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Sense rather than mere sensibility - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
Sense rather than mere sensibility

I see that there is a quarrel, a nasty dispute, in … well, not in my fandom, but in fandom.  With a few shining exceptions, I cannot call it a debate, for most of it consists of snark, defensiveness, and emoting.


That is an important consideration.


We may leave aside the puerile snarkiness.  Sir Jonathan Miller is generally credited with saying that attending editorial conferences at Private Eye was ‘like watching naked, anti-Semitic public-schoolboys in a changing room, flicking wet towels at defenceless victims’; the difference between Private Eye and the Honourable Company of Wankers in Fandom and Others Who Display Their Cool Quotient by Mocking Everything in a Sixth-Form Manner, being, that Private Eye is more reliably funny, and a damned sight more literate.


And of course, having said that, it becomes incumbent also to say that an appalling amount of what passes for humour in Private Eye, and elsewhere – speaking of Sir Jonathan Miller, one notes that Spitting Image portrayed him as an anteater, in reference to his nose, in a clear instance of stereotyping what the mouth-breathing set consider a ‘Jewish characteristic’ – is, in the UK, anti-Semitic.   No: that is a weasel-word: what is at issue is hatred of Jews, of milder or worser extent, along a terribly broad spectrum.  The FCO is Arabist and correspondingly anti-Israel, which is a distinction without much difference, in that the FCO has always – always – been stuffed full of anti-Semites, since well before there was a State of Israel to barrack.  (In that sense, at least, Ernie Bevin actually fit in as Foreign Secretary.)  Before the Hitler War, there was an entrenched form of anti-Semitism in the C of E, the old form of anti-Semitism, tangled up with social ignorance, misapprehended religiosity, and unthinking and unexamined class-prejudices.  For a period after that war, these bigotries could not be openly displayed; but with the rise of the fad for ‘Palestinians’ and the sudden slobbering of the bien-pensant, Grauniad-ista Left upon the ‘oppressed Arabs’, all the old anti-Semitism has reappeared, wearing, this time, not a black shirt, but a ‘solidarity’ keffiyeh.  The BBC is an open sewer of Jew-hatred.  The Establishment in England – and it is primarily an English issue: Scotland is the only European country never to have persecuted the Jews – and the Leftish Counter-Establishment are now largely united in a complacent and reflexive anti-Semitism that seems unthreatening only when compared to the situation on the Continent.  And this has been so for a very long time, and has infected Right and Left alike, Cecil Rhodes and Ernie Bevin equally.  I can think of only three public men in the last century and a quarter in England who were clearly not anti-Semitic and were in fact the opposite: King Edward 7th, Winston Churchill, and, arguably, Lord Rosebery.


Now, I should like you to look at the preceding paragraphs.  You will notice a few things about them.  Although they are magisterial in tone and not precisely dowered with citations, they are clearly statements of fact and conclusions drawn from the stated facts.  Each statement could, if challenged, be supported by records.  And absent throughout are such phrases as ‘I feel’ and the like.


That, I would argue (note: not, ‘I feel’), is what has largely been missing in the quarrel to date – I mean, setting aside the puerile baiting and the wankery.  There have of course been shining exceptions (I’ve a very sound and choice friends-list, after all), yet, in the main, much of the quarrel has not been a debate.  We’ve seen a great deal of ‘feeling’ and damned little appeal to fact.  Where both logic and emotion have fallen short, the quarrel has been eked out with plate-glass – not even redbrick – SCR incantations, buzz-words, candy-floss terminology (pink, naturally).


As a result, there has been a confusion of categories.


For example, I chanced to see, in one thread of comments to a reasonable post, a digression upon the extent to which ‘pagans’ (wait for it) were being – I’m sorry, the Pythonic reference is inevitable: ‘Oi! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! ’ELP, ’ELP, I’M BEING REPRESSED!’ – being repressed, marginalised, or insulted by ‘Yuletide’, the argument – or, rather, the unexamined claim – being that ‘Yule’ is properly their festival and that no-one outside an obsolete carol ever uses that name as a synecdoche for Christmas (and so, interminably, on).


