Dec 23 2013

Gopal v liberals

Priyamvada Gopal is still throwing verbal bricks at liberals. I understand liberals here to mean people who defend universal human rights as opposed to people who carve out exceptions for “cultures” or “communities” or religions or, usually, all three. She threw her latest bricks while offering Laurie Penny support in her battle with “white” yaddayadda on Twitter.


Priyamvada Gopal @PriyamvadaGopal

@PennyRed Don’t be apologetic with liberal bullies who for all their protestations,don’t like to hear non-European feminists speak nuance

Far from being defenders of the rights of non-European/Muslim women, want them silenced uness they say the right things their way

Faced down astonishing abuse and footstamping liberal tantrums this past week which would be horrifying if it weren’t amusing.

 I think she wants us to equate liberals with “Western” and “white”…which means she wants to hand over liberalism to the “white West”…thus making the non-West illiberal.

I wonder if she’s really thought this through.


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  1. 1

    Going by your retweets she and Laurie P have made a lot of activists from ethnic minorities pretty angry.

  2. 2
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    I understand liberals here to mean people who defend universal human rights as opposed to people who carve out exceptions for “cultures” or “communities” or religions or, usually, all three.

    Which, if your interpretation is correct, is a rather bizarre definition and further evidence for my belief that term has no meaning at all. Contrast with Mao’s examples in “Combat Liberalism”:

    To let things slide for the sake of peace and friendship when a person has clearly gone wrong, and refrain from principled argument because he is an old acquaintance, a fellow townsman, a schoolmate, a close friend, a loved one, an old colleague or old subordinate. Or to touch on the matter lightly instead of going into it thoroughly, so as to keep on good terms. The result is that both the organization and the individual are harmed. This is one type of liberalism.

    To indulge in irresponsible criticism in private instead of actively putting forward one’s suggestions to the organization. To say nothing to people to their faces but to gossip behind their backs, or to say nothing at a meeting but to gossip afterwards. To show no regard at all for the principles of collective life but to follow one’s own inclination. This is a second type.

    To let things drift if they do not affect one personally; to say as little as possible while knowing perfectly well what is wrong, to be worldly wise and play safe and seek only to avoid blame. This is a third type.

  3. 3

    “I wonder if she’s really thought this through.”

    Of course not!
    ‘Thinking,’ when it might offend the poor little dears, is a patriarchal conspiracy to extend white European hegemony. And it’s just a Guy Thing too.

  4. 4
    Ophelia Benson

    How is it bizarre?

  5. 5
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    Because it’s in direct opposition to other definitions? Like the one I quoted?

  6. 6
    Ophelia Benson

    Why would Mao be a good source for what liberalism is?

  7. 7
    Ophelia Benson

    There are several different brands of liberalism, so several different definitions, so it’s often necessary to specify which kind you’re invoking. That’s what I did. I wasn’t saying “that is the definition of liberal” but rather saying which version of liberal I meant. The one I said is not the least bit bizarre.

  8. 8

    The ones you quoted, actually,Dysomniak.
    There aren’t many things where Mao’s definitions would be widely accepted as accurate or useful by anyone but Maoists, and in this case- where “liberal” is a translation of a Chinese term and applied to a term specifically used in a contemporary western philosophical and ethical sense- they are particularly unhelpful.

  9. 9
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    What’s with the defensiveness? I’m making an observation about the diverse and conflicting meanings of the word. And if you have to spend so much time defining what you mean every time you use the word, what’s the point?

  10. 10

    No defensiveness, Dysomniak. Merely pointing out that Mao’s supposed definitions of “liberalism” are as tendentious and as widely-accepted as his definitions of “democracy” or “socialism” or “marxism” would be.
    “Liberalism”- with or without a capital letter- is a term that is used in somany contexts and with so many meanings that it would be very pleasant if other terms could be used. The problem is that then we would have to go back and explain what everyone who used the term before meant in contemporary terms- an even more onerous task than defining the way we use the term now. It’s also useful to be reminded of the connexions between the different meanings and uses of a word through time by the need to narrow the contexts we use.

  11. 11
    Ophelia Benson

    It’s not defensiveness. You said it was a bizarre definition and I said it wasn’t. That’s not defensive.

    As for why use it – well I discuss it in this post because Priyamvada Gopal has been using it as a swear-word in the crudest way on Twitter. I wanted to pin down exactly what it is she’s swearing at.

  12. 12
    Katherine Woo

    Perhaps quoting arguably the biggest mass murderer in human history on liberalism is not the best of ideas.

  13. 13
    White muscular liberal

    If this blog represents free thought I want my money back.

  14. 14
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    @12 You’re right, let’s pretend Mao never existed.

  15. 15
    John Morales


    White muscular liberal (!) @13: Freethought involves thought; clearly, this is not the place for you.

    (Charity involves presuming — despite the evidence — that you are not trolling)

  16. 16
    Katherine Woo

    Didn’t Gopal use the peculiar phrase “muscular liberal” recently?

    I think it would be hilarious if an Cambridge academic were reduced to sock-puppet trolling an atheist blog.

  17. 17
    White muscular liberal

    @16, yes I think she did. But why you think that makes me a troll I have no idea. That fact that I’ve read Gopal’s work simply means that contributing to a thread that I know something about and I’m interested in, I can’t see in what sense it makes me a troll.

  18. 18
    White muscular liberal

    @15 I had no idea that Freethought was all one word! Come on there’s ‘free thought’ and there’s ‘just being stupid’.

  19. 19
    Ophelia Benson

    The comment @ 13 is “contributing to a thread”? Really? In what way?

  20. 20
    Iain Walker

    dysomniak, darwinian socialist (#14):

    You’re right, let’s pretend Mao never existed.

    Marginally better than pretending that he had anything useful or intelligent to say on the subject of liberalism. Your quoted “definitions” at #2 are nothing of the sort. They’re merely an exercise in propagandistic well-poisoning, like theists “defining” atheists as “god-haters”. Only stupider.

  21. 21
    Smokey Dusty

    @13. What an odd comment! And I’m infamous in many fora for making odd comments. I know what I’m talking about.

    As an insult it kinda falls flat ’cause you didn’t hand any money over to start. You need to do better next time. I also detest non-comments. The insult isn’t enough. It doesn’t achieve anything. If you can’t explain what your problem is you just look a bit foolish.

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