Brandon Sullivan ➠ A few weeks ago, I noticed discussion on Twitter between the publisher of this blog and a frequent contributor about having an article appear. 

 The article was “Step Your Dick Up: Why Incels Deserve Better Advice” by William Costello, and had previously been featured on the anti-feminist, and often outright misogynistic, website A Voice For Men. I sighed – I became aware of the “men’s rights movement” and its blogging wing the “manosphere” whilst at university. (Arguably, the entire movement consists of blogging – activism is difficult to find.) I watched the “movement” Chief-of-Staff, Paul Elam, adopt the language of political resistance, civil disobedience, academic discourse, and social progression in his denunciations of “western” women, and the shadowy “feminists” who have supposedly infiltrated governments across the first world and are apparently waging war on men.

The Incel article was rambling: selective academic statistics and quotes from “edgy” characters such as Frank Furedi, along with a few dog-whistles to the online world of neo-reactionaries, finished off with the laughable premise that the “manosphere” needs to do more to support vulnerable men.

Now, I didn’t write down, prior to looking, what I thought the author’s Twitter feed would reveal, but I wish I had, for it was as predictable as it was depressing. A “pinned” tweet with a “pepe the frog” animation, and then Tweets and re-Tweets about the dangers of Islam, supposed “cancellation”, MRA calls to arms, snide mentions of BLM etc. In other words, a Laurence Fox clone.

I can understand, even sympathise, with the argument for publishing this article: put it out there and allow others to critique it. The problem is, as with any article emanating from the “manosphere” it is difficult to know where to start critiquing it and, life being short as it is, often it simply isn’t worth the time and effort to do so. But published it was.

And when an article of this nature appears on an online publication that you read and enjoy, and is endorsed by a writer whom you respect, it feels different. The publisher of TPQ Anthony McIntyre, commented favourably, saying:

The Dictatorship of the Woketariat can go fuck itself if it thinks it can set the agenda about what can and cannot be discussed. William puts together a robust piece that cannot be wished away by a woke wand.

Robustness is subjective, but leaving aside that questionable descriptor, it did make me think. What is going on here? Why is publishing a disjointed blog piece, written by an unoriginal, fairly typical Twitter neo-reactionary considered a rebuttal to the “Dictatorship of the Woketariat”? And who wants to “wish away” such pieces, anyway?

My only objection to its publication, aside from the mediocre quality, is that it gives it a sheen of respectability that the article simply doesn’t deserve or warrant.

I wonder what Mr Costello’s politics would have been if he were around in the 1980s? When I see the lurid terminology used by people of his political ilk about Muslims/feminists/BLM, it makes me think of the discourse employed by Paisley and his supporters. Reactionaries need to treat blocs of people as monoliths, and paint them simultaneously as inferior, and as sinister and threatening. What genuinely upsets me is when people don’t see the laziness and meanness of those who scapegoat and the obvious precedents. And they don’t, I believe, because they have bought into the myth that “woke” is the real enemy. Meanwhile, Northern English mining towns vote in Tory MPs, the poor get poorer, Boris Johnson wipes out Jeremy Corbyn, Dominic Cummings trolls the nation, and, still, people fixate on the dangers of “wokeness.”

It’s the oldest trick in the book.

⏩ Brandon Sullivan is a middle aged, middle management, centre-left Belfast man. Would prefer people focused on the actual bad guys.

Why Being Anti “Woke” Puts You In Some Embarrassing Company

Brandon Sullivan ➠ A few weeks ago, I noticed discussion on Twitter between the publisher of this blog and a frequent contributor about having an article appear. 

 The article was “Step Your Dick Up: Why Incels Deserve Better Advice” by William Costello, and had previously been featured on the anti-feminist, and often outright misogynistic, website A Voice For Men. I sighed – I became aware of the “men’s rights movement” and its blogging wing the “manosphere” whilst at university. (Arguably, the entire movement consists of blogging – activism is difficult to find.) I watched the “movement” Chief-of-Staff, Paul Elam, adopt the language of political resistance, civil disobedience, academic discourse, and social progression in his denunciations of “western” women, and the shadowy “feminists” who have supposedly infiltrated governments across the first world and are apparently waging war on men.

The Incel article was rambling: selective academic statistics and quotes from “edgy” characters such as Frank Furedi, along with a few dog-whistles to the online world of neo-reactionaries, finished off with the laughable premise that the “manosphere” needs to do more to support vulnerable men.

Now, I didn’t write down, prior to looking, what I thought the author’s Twitter feed would reveal, but I wish I had, for it was as predictable as it was depressing. A “pinned” tweet with a “pepe the frog” animation, and then Tweets and re-Tweets about the dangers of Islam, supposed “cancellation”, MRA calls to arms, snide mentions of BLM etc. In other words, a Laurence Fox clone.

I can understand, even sympathise, with the argument for publishing this article: put it out there and allow others to critique it. The problem is, as with any article emanating from the “manosphere” it is difficult to know where to start critiquing it and, life being short as it is, often it simply isn’t worth the time and effort to do so. But published it was.

And when an article of this nature appears on an online publication that you read and enjoy, and is endorsed by a writer whom you respect, it feels different. The publisher of TPQ Anthony McIntyre, commented favourably, saying:

The Dictatorship of the Woketariat can go fuck itself if it thinks it can set the agenda about what can and cannot be discussed. William puts together a robust piece that cannot be wished away by a woke wand.

