Friday Ephemera
Turgidson, Ratched & Bates

The Cost of Purity

Or, Less Information is a Good Thing in an Argument, Yes?

From Theodore Dalrymple’s latest collection of essays, Farewell Fear. On dictatorial urges:

It is difficult now to imagine a modern university intellectual saying something as simple and unequivocal as “I disagree with what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it.” He would be more likely to think, if not actually to say out loud or in public, “I disagree with what you say and therefore rationalise to the death my right to suppress it.” In public, he would be more circumspect, presenting a suppression of freedom as an actual increase in freedom; that is to say of real freedom, not the kind the leaves everyone free to sleep under a bridge. But he would know perfectly well in his heart that what he was after was power: the greatest power of all, that to shape, mould and colour indelibly the thought of others, a power to which he believes that he has a right by virtue of his superior intellect, training and zeal for the public good. 

Actually, some of our budding intellectuals do declare their censorious urges out loud and in public, as if such urges confirmed their own unassailable righteousness: “We no longer need to listen,” say these mighty radical thinkers. Nor will they permit others to listen to ideas and arguments they, our betters, deem improper - on our behalf, of course. 

Recently, I was reading for review a book by a woman, a “resident scholar in the Women’s Studies Research Centre at Brandeis University,” about the problem of ‘ageism’ in America… What is so striking to me about the author’s proposals for dealing with the problem is that she does not recognise that they conflict with freedom, and pose problems for the rule of law... If I wish to employ someone but cannot hire whomever I choose, for whatever reason that I choose, whether good or bad, I am not free: I must hire according to criteria that are not my own. The author might certainly argue that her goals are more important than that of freedom, and that fairness in one sense or another, in one field or another, is now more precious than freedom; but it is at the very least necessary to recognise that one is subordinating freedom to some other desideratum, or one will end with tyranny by default, as each enthusiast or monomaniac seeks to curtail freedom in his pursuit of his favoured goal. 

Very rarely do we find someone who is a university intellectual saying that “X is indeed a desirable goal, even a highly desirable goal, but the cost to freedom of achieving it is simply too great.” It would be an excellent thing in the abstract if no-one ever drank to excess (much less violence, cirrhosis, etc.), but a system of surveillance in homes to ensure that no-one did so would be odiously tyrannous. The author of the book to which I have referred would like to have all ‘ageist’ language expunged from films, radio, books, daily speech and even minds, on the grounds that many people have felt humiliated by it, that it reinforces stereotypes, and that stereotypes lead to bad treatment of the old. Even if this were empirically true (which might be doubted), what is being demanded as a principle here is language so anodyne that it could offend no-one, lead to no stereotyping, etc., for there is no reason to limit the cleansing of language to ageism. The attempt to rid the world of stereotyping is as totalitarian as it is in theory incoherent: for of course it relies upon the stereotyping of stereotypers, namely all of us. Show me a man without stereotypes and I will show you a man in a coma. But mere impossibility has never stopped intellectuals from proposing their schemes. 

The eliminationist zeal of much leftist rhetoric has been noted here more than once. Some of you will have seen this recent pantomime of activism – invoking “free speech” as a right to silence others - and its censorious consequences. Apparently, when the subways “belong to the 99%” no-one will be offended. Because controversy will not be allowed and then, hey, we’ll be happy. Some readers may remember the experiments in thought correction at Delaware University, where an acclaimed and coercive programme of “social justice education” was described by its proponents as a “treatment” – one intended to “leave a mental footprint on [students’] consciousness.” Others may recall Tufts University’s perversely named Islamic Awareness Week, which led to institutional censorship and denial of reality, with factual statements – none of which were challenged - being outlawed as “harassment.” 

And let’s not forget the equally progressive efforts to shape young minds at Queen’s University, which decided that students’ private lunchtime discussions were in need of monitoring by hired eavesdroppers called “dialogue facilitators.” Eavesdroppers whose uninvited “interventions” would “encourage discussion of social justice issues” and “issues of social identity, power and privilege,” as defined by them and whether welcome or not. “Positive spaces and mindsets” would of course be created. If that doesn’t sound sufficiently creepy and absurd, take five minutes to read how this “facilitation” was supposed to happen. Then ask yourself how you might respond to such monitoring and linguistic intervention. And note that, when challenged on their intentions, these champions of “social justice” were all too willing to lie. For the greater good, no doubt. 

 

This rickety barge is kept afloat by the kindness of strangers. 

