The Left’s selective offence antennae

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The Left’s selective offence antennae

The liberal pack has a curiously selective offence antennae, says Sean Walsh.

Anne Widdecombe offers the EU high command a history lesson, so the media establishment has a fit of the vapours. Brexit MEPs turn their backs on the fake EU anthem and howls of outrage can be heard from Islington to Highgate. Such is the crisis in the liberal soul: so little time, so many opportunities to take offence.

But there is nothing necessarily wrong in giving offence, provided it’s done politely. People work hard at being offended, it’s only good manners to supply them with some necessary material.

And nobody works harder than Marina Hyde, whose own highly efficient offence antennae are deployed in service of her wonderfully crafted personal assassination pieces for The Guardian (naturally). It may well be that the layers of obligatory bien pensant recrimination which form her most recent piece conceal an argument of some sort, but if not then no matter – just enjoy the ride.  Hyde is gratuitously insulting about those Brexiters she claims have given gratuitous insult. She is shocked by Widdecombe’s lazy “comparison” of the EU’s systems of oppression to slavery and to make the point she lazily compares her to an English football hooligan. It’s beautifully written vacuity. I’m quite the (envious) fan. When you’re presented with style as good as this, it would be churlish to ask for some substance as well.

The defence of Widdecombe (and therefore of Hyde, I suppose) is straightforward: to compare two things is not to suggest that they are the same, it’s to assume they are different – that’s what a “comparison” is. To offer an example in service of a theory is not to reduce the theory to the example, to think otherwise is careless. Marina Hyde does not really believe that Anne Widdecombe is a football hooligan; Anne Widdicombe did not say or imply that the oppressive structures of the European Project constitute a system of slavery. The intellectual work needed to see all this does not add up to hard labour.

The real point of her hit piece is not to luxuriate in the warm glow of liberal self-regard. It is also to contribute to the culture of grievance whose purpose is to provide cover to those who try to police the speech, and therefore the thought, of the rest of us. Hyde is hardly alone in this; she is just a gifted representative of her own pack.

Not that she’d see herself as part of a pack, that’s for the other lot:

            We have seen it so many times before, of course – this pack mentality, this unprovoked loutishness, this excruciatingly entitled sense that it is acceptable, even imperative, to colonise a public space and behave absurdly rudely in it.

There you have it: if you must protest then do it at home, in private and be grateful that we are allowing you to do it at all. The guardians of a culture that gives us Frankie Boyle, Love Island and the vulgarisation of the social space wish to privatise any public protest of its articles of faith. On grounds of offence.

The “louts” here are the Brexit MEPs who refused to genuflect to the EU’s “anthem”. The Lib Dems attended the same circus in identical, obscenely crafted ant-Brexit T-shirts, like Verhofstadt’s personal army of Certificate 18 Minions. Marina gives them a pass. They form a homogeneous subset of her own pack; whose group mentality is merely an inevitable consequence of being infallible.

One can only imagine what Hyde makes of Jesus’ absurd rudeness when it came to his unprovoked loutishness in the public space of the Jerusalem Temple.

The respect that the European Parliament is owed is at least in part a function of what it is: a distorting mechanism in service of the European project. Its pretensions are impertinent: to endorse a make- believe view of the European Union; to sustain its pretence of accountability; to be the veneer behind which all manner of corruption, casual and major, is carried out day by day.

The Brexit MEPs were wrong to stand up and turn their backs on the “national anthem” delusion. They should have remained seated. When a bully tells you to stand up, remain sedentary.

That was a crunch point. The dubiously legitimate figure head of a Potemkin institution ordered the people who’ve rumbled it to stand up. The mask slipped; the neediness of the functionary was put on display.

You cannot demand allegiance any more than you can insist that your ex-partner continues to love you. The Brexit MEPs were confirming via a very vanilla form of protest that they have seen through the sham. It was not the “colonisation of a public space”; it was an expression of disdain towards a corrupt institution made in the most appropriate context: the public theatre of the institution itself. It was telling the bully that he is a bully and doing so to his face.

And this was more than a protest. Farage and his colleagues were affirming a different allegiance – to their nation state. An allegiance shaped by a sense of belonging and predicated on genuine affection- spontaneous rather than brought into existence by diktat. Their action was an endorsement of the decency of the national idea. The EU ambition is the dissolution of the nation state, why would a patriot not object to the vandalism? If you think that the EU is assuming its own national status, lazily, and by the confiscation of powers it has no right to, then isn’t it a duty to laugh at its pretensions at every opportunity? If you think that the Project has stealthily appropriated the symbols of nationhood without having put in the hard yards that confer national legitimacy, then isn’t “offence” a very measured mechanism of dissent?

We’re supposed to kowtow to the guy wearing a service medal, even if we know that he bought it in the second-hand store with money he pilfered from you in the first place.

Marina Hyde decided to spray her invective all over the usual, easy liberal objects of disdain in a week when the Mafia practices of the EU have thrown up its new underbosses. She’s entitled to that selectivity; it is, after all, the choice her pack would expect of her, and that pack does not react well to disappointment.

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  • Sean Walsh
    Sean Walsh
    Sean Walsh is a former university teacher of philosophy. He has a doctorate in the philosophy of artificial intelligence and his current research interests are in the philosophy of mind, metaphysics and the philosophy of religion. He is also interested in philosophical issues around addiction. He lives in Wiltshire and works with addiction and recovery agencies, and with a homeless charity. He runs a lot.
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