Robustness is subjective, but leaving aside that questionable descriptor, it did make me think. What is going on here? Why is publishing a disjointed blog piece, written by an unoriginal, fairly typical Twitter neo-reactionary considered a rebuttal to the “Dictatorship of the Woketariat”? And who wants to “wish away” such pieces, anyway?

My only objection to its publication, aside from the mediocre quality, is that it gives it a sheen of respectability that the article simply doesn’t deserve or warrant.

I wonder what Mr Costello’s politics would have been if he were around in the 1980s? When I see the lurid terminology used by people of his political ilk about Muslims/feminists/BLM, it makes me think of the discourse employed by Paisley and his supporters. Reactionaries need to treat blocs of people as monoliths, and paint them simultaneously as inferior, and as sinister and threatening. What genuinely upsets me is when people don’t see the laziness and meanness of those who scapegoat and the obvious precedents. And they don’t, I believe, because they have bought into the myth that “woke” is the real enemy. Meanwhile, Northern English mining towns vote in Tory MPs, the poor get poorer, Boris Johnson wipes out Jeremy Corbyn, Dominic Cummings trolls the nation, and, still, people fixate on the dangers of “wokeness.”

It’s the oldest trick in the book.

⏩ Brandon Sullivan is a middle aged, middle management, centre-left Belfast man. Would prefer people focused on the actual bad guys.

30 comments:

  1. Well said – although I would say that we on the (centre) left are just as guilty of treating out-groups as monolithic. Which is just as well given that the anti-woke crowd do tend to have solitary rocks for brains.

    Sorry.

    But here’s the thing – how *should* society engage with incels and their problematic ilk, if at all? Who has a duty to them, if we can agree that they are indeed vulnerable?

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  2. Well said also.

    Yes, some "woke" commnentary can be shrill and intolerant just as culture warriors of the 1980s were.

    But the trouble is that Alt-Right populists are much more proficent, effective and dangerous culture warriors as they can appeal much more viscerally and therefore successfully to emotional rather than rational brain circuitry.

    Lucy

    Society should deal with the forces that fuel incels and other angry men by addressing the sexually competitive culture of institutions like speed dating and, indeed, the entire dating industry. They are examples of the marriage of patriarchy and late consumer capitalism which are harmful to the mental health of men (and women).

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  3. @ Lucy

    We should start by recognising who we are talking about. The author of the incel article failed to do that. Most people, at one time or another, will be involuntarily celibate. Mercifully few of them will enter the vile quagmire of the online incel sphere and/or the "manosphere."

    Loneliness is a grave societal threat, that affects men and women, often older and vulnerable. I'm more interested in their plight, than in the disaffected ramblings of some hateful arseholes on a sub-Reddit.

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  4. @ Barry

    You make good points about the alt-right (and MRA, and various neo-reactionaries) being able to appeal broadly - they meme, and Tweet and deal in soundbites that feed generic prejudices nourished by tabloids for generations. They aren't radical: they're Jim Davidson's errant, neglected sons.

    I don't agree that speed-dating or the dating industry have too much to be blamed for. I think patriarchal standards and machismo, endorsed by men and women, are far more to blame.

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    1. Brandon

      I totally agree with your last statement but the ethos of the dating industry does not help.

      Delete
  5. Brandon - thanks for publishing this with us. TPQ Invariably welcomes a different opinion.

    I doubt the piece can have the intended effect. It will prompt people to read the Incels onerather than ignore it. And once you have successfully prompted them to read it you run the risk of having them conclude it is a much more substantive piece than the critique offered here. We provided the link to TPQ rather than where it initially featured because people will get the chance to read a take down by Mr J which this critique of it fails to match. I went back to read the piece and found from an ideational perspective it holds up very well and is much more robust than your own critique of it. There is so much to learn from the Incel piece that we did not previously know. And Mr J highlighted the deficiencies. It is unfortunate that William Costello did not come back at Mr J.

    You offer an understanding for publishing the piece, even for the purposes of having it critiqued. Yet the real difficulty it seems is "to know where to start critiquing it." Mr J did not seem to have that difficulty. No piece should go unpublished simply because its critics don't know where to start critiquing it. That problem remains theirs not the publishers. A team takes to the field without having to consider whether the opposition can get its act together.

    "My only objection to its publication, aside from the mediocre quality, is that it gives it a sheen of respectability that the article simply doesn’t deserve or warrant."

    Setting aside the subjective aspect of mediocre, by discussing it you go and do just that. If it didn't merit warrant, why give it more?

    There was a great piece on Woke a while back in the Sunday Times from Flora Gill who wanted to protect the concept of what it is to be Woke from those who in their promotion of it had caused such a backlash against it. The stand out point for me was how being awake (the woke aspect) to social justice issues had so become “the act of being very pretentious about how much you care about a social issue”.

    I guess it is like PC - there is absolutely nothing wrong about holding a politically correct position. The problem is with the posture politics of being politically correct.

    Woke as I currently understand it is the censorious fog that is insidiously drifting into intellectual life and gives rise to totalitarian practices such as no platforming and cancel culture. I always view Woke against the backdrop of Camus: “The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants.” I want to be able to decide if ideas are wrong rather than have the commissar make the call. I oppose the Right not just because of its ideas but because of the totalitarian and censorious manner in which it has often tried to impose them. And if opposition to the Right is authentic, it must also hold when the Left adopt the same practices. I am not one of those people who differentiates between the Gulags of the Left and the Concentration camps of he Right.

