Occasionally I sit and mourn blogging of the old style—you know, before every journalist and his dog started doing it, before entire startups were founded on the idea that what people really need these days is MOAR CONTENT (yeah, looking at you, Buzzfeed)—but then some Johnny-come-lately to the party pings my radar and I remember that, oh! it’s just my own blog that has wheezed itself into its deathbed.
Sorry about that, youse guys.
So first a tribute to those who have persevered beyond what my meagre capacities have been able to sustain: Tim Worstall, Anna Raccoon, Longrider, Leg-iron, Ambush Predator, Counting Cats, Dick Puddlecote, Samizdata, and many, many others too numerous to list here but whose insights, contempt, and swearing have brightened up my days even as I’ve failed to return the favour.
But who would have imagined how many noobs might also be coming onto the scene, arriving at blogging a decade after it was new and fresh, and yet bringing something old and much-missed with them? Namely, the return of that well-reasoned, open, and non-partisan (dare I say it) dialogue that obtained between right and left online before the politicos realised the series of tubes and self-publishing were ways to rock the vote.
Many of the few of you who still check this blog for updates will have sat stunned and full of schadenfreude at the reaction from the left after the recent general election. You will have marvelled at practical ethicists who purged Tories from their timeline. You will have nodded and smiled alongside Squander Two. You will have wondered what all the weeping and wailing was about when Dan Hodges had it right all along.
But how many of you will have read a 5-part, multi-kiloword series on where, exactly, it all went wrong for the left, written by a leftist?
Allow me to introduce you to Wild and Whirling Words.
Modern left-wing arguments are all too often bad: they are weak, and they are bad-tempered. Why is this? Why are so many left-wing people making such poor, self-defeating arguments despite being overwhelmingly intelligent and well educated? And why, furthermore, with such rancour that the once reliable notion of the ‘nice’ left and ‘nasty’ right is increasingly obsolete?
First off, two premises that will apply to everything that follows.
No good cause can be well served by a bad argument. Why not? Because any cause requires common purpose between oneself and others. To pursue common cause arbitrarily (‘it’s a good cause, and that’s all you need to know’) or coercively (‘pursue this good cause or I hurt you’) would offend our dignity as reasoning human beings acting according to our individual consciences. So any cause pursued by arbitrary say-so or coercion would cease to be a good cause. A truly good cause must therefore be communicable and shareable, and for this we need arguments that demonstrate the goodness of the cause clearly, rationally, and convincingly; that way, other reasonable people could agree that the cause is indeed a good one.
No society can call itself decent that makes difference of identity alone, or group belonging alone, the grounds for legal, political, cultural, social, or economic inequalities. If we can assume that we all feel ourselves to be as human as everyone else, and that we are (with the exception of those who are unwell or impaired) reasoning human beings acting according to individual conscience, then any laws, policies, social conventions etc. that make us less than that, by reducing us to a group label, must be an affront to our basic dignity, and must therefore be bad.
Having clung far too long to the rule of thumb that Tories are nasty and lefties are nice, niceness and nastiness have become integral to the modern leftist’s definitions of left and right-wing politics respectively: to be right-wing is to be by definition nasty, to be left-wing by definition nice. They have made an ontological error – a whopping big one.
What do I mean by this? Consider – the modern leftie might entertain misgivings that his name-calling, love of denunciation, prejudice etc. are actually a bit nasty, but if they are then he is in contradiction, because as a leftie he is by definition nice and not nasty. Now he knows he is a leftie because he calls himself one – that hasn’t changed – and he knows too that if he is a leftie then he is nice. So how can the nasty behaviour fit in to this without contradiction? A solution to the contradiction follows irresistibly: by a process of elimination, it must be the case that his actions are in fact not nasty after all, and that therefore it is acceptable to name-call, to denounce, and to entertain prejudices. Not just acceptable, in fact – nice. Hence, I suggest, the perceived justness of all this increasingly rancid behaviour.
Consider: to fight discrimination we must believe that fighting discrimination is the right thing to do, because it alleviates inequality – we must aspire to do it, and we must actually do it. If, however, we must prejudge every remaining instance of inequality as being the result of our society’s badness, of its racism and sexism, then we must also have an automatic belief in our badness, our biasedness, in our failure. Not just the failure of our well-meant attempt to do right, but our moral failure. We end up condemned to a cynically contradictory double-think: let’s do good by fighting discrimination while all the time being prepared, as a matter of principle, to believe automatically in the failure of our attempts to do good. A sense of moral worth, of doing the good thing by fighting discrimination, must motivate us, but we must also believe as a matter of principle that this moral worth is instantly negatable. How can something so negligible serve as the motivation for our actions?
If the exclusion of black Americans is bad, how could we possibly remedy that exclusion by creating, as the left do, another exclusion in which black Americans are accorded a separate moral and legal and political status? How could this ‘gift’ of a double standard, by which black America is cut some slack, be anything but a poisoned chalice?
We know, surely, that this is a bad idea. This whole problem was caused by segregation and double standards, and it is clear that nothing has changed such that, this time around, it would be a good idea to have a legal and political system determined by double-standards based on racial difference. Moreover ethnic minorities would almost certainly end up being the victims of such a system. Isn’t the modern leftist making race as dangerously determinative as the racist ever did – making Ferguson’s citizens black first and citizens second?
The inky thumbprint of crit[ical] theory can be found all over the arguments of the modern left, particularly theorists’ insistence on the politicization of everything: once you adopt the licence to insinuate political ‘assumptions’ to any and all forms of thought, there ceases to be much point in actually asking people what they think and what the premises of their arguments are. Why bother, when assumption does just as well? Imputation is one of the main analytical tools of critical theory.
And why bother with reasoning, with uncovering premises, with testing arguments, when reason, truth, logic, ‘rational argument’ are nothing but political constructs? With my background and my education I am exactly the sort of person likely to use these constructs, which can be seen as nothing but tools for denying the plurality of truths, with the ultimate socio-economic goal of excluding from discourse the textual subjectivities of those whom I consider ‘other’.
There you go: a small illustration of how easy it is to come up with this rubbish.
If you’ve been bored to tears with what passes for discourse amongst our lefty counterparts, I urge you to read the whole series. Not everybody on the left is satisfied with nodding and smiling.
Check out these bonuses as well: Why there has to be an EU referendum, and if like me you’re an ASOIAF nerd in withdrawal, also these: Winter still has not come – pt. I and Winter still has not come – pt. II (if you look at the URLs, apparently the original title was “Winter is Coming – TBC”, lol).