Tim Lott and the myth of the poor, silenced literati


Like Tim Lott, I am a “transgressive lefty.” Indeed it would appear that we agree on a fair few transgressive points – I too question how religious beliefs are privileged and protected and how cultures associated with those beliefs can be afforded license to oppress and abuse the vulnerable. I have more than a few issues with aspects of feminist theory and I am more than happy to take an occasional swing at an ideological sacred cow. By and large I believe the best way to challenge ugly opinions is to give them air and shoot them down rather than suppress and repress them.

Believe me, I know what it is like to write something that offends or upsets a section of the left, to wake up to a hundred notifications on Twitter, 99 of which are people calling me rude names or to an email inbox peppered with invitations to die in a fire. Just last week someone (thanks mate, you know who you are!) sent me a link to a six-page long Mumsnet thread entirely consisting of radical feminists debating who was officially The Worst between me and Owen Jones (pretty sure I came out top – in your face, OJ.)

I can joke about it, and must, because it comes with the territory. It comes with the territory for everyone. I’m enormously grateful and rather proud to have some sprinkling of media platforms for my views, but in the grand scheme of things I am a nobody, a pleb, just another voice in the contemporary clamour of open source gobshittery.

But Tim Lott is not thinking of people like me or you in his howl of anguish, something he makes clear in his conclusion.

Nick Cohen, Christopher Hitchens, David Aaronovich, Julie Burchill, Julie Bindel and others have often been at the rough end of this debate, for daring to voice opinions of their own that do not fit the overarching narrative. David Mamet’s admittedly provocative essay, Why I Am No Longer a “Brain-Dead Liberal”, published in the Village Voice, must have cost him a fair few dinner party invitations. This marginalisation is invidious, not only because it violates the principles of free debate

What Tim Lott fails to appreciate is that it is not his pals among the great and the good of the literati who are on the rough end of this debate. There is this myth appearing in recent years that the modern left consists of a massive hivemind of angry young social justice warriors. Twitchforks at the ready, waiting to pounce on anyone who deviates from the agreed consensus of what Lott calls ‘purity.’

It is the precise same myth that lay behind the fiasco of the open letter about free speech on campus and which seems to resurface in one form or another every few months. It is, as I have observed before, Gramsci’s class of organic intellectuals circling the wagons in the most ostentatious, self-pitying way.

So poor David Mamet might have lost a few dinner party invitations? Well boo fucking hoo. I know impoverished, obscure trans activists who have been rewarded for speaking their minds and expressing their politics with extended campaigns of hate lasting weeks and months, including attempts to dox their offline identities, attempts to destroy their livelihoods, or who have had their gender history outed as a political tactic. I know sex workers’ rights activists who have had their mental and physical health all but destroyed by campaigns of vilification and hate. I’ve seen young writers and activists of colour who have dared to challenge the dodgy politics of a Twitter media celebrity and been mocked, demeaned and humiliated as a consequence. I have known disabled activists who have objected to an ableist comment or joke from a famous celebrity and had their objections retweeted to a million vicious attack dogs.

Meanwhile if you are an aspiring writer, blogger or creator who has the temerity to criticise the great and the good, the overwhelmingly Oxbridge and public-school educated coterie who make up the commissioning editors, the staff writers and the columnists, then good luck with that career. You will quickly find that the doors you thought slightly ajar have slammed hard on your foot.

Politics of all types, but especially the to-and-fro of political opinion writing, is a tightly sprung bed of power relations and guess what – power really does not lie with the masses. When we ask which kinds of “transgressive lefties” are marginalised, suppressed, silenced in the current climate are we talking about the sex workers, the disabled, the trans activists, the students? Or do we really think of the likes of Aaronovitch, Cohen and Burchill with their six figure column contracts, their TV and radio shows, their South Bank speaking invitations, and the home numbers of national editors on speed dial? Really?

The objection from Lott is a familiar one. Once boiled down, it is tantamount to a demand for the great and the good to be able to opine from their high, privileged platforms without the inconvenience of being exposed to other people’s reactions. They want to be able to wax lyrical without some uppity kid telling them they are being transphobic or Islamophobic or just plain wrong. So convinced are they that they speak for (in Lott’s words) “compassion, freedom and concern for social justice” that they believe they should be immune from critique, even when others consider their work to be downright antithetical to “compassion, freedom and social justice”.

Most of those people began work in an era when that was still possible – they could write their columns and their books and barring the occasional green-ink missive in the post, convince themselves that their precious pearls of wisdom were being gratefully cherished by the masses.

The world has changed. The world has changed for everyone. There is a real and important discussion to be had as to how we, as a culture, move beyond the often corrosive age of the pile-on, the Twittermob and Twitch-hunt. As Jon Ronson’s new book explains, the most obscure and innocent member of the public can now find him or herself in the midst of a horrendous storm of anger or outrage. But in the real world, those with power, influence, wealth and privilege are the most securely protected and shielded from those impacts.  They are the lucky ones. It takes quite breathtaking lack of self-awareness that they consider themselves the victims here.

Comments

  1. redpesto says

    So poor David Mamet might have lost a few dinner party invitations?

    And why is it always ‘dinner parties’? Didn’t Rory Bremner kill off this cliché?

  2. Ally Fogg says

    Yep. If I’m honest, it was those two little words that tipped me over the edge here.