    For me, it is always better to be in the company of those who promote ideas than those who seek to suffocate them. We can always hold our own nose when they are beside us. We don’t need Big Brother to hold it for us.

    And when somebody comes along complaining that this piece should never have been carried, my response will be the same.

    Hopefully, you will continue to keep writing for us. It does not matter in the slightest if people are unremittingly hostile to your ideas. It only matters that you have a right to promote them.

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  6. Although I'm glad the author took the time to pen this article on an issue he feels passionately about, I'm afraid I will have to use the adjective he used to describe Costello's piece to summarise my feelings on this one: rambling.

    It spends a good portion of time attacking the writer (Costello) based on his Twitter feed, the fact that another site reblogged his article and then speculates on what Costello's views would have been if he'd been an adult 40 odd years ago. Not a good sign.

    When discussing the piece in question, Sullivan spends 9 lines on it, with the key thought being "The problem is, as with any article emanating from the “manosphere” it is difficult to know where to start critiquing it and, life being short as it is, often it simply isn’t worth the time and effort to do so." Always a great way to discuss an article that inspired someone to write a piece!

    Finally, the segment about Sullivan's "...only objection to its publication, aside from the mediocre quality, is that it gives it a sheen of respectability that the article simply doesn’t deserve or warrant" demonstrates a misunderstanding of the nature of TPQ. It is a place where discussions of any ilk are welcome. The reason I suggested Costello's article for reblogging on the Quill is because, to my knowledge, the issue had not been discussed on here before and, with the media profile of incels growing, I felt it was worth discussing. And I was proven right by the comments on the original piece, as well as this very piece from Sullivan!

    It does have to be said that Sullivan makes a pertinent point about how the current course of anti-wokeness has led to some unusual alliances. However, that is a byproduct of the ferocity of the attacks made by the wokerati, where being neutral or in the middle simply is not an option for many people. You're either on one side, or the other. This, of course, is terrible for discourse and leads to ridiculous situations where people who would normally be defending freedom of speech are lambasting the film "Cuties" as paedophile propaganda without actually seeing it. Very depressing.

    Ultimately, however, I do hope the author of this piece contributes again to this site. We can always do with passionate commentators.

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  7. Christopher - I have no objection to rambling pieces per se if they are not incoherent. I didn't see Brandon's as incoherent. My observation of it is that it failed to hit the spot. It did not succeed as a critique of the Incel piece and ended up ultimately a comment on a piece that Brandon felt merited no comment. It defeated the purpose.

    Moreover, it was an argument I feel that primarily sought to deflect flak away from the Wokerati and in a refracted sense place blame on TPQ for having published a piece that many Woke would disapprove of.

    There might well be a million good reasons to object to the content of the Incel piece but there are no good Woke reasons to either suppress it or refuse to reproduce it.

    Criticising TPQ is fine - we are hardly shrinking violets. And to make the argument that Brandon sought to make, there is no way to do it without criticising TPQ.

    I am glad you encourage Brandon to continue to publish here. I would be most disappointed were he not to on the basis of our mildly critical observations of his piece.

    I think Lucy will find to her disappointment that anti-Woke writers only have a rock for a brain put to the test of fire on this site.

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  8. @AM

    It’s just like Chris Kraus said: who gets to speak and why is the only question. I’m all for the existence of a forum to share ideas – but any forum by definition has boundaries of ideological acceptability. And these should be collectively defined by its own denizens. Without those boundaries, it’s not a forum; it’s a wilderness.

    The boundaries are to some extent negotiable – and I would say that this is the negotiation that is happening right now. But why is this negotiation happening? I’ll tell you why. It’s Pepe the frog. It’s the weaponisation of liberal principles of discourse by the Right. Got to hand it to them – they’ve moved the Overton window in a way we might have thought unimaginable a decade ago.

    When we give their ideas a platform in true liberal Voltairean spirit we are obediently dancing to their tune; fearing the spectre of an accusation of hypocrisy that never especially seems to trouble them. So, perhaps we should stand for something other than simply letting everyone speak. And Costello’s ideas have dark implications that can be traced directly to the soil of overt manosphere misogyny that clearly nurtured them; not least the idea of sex itself as a commodity to which men have the right of “access”, and a predictable but distressing demand of further emotional labour from women to solve the issue.

    And it’s just like...must we?

    There are always people you would give a voice, and people you would not. Flora Gill, for instance, has a voice. When you’re the daughter of a prominent journalist and a former Home secretary, it sort of goes without saying. But what about the people for whom “wokeness” is not about wounded posturing, but a genuine fight for justice, survival, or recognition? Again, it comes back to the question: who is getting to speak, and why?

    @Brandon

    The lonely and vulnerable people of whom you speak just don’t have the level of aggrieved entitlement that leads them to shoot up sorority houses. The subreddit arseholes, alas, do. So what to do?

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  9. Lucy - "who gets to speak and why is the only question."

    If you favour censorship of ideas you disapprove of so that you can decide what people get to read rather then people deciding for themselves, yes. No, if you are not.

    The wilderness is a brilliant place to see ideas nourish so long as what exists in the wilderness is not barren. We don't need to see ideas organically produced, tutored and neutered.

    The right have done quite well in weaponising liberal principles. The reason in large part is that the woke have handed it to them on a plate.

