Thursday, July 29, 2021

All About Hawwa

A Commentary on Dave Sim's Commentary on My Commentary on His Commentary on Genesis 4.

The Hebrew name for the first woman is usually transliterated as Chavah or Havah. I don't think that Greek had the hard "h/ch" sound, so Greek speaking Jews called her Eva. Interestingly, the first time she is named in Genesis 4, the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Bible which Jesus and St Paul would have known) calls he Zoe. Zoe is the literal Greek word for Life. (You may remember that our friend C.S. Lewis draws a theological distinction between zoe and bios.) But afterwards the Greek Jewish Bible refers to her as Eva. 

It is not too hard to see how a name could go from Chavah to Havah to Eva to Eve: much the same thing happens to Ionnes / Johannes / John. Our English Bibles are not always very consistent about nomenclature: Joshua, Hosea and Jesus are all used to represent Yehoshua.

Adam's wife is consistently referred to as Eve in English. In 1381, English revolutionary John Ball (as in "Sing, John Ball") famously asked 

when Adam delved and Eve span
who was then the gentleman

The York Mystery play, first performed in the 1370s, has God say

Adam and Eve, this is the place
That I have graunte you of my grace
To have your wonnyng in
Erbes, spyce, frute on tree. 

Wycliffe's translation, a century before King James, used the same name: 

Forsooth Adam knew Eve his wife, which conceived, and childed Cain

In Dave Sim's Torah commentary in Latter Days, Cerebus quotes Genesis:

"And the man called his wiue's name Hawwa, because she was the mother of all liuing"... Hawwa, by the looks of it, is just a variation on Hava, to be. As in "let there be light""

Cerebus/Dave thinks this is a trick on Yoowhoo's part, since Adam has now falsely called Eve the mother of all living things, including God: the subordinate Demiurge is presenting a series of allegories that purport to show that she is the primary deity. 

There is some discussion about the etymology of the name: Konisberg (the Woody Allen figure) tells Cerebus that the goyim changed Hawwa's name to Eve, which Cerebus thinks may be a pun on Evening.

In my commentary on the commentary, I write:

"(Dave) must be aware of different translations because he pedantically calls Eve “Hawwa” even though he is working from the English text."

In Dave's commentary on my commentary on his commentary (and man, that's a weird thing to be typing) Dave calls me out for misspelling Hawwa: which I can't see that I have done. (I'm just quoting his text.) But on the substantive point, I have indeed unfairly accused him of pedantry (or even sloppiness). He does in fact make it quite clear in the text that using Hawwa instead of Eve is a conscious decision, for which he gives his reasons. 

Earlier, Cerebus comments on the creation story: "The Yoohwhoo God said It is not good that the man should be alone: I will make him a help meete as before him" and asks "What the heck is a help meet, anyway."

I suggested that Dave was wilfully misreading this passage: that he pretended not to know what "help meet" meant because the idea that Eve was an appropriate or complimentary companion for Adam didn't fit in with his anti-feminist agenda. He says that it was simply a mistake: the text he was working from said "a help meet for him"; rather than "a help, meet for him". He accepts that my reading is better. 

I should not have attributed a wilful misreading to what was in fact a simple scholarly mistake. 

Indeed, I feel bound to say that Dave Sim has been very much more gracious to me than I have been to him.



Buy Me a Coffee at 

Become a Patron!

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

When Did You Stop Reading Cerebus?

"It's really quite good"

Dave Sim


80 page booklet 
20,000 word essay
plus extras
pretty layout



paperback book

Or (what would make me happiest...)

free PDF Download to everyone who joins my Patreon at the $1 tier

free hard copy to everyone who joins my Patreon at the $5 tier

Or just read the text on this blog...

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Andrew Rilstone And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Bad Footnote

page 5
Why Everything Andrew Has Written About Politics For The Past Fifteen Years Has Been Entirely Wrong

page 19


page 29 

Why  Andrew Is Never Going To Write About Politics Ever Again

Available to Patreon backers as a PDF/Ebook.  

essays will appear on this blog in Dew Coarse.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Jeffcotism: The Foundation of Twenty First Century Thought

Zechariah Jeffcott's destiny was determined at the age of five, when he heard his mother say to his father -- who had just said that it was universally agreed that the angles of a triangle added up to 180 degrees -- "Oh, that's because nowadays the geometry mob will vilify you if you dare to say they add up to anything else." 

"At that moment", Z. Jeffcott assures us "There flashed across my mind the great truth that behind every widely held opinion there is always a powerful elite systematically enforcing conformity and punishing dissent. The more widely believe something is, the more likely it is to be false."

That is how Jeffcotism became the foundation of 21st century thought. 

Back to The Future

Jeffcotism (6)

Take up the White Man's burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

And then we turn to the Houses of Parliament. The House of Commons. The people who govern us. The actual British Conservative party.

It was widely reported in the press that MP called Christipher Pincher had suggested that Kier Starmer,  centrist anti-Corbynite, had gone mad, and that he had further described him as a POW, prisoner of woke. I naturally decided I had better find out the context.

It was debate about statues. 

God almighty when I first came to Bristol I had no idea that one piece of fucking street furniture would send out such ripples. 

An MP called Gareth Bacon was in apocalyptic mood.

"Britain is under attack—not in a physical sense, but in a philosophical, ideological and historical sense. Our heritage is under direct assault. There are those who seek to call the very sense of what it is to be British today into question. Attempts are being made to rewrite our history, indoctrinate our children with anti-British propaganda and impose an alternative worldview."

And yes, this philosophical, ideological and historical force assaulting our heritage is popularly known as Woke.

So. Woke is an anti-British world view that "calls the very sense of what it means to be British today" into question.

We need to be very sure that we know what Britain means; what it means to be British; and what pro-British propaganda would look like. If we can get to that, we might finally have solved the mystery of what it means to be Woke.

"In woke eyes, the British empire is no longer seen as a modernising, civilising force that spread trade, wealth and the rule of law around the globe. Instead, it is viewed as a racist, colonialist, oppressive force than invaded sovereign foreign countries, plundered them and enslaved people en masse."


According to Conservative MPs in the House of Commons the idea of Britain and Britishness is that the British empire was an unmitigated good. The Woke Perspective, which is going to destroy the very idea of Britishness and what it means to be British is that the British Empire plundered and enslaved its subject nations and that that this was a bad thing.

Colonialism good = British. 

Colonialism bad = Woke.

Empire brought wealth and trade to the fuzzywuzzies = British. 

Empire enslaved people, sold them, used them as live stock, whipped them, drowned them = Woke.

Britishness is to believe in the White Man's Burden. 

Finding the whole idea sanctimonious and nauseating is Woke.

Britishness is literally about White Supremacy: about the good that we, the white people, generously did to you, various shades of brown people.

Of course, there can be nuance in the study of history. 

Of course that can sometimes get lost in the race for O levels and SATS. 

The old joke was that GCSE had reduced English history to Hitler and Henry -- the Tudors and the Second World War. I have some slight sympathy with the complaint that "according to the Woke perspective" Britain is seen only through the lens of Empire; and the Empire is seen only through the lens of slavery.

