Update From The Road

Angkor Wat - Cambodia - Sam Hooper

And now for something completely different

Those who watch my Twitter timeline particularly closely or otherwise follow me outside of this blog may know that I am heading to graduate school in the United States to study law this September.

Just as my initial career in management consultancy was wonderful and taught me much but ultimately was not where I wanted to make my life’s contribution, so producing this blog for the past six years has (hopefully) stretched me as a writer and thinker but ultimately proved frustrating due to the rather incestuous UK political media’s absolute refusal to acknowledge or promote the blogosphere, or nurture the kind of positive symbiotic relationship between old and new media which still characterises American political discussion at its best (even now, this blog is cited far more in US outlets like the National Review than most UK publications).

Fear not, this blog and the political writing will continue. But having read and written so much about policy and political values in recent years, I’ve reached the point where I actually want to see some of my ideas implemented – or at least to advocate for those ideas from a position where there is a fighting chance of making a tangible difference. Deeds, not words.

As I recently wrote in the personal essay component of my various law school applications:

I am proud of my part-time work as political writer and campaigner, particularly my advocacy for Britain’s secession from the European Union during the 2016 referendum, but writing and commentating from the sidelines is often frustrating. I now realise that without a legal education of my own, there will always be a constraint on my ability to fully participate and influence many of the technocratic and constitutional debates about which I care deeply.

Through my writing activities, I see that the future is being shaped by intersecting developments in trade and international law, intellectual property, privacy, civil liberties, national security and constitutional law. I know from my current activism that my future work will require a rigorous knowledge of several of these fields, and that the law, if not quite the battleground on which these issues will be fought, is certainly the language in which they will be contested. I want to have a voice in those conversations, and it is for this reason that I now seek a legal education.

My wife and I have now left London as our permanent home, and having shipped off all of our personal belongings are currently en route to the United States by way of an 11-week trip through southeast Asia. We began in Hong Kong, moved on to Chiang Mai and Bangkok, Thailand, spent an enlightening few days in Siem Reap, Cambodia and are now back in Thailand doing various beachy things before travelling to Singapore, Bali, Australia and New Zealand, arriving in Los Angeles some time in June and then road-tripping back to my wife’s native Texas.

I am currently in the process of hearing back from various law schools and while I am blessed to have already received some very appealing offers of admission we still find ourselves in the strange and rather stressful position of not yet knowing where we will be living and working come September – it could yet be on either coast of this vast country, or somewhere in between. I am also having to frantically switch my brain from work mode to study mode after a decade-long hiatus, and hoping that Study Brain successfully reboots after its extended hibernation.

All this by way of saying sorry for the lack of recent new blog pieces. We front-loaded the trip with most of our time-intensive activities (as of yesterday, for instance, I am now a PADI certified open water scuba diver) so writing time has been largely nonexistent for the past three weeks, but we are now moving into a more relaxed phase of the trip which should afford me some time to blog from various coffee shops and beaches. It’s a tough life.

The benefit of half unplugging from the daily news cycle and not feeling the need to react to every twist and turn of the Brexit negotiation, the establishment backlash against democracy or the metastasization of corrosive identity politics through our culture is the opportunity to gain clarity and perspective which is easy to miss when one is in the fray of daily political debate.

I am currently re-reading Charles Murray’s excellent 2012 book “Coming Apart: The State of White America” in the context of our present reality, which itself is perfectly captured in Amy Chua’s new book “Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations”. Murray’s warning about the growing societal schism (in terms of both geography and values) goes a long way to explaining how the ruling classes – the “new upper class” in Murray’s language, the “coastal elites” in Chua’s, but both equally applicable to Britain as America – have come to hold very different values and priorities to the broad centre of the countries they lead, to the extent that there has been a near-total breakdown of mutual trust and empathy.

It has long been a theme of my writing that the fault for this schism lies first and foremost with the ruling elite – the well-educated, well-connected and well-employed – for having been content to run society exclusively in their own favour for so long, and for the stunning lack of consultation or restraint with which they pushed ahead with their policy goals. One can potentially agree with every single one of the coastal elite or pro-EU centre-left’s values and still deplore the way in which those who make policy and influence the culture have become so ignorant of the lives of their fellow citizens, and the open disdain shown by many elites for those who hold different values and aspirations. For democracy to long survive, those with power, wealth and influence have a particular responsibility to be magnanimous and empathetic to their political opponents, but instead we are currently witnessing an establishment backlash which ranges from the hysterical to the furious, by way of the conspiratorial.

I have more detailed thoughts on all of this which properly belong in a future blog post, which will hopefully also include some ideas for how these bewildered and furious elites might actually begin to regain the pulse of their own countries – if they are willing to do so. For now, however, I wanted to give this quick status update and apologise for the recent lack of blog posts. More updates (and new material) to follow soon.

 

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Political Tribalism, Brexit And The Liberalist Insurgency

Us vs Them - Political Tribalism

Many so-called liberals are great at diagnosing destructive political tribalism when it manifests in other people, but are often blind to the same pathologies within their own ranks

I wrote a long piece earlier this month about deepening political tribalism as it relates to Brexit. After the piece was serialised in Country Squire Magazine, much of the pushback I received from the usual suspects within the Remain camp (university professors and the like) only served to prove my point – that Brexit merely exposed, rather than caused, the increasing depths of partisan tribalism afflicting Britain.

This tribalism is not the exclusive preserve of the under-educated, supposedly simple-minded working classes whose emotions and voting habits are apparently so easily manipulated by Rupert Murdoch, Cambridge Analytica or the dozens of other shadowy figures who now stand accused of ushering in Brexit for their own nefarious ends. Indeed, through their growing obsession with these new scapegoats, many of those opposed to Brexit reveal themselves to be capable of behaving in an equally aggressively tribal manner without even realising that they are doing so.

It never occurs to many of those people who occupy the groups most statistically prone to supporting Britain’s EU membership – students, university professors, artists and arts workers, young urban professionals – that they might be doing something so base, so primal as to be influenced by tribal behaviour. Why? Because many are used to seeing tribalism as a pathology affecting only the poor, the uneducated or others traditionally seen as either victims (like welfare recipients) or potential threats to be mitigated (juvenile criminals or nascent Islamist extremists). To many journalists, academics and politicians, tribalism is seen as something afflicting only society’s losers and outcasts,  not something which might also pull the strings inside AC Grayling’s neocortex.

The idea that political tribalism might just as easily drive the behaviour of an Oxbridge professor, a PR director on a six-figure salary or a young university student often simply fails to compute, but it is a real and frequent occurrence nonetheless. Being educated and even nominally aware of the existence of tribal impulses does not automatically make one immune from being driven by tribalism oneself, particularly when one possesses the intellectual capacity and vocabulary to rationalise one’s behaviour as more noble and high-minded than it necessarily is.

