Who Is Truly Marginalized?

Kevin Williamson - The Atlantic - When the Twitter mob came for me

The marginalization of people and the marginalization of supposedly harmful ideas are very different phenomena, and the continued existence of the former neither requires nor excuses the latter

Rod Dreher has a great reflection on his blog today about who and what viewpoints in our present society are truly marginalised. Unsurprisingly, he is of the opinion that the side which bleats the loudest about its vulnerability and powerlessness is, more often than not, actually the one which is not only ascendant but effectively dominant, wielding both the power to destroy nonconformists and an increased willingness to deploy that power for social and political ends.

Dreher quotes a powerful passage from fellow writer Kevin D. Williamson, who made much news this month for being first hired and then swiftly fired from The Atlantic because of previously-expressed heterodox opinions. Williamson writes of a journalistic panel event he attended at South by Southwest on the subject of marginalized points of view:

Which brings us back to that event at South by Southwest, where the Atlantic was sponsoring a panel about marginalized points of view and diversity in journalism. The panelists, all Atlantic writers and editors, argued that the cultural and economic decks are stacked against feminists and advocates of minority interests. They made this argument under the prestigious, high-profile auspices of South by Southwest and their own magazine, hosted by a feminist group called the Female Quotient, which enjoys the patronage of Google, PepsiCo, AT&T, NBCUniversal, Facebook, UBS, JPMorgan Chase and Deloitte. We should all be so marginalized. If you want to know who actually has the power in our society and who is actually marginalized, ask which ideas get you sponsorships from Google and Pepsi and which get you fired.

My emphasis in bold above. Note Williamson’s correct observation that the “advocates of minority interests” increasingly see themselves as persecuted underdogs, not just the minority groups on whose behalf they claim to speak.

Dreher goes on to give another example provided by a reader, all the more serious because it impacts a private citizen who is simply attempting to go about their daily life (as opposed to making a living by expressing opinions in the public square like Kevin Williamson):

True. This past weekend, I heard from a reader who holds a management position in a Fortune 100 company. The reader is a Christian, and is struggling because the reader’s company has been pushing its employees, especially at that level, to get involved in their community as advocates for LGBT inclusion. The reader, who is closeted as a Christian inside the company, has stayed very quiet, but the reader’s bosses are starting to wonder why the reader isn’t signing on. The reader is dealing with a serious medical disability, and cannot afford to lose this job. Understandably, the reader is really starting to get anxious.

[..] This Christian reader is at the mercy of this woke corporation. But as a traditional Christian, this reader will always and everywhere be the Oppressor in the eyes of this company, even though people with the views of this reader are powerless within its culture.

Dreher’s conclusion:

Williamson is on to a truly remarkable thing about the way the power-holders in our society work: their ideology allows them to tell themselves that they are advocates for the oppressed, and stand in solidarity with the marginalized, etc. But it’s a sham.

I think it is important here to distinguish between those on the sharp end of lingering prejudice and discrimination to a greater or lesser degree – groups which certainly include ethnic minorities, non-heterosexuals and those who place themselves outside what is now called the “gender binary”, but also other far less favoured groups like white working class boys, people whom it is not fashionable to pity – and those who experience blowback either voluntarily expressing their own opinions on social issues in the public sphere (including journalists and public figures) or in the course of their daily lives (people of faith working for corporations, etc.)

In the case of the former, reasonable people still ought to be able to agree that historically disadvantaged minorities still have it worse on aggregate, despite often-tremendous strides of progress and occasionally even surpassing parity with the “privileged” majority. The aggregate experience of most minorities in countries like Britain and America is significantly better than would have been the case just two decades ago, but it would be churlish to deny that the legacy of past discrimination and its lingering remnants do not have a disproportionate effect on those who are not white, male and wealthy (though we can certainly quibble over the degree).

