8-bit Invasion

They Have No Politics

Readers may remember Bidisha’s self-refuting article on sexism and bigotry in science fiction. In it, the Guardian’s most precious “non-white angry political female” managed to undermine her own premise, a mishap that made the following statement inadvertently comical: 

Outrage against such bigotry is met with bafflement by apolitical people who simply don’t get what the big issue is and are too lazy and complacent to fight the status quo.

Those who know something about the subject matter and its recent history - and who therefore arrived at conclusions other than the one pounced on by Bidisha - are apparently lazy, complacent and apolitical. The belief that those who disagree must be politically apathetic is just a tad conceited, implying as it does that the proponent is by contrast dynamic and insightful. It therefore crops up repeatedly, especially among those eager to display the lava of righteousness coursing through their veins. Bidisha’s most recent piece again spies systemic and intolerable sexism, this time at the BBC, not the most obvious breeding ground of “unconscious and generalised misogyny.” The assumptions that Bidisha airs regarding occupational gender parity have been dealt with at length in the comments here. What catches the eye is this:

It makes no difference whether the perpetrators are male or female. If they have no politics they will not do anything to challenge the status quo.

Note how divergent views are framed by default as apolitical. Which is to say, as having no legitimate intellectual or moral basis. Because a person “with politics” would - obviously - challenge the status quo in ways Bidisha finds congenial. If a person sees gender quotas or some other “corrective” measure as unnecessary, patronising or counter-productive, and therefore sees the status quo as by and large acceptable, then, according to Bidisha, they have no politics. (Readers may also be tickled by the notion that someone educated at St Edmund Hall, Oxford and employed to opine on television and radio by the nation’s state broadcaster should consider herself in some way outside the establishment and current status quo.)

I’m reminded of a recent piece by Jeff Goldstein on the failure of political empathy and a tendency to reduce one’s political opponents to caricature rubes, as though they were driven by little more than obstinacy or fear of the unfamiliar. In the comments I wrote,

If there is an asymmetry of empathy – and my own experience suggests there is to some extent – it may be worth bearing in mind that a person’s politics often shift away from the left with age and experience. In other words, quite a few non-leftists (whether classical liberals, conservatives, libertarians, etc) were at some point excited by, or surrounded by, leftish assumptions. Possibly as students and possibly in circumstances where, for some, a leftist outlook was the only recognised indicator of being political at all.

To which, Jeff replied:

From the perspective of the modern academy, the only legitimate politics... is the politics of “social justice,” that is, the politics of modern left-liberalism or “progressivism.” Being on the “right,” therefore, is not considered being “political” at all - except in the pragmatic sense that those on the right somehow, maddeningly, are still allowed to vote. [...] Instead, classical liberals, non-libertine libertarians, and conservatives - more often than not referred to simply as “right wingers” - are cast as a populist nuisance, a collection of rabble controlled by the basest of impulses, from racism to nativism to homophobia to xenophobia. They are, in effect, outside politics proper... To be on the left, then, is (by the rules of the modern academy) to be “political” - and being political carries with it the heady suggestion of being a serious thinker.

Serious thinkers such as Professor Jere Surber, whose “complex, nuanced” ponderings lead him to conclude that the only “intellectually respectable way to interpret the broad contours of history and culture” is one like his own, i.e. pointedly left of centre. And whose critics, of all persuasions, are apparently trying to “turn back the clock.” Some may find it odd that the professor’s self-declared worldliness and sophistication have steered him to an outlook that sounds, if anything, smug and parochial.

It’s perhaps worth noting that many people become politically engaged as students, which is to say, when adults are at their most impressionable and often preoccupied with appearances. In such an environment it’s easy to absorb political convictions by a kind of social osmosis and group identification, with a fairly caricatured view of rival positions, especially those that don’t lend themselves to ostentatious display. For some, these are the years of strutting and role-play, and in such cases, political empathy – the attempt to fathom the moral thinking of one’s opponents - may be carefully avoided, in case it should hinder the performance and its theatrical buzz.



"Because a person "with politics" would - obviously - challenge the status quo in ways Bidisha finds congenial."

Bidisha's her own biggest fan by a long shot. I think she even stalks herself now.

Mr Eugenides

As good as your post assuredly is, I'd say Jeff Goldstein's formulation is entirely spot on.

I'm often struck, reading their columnists and bloggers, at the utter failure of the Left not only to understand those who don't share their views but, crucially, to understand their [our] motives - to realise, in short, that *there are matters on which reasonable people may disagree*.


"If a person sees gender quotas or some other “corrective” measure as unnecessary, patronising or counter-productive, and therefore sees the status quo as by and large acceptable, then, according to Bidisha, they have no politics."

You don't agree with Bidisha [jazz hands!] because you haven't been raised to her level of consciousness. Why can't you SEE that??!!