And so time and again we see those who would normally be first to decry tribal behaviour engaging in its most vicious forms, whether it be the American college students or graduates who refuse to visit their Trump-voting parents or public figures who believe they have license to say the most horrible things about Leave voters and Brexiteers from atop their perch on the “right” side of history. More concerning, since these new converts to overtly tribal behaviour supposedly make up much of the cognitive elite, they seem unable to acknowledge the drawbacks of their behaviour or the many ways in which it actively harms their end goal, be it overturning the result of Britain’s EU referendum or prematurely turfing President Donald Trump out of office.

Smart people should be capable of noticing when an existing strategy is not delivering results and adjusting course to deliver better outcomes, but many within the anti-Brexit academic, cultural, commercial and political elite instead seem intent to double down on losing strategies which may feel cathartic but fail to achieve their political ends. Only political tribalism can drive nominally smart people to behave in so counterproductive a way.

Political tribalism causes anti-Brexit members of the elite to act out in a couple of negative ways – firstly by failing to understand or acknowledge the true motivations and drivers for the Leave vote, and secondly by engaging in public statements and actions which actively alienate many of the people whose good opinion they need to court and convince in order to change their minds. In my recent long article about political tribalism and Brexit I covered a number of the ways in which anti-Brexit elites harm their own cause through misbehaviour and bad messaging, but it is also worth focusing on the way in which political tribalism causes Brexit opponents to consistently ignore the full range of valid reasons which drove thinking adults of good character to vote to leave the European Union.

The first is a binary worldview which sees the EU as representing (if not always achieving) the highest ideals of mankind, and euroscepticism as the antithesis of all that is good in the world. This widely held opinion reveals itself in every tweet decrying Brexit as the result of unchecked xenophobia and racism (or a neo-imperial quest for lost glory) while simultaneously ignoring the EU’s manifest flaws. The best one can often get in debate with a pro-EU activist is an exasperated admission that “of COURSE the EU needs reform!” uttered through clenched teeth, though specific proposals for such reform or estimates of their probable implementation are always curiously lacking. Meanwhile, despite post-referendum polling which showed sovereignty and not immigration as the key driver of the Leave vote, heinous racist or xenophobic statements are taken to represent the broad church of pro-Brexit opinion.

The second reason is the exclusionary nature of many of the strongest bastions of pro-EU sentiment. There are people of good conscience in the academic and arts industries who support Brexit, but they rarely make themselves heard for fear of social or professional reprisal. If the prevailing opinion within one’s social or professional circle holds that Brexit is a national calamity with grievous implications for human rights, few people will have the courage (or luxury of courage) to take an openly contrarian view. Unfortunately this only worsens the situation, with those who do most to oppress pro-Brexit sentiment within their respective circles then failing to see that Brexiteers can sometimes be respected colleagues and friends.

Just as increased meaningful exposure to immigrants tends to reduce xenophobia or opposition to immigration, so structured and controlled exposure to Brexiteers might make many of the loudest anti-Brexit advocates realise that their opponents are not the evil masterminds or stupid pawns they have been portrayed as. But ironically, while many anti-Brexit campaigners are eager champions of multiculturalism, they also either encourage or tacitly tolerate a sometimes aggressively ideologically homogeneous pro-EU school of thought to dominate their field – ideological diversity is the one kind which is not celebrated and put on a pedestal.

But the greatest driver (or manifestation) of political tribalism among anti-Brexit activists now is not the deeply ingrained sense of moral superiority or self-imposed isolation from contrarian viewpoints – rather, it is the degree to which many of the afflicted now seem willing to latch onto anything from issues of concern to downright conspiracy theories, promoting them as valid reasons for nullifying or re-running the EU referendum in order to seek the “correct” response from the electorate.

The latest cause du jour is Cambridge Analytica, which seems to have transformed itself in the minds of Remain supporters from the tawdry and morally questionable data huckster outfit into a shadowy, all-powerful corporate behemoth which single-handedly tipped the balance and inflicted Trump and Brexit on a naive and defenceless world. The re-emergence of Cambridge Analytica in the headlines following news of its connection to a Facebook data “breach” and the Trump presidential campaign has only encouraged those already looking for reasons to invalidate (rather than argue against) Brexit to seize upon the scandal and make a lot of tenuous and irresponsible insinuations.

Pro-EU advocacy website InFacts can now be found – contrary to their name – raising “questions” whose entire purpose is to put the murkiest deeds of Cambridge Analytica as close as possible to Brexit on paper or a smartphone screen in the hope that insinuations about the former question the legitimacy of the latter.

Prior to Cambridge Analytica, the figure of Russia loomed largest in the Remainer imagination as the driver of Brexit. While any foreign interference in British electoral processes represents an abhorrent and unacceptable attack on our national security and civic institutions, one which we should probably be taking far more seriously both in terms of reprisals and future safeguarding, the idea that even a large scale attempt at Facebook manipulation had a material impact on the referendum result is both unproven and far from meeting the common sense test.

Are Remainers seriously proposing that the full weight of UK government advocacy, the massed ranks of the artistic and cultural world, a plurality of big business and heavyweight external interventions from the likes of the IMF and even President Barack Obama, all encouraging a Remain vote, were overshadowed by £1 worth of Facebook ads and the addled efforts of a Twitter troll farm in Russia? Apparently so – and yet many of the high profile personalities and Serious Thinkers who make and amplify these assertions are unable to step back and escape the prison of their political tribalism for long enough to appreciate how unhinged their conspiracies are beginning to sound.

In short, a significant strand of anti-Brexit opinion remains obstinately unwilling to consider any failure on the part of the Remain campaign or the European Union itself, instead attributing their every setback and woe to crude dismissals of the electorate or fantastical conspiracy theories of the type embraced by leading Remainer intellectual Professor AC Grayling.

It takes a lot to make intelligent and accomplished people behave in a way which is both counterproductive to their interests (they will never stop Brexit by repeatedly shrieking that Leave voters are stupid automatons who were hoodwinked either by Vladimir Putin or sinister corporate interests) and damaging to their long-term reputations. In fact, one of the only things which can induce such a mania in so-called “respectable” people is the phenomenon of political tribalism, whereby it becomes more important to be seen as strongly aligned with and supporting ones own people than it is to be either pragmatic or empathetic.

And when it comes to Brexit, so strong is the force of political tribalism among certain demographics that even those whose job it is to understand political and constitutional matters find themselves unable to acknowledge, let alone meaningfully engage with, the real issues which prompted millions of decent people to vote for Brexit, instead blaming “fake news”, the Russians or Cambridge Analytica.

