Lack Of Empathy For Opposing Political Views Threatens Social Cohesion

Bob Geldof - EU Referendum - Brexit- Fisherman boat protest

The inability of the political and professional classes to comprehend or respect the political opinions of those from other backgrounds is nearly as grave a threat to our social cohesion as unchecked multiculturalism

There is a whole bucketload of truth in this piece by Michael Merrick, which should make uncomfortable reading not only for metro-leftist, pro-EU types, but even those of us in the so-called professional classes who do not subscribe to majority opinion.

Merrick discusses the differing prevailing cultural and political norms which exist among working class people (generally more conservative) and those in the urban professional classes (much more progressive), and the difficulty of bridging the gulf of misunderstanding between the two. This is particularly relevant when it is almost exclusively the professional classes who are charged with setting public policy, despite often having no real empathy with those whom they seek to reform or re-educate.

Merrick writes:

It is a long established truth that graduates tend to be much more liberal than their non-graduate compatriots. Indeed, since the referendum, plenty on the Remain have been quick to point out the education gap between Leave voters and themselves. The observation is innocent enough, though it too often contains all the smirk and subtext of that teacher from my youth.

Thus the graduate professions take on a particular character, with norms of outlook, of worldview, indeed of morality. The moral compass of the liberal outlook is distinct from the conservative, and these things split broadly over class, which correlates with level of education; these tribes value different things, draw lines in different places. But when the deck is stacked so heavily toward one over the other, the chances of any effort to comprehend the difference diminish whilst self-certainty proliferates. And liberals, contrary to assumption, tend to be as intolerant as conservatives, who have a broader moral outlook, though less understanding of the conservative viewpoint than the other way round. In a profession which is graduate dominated, and with graduate-level education so tightly correlated with liberal outlook, so we might see the roots of an important disconnect. Conformity to the norms of the in-group becomes the mark of the sophisticated, the cultured, the educated. And transgression comes at a cost.

As such, if you arrive from a working-class background shaped by these subversive norms, the graduate professions are not always a comfortable place to be. You must grow accustomed to the objects of derision and mockery being people like your family, those you grew up with, those you know and love. Whilst the derision might be delivered in the abstract – against a general viewpoint or unidentified Other – the barbs are felt personally. The word bigot, or any of its linguistic manifestations, is chucked about casually, but it hits specific targets, especially when it addresses a common viewpoint amongst those who comprise your upbringing. Those ‘xenophobes’ and ‘racists’ who voted Leave, for example, are not disembodied, theoretical people, but those who you know to be nothing of the sort, such as grandparents, who were always so loving and kind, and parents, who have lived a life of service to others, friends, who are decent and hardworking, the folks who live next door, the lady who you see at Church each week, the priest who baptised your kids. It becomes personal, and it jars.

But with public affirmation of in-group norms comes prestige –  in the echo chamber of social media, there is status to be acquired through the sassy, the rude, the downright spiteful to working-class folk with more conservative views, on immigration, perhaps, or crime, or Brexit. An army of followers giddily RT and ‘Like’ such comments, as if their articulacy were evidence of their truth and justification for their prejudice. Thus the motes are plucked out whilst the beams remain – the cultured despisers find in their intellectual superiority a justification of their presumed existential superiority, too.

This truth tends to sail over the heads of people who currently exist and always remained largely in the same social class and culture in which they were raised – how would they know any different? But Merrick, who gained access to the professional classes after being the first in his family to get a degree, is better placed to notice the gulf of incomprehension and unwillingness to empathise with the other side, having occupied both sides of the divide at various times.

And this can have a real impact in terms of public policy, as Merrick notes:

In our schools, this has real consequences – as I have explored here and here – creating a representation vacuum as a class of Anywheres seek to educate a generation of SomewheresPioneers against Settlers, with the former holding all the power and believing professional success consists in educating the latter out of the values and culture of their upbringing. Pupils from a socially conservative background, which often (not always) overlaps with a working-class (or religious) background, will at times find themselves at odds with the ethical and moral paradigms of those who educate them, a culture chasm always framed as simply a matter of education (or the absence of it). And so the cycle starts over, an abiding tension between home and school, since in this case to be educated is to leave behind what you hear and are taught at home.

But some do choose home. Not because of a lack of learning but because of a refusal to shed heritage and home as the participation fee. If we want to talk about why working-class kids are alienated from education, we could do worse than start a conversation there. That those who agitate so fiercely for social justice, and write and speak so piously about the disenfranchisement of the working class, should choose to studiously ignore this particular deficit, and indeed locate their own virtue in the perpetuation of it, tells us a lot about the intractability of the culture clash we accommodate.