Although I can't help thinking of the old joke about the Welshman. "I am in the church choir every Sunday: do they call me Jones the singer? I make delicious bread five days a week; do they call me Jones the Baker? I play for the rugby first team most Saturdays; do they call me Jones the Sportsman. But just once they catch me with a sheep..."

I don't think that Germany is reducible to the Third Reich; I certainly don't think Germany is reducible to the Holocaust. But I can say "other things happened in Germany too" partly because the Germans have admitted that the Holocaust was a Bad Thing. They don't say "killing six million Jews would be politically incorrect by today's standards, but you can't judge the 1930s by the standards of today."

We are tilting at the shadows of windmills. If it were true that children were taught that Shakespeare was not a good poet and Jane Austen was not a good novelist and Darwin was not a good scientist and Christopher Wren was not a good architect because slavery, this would be a little one-sided. But if that were the case (which it isn't) there would be no need to appeal to the fiction of Wokery. We could point to particular flaws in particular text books; and bring in historians and schools inspectors to correct them.

Yes, there was a time when the cleverest people in the world thought that the world was flat. Yes, we should challenge taboos and not follow fashion. God knows, a proper historical account of Empire would involve nuance. The missionaries honestly thought that when they tore down the idols and forced the natives to wear trousers they were doing God's work. We enslaved people, but we built bridges. Hitler made the trains run on time.

But this is white man's burden talk. What it means to be British involves that we, white people, had to take law and order and wealth to you, black people. It is white supremacy written in forty foot high letters of fire. The British empire was a good thing because we, Europeans, know better than you, Africans and Asians.

The committed Jeffcotian never argues that his opponent is in the wrong. There would be no point in doing that. If the opponent is in the wrong, or might be in the wrong, you would refute him by his own arguments. The patron saint of the Jeffcotians is St Jude. He is only ever invoked on the side of hopeless causes. Slavery was good; the British Empire was okay; it's fine to be racist; it's bad to be gay; it's okay to insult minorities, trans folk shouldn't be allowed to get changed in swimming pools. The Jeffcotian argues that the hopeless cause is an hegemony; that a near universal lobby has stifled debate; and that this stifling of debate, not the racism, the sexism, or the homophobia is the real threat.

And because the hegemonic establishment is the real threat, the final Jeffcotian manoeuvre is so subtle, so elegant, so much a work of genius.

Woke is the evil because it will not allow dissent. 

Critical Race Theory is the real evil because it cancels and silences people. 

So we must enact legislation to prohibit Woke texts; to prevent Race Critical Studies being taught in colleges; to tell the the BBC that in order to continue to exist it must promote British Values. (British Values are that the Empire was an unmitigated good. Doctor Who and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue can only be allowed to exist if they actively promote the White Man's Burden.) 

The word Orwellian has done a lot of work lately. But this is literally Orwellian. The creatures are looking from pig to man and from man to pig; but it is already impossible to say which was which is which. 

[note for unfinished final section]

Jeffcotism (5)

Andrew Sullivan is able to help us out. It turns out that Woke isn't hypocrisy or piety or madness or Marxism. Woke, it turns out, is applied post-modernism

It seems that there are academic writers who think that everything in society is explicable in terms of those pesky power structures which bind us. How you define words; what you think is true about the world; and what politics and religion you agree with is determined by your position in the power structure. If you are powerful and privileged it is highly likely that what you define as "politically correct" or "good literature" or "fair laws" or "the right way of adapting Sandman" are the words, books, laws and Netflix boxsets that reflect and reinforce your privileged position. If you don't have power or privilege, your first move is necessarily going to be dismantling those definitions. This can fairly be called neo- or cultural- Marxism because it follows the classical Marxist view that social structures grow out of inequalities and tend to keep those equalities in place; it is "neo" because it is more interested in social inequalities rather than purely economic ones. Old Marxists thought that Church and Goverment and Media grew up in order to ensure that the rich man stayed in his castle and the poor man stayed at his gate and no-one asked why; Neo-Marxists think it is as much about ensuring that white people and straight people and especially men retain the upper hand. 

This is referred to throughout as "critical theory". It is unclear if there are a specific group of intellectuals who define themselves as critical theorists; or whether it is a neutral description of a tendency in academia; or whether this is merely a term which has been adopted by certain people to describe certain other people who they don't like. Very few critics actually call themselves Post Modernists, but post-modernism is a widely used term to describe certain actually existing trends in the arts and philosophy. Political Correctness, on the other hand, seems only ever to have been a hate-word adopted by people who didn't like it. 

Small and capital C conservatives often have a sense that Booklearned People don't like them. When I was in the Christian Union, we very frequently used the word Existentialist to refer to the general sense that clever folk mostly didn't believe in God and mostly thought life was pointless and Morality was whatever you said it was. The most important cultural figure of the 1980s, Adrian Mole, was a nihilistic existentialist. I don't know what would have happened if someone had told us about Kierkergaard. A bit later, about the same time as they discovered Political Correctness, the conservative newspaper columnists started talking about Deconstruction: apparently, universities and school teachers had discovered this theory that let them say that books meant exactly what they wanted them to mean. More recently, Post Modernist has become a popular word for talking about new things we don't agree with. I have heard evangelical Christians describing critical historical readings of the New Testement and anything which wasn't translated by King James as "post modern versions of the Bible." "New Age" did the same job for a while. 

Sullivan doesn't name any writers in particular -- he just points to a general enemy called Critical Theory. But I can see which tendencies in academic thought he is talking about -- Critical Theory is not a non-existant-thing, in the way I suspect Political Correctness always was. And some people on the Left certainly have read their post-structuralist text books. Comedy trade minister Liz Truss wasn't even completely wrong to say that some of the things she doesn't like in English education come ultimately from the ideas of Foucault. 

Sullivan's "critical theory" is clearly an exaggeration -- a parody -- of an actually existing set of ideas. 

"Truth is always and only a function of power. So, for example, science has no claim on objective truth, because science itself is a cultural construct, created out of power differentials, set up by white cis straight males."

It is possibly true that some left-wing thinkers think that all human endeavour comes with ideological baggage. The kinds of answers you get depend on the kinds of questions you ask and the kinds of data you pay attention to. Science is no more neutral than anything else, although it may try harder than some things. (A spade is a spade whether you are a feminist or a reactionary: but if you think that men are better than women you are likely to be more excited about digging up a sword than digging up a saucepan: so you can quite meaningfully talk about feminist archeology.) But it can't possibly be true to say that this new Critical thing says that there is no such thing as scientific truth. Or if it does, then it can't have the stranglehold on academia that the thinks it does: or of it does, then it can't be doing very much harm. The Woke controlled universities and businessmen who don't believe in scientific truth seem to be doing quite a good job of creating smart phones, sending probes to Venus and developing covid vaccines. And of course it isn't the Woke Left who are telling us that masks don't work, climate change is not a thing and vaccines are tied in with Bill Gates orbital mind control lasers. 