  3. StillGjenganger says

    So, what kind of solution would you be proposing? That anybody who participate in debate, famous, or unknown, should simply take the occasional “horrendous storm of anger or outrage” or “extended campaign of hate lasting weeks and months as part of the territory? Or that such tactics should be considered unacceptable, whoever the victim is? Or do you have a hierarchy for who deserves protection and who does not?

  4. says

    Just got through reading that when I popped back here.

    I wouldn’t go following the link to the David Mamet piece if Lott pissed you off.

    kind of off topic but I followed some of the links through to Spiked (which was a little like following the white rabbit, although there was some though provoking stuff on European politics and Russia)

    But it made me think that what I find troubling about identity politics, is that it has the effect of atomizing groups that should be on the left into (competing?) entities rather than accepting all identities into the fold of the oppressed and fighting as a single Left.

  5. proudmra says

    Victimhood is the most coveted status of all in our brave new world… everyone wants a piece.

  6. Ally Fogg says

    I don’t think there is *A* solution, Gjenganger. Some shifts I would like to see in the general consensus:

    1. A salient distinction to be made and understood between criticism, including anger and outrage, all of which are legitimate, and attempts at censorship or silencing, which are usually not. They are not the same but too many people conflate them.

    2. The flipside of that is that there should be fewer calls for censorship, for silencing, for prosecution of unsavoury opinions. They should be seen as politically harmful and a last resort, while at least some people they should be par for the course.

    3. I ‘d like to see it considered very poor online etiquette to “pile on” for the hell of it. It is too often done as a performative thing, to demonstrate in group membership, rather than to add any useful critique.

    4. I’d like to see fewer people being dicks on all sides, in a nutshell.

  7. says

    StillGjenganger

    So, what kind of solution would you be proposing? That anybody who participate in debate, famous, or unknown, should simply take the occasional “horrendous storm of anger or outrage” or “extended campaign of hate lasting weeks and months as part of the territory? Or that such tactics should be considered unacceptable, whoever the victim is? Or do you have a hierarchy for who deserves protection and who does not?

    Maybe its not up to humble bloggers like Ally or his commentators to find a solution, maybe its up to the kind of people who wage extended hate campaigns to grow the fuck up.

    Proudmra

    You owe me a new irony meter. You’ve just blown mine up.

  8. says

    Fantastic essay, Ally, and “twitchforks” is a wonderful phrase–did you coin it?

    In any case, though, I think you make a good point about the world we live in now, and how even the most marginalized of those on the left (trans activists, etc) can be subjected to the most horrifying vitriol from other lefties. But I do have to wonder…if the “great and the good” of lefty literati are more or less immune (or at least cushioned to a greater degree) from this sort of abuse, how responsible for it are they? Most of the people who spark off twitch-hunts (heh) tend not to be literati but rather celebrities. I’ve seen people get dogpiled for critiquing something from some famous youtuber, but I don’t know if many people have been doxxed in attempts to “defend” more “high-brow” but lesser-known bloggers like Lott or Mamet. I could be wrong, though–that’s why I’m asking for your thoughts ;D

  9. minased says

    I don’t think Lott was trying to liken his situation to that of the trans activists you mention (your comparison; not his). In fact, his point isn’t at all to draw attention to the relatively trivial consequences that he’s suffered. It’s true that other people have it a lot worse, but so what? The point is that the left is too censorious and ideologically conformist. Lott is absolutely right about that and the fact that neither he nor Nick Cohen nor David Aaronovich have actually had their lives ruined is neither here nor there.

  10. Turi says

    Pardon my offtopic remarks, but i have never heard of Twitch as a major plattform in any kind of social movment, for better or worse. Twitch is a streaming site for live video game footage (overwhelmingly Esport) and did not even play a roll gamergate as far as i know. It would also be a very bad plattform for such contend, becourse Youtube is a much better provider for video on demand.

    Did i, which is likly, miss something major here?

    Or did you mean Tumblr? Which is a bloggin site famouse for social movements. “People on Tumblr” was even the precourser to “SJW”.

  11. says

    I’m pretty sure “twitchforks” are a reference to twitter, not twitch (twitter+pitchfork). I was playing off of that with twitch-hunts. Sorry if I confused anybody.

  12. brucegee1962 says

    My suggestion for a solution is that part of basic writing courses at college should be discussing how to talk on line.

    One idea: more posts should start off “I disagree with you because…” rather than “You are a…”

  13. StillGjenganger says

    @Ally 6.
    Sounds reasonable, if a little imprecise.
    2)-4) sound good, but I am not sure we agree on 1). As you probably know I see little difference between being silenced by the risk of official harassment and arrest, and being silenced by the risk of anger, outrage, and social exclusion from the debating peer group. But there is no point in re-running that particular discussion.

  14. Carnation says

    Concluding that Cohen, Aaranovitch and Burchill are leftwing or indeed liberal is tantamount to acknowledging one is brain dead. They are, to a person, supportive of revolting foreign policy decisions.

    Didn’t you people learn nothing from Professed Chomsky???

  15. Martin Shand says

    With respect, I think you’ve missed the point Tim Lott was making.

    The key passage is this:

    Identity politics is one of the most significant developments of the last 50 years, but it has led to nerves being exposed in a way they rarely were by economic issues. Because identity is less about politics and more about that most sensitive of human constructions, the protection of the self – both group and individual.

    And the more it becomes about the protection of self, the less it becomes about the back and forth of rational argument. All the beliefs, opinions and doubts I hold are just that: they are ideas, not ironclad convictions. I am not certain about any of them, and am quite willing to change my mind, as I have done many times in the past. But I will not alter them if I am faced with invective rather than debate; in fact, they will become more entrenched.