“Anywheres seeking to educate a generation of somewheres” – that phrase resonates, particularly as the self-described Citizens of the World tend to assume that the only thing preventing others from embracing their worldview is their lower level of education.

I actually see a lot of myself in what Merrick writes. I wouldn’t know whether to describe my upbringing as working class or middle class. Income-wise, being in a single parent family on benefits, living in Harlow, we were very much working class. But thanks to other branches of the family that worked in professional or academic circles, I wouldn’t say that my social upbringing was that of the typical working class. I should also note that my accent was never the standard estuary accent typical to Essex, but rather that of my wider family – and in Britain, accent does so much to demarcate one’s class status.

I certainly remember being both aware and very ashamed of being poor when I was young, and keenly noticed the difference in lifestyle between many of my schoolfriends who came from working families – their Sky television versus our black and white television set, for example. To be clear, I wanted for nothing when I was a child and had a great upbringing rich in love and family and culture. But a child notices these things, and it is silly to deny that they influence one’s development.

And so, when I went to university I was probably overly keen to embrace the distinctly more upper middle-class lifestyle and tastes enjoyed by my peers – not that I ever fell properly into the working class mould because of our extended family, but because I was keen to explore new horizons which had previously been somewhat limited. I enjoyed being on the Entertainments Committee of the Union Society and wearing black tie to the weekly debates featuring famous names from British political and cultural life. I admit that I enjoyed having transcended the town, the culture and many of the people with whom I had grown up.

This continued into my professional life. Living with other young professionals starting their careers in London, I was happy to make jokes about chavs, or otherwise look down on those from less educated and less wealthy circumstances. I would sometimes crack jokes about Harlow and the people there (despite the fact that I had, and continue to have, friends living in Harlow to this day). I remember attending one fancy dress party in a chav costume, which I thought to be terribly clever at the time.

In fact, it has probably only been in the past five years, since I started blogging (and consequently reading and thinking a lot more about various issues) that I realise the deliberate nature of what I was doing as an adolescent and a young graduate – and how insufferable I must have been to so many people from my earlier life during that time. And it is only now, in the aftermath of the EU referendum and the enormous establishment hissy fit which continues to this day in response to the outcome, that I fully understand what Michael Merrick is saying and identify very much with his experience.

I have always felt that the best people to analyse or give commentary on a situation are those who have held both sides of an argument at one time or another, or been on different sides of an important wedge issue. Why listen to somebody like Owen Jones analyse politics, when he was raised to hate the Tories and simply continued on the same uninterrupted intellectual trajectory his whole life, the only difference being that he can now use longer words and quote academic sources sympathetic to his position? There is no personal growth there, nor any real empathy for the other side (the possession of which is the only real acid test of one’s own political philosophy) and consequently no real attempt to engage with ideological opponents. That’s not being an intellectual, it’s being a partisan shill.

Similarly on Brexit, why listen to some millennial writer who has only grown up knowing life inside the EU and accepting its unquestioned brilliance all the days of her life? What can such a person really add to the national conversation besides a whole heap of confirmation bias and sanctimony?

Now, I would never claim to be better than Owen Jones or Generic Millennial Remainiac Writer. But I can at least plausibly claim to have had my feet on both sides of the political and cultural divide at various times, having grown up holding the typical youthful left-wing opinions and then made a gradual move toward the libertarian or conservatarian Right. And even more so having been a staunch euro-federalist in my university days, to the extent that I hung an EU flag on my dorm room wall and sometimes insufferably wore an EU flag lapel pin, to rediscovering the vital importance of the nation state and becoming an avowed Brexiteer over the past five years.

Generally I find that the most productive exchanges take place with people who have not simply percolated in likeminded groupthink for their entire careers, but who have either personal experience of occupying the other side of the argument or at least made a sincere effort to reach out in good faith to those who disagree.

I was a socialist in my youth, and know many of the old arguments inside and out – but crucially, I also know through personal experience that many of those who still hold socialist views are good and decent people. I was a pro-European in my youth and know the entire case for European political integration backwards and forwards, yet despite having reversed my position 180 degrees I know that many of those who still hold these views are intelligent and honourable people. I hope that this knowledge of the opposing viewpoint and acknowledgement of the decency of those with whom I disagree adds a bit of depth to my better pieces of writing.