Glad you're back, btw.


Mr E,

Yes, Jeff is very good, on academia in particular.

The asymmetry of political empathy is something I’ve been meaning to touch on for a while. It exists among all political tribes, but in my experience it’s been most pronounced in my encounters with devout leftists, and is often expressed in an urge to assign false, usually nefarious, motives. Bidisha is prone to doing this, often comically, as are any number of CiF contributors. (Today, the Guardian’s Elle Gray is merrily projecting her own elaborate racial fixations onto “conservatives.”) Our own occasional commenter “rv” is another example – he posts some bizarre accusation based on a wild misreading of a post, then flees, presumably before his misapprehensions can be shattered.

A while ago I posted a short film of people running in slow motion. One of the “stars” of the film is, I think, a rikishi – a Sumo wrestler – and his size makes him compelling to watch. The film and subsequent comments attracted an indignant and presumptuous reply from someone, to the effect that I was “encouraging fat-bashing.” I was even told not to bother replying in a certain anticipated way – i.e., by saying that the big chap in the film “deserved to be bashed because he chooses to be fat.” (!) Evidently, I’d already been judged as a bad, bad person and my likely response to such accusations had been divined in advance. It was almost surreal as the spirit of the film and its posting had been so absurdly misread.

One more example. While talking to a particularly doctrinaire feminist, I got into bother by saying I was reluctantly in favour of qualified abortion rights. The “reluctantly” was seized on and construed as some hitherto secret urge to “control women’s bodies.” I tried, vainly, to explain my reasons – not least the impact of seeing in utero footage of a 12-week abortion, in which the nascent human being tries to escape the tools of its impending dismemberment. This was barked aside as if no such concern could possibly be legitimate. Which not only suggests a failure of political empathy, but a failure of the most basic human feeling.


Less nuanced people usually simplify this sort of argument as "If you are not with us, you are against us". Without realizing that it is possible to be neither for or against something - i.e., we really don't care. But then, that lack of caring is what is really offensive.


David, another example of left-wing political empathy:

"Conservatives are distrustful of the average citizen's ability to direct a government, even only indirectly as in a representative democracy such as the United States."

"Because liberals expect people to act correctly when they are informed they allow them a great amount of liberty in their actions. Conservatives however feel they must often be controlled for their own best interests."

Because this is what high school kids really need to know. And (wait for it) the kids were told not to take the leaflet home.


I think the disparity in political empathy has a lot to do with a point mentioned: to put it crudely, that for many the right-wing view (hey, let's reclaim the term) is one that is arrived at after passing through youthful leftism of some sort (as in the old 'one who is not a young socialist has no heart, one who is still an old socialist has no head' trope). A youthful gaze at the world see lots of problems and, like, duh, it's easy to know how to fix them. As one gets older and, let's hope, wiser, any thoughtful person finds flaws and dissonances in their initial response to the world, and gradually comes to a more mature reflection.
Which is incidentally why it is difficult to argue with a leftist (aside from the standard squirming people do when confronted with genuine logic and agrument rather than self-congratulatory feeling, and the absorbed pomo excuses to avoid rationality): another old saw, that you cannot reason someone out of a view they haven't reasoned themselves into.
For many right-wingers then, leftism is a stage passed through, and largely comprehended. We understand why they think like that, and why they are wrong. They don't reciprocate.


I always feel like a member of the Campaign For Real Ale here, arguing for some old-fashioned idea of what being left wing was supposed to mean. Now I understand how Christopher Hitchens went from being a neotrotskyist to neoconservative. It was his consistency.

Mehdi Hassan, senior editor of the New Statesman, has described non-Muslims as creatures of low intelligence for not believing in Islam. Such is empathy.



“For many right-wingers then, leftism is a stage passed through, and largely comprehended.”

Yes, I think that’s often true. I don’t wish to dismiss all notionally leftist politics as immature, but as I said in the PW thread, those who recall youthful involvement with - or passive immersion in - leftish politics are perhaps more likely to have some grasp of the arguments and psychology involved. Whereas a person first encountering that exciting leftish milieu, again possibly as a student, may not have a comparable and reciprocal frame of reference. And the more a person is enthralled by being “edgy” and “radical,” or being seen as virtuous, the less incentive there may be to comprehend differing views held in good faith.

I think we should be wary of generalising any more than is unavoidable, but in my experience there is an asymmetry of empathy. Which may explain the number of times I have to deal with indignant attacks on a position I haven’t aired, or a caricature of a position I haven’t aired, rather than the argument I’ve actually advanced.


