Be like Bertrand Russell, not Oswald Mosely

A reader sent me this rather affirming quote from Bertrand Russell, in which he refuses to debate the old fascist, Oswald Mosely.

Dear Sir Oswald,
Thank you for your letters and for your enclosures. I have given some thought to our recent correspondence. It is always difficult to decide on how to respond to people whose ethos is so alien and, in fact, repellent to one’s own. It is not that I take exception to the general points made by you but that every ounce of my energy has been devoted to an active opposition to cruel bigotry, compulsive violence, and the sadistic persecution which has characterised the philosophy and practice of fascism.
I feel obliged to say that the emotional universes we inhabit are so distinct, and in deepest ways opposed, that nothing fruitful or sincere could ever emerge from association between us.
I should like you to understand the intensity of this conviction on my part. It is not out of any attempt to be rude that I say this but because of all that I value in human experience and human achievement.
Yours sincerely,
Bertrand Russell

I note that so many of the debate channels are begging for people to participate, and they usually start with bringing in creationists of flat earthers or such trash to take one side, and can then find others willing to take the reasonable side. It’s not necessarily “cruel bigotry, compulsive violence, and the sadistic persecution” in the beginning, but still, by joining in, you’re contributing to the popularity of pernicious ignorance.

I’ve also noticed that that’s only the start — those channels, in their desperate straining for increasing sensationalism, always seem to end up bringing fascists and racists on. Would you believe I saw a video with Richard Spencer arguing for evolution? That was such a shit show I couldn’t bear it. Bertrand Russell would have wept. That’s the direction these pro-debate groups are going, milking profit off their ability to convince people to step into the ring with some terrible nobody. They are the modern equivalent of bum fights, and they are all morally reprehensible.

Just say no to debates.


  1. gijoel says

    People seem to think that debate involves stuffy, old men standing behind lecterns. Real debate is the exchange of criticism and rebuttal until a consensus is formed. Standing behind a lectern adds nothing to it.

  2. Snarki, child of Loki says

    “Flat Earthers” vs. “Hollow Earthers”!

    Needz a ‘steel cage death match’, not a wimpy online debate.

  3. Akira MacKenzie says

    Debate-bro culture is merely a manifestation of our combative, hyper-competitive culture that plays on the long-debunked notion that discourse and discussion leads to the truth.

  4. hemidactylus says

    Well sure “procreation tickets” don’t seem bad on their face:

    “The revered pacifist, disarmer and philosophical titan, Bertrand Russell, dreamed up a wheeze that would have made even Nazi Germany’s eugenicists blush. He suggested the state issue colour-coded “procreation tickets”. Those who dared breed with holders of a different-coloured ticket would face a heavy fine.”

  5. hemidactylus says

    Well this one is a bit more complicated. The procreation ticket thing was salient enough for me to recall but The Guardian article, though mostly lambasting Fabians and their ilk, may have gone more with what someone had said of Russell’s views in a private letter [from a fairer minded article by a Christina Dalcher]:
    *“…his sister-in-law, Mary Whitall Smith, spoke of the tickets in her own letter to partner Bernard Berenson in late 1894:

    “Berty’s [Bertrand Russell’s] idea is to have the state provide ‘procreation tickets’ of a certain colour [sic], and to have heavy fines for those who dare to have children with those whose ticket doesn’t correspond — thus eliminating disease. The congenial ones could marry all the same, even if their tickets weren’t right, but must use checks…””*

    Also from The Guardian was one time TH Huxley student HG Wells (Huxley had mocked the pigeon fanciers polity…not so much with his grandson Julian):

    “HG Wells could not contain his enthusiasm, hailing eugenics as the first step toward the removal “of detrimental types and characteristics” and the “fostering of desirable types” in their place”

    Not sure if that’s a fair in toto characterization of Wells across his lifetime. Eugenics was in the air and water they drank.

  6. says

    Moseley is sure rocking that “Tom of Finland” look. Or is it the other way around?