Unfortunately, this attempt to bridge the chasm of cultural and political difference is almost nonexistent among the political class – on both sides. Rising star Labour MP Jess Phillips openly admits to being “raised in no uncertain terms to hate Tories“, a fact which shines through in many of her speeches and television appearances. And the inability of many of those in the Conservative Party and the centrist, machine politics wing of the Labour Party to empathise with working class people is self-evident – a particularly shameful indictment of the Labour centrists, who now openly scorn a large swathe of their political base.

And this failure to empathise with different people has real world effects, like when David Cameron went marching off to Brussels to conduct his faux renegotiation with the EU despite never really having stopped to ask what the British people wanted out of it, and today’s Conservative government pursuing an idiotic and damaging approach to Brexit on the assumption that immigration is the overriding factor for most people when post-referendum polls (and a few conversations with actual Brexiteers) reveal concerns about sovereignty and democracy to have been the primary driver of Brexit.

We currently have a political class who at best arrogantly think they can channel working class opinion without ever really stopping to consult the people they think they are ventriloquising, and at worst simply don’t care at all about what a whole swathe of the population thinks and believes.

More worryingly, it takes an immense effort to overcome this gulf of misunderstanding – in my case it took over five years, and that’s despite having occupied both sides of the debate at different times, such is the zealotry of a convert to professional class norms – and the political class generally show zero aptitude for that kind of introspection.

Michael Merrick has done a great job of diagnosing the problem, but right now I fail to see a ready solution. The gulf of incomprehension is likely to get wider before it narrows.

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I Watched The Mash Report So You Don’t Have To

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The world of comedy is almost uniformly left-wing and progressive, especially on British television. But will new satirical show The Mash Report be brave enough to confound expectations and take potshots at everyone, not just conservatives?

When a friend first introduced me to British satirical news website The Daily Mash back in 2010, I lost two full days of productive work time, ravenously reading back through their archives and laughing until it hurt. At its best, the Mash is a very funny publication, and a worthy and uniquely British answer to the great American satirical newspaper The Onion.

After the Tories (kind of) won the 2010 general election it was inevitable that the Mash’s unforgiving gaze would fall more heavily on conservatism than it did in the dying days of Gordon Brown’s tragicomic administration, and that we on the Right would be subject to a lot more ribbing than before. That is as it should be – good satire should devote much of its energy to mocking and belittling those in power, and taking them down a peg or two. And Lord knows that the Cameron/Osborne/Clegg trio – and now Theresa May’s clown show of an administration – have given the Mash more than enough prime material.

Sure, if one surveys the overall output of the Mash in recent years one gets the clear sense that their “normal” – the political reference point from which any departure triggers satirical mockery – sits somewhere on the centre-left. But I never really had an issue with their output until the EU referendum, where the Mash firmly planted its flag with the Remain camp on the side of the powerful establishment, subjecting Brexiteers to every lazy insult in the book while making it clear that only Remainers could be deemed “normal” and allowed to be in on the joke.

As I wrote a couple of months ago, in exasperation:

The worn-out old stereotype of Brexiteers as scarlet-faced, tweed-bedecked retired colonels hankering after a bygone age is self-evidently false. It fails the common sense test – over 17 million voters opted for Brexit, and there just aren’t enough retired colonels out there to deliver that kind of result.

But rather than actually take the time to understand Brexiteers and work out what makes them tick so as to better lampoon them (humour, after all, is always better when it is closely observational), publications like The Daily Mash sit back smugly and fall back on the familiar narrative of grumpy old men hankering for empire.

And that, of course, is their right. Nobody has to read The Daily Mash, and despite Britain’s increasingly tenuous commitment to free speech they can mock and lampoon whoever they like, as should be the case.

But how much better would their comedy be – how much wryer and punchier their humour – if the Mash writers actually took the time to really get to know a few more Brexiteers (so as to at least make fun of them for the right reasons), or even (heaven forfend) turn that caustic wit back on their own side once in a while?

A reasonable request, I think, but one which the Mash did not heed. Since I wrote those words in early March, the Mash has doubled down on its Brexit mockery, letting numerous establishment cretins off the hook for their mistakes, evasions and foibles as its wittiest writers spend their time skewering the good-hearted but sometimes inarticulate people who dare to express their support for Brexit.

And now the BBC is launching a new satirical television programme fronted by comedian Nish Kumar, entitled The Mash Report. The idea was partly to transpose the successful Mash format from internet to television, but it is also a very conscious effort to introduce the late-night, US-style satirical show made so popular in America by The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight.

The British Comedy Guide trumpeted before the launch:

Nish Kumar will host the 10-part series, described as “an up to the minute, satirical news show”. Overseen by Princess Productions, it is being produced in conjunction with satirical website The Daily Mash, dubbed “Britain’s most popular original comedy website”.

