Tag Archives: Claire Fox

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Bad philosophy, Ideologies, Media

The LM Network and Operation Yewtree (or Won’t Someone Think of the Abusers?)

Since the government’s announcement last week that there was to be an over-arching inquiry into child sex abuse at the highest levels of British politics, it was only inevitable that the LM Network would be out in force to cry foul and muddy the waters a little. In the last few days, Frank Furedi and Claire Fox have been conducting a tour of national television and radio studios to offer their rather suspect take on the matter. Within the space of hours, Furedi and Fox have both attempted to claim that the latest call for inquiry will lead to a “fear of adults” and that parents will be too afraid to let their children play outdoors for fear of being kidnapped and/or molested. This is not the issue and they know it. The majority of the abused children did not come from stable homes, nor were they kidnapped while playing on the swings in the local park. Many were in care homes and others were students at boarding schools. This point has been consistently sidestepped by LM in order to advance the claim that ‘freedoms’ are being compromised or eroded. It’s a classic appeal to emotion.

On Monday, Furedi and Fox’s fellow LMer, Brendan O’Neill, was quick out of the traps with this piece of drivel.

For around 30 years now, Britain has been in the grip of a paedophile panic.

You know where this is going and predictably enough.

There has been no break from the paedophile panic over the past three decades. Even when certain forms of the panic are exposed as baseless, as completely hollow, the underlying urge behind the panic, the moralism that is its fuel, simply moves on to another terrain, adopting a new language and a new focus to keep the concern with evil child abusers alive.

O’Neill continues:

Yewtree has institutionalised the 30-year-long paedophile panic, elevating it from an ever-present but sometimes ill-formed thing into an actual institution, a key part of British political, social and moral life, a constant provider of yet more horror stories, claims and rumours about wicked behaviour. And when (if) Yewtree is wrapped up? It will be replaced by something else. There are already demands for an extensive ‘Hillsborough-style inquiry’ into the rumours of a paedo ring in Westminster, the paedo obsessives clearly already looking for their next outlet, the next moral terrain on which they might keep alive their panic and spread more fear about the demonic dangers surrounding children in every town, village and hamlet in Britain.

Nowhere in O’Neill’s article is there even a modicum of sympathy for the victims. It’s all about him and his libertarian friends and how the investigation/inquiry will limit their ‘freedom’. That reminds me, the comments thread is particularly vile. Take this comment from which I shall quote a portion.

Yes, Rolf Harris’s conviction and absurd six year sentence today is a travesty of justice: a show trial of man-hating ideology.

This is just a sample of what passes for libertarian-style analysis. Demands for justice for the murdered and the abused children are dismissed as part of some “man-hating ideology”. It’s at times like this that some right-wing libertarians reveal, not only the limits of their thinking, but their real thoughts about women and children, who they believe exist solely for the pleasure of men.

In February, The Grand Furedi contributed this article to Spiked. He complains that Operation Yewtree is “more propaganda than policing”. He rationalizes Yewtree thus:

Operation Yewtree was different: it was not designed to solve reported crimes. Its principal aim, rather, is to construct crimes through soliciting allegations of sexual abuse committed decades and decades ago.

Children were killed and many more have been scarred for life, but all Furedi and his gang can do is complain that any attempt to get justice for the victims (a word he rejects) is an affront to his notion of ‘liberty’.

Here’s The Grand Furedi on Monday’s edition of Newsnight. Count the number of times he refers to children’s homes.

Not once. Cristina Odone, who often makes little sense, actually talks more sense than Furedi!

The LM network has always had questionable ideas on pederasty.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the LM Network wants no restrictions on Internet pornography. This includes child pornography.

What LM and their libertarian friends conveniently ignore is the impact that their ‘freedom’ will have on the freedoms of others. Theirs is nothing less than a rationalization of selfishness. The right of children to be free from exploitation and abuse is of little or no interest to them.

 

6 Comments

Filed under Child sex abuse, Society & culture

The LM Network and the idea of free speech

I saw a little bit of Sunday Morning Live on BBC1 this morning. One of the guests on the programme was Kenan Malik and I was reminded of how the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) has managed to insinuate itself into the sphere of public discourse, when many people have never heard of them. This morning’s debate was on the ubiquitous topic of free speech, so it came as no surprise that Malik or one of the other bods from the LM Network was invited to appear. It’s their ‘meat and potatoes’ so to speak.

In spite of its name, the RCP was neither communist nor revolutionary. When the RCP was wound up in the late 1990’s, it splintered into a variety of smaller groups (they haven’t lost their penchant for spawning front groups): the Institute of Ideas (IoI),  Sense About Science, The Manifesto Club and Spiked Online to name a few.  While these groups may appear to be separate, they form the LM network (named after the magazine of the same name). The entire existence of the RCP and its successor groups has been to insert its ideas into public conversations thereby  influencing society and culture. They do this through the use of public meetings, debates, publications, summer schools and appearances on the BBC.  In fact, the IoI’s Claire Fox is one busy woman,

Claire is a panellist on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze and is regularly invited to comment on developments in culture, education, politics and the arts across the whole range of media outlets: such as BBC Question TimeBBC Any Questions?, SkyNews Review, and BBC Breakfast. Claire writes regularly for national newspapers and a range of specialist journals. She has a monthly column in the MJ (municipal journal) and presented ‘Claire Fox News’ on the internet TV channel ’18 Doughty Street’.