Where it gets far more interesting, though, is who wins the “marginalization contest” when it comes to publicly expressing viewpoints or living one’s values in modern society. And here, I think both Rod Dreher and Kevin Williamson are right that the situation is almost completely reversed. When it comes to which worldview and values dominate our society (from the political and corporate worlds down through academia, high and low culture) social progressivism is utterly ascendant. More than ascendant, in fact; it has won the battle of ideas and done so without grace or magnanimity towards those it vanquished along the way.

When somebody like former Google engineer James Damore can be summarily fired from his job for publishing a controversial but eminently reasoned and defensible memo on Google’s hiring policies, it is not the supposed “victims” of his memo who lack agency, power or a platform to defend themselves. When so many prestigious and supposedly trustworthy news sources can casually refer to Damore’s “anti-diversity screed” without critically reading it or placing it in proper context, how is Damore the all-powerful oppressor who must be purged from society for the protection of others?

And when writers like Kevin Williamson are hounded out of their jobs by baying Twitter mobs before they even get their feet under the desk, and not once contacted by any of the major news outlets who extensively covered the story in order to seek his comment and version of events, how is Williamson the snarling ideological hegemon with his jackboot on the neck of the innocent masses?

This all points to a contradiction at the heart of the debate over social justice and identity politics which is often overlooked in the glib media debate: those traditionally considered vulnerable and marginalised minorities often do continue to experience an unequal playing field and have just cause for complaint, even while the most extreme elements of progressivism (fully unrestricted abortion, open borders, the imposition of radical new gender theory) are now established orthodoxy nearly everywhere that it matters. Or to deploy a military analogy, while many foot soldiers and protectorates of their movement continue to be pinned down by sporadic enemy resistance on the ground, they are also secure in the knowledge that their side enjoys total air superiority and that ultimate victory is all but assured.

One then has to ask whether it is right that the progressive air campaign is allowed to dominate in such a fashion. Many would glibly answer “yes”, and perhaps suggest (not unreasonably) that the right of a minority individual to be physically safe and undiscriminated against in the affairs of life far outweighs the rights of the newspaper columnist or blogger to express their dissenting opinion on social issues. As a rhetorical device this argument is quite effective, but it is also a deceptive false dichotomy. While social justice advocates may claim that dissenting speech is the equivalent of physical or mental harm, this is nothing but cynical, censorious manoeuvring on their part. Kevin Williamson writing for The Atlantic no more made anybody unsafe than James Damore’s respectfully-worded memo. To the extent that harm of any kind is suffered, it is entirely through the self-imposed mental fragility of the identity politics movement, which often takes grown people and renders them screechy, adult-sized babies.

As Rod Dreher notes elsewhere:

It’s like everybody just wants to be offended, and so offended that they become emotionally disabled, because that’s how they know who they are. I am offended, therefore I am. Not too long ago, to admit to being undone by the least little thing would have been seen as a sign of weakness, of feeble character. The man or woman who was able to endure all kinds of insults and threats to their lives — think James Meredith and Ruby Bridges — without desisting from their path were real heroes.

Now? The therapeutic mindset has triumphed so thoroughly that the faintest flap of a butterfly’s wing will cause an emotional hurricane within anyone who feels the air quiver. It’s the way to achieve power.

Ultimately, we need to be able to acknowledge that while discrimination against minorities continues and is appalling, that the victim status does not extend to those fighting on their behalf. A woke Hollywood A-lister with the power to direct his legions of social media followers to hound and destroy the livelihood of a working class citizen who expresses less than politically correct views or attempts to live out traditional values in their own life is no brave underdog – he is a bully. A corporate CEO who cuts short a vacation and flies home to summarily fire a diligent employee for making a thoughtful contribution is not a good corporate citizen – she is a mini tyrant, seeking to control her worker’s thoughts and actions with the same impersonal intensity as the industrial revolution mill-owner of old.

Victimhood is not transferable from those who genuinely suffer disadvantage to those who ostentatiously advocate (or posture) on their behalf. The sympathy or compensatory advantages due to somebody who suffers the barbs of ongoing racism or discrimination must not be appropriated by those who make a profitable cottage industry of fighting for “equality”. Yet this is precisely what currently happens, even though these two wrongs in no way make a right.