Kumar has experience at hosting topical comedy, having previously helmed Radio 4 Extra sketch show Newsjack. He now presents Spotlight Tonight With Nish Kumar, a Radio 4 topical comedy which will end its current series next week.

Continuing:

BBC Two boss Patrick Holland says: “I am delighted that we are announcing this new topical comedy entertainment series from Princess. It is whip-smart, hugely timely and driven by some great new talent. I’d like to thank all the teams who contributed to the different pilots. The standard was exceptionally high, but we were drawn to The Mash Report’s blend of great satire allied with the surreal. It feels really innovative.”

It doesn’t take a genius to understand what the BBC’s Patrick Holland means when he says that The Mash Report is “hugely timely”. This is basically code for “Oh my god, what a dystopian age we live in now that Brexit is upon us, the Evil Tories are still in government and Donald Trump is president of the United States! Now more than ever we need a condescending new establishment-approved comedy show to fight back against the populist menace on behalf of the elites and put those Leave-voting troglodytes in their place”.

I hoped against hope that it would not be so. I did not want to be proven right – which is partly why I refrained from writing about the show until a couple of episodes had aired. But I can now officially say, having watched The Mash Report so you don’t have to, that it lives down to the very lowest of expectations.

The first anti-Brexit joke occurred three minutes and forty seconds into the show, after the opening pleasantries by host Nish Kumar (who channels John Oliver rather than Jon Stewart in overall tone). Now, one can’t be too angry about this one, aimed as it was at Boris Johnson, a man who is deserving of endless mockery. But still, this first jab confirmed some early suspicions and set the tone for what was to come.

The first identity politics joke – “I’m the first Asian comedian hosting a prime time comedy show, and now we’re coming for all your jobs! This is PC gone mad” (cue inexplicable delirious screaming from the audience) – occurred four minutes and fifty seconds into the show.

There then came a joke about the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games in the context of Brexit, pleading for director Danny Boyle to come and take over the Brexit negotiations. As footage of the ceremony played, Kumar intoned “This is the last time any of you will be happy!”. Yes of course, because watching North Korean-style propagandists prance around in nurses’ uniforms deifying a failed socialised healthcare system is deliriously fantastic, while seeking to reclaim democracy and self-determination, and make political leaders properly accountable to the UK electorate again, is just awful beyond measure.

There was then a short interlude while The Mash Report made fun of David Davis’ name, while Boris Johnson was implausibly described as having the “political outlook of a Victorian man”. Seriously? Have the Mash Report writers ever seen Boris Johnson? Clearly not – but they are in no short supply of lazy, sixth form-style anti-conservative put-downs.

In the same week – particularly given that much of the show is given over to quickfire, Have I Got News For You-style picture caption jokes – the Mash Report could have spent thirty seconds making fun of this hilarious cover of The Green Parent magazine:

The Green Parent cover

God help that baby, particularly because the socially conscious father seems to be preparing to attempt to breastfeed (#SomeMenLactate). But no. The Mash Report – and the BBC in general – know exactly who their core audience are, and which demographics must be coddled and protected from offence at all times (yes, trendy green types very much make the list). The Mash Report already knows exactly who to flatter and who to insult mercilessly without fear of blowback for the naked bias on display.

Later in the show we are introduced to the show’s “religious affairs correspondent”. Already you know exactly where this is going – and indeed, precious minutes were spent laughing at the most unhinged of US evangelical Trump supporters and interviewing a rather loopy-looking Church of England minister who claimed that Jesus would have voted to Make America Great Again.

But perhaps I am being unfair. Even though this first outing was spent skewering Donald Trump and the American religious right, I’m fully confident that in future episodes we can expect all faiths (and none) to come in for equally barbed and scornful criticism. Right? Naturally if Hillary Clinton were currently president, the Mash Report would be mocking the Left’s overenthusiastic zeal for abortion and eagerness to make incursions on religious freedom.

One might have thought that a brand new satirical current affairs show could have something to say about the way that politicians and misguided apologists dither and prevaricate while Islamist extremists mercilessly butcher and wound innocent people going about their daily lives. But no – tumbleweeds. Let’s just bash a few crazy evangelical Christians and call it a job well done. That’s surely the only job of a religious affairs correspondent on a national late night comedy show.

And yet despite these many failings there were a few genuinely funny moments in the Mash Report. The recurring feature parodying the way that 24-hour news networks are desperate to broadcast viewers’ observations sent in via social media was accurate and very well done. The show generally worked best when riffing on non-political stories, like the Love Island reality TV phenomenon. It was also good to see some of the familiar recurring Mash vox-pop names crop up – hi, Tom Booker.