    Lott is not asking to be seen as a victim. On the contrary, he’s wants to reject the idea that someone’s status as a victim or otherwise should have any bearing on how we judge the things they are saying. He wants to reject the idea that someone’s victimhood trumps rational argument. In short, he wants to reject identity politics outright.

    By attacking Lott on the grounds that he’s a member of `the great and the good’ you are in fact engaging in an identity politics line of argument yourself. You seem to be arguing that because Lott is not a real victim in your eyes (he doesn’t claim to be), his arguments are invalid, and you don’t need to refute them with logic or evidence. Which rather goes to support Lott’s overall message.

  16. Ariel says

    Danny Butts #7

    Maybe it’s not up to humble bloggers like Ally or his commentators to find a solution, maybe it’s up to the kind of people who wage extended hate campaigns to grow the fuck up.


    Maybe. And how much time do they need to grow up? One year? Ten years? Eternity? Bring a lot of popcorn and enjoy the show while waiting.

    Ally Fogg #6

    I don’t think there is *A* solution, Gjenganger. Some shifts I would like to see in the general consensus …


    I don’t think there is a workable solution either. For a couple of solutions which usually *do not* work, see here.

    My favorite from the linked text is (5), that is, “standing up”. Sounds terrific, really. We should speak out for those who are unfairly shamed, even (especially!) if they do not belong to our tribe, that’s the way out! The poor will stand up for the rich, the rich for the poor; the feminists will defend men’s rights activists, the men’s rights folks will loudly speak out in defense of the persecuted feminists. We just have to learn the trick!

    It’s a beautiful solution and I truly love it. I’m almost ashamed to mention one small problem (a negligible trifle, really, given its elegance), which is: no, we will not adopt it. It just won’t happen.

    the most obscure and innocent member of the public can now find him or herself in the midst of a horrendous storm of anger or outrage.


    A solution which works? Find an angry tribe where you fit in, gather support, counterattack and destroy. What? There is no tribe for you out there? Then look in a mirror and kiss yourself goodbye.

    [Sorry, I had a bad day.]

  17. StillGjenganger says

    no, we will not adopt it. It just won’t happen.

    Maybe. But if we want to at least reduce silencing-by-shaming, coming out against the principle would be a start. Once we decide that it is just acceptable free speech when our friends use it, we are effectively favouring alternatives like ‘never tweet under your own name’, ‘never say anything controversial’, or ‘join a badass group and practice Mutual Assured Destruction’.

    Thanks for the link, BTW.

  18. MarinaS (@marstrina) says

    In addition to the fundamental misunderstanding highlighted by Martin Strand at #15 above, there’s also an interesting elision between causes and effects going on here.

    Members of “the great and the good” whose non-conformity with the orthodoxies of the modern Left bring them into conflict with their erstwhile allies simply have a few minimal slings and arrows flung in their general direction, without much real-life consequence, or not enough to comment on:

    “So poor David Mamet might have lost a few dinner party invitations? Well boo fucking hoo.”

    But those who are in accord with those orthodoxies, when attacked, suffer deep psychic trauma that needs to be spelled out in lurid detail:

    “I know sex workers’ rights activists who have had their mental and physical health all but destroyed by campaigns of vilification and hate. I’ve seen young writers and activists of colour who have dared to challenge the dodgy politics of a Twitter media celebrity and been mocked, demeaned and humiliated as a consequence.”

    In other words, for the first group, what matters are the causes, regardless of any ill-effects they may produce. Only the causes matter, and they matter only enough to be dismissed out of hand. For the second group, in contrast, what matters are the effects, regardless of whether they are at all proportional to the causes. The effects are all that amtter, and they matter enough to be highlighted repeatedly and in detail.

    This seems to be rather uneven to me. How do we know David Mamet wasn’t “demeaned and humiliated”? Perhaps he, too, felt vilified and hated. We don’t know, because as it happens nobody is interested in David Mamet’s feelings on this: Tim Lott, because he recognises that Mamet’s as well as his own emotional responses to opposition are irrelevant as far as the quality of their argument is concerned, and Ally Fogg, because he just doesn’t give a shit.

    It’s this exact and precise reluctance to extend empathy to those we may not agree with that undermines the integrity of the modern Left.

    The Right doesn’t need to give a shit about people’s feelings – not giving a shit is their stock in trade. We’re the people who are supposed to value human flourishing. When members of “our” ranks respond to even just the idea that maybe we might want to think about attacks on someone with “boo fucking hoo” (and that someone is not a mass murderer or fraudulent capitalist, but just a guy who is a bit famous for fairly innocuous cultural production), where does that leave us? Rationing the very founding principles of the Left to those we like, and obstinately denying them to those we don’t? I mean, I know universalism is dead and we’re all post structuralists now, but doesn’t that seem, I dunno, a bit OTT?

  19. Ally Fogg says

    MartinShand [15]

    You assume I am attacking Lott for being part of the great and the good. You couldn’t be more wrong. I am attacking him precisely for what he says, not who he is.

    However one of the problems with this debate is that some people see an argument which is wrong as a consequence of coming from a place of privilege, and confuse it with an argument which is wrong because it is being made by a person with privilege. That is exactly the mistake you are making here.

    Secondly, it is only your assertion that the highlighted paragraph is “the key passage” but let’s go with it for now.