So where did they come from? After a split from the International Socialists (the precursor of the Socialist Worker party who, ironically, came from another RCP) over the issue of apartheid, the RCP was formed ostensibly as a Trotskyist group but any left-wing pretensions they had quickly disappeared by the mid 1980’s. Although its front groups sported names like Workers Against Racism and the Irish Freedom Movement, its position always leaned towards the libertarian right.  Anyone who was a student in the 1980’s will tell you how the RCP would disrupt the meetings of groups from the Anti-Apartheid Movement to CND. On more than one occasion, I challenged RCP supporters who, unable to respond to points that I had put to them, would pass me to one of their colleagues who would then pass me on to another colleague. This evasiveness and their tendency to contradiction still exists in spite of their efforts to appear as our philosophical superiors.

What was the point of Workers Against Racism, when the RCP was neither pro-worker nor anti-racism? Why maintain an Irish Freedom Movement, when Ireland was an embarrassment. Why ally with businesses one day and Campaign Against Militarism the next? The Free Speech Societies continued, however, for a longer period of time.

You may have noticed that I used the word “supporters” rather than ‘members’ when I refer to people associated with the RCP. This is because the RCP was a rather tight-knit group whose core membership probably numbered around 12; these 12 people were all located at the Universities of Kent  and Sussex and were led by Hungarian born sociologist Frank Furedi (who called himself Frank Richards). To be a member one had to be initiated into the small but select group of insiders, but this never really happened and the core membership remained the same while the numbers of supporters fluctuated. While the members directed policy and formulated strategy, the supporters sold the The Next Step on the street (often in the same location as Socialist Worker sellers) or disrupted public meetings. This practice opened the RCP to the charge of it being a cult that was built around the personality of Furedi – a charge that continues to this day.

The RCP are most obviously concerned with the idea of free speech often to the detriment of those they claim to be working for,

The RCP had long since given up on class, in fact working out what they still believed was something of a mystery. They supported the racist lecturer Chris Brand.

It is instructive that the LM Network has been funded by a variety of private interests. For instance both Spiked and the IoI have been funded by the pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer (makers of Viagra). Pfizer also funds the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Netherlands-based Edmund Burke Foundation. Therefore the work of the LM network adheres to a certain agenda, namely those of corporate interests.  Other funders of LM have included BT, Monsanto and Exxon.

Free speech is something that many of us agree with in principle but the reality is that there are limits to free speech; and if one has the money to pursue a successful case of defamation in the courts then free speech gets muzzled.  Freedom of speech is great if other freedoms exist too: freedom from poverty; freedom from homelessness; freedom from disease; freedom from violence and war; freedom from bad philosophies are all important but get scant attention from the LM Network, who are more content to churn out controversial statements in order to emphasize its commitment to free speech than actively seeking to create a better world. Instead, the only commitment that LM have is to itself and to the companies that fund its activities. As the Manic Street Preachers sang in 2000, “freedom of speech won’t feed my children”. I think the LM Network would disagree with them.

This blogger who is a former LM supporter (note that he was a  supporter and not a member) is a critic and refers to the various front groups of the RCP as the “Continuity RCP”. He talks here about the Modern Movement (another LM front),

It all moved very quickly, and despite the fact that the group was supposed to be autonomous from the Institute of Ideas—it was never merely a front group—those members closest to the IoI quickly assumed leadership positions. These positions were never put to any form of democratic deliberation; moreover, democracy was always considered something of an embarrassing liberal formality, in contrast to the vague ‘Leninism’ the self appointed leaders espoused.

LM/RCP aren’t interested in democracy (I know this from my previous encounters with them), they are concerned more with power and influence.

In the short space of a month or two a left and a right faction of MM started to appear. Broadly speaking the rightwing leadership clique were closest to the IoI, most reverent for the traditions of the RCP, dismissive of democracy, and pro-capitalist. Conversely, the leftwing faction were more insistent on marking a break from the old formulas of the RCP, operating in a democratic fashion and taking an openly anti-capitalist line. These differences came to ahead in the build up to the G20.

LM/RCP do not tolerate dissent or debate; they are correct and they know it. Those who take a view that is to the left of them are dismissed as nutters,

They had made it clear from the start that only ‘loons’ go around calling themselves Marxists or anti-capitalists nowadays. In private one had admitted to being a secret, ‘right wing Marxist’ and described the chapter on the working day in Marx’s Capital as the worst thing Marx ever wrote.

Yes, I’ve always been aware of their oxymoronic “right wing Marxism”; it is a glaring example of their philosophical confusion.

Interestingly enough, some of the most prominent right wing enfants terribles were all at one time former Trots (albeit of the  SWP variety): Christopher Hitchens, Peter Hitchens and Rod Liddle to name three. The RCP was never left-wing or Trotskyite; they were just a confused bunch of libertarian ideologues who wormed their way into the nation’s cultural institutions. Former swappies always make the best right-wing loons!

16 Comments

Filed under Ideologies, Ideologies, Society & culture