But the format often felt awkward and strained, an uncomfortable hybrid between the whip-smart Daily Show-style interactions between host and correspondent in one moment and much more clipped, Have I Got News For You-style dry witticisms and fake headlines the next. Though the blend was new, ultimately there was nothing original in either style or content – particularly not the near-constant left-wing preachiness.

The closest that The Mash Report came from escaping the gravity of bien-pensant leftist groupthink was a segment entitled “Bursting the Bubble”, featuring rare conservative comedian Geoff Norcott. For a moment my heart filled with hope – titling the segment “bursting the bubble” suggested an acknowledgement that all that had come before was rather one-sided, and that maybe now things would change. But no. The mere fact that the bubble is left-wing while the exterior is right-wing says it all about the show’s deep-rooted bias. The country may be divided nearly 50/50 but the BBC and the Mash Report see fit to ghettoise conservatives into a four-minute slot at the end of the episode, much like Maybelle Stubbs’ monthly Negro Day on the Corny Collins Show in Hairspray.

And even Geoff Norcott proved to be something of a turncoat, choosing to play the role of performing seal for the ogling leftist audience rather than attempting to hit back and mock any progressive, left-wing shibboleths. For example, when discussing Our Blessed NHS, Norcott cited the fact that “people live” (rather than dying before old age) as a problem which vexes Evil Conservatives like him.

“The elderly, Nish – they should be dead by now. Just sitting it out, hanging on in there…” Norcott moaned to the show’s host, while the bovine leftist audience clapped gleefully as every single one of their anti-conservative prejudices were confirmed before their very eyes. How exactly is this “bursting the bubble”? If anything Norcott’s role in the Mash Report was more like Samuel L Jackson’s in Django Unchained, the obedient slave performing for Leonardo DiCaprio and hamming up the servile stereotypes as much as possible. The Guardian approves of his comedy act because he is willing to debase himself and play the Evil Tory stereotype. But any real conservative who watched Norcott’s first cringe-inducing segment on the Mash Report must despise the man. I certainly do.

What didn’t we see in the show? Well, there was nothing substantive about the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP or the Green Party for a start. Nothing about how so many of Jeremy Corbyn’s inner court have fallen over themselves to praise Venezuela in recent years, even as socialist policies pushed that country toward its current precipice. And you can be sure that all of these people will be largely protected from satirical scrutiny as the series progresses. If they are ever criticised it will be in the context of their ineptitude in thwarting the conservative agenda (whatever that may be) rather than because of the nature of their own beliefs.

But the show did go out with a bang, with a field report about a traumatised middle class family who – gasp! – had to ride the Megabus coach to London rather than travelling in the style to which they were accustomed. Again, nothing wrong with the individual joke – and to be fair, the Mash makes fun of Waitrose shoppers as much as they do people who buy their lunch at Gregg’s. But place it in the context of the overall show and the Mash Report’s emerging worldview is quite clear.

And so is the message about who this new comedy show is designed to amuse. Basically, if you are conservative, working class, a Brexiteer, a Christian, a social conservative, a traditionalist or (heaven forfend) a Ukipper then don’t bother tuning in unless you want to be the butt of every joke for twenty-six minutes, the only respite being the other four minutes where a two-dimensional cartoon parody of you cavorts in the guest seat, pastiching your sincerely-held views for the amusement of host Nish Kumar and his bovine left-wing audience.

In short The Mash Report is exactly as bad as I feared, and as you probably expected. What a letdown. What a squandering of comedic potential. What a great pity.

 

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Politicising The Supreme Court: A More Liberal SCOTUS Is Nothing To Celebrate

Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker salivates at the prospect of a President Hillary Clinton loading the Supreme Court with a bunch of zealous, ideological progressives:

For the first time in decades, there is now a realistic chance that the Supreme Court will become an engine of progressive change rather than an obstacle to it. “Liberals in the academy are now devising constitutional theories with an eye on the composition of the Court,” Justin Driver said. The hopes for a liberal Court will begin—or, just as certainly, end—with the results on Election Day.

Of course there have been times when conservative Republicans have bent the spirit or the letter of the law in pursuit of their own obsessions – cracking down too restrictively on voting rights stands as an obvious, shameful example. But liberal excitement about getting to stamp their mark on the makeup of the Supreme Court seems to extend far beyond merely righting these examples of conservative overreach:

The liberal wish list expands rapidly from there—limited only by the imaginations of law professors, advocates, and the Justices themselves. One possibility is that the Court might recognize a constitutional right to counsel in civil cases. (Currently, only criminal defendants are guaranteed legal representation.) In criminal law, the Court might adopt the idea, which Sotomayor has suggested, that the Constitution forbids incarcerating individuals who are too poor to pay fines. Several scholars have proposed a constitutional right to education, which might force increased funding for poor districts, or, even more speculatively, a right to a living wage.