    The examples Lott gives of people who have been “at the rough end of the debate” are a strange selection. Burchill and Bindel have, most obviously, been criticised and attacked for being overtly transphobic. The others have actually had very little to do with that specific debate, or any others around so-called identity politics. If Cohen, Aaronovitch and (the late) Hitchens were ostracised from the left consensus, it had nothing to do with identity politics and everything to do with their support for neocon foreign policy.

    So why does he conflate those examples? What do they have to do with the passage about identity politics you post? Where has Nick Cohen got into arguments over “the protection of the self”?

    As far as I can see, the six names (Mamet included) only have two things in common, they are members of the elite commentariat who have at some time or another been criticised for their disparate views by other people on the left.

  20. Ally Fogg says

    MarinaS [18]

    That is a fair criticism of how the blog above is written. In turn, I think the blog above is a fair criticism of how Tim Lott’s article was written. He was the one who made it all about Mamet, Cohen, Burchill et al with no other examples.

    For what it is worth, I quite accept that being savaged by a Twittermob is a horrible experience whoever you are. I maintain that it is probably easier to survive that horrible experience if you have your own newspaper column, national radio show or whatever to fall back on, and if you have a wide circle of similarly influential friends who can use their columns to sympathise with how terribly you’ve been treated.

    Lott could have written a very different and much better article had he chosen just one or two examples who were less obviously people exactly like him. Then I might have believed that he was actually concerned about the issue rather than just defending his fellow literati.

    But for what it is worth everything I said about the impacts on vulnerable people of being savaged by a hate mob applies whichever side of any ideological divide one might be on, whether that is gender identity debates, sex work debates, religious debates etc etc etc one might be on.

    My point is that when it comes to finding and sharing sympathy for victims of lefty hatemobs, when it comes to a rich, privileged old white dude losing out on a dinner party invitation, I find myself struggling to find many fucks to give.

  21. Paul says

    But in the real world, those with power, influence, wealth and privilege are the most securely protected and shielded from those impacts. They are the lucky ones. It takes quite breathtaking lack of self-awareness that they consider themselves the victims here.

    Don’t always agree with you Ally but this article was spot on. Nice one.

  22. says

    Mostly, Tim Lott needs to get out of London a bit more (or, indeed, at all), while the media need to include more voices from outside London and from the 19 out of 20 MPs whose existence they currently ignore.

    Just as we need foreign coverage that is not obsessed with America, so we need domestic coverage that is based outside London. That is not new. The Guardian became a major national newspaper while based in Manchester, and that was a very long time before the Internet. I am not really talking about the Internet, which is of course easy to dismiss.

    There is nothing to prevent national newspapers and magazines from being based in places where the likelihood of their being taken over by dubiously funded Hard Right “think tanks”, or by the veterans of Stalinist, Maoist, Eurocommunist or Trotskyist groupuscules, is decidedly remote, due to the simple nonexistence of such sorry things in such happy places.

  23. Marduk says

    He isn’t arguing he should be immune from critique, that is just silly.

    This is the same piece Bindel wrote (and note that although its an easy assumption to make, Bindel was defending someone who wasn’t anything like herself), its the same piece Chait wrote, its the same piece Michelle Goldberg wrote about Vanessa Valenti being compared to Rebecca Latimer Felton for organising a feminist meeting and Feministing editors being too scared to defend themselves because apparently even they aren’t pure enough these days. Its the same piece loads of people write on Tumblr shortly before they are told to kill themselves and their families start being threatened. Read the Goldberg piece, especially page 3 which explains the distinctive ideological position at work here. It isn’t a myth.

    “When we ask which kinds of “transgressive lefties” are marginalised, suppressed, silenced in the current climate are we talking about the sex workers, the disabled, the trans activists, the students”

    Yes, we are. But they don’t have newspaper columns.

    The issue here is not David Mamet’s dinner invitations but nobody is pure enough to write the perfect piece complaining about how stupid this has become, especially not a journalist with privileged access to the media. That tends to be how these things work, its the point of them.

    Somehow I get the feeling if he’d raised other people facing this stuff he’d be in even more trouble for “appropriation” or comparing himself to them or something. He is particularly on the money on the death of liberalism within the so-called “liberal left”, Shand is right about what the key part of the article is,it isn’t an “assertion”, its how newspaper articles are constructed, you know that as well really when you’re not being petty.

    I’m sorry Ally, you’ve fucked up here.

  24. StillGjenganger says

    Ally,

    Surely Lotts point is not about protection from suffering, but about the possibility of free and open debate. In that optic, concentrating on famous and well-established (and left-wing) media voices does make some sense. The argument is “If someone lkke me – with years fo service to the movement to my credit, and an established record of promoting interesting debate – cannot deviate from orthodoxy without being shouted down, what chance has anyone else got?

    As Marduk pointed out, a number of other people have made essentially the same point. Surely it is a point worth considering?

  25. Ally Fogg says

    The argument is “If someone lkke me – with years fo service to the movement to my credit, and an established record of promoting interesting debate – cannot deviate from orthodoxy without being shouted down, what chance has anyone else got?”

    But who has been shouted down, out of the examples Lott gives? Has Nick Cohen lost his Observer column? Has David Aaronovitch lost his Times column or his TV shows?

    The only one where a case can be made that someone has been “shouted down” is Bindel but A/ that is hardly a new situation and B/ It is only student bloody unions who are entitled to invite or not invite who they want to their own institutions and C/ that is not the consequence of a postmodern online mob but an outcome of an old school bureaucratic union conference motion, the kind of thing lefties are meant to like.