    You prefer ideological acceptability. From which I infer it must be acceptable to the ideologues. I prefer intellectual promiscuity which invariably finds a cold house in the property market of the ideologue.

    You can stand for something other than letting everybody speak. That is your call and you are free to make it on a free inquiry blog. It necessarily means gagging others. Every time we muzzle those whose ideas we do not approve of we fashion a rod for our own back which is then used by the right to whip us into silence. And if the censors can acquire the power to suppress ideas they term "right", then sooner rather than later most ideas will be declared "right" for the purpose of suffocating them.

    You don't have to read Costello's ideas nor should you be asked to. What I believe you should do is allow the right of people to choose if they wish to read them. We don't need the Committee For Public Safety to arbitrate on good and bad ideas.

    "what about the people for whom “wokeness” is not about wounded posturing, but a genuine fight for justice, survival, or recognition?"

    Who is to decide on that? There are many genuine fights for justice, survival and recognition but the argument for them has to be heard not assumed. And the arguments against them should be heard not suppressed. For as has long been pointed out, amongst the oppressed are many who like to oppress.

    So the question is not of who gets to speak but of who gets to decide who gets to speak and why they should get to speak.

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  10. @ AM, and Christopher Owens

    I commented as Mr J - I was unaware of TPQ's policies around more than one ID on this site, and wanted a pseudonym to publish.  

    I did not go into detail critiquing the Incel piece here because I couldn't, but because I was wanting to make a different point.  Should WC respond to my comments on the original piece, I'm quite sure I would continue.

    @ Christopher Owens

    Were I to go into a bar in Glasgow, or Belfast, and see a man covered in UDA or UVF tattoos, I would make assumptions about him.  But I would not confirm those assumptions until I heard him speak - after all,  a past should not deny someone a future.  If he started banging on about "God & Ulster" I would pretty much be able to accurately describe his politics.  So it goes with Twitter.  Some animal rights activists I know are very anti-Halal.  So, too, are Britain First and the EDL.  But it is for very different reasons.  So I make no apologies for making assumptions about WC from his Twitter account.  It was depressingly affirmative of my thoughts on him. 
    @ AM and Christopher Owens

    Perhaps it's confirmation bias, but I only really see the term "woke" being used by people claiming how pervasive it is.  Or another well-paid person with a national public platform using it to talk about how he can't say anything any more (thanks to Laurence Fox for providing an even more parodic example of this than Jeremy Clarkson).

    Yeah, some irritating voices accuse everyone of racism, see oppression where there just isn't any, and want to cancel people.  But, really, what power do they wield?  Are they in control of the BBC?  Most print and broadcast media?  Are they social media "political personalities"?
    I simply do not see the "the censorious fog that is insidiously drifting into intellectual life" as a large problem and furthermore, I think that the prevalence and impact of "no platforming and cancel culture" is wildly overstated.  

    My point, perhaps badly made, is that not everyone *can* be given a platform, and that not everyone *should* be given a platform just because they shout loudly about being denied one.  
    The BBC is often described as having a left-wing bias.  It, of course, does not.  Politically, it gives more coverage to Conservatives than other parties, played a huge part in the rise of UKIP and Boris Johnson, and is, literally and metaphorically, part of the establishment.  But it has some young and trendy producers, so it produces some content that could be described as "woke" and thus is smeared as left-wing. 
    This is what I meant by the oldest trick in the book.  The various permutations of the reactionary right can't miss at the moment, and they are doing so well because people are buying into the myth of woke oppression.   

    Part of the reason I wrote this piece was to provoke this type of discussion. It could be, of course, that my own echo chamber is oblivious to the threat of "wokeism" - but I just don't think it is.

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    1. Brandon – you told us of the Mr J matter. Not you fault and it is no issue.

      Even should William C respond, you are still giving a platform to a view you feel should not be given a platform. And when you respond to him you highlight the platform even more. This seems to be the very thing you argue against. It suits the logic of TPQ but hardly your own.

      It will be interesting if William C does respond if he decides to address your assumptions. As he has commented on Twitter about your piece, I presume he will respond on the blog.

      “Perhaps it's confirmation bias, but I only really see the term "woke" being used by people claiming how pervasive it is.”

      It is a bit like “dissident”. At one time it was a badge which certainly in the Irish context has become a blight. Woke started out as emblematic of those “awake” to social justice but was easily transformed into a term of abuse because of the response to the justice posers rather than the justice doers. Like with PC, the reaction is not the property of the right.

      Power doesn’t operate only at the level of the state or the BBC. In fact it might well be argued that the UK government is a bulwark again the wokerati given its own right wing stance. Had Corbyn got power I believe there would have been a serious woke problem throughout society given that many of his followers were looking everything suppressed. It did not stop me preferring him for the PM spot but I had misgivings about what it would bring for free inquiry.

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    2. The censorious fog that is drifting into intellectual life is evidenced by the litany of areas in which the matter has arisen. No platforming started out yonks ago to deny fascists any right to speak. Not something I agree with on the grounds that because fascist in today’s discourse is just another way of calling somebody a bastard, virtually anybody can be silenced. We still hear claims by prominent media commentators that Sinn Fein is fascist. While a nonsense, SF could once again be de-platformed if the notion took hold.

      At the university level de-platforming has been pretty widespread – The Telegraph citing one report as saying 90% of universities have engaged in the practice - aided by the safe space censorship tool, even to the point of Maryam Namazie of the Left being denied speaking rights because of her views on Islamicism. Debates have been sabotaged by people de-platforming themselves rather than share the platform with people like Peter Tatchel. It is not just the right being de-platformed by the Woke. I thought Brendan O’Neill aptly labelled them the Stepford Students.