These goals range from the worthy (no longer imprisoning people who are so poor that they have no prospect of paying large court fines) through the interesting-but-unworkable, all the way to the downright authoritarian and unconstitutional (a federal “living wage”).

But while the Supreme Court is the third and equal branch of government, activists on all sides of the political spectrum are playing with fire when they seek to co-opt the court to be an “engine of progressive change” (or resistance to that change) where they cannot muster popular support to achieve their goals through Congress or, if necessary, amend the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has long been politicised, and American democracy has suffered as a result. And while it may be wishful thinking that the tit-for-tat partisan drama will come to an end any time soon, liberals in particular should be careful. For their side is already ascendant or even victorious on many fronts in the culture war. Social changes which would have been unthinkable three decades ago are now a tangible reality – often a positive thing, sometimes less so. Seeking to gain the last 10% of their social objectives by turning the screws on American conservatives through the Supreme Court will only foster resentment and sow division.

Perhaps liberals genuinely don’t care. Perhaps they are fine with the idea of achieving their goals by circumventing the political process and pushing their “living constitution” interpretations to the limit of coherency. But there will be a backlash, just as there are always consequences when political elites of any stripe push stubbornly ahead with their agendas while forgetting to bring the country with them.

 

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Conservatism, Behind Enemy Lines

Rod Dreher reports on a fascinating (and depressing) exchange posted on the wall of Princeton professor Robert P. George, between Professor George and a closeted conservative colleague.

The recounted exchange is worth posting in full:

Closeted conservative colleague: “I don’t feel I can say what I think, at least not at this stage. I have a family to care for and other responsibilities, you know.”

Me: “Sure. I’m not criticizing you.”

CCC: “I’ve seen people’s careers ruined for saying what they think.”

Me: “I have, too. I’m really not criticizing you. I assume you’re following your conscience.”

CCC: “You say what you think and you’ve survived. But your the exception.”

Me: “I’ve been very fortunate. That’s true. But there are plenty of others. I’m not unique. There’s Harvey Mansfield, Hadley Arkes, Mary Ann Glendon, Jim Ceaser, and others. Even some people they’ve tried hard to destroy have survived. Mark Regnerus at the University of Texas, Austin,” for example. They threw everything they could find at him, every calumny imaginable. They tried to get him formally investigated and fired. But he has beaten them. I predict he’ll be promoted to full professor this year.”

CCC: “Yes, but there have been lots of victims, too.”

Me: “Yes. Alas. Lots of victims.”

CCC: “You think I should say what I think.”

Me: “I think you should follow your conscience.”

CCC: “That’s just your way of saying I should say what I think.”

Me:; “Look, as I said, I’m not criticizing you. Only you can discern the demands of your own conscience. I didn’t even bring this whole subject up, you did.”

CCC: “I know what you tell your graduate students to do. You tell them not to hide their politically incorrect views.”

Me: “Well, yes, I hardly hide my advice to them. They initially find it counterintuitive. Their natural instinct is to hide their dissenting beliefs or downplay them. I think that’s risky from a character point of view and also not the best strategy for success.”

CCC: “You ARE judging those of us who keep our opinions to ourselves, then.”

Me: “For heaven’s sake, I’m just saying that there is a certain moral hazard in not speaking your mind. As scholars, we’ve got a special obligation to truth and a vocation to truth-telling. Of course, everybody has a basic obligation to honor the truth, as best they grasp it, but our obligation is even more central to who we are. So, speaking for myself, I don’t see what the point of being a scholar is if we’re not willing to speak the truth as best we understand it. I mean, there are lots of other fields we could go into. We could be lawyers, or doctors, operate hedge funds. There’s the insurance business. Wendy’s franchises. Anyway, again speaking for myself, if I felt I couldn’t speak the truth out loud, I would abandon academic life and go do something else.”

CCC: “You’re not afraid to say what you think because you’ve been able to get away with it without your academic career being ruined.”

Me: “That’s exactly backwards. I’ve been able to get away with it because I’m not afraid to say what I think. Fear empowers the bullies. They’re far less bold and aggressive when they know you’re not afraid of them.”

CCC: “Well, I am afraid of them.”