Now, if I should reply, saying, ‘I’m terribly sorry, but Yule – or “Yuil” – is the proper Scots term, and former English term, for Christmas, without any rubbishing “pagan” fakelore attached to it, just as, say, the English May Day bides yet as “Beltane” in guid Scots, just as “Easter” in England is “Pace” in Scotland and the 1st August is “Lammas” and New Year’s Eve is of course “Hogmanay”, and you puir Sassenach haven’t even a Burns-nicht – whaur’s yer Wullie Shakespeare noo? – to celebrate wi’ whusky and haggis at a’, at a’, ye puir waefu’ bairns’ … well.  If I also happen to point out the undeniable historical commonplace that modern ‘paganism’, so-called, is a synthetic pastiche of no antiquity, lightly camouflaged with fakelore … well, again, what follows? 


Of course, one thing that will follow, as the night, the day, is, someone is going to take umbrage.


Now.  As a matter of manners, of politesse, did I without provocation or context begin sledging someone else’s religion to no purpose and for no reason – however silly that religion may or may not be – I would almost certainly stand guilty of a breach of manners, a deliberate discourtesy.  And this has no bearing whatever upon whether or not my strictures are, objectively, true.  If, however, I were to correct a linguistic error coupled with a popular falsehood about history, in the context of that error’s and that falsehood’s having been raised in what at least purports to be open debate, then the sole criterion on which I am to be judged is whether or not my argument is correct.  At best, my tone is a secondary consideration, if indeed it is a consideration at all: yes, even if the subject of debate chances to be religion.  The idea that all discussions about religion must be carried out in such a way as to exalt the not giving of offence over logic and intellectual honesty, the notion that somehow this topic is entitled to be a sort of Established Church, cannot be countenanced.


Please note that I am not, here, speaking of debating theology, to do which would be amongst the most pointless exercises imaginable for a gaggle of laypersons, even those of ostensibly similar traditions.  I have nothing to say, really, to a Kirk o’ Scotland communicant about the Thirty-Nine Articles or the episcopate; indeed, I’ve nothing profitable to say to other C of E and overseas Anglican friends about the imminent schism (‘I’m not a member of any organised religion, I’m C of E’).  But religions, like nations and peoples, have histories, and those histories are not off-limits to polite discussion.


Or, again, were I to agree with the statements of a Jewish poster who, having lived in all three countries, argued that the United States is far less harassing a place in which to live as a Jew than are Canada and the UK, and should I adduce in support of that anecdotal conclusion the histories of that group in those countries, would I as a Gentile be overstepping any bounds?  I think not.  And were I to further note that the British and American Jews most likely these days to be attacked with all the traditional armoury of anti-Semitism, from charges of dual loyalties and conspiratorial Zionism to the charge of having created a world-controlling cabal, were those whose politics would most horrify the majority of participants on both sides the current LJ quarrel-alias-debate, it might put the cat amongst the pigeons, but it would be a fair statement of the current climate as it affects, say, Melanie Phillips, Daniel Finkelstein, and others.


I am not going to attempt to know what is in the hearts and minds of the non-wanking posters in this quarrel.  There is a danger in imagining how others ‘must’ feel – and you note that this, again, reduces everything to emotion – and imputing feelings and motivations to them.  In the end, to do so merely dehumanises them, making them into lay-figures upon whom one can practice one’s political pieties and through whom one parades one’s superior sensibilities.  Similarly, I do not have the right to tell anyone whether or not he has the right to feel offended; yet anyone of good will and clear mind has the right to walk disputants back from the precipice and point out, should this happen to be the case, that they are being silly or unnecessarily sensitive in taking offence (‘Well, old man, before you went in for ranting, no one had been accusing you of being an anti-Semite, merely of cultural insensitivity, although, now, you’ve made such a spectacle of yourself that one does rather wonder if you’re secretly BNP…’).