      Add to that Dapper Laughs, Kate Smurthwaite, Julie Bindel – all de-platformed. George Galloway and Jacob Rees Mogg too. I would not listen to JLM but I have no right to deny others the ability to listen to him.

      We have a snowflake generation that wants protection from ideas it finds offensive. As Margaret Hickey argued in the Examiner safe space is a tool of liberal censorship to accommodate that snowflake sentiment.

      Cancel culture or no platforming is hardly widely overstated. In 2018 A UK parliamentary committee warned “that safe-space policies on campuses are “problematic” and often lead to the marginalisation of minority groups’ views … It said safe-space policies, originally intended to ensure that minority or vulnerable groups felt secure, were being used by some people to seek to prevent the free speech of others whose views they disagreed with.”

      That’s the Wokerati.

      So when the UK parliament is investigating (it did not find the problem pervasive), there is serious cause for concern that cannot be wished away.

      And who cannot be given a platform in your view? Even if we set aside their right to speak as not being primarily important, what about our right to hear and decide for ourselves rather than having someone else deciding we have no right to hear? Each time the argument is made for denying someone the right to speak an assault on the right to hear is in there.

      The reactionary right can’t miss at the minute because the regressive left and wokerati give them an easy target.

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  11. Lucy,

    The reason there has been "...weaponisation of liberal principles of discourse..." is because the left pretty much abandoned such thinking. As the likes of Kenan Malik points out, some leftists decry the Enlightenment as a Eurocentric project, despite it being a milestone in liberal thinking. The fact that the likes of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon can now be seen as upholding the principles of freedom of speech is a stark example of how badly the left's abandonment has cost them.

    "When we give their ideas a platform in true liberal Voltairean spirit we are obediently dancing to their tune..."

    How? The article by Costello saw a commentator take apart various claims made by Costello. Do you not believe in the concept of giving your opponent enough rope to hang themselves with?

    "So, perhaps we should stand for something other than simply letting everyone speak."

    What like?

    "And it’s just like...must we?"

    Yes, because the fact that we're now having this conversation shows that few TPQ readers are simply accepting what is being said.

    "But what about the people for whom “wokeness” is not about wounded posturing, but a genuine fight for justice, survival, or recognition? "

    The problem, from my perspective, is that the two factions are almost indistinguishable from each other, which makes it difficult to criticise such movements because of the differing semantics going on. Yes, I support the fact that black lives matter. But Black Lives Matter as an organisation? I find that to be much more difficult due to the violence, racism and glorification of alleged rapists and criminals as "activists"

    "Again, it comes back to the question: who is getting to speak, and why?"

    In the case of BLM, it's up to the genuine to remove or disassociate themselves from the ones stopping their cause.

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  12. @ Christopher Owens

    It was addressed at Lucy, but if I may discuss your point that:

    "The fact that the likes of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon can now be seen as upholding the principles of freedom of speech is a stark example of how badly the left's abandonment has cost them."

    This is simply false. SYL has as much interest in the principle of freedom of speech as he does in due process of law. What he has skilfully done is repeatedly falsely accuse the media of "covering up" the shameful activities of grooming gangs in England. It was The Times that broke the story, but SYL doesn't allow anything as distracting as the truth get in the way of his self-promotion.

    With genuine respect to you, SYL "can now be seen" as upholding freedom of speech precisely because people like you believe that "the left" is actively trying to stifle freedom of speech.

    SYL got onto Newsnight and is frequently in the national media. He's an author. His freedom of speech being curtailed extends to his rightful banning off of social media.

    If the "Wokerati" were actually as powerful as people claim, then social, print, and broadcast media would be vastly different to how it actually is.

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  13. Brandon,

    1 - If you're so opposed to the ideas that Costello is spouting, then you should focus your energy on deconstructing his article instead of attacking him, which seems to suggest that you don't feel able (or willing) to engage with the ideas. Attacking someone based on their Twitter feed is low hanging fruit.

    2 - If you genuinely believe that you "...simply do not see the "the censorious fog that is insidiously drifting into intellectual life" as a large problem" then I'm afraid we are at polar opposites of this argument. Censorship in intellectual life is a problem, a sign of cowardice, of being unwilling to explore the darker facets of humanity that deserve studying. As well as that, we'd still believe the Earth was flat and only 2000 years old with that line of thinking.

    3 - "My point, perhaps badly made, is that not everyone *can* be given a platform, and that not everyone *should* be given a platform just because they shout loudly about being denied one."
    Why? Are you afraid that someone might have a different point of view? Where do we draw the line in handing out platforms?

    4 - You've completely (or deliberately) ignored my point about SYL, probably so you can make a strawman argument.

    A while age, SYL and others of his ilk organised a free speech march in London. Predictably, few left wingers attended or even passed comment on it. The fact that the left did not organise a counter-demonstration or even condemn it as a cynical stunt is an example of how far freedom of speech has fallen out of favour with left wingers, because they believe it is used to justify various phobic and ist comments. So much so that they have paved the way for the far right (who are no fans of freedom of speech anyway) to claim that they are carrying the mantle for freedom of speech.

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    1. @ Christopher Owens

      1 - I began a deconstruction of his piece, and frankly, lost interest. Far more interesting, and engaging, is the discussion that is taking place here about "woke" and free speech. Like I said, if he responds to what I've written to far, I will of course reply.