Tom Peck makes a reasonable observation in the Independent:

People have almost entirely forgotten that, say, in 2015, when the BBC hosted its first hustings in the Labour leadership contest in a church in Nuneaton, some hitherto unknown man called Jeremy Corbyn was the only one who had anything of any interest to say. Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall were beyond abysmal, and they remained so throughout the contest.

Is it acceptable to wonder if the fire is only being turned on technology because it hasn’t delivered the results the bulk of the media class wanted? If the Democrats had delivered a candidate better equipped to deal with the shallowness of the media age, and if the Remain campaign had been run as well as the Leave one, this apparently existential crisis would not be occurring.

The comparison with the 2015 Labour Party leadership contest is an instructive one. Then, as now, a cadre of people accustomed to calling the shots and having their worldview acknowledged, respected and advanced at all times – the Labour centrists – suddenly found themselves out of power and influence within the party for the first time since John Smith and Tony Blair ushered in their long period of domination. But rather than engage in any kind of introspection as to why they were so unloved by the Labour base, centrist Labour MPs instead engaged in an unseemly year-long insurrection against new leader Jeremy Corbyn, culminating in the rather disgraceful and ultimately unsuccessful decision to use the shock EU referendum result as a convenient “fog of war” in which to take down their new leader.

Why did the Labour centrists behave in this way? Because they were motivated more by tribal affiliation and beliefs than political principle or even civic decency. They (rightly) sensed that their tribe was under attack from the hard-left Corbynites within the party, and worried that their status would be permanently eroded were Jeremy Corbyn able to cement his grip on power. And thus rather than spending the following years attempting to hold the Conservative government to account, as an Opposition party is supposed to do, we instead saw the biggest names from Labour’s centrist wing engage in a long period of unseemly infighting – because political tribalism trumped their commitment to either party unity or the national interest.

The funny thing about political tribalism is that its most ardent practitioners tend to see themselves as being immune from the phenomenon while ruefully detecting its presence among nearly everyone with whom they disagree. Thus it simply never occurred to many of the Labour MPs who made it their primary mission to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn that they were primarily motivated by tribal interest, just as many of those who howl the loudest about Brexit cannot bring themselves to contemplate the possibility that their behaviour is driven by anything other a rational, fact-based analysis of the common good.

 

The Liberalist Insurgency

The vote for Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US president have been widely painted by many establishment opinion-setters as an assault on liberal democracy and liberalism itself, as progressive or enlightenment values fell prey to reactionary populism spouted by right-wing demagogues. Indeed, it pleases many of those who oppose both Donald Trump and Brexit (for the record, this blog strongly opposes the former and supports the latter) to paint themselves as brave guardians of liberal democracy and sole keepers of the frame of liberalism in these uniquely benighted times.

And yet when many of the great and the good in the anti-Brexit or anti-Trump camps are not fulminating against their respective bêtes noires, they can often be found undermining and attacking the same liberal values which they claim to champion. How often are those who decry Brexit as the first step toward fascism also found supporting draconian hate speech laws, advocating censorship and No Platforming on university campuses, attempting to excommunicate those who merely profess (without seeking to enforce) traditional social values from polite society and aggressively ushering in radical new gender theory and the divisive intersectional identity politics movement which seeks to stigmatise and oppress any questioning of these goals? None of these behaviours are remotely liberal in the true sense of the word, yet all are being enthusiastically adopted by many of those who also seek to paint themselves as guardians of liberalism in their fight against Brexit.

It is therefore important that we deny the anti-Brexit campaigners automatic and exclusive use of the “liberal” label, particularly when their actions and words – wheher expressed through contempt for a democratic referendum result and those who voted for it or other stances taken against science, liberty and free speech – are the antithesis of true liberal behaviour. When prestige journalists, academics and politicians who are complicit in these illiberal behaviours also inveigh against Brexit in a way which denigrates Leave voters and fails to even acknowledge the existence of their legitimate arguments we should not allow them to pretend that they are safeguarding either liberalism or democracy when they do so.

And that’s where the word “liberalist” could be very useful. Just as Islamism refers to a fundamentalist, politicised and perverted strain of Islam and the word Christianist has been memorably coined (by Andrew Sullivan among others) to refer to those Christians who profess a harshly authoritarian, theocratic political worldview, so the word “liberalist” (as distinct from “liberal”) should perhaps be taken to mean a hypocritical self-serving authoritarianism masquerading as genuine concern for democratic stability and outcomes, a cynical perversion of true liberalism.

Post-Brexit (and to some degree since the election of Donald Trump in the United States, though the analogy is imperfect), liberalists have effectively become the “faith militant” of progressive liberals, a combative sect who use their typically high-status positions in electoral politics, journalism, culture and academia to inveigh against any political initiative which threatens to disrupt a stale status quo under which they have largely prospered while other groups have largely stagnated.

In order to shroud their blatant self-interest in the more noble garments of high-minded civic duty, liberalists portray their objection to current political developments as flowing from an overriding commitment to individual rights, the protection of vulnerable minorities and the preservation of democracy. This is quite impressive, since many of them have built entire careers on the back of attacking individual freedoms (particularly core civil liberties like free speech) and signing away our right to democratic self-determination by blindly and naively entrusting sovereignty to a supranational political union which represents a non-existent demos, which has never sought public input and which even now shows no real willingness to change for the better.

Taking on this faux-superhero role serves a dual purpose for the liberalists – firstly it allows them to avoid any real introspection as to why the values, norms and institutions they champion are increasingly rejected by a plurality of voters, and secondly it helps to soothe the cognitive dissonance which inevitably arises when people whose identities are so closely tied to projecting the appearance of social conscience and civic virtue act so shamelessly in their own short-term self-interest.

But whatever their protestations to the contrary, the liberalists are engaged in a performative act, if not a downright fraud. That is not to say that there are no legitimate reasons to oppose or even deplore Brexit – of course such a case can be made. But the liberalists will not engage in reasoned debate because they refuse point-blank to even acknowledge the Brexiteer frame of reference, insisting instead that everything is debated through the lens of short-term economic impact. And on top of this obstinacy they treat us to an increasingly tedious and condescending tale about civilisation teetering on the brink and the only safe option being a return to the EU’s cold embrace, with not so much as a nod to Brexiteer concerns.

Political tribalism is not the exclusive preserve of any one demographic group or end of the political spectrum, but the media focus is nearly always on those deemed to have fallen under the corrupting influence of “populist” rabble-rousers – understandably so, because such people are so poorly represented in the politico-media and cultural elite that they can raise no significant objection when one weepy Guardian article after another frets about rising nativist tendencies among the provincial rabble while ignoring rising insularity and decreasing social solidarity within the London-centric elite.