Censoring or otherwise persecuting those who dissent from the slightest aspect of progressive orthodoxy is not a just punishment for past discrimination against minorities, particularly when those doling out the punishment are among the most successful and privileged people in society. Destroying innocent careers or purging heterodox or dissenting viewpoints from the public square must not become seen as a valid reparation for society’s past sins.

Diversity

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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.

 

Law school - books and gavel

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A Semi-Partisan Christmas Appeal – Spare Change, Please

Santa - Father Christmas - blog pledge drive donations

It’s that time of year again…

As another busy year approaches its close, the time has come for me to pass around the begging bowl and ask that if you have read and enjoyed my writing and commentary in recent months, you kindly consider making a small contribution to the upkeep of this blog and to help support my work as a writer.

It gives me no pleasure to write these emails – with Christmas bearing down on us I know that everybody has their own priorities and distractions, and that money is often tight. However, I write this blog entirely as a labour of love, and the only income I ever receive for my writing comes through your generosity.

This has been another busy year for Semi-Partisan Politics. Overall output was slightly down on last year now that the excitement of the EU referendum is behind us, and there was a dip in overall pageviews too – though since many of my articles are now being regularly republished on other excellent sites (notably Country Squire Magazine, The Daily Globe and The Participator) I know that my words are reaching more people than ever before.

As always, it has been nearly impossible to get any kind of traction or recognition from the Westminster media, who apparently have all the time in the world to lavish you with attention if you dress up in a superhero costume and prance around in Brussels praising the EU, but then become incredibly imsular and myopic when it comes to acknowledging anyone who offers a perspective which differs from the traditional and expected Tory/Labour or Leave/Remain dichotomy.

As in past years, this blog has received far more attention from the American political media – much thanks, National Review! – than from anybody in the incestuous, back-slapping world of Westminster journalism. And given the likely future focus of this blog, that is potentially no bad thing.

I have had two overriding missions this year when it comes to my writing – firstly to publish a book about the intellectual and ideological decline of British conservatism, which is still very much in progress, and secondly to do something in my own small way to arrest that decline. The latter has manifested in my Stepping Stones 2022 project, still very much on the drawing board, but which I hope might eventually provide a useful framework for analysing the challenges facing modern Britain in order to arrive at set of coherent, mutually-supporting and politically feasible policies. Obviously this is not something that I can do on my own, and so I am seeking partners and have been in discussions with a few people – if you are interested in getting involved then please do let me know.

Anyhow, all of this activity takes time and effort. And if you are able to spare a small amount – either on a one-off or recurring basis – to support this blog and my ranting in general, then I would be most grateful if you could avail yourself of my PayPal tip jar:

There is much more work to do in 2018, when the battle for Brexit will reach a truly decisive phase – and as the battle for the soul of the Conservative Party looks set to begin in earnest. There will be much more to write and debate, and your generosity will help me to keep playing my part.

Many thanks to all of my readers and contributors, and to those who are celebrating I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Sam Hooper

Nativity - Christmas - Mary and Baby Jesus - J Kirk Richards

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There Will Now Follow A Brief Intermission

Intermission time folks

“I can assure you there is widespread resentment in the Party at your activities and a period of silence on your part would be welcome”               – Clement Attlee

A quick heads-up to all my readers that due to a Very Important Project this week and a trip to New York City to see my in-laws the following week, the blog will be going quiet for awhile.

I hope to have some new content up on Sunday (3 December) and then sporadically the week we are in New York, but full service will likely not resume until I return on 12 December. That being said, since I seem to be congenitally incapable of keeping away from Twitter for any length of time, if you do find yourself pining for my political ranting then head over to Twitter where I may still be lurking.

If you have not yet read my recent piece on discontinuity and what small-C conservatives need to do in order to position the Tory Party (and the country) for the future, please check it out here and let me know if you want to be involved in any future initiative which may spring from it.