      2 - This is interesting, because I don't think that we are particularly at polar opposites. I see censorship and media bias, but it isn't oppressive "woke" people oppressing ideas, it's the organs of mass media being owned by rich, right-wing people acting in their own vested interests. The Guardian, to which I reluctantly subscribe, gives some "woke" voices space whilst being part of the media campaign to ruin Jeremy Corbyn's chances of success. How do you feel about the Leader of the Opposition being mauled by the media in this manner?

      3 - It seems like we are living in a Warholian political times. Given that there are not infinite platforms *with audiences* then a decision does indeed have to be made about who to give one to. Should Nigel Farage have been invited so many times onto Question Time? Or Boris Johnson onto Have I Got News For You? Should the term "anti-semitism" have been used to many times alongside "Jeremy Corbyn"? Do not platforming people have real world consequences?

      Given the nature of this blog, let us imagine that it was 1972. Should Bill Craig have been given unlimited platforms to incite others to "liquidate the enemy"?

      4 - You said:

      "The fact that the likes of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon can now be seen as upholding the principles of freedom of speech is a stark example of how badly the left's abandonment has cost them."

      I disagree that SYL can be seen as "upholding the principles of freedom of speech." It's a bit like saying the Ministry of Defence is for defence. "Others of his ilk" being the salient point. SYL is a demagogue, pure and simple. And, as I said in my previous comment about him, part of his schtick is claiming that his freedom of speech is being suppressed, despite his many BBC appearances, his own media outlet, and his employment at other outlets. And, like I said, he falsely accuses other media of "covering up" stories that in fact were broken by The Times, and later dramatised by the BBC. One could not get a more pertinent example of the collapse of sense in the freedom of speech debate that citing SYL.

      Why would any left-wing person attend his rally? Why would any person with a sense of decency? The man literally makes a living out of maligning and denigrating an entire class of people.

      The far-right have always claimed to be the truthful ones, the seers. What is happening now is basically the "it's political correctness gone mad" brigade of the 80s and 90s having spawned a new generation.

      Freedom of speech means being able to say what you want without being arrested, convicted, thrown in jail, disappeared etc. Having your Instagram account disabled is *not* an attack on freedom of speech.

      The alleged comedian and failed UKIP candidate with the pug was a prosecution that should not have happened, in my opinion. There is a debate to be had around that and freedom of speech, one that I personally find uncomfortable (because of my deep contempt for the man in question), but conflating SYL and freedom of speech is frankly ridiculous.

      I feel I am still not addressing the point that you are trying to make, as this all feels obvious, but I hope it has gone some way.

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    2. Brandon - I think you miss entirely the point that Christopher makes about SYL. It is not about SYL being a believer in free speech. It is about the woke foolishness that has allowed him to claim he is. He picked up the baton with free speech written on it because the left dropped it. Right wingers of his ilk use free speech in the same way Hitler used elections. They get you to a point where you control the agenda and free speech and elections are suppressed.

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  14. Brandon - the Left, internationally, has always tried to stifle free speech. I have experience of them trying it on in relation to the Danish anti-theocratic cartoons. There is a wide body of literature out there about Left suppression of ideas. We don't have to visit the Gulag to get a feel for it.

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  15. @ AM, Christopher Owens

    "It is not about SYL being a believer in free speech. It is about the woke foolishness that has allowed him to claim he is. He picked up the baton with free speech written on it because the left dropped it"

    And this is the point that we disagree. I don't blame the left for a cynical backlash orchestrated by hard-right grifters, who point to, in my opinion, relatively powerless misguided liberals pursuing a "woke" agenda.

    But I do believe that people observing the "backlash" (in my opinion, it is nothing new, so backlash doesn't quite fit) should call it what it is: a distraction, a con and, increasingly, a tragedy.

    It is the hard-right that needs challenged, harshly. When I look at university age people now-a-days, I don't see a "snowflake" generation, I see an emerging hard-right generation, angry, intolerant, and susceptible. Again, this is where we differ, and it might well be our respective echo chambers playing on our received biases.

    This goes back to the title of my piece: being anti-woke puts you in some embarrassing company, or, in the case to SYL, some rather sinister company.

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    1. Brandon - again I think you miss the point. There is no dispute that the far right is organising this thing. That they are able to make an impact is not because everybody its argument appeals to is a raving racist, but because what they say about free speech chimes with the experience of so many people. The right are using it as a wedge strategy. When the Left defend the religious Far right on the question of anti-theocratic cartoons, the baton is dropped. Being Woke puts you in some embarrassing company as well.

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  17. Brandon,

    1 – I’m afraid I really don’t understand that logic. You’re seriously telling us that you were motivated to write a piece about Costello’s article, then you lost interest? Then why bother submitting this piece at all? You seem to be straddling two different trains of thought:
    a) Costello’s article is a potential legitimisation of the “…vile manosphere…”
    b) That isn’t worth responding to.
    Those two notions do not sit together comfortably. You need to pick a side when arguing about this. Yes, the actual conversation that has sprung out of this is fascinating (no denying that), but with contradictory logic evident in your article (and in your replies to myself and AM), it looks like you’re moving goalposts.