Therefore, it is time that we turn the focus back on the people who ostentatiously fret about the tribalism and populism they so readily detect in others. It is high time that we stop naively accepting the liberalist narrative that their objections to Brexit are exclusively rooted in high-minded concern for the national interest – at least so far as the word “national” incorporates any regard at all for the importance of democratic self-determination. They are not.

Brexiteers may be equally susceptible to political tribalism, but how much more dangerous is it when members of the political, cultural and media elite, with all their power and influence, throw themselves into the opposing side of the anti-Brexit culture war with such verve and venom?

We are about to find out.

 

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Journalists Buying Fake Twitter Followers, Another Symptom Of Institutional Decay

Journalists buying fake Twitter followers - fraud

Some journalists and political pundits choose to buy artificial Twitter followers because being good at their job matters (and is incentivised) less than appearing like the Next Hot Thing.

I’ll admit it – in earlier years, in my weaker moments as a struggling political writer, I have idly thought about purchasing Twitter followers. But I have not and never will do so, and deplore those in journalism and politics who choose to sell out in this way.

The New York Times recently reported that a company called Devumi was offering dummy Twitter followers (either fabricated individuals or the fruits of identity theft) to those seeking to boost their social media stature for mere cents per follower. A whole swathe of celebrities were implicated (most of whom promptly rolled over and blamed their managers or PR people) but so too were a number of journalists at supposedly respectable outlets of the legacy media.

From the New York Times:

Genuine fame often translates into genuine social media influence, as fans follow and like their favorite movie stars, celebrity chefs and models. But shortcuts are also available: On sites like Social Envy and DIYLikes.com, it takes little more than a credit-card number to buy a huge following on almost any social media platform. Most of these sites offer what they describe as “active” or “organic” followers, never quite stating whether real people are behind them. Once purchased, the followers can be a powerful tool.

“You see a higher follower count, or a higher retweet count, and you assume this person is important, or this tweet was well received,” said Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz, a company that makes search engine optimization software. “As a result, you might be more likely to amplify it, to share it or to follow that person.”

Twitter and Facebook can be similarly influenced. “Social platforms are trying to recommend stuff — and they say, ‘Is the stuff we are recommending popular?’” said Julian Tempelsman, the co-founder of Smyte, a security firm that helps companies combat online abuse, bots and fraud. “Follower counts are one of the factors social media platforms use.”

In some ways, this temptation is just one of many ways that using social media can warp our behaviours and motivations, as Jacob Brogan writes for Slate:

Twitter is a machine designed to generate ugly feelings. Here everything is subject to quantification: the number of people who like the things you tweet, the number who share your words with their own followers, and, perhaps most of all, the number who follow you. If you spend too much time on the platform, those numbers quickly become an index of your own self-worth, and no matter how high they get, they will always be too small.

Purchasing fake followers is thus rather grubby and slightly pathetic, but perhaps still fair game if you are a TV star looking to make a bit more money sending promotional tweets for haemorrhoid cream. But what if the person deceiving the public is somebody whose job it is to inform, educate and tell the truth? Surely then it becomes quite unambiguously wrong?

Well, lots of political journalists clearly don’t think so, according to NBC News:

Big media outlets have embraced Twitter as a distribution platform but still struggle with how reporters and editors use the social media service, particularly when they appear to be breaching journalism ethics.

This sizable gray area came into clearer focus this week, after a New York Times exposé revealed that more than a dozen news media figures had paid to artificially pump up the number of followers they have on Twitter.

Journalists and commentators, who presumably joined the platform to enhance their stature, instead found themselves grasping to explain why they had paid for counterfeit supporters. When contacted by NBC News, the journalists identified by The Times as having bought Twitter followers had a range of responses: Many ducked requests for comment, others blamed associates, while just one sounded chastened.

This practice doesn’t bother me so much when it takes place in other fields; if you’re a mediocre provincial stand-up comedian who wants to pretend you have an audience of half a million eager people hanging on your every word, so be it. Good luck to you. Same if you’re a B-list actress, a celebrity chef, an unremarkable footballer or a giver of lousy TED-style talks about personal development. I expect no realism from such people, and personalities from these fields who choose to over-inflate their popularity do no real harm.

Not so with journalists and political commentators, both those who parade around beneath the banner of the blue-tick Twitter verified logo and those scrambling for the Ultimate Recognition. Political Twitter is a nasty swamp of obnoxiousness at the best of times, but those of us who choose to lurk within it do so in the vague hope of coming across useful information or commentary once in awhile. And since nobody has time to vet every account that crosses one’s timeline to determine whether they deserve a follow or a clickthrough, a quick glance to see whether they have a decent (or at least a baseline) level of followers is a useful first line of due diligence.

Is this person for real? Well, their profile picture is the default egg icon and they have eleven followers. Hmm, probably not going to click that link or believe their sensational “report” about Theresa and Philip May using a ouija board in the Downing Street basement to seek inspiration and advice from Britain’s failed prime ministers of the past (plausible though that one actually sounds).

Buying Twitter followers makes a mockery of what the rest of us are trying to do, and undermines one of the few metrics left for gauging success (financial reward having long since ceased to be either a possibility or a useful indicator). I have a mere 2,500 followers on Twitter. However, unlike the cheaters, I earned my entire following by providing consistently useful or entertaining (intentionally or otherwise) content to my audience. Whether it is links to my blog, links to bloggers in my circle, flagging news articles of interest, engaging in feuds with trolls or writing in-depth threads on a particular topic, around two thousand people care enough about what I have to say to stay tuned on an ongoing basis (I imagine that many of the remaining 500 are either businesses or largely dormant accounts).

A study from 2016 suggested that of those people who had tweeted once within a six month period, their average number of followers was 707. This figure seems a little high to me, as I routinely interact with people whose following/follower figures are only in the double figures – but this may be a function of swimming almost exclusively in the political niche rather than venturing out into the deeper oceans of celebrity Twitter. Anyhow, the study would suggest that anything over 707 is then a pretty good sign, and in lieu of an affirmative action-gifted writing gig for The Spectator I am proud of my 2,500 followers as a sign that my hours in front of the keyboard are not entirely wasted.

Ultimately, all this predictable scandal tells us is what a fraud so much of journalism and political commentary has become. Portentously spewing words into the void of Twitter knowing that most of your audience is actually imaginary can’t bring positive feelings of journalistic pride, since one would be aware of the fraud. All that those followers can do is burnish one’s reputation and make one seem like an important person to get drinks with or be seen talking to at one of the many insufferable events that take place every day in Westminster or Washington, D.C.

