After Manchester: Our Conversation About Islam Must Pave the Way for Politicians

I am happy to be able to direct you to Areo magazine for this blog post. This piece is a back-to-basics framing of the conversation I believe we should be having about the role of liberalism and tolerance in response to terrorism. Please follow the link below to read the article: https://areomagazine.com/2017/05/25/after-manchester-our-conversation-about-islam-must-pave-the-way-for-politicians/

On The Transparency of those Pleading ‘Please Register to Vote’

The bellows calling for the young, the 18-25’s, the millennials, to vote reached their apogee on the evening of the May 22nd deadline. There are two broad reasons for this invocation. For most, this was a transparent call to ensure that as many of the notoriously left wing youth as possible are firmly on their side come June 8th. This motive shamelessly weaponises what I like to call the default left. These are those whose interest in the election stems from social media exposure to deliberately and dogmatically anti-Tory memes, who nonetheless default to old lefty sentiments on instinct. So be it. If you intuitively fall for the soft and friendly wave of sort-of-socialist policies designed to win the vote of but not actually help ‘the many,’ then vote away. There are worse reasons to vote labour, like actually thinking (unlike 172 of his own MPs) that Corbyn is a stand-up guy or that voting Tory means you’ve imbibed media bias and are an evil, bigoted blowhard like your grandparents.

Thankfully, many on-the-fence young folk see right through these fawning appeals and refuse to be used as a political tool in a generationally divided voting game. They know they would not be summoned to vote if those summoning knew their conservative leanings. The introspection of the young, Corbyn-loving left extends to figuring out their Facebook reach is probably an echo chamber. They usually think this so as they couldn’t possibly know or have befriended anyone not as virtuously progressive as themselves. More often the truth is that they selectively narrow the range of opinions on their feed every time they delete friends with openly right-wing convictions. Sadly for them, the shy or recent Tory converts haven’t outed themselves and are still hanging around their facebook posts. But by far the likelier reader is those who say they won’t vote because they don’t know enough about politics. It is no secret that it is from this pool that those who have graduated to what Maajid Nawaz calls the ‘CTRL left’ hope to find newly ‘default left’ voters.

However, these calls for the politically disaffected youth to mobilise – to be dragged to the polls, to tick off one of the fashionably left wing candidates – isn’t as damaging as what is often billed as the more honourable reason to encourage people to vote: for the good of political participation, to fulfill your democratic duty, to claim your future, to make your voice heard. After all, one can’t complain when things turn sour if one did not vote. Whilst this supposedly noble rationale is often a cover for the self-interested one, taken at its word I would argue it is a worse reason to get apathetic young people to the polling stations.

To persuade by suggesting one will ‘have their political voice heard’ when one hasn’t been able to get round to registering until right before the deadline is an appeal built on an illusion. What voice with what strength of conviction are these people waiting to hear? The reason there are so few young voting is that they patently do not care, and where they do, you are more likely to hear blasé, overarching cynicism than partisan zealotry. I frequently here from friends who say they reject out of hand the plea from all politicians, on the left and the right. That they are all smarmy liars, much worse incompetent and ill-prepared for questions ranging from the essential; how much will that cost, how might you pay for it,  the prerequisite; what’s the name of the foreign minister you’ll be talking to when you go to do your job in France, or the more rudimentary still; how much does a pint of milk cost?

For many of the students ripe for persuasion, voting for one party over the other is like choosing between going to the library to do coursework you should’ve started last week or revising for an exam coming up next week; both options are so dreadful you end up doing neither and stay at home instead. For whatever unfeeling voice these people can muster to be heard, they need a robust basis from which to share their disbelief in politics as it is played out through the media, targeted online adverts and the nuance-light medium of memes. After all, you see more interest in a video of a ‘pale, stale, male who just got owned on question time’ than you do incisive political commentary in any of the broadsheets. Whilst the election and much of it’s media coverage can be uninspiring, far more often the problem is being unamenable to inspiration if it doesn’t come with a cheap joke or otherwise facebook-ready comic relief. I can speak from direct personal experience when I say some of the cohort being beckoned to vote have only recently learned the difference between left and right wing, some do not know on which stem of this bifurcation you’re more likely to find a liberal, others make the double error of confusing the Tories with the Conservatives.

