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Rather philosophy than psephology, this time. - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
Rather philosophy than psephology, this time.



It has been an odd fortnight inwith as well as outwith fandom, from SUP to, well, nuts. 


It is astounding, appalling, unfathomable, that the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel should coincide with the disturbing results of the Italian local elections, the BNP seat in the GLA, and the Kristallnacht-RPG vileness.  Once again, the Jewish people are fulfilling the function of the canary in the coalmine, and once more, there is something ominous in the air.


Indeed, the past month, and the past fortnight in particular, want careful analysis; and these unanticipated Bank Holiday musings of a philosophic nature, do in the end lead back to the psephological issues I had intended to explore, and which I shall explore in due time.


Let us look first at what has happened online, in our own odd little community.


  • A self-identifying conservative has complained of hate speech.
  • There has been outrage over the immodest suggestion of some damned fool that women’s sexuality should be demystified by a good nonsexual grope session at the next AGM of whatever fandom the damned fool is in.
  • A group of Potterfen thought it an excellent lark to label a new RPG – which, in this context, does not refer to a rocket-propelled grenade – ‘Kristallnacht’.  No, really.
  • Many fen have reacted to Labour’s debacle in the elections and, especially, to the election of Boris Johnson as mayor of London.


Now let us look at these matters more deeply.


Hate speech.  The speech in question is in the form of dialogue in a Potterfic.  It almost certainly, in this case, does represent the writer’s own views.  It is a disobliging attack upon Christianity generally and the Roman communion specifically.  It is puerile, ahistorical, and means to give offence.


Yet I, at least, as a conservative (and a Conservative) should be very uneasy in branding it as ‘hate speech’.  Why?  Because I distrust – profoundly – the notion of ‘hate speech’ and the mire whence it comes, that of the Left’s worldview.  To the conservative mind, to label a thing is not to engage it nor yet to refute it: such labelling is au fond an emotive reaction and it is most assuredly not argument.


Gropefest.  I may as well say at once that the proposal – perhaps I had rather say, ‘proposition’ – that it would be a nice healthy thing for the next con to have a panel in which writers bare their breasts in a wholly non-metaphorical sense, leaves me horrified: not only as a matter of sanity, let alone politesse, but also because I am one of those gay men who can engage with women very well so long as I am not forced to consider them as being at all sexual persons.  That’s not misogyny, that’s a Quentin-Crisp-y cringing at the very idea of seeing their bits.  I have always been able to comprehend the feelings of, even as I reprehend any resulting biased action by, those heterosexuals who admit to being revolted by the very idea of gay sex, because there is a level at which I am viscerally caused to ‘come all over queasy-like’ at the thought of what the non-bent get up to in bed. 


Yet what is important, of course, is to analyse and argue, to respond and not merely to react.  And of course, this is really quite a simple issue.  The arguments that might be made in favour of ‘demystifying the breast’ or whatnot would be, if made, rather familiar ones, about the transcending of binary constructs and all that redbrick SCR shower.  But I advert you to the fact that these arguments were not really made, and to the fact that the reactions to this inane notion were largely emotive rather than forensic.  Chuffed as I am to the fact that this suggestion caused a reaction in favour of modesty and common sense, I cannot say I have been impressed by the tone of the debate, if one can call it that.  ‘We are all rapists, yes, even you fookin’ poofters over there’ is the least of the outré statements made, with a sort of religious fervour, in crying the idea down.  Still more astounding is the way in which people who two days before were arguing that sex and gender were constructs, have reacted to the idea that they bare rather than burn their brassieres.


Damn it all, I’ve been in places in which a prominent part of the social dynamic was to have one group take their shirts off for the delectation of another group – who would doubtless be considered to have the whip-hand in any analysis of power dynamics by any passing academic sociologist or anthropologist – and in which the most extreme demystification of the chest and the arse was being conducted.  These incidents also as a rule involved glitterballs, bad music, a defiance of weights-and-measures by the bloke behind the bar, and, quite often, cocaine.  There is of course a name for these places: gay bars or clubs.


