Friday Ephemera
Narrow Escape

Elsewhere (24)

David Horowitz on Christopher Hitchens and political second thoughts.

Writing of his participation in a “vast demonstration” in London in front of the American Embassy to protest the war, [Hitchens] recalls “the way in which my throat and heart seemed to swell as the police were temporarily driven back and the advancing allies of the Vietnamese began to sing ‘We Shall Overcome.’” He then comments: “I added to my police record for arrests, of all of which I am still reasonably proud.” But why? Hitchens’s antiwar comrades, the International Socialists among them, were not “allies of the Vietnamese” but of the Vietnamese Communists and, as Peter Hitchens correctly points out, of the Soviet empire behind them. What these leftists - and their allies in America and Europe - actually achieved in Indo-China was one of the largest genocides on record and a totalitarian future for the Cambodians and Vietnamese.

Norm Geras on the Guardian’s urge to hand our lunch money to bullies.

If radicalizing those susceptible to being radicalized is the end of the argumentative story, something one simply must not do and nothing more needs to be added, then that is equivalent to saying that should British foreign policy have the effect that some of our fellow citizens will take to murdering other of our fellow citizens or aiding and abetting in this enterprise or giving their approval to it, then such a foreign policy must be eschewed. And this in turn is equivalent to saying that the threat of murder should be allowed a decisive voice in the determination of foreign policy.

And Greg Lukianoff on knowing why you think what you think.

One of the great harms of speech codes and campus censorship is that it leaves students with the false impression that censorship is what good, compassionate people do.

As usual, feel free to add your own.


John D

The three links are like a snapshot of what's wrong with the left.

(1) Side with totalitarians (because its 'radical').
(2) Kowtow to totalitarians (because then they won't hurt us).
(3) Suppress debate (just like a totalitarian).


“Side with totalitarians (because its ‘radical’).”

Well, Hitchens’ inconsistency is, I think, symptomatic of a broader phenomenon. Ageing lefties are rarely challenged about their youthful enthusiasm for monstrous regimes, or their efforts to depict that enthusiasm as either virtuous or a minor indiscretion. Bea Campbell, for instance, is graced with honorary doctorates by people who don’t seem inclined to comment on her active dissembling at the Morning Star on behalf of totalitarians.

Likewise, Peter Tatchell recalled his romance with Maoism and his participation in a “Be Kind to Mao Month,” which promoted the Red Guards’ less unflattering aspects.

And yet this grotesque unrealism is typically indulged, forgotten or waved aside as just one of those things students and young people do. As if supporting a blueprint for violation and horror were little more than an adolescent fashion gaffe. But maybe students go on doing it because it’s fairly unlikely they’ll be exposed as moral imbeciles and pretentious little shits. It doesn’t seem to cost them very much.


Theodore Dalrymple's thoughts on the recent biographies of the two Hitchens brothers is also worth a read.



Thanks for that. This caught my eye:

“[Hitchens’] fundamental difficulty is that he himself once suffered from, but cannot bring himself to admit, the very fault of which he accuses those in opposition to the war in Iraq: a failure to recognize radical evil. By aligning himself with Trotsky, he declared himself an admirer of a historical project that was, from the very outset, deeply and radically evil - and this is so whatever the motives of its opponents might have been.”

And it is a strange oversight, especially given that Hitchens is so eloquent on the horrors of Saddam’s Iraq, Iran and North Korea. See, for instance, the video series below:


"The police union for the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) stunned Germans this week when it announced it would bring policemen from Turkey to help patrol the turbulent streets of some immigrant neighbourhoods in NRW cities. With this announcement, the state's police administration is admitting domestic police forces can no longer handle violent Turkish and other youths of immigrant backgrounds inhabiting these quarters… Concerning the arrival of foreign police on German soil, one observer sarcastically wrote: "This is what multicultural enrichment looks like.""


Much as I like Norm I'm disturbed by the argument he takes with Peter Risdon over positive rights.

Both make several posts so I'll just link to the last (which has links)

And whilst I'm on Peter's site let me recommend this on "Kafkatrapping"

"One very notable pathology is a form of argument that, reduced to essence, runs like this: “Your refusal to acknowledge that you are guilty of {sin,racism,sexism, homophobia,oppression…} confirms that you are guilty of {sin,racism,sexism, homophobia,oppression…}."