    And it is not that I’m “not considering it”. It is that after extensive consideration I am calling it as rank bollocks.

  26. Ally Fogg says

    Marduk

    I don’t know which Bindel article you are referring to, but I remember the Michelle Goldberg one well. Go back to any time in the history of feminism and you will find people bitterly arguing with each other, usually furiously. What you have hare is some feminists arguing with each other. On one side you have Mikki Kendall who has a Twitter account and a sharp tongue. On the other hand you have Michelle Goldberg with her own Nation magazine column in which she can libel and misrepresent Kendall without even giving her the opportunity to have a right to reply to an audience of hundreds of thousands if not millions.

    Don’t even get me started on Jonathan Chait.

    But in all these examples, the same themes emerge. Firstly, no one is actually being silenced, censored or ostracised in any meaningful sense, and secondly they boil down to people with greater power, influence and platforms complaining about being held to account for their own words by the great unwashed.

  27. Holms says

    #26 StillG
    The argument is “If someone lkke me – with years fo service to the movement to my credit, and an established record of promoting interesting debate – cannot deviate from orthodoxy without being shouted down, what chance has anyone else got?”

    And how exactly do you ‘shout someone down’ with some noise on twitter when they have twitter… and a radio show, or a regular newspaper gig, book deals. or similar large outlet? This is just a whine about insufficient fawning being shown to those that are comfortably secure from being shouted down in any meaningful sense. See also: Richard Dawkins claiming to be silenced by feminists; same drivel.

  28. Marduk says

    Well, obviously I have a view on this and its the same view that has been expressed. I think he is right and I’m a prole.

    The Bindel piece I’m thinking of is here:
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/18/feminism-rosetta-scientist-shirt-dapper-laughs-julien-blanc-inequality

    In the end I don’t know how to convince you that there is a distinctive culture at work here if you don’t want to join the dots. This is not the same thing as regular infighting.

    I still think you are overlooking the fact that the activists you mention are commonly victims of the same people that you can just shrug off and you think Tim Lott should as well. Maybe you can and maybe he should, I’m less sure about others and there is something a bit paradoxical about demanding to hear from silenced people who can tell you how they were silenced.

    And does it really only count if someone is forced to cower under their bed and cut off their internet connection (which has certainly happened)? Surely its reasonable and relevant to note when the climate of debate is deteriorating.

  29. StillGjenganger says

    I really think you are missing a couple of points, Ally.

    First, it is not one individual with a newspaper column against one individual with only twitter account – it is against one individual with a twitter account and thousands of people who join and bay in concert. The great unwashed have a lot of collective power when a lot of them push the same line. Likewise people who come up with the wrong opinions but do not have a national media presence are not treated any better either.

    Second it actually impossible to participate in a debate when the loudest fraction all agree that you are misogynist, transphobic, or otherwise insane, and the rest all stay silent. You can keep talking, to be sure, but nobody will admit to listening to you.

    Third, this is about silencing a set of opinions, not specific individuals. So who do you mention to show that it is happening?
    People with somewhat controversial opinions? Easily refuted: “Nobody is being silenced or harassed, we just call them nasty names because they are a nasty lot of bigoted transphobes“.
    Impeccable but unknown left-wingers? “Who? Never heard of them. Nobody is being silenced, it is just that they clearly do not have anything worthwhile to say. Nobody has a right to a platform, you know.
    People like Lott, Chait, etc. who have a strong left-wing track record, generally interesting things to say, and their own platform for saying it? They are just “people with greater power, influence and platforms complaining about being held to account for their own words by the great unwashed.“. In short, ‘we’ know that nobody is being silenced , and no possible argument could ever convince us otherwise. Sounds like an article of faith, no?

  30. Wine.E.M . says

    Sorry, Ally, but I think you’ve largely misinterpreted what Lott’s getting at, here.

    It doesn’t help that he throws in two concepts together, which are really not the same thing
    at all (well, in terms of their effect on public life at least).

    To quote from his piece, his main fear and concern, above all, is “the mainstream left”. which “generates shame”, and its accompanying “groupthink” which “is a system of thought that has a real impact on public policy and institutional behaviour.”

    The ‘alternative’ ‘social justice warriors’ on Twitter, which you allude to here, do indeed also generate their own shame, for their values often tie in with the mainstream left described above, but since they don’t have a hand in shaping social policy or setting the agenda in public life, this is clearly a lesser and secondary concern.

    I think you make a false distinction also between being ostracised from the elite dinner
    party circuit of those who pull the strings, and the results of being seen “to criticise the great and the good, the overwhelmingly Oxbridge and public-school educated coterie who make up the commissioning editors, the staff writers and the columnists,”

    This is surely what Lott is intimating here, isn’t it? That these phenonmena are essentially the same thing: as a left-wing writer, do too much to alienate these people. and you will be
    banished from ‘high-table’. in every sense of the expression. Ultimately, you will have no more gigs, no more contracts, nothing. Isn’t this. after all. what happened to Neil Lyndon, when he dared to criticise feminism? He was banished to the wilderness for more than a decade. Even now the ‘liberal left’ establishment won’t touch him, and he’ll only occasionally crop up in the Telegraph. Be as brave as him, and you really could call yourself ‘transgressive’!

  31. Koken says

    I think the argument, at least taken at its best, is not “people who do this have wronged people like me in their attacks on us”, but “this part of ‘the left’, something with which I have a general identity and concern, has become hostile to difference and debate even with those who are, in the larger picture, its nearest allies. I think this is bad and would that it were not so”. On the second version the scale of the harm to Tim Lott or anyone else at an individual level is of course largely beside the point.