The behaviour accepted and indeed expected at a gay club, naturally, is precisely not that expected at formal hall, say (although I can name many dons who should be delighted if it were); and that is rather the point.  The conventions have their utility after all, to the consternation of their detractors, now suddenly shocked by a proposal in bad taste and left with no better ammunition to decry it than by resort to jargon about power and body-ownership and privilege (used, sadly, as a verb).  Reason and manners were better guides.


The unspeakable RPG.  Reason and good manners had been a better guide here, as well.  For if you look at some of the reactions and counter-reactions to this shitty little bit of provocation, you will find some very unpleasant things said by very well-meaning people (and some not at all well-meaning ones), ranging from the suggestion that, so far as one treats the Holocaust, Shoah, as unique, one is ‘privileging’ it above other genocides, to the helpless admission, several times repeated, that ‘I don’t feel I can judge’.  Note that, please: ‘I don’t feel that I can judge’; for it is once again feeling rather than reason, logic, that is invoked, just as it is once again the a-rational tropes of current academic discourse that turn up to diminish the singularity of the Holocaust in order that no one be ‘privileged’.  (It is likewise in the tropes of current academic discourse that achieving status as a ‘victim’ is the great prize to be sought.)  Sadder still is the extent to which the usual Leftist thought-drones repeat the current hive-mantra of Jew-hatred and fashionable anti-Israel reaction, determined to create a factitious moral equivalence between the State of Israel and the Third Reich.


Dave and Boris.  Some people on my friendslist have reacted – not, I would regretfully submit, responded – to Labour’s thorough kicking and the deposing of Red Ken, not with argument, but with statements of emotive content (despair and anger, to be precise) that resemble nothing so much as the denizens of Animal Farm bleating, ‘Four legs good, two legs bad’: and these are people for whom I yet bear the greatest respect and affection, not only for their characters but also for their formidable brains.  What, you may ask, is going on here?


What I am not seeing, in all these cases, is much argument, and what there is, is facile and fallacious in the main.


What we are seeing, in fact, is another spasm in the long death of reason.  Perhaps this is especially evident as politics become increasingly presidential and thus a matter of personalities, in the US fashion: it has been fascinating, in an unpleasant sort of way, to watch the US Democratic Party tear itself apart over a collision of identity politics, yet it is more horrifyingly fascinating to watch as Mrs Clinton tries to become a man – yes, man – of the people, downing whisky in pubs and praising stock-car racing (look it up).  I am waiting for her to begin chewing tobacco and spitting in public.  And of course there are irrational, emotional, and tribal motives in all politics, not least in British politics.  Yet it seems to me very ominous indeed that, confronted with the most obviously bad or appalling ideas, so easily argued down, the most common reaction is to start spouting feelings and emotions and appeals thereto – and mere jargon.


Perhaps it is a symbol of a deep unease with and unwillingness to engage in argument that drives the current use of labelling as a means of boxing subjects up and setting them outside the pale of discourse.  Well, we can all of us now see what good that’s done.


Surely we can do better than this.  Indeed: insofar as the current approach leaves conservatives buying into the Left’s lexicon and all that comes in its train, and the Left unable to confront, with intellectual honesty, conflicting emotive claims wrapped up, like fleeing squid, in ink-clouds of nonsense that hold that all views are equally valid and to say otherwise is to privilege-as-a-verb one narrative – even of the Holocaust – over another: ah, indeed, we must do better.  I trust that we can do?


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42 comments or Leave a comment
fpb From: fpb Date: May 5th, 2008 09:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
As the person who started the "hate speech" stuff, I would like to point out that the choice of that expression was to some extent provocatory. I knew the kind of fauna I would be dealing with, and I deliberately appropriated one of their own battle cries. As someone who is no doubt a favourite of yours used to remark, they don't like it up'em!
velvet_tipping From: velvet_tipping Date: May 5th, 2008 09:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Was your intent to provoke or to get people to listen?
fpb From: fpb Date: May 6th, 2008 04:24 am (UTC) (Link)
I never did imagine that that lot would listen. At the very least, they would never admit anything to me. And the event proved me right. But because of the way I had started the debate, they were evidently embarrassed - the author even referred to her passage, in someone else's thread, as a "youthful folly".