I’ve seen “Kafkatrapping” in action and it’s both absurd and a little sinister. It appeals to some very unattractive psychology. As noted at Peter’s site, the object isn’t to fathom reality or debate in good faith, but to manipulate the victim. The aim is to induce a kind of phantom shame by appealing to “collective guilt” and some nefarious motive that can’t be disproved. It’s a kind of sadism. I suppose Jane Elliott is an obvious example, though it crops up regularly among fans of identity politics.

Occasionally, someone will try it in the comments here. “Far-Center Loony,” for instance, flirted with a variation of it, though he couldn’t quite get it together. But his efforts did serve as a reminder that Kafkatrapping often goes hand in hand with other rhetorical dishonesties.

Incidentally, Kafkatrapping may be related to a point made in the Greg Lukianoff video: “A larger portion of our population is educated and the level of discourse has only gotten worse... If you’re not taught to debate and defend your beliefs you end up holding them like prejudices.” Which may explain why practitioners of Kafkatrapping are often students or academics, and why they’re generally very poor at arguing with people who aren’t susceptible to emotional and rhetorical bullying.

Horace Dunn


"As if supporting a blueprint for violation and horror were little more than an adolescent fashion gaffe".

This was put into peculiar relief for me during the last general election here in the UK. Left wing politicians, the BBC, the Guardian etc. became rather obsessed with the fact that Cameron, Osborne and co had, in their youth, been members of a notorious Oxford dining society. I don't wish to give a free pass to members of the Bullingdon which was characterised by oafishness and snobbery, but I thought at the time that one should be far more concerned that certain members of the Labour front bench had been members, in THEIR youth, of the Communist party. Yet, Cameron's cavorting in a brightly-coloured tail-coat was continually held up as a good reason why he shouldn't been trusted with the levers of state, while others who aligned themselves unapologetically with the worst mass-murderers in human history were treated with respect. As they say here in the Interweb, wtf.


"But maybe students go on doing it because it's fairly unlikely they'll be exposed as moral imbeciles and pretentious little shits. It doesn't seem to cost them very much."

If being an idiot doesn't cost anything some people will never grow up. Campbell and Tatchell are prime examples:

"I was so excited by the prospect of a democratic, libertarian communism under Alexander Dubcek. Soviet-style "barbed wire socialism" was an inhuman betrayal of the communist ideal of a compassionate, classless society."



“...but I thought at the time that one should be far more concerned that certain members of the Labour front bench had been members, in THEIR youth, of the Communist party.”

Apparently oafishness and snobbery are colossal sins compared with seeking to impose on one’s neighbours a monstrous and sadistic ideological system that results in misery, beggary and death. But reminiscences of youthful “idealism” wouldn’t be quite so fluffy if the motives were stated more honestly: “If I’d had my way, I’d have controlled you and ruined the lives of everyone you care about. Because it would’ve made *me* feel better.”

Stated in those terms, the intended victims of this “idealism” might not be quite so indulgent.

Andrea Harris

Tell me about it. In the past two days I've been accused of 1) believing that we now have racial harmony in the US (because I said that the Civil Rights movement had achieved its goals back in the 60s -- those goals not being some sort of pie-in-the-sky "racial harmony" but to abolish race-based laws that were restricting the rights of minorities); and 2) that I'm some anti-science luddite who thinks we will *never* understand certain things, when all I did was point out that we *currently* don't understand enough about those certain things (and thus claims made about the subject could be premature).* How someone gets to "not understanding enough right now" to "it's hopeless, we'll never understand anything" is beyond me. But then I only have an Associates Degree; I never even got my Bachelor's.

*Oh okay, it was global warming.


The Horowitz / Hitchens article is enlightening - Horowitz is struggling to grasp how Hitchens can change his opinions on some of the leftist causes without seeing that it is the essential leftism that that he should turn away from.

Hitchens on his part, is of course just as surprised and horrified when he suddenly is attacked by people he thought were his friends and allies, after he re-evaluates some of his positions, and finds positions that are clearly more tenable.