"There is no such thing as persuasion in this paradigm, because persuasion assumes an equal relationship between two people based on reason. And there is no reason and no equality. There is only power. This is the point of telling students, for example, to “check their privilege” before opening their mouths on campus. You have to measure the power dynamic between you and the other person first of all; you do this by quickly noting your interlocutor’s place in the system of oppression, and your own, before any dialogue can occur. And if your interlocutor is lower down in the matrix of identity, your job is to defer and to listen. That’s partly why diversity at the New York Times, say, has nothing to do with a diversity of ideas. Within critical theory, the very concept of a “diversity of ideas” is a function of oppression. What matters is a diversity of identities that can all express the same idea: that liberalism is a con-job. Which is why almost every NYT op-ed now and almost every left-leaning magazine reads exactly alike. "

It is true that the concept of privilege has become widely accepted. It is true that "check your privilege" has become a bit of a shibboleth or a slogan. But it is just not true that Critical Theory says that everything said by a less privileged person is right and everything said by a more privileged person is wrong; that men must always defer and listen to women; that anything a man says is automatically written off as mansplaining. 

In four years of studying English literature at school, I think I encountered two black characters. One suffocates his wife with a pillow. One is a comedy African sophisticate, who other characters in the book describe as a nigger. The characters who use the word are represented as upper crust fools, I concede, but at no point in the write-an-account-of-themes-and-effectiveness essays was the offensiveness of the word questioned. In my private reading I came across native porters and amusing gollywogs. Once in a blue moon there was something consciously Ethnic on the BBC; I remember a Jackanory story about a black boy and a cow. Lots of Cowboys and Indians of course. And, as so often, Stan Lee came to the rescue with the Black Panther, the Falcon, Robbie Robertson, Hero For Hire and Brother Voodoo. No, really. 

There is a perfectly good conversation to be had about why this was. If English Literature means "the study of literature written in England" then white writers are going to predominate: if it means "the study of literature written in English" then you would think that quite a lot of Africans, English speaking Asians and even one or two literate Americans would appear. If it is the case that if there is only a finite amount of time on the school curriculum, then saying "We are going to look at some English speaking African authors" means that some dead white men are going to drop off the list. If you are a dead white man, you might perceive this as harming you: there are suddenly less people like you on the list. Boris Johnson commissioned a report which literally framed "reading books by black people" as "banning white authors". 

Checking your privilige does not mean "as a white person I am always wrong". It does mean "perhaps there is some reason why I perceive that copy of Maya Angelou in the school library as a threat." 

Post Modern theory certainly exists; and it certainly contains beliefs and assumptions which are highly contestable. I think it is overwhelmingly unlikely that there is a single university in the country which hands students a copy of The Archeology of Knowledge and and says "this is the unarguable truth and we will test your catechism next week." One of the planks of the new Theory is that students ought to be encouraged to explore ideas for themselves and form their own conclusions: this was why Liz Truss thought Focualt was to blame for all that horrible permissive modern education. 

Sullivan doesn't come right out and say that Critical Theory is wrong . He thinks it is quite interesting and might have a good point. He doesn't give any particular examples of Critical Theory resulting in bad or wrong actions. He simply complains that it is hegemonic. No-one is allowed to think anything else. 

Considering the overwhelming whiteness of academia, the judiciary, the British and US government, bussiness, and the church, it seems overwhelmingly unlikely that there is a fixed party line that anything a black person says is automatically right and anything a white person says is automatically wrong. Presumably, the opposite has happened: black people have sometimes started to say that white people are not always right just because they are white, and that some white people don't like it. It's not that white people have been forced to sit at the back of the bus; it's just that black people are now sometimes allowed to sit at the front of it. If Critical Theory now controls absolutely everything, how is it that there are so many newspaper articles and blog posts denouncing Woke as a terrible thing? If the main problem with Woke is that it doesn't permiot dissent, why are there legislative moves to prohibit the teaching of race critical texts or race critical theories from schools and colleges? 

If one of my collegues saught special permission to leave work early on Fridays in the winter, I might be puzzled. Once I learned that was an Orthodox Jew, I would not need any further explanation: the Jewish day of rest begins when it gets dark on a Friday. Similarly, if a client refused point blank to sign his name on a form or claimed to be called John Smith despite it saying something different on his ID then knowing that he subscribes to the Freedom on the Land conspiracy theory makes his behaviour entirely explicable. If someone keeps discovering something called an Oedpus Complex in literary texts; or if they describe themselves as a Hufflepuff and one of their friends as a Ravenclaw then it helps to know that these words have special meanings in the writings of Freud and J.K Rowling, respectively. In each case, the person's beliefs required explanations and the special case helpfully clarified why they were doing what they were doing. 

If I see someone with the number 14/8 tatoo'd on his wrist, I would probably assume that it was his birthday, or maybe an army number or even the name of a pop group I haven't heard of. But I have been reliably told that 8 stands for the letter H, so 88 means H.H, as in "Heil Hitler." And a popular Klu Klux Klan slogan is often referred to by accolytes as "the 14 words". So it is at least possible that 14/8 has a meaning that is only apparent if you know the context. I used to have a nice teeshirt with a picture of a dial marked "Polarity flow +/-" and the initials WWTDD?. You either get it or you don't. 

But if someone thinks that "slavery was bad" and that "bad things should not be celebrated" then no further explanation is necessary. Slavery was bad and the celebration of bad things is bad: so obviously so that the burden of proof lies entirely on the side of the person who thinks that seventeenth century slave traders and confederate generals can and should be lauded as heroes. I do not say that the counter-case cannot be made. I do not say that "any memorial, once erected, must never be demolished" is an impossible brief. If the question was "memorials, even racist ones, should only be removed through due process of law, never through unilateral action and mass protest" then I would be prepared to speak either for or against the motion. I merely say that those of us who think that Colston was not the best and wisest male person ever born ion Bristol; and that the hero worship of man whose fame rests entirely on having run the company which owned the monopoly on buying and selling black people have a prima facie case. We don't need to say "this otherwise inexplicable view is explained once you discover they subscribe to a bizarre ideology called Woke". 

We don't even need to say "you may think they are pulling down a statue of a slaver, but to those in the know, pullling down racist statues has a scary, secret meaning, like 14/8". The pulling down of the statue represented the fact that white people buying and selling black people was a bad thing; this represented the fact that the oppression of black people by white people in the present day is also a bad thing. You may think that black people are not oppressed by white people; you may think that structural racism is not a thing; you may think that only studying books by white authors about white characters is fine; and that you are only a citizen of Bristol if you can prove that your mother lived in Bristol for the last three generation. These are arguable points. No light whatsoever is shone on the question by saying "Many of the people on the demo which removed the statue had a quality called Woke; Woke derives from something called critical race theory." An idea is not refuted by saying that it is the kind of idea which people who believe in ideas of that kind might believe. 

It is true, in that case, that everyone agrees that Colston had to go. The schools set up in his name agreed. The school that was indirectly related to one he personally founded agreed. The theatre agreed. Both the pubs agreed. The Merchant Venturers and the Dolphin Society who originally put up the bloody statue agreed. 

Everyone agrees that slavery was bad; everyone agrees that Colston was a slaver. So it follows that you are not allowed to think that it was and he wasn't. We will give it a silly name. And we will say, over and over again, until you are bored to death, that the real danger, the threat to the continuation of society, is not the statue. It is the fact that you are prohibited from not being in favour of removing it. 