Edited at 2008-05-06 04:25 am (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
tiferet From: tiferet Date: May 5th, 2008 09:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm personally disinclined to say, though, as many of the people on my flist who lean further left than I do, that every single time someone wails they've been done a serious injury which must be at once apologised for and never repeated. Sometimes people wail because they know it will get them lots of attention. A discerning critical response enables you to tell the difference. (Unless you're of the opinion that only oppressed people are permitted to have an opinion, which I am not.)

As for the OSBP the great beauty of it is that even those who disagree as to why it is wrong and stupid and ugly can all agree that it is in fact wrong and stupid and ugly. It was nothing if not a greatly uniting factor :)

Edited at 2008-05-05 09:50 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
fpb From: fpb Date: May 6th, 2008 04:34 am (UTC) (Link)
I would point out that I never expected JL Matthews/ms_katonic to apologize for anything. The purpose of my denunciation was to bring out how hate-ridden, prejudiced and above all IGNORANT her tirade was, and that it was clearly intended as a statement of indubitable fact. That she would ever apologize for it, let alone change her mind, was not either my intention or my hope. I intended to put down a marker - hic sunt morones. By the same token, I clearly said that I did not want the offending passage deleted or altered. Let it stay up in all its glory, so long as I and anyone else with things to say about it can say them.

Edited at 2008-05-06 04:36 am (UTC)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 6th, 2008 01:50 pm (UTC) (Link)


This is precisely the intellectually sloppy rubbish that we both of us have no use for, this idea that to claim injury is to have proved it, that claims of injury are to be shielded from critical examination, and that 'only the "oppressed" are entitled to opinions' (the whole preliminary and underlying issue of 'oppression' is another matter that wants serious critical review, as it happens). You are as incisive as ever.
fpb From: fpb Date: May 6th, 2008 04:27 am (UTC) (Link)
So it is your view that the male lust for female bodies is a social construction?
tiferet From: tiferet Date: May 6th, 2008 07:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Gender isn't the same thing as the physical sex of the body. It often is, but it doesn't have to be.
tiferet From: tiferet Date: May 6th, 2008 07:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Also keep in mind that many men don't actually lust for female bodies. Our gracious host most certainly does not.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 6th, 2008 02:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

This deserves so much more of a reply than I quite dare to give it.

You see, I quite like you, and I very much think you've a superb brain and the makings of a scholar. What I don't know is how far I can point out the way in which your discourse is being ruined by your professors, without seeming a brute.

I shall try. Please believe me when I say that I am obliged for your comment and do, truly, think very highly both of your mind and your character.

That being said....

I am afraid, quite frankly, that your university is engaged in ruining you as a scholar, at your expense. If I understand correctly, you are reading Classics in some wise; if I recall, it was in your blog that I first discovered that American professors actually conducted Maoist self-criticism sessions in which the cleverer and more outspoken undergraduates were implored to dwell upon how wickedly they were oppressing the dullards and 'privileging' themselves over them by daring to ask questions and engage the dons and pursue an actual education. (If this was in someone else's blog, the point still stands.) This is indeed the Death of Reason. I can only assure you that one cannot imagine this befalling an undergraduate reading Greats.

I do truly believe that, were you getting an actual education in Lit. Hum. at a real university, or even at that place in the Fens, you would be a very good prospect for a good Second. Perhaps even a First, although with Greats, one never knows. You would certainly not be being encouraged to waste your time in gazing intently at the fluff in your own navel. Not even that woman at BNC - Olympia Bobou, isn't it? - but I digress.

The point is, Look at what they are doing to your very discourse. 'Still, you do seem to invalidate people's emotional reactions, by invalidating the appropriateness of their expressing those reactions in a public way'? I'm not altogether sure what that means, and what pains me is to realise that you may very well not be sure, either. How can I, by statement or otherwise, validate or invalidate anyone's emotional reactions? This is candyfloss language, spun sugar used to conceal thought. We can concern ourselves, if we must, with 'emotional honesty' after we have first managed to achieve intellectual honesty, at which point the emotions may, I submit, be seen hardly to matter at all. (I admit, I am not perhaps being altogether fair to neurotypicals in saying this, but let it pass.) It is the lack of intellectual honesty that I note and deplore in the statement for wh you take me to task regarding the proposition - one I find no warrant for - that sex and gender are social constructs, and the way in wh those holding that view react as if stung to the ferret's silly (and, withal, vulgarly obscene) suggestion. It is quite literally 'the WAY in which they reacted' that I contemn. And of course this whole ... construct ... of 'power dynamics' is rubbish also.