With all due apologies for the generalisations here (it's just quicker...), ahem:

Following on from the right-comprehends-the-left, it would be natural that you would be attacked/caricatured on positions you haven't aired. You're largely irrelevant. You see, they *know* what your position is, beacuse they know why the world is as it is, and it's because of evil/conservative/greedy/uncaring etc right-wingers. 'Right-wing' is used, by them, as a term of abuse and dismissal - rather then engage critically (ha!) with what is being put forward, they simply say it's right-wing and magically that's enough, no need to do any actual refutation, because that's *right-wing*, innit, and hence evil/wrong etc. Everyone knows that.
It is also an identifying bird-call; it signals to those around who you are and who you belong with, and who/what you are against. The idea that one has no shame in being right-wing I have found to be genuinely shocking and bemusing to them - they sort of splutter helplessly saying 'But you *must* also be against right-wing, er, stuff'.


"the kids were told not to take the leaflet home."

"Because liberals expect people to act correctly when they are informed they allow them a great amount of liberty in their actions. Conservatives however feel they must often be controlled for their own best interests."

The projection, it burns.

Tom Foster


'A youthful gaze at the world see lots of problems and, like, duh, it's easy to know how to fix them. As one gets older and, let's hope, wiser, any thoughtful person finds flaws and dissonances in their initial response to the world, and gradually comes to a more mature reflection.'

True, but remember that the 'answers' are only 'easy' if they are left-wing answers. Try confronting a leftist with an 'easy' solution or statement that doesn't fit in with their belief system and you'll be told — with much patronising, head-shaking and sighing — that it's really much more complicated than that. I suggest starting with that reliable golden-oldie along the lines of how come, if the West is so bad, so many people from all those fairer, more tolerant, less racist and more equal societies in the rest of the world seem so keen to come and live here?

(I know about the patronising sighing and head-shaking because, as an annoying know-it-all student in many conversations with my father, I was that person. I wish I could have him back now so I could apologise.)

Ted S., Catskills, NY


Wait until your kids get to be that age. :-)

Tom Foster


'Wait until your kids get to be that age. :-)'

Ha, don't think I haven't thought about it. My daughter's only eight and she's already doing that teenage eye-rolling thing.


@Tom - true, true. I guess the irony is that there are many and complex solutions suggested on the basis of apparently simple answers: If it's all a fixed pie and greedy western capitalists have stolen from all the poor people, the answer is to redistribution, and then making sure it goes to the right place, and then making sure it's not stolen, and then making sure it's not wasted and on and on. But the unintended consequences pass glibly by if noticed at all. For the left, it's enough to have proposed 'the' solution. The idea that you actually check to see if it worked brings forth the same patronising sighing and head-shaking, let alone showing that it doesn't, you know, work.

And the crowning irony is that what *does* work, and has been shown to, is, wouldn't you know it, quite simple. Removal of protectionism, free markets, free trade, rule of law, enforcement of contracts, entrepreneurial loans, etc. Not treating the rest of the world as funny brown people that need our help, but normal human beings who just want to work, and provide for thier families, and build business, and trade, and otherwise be left the hell alone to get on with their lives.

It's the righteousness, the sheer bloody-minded ignorance that always astonishes me. The implicit racism, and the self-assumed morality masquerading as genuine concern. Becuase of course, they have the monopoly on that. We nasty right-wingers couldn't possibly have anything like a noble motive, or a genuine desire to help the less well-off. By definition. Cos you'r right-wing, innit.

carbon based lifeform

I miss rv and the swearing.


He brought so much laughter to the world.


"too lazy and complacent to fight the status quo."

Bidisha –another Oxbridge lefty who joined the media elite and talks bollocks on the BBC.
What's she going to do when she finally figures out she IS the status quo?


“What’s she going to do when she finally figures out she IS the status quo?”

Despite the absurdity, I suspect the denial will be maintained as long as is humanly possible. So much depends on the pretence of speaking truth to power and fighting the hegemon. Still, you do have to marvel at the conceit of it all. Another privileged socialist mouthing the same generic “radicalism” while enjoying the benefits of belonging to the publicly-subsidised taste-correcting class.


From the Radio 3 link:

"Bidisha then lectured in political theory"

I'm sorry, that's just funny.


“I’m sorry, that’s just funny.”

Yes, but it’s a grim kind of comedy. The woman who thinks the Olympic Games are “brutalising” and “devastating” to the male psyche - and who defines racism as, exclusively, “despising non-whites” – presumes to lecture others on the world of politics.

Maybe we should get her some big clown shoes.

Wayne Job

This is an interesting discussion of the true believers of the left.
Perhaps a recent genetic researcher who found a compelling genetic difference in those of the left is correct.
He found rather than a genetic superiority they lack the genes that enable logic to be used in either side of their brain. This is genuine research that surprised the researcher. They also lack the ability of original thought, so new invention and ideas are impossible for them. I have no idea where this will lead, hopefully a cure can be found.
They are sheep, the true useful idiots following a mantra, no less strong than religious radicalism. Wayne

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