Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Gnostics of the Left

Debate is not always democratic. For example, we would not welcome an open debate about whether the right place for a woman is in the kitchen. In this case, debate itself would benefit the anti-woman bigots by allowing them to portray themselves as one legitimate side in a nuanced discussion.

Says London University sociologist David Hirsh. David is a lonely left-wing voice against academic boycotts of Israel and thus far on the side of the angels. Unfortunately it does not follow that his variety of leftism is peculiarly rational, moderate or (at least in the old-fashioned sense) liberal.

"Debate is not always democratic." Very much the view taken in the former German Democratic Republic. What it was democratic to debate was debated and what was not democratic to debate - the leading role of the Socialist Unity Party, for example - was not debated. The parameters are drawn rather more tightly in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea but the principle is the same.

Why should we strive to close down the women-in-the-kitchen debate? Because it would benefit "anti-woman bigots". Well, naturally. Bad Thoughts are thought by Bad People who must not be allowed to clothe them in Bad Words. "Bigot" is obviously not in the same league as "despicable human scum" but the fundamental impulse is the same (and, come to think of it, the imperative to ensure their illegitimacy is recognised does, historically speaking, bring a definite suggestion of bastardliness into play). "If you know what's good for you, you won't go there". it says. You might not get dragged before the firing squad but you can certainly wave goodbye to your career as a sociologist at Goldsmiths, London.

But even granted that we are talking about Bad People, why should the consequences of letting them open their mouths be so dire? Surely this is a win-win situation for the good guys. If they are bigots they will simply expose and reconfirm their bigotedness throuugh their pathetic lack of rational arguments.

And suppose they did come up with a decent argument or two? After all, given the not insignificant part that prescriptive gender roles have played in human history, it would be quite surprising if there was nothing whatsoever to be said in their favour. Wouldn't that too be a good thing? Wouldn't it be of interest to David Hirsh the sociologist? Wouldn't it, if nothing else, help him to make his own case more effectively?

That's just not the way it works in David's professional and political worlds. As with the Gnostics of old, to be On The Left is to possess knowledge of the nature of things which is hidden from the common multitude. David does not need to hear the arguments in favour of an opinion he disagrees with because he already knows it's wrong. Whereas those not yet fully initiated into the knowledge - his students, let us say - cannot be relied on to know that the arguments are wrong, so must be protected from hearing them, lest their innocent minds be corrupted by despicable human scumBad People.