    I also think that it is at least possible to put together a case that it’s not so much that only the media elites that feel this way about the (for want of a better term) SJWs, but rather that it is only the people with precisely the protections you noted that are willing and able to say so in a high-profile way. Certainly there seems no shortage of commenters who say that this matches their experiences.

  32. Lucy says

    “Believe me, I know what it is like to write something that offends or upsets a section of the left, to wake up to a hundred notifications on Twitter, 99 of which are people calling me rude names or to an email inbox peppered with invitations to die in a fire. Just last week someone (thanks mate, you know who you are!) sent me a link to a six-page long Mumsnet thread entirely consisting of radical feminists debating who was officially The Worst between me and Owen Jones (pretty sure I came out top – in your face, OJ.)”

    a) mumsnet – the left?
    b) you do know people can look things up on the Internet, right?

    So I did that and I found your thread. It’s asking for contributed names of fake feminist men who don’t listen to women, with your and OJ’s names as a springboard. You then get a grand total of three mentions in an 11 page thread about Owen, transsexuals, cotton ceilings and male bodied persons. So I think Owen won.

  33. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucy
    Matter of definition. Owen got more airtime because many participants lamented the hopes they once had for him, whereas the idea that Ally was ‘a complete skidmark’ was just carried unanimously..

    Anyway thanks for your post – it introduced me to the ‘cotton ceiling’ ‘my body is not male in any way’, and a few other gems. If you will excuse my detachment, the disagreement between radfems and transactivists is very instructive to anyone who believes in ‘political correctness’ and ‘silencing’. When thieves fall out, …

  34. Martin Shand says

    This comment from cailindana from that thread is priceless.

    Oh my fucking god, this sort of thing drives me nuts. I have to say if I see a an article about feminism I check the author first and if it’s by a man I generally don’t read it so I haven’t read any Owen Jones or Ally Fogg. Any articles I have read by men have invariably missed the point entirely or smugly told women they were doing things wrong or feeling the wrong way about things. It gives me The Rage.

    I have a couple of male friends who have posted smug bullshit on FB and on their own sites displaying how ‘right-on’ they are – it made me totally lose respect for them. In both cases I challenged them on what they’d said. Predictably, the response was “you’re misinterpreting, I don’t actually believe that even though it’s exactly what I wrote etc etc.” One guy did try to take on board what I was saying but then just stopped responding – coward.

    It’s why I’ll never comment on racism beyond “I think it’s wrong, but I don’t know how it feels to be the subject of it.” When it comes to things I know nothing about I listen, I don’t trample in and start proclaiming I know everything the way so many men seem to do with feminism. My DH [dear husband?] tried it once – suffice it to say he doesn’t do it any more!

    Wow. Could have been written by Socrates himself!

    The logical end point if everyone adopts this kind of attitude is clear: no one will ever dare say anything to anyone ever.

  35. StillGjenganger says

    @Martin Shand 36
    Another point is that gender relations is not an internal matter for women (unless they first go to live in nunneries). The same goes for how to fit in transsexuals. ‘Only we can speak about this’ is a way of keeping males and cis’es (cissys?) out of the decision-making.

  36. Marduk says

    36.

    That is an attitude you see a lot of. It used to be that the socially concerned citizen took an interest in things that affected people in that society, now the idea is to stick rigorously to your own narrowly defined self interest.

    As with many of these SJW memes, you can see somewhere in the far distance a reasonable enough starting position but once it becomes dogma, the insanity begins.

    Albie Sachs didn’t take that attitude to racism or LGBT issues. Maybe he should have ‘checked his privilege’ and stuck to the conveyancing instead of dismantling Apartheid and pretty much bringing gay marriage rights to the world. What a “shitlord”.

  37. carnation says

    @ Ally
    @ Tamen

    Re: Mumsnet

    RadFems on Mumsnet – presumably they’re mums, presumably most conceived naturally, doesn’t this suggest they’re not very sincere RadFems?

    And should they be on a site that rigidly enforces gender norms?

    Actually genuinely curious…

  38. Marduk says

    Mumsnet, as a mass participation “web 2.0” site is second only to Facebook in the UK. It is believed to sway elections such is its might. For scale, it has 5 million users. Its founder is the most influencial woman in the UK after the Queen and the Home Secretary. I’d imagine you can get enough of any type of person to do 10 pages’ worth of comment on just about any topic. If Radfems are say 0.1% of feminists, they must a million or more feminists easily so its surprising they don’t have more Radfems regardless of what their stated beliefs supposedly re; “being a mum”. Its not like you can’t convert later in life after all.

  39. Marduk says

    In fairness I should say Tim Lott’s is annoying turd who makes me furious normally. In today’s piece about ‘what couples argue about’ in 2015, Lott believes the average couple’s money arguments occur because one partner earns five times what the other does and they can’t agree about which kind of iconic designer chair to buy. At a time when couples are more likely to argue about things like whose fault it is their benefits have been sanctioned (its IDS being a heartless moron but they’ll blame each other) and not wanting to have to beg the food bank for bread now they’ve used up their vouchers, this transcends being out of touch and borders on active cruelty. Lott’s piece prior to this? “Why I try to teach my children that life isn’t about money”. Go fuck yourself.

    But I stand by my view of the particular article we’re talking about here.