And the problem is that for those journalists who buy Twitter followers, that’s just fine. They don’t want to organically build an engaged audience of followers who find what they say to be genuinely insightful. They may not object were it to happen, but actual professional accomplishment is clearly no longer the prize to these people. What they want is the aura of success, to be seen as uniquely knowledgeable, titillating or controversial without putting in the labour to do it themselves.

We see the same thing with many of our politicians. Twenty months on from the EU referendum and the number of MPs who have even a basic grasp of the technical issues relating to trade arising from Brexit can probably be counted on two hands. An even smaller number have paid much thought to the constitutional ramifications and the opportunities and threats to our future governance, if any at all. The most significant political development to happen in Britain in decades, and only a handful of our parliamentarians have bothered to stop spouting slogans from the referendum campaign to actually master the issues at hand.

Why is this? Because sitting down with books and consulting advisers in a spirit of humility and willingness to learn is boring and unsexy. The personal payoff just isn’t there, particularly when one can do so much more for one’s career by bleating an angsty speech about the Evil Tor-ees in the Commons chamber or going viral on social media with a well-timed quip on Question Time. And the only reason that our star journalists – the ones who pull in the big bucks and now get terribly worked up at the thought that their celebrity pay packets might not be “equal” – have not rumbled the politicians and revealed the extent of their ignorance is because much of the legacy media is in an equally benighted state.

The whole reason our politics are currently so dysfunctional is that being good at your actual job is no longer adequately incentivised. Looking good and frantically maintaining all the appropriate outward signs of success and positive momentum are what matters most, not solid work diligently performed in the spirit of self-improvement. That’s why people cut corners and do things like participate in Twitter follower-purchasing frauds – because they believe, often correctly, that the rewards which flow from mastering an issue or having an original idea are far less than those which flow from being on some insufferable “Westminster’s 100 people to watch in 2018” list.

You can write for months or years before establishment journalists (as I did) that the Tories were going on an ideology-free jaunt into political oblivion, or that Jeremy Corbyn ought to be taken seriously because the public responds to conviction and consistency, but it doesn’t matter. You won’t get the slightest credit, because nothing has officially been thought or written until it has come from certain approved sources within the Westminster Bubble. And even within the bubble exists a hierarchy, with all of the attendant temptations to level-up by artificially boosting one’s standing.

And that’s why I never have and never will buy Twitter followers. It represents everything that is rotten, sleazy and stupid about modern politics, and the alarming frequency with which people who shouldn’t be within ten promotions from the top of their respective fields end up prancing around at the pinnacle, lording it over the rest of us (be that the prime minister, whole swathes of Parliament, the editors of several newspapers, numerous television news personalities and various assorted celebrity columnists).

We will never live in a perfect meritocracy, and it is stupid to set unrealistic goals which ignore human nature. But one thing you ought to be able to trust in this day and age is that the Very Serious Journalist with the blue “verified” tick next to their Twitter account name is not perpetrating a fundamental fraud every time they broadcast their news, analysis and opinions.

I earned my Twitter audience, and my follower count rises and falls according to the value I deliver. Anything short of this basic standard of behaviour is akin to selling a used car having first tampered with the odometer. And while social media juicing may not be illegal, we should look upon those who engage in it with the same scorn and distrust one might reserve for a convicted fraudster.

 

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Harvey Weinstein Hypocrisy And The Westminster Cesspit

Westminster Big Ben Telephone Box

British journalists have reported and commented extensively on the Harvey Weinstein scandal, yet seem curiously unwilling to lift the lid on the seediness and sexual harassment which routinely takes place within their own industry

In the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal (were you as stunned as I was?!) we have seen a range of responses from genuinely shocking and awful first-hand accounts of serious harassment and abuse to the now-obligatory collective guilt lectures delivered condescendingly to All Men.

But I am particularly interested in the response of journalists and commentators in Britain who took the time to report on a sexual harassment scandal unfolding in Hollywood while remaining curiously silent about a similar culture at work in their own industry.

I make no pretence of being a Westminster insider, but in my life on the far, far outer periphery I have attended a number of political functions, meetings, party conferences, boozy book launches and parties where very high profile journalists and moderately high profile politicians were present, and I have seen behaviour with my own eyes which would shame some of those who lent their voices to the chorus of condemnation of Harvey Weinstein and other serial alleged harassers. I have also heard disturbing personal accounts of inappropriate and unwanted advances by married men in the media, though having been relayed to me in confidence, these are not my stories to tell.

The seediness of Westminster politics is reasonably well known, but while political journalists are generally now willing to report on politicians when they come a cropper, most are understandably much less eager to lift the lid on their own sub-clique. Yet ultimately, journalism is no different from many other professions where people work, travel, eat, rest and play with the same group of colleagues in a high-pressure environment. Throw in the fact that politics and political journalism falls squarely into the “showbusiness for ugly people” category and is dominated by big beasts who grew up in a very different Fleet Street era and young people desperate to get a break, and a pulsating atmosphere of illicit romances, scandals and unwanted advances is all but guaranteed.

I have been to events where wine-sodden journalists said eyebrow-raisingly inappropriate things which made others feel uncomfortable, or in some cases made fumbling physical advances which had to be repeatedly warded off by the unfortunate recipient. Most of these incidents amounted to little more than general slovenliness and lechery, the kind of thing which reflect badly on a person but should not necessarily end a career or put somebody in court. But other times the behaviour I witnessed and heard about fell distinctly into the dodgy end of the grey zone.

And yet so far the only people from the political media world to have faced any kind of scrutiny in Britain are the writers Rupert Myers and Sam Kriss – both of whose cases were summarily tried in the fiery crucible of the Twitter and Facebook Star Chamber with no due process. As happened for so long in Hollywood pre-Weinstein, a couple of relatively minor fish in British political journalism are being made scapegoats so that the Big Fish can swim on unsated, undaunted and unchecked.

Much is being written about the bravery (or lack thereof) exhibited by certain individuals in Hollywood in their dealings with Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men accused of sexual harassment. And many of us probably feel rightful admiration for the brave few who first came forward at considerable personal risk, and shake our heads at the powerful A-listers who didn’t once think to risk anything to warn or protect others.

But I am curious about the household name journalists who behave nearly as badly at SW1 events or party conference hotel ballrooms yet go unreported and unpunished year after year. And I am particularly interested in their media peers, who know exactly what is going on and whether or not it fits a pattern of behaviour, and find all the time in the world to excoriate Harvey Weinstein while saying nothing about the atrocious behaviour that occurs right under their noses.

Tom Bradby, former ITV News political editor and current anchor of News at Ten wrote quite a stirring call-to-arms about an unpleasant “lads culture” at his old rugby club and various stag parties he later attended. Yet after all his years at the top of British political journalism he couldn’t think of any relevant anecdotes about his own peers and colleagues of sufficient concern to make it into the article? Perhaps not; Bradby may very well have purposefully avoided many of the booze-fuelled, bacchanalian evening events which make up the Westminster social calendar, and saw nothing. But I suspect that many others of equal seniority and profile to Bradby know exactly what goes on but give their own industry a Get Out Of Jail Free card.