For those who reject what is being offered on all sides, voting would be an act of legitimising candidates who one does not see as fit for the job. This is an act of consent for a party to operate in a system when they neither think the candidate competent to operate nor the system fit for operation. The only option left to those who see all names on the ballot as quacks is to abstain or to spoil the ballot, the former leaving them lumped in with the statistics for the apathetic who couldn’t be bothered to turn out, and the latter lumped in with the useless who accidentally filled out their ballot wrong. We need a powerful way to say ‘I refuse to endorse any of you unscrupulous charlatans’. As Peter Hitchens has long suggested, a ‘none of the below’ option on the ballot paper would fulfil this need. I would vote ‘none of the below’ if it was an option. But as it stands, I want my vote to be counted, though I wish it did not count, so to speak.

The inevitability that a government will be formed (so you might as well get on board with those you least dislike) is the only honest rejoinder to this line of thinking. However, if you think the entire bunch is bad, there is no best to be rescued from it. If you detest all parties, your preference could be so minimal, more narrowingly arbitrary as the election plods on, that it feels morally questionable to endorse one party over the other. ‘None of the below’ might get the most votes. The ignominy too great for the second place MP to claim a mandate, the seat would have to be re-run until someone worth voting for put themselves forward. This would be a fine way to weed out liars and let the unelectable face up to their unpopularity. Far from not being able to complain as a result, not voting is the original complaint and, given a system where we could quantify the sentiment, potentially the most powerful one.

But absent this option to ascertain the level of voter antipathy, not voting does not quite carry the same message. Still, instead of transparently calling for the young to vote because you’re counting on their demographic’s voting habits, instead of searching for a ‘political voice’ that just isn’t there, why not drop the pretence and be more pragmatic about it? Say straightforwardly “whether you’re voting left or right, whether you feel disaffected or disinterested or not, vote now because a higher turnout this time will mean politicians must address your concerns next time.” This might be the most honest and most pertinent reason to call for the young to vote; maybe then MPs will offer something beyond trite rhetoric and meaningless promises for us to really vote for.

A Basic Refusal to Have One’s Gender Considered Should Underlie Equality in the Workplace

One of the most hideous sentences I have had the displeasure of reading this week is that which a misguided recruiter felt necessary to finish of a job description: “We particularly welcome applications from women”. This might be read charitably as encouragement (patronising as that might be) but I’d argue its mere existence in a place where gender need not be considered proves the intent to give women a helping hand where it is not needed; a well-meaning stepping stone to unhelpful gender quotas. This position was for a generic office administrative role in a printing company, hardly gendered enough to require the feminine touch. I can’t come up with any reason why this should not be (if it isn’t already) illegal, just as calls for it to be such would bellow loudly if the reverse were to be written.

It is this sort of paternal leg-up in the workplace that should have feminists busily typing diatribes about discrimination. It is this particular style of infantilising motivation targeted at women that has ceded the rise of the gender quota; a commitment to gender parity in the workplace at the expense of remembering women don’t need extra help to succeed, at the expense of forgetting it is anti-feminist to give women special treatment, however genial the intent. This line of thinking embodies discrimination in its most guileful form; sexism packaged as anti-sexism.

In one fell swoop this lets men know that by virtue of their gametes they are marginally less likely to be afforded the dignity of work, regardless of their qualifications. It lets women know they’re not being judged solely on their hard work and compatibility with the job, but partly by their gender. What a work environment to be in, one where you’re not entirely sure your colleagues are there because they’re skilled, conscientious and respectable individuals committed to the job, or because they have a vagina. Imagine being surrounded by people who are suspicious of your actual qualifications because they’ve noticed your gender is the right one to placate the nauseating guilt of the recruiter signalling their progressivist credentials with each miserable tap atop the keyboard.

As Jonathan Haidt observes of diversity quotas in universities, identity based advances through the recruitment system do not minimise any identity based gaps but rather have the potential to pullulate the reverse. It fosters an environment where the presence of a putatively underrepresented person arouses suspicion as to the basis of their job or university offer; eligibility or identity. Such a move might encourage legitimate worries about the employee’s or student’s capabilities that could so easily be transmuted into the language of microaggressions and misogyny. In a world where the hashtag #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear is littered with imputed mansplaining that are often comments women are more likely to hear from other women, “Working from home? Nice not to have to put on make-up in the morning”, and comments male writers are just as likely to hear, “Have a back up plan, freelance can be unsteady work”, why take the risk of letting genuine concerns be turned into a workplace sexism lawsuit?