    2 – I can see where you’re coming from on this, but you’re (crucially) placing too much emphasis on the media and overlooking how the actions of Trans Rights Activists have been very much helping to suppress trains of thought, to the extent where such thinking how now influenced the likes of the United Nations and the Marie Stopes clinics (using lines line “men with uteruses and people who have unplanned pregnancies have abortions”). On this issue, which is very much a “woke” issue, the silencing of dissenting voices has been disgusting and highly disturbing. As the likes of Julie Bindel (whom I consider to be an arsehole) has said, it is old fashioned misogyny that has been rendered politically correct.
    In answer to your question re. the Guardian and general treatment of political leaders, it is the very nature of news outlets that they will seek to find issues with such people. Of course, the political leanings of the owners are bound to influence the paper line, but most people can see that (hence the boycott of the Sun in places like Liverpool). Corbyn, for all his plus points, did himself no favours by trying to sit in the middle re. his support for the IRA (by weakly condemning all violence). He should have made a stand along the lines of “yeah I did. Although I still believe that a united Ireland is better for all concerned, I no longer support violence” and that would have been it largely nipped in the bud. Same with the allegations of antisemitism. So, to see Boris get similar treatment does not surprise me.

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    1. 3 – “Should Nigel Farage have been invited so many times onto Question Time?”

      He was a member of the European Parliament as well as the leader of a political party, so yes. Besides, Farage complained that the audience would gang up on him so it wasn’t like he got a smooth ride.
      “Or Boris Johnson onto Have I Got News for You?”

      He made the audience laugh with his various blunders, so why wouldn’t the producers want to bring him back? Especially considering his social policies are pretty much liberal.

      “Should the term "anti-semitism" have been used to many times alongside "Jeremy Corbyn"?”

      I don’t know if you read the review of ‘Strange Hate’ that I wrote for the site the other week, but the author (Keith Kahn-Harris) makes it clear that the term could be used in relation to Corbyn, albeit an unintentional one. Of course, there is the issue of people shouting anything down as antisemitic, which is an example of why free speech is necessary.

      “Do not platforming people have real world consequences?”

      Yip, it drives polarisation by inferring someone is A Very Bad Person whose views will harm, which has led to the likes of Bindel being physically assaulted. It also infantilises people, not allowing them to use their critical reasoning.

      “Given the nature of this blog, let us imagine that it was 1972. Should Bill Craig have been given unlimited platforms to incite others to "liquidate the enemy"?”

      Very interesting example. Personally, I would view that an incitement to violence (which is not free speech at all). Maybe AM would have given Craig the chance to discuss this, but I doubt Craig would have accepted anyway.

      4 – You’re misquoting me. I said that SYL could “…now be seen…” to be upholding freedom of speech. I didn’t say he was actually. As AM has already said, it’s less a commentary on SYL than it is the Wokerati losing interest in the concept of freedom of speech and other Enlightenment views (in fact, David Hume, one of the architects of the Enlightenment, has just been “cancelled” in Scotland due to slavery links).
      “Why would any left-wing person attend his rally? Why would any person with a sense of decency? The man literally makes a living out of maligning and denigrating an entire class of people.”

      Because the concept of free speech is greater than any political leanings.
      “The far-right have always claimed to be the truthful ones, the seers. What is happening now is basically the "it's political correctness gone mad" brigade of the 80s and 90s having spawned a new generation.”

      I’ve seen a few commentators use this line. However, I genuinely believe that this is a much sinister case. By simplifying history to remove its nuances, reducing everything to the concept of “oppressed” and “oppressor” and seemingly having no understanding of human nature, society is heading in a very dangerous direction. Look at the Jacob Blake case. An alleged rapist gets shot by police after (supposedly) digitally raping a previous victim of his (allegedly) and already it’s been decided that Blake is a hero by the wokerati.

      “ Freedom of speech means being able to say what you want without being arrested, convicted, thrown in jail, disappeared etc. Having your Instagram account disabled is *not* an attack on freedom of speech.”
      Actually, it can be.

      Under Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act, social media operates as the public space. The problem is that there is a severe blurring of lines between social media as private companies with terms and conditions, and the concept of the public space.

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    2. Christopher - on the issue of Bill Craig, I think I would be guided by AC Grayling:

      Because it can do harm, and because it can be used irresponsibly, there has to be an understanding of when free speech has to be constrained. But given its fundamental importance, the default has to be that free speech is inviolate except … where the dots are filled in with a specific, strictly limited, case-by-case, powerfully justified, one-off set of utterly compelling reasons why in this particular situation alone there must be a restraint on speech. Note the words specific strictly limited case-by-case powerfully justified one-off utterly compelling this particular situation alone.

      I set my own view out many years ago:

      Well, my personal view is, ‘would I say anything that would directly lead to your death?’ No, I would not. Of course there are boundaries in that sense. Nevertheless, I am totally distrustful of the ‘Free Speech, but…’ school. .. what I tend to do is identify with a purely ‘Free Speech’ impulse and I’m always looking for ways to push out the boundaries and expand ‘Free Speech’. There are enough people trying to impose boundaries as it is, so I don’t go looking for them. I accept that ‘Free Speech’ is not an absolute, but I don’t go searching for the limits. That’s the vocation of the censor not the writer.

      Generally, I tend to (or at least try to) side with Chomsky on these matters.

      With regard to freedom of speech there are basically two positions: you defend it vigorously for views you hate, or you reject it and prefer Stalinist/fascist standards. It is unfortunate that it remains necessary to stress these simple truths.

