Monthly Archives: November 2018

The Great British Institution Of Bullying (Part 2)

When I wrote this blog about bullying in 2012, I always knew that some day I would have to revisit the subject. So it was that yesterday, on the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, that Fleet Street’s bullies and their associated helpers, used the solemn occasion of Armistice Day to dig up the monstering of Michael Foot’s appearance at the Cenotaph in a smart-looking overcoat in November, 1981, which they dubbed a “donkey jacket”.

Here’s what Foot had to say about the bullying he endured.

Like many of this country’s political commentators, history for Andrew Pierce, began with the election of the Thatcher government in 1979. He tweeted this mush.

He was joined by the ever-juvenile, Julia Hartley-Brewer, whose puerile comments amount to little more than trolling.

The idea that the weather may have played a part in Corbyn’s sartorial choice yesterday has clearly escaped her. What matters more to Hartley-Brewer is turning up to a service of remembrance looking as if you’ve just stepped out of the pages of a Savile Row catalogue. The idea that one’s choice clothing is an indication of one’s level of respect is not only risibly childish, this notion is based on a superficialities, because in the postmodern mind, appearance is much more important than substance. As for Hartley-Brewer, she’s nothing but a school bully who never grew up.

Kevin McKeever, who I’ve never heard of, thought it was a “stunt” , but it’s his added claim that, somehow, he and the rest of the media’s bullies are above concocting narratives of ‘disrespect’ and ‘them and us’ that stands out. McKeever’s mini-bio says he’s the “Founder of political consultancy, Lowick”. In other words, he’s a public relations hack.  In fact, his biography on Lowick’s website states:

He has experience of working on political and reputation campaigns in the US, EU and Middle East.

Politically active, he stood for election to the UK Parliament at the 2015 and 2017 General Elections.

Interestingly, it doesn’t say which party, but The Cat has discovered that he was the Labour candidate for Northampton South and is critical of Corbyn.  McKeever also worked for the disgraced PR firm Bell Pottinger and was head of property and planning at Portland PR.

Such is the lack of self-awareness that McKeever projects his and his fellow hacks value-judgements onto Corbyn’s sensible choice of overclothes. Naturally, I put him straight.

Here, the editorial team decided to use colour filters to make Corbyn’s raincoat look a sort of light blue rather than black. The use of digital technology to create a narrative of ‘disrespect’ is one that the media has to own, rather than deny. We’re not as stupid as they think we are. This isn’t 1981, when they could get away with such tricks, the year is 2018.

Right-wing shock jock, Jon Gaunt, followed suit with this unoriginal take.

Appearing at the Cenotaph to pay one’s respects to those who died in wars prosecuted by halfwitted short-sighted politicians – the kind of politicians whom the likes of Hartley-Brewer would no doubt rally behind – wasn’t enough for Gaunt. Apparently, you’re supposed to turn up in the latest designer gear from Bond Street, as Harry Paterson noted in this tweet.

Before I logged off Twitter yesterday evening, I tweeted this.

Every November, it’s the same thing: pass comment on what the leader of the opposition is wearing or not wearing. He doesn’t bow low enough. He doesn’t wear the right clothes. His poppy isn’t big enough. Look, if Corbyn didn’t appear at the Armistice Day ceremony, then they’d have something to complain about. However, using his clothing to make judgements on his character is nothing short of bullying. These people should be ashamed of themselves, but that’s hoping for too much. These people have no shame.

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Filed under Tory press, Yellow journalism

Let’s Talk About: The Marketplace Of Ideas

First, let’s get something straight: there is no such thing as a “marketplace of ideas”. It is a fantasy of reactionaries, racists and their apologists. Ideas cannot be bought, sold or exchanged because they have no physical form. They are what they are: ideas and nothing more. They are, to adapt Engels, false consciousness (remember that the word ‘ideology’ was originally coined to refer to a ‘science of ideas’ before it was laden with considerable baggage). The notion of the marketplace of ideas is one that has been popularized by LM and its various outlets as well as the free speech fundamentalists that gather around the feet of its self-appointed sages.

To claim that all ideas deserve equal time, consideration and space is also a fantasy; a figment of the SpikedOnline imagination. The inhabitants of Spiked World and their related LM spheres believe that “dangerous ideas” should be aired for the sake of ‘free speech’, but some ideas, or discourses, are hidden for a very good reason: they are dangerous, and the fact that they are dangerous also means they’re harmful and likely to cause problems for minority groups or society as a whole.

