Manson redux.)

Please not again I don't think any of this is a necessary effect of a secular society, any more than I think that a good life is the necessary effect of a religious society. I'm just referring to the chain of events that took place in the middle of the 20th century.

gaffee

Seen this?

"Channel 4 has opted to end the year on a controversial note by inviting the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to give the broadcaster's alternative Christmas message tomorrow… Ahmadinejad will argue that the world is in its current predicament because people have lost spiritual faith. He will also make thinly veiled criticisms of western powers in a reference to the "tyrannical policies of prevailing global economic and political systems"…"

And:

"Audiences and advertising revenue at Channel 4 are falling and the broadcast regulator Ofcom, which wants Channel 4 to continue to offer its mixture of entertainment and "public service" programmes, believes that the channel will need between £50 million and £100 million a year to survive. Channel 4 says that it will go bankrupt within five years if it does not receive £150 million a year."

http://www.hurryupharry.org/2008/12/24/channel-four-is-a-little-bit-daring/

David

But of course. Though I can’t help thinking that if morally arrested contrarians wish to give a platform to a genocidal fantasist, they really ought to do it on their own dime. Assuming Channel 4 isn’t broke by next year, maybe we can look forward to Christmas with Mugabe.

Andrea Harris

It's not Christmas without at least one well-off, supported-by-the-fruits-of-society "intellectual" ranting about "consumerism." Sometimes I think it's just shopping fatigue. After all, most of these poor dears haven't a clue how to use the internet.

Anna

"Assuming Channel 4 isn't broke by next year, maybe we can look forward to Christmas with Mugabe."

Sunny on Ahmedinejad:

"Criticise Channel 4 all you like, but I find it fundamentally undemocratic that a broadcaster should be threatened financially for doing things the majority don't like… If Ahmedinejad is to be condemned, then the same should apply to George Bush, no? Isn’t Bush responsible for more deaths (regardless of his intention) of innocent people? How are we measuring who is good and who is bad?"

http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/2604

gaffee

"but I find it fundamentally undemocratic that a [publicly funded] broadcaster should be threatened financially for doing things the majority don't like"

Doesn't he mean it's fundamentally *democratic*? Isn't the subsidy of C4 undemocratic?

David

Anna,

Again, but of course. You do have to marvel at the implied equivalence between Ahmadinejad and Bush and their respective polities. Maybe we can look forward to a similar equivalence being drawn between Churchill and Mugabe. And note the sly conflation of free speech with actively providing a venue, at public expense, to a delusional racist with annihilationist leanings and a penchant for hanging gay people. (Wouldn’t Channel 4 have been “edgier” if they’d seen fit to give a prime time platform to an Iranian dissident, whose view of Mr Ahmadinejad might be less favourable and more illuminating?) However, I don’t think we need trouble ourselves fathoming the rectitude of Mr Sunny Hundal, whose acuity and credentials have been noted before:

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2008/12/behold-my-virtue-2.html#comment-6a00d83451675669e20105364ce4ff970b

carbon based lifeform

Meanwhile…

"The Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Orientation said that BBC Tehran Office was suspended, the Iranian Mehr news agency reported."It was a long time that BBC functioned in Tehran. However BBC Tehran Office has been suspended because its own mistakes," Muhammad Huseyn Saffar Herandi, the Iranian Minister of Culture and Islamic Orientation, said on Dec. 24… On Dec. 20, Muhammad Karim Abidi, member of the Foreign Policy and National Security Commission of the Iranian parliament, said in his interview with ILNA news agency that several BBC reporters were arrested in Tehran. They are charged of espionage for the United Kingdom. BBC reporters intended to create a network of espionage by organizing various groups, Abidi said."

http://news.trend.az/index.shtml?show=news&newsid=1380510&lang=en

David

Carbon,

Thanks for that. What’s remarkable is just how predictable this latest act of “daring” is. If Channel 4 wishes to provide a prime time platform for the dissembling of Ahmadinejad and other deranged figures I still think that’s their business, provided it’s done on their own dime, of course. Viewers and advertisers will make their own decisions. The issue as I see it is that Channel 4 is also expecting considerable public subsidy. £150 million or so per year. Adolescent contrarian nonsense is one thing; subsidising it with the public purse is quite another.

There’s also the matter of the propaganda value this broadcast will have within Iran and elsewhere. Being presented as an alternative to the Queen’s speech lends Ahmadinejad kudos and leverage in his *own* country and among his sympathisers, which doesn’t strike me as a good thing, not least for many Iranians. Though I suspect the people responsible for the C4 broadcast, and those who defend it, won’t be troubled by such details. Being so edgy, and all.

Anna

"Wouldn't Channel 4 have been "edgier" if they'd seen fit to give a prime time platform to an Iranian dissident, whose view of Mr Ahmadinejad might be less favourable and more illuminating?"

This sums it up nicely:
http://maxdunbar.wordpress.com/2008/12/25/keeping-it-chopped-out/

Lovernios

"[Y]ardstick from which all else is measured."

I thought the UK went metric, in any event "meterstick" sounds and looks so ridiculous. However, the phrase always reminds me of a 60's song lyric (Strawberry Alarmclock's "Incence and Peppermints") "Yardstick for lunatics, One point of view." It has imbedded itself into my consciousness, but I think it is a valid warning. (I don't recall the full lyrics. Hey, it was the 60's!)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blogroll