      Grayling and Chomsky of course could be wrong and I don't believe because I try to share their sentiment, that I am free to use them as an authority to beat down Brandon with. He is as free to reject them as I am to side with them. I refer to them not as authorities but as sources for my own views.

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  18. @ Am, Christopher Owens

    (CO - I will respond to your points more fully later).

    Whilst we are talking about Bill Craig, would either of you have condemned his assassination if it was carried out in 1972 with a claim of responsibility directly citing his "liquidate the enemy" speech as a reason?

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    1. Seems a bizarre question - Christopher was not alive in 72 and I was 14-15. What we might have done in 72 has hardly any bearing on what we would do today. I would have applauded his assassination then for a whole host of reasons, not just liquidate the enemy.
      The discussion seems to be going off on a tangent.

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  19. @ Christopher Owens

    1 – No, I was motivated to critique his article, below the line, but lost interest in a comprehensive “take-down.” Partly, because of a word limit when responding using Blogger, but mainly because I felt I made decent enough points and quite frankly decided that re-reading American Psycho for the second time this year was a better use of my time. I expected him to respond to the points made, but he hasn’t, and of course has no obligation to.

    The title of my piece is “why being anti-woke puts you in some embarrassing company” –this was my direct response to AM’s comment about WC’s piece.

    I didn’t write a piece *about* Costello’s article, I wrote a piece questioning why publishing it was seen as a riposte to the “woke” movement and, whether it deserved to be published on its own merits. Not demanding that it was deleting, not even saying that it shouldn’t have been published, simply offering these criticism. And I did so in the hope that a conversation would follow. In that respect, I believe writing the piece was justified, and that it has been a success.

    I haven’t written a piece like this since my university days, and then, not for publication, so I accept that I have perhaps not been as clear and punchy as I would have liked.

    2 – I’m not sure that Corbyn ever did offer outright support for the IRA (happy to be corrected.) McDonnell was more blatant. Corbyn simply isn’t an anti-semite, he was successfully smeared by a compliant media, much like single parents, black people, feminists, the “loony left,” immigrants, the EU and a multitude of others have been smeared by the UK media.

    The point that I am trying to make is that today’s neo-reactionaries claim to be anti-establishment, whilst supporting that the same establishment that worked so hard to kill off the Corbyn project.

    WC is part of a political trend that flatters itself by being anti-establishment, and the only reason that it can do that is by inventing a different establishment – which is why I question how real a threat “woke” actually is. See my “oldest trick in the book” comment.

    Re Julie Bindel – a fascinating figure, flawed as we all are, but has written some thought provoking articles. I find her comments about trans people distasteful, and, as with yourself and AM, IMO, she finds herself in some embarrassing company.

    3 – From memory, Farage has been invited onto QT more than anyone else. And there’s the small fact that the audience booker turns out to have been a Britain First supporter. Bit of a rigged right-wing game there, and I vigorously disagree that Farage deserved so much coverage. Credible left-wing voices are, and always have been, given a paucity to presence, whilst rent-a-quote liberals incense everyone.

    Re Boris Johnson – “He made the audience laugh with his various blunders, so why wouldn’t the producers want to bring him back?”

    Well, because, as was obvious, he was politically campaigning to get into the highest political office in the land, an office that he is almost hilariously unequipped to sit in.

    Platforming has consequences, and I note that you are more indulgent of right-wing figures being given excessive platform than you are of other right-wing figures being denied a platform.

    This is the issue – there are only so many platforms, and claiming “wokeism” is “cancelling” you is a sure-fire way to get publicity and, ironically, platform. This isn’t a Freedom of Speech issue, it’s a political reach issue.

    I take and accept your point about the difference between media and the commons on which ideas are debated.

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  20. @ Christopher Owens

    4 –

    “Because the concept of free speech is greater than any political leanings” – even greater than, say, fascism? I don’t use the term lightly, but many people at that rally could easily be considered such. Appearing alongside them endorses them. Failure to appear at rally attended by hard-right scumbags, and organised by a hard-right scumbag does not an opponent to freedom of speech make.

    “By simplifying history to remove its nuances, reducing everything to the concept of “oppressed” and “oppressor” and seemingly having no understanding of human nature, society is heading in a very dangerous direction.”

    And this is where we part company. I don’t see history that way, and I don’t know anyone that does, and I furthermore think that those that actually do, whilst being noisy and a bit annoying, don’t have much in the way of teeth. They don’t have an EDL style street presence, and neither do they have a farcical wannabe paramilitary wing banging on asylum seeker’s hotel doors.

    Through this discussion, I (like to )think we have arrived at a consensus which is that I view neo-reactionaries as a graver threat than “wokeism.” This is the area that I think would benefit from further debate.

    We can also debate whether or not having your Instagram account disabled is being denied Freedom of Speech… I’m afraid I’m not buying that one.

    It’s easy to get abrasive and seek to score points on political blogs. I’ve tried as much as I can to avoid that. I appreciate your comments and commentary, and genuinely believe that only by identifying the common ground, as well as the opposing points, can people deal learn. As I've said before, I'm quite sure echo-chamber and confirmation bias is informing our respective positions.

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  21. I think as much useful has been said on this as is likely to be said. My main observation at this stage is that being woke invariably puts us on the side of the censor whereas being opposed to the woke does not place us on the side of the reactionary right. I feel the reactionary right is always the greatest danger but we can never fully understand it unless we have access to all ideas about it.

    Interesting discussion all the same.

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