Free speech is not absolute and anyone who says it is, is not only hopelessly naïve but quite probably working to normalise and legitimise reactionary discourses, in order to further a particular ideological agenda. So it is with Spiked and LM, whose tiresome mantra is “free speech at any price”. If people come to harm because of their airing of bad or dangerous ideas, then, in LM’s eyes, that’s simply the price that one pays for free speech. It’s intellectually dishonest and immature.

All ideas, like ideology, are a product of discourse. The recent revival of interest in eugenics, for example, is a product of historical revisionist discourses, which also come bundled with other reactionary discourses: racism for example. Eugenics, once popular among self-styled intellectuals of the Right and the Fabian Left, was banished to the wilderness of discourse after it was popularized by the Nazis. Toby Young, whose ability to think and construct coherent and logical arguments is poor and, like the fools at Spiked, is obsessed with the notion of free speech at any price. His recent dalliance with education was used a trojan horse to smuggle in his retooled notion of eugenics, which he oxymoronically describes as ‘progressive eugenics’.

Young’s fascination with eugenics comes from his uncritical acceptance of Richard Hernstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve, which posits, among other things, that intelligence, itself a contested term, is inherent to certain ‘races and social classes’, while other ‘races’, those of African origin particularly, score low on IQ tests and are thus deemed, in the eyes of eugenicists, as subnormal. This is to ignore the ethno-cultural bias in IQ testing in the first place.

Young has defended his notion of ‘progressive eugenics’ in this statement:

My proposal is this: once this technology [genetically engineered intelligence] becomes available, why not offer it free of charge to parents on low incomes with below-average IQs? Provided there is sufficient take-up, it could help to address the problem of flat-lining inter-generational social mobility and serve as a counterweight to the tendency for the meritocratic elite to become a hereditary elite. It might make all the difference when it comes to the long-term sustainability of advanced meritocratic societies.

What Young fails to grasp, and to which I alluded earlier, is that intelligence is in the eye of the beholder. Moreover, Young takes Murray’s position and claims, without a shred of evidence, that intelligence is class, as well as, racially based. We should note that Murray isn’t a geneticist or a medical scientist, he’s a political scientist. Hernstein wasn’t a geneticist either, he was a psychologist and sociologist. Many have critiqued The Bell Curve for its research and lack of academic rigour and rightly so, and yet it still cited by right-wing politicians and commentators for daring to speak the truth about ‘genetically based intelligence’.

Young’s ‘progressive eugenics’ is underpinned by racist and classist discourses, which have been around since the 19th century. Indeed, IQ tests, which form the basis for Young et al’s concept of ‘progressive eugenics’ is little more than a justification for scientific racism, which in turn serves as a means to justify social exclusion and the marginalization of already oppressed groups of people.

As this blog points out, LM regards hate speech as free speech. What is revealing about this claim is that its proponents are mostly white people. In a Spiked article titled Hate speech is free speech, Frank Furedi, the leader of the LM cult lazily conflates hate speech with blasphemy:

Hate speech is the secular equivalent of blasphemy. Blasphemy targeted ‘evil speaking’, but in a non-religious world, censors don’t do morality. So hate speech is defined as prejudice directed at individuals or groups on the basis of their identity — be it racial, cultural or lifestyle. In our era of identity politics, criticism of a cultural practice can now be interpreted as an instance of ‘hatred’ towards a group.

LM’s basis for ‘free speech’ hinges on what it sees as ‘identity politics’, which has become something of an Aunt Sally for the libertarian right. You will notice that there is no criticism of identity politics when it is deployed by the Conservative Party as a means to wriggle out of its racist Hostile Environment policy or its defence of Shaun Bailey’s recent bigoted comments, when they were criticized by many on the Left. LM’s other claim is that we now live in a post-racial world, but this is nothing less than wishful thinking and intellectual dishonesty – especially because structural (which the Right denies exists) and institutionalized forms of racism persist and show no immediate signs of abating.

It is baffling that people like O’Neill and Young are given so much airtime when their ideas lack as much as a scintilla of academic rigour or, indeed, erudition. The ideas that they proffer in the media are never challenged but are accepted as axiomatic by broadcasters. Yet, any attempt to challenge their bad ideas is met with defensiveness and claims that those who oppose them are “shutting down free speech”. However, this is to assume that free speech means that the other person is compelled to listen to badly thought-out arguments without having a right to reply. On the contrary, free speech means being able to challenge bad and dangerous ideas and discourses. O’Neill, Furedi and the rest of LM need to learn that.

Further reading

Butler, J. (2013). Excitable speech: A politics of the performative. Routledge.

Here’s the Manic Street Preachers.

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Filed under Bad philosophy, Ideologies, Media