Thursday, September 24, 2015

Three "Don't miss" articles

Iain Dale's blog features a "Daley Dozen" of the dozen best posts from around the blogosphere that he has read that day, and Paul Staines' "Guido Fawkes" blog has a "Seen Elsewhere" panel which lists a similar number of articles on blogs of MSM websites which he recommends as worth a read.

I'm not going to list that many "Don't miss" articles, but there were three things I've seen today which I thought were particularly worth a recommendation, two in Standpoint and one on the "Notes from North Britain" blog.

1) Let's start with the latter. Professor Adam Tomkins, who writes the "Notes from North Britain" blog has put up an absolutely superb post here on why he is seeking election as a Scottish Conservative to the Scottish parliament.

He has written a masterly demolition of the Scottish National Party's pathetic record of failure in government, and how they have fooled far too many people by distracting them from that record by wrapping themselves in the saltire. He exposes the quite frightening centralising and authoritarian nature of the SNP's policies, and makes the case for a liberal, modern, reformist Toryism to stand up to SNP centralising control-freakery and failure.

Professor Tomkins' article is an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to understand the case against the SNP record in Scotland.

2) Maureen Lipman, famous for many acting roles and as "Beatty," the "You got an 'ology" granny in the BT advertisements, has an article in Standpoint on why she has voted Labour for the last time.

The article is called "Afraid of Corbyn? Afraid So." and begins by explaining of Jeremy Corbyn

"He is thought to be a breath of fresh air. A man of conscience. Refreshing. Yeah, like polenta is refreshing. For refreshing, read “I see Michael Foot has come around again,” like knitting and birdwatching and baking and ballroom dancing and talent shows and vinyl, and, it goes without saying (so I’ll say it), anti-Semitism."

That's a serious charge but she can and does point to evidence, that "If he is not anti-Semitic himself then he is more than happy to consort with those who are."

3) Most wide-ranging of the three is Nick Cohen's Standpoint article "The Age of Cult Politics."

Nick makes a powerful argument that true believers in more than one part of the spectrum of British politics are starting to think and act like less like participants in a healthy functioning democracy and more like members of a fanatical cult, taking their views and information increasingly from an echo chamber of the like-minded and seeking to de-legitimatise those who might present an alternative view or challenge what they want to believe.

This is not an argument with which readers of this blog are likely to be unfamiliar: I have read, and posted here about, a number of similar articles this year, particularly in respect of how easy it is to turn social media into an echo-chamber which feeds back to us what we want to hear and how the left's intolerance may have contributed to the environment in which expectations of the 2015 General Election proved so comprehensively wide of the mark.

Nick Cohen brings the argument up to date, and singles out three particular groups who he thinks are particularly prone to this: in his words

"three of the most potent and most cultish forces in British society:

* Scottish nationalism,
* Euroscepticism
* and the far-Left - or as we must now call it, Her Majesty’s Opposition.

The political faithful dream of a glorious future: a Scotland free of English tutelage, an England free of the domination of Brussels, a Britain free of greed and poverty.  Like the great religious dreams of the past, these causes take over lives. But all present formidable difficulties.

In political as in religious cults, believers must be insulated against doubts. The most effective method is to blacken the outside world, and make alternative sources of information appear like the Devil’s seductions that tempt the godly into darkness.

As Professors Dennis Tourish and Tim Wohlforth put it in their study of political sectarianism:
“There is only one truth — that espoused by the cult. Competing explanations are not merely inaccurate but degenerate”.

The initiated can never see sceptics as just foolish or misguided, let alone as reasonable people asking legitimate questions. To maintain the unity of the faithful they must be damned as malicious. The outside world is no longer a place where sensible people test their theories. It is a contaminated space, a land full of traps, set by enemies, who mean you only harm. Paranoia and hypersensitivity follow."

I don't necessarily agree with every word of Nick Cohen's article, but I think he puts particularly well the serious concern that people involved in politics are in increasing danger of falling into a sectarian groupthink which insulates them from intellectual challenge. As he writes

"New media technologies allow people to live in enclosed intellectual spaces, where prejudices are not only reinforced but heightened. You only read online newspapers and blogs that tell you what you want to hear."

He continues

"Put people together who share a strong view, and the differences between them vanish. Peer pressure pushes people further to the right or left; it makes their nationalism stronger, their religion more fervent. The web allows not a few hundred, in a church or at a political rally, but hundreds of thousands to convince themselves that their cult is the one true path."

"The essential task for journalists and writers today is not to fight this or that ideology, but to resist the spirit of an age which proclaims that doubt is profane, and argument the ploy of a malicious conspiracy."

I have a horrible feeling that he has a point. And it is not just Cybernats, Corbyn supporters, or Eurosceptics who should be asking themselves if they are in danger of falling into this trap.

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