What I can say is that one cannot but conclude from the quarrel that there is a great confusion here between the emotional issues and the issues of fact.


As to the issue of courtesy, it seems simple enough to me.  We have reached a point in common discourse at which there is almost always at least one person who will take offence at almost any statement, including a simple, ‘Good morning’ (‘An’ whit’s guid aboot it, then?’).  Yet this in no wise changes the fact that there are innumerable instances in which a statement may give rise to offence, legitimately, as it were.  Now, these fall into several categories.  There are statements that are either deliberately offensive or are so gobsmackingly over the line that even a naïveté rising to the live of idiocy cannot excuse them (e.g., Walt, Mearsheimer, and Richard Dawkins’s latest inanity on the ‘Jewish lobby’).  These are inexcusable, and no time wants to be wasted upon their contemptible utterers.  There are then statements that are unintentionally offensive, and here is where it gets unnecessarily complicated.  The appropriate response to such a statement, I would argue, is to say, ‘Now, look here, I don’t know if you didn’t think that through, or if I misheard, or if we want to define our terms, but I heard that as saying the following offensive things,’ and so on.  In reply, there are a limited number of possible clarifications.  The first is a mea culpa – I trust I’m not offending any RCs – that says, basically, ‘I was being stupid, I am ignorant, teach me’ (and I trust that offends no one).  The second is to say, ‘I’m sorry, that wasn’t at all what I meant, it was ill-phrased.  What I was driving at was this’, and so on.  The third, which should be used sparingly but which may upon occasion be demanded as a matter of intellectual honesty, is, ‘I regret that you were offended, but if you will look at the following authorities, you will see that you are placing a wholly unjustified construction upon my words, which clearly mean and are generally accepted as meaning this and that’ – as I say, sparingly.


And so long as there is no pre-existing reason why either party should be suspected of bad faith, both the response – ‘Er, you may not realise that there is a potentially offensive construction that could be placed on that remark’ – and the reply – ‘I’m sorry to hear that, but what I was saying was, actually, thus and so’ – should settle the matter, or at the very least allow for further actual debate rather than a sordid quarrel.


What is imperative, I would argue, based upon the foregoing, is to separate matters of tone, style, manner, and manners, from matters of logic, fact, and the worth and weight of arguments advanced.  If only for tactical reasons, it is best not to object to a potentially or arguably offensive statement by saying, ‘I, as a member of such and such a group, find that offensive’: if it is truly offensive, we ought all of us to complain, and when all of us complain, it makes it impossible for the offending party to riposte by saying, ‘Oh, you people always do that’ or whatnot.  Equally, unless there are reasons not grant the presumption of good faith, both sides want to be taken at face value: both in claiming offence and in denying the intent to offend.  When a potentially offending remark is passed, the challenge, ‘Oi, that looks dodgy, can you clarify that?’ has the very great benefit of showing either that the remark can be clarified, at which point it can be argued, or cannot be, in which case it, and its maker, can be economically dismissed.  Finally, of course, certain historical facts can be unpleasant to reflect upon, but it does no good to wish them away and little good to be offended by them.  Note that I say, ‘offended’: they can be condemned, and their present consequences challenged, but the people who committed the offence in the past are dead, and merely emoting does nothing.


What is fatal is to couch what ought to be rational arguments in the nursery terms of ‘I’m offended by what you said to the OP’ and ‘Well, I’m offended that you’re offended’, of ‘You’re not merely thoughtless, you’re a knowing anti-Semite’ and ‘How dare you accuse me of being an anti-Semite’ and All That. 


Were we to employ a dollop of common sense and lashings of forbearance and good will, and to distinguish between emotion and reason, between manner (and manners) and the validity of argument, we should all be much happier, and learn a great deal more than we are doing.  Might I suggest to all of us that we do?

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(Deleted comment)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 16th, 2007 05:46 pm (UTC) (Link)

Not at all.

You need never ask.