Sullivan is, in fact, adopting the tactics we saw Graham promoting a week or so back. He has spotted a tendency he doesn't like. He has given it a name. Instead of telling us what he doesn't like about it, he has simply claimed that "they" have absolute power and that dissent has been forbidden. Don't say "white supremacy does not exist". Say "you are not allowed to say that white supremacy doesn't exist; and not being allowed to say that white supremacy doesn't exist is the really serious form of oppression." 

Critical Race theory may or may not be a thing. The Roots of Wokeness is sheer Jeffcotism.

[Unrevised final draft]

Jeffcotism (4)

"There’s four sorts of people tryin’ to get to be rulers. They all want to make things better, but they want to make ’em better in different ways. There’s Conservatives an’ they want to make things better by keepin’ ’em jus’ like what they are now. An’ there’s Lib’rals an’ they want to make things better by alterin’ them jus’ a bit, but not so’s anyone’d notice, an’ there’s Socialists, an’ they want to make things better by takin’ everyone’s money off ’em, an’ there’s Communists an’ they want to make things better by killin’ everyone but themselves." 

William the Dictator 

We know that there is this thing called The Woke Mob, The Woke Left, The Woke Establishment and The Thoroughly Woke. 

We know that it will punish you for using inauthentic ingredients in Italian meat sauce 

We know that it will force drugs and hormone therapy on adolescent boys who like playing with dolls. 

We know that it is an alien ideology which most ordinary people are afraid of. 

We know that it has somehow taken control of the mind of Neil Gaiman and forced him to hire a dark skinned actress to play a comic book character who was originally drawn with light skin. 

But what actually is it? 

For some time, I have amused myself during the long winter evenings by asking strangers on Twitter what they mean when they use word Woke. I have received a variety of answers. 

Some people have frankly admitted that it is just a synonym for "of the Left" or "to the Left of me." It means "applied neo-Marxism" or "radical left wing politics".

One person told me that was a form of mental illness, but we didn't get very far in finding out who had diagnosed it or what the symptoms were. 

I have been told that it is the converse of common sense, and that to be Woke is to be hypocritical. "It means the need to appear virtuous trumps safety, truthfulness, and common sense" said one correspondent. He had objected to a sign in a college library that said that people should use the toilet they felt comfortable with, and that no-one else had any right to tell them they shouldn't. 

Very frequently have I been told that I already know what Woke means and am being disingenuous. (This is Tony Blair's line: he can't or won't define Woke and P.C, but ordinary people (he assures us) know exactly what they mean.) 

When I was a child, hearing the Christmas Bible readings and singing the Christmas carols, I asked my parents directly what it meant for Mary to be a Virgin. They wouldn't tell me. I think they pretended they didn't know. I was able to piece together the kind of work the word was doing in the poems and readings: Mary was young, holy, and it was surprising that she would be having a baby. I can piece together what the word Woke is doing: I know how it is used. But no-one has yet taught me the facts of life: I can't say what the thing is. 

Not too long ago, before all the fuss started, a nice folksinger introduced a song about some men who went whale hunting, possibly having sailed out of Balina or huddled round a little pot stove. "I know this isn't very Woke" he said, and you could hear the quotation marks round the word. It mean right-on or sound or even PC. "The kind of thing most of us in this room approve of." We don't agree with hunting whales, but we are going to sing the song anyway. 

Some sensible people have appraised me of the history and origins of the word. A comment on this very blog said that it meant "Aware of the power structures which bind us". And this is definitely what it means, or what it used to mean. But that doesn't get us very far. "Chris Chibnall ruined Doctor Who by making it too aware of the power structures which bind us" might possibly be a coherent sentence. "The mob who are aware of the power structures which bind us can rage all they want, I am still putting Branston pickle in my lasagne", not so much. And I don't think that the singer meant that the song was insufficiently aware of power structures. 

The best suggestion was that Woke means "preachy". This is helpful, because it covers many of the usages and provides some insight into what the kinds of people who complain about things being Woke are complaining about. Greta Thurnberg is a bit of a scold. Jodie Whitaker explains the moral out loud at the end of each episode. I can see what those two things have in common. I can even draw a line between "telling cooks they shouldn't add carrots to lasagne" and "telling cops they shouldn't murder black people, save for some reason". 

"Everyone's gone a bit preachy and judgemental" might be a statment I could get behind. I think that Jodie Whittiker's impassioned speech to camera about how Rosa Parks was a Good Thing is a little bit corny; but then so was David Tennant's speech about how Agatha Christie was a Good Thing. And to be honest I could do without Captain Kirk telling me how brilliant the US Constitution is, or Charles Ingalls explaining that God wouldn't destroy a little girl's optic nerve without a jolly good reason. But no-one would ever called patriotism or piety Woke. 

On this modest definition, Woke would have to be defined as "preachiness on the part of liberals or left wingers". In fact, it would mean "The Left have started to talk about equality and the environment in the way that The Right have always talked about flag and family." 

This is not a bad point. I could go some distance with the the person who says "Black Rights Matter and Extinction Rebellion are making some very good points, but they need to learn not to be such jerks about it." I would have been largely on Tony Blair's side if he had told The Left that they weren't going to win anyone's hearts and mind by adopting a holier than thou stance. " But I would still be suspicious that the accusation of excessive piety was a tactic. I would think that Woke was the strategic pretence that anyone to the Left of the speaker is threateningly pious. I can't plausibly argue that White Supremacy is good. I can't even plausibly argue that White Supremacy does not exist. So instead I say that anyone who believes that White Supremacy is bad is sanctimonious and that sanctimony is the Real Threat. That gets me off the hook of having to explain why I am right and you are wrong 

But I don't think that Woke Equals Preachiness cover the case. It is just barely possible that when Tony Blair says that Woke represent a bad, sinister, alien ideology that goes against what Ordinary People believe in, he means "The one thing that ordinary people really don't like is being preached at." It is conceivable that when Mr Sullivan spoke of a Woke Establishment that controls everything, he meant "powerful people are more sanctimonious and judgemental than they used to be." But I think that is not what he meant at all. That is not it at all.

[Unrevised final draft]

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

How Jeffcotianism Posions Everything (3)


One Andrew Sullivan wrote a piece called
 "Truce Proposals in the Trans War."

On the surface, the piece was arguing for an unobjectionable proposition: that if people who think that trans women are women and trans men are men and people who are far from sure that gender works like that could both be a little bit less shrill, we might all get along better. 

I think this is true. I think that it is true about nearly all subjects. "What do we actually disagree about?" and "Is there anything we agree on?" is almost always a better starting point than calling each other nasty names. Instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us we should cordially unite in those things wherein we agree, as the fellow said. 

But I have the same problem with calling for truces that I do with writing "Discuss" after incredibly provocative statements. If I propose a "truce" between people who think that covid vaccinations will turn them into mind-controlled Bill Gates' drones, and people who don't then I am conceding that the anti-vaxxers are not completely mental, a point I am very far from conceding. If I say that flat earthers and roundists ought to look for common ground (even if they can't agree what shape it is) then I am tacitly admitting that the round earth theory ain't necessarily so. 

People with fringe positions understand this very well. It is young earth creationists, not people who think your man Darwin was probably onto something, who are perpetually demanding that we "teach the controversy". 