  40. Carnation says

    @ Marduk

    The RadFems are disproportionately vocal, my brief look at Mumsnet didn’t show there to be too many feminists.

  41. J. J. Ramsey says

    On one side you have Mikki Kendall who has a Twitter account and a sharp tongue. On the other hand you have Michelle Goldberg with her own Nation magazine column in which she can libel and misrepresent Kendall without even giving her the opportunity to have a right to reply to an audience of hundreds of thousands if not millions.

    To be mean, nasty, and cynical, I noticed that you wrote that Goldberg could “libel and misrepresent Kendall,” not that she actually did. Well, did she, and if so, how? From what I’ve Googled so far, I have yet to see something along the lines of “Goldberg said that Kendall said X, but she actually said Y” or “Kendall was quoted out of context, and the context is …” Instead, the defenses I’ve seen of Kendall against Goldberg have been hyperbolic BS such as “Michelle Goldberg’s writing is the print version of crossing the street when you see a group of black people.” I would hope that you could provide more substance to back up your implication that Goldberg has been dishonest about Kendall.

  42. says

    I wouldn’t go getting too big headed Ally.

    I once googled “zombie thread” and one of the first results was a 14 page mumsnet discussion on the etiquette of reviving old threads.

    I suppose you have to do something in the time between Woman’s hour finishing and going out to lunch, and what with the help not speaking English it has to be mumsnet.

  43. Marduk says

    The most important part of the Goldberg piece is really defining the situation:

    “The dogma that’s being enforced in online feminist spaces is often called “intersectionality,” but in practice it’s quite different from the theory elaborated by Kimberlé Crenshaw, the UCLA law professor who coined the word.”

    This sort of insight, as opposed to arguing is just something that feminists do (bit patronising anyway?) is what moves us on.

    Kendall was interviewed for the article and represents herself and in fact closes the piece. Can you explain how that is libel or not giving her a chance to represent herself?

    In any case the bit that upset people was not Mikki Kendall, it was the quote attributed to Britney Cooper:

    “I actually think there’s a subset of black women who really do get off on white women being prostrate,” Cooper says

    Mikki Kendall argued on twitter that she wasn’t offended by Britney Cooper’s comment because, she implied, Cooper had been tricked into saying it.

    Cooper’s reply on Twitter: “The author represents my quotes accurately. I have some quibbles w/ the broader frame but not my comments”.

    So I don’t buy your argument about this at all and getting upset that columnists have columns is a bit reductive. I know where you are coming from, that Suzanne Moore for example has a soapbox to tell millions how utterly dis-empowered she is does grate with its sheer repetition but c’mon.

  44. H.E. Pennypacker says

    @Marduk

    “The most important part of the Goldberg piece is really defining the situation:
    “The dogma that’s being enforced in online feminist spaces is often called “intersectionality,” but in practice it’s quite different from the theory elaborated by Kimberlé Crenshaw, the UCLA law professor who coined the word.””

    It’s interesting because ‘intersectionality’ is a word that’s bandied around so much online and often accompanied by the claim that it’s more complex than simply adding one form of subjugation on top of it. However, the only way I see it used are either as a completely fluffy add-on “we must be conscious of the complex entanglements and overlapping of different forms of oppression” with no further explication of what is meant and no unpicking of these complex entanglements, or the simple adding of one to another – “women are oppressed, non-whites are oppressed, gay people are oppressed so women are more oppressed than men, non-white women are more oppressed than white women, and non-white lesbians are more oppressed than non-white straight women etc.”*.

    It’s then often combined with what seems to me to be a weaponised version of standpoint theory on steroids (“I’m more oppressed than you, therefore you can’t possibly know anything about my experience or have anything relevant to say about oppression but I know exactly how you think so shut up and listen”). Having said that I’m definitely no standpoint theory expert so it is possible what you see online is true to the original formulation, so let me know if you think I’ve got that wrong.

    Anyway, I’ve got little sympathy for Tim Lott (I might have been able to stomach his article if it wasn’t for the dinner party reference – good call Ally) but I think there is a debate to be had over “call-out culture”. To take an example from this blog I remember that Ally, you wrote a piece arguing for the absolute necessity of calling out Russell Brand for his previous sexism when he entered the political arena as a radical leftist. Now for me, the relative importance of listening to what Brand was saying as opposed to what I considered to be relatively minor previous transgressions is certainly something worth discussing. However, I saw many people (and I’m pretty sure Ally wasn’t one although I don’t remember exactly) making claims that he was a sexual harasser based on a long disproven article in the Sun. Obviously he has, and had, a much bigger platform than anyone doing the criticising but uncritically quoting the Sun celebrity pages in order to his attack his message doesn’t seem at all useful to me. I’m sure that examples along these lines could be multiplied endlessly. I agree with Ally that the influential shouldn’t be able to write and say what they want without any fear of a backlash but I think there are huge question marks over the form said backlashes often take.

    *I haven’t read any Crenshaw but the only time I’ve seen intersectionality being used in the way it is advertised was in a Donna Harraway article that never uses the term “intersectionality”. For anyone who has no faith in the concept I couldn’t recommend The Teddybear Patriarchy more highly: http://depts.washington.edu/methods/readings/com501_haraway_teddybearpatriarc_1.pdf

  45. That Guy says

    I like everyone else here looked up the mumsnet thread.

    There’s some stomach churning transphobia in there- and mumsnet was probably the last place I’d expect to see it

  46. StillGjenganger says

    @That Guy
    OK, I did not read all of it, but the worst I found was the opinion that people wearing beards and penises should not be welcome in a woman-only space. Is that ‘stomach-churning transphobia’? Or was it the opposition to the ‘cotton ceiling’ concept?