Obliged to you for yr kind words.
azdak From: azdak Date: October 16th, 2007 06:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 16th, 2007 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you.

magic_at_mungos From: magic_at_mungos Date: October 16th, 2007 06:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh dear. Is this a response to the yuletide palaver?

It was slightly embarrassing really.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 16th, 2007 06:46 pm (UTC) (Link)

Sadly, yes.

And it was, rather, wasn't it: though not so much so as, say, an England collapse in an ODI....
magic_at_mungos From: magic_at_mungos Date: October 16th, 2007 06:57 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Sadly, yes.

Well that's just England. If they're going to collapse, at least do it in a spectacular manner i.e. do it properly.

Plus yuletide is just really good for minor fandoms.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 16th, 2007 07:21 pm (UTC) (Link)


This is LJ. If you speak too loudly of 'minor fandoms', some Yank crusader will get you banned for under-aged character sex.
magic_at_mungos From: magic_at_mungos Date: October 16th, 2007 07:30 pm (UTC) (Link)


I'll talk softly then but let them try to have me banned :D
From: seneska Date: October 16th, 2007 09:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
A dollop of common sense? In fandom? I think sadly that is exactly what has been lacking. A lot of this should never started and it is the stirring that has uncovered a lot of murky scum hiding just under the usually still waters.

wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 16th, 2007 09:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes, well.

When it's common sense that's wanting, who better to arrive and hand 'round cups of tea than the British, what?
From: seneska Date: October 17th, 2007 11:40 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes, well.

I'll definitely take a cup.

(Deleted comment)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 16th, 2007 10:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

As SuperMac famously said....

'Jaw, jaw, may be better than war, war', but the great problem, really, is that there's so little dialogue and so much shouting back and forth. I too should like to believe that there has been light shed, but I rather fear that most of what has been generated has, rather, been merely heat.
From: seneska Date: October 17th, 2007 11:38 am (UTC) (Link)
I do not blame fandom as non-people, I blame people as fandom. More wank seems to occur because of the differences within the online communities, than communities enjoying what we share.

I'm not generalising, or saying something like "fandom is made from a lot of silly girls", because look whose LJ we are talking on. Such words are pointless. I simply upsets me that there is so much inconsideration and intolerance.

From: (Anonymous) Date: October 17th, 2007 01:38 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't want to say who I am, and I apologise if this makes you take me less seriously. But I don't really want this following me back to my personal journal.

Mainly I wanted to take issue with: "with the rise of the fad for ‘Palestinians’ and the sudden slobbering of the bien-pensant, Grauniad-ista Left upon the ‘oppressed Arabs’, all the old anti-Semitism has reappeared, wearing, this time, not a black shirt, but a ‘solidarity’ keffiyeh. The BBC is an open sewer of Jew-hatred."

I am Jewish, although not very religious, and I can assure you, the BBC is not that. I work for the BBC. Generally, we say we know we're fair because both sides hate us. And clearly you feel strongly about this and I doubt anything I say will make an impact, but this pisses me off. And I know the people I work with would find it extremely hurtful to be told they work for an 'open sewer of Jew-hatred'.

As for the above? People who don't understand how difficult it is for Israelis, or who try to paint them as the bad guys, need to be woken up and fast. But Palestinians are oppressed. Most Israelis won't deny it: but they feel the need to do so for their safety. Not living there, I don't want to judge. But you cannot call showing sympathy for Palestinians anti-Semitism. I feel sympathy for the Palestinians and how they have to live. It's being human.

I didn't read much of your entry past that. Maybe I should have, maybe you explain these comments. But...yeah, I basically just wanted to say this. It's probably a mistake.

wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 17th, 2007 02:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

Very well. (Part One)

Well, here’s hoping you’re not Mr Gerald Kaufman, who is one of the more persistent offenders at the BBC.

I don’t at all take your wishing to remain anonymous as a ground for not taking you seriously – and engaging with you as such. I do think it unfortunate that you ceased reading when you did, as, otherwise, you would anticipate that my response must be, I regret that you are angered and that your co-workers would be, if you guess aright, hurt, by my statements; yet the truth is more important than any amount of hurt feelings, and the evidence rather favours my position than yours.