The whole notion of "the trans question" is pretty unpleasant. There are obviously questions. As we as a society gradually came around to the idea that some people happened to be gay, we had to answer questions -- about civil partnership and marriage and adoption and who took whose surname and whether we were going to allow the Church of England to opt out and whether you had two sets of bridesmaids and no best man and did we make exceptions if a very old fashioned bakery didn't want to ice the cake? But The Gay Question (are some people gay, and should we just get over it?) is very much not open to negotiation. As we come around to the idea that gender and sex are not always aligned, questions about modesty and Gillick competency and tennis and who should play Desire in Sandman will come into play. I don't know if Sullivan is correct that there are disproportionate number of people who are "psychologically unstable, emotionally volatile and personally vicious" on both sides. I do think it would be better if you put down your sword and I put down my rock and we tried to kill each other like civilised people. 

The Trans Question sounds all too much like The Jewish Question. It sounds like we are looking for a solution; final or otherwise. 

What interests me, once again, is how the question is framed. The supposed purpose of the essay is to tread a moderate path between two entrenched and extreme positions. Yet throughout the essay, Sullivan paints a picture of a powerful block of "trans activists", committed to something called "trans ideology", streamrollering  the very moderate and tentative objections of what he pointedly does not call the "anti-trans-activists". He doesn't really see himself as brokering peace in a war between two equally matched sides. He sees himself as siding with brave rebels who are striking back against the evil trans-activist empire. 

Once or twice, he does seem to say that the dissenters -- he describes them as reactionaries, "Christianists" and Fox News -- go too far. He says that the fear of women being assaulted by men in public lavatories is largely illusory; he describes laws that would ban teenagers from transitioning and ban trans girls from participating in school sports as "extreme". But he while the reactionaries and the "trans activists" may be equally extreme and equally mad, the former appear to be a tiny, easily silenced sect, where the latter appear to be a mighty, all controlling elite. 

He talks about these "trans activists" in the most melodramatic language. Puberty blockers are "an experiment on children"; there are "countless stories" of their being handed out "like candy". Trans ideology "seeks to abolish the idea of biological sex altogether...It's nuts". He is afraid that teenaged boys who prefer theatre to sport will be told that they are "really" girls and pressured into transitioning. He thinks that the increased numbers of young trans people suggests that the whole thing is a "fad" or a "craze", probably propagated by the internet. 

Sullivan performs very much the same manoeuvre we watched Tony Blair execute a couple of weeks back. Tony Blair said that Radicals were not sensible and that the Sensible people were not radical. A moderate might well have proposed various sensible things the Radicals could do, and various way in which the Sensible people could be more radical. But as we saw, he told the Left to be more moderate and  he told the Moderates to be less like the Left. Similarly, Sullivan purports to be calling for moderation from both sides but in fact paints a lurid picture of the extremism of one side only. 

"(Trans rights) have become a litmus test for social justice campaigners, who regard anyone proposing even the slightest qualifications on the question as indistinguishable from a Klan member". 

For the sake of argument, I will accept that point. But where is the next sentence? Why does he not go on to say that it has also become a litmus test for the far right, who regard anyone proposing a change to pronoun usage or inclusive signage on lavatory doors as indistinguishable from the Gestapo? 

Literally no-one says that small differences of opinion about trans-gender issues are analogous to the Klu Klux Klan. It may very well be that some people have used such emotive language about big differences of opinion: for example, differences of opinion about whether transgendered people exist in the first place. 
The anti-trans lobby certainly do use this kind of rhetoric. Graham Linehan literally said that the use of puberty blockers was the equivalent of experimenting on children; that this is closely parallel with Nazi concentration camps; that gender non-conforming children are having their genders changed by these sinister clinicians, and that this amounts, more or less deliberately, to gay genocide. J.K Rowling was less extreme and more thoughtful, of course. But remarks about "throwing open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels that he's a woman" (which means "opening the door to any and all men who wish to come inside") doesn't strike me as a "slight qualification" either. 

We don't call them bathrooms in Britain, incidentally.

My experience of lady's loos is quite limited, but don't they have doors on the cubicles? What catastrophic thing might happen if the person behind one of the doors was a bloke? Men's loos are somewhat less private, admittedly. 

But what primarily bothers me about the essay is the creeping Jeffcotianism. People, especially young people, are coming out as non-binary because a powerful interest group is telling them to. If the Trans Activists had not exerted pressure on them, they would probably still be adding Worcester sauce to their spaghetti. 

Sullivan says that "tom-boys" or "effeminate boys" may be gay or straight, trans or cis. I agree with him. A straight male might perfectly well like Barbie Dolls and a straight girl might perfectly well like Action Men. Whatever gender means, it isn't reducible to a preference for blue over pink. But who is telling these poor boys who just want to be left alone with their antique shops and their Village People records that they are really girls on the inside and should arrange for an operation as soon as possible? 

"And yet they are now pressured both ways: to conform to rigid gender stereotypes by reactionaris or to see their atypical behavior as a sign they were born in the wrong body by woke progressives. Why not just leave them alone?" 

Is it really true that any girl caught with a rugger ball or a copy of Call of the Wild is whipped straight off to the gender reassignment clinic and given a bag of puberty blockers and jelly babies and assigned a newly minted set of pronouns?  I think it more likely that trans activists are a convenient fiction. Some people think they are trans. We are not quite prepared to say "Well you aren't". So instead we say "You only think that because the Woke Progressives told you you were." 

"The Woke Progressives."

Jeffcotists and Bulverists are never far apart. 

And then again: 

"For some trans activists, especially the younger more thoroughly woke ones, I am simply evil, beset by phobias, and determined to persecute and kill trans people, or seek their genocide." 

Well: no. If Sullivan's views are as moderate as he pretends (adults can make up their own choices; some people really are trans; children may not be competent to make life-changing medical decisions; cis women should have a right to willy-free zones if they want them) then I very much doubt that he has been called evil. It may very well be that he has heard the word applied to the extreme, visceral anti-trans ranters like the aforementioned Graham Lineham. 

But again: let's take his word for it that he has been accused to wanting to plan a final solution to the trans question. Who is it who has made this baseless allegation? The Thoroughly Woke, that's who.

Are these Thoroughly Woke young people and Woke Progressives, who go around accusing journalists of genocide and surgically altering everyone who auditions for West Side Story a rare, extreme, esoteric sect?

On the contrary: 

"The woke establishment — all major corporations, the federal government, the universities, all cultural institutions, the mainstream media and now the medical authorities — are unequivocally on the side of anything the trans activists want." 

The Woke Establishment. All big businesses; the whole of higher education; TV, theatre, newspapers, art; doctors and hospitals; and even the U.S government -- are all under the control of this thing called Woke. It's power reaches further than any telepathic alien lizard or elderly zionist ever dreamt of.

It could be a figure of speech. It could be that "the Woke Establishment" just means "the kinds of people who believe in the kinds of things I'm talking about." 

It could be a tactic, the kind of tactic that we saw Paul Graham advocating last month -- stick a label on something and hope it goes away. 

He might, like Paul Graham, simply be talking about prevailing opinions. The fashion used to be for fixed gender, but now it's for fluidity, in the same way the fashion used to be for baggy jeans, but has now turned to tight ones." 

But it could be pure, extreme, Jeffcotianism. 