In my view, the core of this may be 'being right' (possibly even righteous), and that pointing out wrongness and heresy is ones privilege, regardless of what one previously thought. Thus, the 'rightness' is essentially portable, and one can take it from position to position, without much regard for the past or the future of that rightness or the position.

The question I'm asking myself is if this would be a particular leftist view of the world, or if it is a human condition - and thus, if we all are susceptible to believe ourselves right, without regard to any externally noticeable consistency. If so, have I just reduced leftism to basic humanity tempered by narcissism?

Thomas Sowell describes 'the intellectuals' (Intellectuals and Society) as a 'talking class', where ones ego is stroked by ones peers, as long as one agrees with them (thus breeding a consensus, disconnected from any other reality). It sort of fits, I think.




“The question I’m asking myself is if this would be a particular leftist view of the world, or if it is a human condition.”

Obviously there’s a general tendency to resent dissent from, or refutation of, one’s own political views - especially if those views are identified with in particular ways, i.e. as a measure of personal virtue or a badge of cleverness, social status or group belonging.

That said - outside of some religious circles - the phenomenon seems most *concentrated* on the left. Or among the left. I can’t offhand think of many non-leftists who rail vehemently and at length against people who headed leftwards in later life, as if they became evil. Such people may be mocked occasionally, but I don’t think there’s anything like the same indignation. Whereas lefties scorning former lefties is almost a tradition and, for some, a reflex. Reactions to Horowitz and Hitchens are fairly typical examples.

I suspect this has something to do with an asymmetry of self-image between left and non-left. In my experience, lefties are more likely to think of themselves as virtuous *because* of their politics, and more likely to wish to be *seen* as virtuous, or caring, or politically enlightened or whatever. And there’s often a corresponding aversion to registering any practical or moral downsides of what they wish to bring about, or have brought about. Intentions count a great deal and are trumpeted loudly; actual outcomes, not so much. Revisionism and pathological denial are, for instance, routine features of the Socialist Unity site, where we’re told, “the GDR was a society largely free of existential fears.” The patrons dissemble at length about the merits of the GDR’s “more cohesive and balanced society,” while carefully avoiding any realistic discussion of the Stasi, the suicide rate, the people murdered trying to escape, etc.

There’s also a greater tendency to dogmatism and regurgitating theory. As I've noted several times, there are leftist commentators whose opinions read as if they’d been copied from lecture notes rather than arrived at by testing and experience. Whereas people who might be regarded (by lefties) as “bourgeois” or “conservative” are, in my experience, less likely to be ideological and theory-driven. The “conservative” people I know tend to be pragmatic more than dogmatic. So dissent seems less likely to arouse feelings of being betrayed or personally spurned.

And then there’s the asymmetry of political empathy that was discussed here recently. I’d guess that many readers here are familiar with leftism’s broad assumptions and social dynamics. Quite a few of us will have been exposed to leftism to some degree, perhaps at university, where leftism is virtually the only politics in town. So there’s an understanding of motive that’s not always reciprocated.

For instance, Amanda Marcotte has to assign malign motives to her political opponents and anyone who refutes her arguments – she does it in practically every other article. As do many of her peers. She, like they, seems to need her readers to believe that those who disagree are malevolent or mean. And by implication that she is benign and altruistic. In today’s Guardian, George Monbiot can’t help but assign dastardly motives to “conservatives.” It isn’t enough that he disagrees with them on a particular issue, or many issues; he has to convince us that “their” motives are invariably selfish and unpleasant, unlike his own. It’s silly, of course. But it’s a staple of Guardian commentary. And I’m not sure that need to be seen as virtuous is quite so pronounced or emotive across the political aisle.


David & Simen,

"And I'm not sure that need to be seen as virtuous is quite so pronounced or emotive across the political aisle."

Compare Monbiot with Anthony Watts. Which one demonizes his critics? Which one sounds like a narcissist?

Simen Thoresen


Compare Monbiot with Anthony Watts. Which one demonizes his critics? Which one sounds like a narcissist?

Yes, but is that comparing apples and apples, or apples and lefties?