    Money can’t buy love but it can buy good tailoring.

  7. Erp says

    I see the Dalcher article is at
    As others had mentioned, eugenics was in the air and crossed political boundaries. A dividing question might have been whether the state should enforce eugenics policies or leave it up to individual (or couple) choice; Britain never passed a mandatory sterilization law despite several attempts to do so (opposition was also across political boundaries).
    This was also a several decades long political question and peoples’ views changed.
    Some current issues related to eugenics might be whether couples can/cannot/must do pre-marital or pre-pregnancy or in utero screening for Tay-Sachs/Huntington’s/etc and what they can do knowing the results. Add in what can the state/employers/insurance companies can do if they know the results.

  8. drew says

    Fascists seek sensationalism?

    I had always thought that those marriages of government and corporate power would seek business as usual. Trains running on time. Absolute anti-human horrors but documented meticulously, all part of some great bureaucracy.

    We do have the largest prison population in the world, despite having a minority of the world’s population. And that’s not including Obama’s border concentration camps. Or the indigenous “reservations” that take up so much of our land. All of which are tracked, cataloged, managed by multiple agencies. All of which are profitable, or there would be an outcry about their (financial) injustice from the far right Republicans.

    This looks mighty close to fascism. And that’s only one aspect.

  9. birgerjohansson says

    Snarki @ 2
    Hear! Hear!
    Sweden was also big on eugenics. We had an “institute for racial hygiene” earlier than Germany.
    The Swedish nazi groups found quite a lot of members.
    I do not defend the fuckers because my version of national pride is “we got rid of a lot of homicidal drivel, and gradually stopped being total jerks”.

  10. birgerjohansson says

    As for how to deal with fascists in än orderly, ethical manner, I can use our far-right Scandinavian kook Rasmus Paludan as an example.
    He likes to burn the koran during his speeches and in the beginning he triggered a couple of riots, which presumably helped him recruit a couple of blokes to to his extreme-right party.
    Eventually the muslims in Sweden adapted.
    This Monday when he came to my town (Umeå) various groups had arranged activities to councide with his speech to keep bored teenagers away.
    About a hundred people watched is very long speech where he attacked everyone and everything.
    When he seemed to be about to burn a koran, the audience whistled, demonstraively turned their backs on him and walked away. In the end he never burned anything, it was no point.

  11. seachange says

    Fran Blanche says a lot of non-words and has little affect with her closed mouth and blank face. For someone like me who is partially deaf and who relies on CC and reading faces, she is almost impossible to understand because her partial words interfere with my parsing. It took me some effort over again and again to look at her first three minutes, alas.

    She’s talking about flat-earthers? Is there a transcript?

  12. crivitz says

    @seachange 14
    Unfortunately Fran does not provide captions and I know of no transcripts so the only option would be using YouTube captions which are sometimes less than useless. She’s talking about a variety of topics, but starts off with the nonsensical comments by flat-earthers that she gets when she uploads films put out by NASA showing different Apollo flights from back in the 60s and 70s. The flat-earthers claim that those things are all fake and Fran laments how there’s no way to get them to accept the facts about spaceflight. She goes on to rant about all the other areas of life in which people refuse to accept reality and how so many people think they’ve done accurate “research” by looking up stuff on their phones and don’t look into anything further than that.

  13. DanDare says

    Debates do not allow for exploration at all. You come to the ddebate on one side or another. That requires that the sides be established before hand.
    Imagine debating Russel’s ticket thing. You would be for or against.
    Exploring would say, let’s start with that idea as a provocation, instead of a serious proposal. What are the concepts it engages? What are the implications? What else is there that we actually do that is illuminated by this ? E.g. assigning a binary agenda at birth. What are the emotions and behaviour patterns that drive a desire to do such a thing? What are intended benefits and if we agree they are beneficial how else can we obtain them. Same with unintended benefits.
    There are many more avenues of exploration. That is why I find debate anoying. It prevents exploration.