The Woke Establishment literally exist. 

They control literally everything. 

And they are coming for your children's genitals. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

"Jeffcotism is invading all forms of discourse and rendering rational discussion impossible." Discuss. (2)

"You're a nutcase! You're a bleedin' nutcase!" 

"They said the same of Jesus Christ, Freud, and Galileo." 

"They said it of a lot of nutcases too."

Peter Cook/Dudley Moore

In 1996 the Humanist Association gave Richard Dawkins a gold star because he had done humanism better than anyone else that year. But in 2021 they asked him to send it back. The association defines humanism as "being good without God". Dawkins may score very highly in Column B but he is not so hot in column A. 

You would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh. 

The proximate cause of Dawkins' discomendation was a Jeffcotian comment he made on Twitter about transexual people. 

“In 2015, Rachel Dolezal, a white chapter president of NAACP, was vilified for identifying as Black. Some men choose to identify as women, and some women choose to identify as men. You will be vilified if you deny that they literally are what they identify as. Discuss.” 

Apparently, the Tweet has been "misconstrued". Dawkins was not expressing an opinion. He was asking an academic question You can tell that he was asking an academic question because he put the word "discuss" on the end of it.

This reminds me of an annoying toddler I once knew. He understood that he had to say "sorry" when he had done something naughty; and therefore started to say "sorry" before pouring orange juice over his sister's head. And also of lazy journalists who think that any calumny is magically neutralised by the addition of the word "allegedly". 

Putting the word "discuss" after an offensive remark does not make it okay. 

"Richard Dawkins is a cunt. Discuss." 

The act of placing something on the agenda for discussion is not a neutral act; it is a political act. It implies a stance. If I say "Ginger haired people do not exist. Discuss" then I am saying that the existence or non-existence of redheads is something about which more than one point of view could reasonably exist. 

Doubtless, in a debating society, you might try to defend indefensible positions:

"The world is flat. Hitler had a good point. There are no blonde women in Bognor Regis. Discuss." 

I believe that some Rabbis regard it as a point of honour to be able to prove from the Torah that the Torah says things which the Torah definitely doesn't say. Nothing in the context of Dawkin's anti-trans remarks suggest that he is engaging in intellectual play of that kind. I admit that Twitter doesn't allow much scope for nuance. That is why you should be very careful about how you use it. 

An examiner might perfectly well ask a candidate to discuss a deliberately controversial question: 

"Ibsen was a better playwright than Shakespeare. Discuss." 

The answer would be "it depends what you mean by playwright": Ibsen was better than Shakespeare at creating plots and dramatic effects; but he was nowhere near such a good writer. A Dolls House is a better play than the Taming of the Shrew, but it is not a better thing. The answer to "discuss" questions is always "it depends what you mean by". 

But an examiner would probably not smuggle too many assumptions onto the paper. He would probably not write: 

"The great and underrated Ibsen was an incomparably better playwright than that overrated hack Shakespeare, but anyone who dares say so will be hounded out of town by the anti-Norwegian Bard mob. Discuss." 

I suppose he might possibly put a genuinely controversial quote before the student and ask them to talk about it: 

"Shakespeare's name, you may depend on it, stands absurdly too high and will go down." (Lord Byron.) Discuss. 

"Discuss" questions turn up on humanities papers more often than they do on science papers. Literary criticism and philosophy are all about the discussion process. There aren't any right answers, although there are many wrong ones. Dawkins doesn't quite believe that philosophy and lit crit are real subjects. 

"Racial identity and gender identity are the same kind of thing. Discuss" might be a valid exam question; although I can't help thinking that my essay woul be quite short. ("Of course they bloody aren't".) Dawkins talk of white people "choosing" to be black and men "choosing" to be women make it pretty clear where he is coming from. And the word "vilification" gives the game away. 

Richard Dawkins is a committed Jeffcotian. Spiders are better than bears, but They won't let you say that nowadays. 

During the discussion of Dawkins, Mike Taylor drew my attention to this article, by a computer programmer called Paul Graham, about heresy, fashions in thought and things that one is not allowed to say. It seems to be the definitive statement of the Jeffcotian position, and it is worth looking at in some detail. 


It would be quite hard to disagree with the central thrust of the argument. There are fashions in thought as well as in clothes. There are prevailing orthodoxies and received wisdoms. We didn't all independently decide that Greta Thunberg was a Good Thing in 2018, any more than we all independently decided that flares were cool in 1972. To some extent we think what we think because other people think it too. From time to time we ought to examine our beliefs and ask "Why do I think that?" 

Maybe Ibsen is better than Shakespeare. Maybe being black doesn't have anything to do with the colour of your skin. Maybe Hitler did have a point. Maybe spiders are better than bears. 

There is, however, a very broad streak of Jeffcotism running through the essay. Graham believes that widespread agreement about a particular subject is prima facie evidence that some powerful lobby has a vested interest in preventing us from thinking the reverse. "Everyone thinks..." leads inexorably to "Everyone is forced to think..." and to "They won't let you think..." 

It is true that the centre ground, the consensus, the stuff which "everyone knows" shifts over time. If I had lived in 1750 I would probably have just kind of taken it for granted that women don't vote in elections because that's the way it has always been and why would it not be? If I had lived in 1650 I would probably have said "what are these 'elections' of which you speak?" If I had been born in, say, 1965, I would probably have found it quite hard to get my head round the idea that two males could be married to each other; but by, say, 2021, I would probably be finding it quite hard to remember what all the fuss was about. 

But is this simply fashion, simply us following the herd? Is there, indeed, a sinister Gay Marriage Brigade or Suffrage Lobby telling me what to think? 

Graham thinks (like Dawkins) that scientific truth is privileged. If everyone changes their mind about physics or astronomy, that's because the old point of view was just wrong and the new point of view is just right. He is correct to say that opinions about morality can't ever be definitely right or definitely wrong in the same way. But from this he makes the colossal leap that moral beliefs are simply a matter of taste: the same sort of thing as wearing skinny jeans because everyone else is. 

"What scares me is that there are moral fashions too. They're just as arbitrary, and just as invisible to most people. But they're much more dangerous. Fashion is mistaken for good design; moral fashion is mistaken for good. Dressing oddly gets you laughed at. Violating moral fashions can get you fired, ostracized, imprisoned, or even killed." 

"In a field like physics, if we disagree with past generations it's because we're right and they're wrong. But this becomes rapidly less true as you move away from the certainty of the hard sciences. By the time you get to social questions, many changes are just fashion. The age of consent fluctuates like hemlines." 

Well, no. In the first place, people consciously want to dress fashionably, and are consciously aware that fashion changes. That is the fun of it. "What colour is 'in' this month?" they ask. "How are the ladies in the big city wearing their hair?"

In the second place, fashion is not arbitrary. When having a sun-tan suggested that you spent all day outside doing manual work, the rich put mercury on their skin to make it unnaturally pale. When a sun-tan meant that you were rich enough to go on expensive foreign holidays, and idle enough to spend hours lying around doing nothing; the rich started to sit under ultra-violet lamps to make their skins look unnaturally brown. Or, in some cases, orange. The aspirational skin-tone changed: the wish to show off your status did not. 