Anthony is a scientist of sorts - he is a meteorologist, a technician with a grounding in real, reproducible science.
Monbiot is a writer, a columnist - an opinionist.

I'd like to see a comparison between a scientist who we'd identify as leftist, between one who isn't.

Strangely, real scientists who are also identifiable leftists seem fairly rare.

I think this meshes with Davids observation - doing real science should install some pragmatism. Regardless of ones intent or the obvious truth of ones theories, nature is a final arbitrator.



"For instance, Amanda Marcotte has to assign malign motives to her political opponents and anyone who refutes her arguments – she does it in practically every other article."

She's doing it again today...

"Republicans don't trust that the euphemisms they've always used are going to provoke enough racism to get them the majority in 2010."

Not liking socialism is racist, Republicans have always been racist and complaining about race hustlers is "just a way to be racist".

Because Amanda knows!


“Because Amanda knows!”

Ms Marcotte is also adamant that “we” are “all racist” and that people aren’t calling each other “racist” often enough.

She, of course, has *seen* her inner racism and is fighting it, heroically, while having a ready-made justification for denouncing almost anything she disagrees with as racially motivated and therefore illegitimate.


I'd like to add my own here. What happens when one tries to act on principles of liberation from social constraints and bourgeois taboos?

Obviously, one needs to free the children first;

Alexander Schuller founded a Kinderladen in the Berlin quarter of Wilmersdorf in 1969. Many of the parents who sent their children to the daycare center were determined to encourage their children to show and touch their genetalia. "I found it incredibly difficult to take a stance," says Schuller now. "I felt that what we were trying to do was fundamentally correct, but when it came to this issue, I thought: This is crazy, it just isn't right."

'fundamentally correct' does not mesh well with 'crazy'. Of course, when freedom from social taboos is the goal, some eggs need to be abused, if only for their own benefit;

How should we react when Cohn-Bendit writes, in his memoirs, about "little, five-year-old girls who had already learned to proposition me?" It wasn't the only time the Green politician raved about his experiences with children. In a largely unnoticed appearance on French television on April 23, 1982, Cohn-Bendit, a member of the European Parliament today, said the following:

"At nine in the morning, I join my eight little toddlers between the ages of 16 months and 2 years. I wash their butts, I tickle them, they tickle me and we cuddle. … You know, a child's sexuality is a fantastic thing. You have to be honest and sincere. With the very young kids, it isn't the same as it is with the four-to-six-year-olds. When a little, five-year-old girl starts undressing, it's great, because it's a game. It's an incredibly erotic game."

Obviously, like the Catholic church, the organizations mentioned here also would attract some less radically-motivated child-lovers.

This is from the German Der Spiegel, english edition at,1518,702679,00.html
Slightly-mangled single-page article on



"The goal of the center was to shape the students into "socialist personalities," and its educational mission went well beyond supervised play. The center's agenda included "agitprop" on the situation in Vietnam and "street fighting," in which the children were divided into "students" and "cops.""

So it was child abuse right from the start.


>have I just reduced leftism to basic humanity tempered by narcissism?

Add projection and envy and you're there.


Sorry if this double-posts...didn't get the usual anti-spam entry page...

The aggravating thing about lefty-ism is it is like other religions. All of the thinking has already been done by previous generations. The current class learned all about it in school. So anyone who believes differently must by an ignorant moron, and thus their frustration with us silly proles . Similar behavior can be found in science and sports when the predominating theories and standard practices meet real world realities. It applies to the political right as well. While they never seem to be as popular, they are more reluctantly tolerated. Or at least that’s my perspective in the US. The fear I get when I begin to understand European politics precludes me from wanting to learn any more about European politics than is absolutely necessary.

Karen M

"And there's often a corresponding aversion to registering any practical or moral downsides of what they wish to bring about, or have brought about."

Wikileaks, anyone?

"Speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location, Zabihullah Mujahid told Channel 4 News that the insurgent group will investigate the named individuals before deciding on their fate. "We are studying the report," he said, confirming that the insurgent group already has access to the 92,000 intelligence documents and field reports. "We knew about the spies and people who collaborate with US forces. We will investigate through our own secret service whether the people mentioned are really spies working for the US. If they are US spies, then we know how to punish them.""

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