What emotion do you suppose is primarily motivating CCC? I think that the answer is quite clear: terror. Sheer, unbridled terror at the thought of being purged not only from one’s current job but from one’s profession field altogether if one so much as questions the progressive, social justice/identity politics dogma which has descended on academia like a suffocating blanket.

Where else in history have we seen such terror, such fear of having one’s heretical personal beliefs exposed and punished by the state or the mob? It’s hard not to give way to hyperbole, but this is literally the stuff of Orwell’s 1984, or (back in the real world) Soviet Russia during the purges.

And for what? To bring about forced adherence to the new orthodoxy on gender identity, racial politics, climate change, immigration and any other left wing cause du jour. Left-wing academics and students have abandoned any glancing interest in persuasion as a tool, and have jumped straight to brutal enforcement. Some academic fields will take longer than others to fall under the jackboots of this new authoritarianism – the STEM subjects are still relatively free, the humanities dangle over the precipice while the social sciences have long since fallen – but all are heading in the same direction.

And this is why Robert P. George’s own stance matters, and is correct. Just as there can be no equitable accommodation with people who want to establish a fundamentalist Islamist caliphate across the West, neither can conservative academics and other defenders of free speech split the difference with the authoritarian, petty tyrants who are busy consolidating their control over the university campus. One either has academic freedom and the right to free speech, or one does not. There is either censorship and an ideological test for working in certain professions, or there is not.

The time for keeping one’s head down and trying to avoid trouble is over. Those of us who believe in free speech and unrestricted academic enquiry have an obligation to speak out in defence of those being persecuted or intimidated for their beliefs, today and in the future, whether we agree with the particular speech in question or not.

They can’t arrest us all and they can’t fire everyone simultaneously. Conservatism needs to make a stand, to boldly assert that it will not be intimidated and purged from academia without a fight, or without exposing the progressive, social justice cultists as the modern day tyrants that they are.

 

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What Became Of The Great British Progressive Majority? It Never Existed

BBC Challengers Debate - Leaders Debate - General Election 2015 - Nigel Farage Stands Alone

Turns out that pooling their strength and holding hands beneath a big progressive rainbow will not help Britain’s left-wing parties get back into power after all. What a shame.

Remember the Great British Progressive Majority, that overwhelmingly large (yet always infuriatingly hidden) bloc of centre-leftish voters who together wielded the power to lock the Evil Tories out of 10 Downing Street and government forever, if only they could be organised and persuaded to vote tactically?

You know, that vast conclave of redistributionist, environmentalist, identity politics-wielding, Big Government-supporting luvvies who supposedly outweigh the 11.3 million British voters who re-elected the Conservative government last May?

Well, no worries if you don’t recall the fabled progressive majority. Because it turns out that it doesn’t exist after all, and never has.

Guido reports:

This morning the centrist, cross-party Social Market Foundation held a well attended seminar headlined by Chuka Umunna, Nicky Morgan and Nick Clegg. It felt like a wake for the Labour Party. SMF claims – on the back of research from Opinium – that there’s no progressive left-leaning majority in the country – the majority of voters hold “traditionally right-wing views” that will guarantee a “healthy majority” in the future for the right-wing parties.

The wonks categorised voters’ attitudes into eight political tribes/parties that share very distinctive political views. Despite the majority of voters self-describing as “centrist”, most voters actually identified with centre-right and right-wing political attitudes.

But…but…but Nicola Sturgeon promised us! One can hear the wailing from trendy lefty dinner tables from Brighton to Aberdeen. And so she did. So did they all – Sturgeon, Nick Clegg of the forgotten “Lib Dem” tribe, Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood, the Green Party’s underwhelming Natalie Bennett. In the tawdry hunt for votes, all of these party leaders told the electorate that between them, they carried the votes to “lock David Cameron out of Number 10 Downing Street“.

The only one to object, as all of this unfolded, was the hapless Ed Miliband, whose votes these other parties were ruthlessly cannibalising. Miliband, still entertaining sweetly pathetic hopes of becoming prime minister, had no great desire to share power in a leftist coalition, to have moralising Scottish and Welsh nationalists perched on either shoulder, scolding him for his insufficient fidelity to socialist principles.

But Miliband need not have worried about sharing power. Between them, the main parties of the Left – Labour, the LibDems, Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Green Party – managed to accumulate just 13,102,483 votes in the 2015 general election. Meanwhile, the main parties of the Right – Conservative and UKIP – racked up 15,215,675 votes. This gave the parties of the Right an edge of well over 2 million votes, despite the fact that David Cameron’s lacklustre Coke Zero Conservatives hardly put a spring in people’s steps as they went to the polling station. Britain’s fabled progressive majority didn’t show up on polling day. And they didn’t show up because they don’t exist other than in the minds of starry-eyed leftists.