In the meantime I leave you in the ever-capable and impressive hands of the independent political blogosphere, notably EUreferendum.com, LeaveHQ, Pete North, Oliver Norgrove and Lost Leonardo.

Sam Hooper

Time for the intermission - lets grab ourselves a snack

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The Battle For British Conservatism: Book Progress Update

Atlantis Books shop Oia Santorini Greece

A tedious race against time

As I mentioned last month, I am in the slow, tortuous process of writing a book on the challenges and future of British conservatism, based partly on my writings on this blog and augmented where appropriate with new material.

It turns out that writing a book is quite hard. Who knew? And yet a whole host of verifiable idiots seem to effortlessly churn the things out one after another; but then I suppose many of them have collaborators, researchers or ghostwriters. By contrast, my humble little book (much like this blog) remains very much a side-hustle, and one which necessarily takes third place to work and another significant ongoing project (details TBC) for the time being.

Right now I have a 30-page outline in Google Documents which is being sporadically worked on as I slowly transform terse bullet points, links to my past articles and stream-of-consciousness paragraphs into the final text. I hope to self-publish on Amazon and iBooks (or whatever else those young whippersnappers use, with their loud music and Pac-Man video games) by early in the new year, closer to Christmas if things progress smoothly. Maybe I’ll tweet it out in a 5000-tweet thread or broadcast it on SnapChat, who knows?

I can’t help but notice, as I set to work, that much of the UK political media has finally woken up to the fact that there might be something ideologically dysfunctional within the Tory Party, hence the sudden proliferation of “OMG the Tories have lost their way!” articles in all the prestige media and main political websites. Well done guys, it only took four years for you to catch up (ten years if we count Peter Hitchens as the pace-setter, which we probably should).

Joking aside, this is somewhat frustrating as I know full well that ideas first expounded on this blog (which I know is sometimes read by mainstream UK political journalists even if they almost never deign to link to me or re-tweet my stuff) will soon be appearing in rival books which have the backing of actual publishers and real distribution networks. And in a few short months, a bunch of self-satisfied hacks who only a few months ago could still be found praising the dismal, centrist Tory party to the rafters will be smugly sitting in television studios pontificating on how they were the first to recognise that something was wrong in Toryland. “Where did the Tories go wrong?” will likely be early 2018’s version of “So, Brexit happened” in terms of topical political book sub-genres ravenously pounced upon by the Westminster elite.

Therefore I find myself in a bit of a race to market against these guys, not because I will be remotely competing with them for critical acclaim or market share (I’ll celebrate if I end up selling fifty of the darn things and anybody outside my social circle pays the blindest bit of attention) but purely because I want the personal and intellectual satisfaction of getting my long-held ideas and warnings in print before the prestige media elite saunter along to claim insights first published on this blog as personal, original revelations of their own. Obviously there is a quality/speed trade-off at work, and I don’t want to release any old rubbish prematurely. But I also really, really don’t want to see Fraser Nelson’s Comprehensive Explanation Of The Conservative Dilemma staring down at me from a shelf in Waterstone’s before I have gone on the record myself. That would be significantly sub-optimal.

So I continue to work away on this project in the background. You may have noticed a new series on the blog called “The Battle For British Conservatism” (first article here), some of which will undoubtedly feed into the book (and which will hopefully feature some more interesting guest contributions), but other blog updates may be slightly more sparse for awhile as my energies are diverted.

In the meantime, it would be tremendously helpful to me if readers not already signed up for email updates could do so by signing up right underneath the Facebook sidebar on the right (if you’re reading on a smartphone or tablet then it may be waaaay at the bottom of the page). I will be using the blog’s hitherto-untapped mailing list to keep everyone updated on the book and offer a discount for readers – not that it will cost more than a London pint anyway.

In the meantime, if anyone sees Owen Bennett, Isabel Hardman or Tim Stanley hunched over a MacBook in Starbucks writing something vaguely similar, please give me a heads-up so I can stock up on Red Bull and pull the required all-nighters to beat them to the finish line.

Cheers!

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