So of course my main objection is to the way in which emotional appeals are used in (place of) debate: appeals to emotion are an ancient fallacy, one a faculty of Classics ought to be teaching. You have such a fine mind, and such a potential to become a scholar: it pains me to see how an American education is compromising that. And the precise way in wh it is occurring, and its effects, are precisely the - damn it, there's no good way to say this, is there. The form yr argument takes, although much ameliorated by yr innate sense and intelligence, reflects that baleful Yank approach to education, and is thus a lighter version of the form of argument, with its jargon and emotive appeals and all that rot, that I was and am condemning. This is no fault of yours; but it must be resisted.

Again, I apologise if my asperity seems directed at you (that was a mild Asperger's pun, I note); it isn't. But the tendency of thought with wh you have been infected by American education must be reprehended wherever found, and I think it criminal that you have been infected with it, when you cd do so well.
tiferet From: tiferet Date: May 6th, 2008 06:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Still, you do seem to invalidate people's emotional reactions, by invalidating the appropriateness of their expressing those reactions in a public way, often in public fora (you don't specify whether the contexts are all comms, or personal journals as well)

I don't think saying "it's not appropriate to say that in public" is the same thing as saying "it's not appropriate to feel that way."

In fact the conflation of the two does a great deal of emotional damage. My mother used to insist to me that I did not feel the way I knew I felt. It would have done me a world of good and improved our relationship immensely if she could simply have said, "This is the sort of thing we should discuss in private; wait until we get home and then we'll explore it," instead of telling me that I did so love people I knew I didn't love, which confused me quite a bit as to the nature of this "love" thing.

I think you're hearing "it's wrong" when people say "it's not appropriate". Part of the reason for that is that people in our society shy away from saying "it's wrong" and say "it's not appropriate" when they mean "it's wrong". But "appropriate" doesn't have to mean "right". There are a lot of other reasons an action can be appropriate or inappropriate.

There are a lot of very good reasons not to get too emotional in public. The most important of them is, of course, that when you are emotional you are vulnerable, and easily wounded. You are also not thinking clearly and are liable to say things that confuse the issue, insult people, betray your own baser motives (we all have them) and are generally counter-productive. (It's important to note here that I'm overcoming some of my own education here; I still make the mistake of ranting in public from time to time, even though I know better--so when I say do as I say and not as I do, it's because I aspire to better behaviour than I sometimes manage, not because I think I have the right to do things that you shouldn't.)

Think of all the times you've seen someone get hurt in an argument (emotionally) and not disengage from it, and then go on to say something phenomenally stupid in public that gets repeated all over creation. I know this behaviour is sometimes called "showing your ass" in the context of public accusations of racism, and the vulgarity's not wholly out of place; when people get upset, they expose themselves, and then you've got the more strident factions saying "that's what she's really like" when in fact that's only what she's like when she feels cornered because a thousand people are yelling at her at once, and her friends are all telling her that they're oppressed and therefore have the right to behave that way because they're hurt, never mind if they also aren't somewhat undraped.

Edited at 2008-05-06 06:02 pm (UTC)
blamebrampton From: blamebrampton Date: May 7th, 2008 11:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Too tired to catch up on the first few contretemps, but observed Ken and Boris with interest from sunny Sydney (especially since I have vague ideas of moving home in the next few years).

I don't mind Boris at all, and actually think of him as something of a throwback to the glory days of Conservatives when public service and greater good were still values that meant something. What was interesting was to see his shift from erudite but slightly bumbling to very quiet and slightly noddy. Lynton Crosby, j'accuse!

I have hopes that Boris will be back to normal shortly, that cycleways will be spread across the city and that hot young men in lycra will thrive, that public debate will be filled with interest and that stupid commentary will be met with a withering "Oh for God's sake, why are you still breathing?"
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 7th, 2008 01:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

Excellent ideas, all.

Particularly the thriving of hot young men in lycra.
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