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If you have the time, the whole report – entitled “Dead centre? A review of the political landscape after the referendum” – is worth a read. Yes, it contains the obligatory sprinkling of shellshocked establishment wailing about Brexit, and is published by a think tank which claims to represent something (the so-called “radical centre”) which by definition can not exist. But the report nonetheless highlights the key reason why the parties of the Left cannot unite in opposition to the Evil Tor-ees, as many of their activists clearly want to happen.

Money quote:

On the whole, our analysis makes more cheerful reading for those on the right, than on the centre or the left. The two largest tribes, making up around 50% of the population, hold a range of traditionally right wing views, offering a solid foundation on which to aim for the 40-42% of the vote which normally guarantees a healthy majority under our electoral system. These groups share a desire to see immigration reduced to below 100k a year and were both solidly pro-Leave in the EU referendum.

In fact, of the eight different voter tribes identified by the report, “none of the other groups approaches the size or homogeneity of these two”. These two groups alone account for more than half the electorate, and are inherently distrustful of more leftist policies. Throw in a third tribe, the “free liberals” (perhaps including this blog) and you are looking at 57% of the electorate likely to be hostile to collectivist, redistributionist thinking.

If splits within the Conservative Party and between the Tories and UKIP look bad, that is nothing compared to the fissures on the right, according to the report. As Guido notes:

The progressive tribes are fragmented, disagreeing on openness to the world and attitudes towards the welfare state and taxation. This is bad news for the current Labour Party as the think-tank finds massive differences between so-called“Democratic Socialists” and “Community” party voter blocs – traditionally known as Labour supporters – while both tribes agree on socialist policies towards capitalism, they diverge on supporting the EU or having an internationalist approach.

Well, really it is just Labour that is fractured. The LibDems, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green party have all clearly decided to tread the internationalist, social democrat path, worshipping at the altar of the EU and scorning the nation state as a worthwhile agent for change or guarantor of core liberties. This leaves the Labour Party as the only home for those patriotic left-wingers who might fall into the “Community” tribe. And even there, they find themselves under continual assault by the sneering middle class clerisy which is loathe to give up its stranglehold on policymaking. Jeremy Corbyn answers some of this tribe’s concerns, but not all. In fact, one might consider him equally dissatisfactory to the “Democratic Socialists” as to the “Community” tribe, rubbing each up the wrong way.

Even if the parties of the Left could hammer out an uneasy truce and electoral alliance, why would they? Despite the overblown leftist rhetoric, Theresa May’s Conservative government hardly shows signs of being a radical right-wing government in the manner of Thatcher (more’s the pity), so why attempt a political merger which is almost certainly doomed to failure, just to thwart a very non-threatening centrist Tory government? Leftists’ hatred of the Evil Tor-ees is certainly irrational, but they are not that irrational.

Besides, whatever faultlines currently run through the British Left, the headline numbers don’t lie. And despite the fatuous claims of opportunistic smaller parties that greater Westminster representation would enable them to participate in a progressive majority government, the votes simply are not there. They never were.

Of course, none of this is surprising – except, apparently, to London-dwelling metro-left members of the political class who never actually get out and talk to normal people. Anyone who actually does so knows that Britain remains a vaguely conservative country, shot through with a fairly strong authoritarian streak and a deeply ingrained suspicion of success.

We Brits will happily sign petitions for Things That We Don’t Like to be banned and made illegal (the authoritarian bit), light ourselves on fire outside Downing Street in protest at The Great British Bake Off moving from the BBC to Channel Four (the conservative bit) before going on a long, satisfying rant about how evil it is that the inventors and producers of that television show want to receive market-rate compensation for their creation (the suspicion of success). That’s just who we are as a country. I certainly didn’t need the Social Market Foundation and their “eight tribes” report to know that Britain is a small-c conservative country.

That’s why David Cameron was able to guide his wishy-washy, Coke Zero Conservative government to one and a half general election victories – by appealing to these instincts in us. Lord knows it wasn’t because we were excited about his agenda for government (whatever that may have been).

Anyone who pays the remotest bit of attention to British politics ought to be able to sum up our national character fairly succinctly in a manner such as this. In fact, the only ones unable to do so – who laboured under the hilarious misapprehension that there was some great progressive majority yearning to break free and assert itself, installing a wind turbine on every roof – were the deluded metro-leftists.

Perhaps now they can disenthrall themselves of this sweet but futile notion.

 

Postscript: This review of the report in Conservative Home is also worth a read.

 

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