To suggest otherwise were to ignore the general lack of impartiality detailed in the BBC Trust report, From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel: Safeguarding Impartiality in the 21st Century; the partiality of Jeremy Bowen; Stephen Pollard’s documentation of bias at the Beeb; the similar observations of Martin Walker of UPI, writing in The Times; Robin Aitken; Rod Liddle; and the criticisms made by or the admissions made by, inter alia, Jeff Randall, Stephen Whittle, Jeff Randall, and even Andrew Marr. God knows what’s in the Balen Report, but it’s obviously damning, or the Beeb wouldn’t have spent a quarter of a million pounds of public money suppressing the damned thing. As for what Dame Pauline Neville-Jones thinks of the BBC’s performance, well, least said, soonest mended.

Specific to my statement, and beyond the BBC’s general set of biases, it is true that much of the bias evident at the Beeb is anti-Israel bias, which theoretically might not be anti-Semitic. In practical terms, however, the two are indistinguishable. I’m referring here to such instances as Barbara Plett’s teary-eyed Arafat-worship; the Beeb’s use of Leila Khaled, the erstwhile Palestinian plane hijacker, as a talking head on terrorism; Ian Haddow’s signature of an anti-Israel online petition, to his signature upon which he appended the prayer, ‘save us from Israel’; the appearance of Fayad Abu Shamala, senior BBC Arabic Service correspondent in the Gaza Strip, at a Hamas rally on 6 May 2001 in the presence of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, at which your correspondent gave a speech and assured the crowd that journalists and media organizations in Gaza, including the BBC, were ‘waging the [terror] campaign shoulder-to-shoulder together with the Palestinian people’; Suzanne Goldenberg’s hagiography of Arafat and Zubeida Malik’s hagiography of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin; and a host of other instances.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 17th, 2007 02:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

Very well. (Part B)

But merely taking sides against the State of Israel, holding it to standards imposed upon no other country – least of all its neighbours – and automatically discounting anything its ministers say whilst uncritically swallowing any tale retailed by its enemies – ‘Jeningrad’, anyone? – is by no means the whole of the problem. On the evenings of 13 August and 20 August 2002, the BBC Radio 3 producers chose to fill the interval in their live broadcast of the Proms with a recitation of poems that compared Israeli actions to those of the Nazis and asked Holocaust survivors why they had ‘not learnt their lesson’; and on 18 May 2003, Steve Bradshaw presented a programme on US ‘neo-conservatives’ that dwelt portentously upon how many of them were Jewish, and accused them of dual loyalty: ‘the majority of Neo-conservatives have been and remain Jewish…. Neo-cons, some people whisper, are strongly pro-Zionist and want to topple regimes in the Middle East to help Israel as well as the US’: which is I think very near the point at which claims that ‘anti-Israel bias is not the same as anti-Semitism’, cease to be plausible. I mean, this is Protocols stuff.

As for the suggestion that I am inhuman in not showing ‘sympathy’ for the ‘Palestinians’ – I note that there is as yet, thanks to their own intransigence, no ‘Palestine’, nor has there ever been such a state: the people commonly called ‘Palestinians’ these days are former Jordanians, Syrians, Egyptians, and the like, who are currently under occupation for the simple reason that their native states kept starting – and losing – unprovoked wars against Israel – I can only say that since 1947, they have consistently rejected every reasonable offer that would have allowed them to become a people and a state, and have as consistently preferred to be governed by terrorists ranging from Arafat and his Fatah to the Hamas lot of today. My sympathy has long been forfeited by them.

Here endeth the lesson.
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 17th, 2007 10:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Very well. (Part B)

I don't think there's any point in me saying anything, if you think like that. Except: visit Israel someday. Try living there for a year or so. And learn something about reality, rather than what you've read from books.
gillyp From: gillyp Date: October 18th, 2007 09:33 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Very well.