Thirdly, changes in the law about the age of consent do not represent changes in our ideas about what is right and what is wrong. There are some moral beliefs which do not change over time: strong people shouldn't exploit weak people; you should only have sex with someone who wants to have sex with you; very young people can't give informed consent. Legislators have at different times had different opinions about how those moral beliefs should be reflected in the law of the land. I think that you should go to jail if you have sex with someone under the age of 21 (even though that means criminalising some consenting teenagers); you think that its none of the law's business what two 15 year olds get up to in private (even though it gives abusers a legal fig-leaf to hide behind). 

The implication that morality is as arbitrary as taste in clothes is shockingly amoral. "We used to think that it was okay for middle aged blokes to fuck little girls; now we lock them up for it" and "We used to think platform shoes were cool; now we think they look silly" are not equivalent statements. 

None of the chic set are into freedom any more. This season, wife-beating is the new philanthropy. 


Graham proposes a series of spiritual exercises in order to find out which of your beliefs are your own and which are merely fashionable. 

Do you have any opinions which you would be reluctant to express in public? If not, you are a conformist: you believe what you have been told to believe. If you do have some beliefs you would rather not admit to, you should ask yourself "What labels would be attached to them if I did?" Would you be called racist, or sexist, or unpatriotic? Next, ask yourself who would be calling you a racist or a commie, and for what reason. You will probably find that the person doing the name-calling represents a vested interest whose power is under threat. 

You won't be vilified for saying something which is obviously not true. There were no HUAC investigations into people who thought the moon was made of green cheese, and Galileo wouldn't have been put on house arrest for thinking that pussy cats barked. The things which are called heresies are precisely the things which some powerful group are afraid might be true. And the more strongly an idea is censored, the more likely it is to be true. The Catholic Church didn't squash Galileo because they thought his view were obviously silly, but because they feared he might be right. They squashed him at that time (despite having tolerated Copernicus a generation earlier) because they felt threatened by Martin Luther. 

So, I may very well be right about the need for the workers of the world to band together and seize the means of production and send Prince Charles to the guillotine, because I wouldn't dare say so in public and everyone would be awfully cross if I did. I am very probably wrong about Jimmy Saville having been a bit of a wrong'un because everyone agrees with me. 

So: work out what you wouldn't dare say. And then work out what you would be called if you did say it. And then free associate and make a list of other ideas in that category. And ask yourself whether or not they might be true, and who might have a vested interest in pretending they are not. 

So: here are some things which I would not say in public: 
  • Women shouldn't be allowed to vote. 
  • Rape victims have only themselves to blame 
  • Women should bring up the kids and leave men to earn the money
  • The reason there are so few women comedians is that women just aren't funny 
  • That woman won an award because the judges were box ticking to show their inclusiveness 
  • Females are like black holes which suck the creativity out of men 
  • School girls should learn needle work, school boys should learn wood work
  • Women's cricket is intrinsically ridiculous 
If I expressed these kinds of views, I would be called "sexist". Who would call me sexist? Women. Why would women call me sexist? Because they think that their gender shouldn't prevent them from playing sport, writing books, participating in politics, and choosing who they have sex with. 

I think women ought to be paid the same as men for the same work because I believe in fairness. If you say that a woman's work is worth less, I call you a "sexist" because sexism is a description of what you think. "Women are worth less than men". That's what the word sexism means. 

If you really want me to, I could try to frame an argument that some of the above propositions are true, or at any rate valid. "Women should be paid less than men for doing the same work. Discuss." My only line of argument would be to argue for gender-essentialism on religious, ontological or genetic grounds. I would have to say that it is an inevitable law of nature that women raise kids and men hunt antelope -- because God said so, or because it is in our genes, or because the platonic essence of Male implies wage-earning. If the nature of Man is Wage-Earner and the nature of Woman is Cake-Baker, then it follows that women in the workplace are either single and childless, or else are earning additional bacon over and above what their Man already brings home. They are paid less because they need the money less. 

This as as much as to say : "It is okay to be sexist because the universe is sexist." 

Playing that kind of game is a not un-useful exercise, I admit. But I don't think it proves that I am not allowed to have sexist opinions, or that a sinister feminist claque is stopping me because they are afraid I might be right.  


Most people think that it is OK to eat animals. More accurately, most people feel only a little bit uncomfortable about eating animals, and mostly just avoid thinking about it. It is perfectly possible that in ten years, or in ten thousand years, most people will say "How is it even possible that in the 20th century people ate dead baa-lambs?" But it is not true to say that you aren't allowed to speak against the meat industry. Start to sell veggie sausage rolls in your bakery and Piers Morgan might call you effeminate, but that's the extent of it. 

In the early nineteenth century, most people accepted that small boys were employed as chimney sweeps. But it isn't true that prior to 1833 you weren't allowed to say that child labour was cruel. Many people did. And many more people felt guilty about it but couldn't see how else the chimneys were going to get cleaned. And many others just never thought about it, just like I don't think about who made the nice Mandalorian t-shirt I bought from Primark last week. You weren't not allowed to be a pacifist when we were at war with Hitler: the Peace Pledge Union and Vera Brittan and the Society of Friends carried on publishing their books and pamphlets. A lot of people doubtless thoughty they were cowards and they weren't given an airing on the BBC. But the idea of pacifism was on the agenda.You weren't not allowed to be in favour of women's suffrage in the Victorian era; you weren't not allowed to be in favour of gay rights in the 1970s; you aren't not allowed to want to repeal the Second Amendment in the deep south today. There are prevailing opinions. There is some censorship of the arts. "You can't say fuck on the BBC before 9pm" is not the same as "If you claim to have seen the moons of Jupiter you will be executed for heresy".

There are complicated reasons why ideas about astronomy that were unthinkable in the sixteenth century became thinkable in the seventeenth. There are complex reasons why Darwin's ideas about natural selection went from being heresies to orthodoxies in a matter of decades. But it is a gross oversimplification to say that before 1632 and 1870, a powerful force called Organized Religion prohibited people from believing in natural selection or heliocentricism because it wasn't in their interests for people to have those thoughts. 

Rather than asking about what you aren't allowed to think, maybe we should ask what people think about a thing when that isn't the thing they are thinking about. Most English people of my generation take it for granted that the school day starts with a Christian hymn and a Christian prayer -- in the same way that we take it for granted that it includes a lunch break and some kind of supervised sport. All Things Bright and Beautiful has the same relationship to English schools that One Nation Indivisible does to American ones. This doesn't mean that no-one ever asked whether that kind of state-mandated worship was a great idea. This doesn't mean that no-one ever wrote jolly stiff letters to the Times about it. This doesn't mean you'd be blackballed from polite society for saying that maybe you could skip the Lord's Prayer and go straight on to the sporting fixtures and the notices. But most people didn't. 

I recently attempted to read Focault, largely because Liz Truss said I shouldn't. I am not at all sure I understood very much of him, but I find the idea of episteme very useful. We all live and move and have our being inside complicated sets of assumptions and axioms and ways of reasoning, which don't so much define what we think, as how we think. Aristotle honestly thought that you could work out how many teeth a horse had from first principles: it didn't occur to him to go and count them. It wasn't that no-one before Darwin had thought of natural selection; it was that no-one could think of it. Pious IX didn't tell people that they weren't allowed to have that idea. It was impossible for anyone to think it; until, one day, it wasn't.  

