Tag Archives: bad ideas

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

Police and Crime Commissioners: a truly bad idea

I have previously mentioned the proposed Police and Crime Commissioners, who are to be elected next month, a few times on this blog. At the risk of repeating what The Cat said on previous occasions, this is a bad idea. A disaster waiting to happen. This idea of police commissioners is an American one that has been grafted onto an already existing and functioning system. The current arrangement of police authorities made up of local people is perfectly fine. In other words, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

The PCC idea was originally touted by Hannan and Carswell in their book, The Plan. The rationale behind the idea is to subject policing to the democratic process, but what will really happen? I can foresee conflicts arising between the PCC and the local constabulary and as I warned a year ago, the PCC will be a political office, meaning that the whole business of policing will be subject to ideological colonization. In other words, if a Tory or UKIPer should win, they could focus their attention on harassing minority groups whom they erroneously believe to be ‘illegal immigrants’. Tellingly, the Lyin’ King revealed his admiration for Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio. The sheriff has recently been the subject of complaints and a federal law suit. He is also a prominent ‘birther’.

I have looked at the candidates and they are principally from the three main parties and UKIP. There are some exceptions: the British Fascist Freedom Party is standing a candidate in Bedfordshire, the birthplace of the English Defence League. In Northamptonshire, the far-right English Democrats are standing a candidate. Devon and Cornwall has the largest slate of candidates, many of whom are “independents”. In Kent, a minor fascist party, The National Liberal Party, is standing a candidate.

Turnout for these elections is predicted to be low. Hardly anyone in the country knows about the elections or what the role of a PCC is.

Today, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair  urged people to boycott the elections. Today, the Lyin’ King takes a swipe at Blair.

Plenty of people will vaguely nod at the idea that we shouldn’t have ‘politicised police chiefs’. But ask yourself what we have at the moment. Consider the career of Ian Blair himself: his spending of resources on 28 diversity advisers while street crime was rising; his attacks on the press for giving disproportionate coverage to white crime victims (erroneously, as a study of column inches later showed)

“White crime victims” (my bold) is the most revealing phrase here. But why racialize crime reporting anyway? I think Blair was right to point it out. When a black kid goes missing, the press don’t bother to report it. But when it’s Madeleine McCann or some nice white, blonde-haired kid, the press are all over it like flies on a dog turd. Remember classical liberals and self-described Whigs hate the idea of diversity and would love to return to a time when people ‘knew their place’.

The PCCs are expected to be paid a salary of between £65,000 and £100,000. Chief Constables already get paid around £100,000 a year. If the country is so “broke” as the Con Dems keep telling us, then how can they afford to spend money on PCC’s salaries?

PCCs are a bad idea made worse by the fact that the jobs will be filled by someone from a political party on a possible turnout of less than 17%. But will such turnouts be questioned by the Tories? Of course not. They’re hypocrites.

UPDATE 22/10/12 @ 1047

I’ve just been alerted to this article by Kennite, who tells us that there are “Secret US lobbyists” behind the PCC election. I shall quote a little,

Mervyn Barrett has flooded Lincolnshire with expensive leaflets, free DVDs and full-page newspaper adverts in his bid to be elected as its policing supremo next month.

Unusually for a rural local election, he has employed professional campaign staff, commissioned weekly opinion polls, opened “field offices” and is driven in a chauffeured Mercedes.

He has poured tens of thousands of pounds into the elections, far more than any other candidate anywhere else in Britain.

Mr Barrett describes himself as an “independent”, opposed to “party politics” in policing. He has refused to disclose who is funding him, despite widespread local suspicions generated by the intensity and professionalism of his campaign.

However, it can now be revealed that it has been run by a team from a US-based neo-conservative think tank, the Fund for the New American Century, funded in part by a variety of corporate donors with an interest in public-sector privatisation.

Given Hannan’s enthusiasm for this idea, you have to wonder what he’s getting out of it.

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Filed under Conservative Party, Government & politics, Law & Order, Policing

Give up your workplace rights and we’ll give you (worthless) shares in return

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, workers have fought and died for the workplace rights that we enjoy today. Since the 1980s, there has been a concerted effort on the part of the Tories to erode those rights. For them, the 19th century was a golden age of industrial progress and oh, how they want to return to those times! But today’s announcement by Gid is odd. He proposes that workers give up their rights in the workplace in exchange for a handful of worthless shares, which he tells us will be worth between £2,000 and £3,000. That won’t even buy you a kilo of decent coke or a classy hooker for the night. Gid knows about both of those things and his idea, if that’s what it can be called, sounds for all the world as though it was written in the midsts of a lengthy coke binge. Cocaine, you see, is an ego drug and those who habitually use it talk a lot of shit. Gideon is an expert at talking shit.

In his weediest of weedy voices, Gid said,

“Workers: replace your old rights of unfair dismissal and redundancy with new rights of ownership. And what will the government do? We’ll charge no capital gains tax at all on the profit you make on your shares. Zero percent capital gains tax for these new employee-owners. Get shares and become owners of the company you work for.”

“Owners”? Is he serious? It seems that he is, but then we should remember that Osborne and the rest of the government are bereft of real ideas and the ideas they do possess are employed to further enrich their tax-evading chums in Belize and elsewhere. Make no mistake, the only true beneficiary in Osborne’s dreamworld is the boss. The underlying motivation behind his notion is to pay people less, trick them into handing over their rights for the illusion of power and influence and then sack them if they say the wrong thing.

Elsewhere in his incredibly dull speech, was the announcement of further cuts to the welfare budget while the rich will be “taxed more” – allegedly. Once again, Osborne appealed to people to attack those on benefits, who he suggested, were responsible for the housing crisis.

Chancellor of the Exchequer? I wouldn’t put this man in charge of a Christmas Club.

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Filed under Conservative Party Conference 2012, Government & politics