Comments

sk60

"The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule." - H.L. Mencken

David

Related, this:

The yardstick of the validity of an opinion ceases to be veracity. It ceases to be truth. It becomes instead the emotional response that is elicited by the view. Twenty years ago in the UK, if you disagreed with someone you said, ‘That’s a lie.’ Now you say, ‘That’s offensive’ and that is deemed to be a rebuttal.

Henry

Yeah, very good. We're perhaps frittering our freedoms away. The blame partly lies with successive governments, but also public equanimity. My take on this is that people just don't recognize the several reasons why these freedoms are important.

Those who faced Nazis and the Cold War had a strong awareness of the benefits of self-determination and individual freedoms. There was much thought about what freedom meant in this era. But the history of the ebb and flow of those freedoms is much older than that.

Then there is this querulous authoritarianism, the hugely enjoyable and confident inventing of grievances and new laws to deal with them. And the meanings of words like 'democracy', 'freedom', 'racism', and 'equality' are all subtly changed as necessary to suit all sorts of political agendas. What fun it all is..

The double-think of the new far left is related to more subtle social or 'moral' restrictions on freedoms which are not new either. We don't go to church as much any more, but do we really want to religious moral certainty with....progressive-left-wing religious moral certainty? I think not.

David

Henry,

“…the hugely enjoyable and confident inventing of grievances…”

Setting aside the broader political implications, there’s also the cultivation of bad faith – a casual dishonesty – that irks too, I think. And it’s interesting just how readily students in particular internalise this claptrap. For example, a while ago I drew attention to a woolly and foolish article in the Guardian by Adam Harper. Mr Harper didn’t appreciate the subsequent light-to-moderate mockery, which I suppose is to be expected; but he also saw fit to claim that my ribbing constituted “hate” and “bullying.” I’d dared to point out some details that were unflattering to his ego and therefore I was a bad person, a hateful bully, and by implication not to be listened to. And this is a remarkably common sentiment among our intellectuals of tomorrow, especially those who identify with the politics of the left.

Sam

And it’s interesting just how readily students in particular internalise this claptrap.

Don't they understand that one day the same illiberal crap will be used against them?

David

Sam,

“Don’t they understand that one day the same illiberal crap will be used against them?”

Given the enormous scope for abuse, as illustrated above, you’d imagine this might occasionally give pause for thought. But I don’t think that’s how this kind of self-righteous illiberalism works. I doubt the parties concerned think that far ahead. Urges to punish and control can be quite… intoxicating. Maybe they imagine they can pretentiously out-tantrum everyone else and so will always have the whip hand.

A while ago I noted a study that found quite a few people are willing to pay to burn other people’s money:

Our subjects gave up large amounts of their cash to hurt others in the laboratory. The extent of burning surprised us… Even at a price of 0.25 (meaning that to burn another person’s dollar cost me 25 cents), many people wished to destroy other individuals’ cash.

Thinking analogously, it’s no great surprise that some people are willing to endanger their own freedoms and probity, and those of their children, provided they can inflict a similar fate now on someone whose views they don’t like. Or on someone they don’t like. Or on someone they feel they ought not to like but aren’t quite sure why. One shouldn’t underestimate the allure of malice, at least to certain personalities.

virgil xenophon

Re: the burning other people's money experiment, I would point out that the question of whether such views are driven by genetics or by cultural imprint (probably both, but I would opine that genetically dysfunctional individuals are what initially mold the dysfunctional culture) is very much a chicken-egg thing but culture undoubtedly plays a major role. Consider the joke about the Russian collective personality which tells of a Genie let out of a bottle who gives his benefactor Ivan a single wish (this IS Russia, after all) to which Ivan wishes for two cows which the Genie grants. The now freed Genie then moseys down the road to the next farm and tells the farmer Boris that he will give him one wish, just like he has just done for Boris' neighbor Ivan. "What did Ivan wish for?" asks Boris. "Two cows," replied the Genie. "Then I wish for Ivan's cows to die," replied Boris.

Widespread societal attitudes which engender jokes like the above are most often the result of powerful life-long cultural imprints..

carbon based lifeform

"it was no surprise to me that when the trailer for "Innocence of Muslims" debuted on YouTube and Islamic militants all over the globe began using it as an excuse to attack American embassies and kill our diplomats, the first prominent people to rise up and say "see, I told you we were wrong about free speech" were college professors… if we start punishing people in the United States because they've offended the beliefs of people of other faiths, we will have put the United States government in the role of enforcer of a religious norm. Worse still, we will have put the United States government in the position of essentially encouraging violent reactions to speech by promising to punish blasphemers if, but only if, true believers are willing to actually get violent. This is an obscene incentive that promises only more violence."

