It’s not often that I can say that Donald Trump has elicited any form of debate within me, my usual response being both intellectual and moral disdain. However, strangely enough, it was some of his most repugnant comments that have set my mind awhirl. I’m talking of the infamous Charlottesville.
You can immediately discount the majority of what he said as insulting to humanity itself, but, without realising it, he has actually raised a legitimate issue which is often so awkward or uncomfortable that it is not spoken about: “I think there’s blame on both sides”. Although in this instance it’s pretty clear that there isn’t much the leftists protestors could have done to take the blame when they were up against people who were dangling by one finger from the lowest rung in the moral ladder. From situations like this it’s very easy to demonise the far-right (they tend to bring it upon themselves), and glorify the left. However, I do think we should acknowledge the fact that, despite often having the moral high-ground, the left isn’t always very nice AND it isn’t always right.
I can already sense the thundering indignation, rising blood pressure and forthcoming cries of one of the following: ‘racist’, ‘fascist’, ‘bigot’… But hear me out.
Recently in the UK a British Labour MP and (former) Shadow Equalities Minister called Sarah Champion wrote an article in the esteemed and well-regarded British newspaper The Sun (I am dripping with sarcasm here) with the headline: “British Pakistani men ARE raping and exploiting white girls … and it’s time we faced up to it”. It had come out recently in the news that many large cities in the country had issues with grooming gangs. Essentially these were sex rings where young girls and woman were plied with alcohol and drugs and exploited or raped. Now the controversy came about because all the victims were white females, whereas almost all the perpetrators were men of Pakistani origin. It became the very obvious elephant in the room. Now I have nothing but bucket-loads of contempt for this particular newspaper, and the headline was clearly intended to be as inflammatory as possible (after all, that is how they sell papers). This means that the issue wasn’t raised in a particularly subtle or clever way, which doesn’t help legitimise the point. But, the fact that a disproportionate number of perpetrators come from a particular ethnic group is a very serious issue which should have been discussed. The result was that Champion was sacked, accused of racism, and the point she intended to make was largely ignored.
Now this is what I have a major issue with. I don’t particularly like the method which Champion used, but the entire saga reeks of stifling dissent and silencing any views which tackle controversial issues with emotionally charged and often unfair insults. This is done without any intellectual debate or progress being made. And this is by no means a lone incident, merely one that is particularly poignant.
Now this is the very ugly truth that most people won’t admit. Sometimes the left can be just as blinkered, cruel and bordering on dictatorial as the right which they so vehemently oppose and profess to be so un-like. Terms like racist, fascist, bigot, chauvinist, elitist, imperialist are thrown around with such ease, yet with very little understanding of their actual meaning and often without actual justification. Essentially, it’s become: ‘abuse the person, not the idea’.
Politically I place myself in the middle ground. Most of my views are very liberal BUT I’m far too pragmatic and hardened to place myself entirely in that camp. I do think that stricter methods are required to deal with the refugee crisis, I think that Confederate and other controversial statues are important (much can be learnt and represented in the overcoming of things such as slavery rather than its glorification), I roll my eyes at what feels like political correctness gone mad and sometimes I want to tell Jeremy Corbyn supporters to read an economics book. There! I’ve said it! All these views that everyone seems to tiptoe around. In a tutorial, the other day, when discussing the use of torture (there was a context I promise), without too much disagreement, it was immediately discarded as an option. This led to my tutor exclaiming, “Have you all been so indoctrinated by academia that you won’t even consider it?!”. And this is a very legitimate point. The academic context is a good example because, whether we like it or not, and despite being in a ‘safe-haven’ for debate, most of us end up having the same copy pasted views.
I just keep my mouth firmly shut when it comes to certain topics and I am by no means alone. The reality is that many moderate, rational people become too scared to enter into debate. I’m not professing that my views are always perfect but I hate that so many people fail to judge them on merit and are so quick to criticise them because they don’t fit into a very specific and very narrow view.
Different views are good. Debate is good. Society suffers when people don’t feel able to express themselves. My point is that people of all viewpoints- left, right and everything in between, need to be able to look critically at their own views, see what it is that they’re actually criticising in others, and be able to criticise others in a constructive way.
And that is my naïve and incredibly optimistic view on the future of journalism, politics, academia and intellectual debate.