There are things which our generation finds literally unthinkable: but by definition, we don't know what they are yet. 


I don't think that challenging orthodoxies and breaking taboos is a good thing in itself. If I shout "fuck" in a crowded theatre or show a stranger my willy on the set of Doctor Who, I am not a latter day Galileo: I am merely a very naughty boy. I suppose "Why can't I say that particular word or uncover that particular part of my body" is a vaguely interesting question for a wet Sunday afternoon. I suppose the answer is "Because it is rude". So why do we define some things as rude, and why those things and not others? I believe there are societies, and not necessarily especially religious ones, where it is okay to say "shit" but you'll be vilified or cancelled if you say "hell" or "devil". Covering up the twiddly bits is a pretty universal human trait. I don't think that puts me under any obligation to expose myself, in order to challenge the authority that would sanction me if I try it. I suppose idly wondering why it's not allowed might not be a terrible idea. I'm no naturist, but I'd be happy if changing rooms and public beaches were a bit less of a palaver 


"We have such labels today, of course, quite a lot of them, from the all-purpose "inappropriate" to the dreaded "divisive." In any period, it should be easy to figure out what such labels are, simply by looking at what people call ideas they disagree with besides untrue. When a politician says his opponent is mistaken, that's a straightforward criticism, but when he attacks a statement as "divisive" or "racially insensitive" instead of arguing that it's false, we should start paying attention." 

So - what are the examples of words which are used to close down discussion, to tell us what we can and can't think, in the present day? 

A very obvious list comes to mind. 
  • Woke 
  • Virtue Signalling 
  • Left-Wing 
  • Liberal 
  • Elitist 
  • Metropolitan 
  • Politically Correct. 
Graham's essay was written before the "woke" conspiracy theory gained much traction. But he has a good deal to say about political correctness. 

If I say that we should take down statues which celebrate the slave trade; or put up a notice saying that people are free to use which ever toilet they prefer; I may very well be accused of being "politically correct". Some people may even say that political correctness has gone mad. They will probably get very cross indeed. 

So: I would expect Graham to say that the people who call me "politically correct" secretly believe, or fear, that I am quite right about slavery and trans people; but that, since they cannot refute my argument they have come up with a modern form of heresy to silence me. I would expect him to ask "Who is threatened by the removal of the Colston statue?" and to give the answer "White people; nativists; the privileged; white supremacists".

This is almost exactly what he does not say. 

He thinks that political correctness is a modern reincarnation of Victorian prudishness. What the nineteenth century's reluctance to talk about sex and the twentieth century's reluctance to use demeaning language to talk about minorities have in common, I couldn't quite say. Is calling a disabled person a cripple as indecent as talking about genitals in front of a respectable spinster? Or is thinking that you shouldn't call a black person a "wog" as silly as thinking you should put skirts round piano legs? 

What does saying "His concern" rather than "His penis" have in common with saying "Firefighter" rather than "Fireman"? 

It seems that "free speech" is Graham's great, over-riding concern. Political correctness and Victorian good manners were similar in that they said that there were some things that you ought not to say. I don't think that Graham merely thinks that there should be very few laws or criminal sanctions against the expression and circulation of ideas, even terrible ones. (Everyone would agree with him if he said that, which would mean, by his own arguments, that he was probably wrong.) I think he thinks that there should be no limits whatsoever on what anyone says; that we should all say whatever comes into our heads. 

He affects to be surprised that adults teach children to avoid words that they themselves use all the time. He thinks that this is because we want children to be "cute". I think it is actually because children are not capable of understanding nuance. Most of us understand that we can say "fuck" in a saloon but not at the vicar's tea party. (Graham affects not to understand what is meant by "inappropriate".) Most of us understand that when I choose to say "fuck" I am breaking a rule. That, indeed, is why the word has power. We have plenty of neutral words for sex -- sex, coitus, copulation. But if told children that kittens come along when a mummy cat and a daddy cat fuck each other; or encouraged then to say "I want a shit" rather than "I want the toilet" then I would have made the words neutral. Saying them wouldn't be naughty, it wouldn't indicate that I was in an adults only space, it wouldn't show you that I was very cross indeed. We would have deprived ourselves of some very useful cuss-words. 

And then he makes a quite astonishing admission. 

He is talking about how to put forward your heretical opinion: what to do when you are right and everyone else is wrong. 

"One way to do this is to ratchet the debate up one level of abstraction. If you argue against censorship in general, you can avoid being accused of whatever heresy is contained in the book or film that someone is trying to censor. You can attack labels with meta-labels: labels that refer to the use of labels to prevent discussion. The spread of the term "political correctness" meant the beginning of the end of political correctness, because it enabled one to attack the phenomenon as a whole without being accused of any of the specific heresies it sought to suppress." 

Have you got that? The free speech issue is a deliberate and conscious piece of misdirection. Don't defend you view that women should be paid less than men. Instead assert that you have the right to say that women should be paid less than men if you want to. Don't respond to the person who says that women should be paid the same as men: instead, refer to his views as "politically correct". And then talk about political correctness in general as if it were a thing. 

Everyone agrees that calling disabled people nasty names is not very nice. It follows that some group has a vested interest in preventing you from doing so, and therefore, you pretty much have a duty to use the demeaning term. But don't attempt to say that spastic and cripple and mong are not demeaning terms. Don't attempt to say that they are accurate descriptions. Don't say that you just happen to enjoy making fun of the disabled. That would result in you being accused of heresy -- and "maybe disabled people really are funny and inferior" is potentially as important a discovery as "maybe the sun doesn't go round the earth." Take a step back. Say you have the right to all people spastics if you want to. Say that the suggestion that some terms are offensive is an attack on free speech. Take a further step back and observe that there is a widespread phenomenon of saying that derogatory language is to be avoided. Give it a label: PC, woke, virtue signalling. 

Not very many of us are prepared to come right out and say that white people are better than black people and straight people are better than gay people. But we are surprisingly willing to say that abstaining from words like n*gg*r and p**f is is politically correct; and that being political correct is a Bad Thing. 

Hey presto: abusing minorities is a virtue. 

Covid was caused by the direct action of Satan. Flying the Union Jack should be against the law. Princess Diana was a warmonger. David Attenboroughs; TV shows are boring patronising rubbish. Abolish prisons. Bring back hanging for a traffic offenders. It is logically impossible for a black person to play Doctor Who. Repeal the 1870 reform act and limit voting to people whose houses are worth at least £2. Make Latin compulsory in all schools. Reduce the age of consent to eleven. Sport is a waste of time. All swimming pools should have compulsory mixed gender shower facilities. Colin Baker was the best Doctor Who. Reduce the speed limit to 5 miles per hour prior to banning cars altogether. Stan Lee created the Silver Surfer. Talons of Weng Chiang is too woke for its own good. If you aren't a member of the Church of England you aren't British. Ban ITV and Netflix and give the BBC a monopoly. Barak Obama was white. Donald Trump was a liberal. Reduce the price of Freddo bars to 5p. 

But you aren't allowed to say that kind of thing any more. 


How do you think the unthinkable? 

With an ithberg.