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-lukianoff/we-are-all-blasphemers-a-_b_1917074.html

Obama, the smartest president ever, hasn't figured this out.

Dom

That subway incident ... Why was there a film crew present? Why did they film someone who was filming someone else? Why did the woman just happen to have a can of spray paint with her? Why was it pink paint, allowing her to deface the poster and still allow others to see what set her off? And didn't the two women sound like they were reading a script?

David

Dom,

I gather Ms Eltahawy used social media to advertise the exact time and location of her impending, totally spontaneous radicalism. How else would people see her being incredibly radical and brave, so very, very brave? And hence the pantomime. I’d say the whole point was for her to be applauded and opposed, to be seen being arrested, and above all to be noticed. If you’ve followed her ramblings, that’s pretty much who she is.


Carbon,

It’s progress into the future - a kinder, fluffier future. It’s just that we’re making a detour via the 16th century.

Karen M

Fascist academics are the new black.

http://timworstall.com/2012/10/01/and-heres-a-very-nice-fascist-for-you/

David

Karen,

“Fascist academics are the new black.”

That’s the thing about Green politics. Endless opportunities for the same old nasty urges and the ‘Henry Higgins’ tendency - the belief that one is smart enough to remake the world.

mojo

"Facilitators", forsooth.

Fuck off, Narc.

David

mojo,

“‘Facilitators’, forsooth. Fuck off, Narc.”

Quite.

The psychology of these sensitivity enforcers is quite peculiar. On the one hand, they feel obliged to assume the worst of Designated Oppressor Groups, usually based on nothing but skin colour, with student orientations that presuppose a need to “treat” “white privilege,” “unconscious racism” and other lurking bigotry. The scale of the alleged problem is such that they claim a need to be ever more intrusive, presumptuous and condescending, with little or no regard for evidence, logic or due process. And twinned with this presumption is an implausible credulity – as if the intrusive and overbearing systems they’ve created couldn’t possibly be exploited by liars, morons and vindictive little shits. Which of course they often are.

As a moral and political worldview it’s incoherent and absurd. But as a license for authoritarian urges and petty malice it makes a kind of sense. It’s therefore unwise to assume that the people who favour such measures are compassionate or benign.

And such measures are obviously corrosive to the testing of ideas, since the object is to spare certain favoured worldviews from any critical challenge. It’s intellectual cronyism. As Mike Adams noted, censorship, speech codes and pretentious hypersensitivity encourage a kind of “reverse Darwinism” because “only those who are emotionally unfit are likely to become uncomfortable simply by hearing a contrary point of view… [Such people] are indeed emotionally unfit if they actually remain upset long enough to file a complaint aimed at enforcing a speech code.” If Barney says, “TV show X is a bit gay,” meaning cheesy or naff, and Beryl overhears this and takes umbrage – and stays indignant long enough to file a report and demand vengeance – it seems likely that Beryl is the one being captious, churlish or spiteful.

Mskochin

"The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam." -- Barack Hussein Obama, 25 September 2012.

Steve

"The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam."

Has anyone got any idea what that could possibly mean?

I honestly can't imagine how anyone could possibly believe that any imaginable 'future' can possibly 'belong' to any film-maker, blogger, cartoonist, commentator, comedian or anyone else based on their opinions of or reaction to one particular subject.

I'm really stumped.

dicentra

"Obama, the smartest president ever, hasn't figured this out. "

Like hell, he hasn't. Shutting down free speech is a feature for those in power, not a bug.

Henry

Steve

"I honestly can't imagine how anyone could possibly believe that any imaginable 'future' can possibly 'belong' to any film-maker, blogger, cartoonist, commentator, comedian or anyone else based on their opinions of or reaction to one particular subject"

It's good emotive language though isn't it? Good politics, I guess, to paint a picture of the universal intolerance that will abound if you don't get re-elected...

...though some fools might think it's not entirely honest.

Steve

"...though some fools might think it's not entirely honest."

You're not a fool Henry.

You're a racist. And you must be silenced. For the sake of the children.

richard40

The left has always beleived in free speech, for other leftists, for anybody else, not so much.

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