I couldn't agree with you more, anonymous. I've worked for both the BBC and the Guardian and have *never* heard/seen/experienced the slightest whiff of anti Semitism in either institution - Unlike the pro-Tory Daily Mail, where I've also worked, where I was actually, told to my face that the paper prefers not to have 'black or Jewish faces' in photographs as they're 'off-putting' to the readership. Oh, and that 'Jews are such parasites (darling).'

"learn something about reality, rather than what you've read from books."
... Or the Torygraph, no cleaner than the rest when it comes to making a story a little more 'on message' for the readers - I should know, I've worked there, too.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 18th, 2007 01:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

I'm obliged to you.

Anecdotal evidence is, naturally, anecdeotal, yet it IS evidence. Thank you for responding with evidence. Equally, there is evidence on the other side of the proposition. Anything you can further contribute to the weighing of same is avidly solicited.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 18th, 2007 02:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

I am astounded.


Having first admitted, ‘I didn’t read much of your entry past that. Maybe I should have, maybe you explain these comments’, you now simply say, in response to my giving you the bases on which I make those comments, ‘I don’t think there’s any point in me saying anything, if you think like that. Except: visit Israel someday. Try living there for a year or so. And learn something about reality, rather than what you’ve read from books’?

Let me see if I follow your proposed epistemological method. You have said, ‘Not living there, I don’t want to judge’; and you now say that only those who live in Israel or in its adjoining states and territories can have a basis upon which to make conclusions. But surely, if this were so, then there were no purpose to journalism and reporting: if it were only the experience of living in a place that allowed one to come to conclusions about events in that place, and if what is recorded in print – ‘learn something about reality, rather than what you’ve read from books’ – cannot be trusted, and is eo ipso at variance with (presumably experiential) reality, then there is no reason to have a BBC, is there. Or The Times. Or the Grauniad. And I should think that even the most field-work-inclined anthropologists and sociologists, much less, say, historians, should take issue with the apparent proposition that what is written cannot be trusted, and that there is a direct opposition between Books and Reality. It’s a very odd stance to take.

Yet I must say that I am obliged to you for providing an object lesson in what I said in the main essay, regarding what judgements one ought make when, having responded to a request for elucidation and citation of evidences, the person challenging one to do so refuses to engage the same. In that sense, at least, I find myself agreeing with you: given that I think – reason – in the way in which I have demonstrated, and you think in the way in which you’ve done, there is, indeed, little of profit left for us to say – although I shall of course listen with interest and in good faith to anything you care to add.
17catherines From: 17catherines Date: October 17th, 2007 06:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Here via commodorified. Nicely put - and am friending you on the strength of it.

wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 17th, 2007 02:02 pm (UTC) (Link)


... I shall try to live up to that. Good to have you aboard. (Mind the gap.)
17catherines From: 17catherines Date: October 17th, 2007 11:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thanks...

You're welcome! I do like good writing, and occasionally even perpetrate it myself (though I fear my LJ is currently full of my biscuit baking obsession)...
ellie_nor From: ellie_nor Date: October 20th, 2007 01:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

I don't agree with you on some of the specifics with which you preface your argument, but your argument itself, that I am wholeheartedly behind.

The issue in this 'Yuletide' case, I think, is that Jewish people have very little reason, based on historical evidence, to assume goodwill from any Gentiles, but very few Gentiles grasp that. Therefore the reactions of Jewish people is seen by most Gentiles as supporting evidence for their anti-Semitism.

Very sad.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 20th, 2007 05:26 pm (UTC) (Link)

Sad, yes, but, as you say, perfectly natural.

I can say only this, that Gentiles want to be treated as individuals in making that judgement, that presumption of goodwill, just as one mustn't lump all Jews together - as has been done in this squabble - as 'those people' or 'you people': yet given history, I rather fear that that is a counsel of perfection. Sad indeed.

Thank you for your kind words and typically insightful contribution.
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