As anyone who works in politics and answers truthfully will attest, Westminster can be a very seedy place. I understand that the ascension of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 saw some dispossessed Labour centrists indulge in behaviour which would have been considered scandalous at King Belshazzar’s feast. It seems likely that Theresa May’s bungled campaign and the trauma of election night this summer saw some similar desperation-fuelled behavioural lapses on the Right.

The two mini scandals du jour – Labour’s Clive Lewis getting a bit verbally carried away at a Momentum event in Brighton or Jared O’Mara having posted unsavoury comments on the internet fifteen years ago as a young man  – barely scratch the surface of what goes on. Indeed, these cases are almost decoys, relatively minor transgressions being seized upon so that the accused can be made scapegoats for the graver sins of a much larger group. One almost wonders whether the enthusiasm with which the UK political blogosphere, print and television media picked up these stories was a way of over-compensating for the profound silence about what takes place within their own camp.

But this seediness and sexual harassment within British politics and journalism will not be eradicated by offering up some scrawny, barely-known writer from Vice or a slightly bigger deal from GQ Magazine as a sacrifice to the Twitter gods. It will take a big fish to land a big fish – a heavyweight figure from a major publication or broadcaster must put their credibility on the line. The world of politics and journalism, like Hollywood, is a very hard industry to crack and those struggling to gain admittance from the outside risk everything by speaking out, even as they are the ones predominantly being preyed upon by grotesque, self-satisfied insiders.

One day – perhaps quite soon, given the rapidity with which Harvey Weinstein fell from grace – one of the big beasts of UK political journalism will be revealed for what they are. Somebody who everybody in the Westminster political/media world has been paying obsequious homage to for years will receive first one allegation of improper conduct, then another, and then a steady drip-drip of accusations until the sudden resignation, admission of “errors of judgment” and flight to celebrity rehab inevitably follow.

And when that happens, we will all be sitting here wondering how it was that so many people whose sole job it is to unearth and report stories of public interest – so many respected, well remunerated household names – somehow neglected to mention what was going on in their own back yard.

And what little scrap of credibility the Westminster media retains will be gone for good.

 

Harvey Weinstein - Meryl Streep

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The False Promise Of Conservative Political YouTubers

Ben Shapiro Show - Daily Wire - Birch Gold Group commercial - political YouTube - podcast

For many young conservatives, political YouTube offers a respite from left-wing dominance of popular culture, universities, the mainstream media and other social networks. But while YouTube’s brash new right-wing stars can be beguiling to watch, they do little to advance conservatism as an intellectual movement – and sometimes actively set it back

Young, brash, right-wing political YouTubers may unwittingly deliver the final coup de grâce to conservatism as an intellectual movement, even as they rack up millions of followers and achieve all the outward metrics of success.

But then I would say that, wouldn’t I? For some foolish reason I work primarily on the already anachronistic medium of the humble blog, tapping out my verbose screeds into WordPress which then get read and shared by that tiny slice of humanity who can wade through eight paragraphs on the meaning of citizenship in the Age of Brexit without wanting to run into oncoming traffic. Given recent advances in technology and journalism, bloggers like me are effectively still marvelling at the Edison light bulb while everybody else is busy projecting holograms or firing lasers at each other.

Ironically, despite being somewhat frustrated by my own lack of online reach, I find myself increasingly impatient when forced through necessity to read other people’s carefully and well-written words, be it those of a fellow blogger, journalist or author. Reading requires concentration and an engaged brain, and who has time for that?

Every evening after the day job is done and I have commuted home to begin work on my perennially unrewarding side hustle (this blog), I am faced with a choice: do I expend what little mental energy I have left reading and thinking deeply about a complex idea, researching and refining my thoughts until I have something compelling and unique to share with my readers, or do I take the path of least resistance – flicking over to YouTube and watching a parade of talking heads ranting about this or that development in the culture wars, finding something suitably outrageous to get worked up about and then hitting “publish” on an identikit, stream-of-consciousness rant in response?

And here’s my guilty secret: I choose the path of least resistance easily over half the time. Thinking is hard. So is challenging long-held assumptions and personal beliefs. But nodding along while a talking head on YouTube affirms one’s existing opinions is easy, and addictively cathartic. Yet anybody can do this; it is the millennial or Generation Z equivalent of watching Fox and Friends. At this point I can crank out one of my old-style “I agree with Brendan O’Neill” or “look what crazy campus SJWs did” response pieces with my eyes closed. Just crank my handle, insert the topic and required word count and 45 minutes later you’ll have a fully formed blog post. Sure it won’t be original or really add anything to the national political debate, but still, it’ll be there, taking up room in cyberspace.

Look at some of the biggest political YouTube or cable TV stars (they tend to be American or at least to focus primarily on American politics). Ben Shapiro is probably the best of the conservative personalities, certainly far more serious than conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones or culture warriors like Paul Joseph Watson or the execrable Milo Yiannopoulos. The less said about Tomi LahrenLauren Southern or Mike Cernovich the better. Various people have suggested Stefan Molyneux as a supposedly more serious alternative and the philosopher/podcaster does have his moments. But even this seems to be stretching the definition of “serious” somewhat.

Then you have political comedians like Steven Crowder who at least is funny, one of conservatism’s only solid answers to the leftist monopolisation of comedy – and Lord knows that we need a respite from the unbearable sanctimony of John Oliver, Samantha Bee, poor Jon Stewart replacement Trevor Noah and the pitiful Mash Report in Britain (Bill Maher is one of the few consistently funny and insightful left-wing political comedians). Sargon of Akkad can be quite funny when he gets riled up about leftist excess. And while they generally lag behind conservatives on YouTube, on the Left you have shows like The Young Turks (a growing horde of screechy social justice warriors and Bernie Sanders devotees) and a smattering of others.

(Dave Rubin also deserves an honourable mention as somebody who tackles controversial topics and interviews partisan commentators from both sides of the ideological debate in The Rubin Report).

Conservatives seem to dominate political YouTube, probably for the same reason that an older generation of right-wingers once took refuge in American talk radio – because their views were increasingly misrepresented, slandered, marginalised or ignored by the mainstream media. And today, far away from the reach – and the interest – of those Washington and Westminster journalists marinated in the same groupthink as the politicians they supposedly hold to account, conservative YouTube flourishes:

YouTube has thus provided a useful pressure release valve for the expression of a range of conservative thought, though even on this platform conservatives are now under threat, with demonetisation attacks threatening the livelihoods of content creators whose views fall outside the prevailing pseudo-liberal orthodoxy. But generally speaking, while Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr can be seethingly hostile to right-wing ideas, YouTube has allowed a large number of frustrated conservative and libertarian-leaning people to view and engage with a small number of brash, unapologetic conservative personalities.

