A Theological Debate, Eduard Frankfort, 1888
Nadia Whittome is a Labour MP. Yes, I know, but please read on, I implore you. She has become involved in one of the many cultural tea-cup storms taking place while, over the next hill, the Goths and Vandals mass and seethe with their eyes on the city gates. Ms. Whittome faced a ‘Twitter storm’ (which is what intelligent counter-argument has now been reduced to) when she wrote that ‘we must not “fetishise” debate’. Now, while this seems at first glance a candid admission of the Left’s approach to discussion of culture and politics in any form, the phrase actually does – for once – require setting in context.
In a piece for something called Indy Voices, where you can be sure that the voices heard are far from independent of contemporary hive-think, she had the following to say about issues surrounding transgenderism;
‘We must not fetishise “debate” as though debate is in itself an innocuous act’.
Now, let me just stop you right there, little lady. This is the section that has driven those of a Right-wing persuasion to get their shorts in a knot, and out of context it is misleading. That said, it is essentially a version of the Left’s mission statement. It has the same ring as ‘the tyranny of the majority’ (which the utterly useless former British ‘Conservative’ Prime Minister John Major used as though it were his, when it is, I believe, that of de Tocqueville).
Just as we know the Left to be essentially humourless, so too we are fully aware that they shy away from debate like a horse from its own shadow and, like that skittish nag, wear blinkers as a result. Debating is, or was, hard-wired into the Western mind. Think of great debates, pluck them out at random. Luther versus Erasmus on free will in the 16th century, the Hitchens brothers locking horns onstage, the wonderful ding-dong between those giants of French literature and philosophy, Michel Houellebecq and Bernard Henri-Lévy respectively. What you have there are two prehensile minds, probing and counter-thrusting, alive and intelligent. The Left, as we are all too aware, could not think or debate their way out of a soggy bag. This is because, if you discount The Guardian and the introduction to a paperback by Fanon, they don’t read.
But we hold these truths to be self-evident, so let’s move swiftly along. Which exact debate is it that Ms. Whittome referring to that we mustn’t have? She continues;
‘If someone wanted to initiate a debate about whether women are innately less intelligent than men or whether disabled people should be paid the same level of wages as non-disabled people, we would rightly be appalled at such a suggestion’.
Ah, now we are back on familiar ground. Debating a topic is fine, as long as it is on the woke approved list. The ‘we’ who would ‘rightly’ be appalled are the masters, or mistresses, or in-betweenies now.
So, there we all are, muzzled metaphorically as well as literally. And in case you think that attempting to initiate a debate on a verboten subject is a harmless pastime, remember what happened to scientific hero-to-zero James Watson when he attempted to start a scientific discussion about race and IQ. They buried him, more or less literally.
If you’ve read your Alan Bloom and your Robert H. Bork, of course, you will know that this has been coming since the fab, groovy sixties. Well, now it’s here. Debate is no longer the intellectual bedrock of society, but a fetish, like primitive tribes would dance around and worship.
Ms. Whittome finishes her statement of intent with another little gem that requires unpacking although, given that this is all taking place on the Left of the political divide, not that much unpacking;
‘The very act of debate in these cases is an effective rollback of assumed equality and a foot in the door for doubt and hatred’.
Ooooookay. The ‘very act’ itself is problematic, another word making a comeback thanks to our Leftist friends. That leaves no-platforming and violent disruption of speeches and debates as totally permissible, and we have seen plenty of this over the last few years at campuses and other newly woke institutions. ‘Assumed equality’ is another doozy. Equality is a myth, existing only in the field of mathematics. To assume it in the real world is what Plato would call, in the Timaeus, ‘bastard reasoning’. Finally, those evil twins ‘doubt and hatred’ are on the loose. The skeptical school of philosophy, culminating in Hume and Descartes (whose famous cogito formulation, ‘I think therefore I am’ is a product of radical doubt) are consigned to the wheelie-bin of history, and of course anything that does not chime with modern kiddy-think is automatically ‘hatred’. Again, only certain people can be hateful, usually white people of the male persuasion, and only certain things (usually meaningless abstractions) are subject to hatred, which is actually a perfectly normal emotion. I imagine – I hope – it is still permissible to hate U2, Piers Morgan (who got very angry about Ms. Whittome’s comments, as he is handsomely paid to do), Southern Comfort and chewing-gum.
We live in a strange and increasingly unpleasant world, one in which – as with Maoism and Leninism – intelligence is increasingly viewed with suspicion, and the grossest exhibitions of stupidity are spectacularly rewarded. We may still pull back from the brink of utter nihilism, of course, but it’s debatable.