  47. Marduk says

    Intersectionality is a fascinating idea, its a shame its been brought into such disrepute. This is reopening an old argument but I feel it in practice, aside from the SJW weaponisation (which is just what they do with everything they are given), we see a lot of “Ironic Intersectionalism” where it completely subverts itself by being used as a way for white middle-class feminists to handle and manage issues of class and race within their (dominant and superordinate) paradigm. Instead of taking class and race seriously, privilege is admitted to and we move on without doing anything about it. The clue is that they are still in the room, still at the table, still telling other people what to do and still mostly talking about themselves. Crenshaw herself gives a good example of this nicety with what happened with Anita Hill:

    “She simply became a colourless woman, and we as African American women feminists were trying to say, “you cannot talk about this just in gender terms – you have to be intersectional – there is a long history you cannot ignore,” but they didn’t have the skills to be able to talk about it,” she says. That led to another big moment: the moment when, as Crenshaw puts it, African American feminists had to “buy their way into the conversation”.

  48. That Guy says

    @50

    It takes a steep nosedive where they talk about who should be in what prisons, and why ‘trans women’ are more forceful and louder because ‘they’ve been socialised as men and are biologically male’- they basically ditch the idea that being trans is ‘real’

  49. StillGjenganger says

    @52 That Guy
    Well, men are socialised to compete for the floor, and women to more cooperative interactions (conf. Deborah Tannen). It may be incorrect to say that trans women are heavily influenced by having grown up as males (if they have), but it is hardly an outlandish idea.

  50. StillGjenganger says

    Ally,
    I re-read ‘You cannae throw your Gramsci off a bus‘ after Eggo’s post, and it sums up very well much that has also been debated since. Your comparison there does raise a couple of questions, though:

    Who is the ‘people-nation’, nowadays? Who are organically part of it, and who are outsiders who need to connect with it to gain legitimacy and understanding. Which group defines the people-nation and determine its interests? For Gramsci I assume that the people-nation was the proletariat, which formed a homogenous group with a single shared set of interests, who made up that vast majority of the population, and whose ultimate well-being was what everything was about. So anyone not in the proletariat needed to connect. Society may have changed, but for ordinary politics todays mainstream socialist parties might profitably consider this advice.

    For gender politics it is rather less obvious. Sure, you cannot represent transsexuals without a pretty intimate connection to their world. But to what extent do even transsexuals have a shared set of interests? How far are the intersectional feminists of twitter actually connected or representative of all transsexuals? Are the interests of transsexuals the same as those of the majority? Should they dominate over the interests of radfems, or of the cis majority, in the way that the proletariat deserved to dominate over the bourgeoisie and the capitalists? ‘Dictatorship of the transsexuals’ anyone?

    From the outside Susan Moore v. twitterati debate looks rather like two competing intellectual elites – each equally disconnected from the majority of the population, each fighting for a hegemony that will allow them to impose their views on the rabble, each intent on setting the terms of debate and silencing the competition rather than actually debating anything. And the Chaits and Trent Lotts of this world at least seem more willing to tolerate (polite) disagreement in debate than the twitter mobs.

  51. Ally Fogg says

    Gjenganger

    From the outside Susan Moore v. twitterati debate looks rather like two competing intellectual elites – each equally disconnected from the majority of the population, each fighting for a hegemony that will allow them to impose their views on the rabble,

    It might look like that and I can see why you would want to characterise it like that, but the key point is that power is not illusory, it is not a mirage, it is real, with real effects.

    It might well be that in 10 or 20 years’ time those intersectional feminists or trans activists might have control of the opinion columns and the editorial decision making, might be hosting dinner parties with the politicians, might have become exactly those whom they challenge. Or they might not. I suspect those who do attain those positions will be only those who abandon their radicalism and anti-establishment opposition, but whatever.

    The fact is that at present, the power is very much corralled by one side of the argument alone.

  52. StillGjenganger says

    @Ally 55
    Fair enough. I would not claim that the two sides are equally powerful. But they are fairly evenly matched in one aspect of power: The power to set the debating terms, to decree that their language, supporting their views, is the only one acceptable, and that anyone not using their terms is nasty, reactionary, something-or-other-phobic. That power too is not illusory, it is real, and it has real effects. And so far the trans side seems to be on course for winning. Once everyone with a university education has been taught that ‘woman’ means ‘anyone currently claiming to be a woman’ and any other vocabulary damns you as a hopeless Neanderthal, how much difference will it make who goes to lunch with the PM?

  53. collinmerenoff says

    Re Teddy Bear Patriarchy. Very clever what Haraway did. It seems like a typical poetic rendering of a walk through a museum in New York, and the next thing you know it’s expanded to cosmic pretensions. You can almost hear Haraway saying “Don’t blame me. That’s how they set up the museum!”

    This is the beginning of the so-called Capitalism that Ally Fogg hates, which isn’t really Capitalism at all. Capitalism is supposed to empower customers to assert what they want to buy; not inundate them with what producers want to sell!!!

    But books like Teddy Bear Patriarchy turn everything upside-down. The wisdom of being careful not to be too certain about anything is cruelly twisted into the willful ignorance of recoiling from reality itself. Indeed, how better the money-heads to protect their evil from criticism, than to project it onto the very essence of the world they’re plundering?

    Perhaps you all can now see where the world went wrong.

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