But as conservatives disengage from regular media outlets, ceding more ground to the forces of the Left, we do ourselves a disservice. A bit of escapism into the ideological bubble isn’t always a bad thing, but it does become problematic when one spends too much time plugged into a partisan medium which can be both shrill and superficial.

As American conservatives flocked to talk radio and stopped consuming mainstream or supposedly objective news, their worldview became progressively more alarmist and conspiratorial. That’s why so many American conservatives still believe that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim, while opportunistic companies make a fortune selling gold coins, water filters and survival gear for people who have been slowly convinced that the apocalypse is just round the corner. With no centrists or left-wingers to call BS on their more outrageous claims, conservative media increasingly resembles an arms race to provide the most provocative and alarmist commentary in the hunt for viewers and listeners.

We on the Right correctly rail against universities for becoming little more than temples of social justice and identity politics orthodoxy, where dissenting opinion is relentlessly eradicated through re-education programs, trigger warnings and safe spaces. But we are no better when we retreat to YouTube instead of engaging with the world in all of its fallen, identity politics-soaked left-wingery. Our own outlook is in danger of becoming equally insular when we uncritically clap along as part of Ben Shapiro’s Amen Corner, preferring the catharsis of having our opinions confirmed to the rigour and challenge of debate.

It’s not that political YouTube videos are bad per se, it’s that they tend to be more partisan, superficial and sensationalist than print media and even television (though the gap with TV is lesser). A book can offer footnotes. An essay or feature article, knowing that it has its reader’s attention, can devote some space for context and nuance. A YouTube video, by contrast, has about five seconds to grab your focus before you click away, and must work hard to maintain your attention right through to the end. This inevitably leads to a certain reliance on zingers and soundbites which is actually not dissimilar to the grasping, disjointed way in which many media-trained politicians now speak.

The problem is that for political YouTubers (and other commentators whose careers depend on clips of their media performances being shared widely on that platform) success is measured in clicks, views and the number of times people share their videos accompanied by captions like “Bob McConservative just DESTROYED this stupid liberal on abortion” or “Dumb SJW accuses Righty McRightwing of being a fascist, instantly regrets it”.

For the viewer there may be a short-term emotional payoff in watching “Social Justice Warriors Get Owned In Epic Rant By Steven Crowder” or “Douglas Murray Schools A Muslim Commentator On Free Speech“, but the intellectual rewards of grappling with those same issues and ideas at a deeper level, usually in essay or book form, are more elusive and consequently less sought-after. It is human instinct to prefer the instant gratification of a cable TV or YouTube screaming match to the deferred pleasure of quiet, patient study, and YouTube was designed to deal up this addictive instant gratification, one video clip after another.

But this dynamic can be bad for the right-wing YouTubers as well as their fans. Those right-wing personalities who work increasingly or exclusively on YouTube as opposed to other more traditional (particularly written) media sometimes tend to lose their intellectual edge and become unable to sustain a debate at a more detailed, complex level of knowledge. In a recent column, Andrew Sullivan notes how Ben Shapiro came a bit unstuck during the Q&A section of his recent much-hyped speech at Berkeley University:

He was effectively pwned on at least two questions, climate change and abortion. One student asked whether a revenue-neutral carbon tax wouldn’t be both conservative in that it doesn’t require much of a bureaucracy, and prudent, given the possibility that climate change could be disastrous — and why not prepare for the worst? Shapiro said he’d never considered such an idea and needed to look at it further. Weak; lame. The idea has been banging around forever. And Shapiro can’t say whether he’s for it or not?

Then he was trounced by a liberal student on the question of why women who have abortions shouldn’t be prosecuted. If Shapiro believes, as he does, they have killed a human being, how could they not be? He dodged at first simply saying he’d prosecute abortionists. When pressed, he argued that many women have abortions without knowing that they are terminating a human life (they’ve been indoctrinated into believing a fetus is the equivalent of a polyp), and so you couldn’t prosecute them for murder or manslaughter because they don’t have the specific intent — the mens rea — to kill. But what, the student responded, about those women who absolutely do know what they are doing and still go through with it? Why not second-degree murder, or accessory to manslaughter, or some other charge. In any other circumstance, someone who plays an essential part in a killing would absolutely have to be charged, right? Shapiro retreated to an incoherent position that even though such women have committed a serious crime, in his view, no one wants to prosecute women for such a thing. But that wasn’t the question. The question was whether he should logically support prosecution. And of course he should.

Now, I’m not saying for a moment that I could or would have handled these questions any better. But you wouldn’t even know that the great Ben Shapiro had been (at best) fought to a draw on these issues judging by the triumphalist YouTube excerpts and subsequent online write-ups declaring that Shapiro had effortlessly dispatched with every stupid leftist opponent in the debate hall:

Shapiro undoubtedly has a bright and incredibly quick mind, but one cannot help but think that his abilities would be put to better use – and be at less risk of eventual atrophy – were he making some smart policy for the Republicans (Lord knows they need it) or writing for a publication which allows more depth, rather than preaching to the choir at his creation The Daily Wire. Even if you allow that Shapiro’s eloquence helps conservatism by bringing more people into the movement, which it probably does, these people are bound to be disappointed when the Republican Party and its diminished intellectual blood bank fail to generate policies which solve real problems in favour of striking cosmetic poses against former president Barack Obama.

There are others in jeopardy, too. Christopher Hitchens once said in an interview that Tucker Carlson (of all people) was a writer that he greatly admired, and that Carlson should not quit the field of writing in order to pursue his then-nascent television career. Now the Fox News host can be found taking easy pot-shots at social justice warriors in his prime-time nightly TV slot, and turning a calculated blind eye to the scandals and calamities emanating from the Trump White House.

Then there are the big beasts of yesteryear trying to reinvent themselves as viral video sensations. Ten years ago, Dinesh D’Souza could be found holding his own against Christopher Hitchens in a series of debates about religion, atheism and the existence of God. Today he makes hysterical conspiracy movies and rants on Twitter about how the Democratic Party is the true heir to Nazi Germany. D’Souza now chases the “Dinesh D’Souza DESTROYS ignorant liberal on gun rights” affirmation and resultant web clicks as his key performance metric, and his output has suffered as a result.

Carlson and D’Souza get away with their shtick because their primary audience of Fox News viewers and secondary audience of conservative YouTube subscribers give them a free pass for making intellectual shortcuts and uncritically lap up everything they say. Were they blogging or writing a regular newspaper column, however, they would find it somewhat harder to stand by some of their least defensible positions, and be forced to refine or discard the most controversial ones. But as video personas they are protected from serious rebuttals – by the time an opponent has researched, written and published a response to one of their videos, the YouTube star has already moved on to three other topics. No retractions (let alone apologies) are necessary or forthcoming when they are proven to have made errors or told falsehoods.

But this is precisely why D’Souza, Carlson & Co no longer operate primarily in print or written media – it has become thankless work, toiling away in a more rigorous medium and subject to higher standards and much closer scrutiny, when the fame, acknowledgement and most of the cash increasingly goes to those people producing (often far more superficial and reactive) video commentary.

Yet were it not for the beat reporters and public intellectuals who work primarily in print, many of the YouTube stars would be starved of half their inspiration and content. Like the megastar football strikers who are dependent on their midfielders to consistently feed them with goal-scoring opportunities, many of the fiesty conservative YouTubers would soon fall silent or become even more repetitious were it not for the journalists and thinkers providing them with a fresh source of rhetorical zingers.

None of this is to say that highbrow print media is necessarily better. In fact, often quite the contrary – the veneer of respectability abused by a charlatan working in the prestige print media can be infinitely more harmful than the ranting of the most popular YouTuber. Just witness how a concerted effort by the print media has normalised the term “undocumented immigrant” over “illegal immigrant”, deliberately downplaying the lawbreaking aspect.

But at least the mere act of writing for the New York Times or some other outlet, as degraded as many of them have become, forces one to go through the motions of laying out a coherent argument, which can then be publicly critiqued and picked apart by others. A five-minute YouTube video implying that Hillary Clinton has Parkinson’s disease, on the other hand, is harder to call out and refute even when it is unsupported by fact – and the people who watch the incendiary video are increasingly unlikely to also see the print rebuttal, and vice versa. The disaggregation of the media market, beneficial in many other ways, unfortunately means that we increasingly talk past one another and operate from entirely different sets of “facts”.

Social media is fast. This makes it great for hot takes and lively debates, but much less suited to the more ruminative consideration of ideology and policy. But is the allure of becoming a YouTube sensation (often as a launchpad to a career in cable news punditry) distracting people with the talent to make a more lasting intellectual contribution to the conservative movement? I would argue that yes, it is.

Many YouTubers are probably good for nothing more than ranting into their webcams every night, but some – again, I think of Ben Shapiro – could and probably should be doing something better with their time. Shapiro has the #1 rated conservative podcast in America (and hence the world). And that’s great. But somebody with his IQ and intellectual pedigree should be more than an Inquisitor for Socialist Wrongthink – they should be helping to formulate the conservative policies which might one day make the Republican Party worth voting for again.

I get the appeal of being a YouTube sensation though, just as I understand from personal experience the allure of watching these people perform rather than, say, cracking open a difficult book at the end of the day and engaging one’s brain. After all, it is tremendously cathartic to watch people you disagree with – whose fundamental worldview is deeply at odds with your own, and whom you find personally irritating – being rhetorically smacked down night after night, generally with the same unchanging set of workhorse conservative arguments.

But we should be wary. If leftists are allowed to complete their occupation of universities, popular culture and the prestige media while we skulk around on YouTube, their worldview will prevail. YouTube can remain our “safe space”, if we must have such a thing, but we must constantly be operating outside our comfort zone if we want to translate our ideas into policies and our policies into outcomes. Representing the YouTube constituency is not enough – we need an active presence in the places where decisions are actually made.

Right now this is sorely lacking. That a Republican congressional majority in America and a (theoretical) Conservative parliamentary majority in Britain have resulted in almost zero good conservative policies being implemented in either country only proves that ranting about the dangers of leftism (Sanders or Clinton in America, Jeremy Corbyn in Britain) is not the same as coming up with a compelling conservative vision with logical policy offshoots.

So how to effect this conservative renewal? The best thing I’ve done all year is to temporarily unplug from the internet, restrict my use of social media and return to tried and tested ways of learning and thinking – by reading books.

On vacation in Greece last week I actually had time to relax, unwind and read a number of books deeply and critically, rather than scanning them urgently, superficially and with the overriding need to produce a hot take, extract an argument or otherwise take a public position on their content. Instead, I lingered over each book and marked them up with comments and questions to be explored at a later date, and while there will be no immediate payoff for having done so, the gradual increase in the baseline of my knowledge should (hopefully) manifest in the overall quality and empathy of my writing. Recognising my tendency to choose saying what I think over thinking about what I think, it was important for me to flip that around for awhile and spend some time recharging the intellectual batteries.

But that’s just me, as a humble blogger. Those with actual power and influence will need to do more, and yesterday I blogged about one such attempt at conservative renewal in Britain. But while I am willing to be proven wrong, I do not believe that this renewal will come from the depths of YouTube.

Donald Trump is walking proof of what happens when someone is swept to the White House not on the back of a coherent conservative policy platform or a particularly inspiring vision, but by angry rants on YouTube and lurid six-way screaming matches on cable news. Yes, this fractious power base can deliver a majority (in the electoral college, at least) but once in power and tasked with being for something rather than against a list of real and imagined foes, nothing gets done.

For how long will Donald Trump boast about having put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, as though he himself trawled through endless lists of potential jurists, scouring their opinions and dissents in a personal quest to find the quintessential constitutional originalist needed by America? At this rate, Trump will be dining out on that solitary achievement until the end of his term of office – because no further accomplishments are on the horizon right now, that’s for sure. “Build the wall” worked great on YouTube and Fox News, where a policy consisting of three words (seven if you include “and make Mexico pay”) could not be easily picked apart and proved both pointless and unfeasible. But in Washington D.C., where things have to be paid for, policies justified and egos stroked, having the enthusiastic support of Milo Yiannopoulos doesn’t really count for much.

So by all means indulge in a little YouTube time when the mood strikes. It would be hypocritical of me to say otherwise since it can be darn good fun, and I have no intention of quitting altogether. But many of us, myself included, could probably do with dialling it back a notch – or at least seeking out the better quality lectures and debates freely available on that platform. The second-hand opinions of political vloggers are generally (though by no means always) worth less than the first-hand opinions of serious authors, and even a good book cannot compete with doing one’s own primary research.

But since this is the real world and none of us can become experts in everything, those of us with a public audience and the desire to help rather than hinder the conservative movement should at least ensure that we draw our knowledge from a healthier, more balanced information ecosystem.

So there you go: Sam Hooper TOTALLY DESTROYS political YouTubers, and it only took me 3,669 words.

Paul Joseph Watson - YouTube - InfoWars

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