Fortunately, asking such a question already buys too far into the implicit message that there aren’t a glut of qualified women out there whose application wouldn’t be welcomed on merit alone. In a world where women are better educated at every level – by degree classification and level of qualification – a better question is why even write this? There are bound to be women as qualified as men applying for this position, if you have a preference based on whatever wrongheaded script from the feminist playbook you have imbibed then indulge that preference in secret. There’s bound to be a woman fit for the job, hire her without letting her know you’re not just happy she’s a good candidate but you’re thrilled she has a vagina too. Are you saying that you’re so worried there aren’t capable women out there you need to ensure you’ll let standards slip in the name of redressing the balance? Are you saying that in the unlikely case that the one candidate fit for the job is male, you’d take on an under-qualified female and sacrifice your business in the name of equality? Surely, a basic refusal to have your gender considered should underlie the feminist message about equality in the workplace.

Sadly, closing the purported wage gap means women don’t mind not being judged on the same footing as men, that women don’t mind if it’s their gender that gets them the job, that women don’t mind if their self-worth is reduced to their genitals, that women don’t mind if their years of hard work are worth as much as the chromosomes they were born with, that women don’t mind if they are reduced to pawns in the political pursuit of the appearance –  but not the practice – of equality. It is saddening the echoes of second wave feminism that demanded equal but never special treatment – that didn’t want to be viewed as an inferior underclass that need a paternalistic helping hand to navigate the world – have all but faded into silence.

Thoughts on the Campus Culture of Rape Hysteria

The item of privilege one must first check when arriving on campus – perhaps one less arbitrary than the often unilluminating reflections on skin colour and gender – is the reduced risk of violent crime one attains simply by virtue of being a student. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, often billed as the gold standard for crime research, found that between 1995 and 2013 the rate of rape and sexual assault was 1.2 times higher for nonstudents (7.6 per 1,000) than for students (6.1 per 1,000).” Moreover, the trend for the actual rate of rape is consistent decline; the same research body found that between 1997 and 2013, the rate of sexual assault against women dropped by around 50 percent. Additionally, under the watch of a ~72% left wing faculty – some sympathetic to progressive cultural-Marxism, some cowering at the feminist thought police – you are also unlikely to face the fabled rape apologia, microaggressions and misogyny attendant to this culture of rape. In fact, you are likely to be pandered to and find the trigger-warnings and safe spaces to protect you from harm’s way at a time when there is less to protect you from than ever before. Why can’t all putatively compulsory consent classes start on this note so positive it is hard to overstate.

But instead what we hear (on an international stage, from someone as high-profile as Emma Watson, in front of no less than the UN) is the following unsubstantiated rubbish: “What if, as is the case in far too many universities, we are given the message that sexual violence isn’t actually a form of violence?” What world does she live in? Not only are we ‘given the message’ that sexual violence is absolutely a form of violence, we are told ad nauseum that it is amongst the worst of possible things that can happen to an individual. As Karen Straughan argues, hiding subtly in this assertion is a recapitulation of Victorian morals which places a woman’s sexual purity above all else; do not expose the most sacred of objects to the lewd or the libidinal. Watson is keen to re-energise the type of ‘damsel in distress’ narrative that second wave feminism sought to dispel. Hysteria about sexual violence is rife, actual sexual violence is on the decline; the moral panic remains and the attempted feminist inculcation disturbs the 80% of the population who are still unwilling to identify as a feminist.

Moreover, it is evident that the bar for what counts as violence is dropped to embarrassingly low standards in the new progressive march against being made to feel uncomfortable. If the male-perpetrator, female-victim paradigm plays out, then cat calls, ogling or even something as innocuous as a joke could now conceivably be called sexual violence. Indeed, in the 2013 Hidden Marks study into sexual assault on campus ‘making comments with a sexual overtone that made you feel uncomfortable ‘ was classed as ‘verbal harassment’ even if it the comment was not directed at you but overheard. Similarly, ‘someone asking you questions about your sex, sexuality or romantic life when it was clearly irrelevant or none of their business’ was classed as harassment too. When is it ever clearly relevant and clearly someone’s business to ask about your sex life? Personal questions sometimes get asked in the real world, the one that exists outside of the protected campus bubble. Besides, what sort of puritanical posturing have we allowed to creep into a supposedly sexually liberated age and tell us to stop talking about sex because it is harassment if someone feels uncomfortable? Prurience might be uncomfortable but it is no crime.

This embarrassing, tendentious nonsense spouted by feminist voices such as Watson flies in the face of the ultra-sensitive campus policies, the advocacy statistics and a marketplace of ideas so saturated with misinformation and hyperbole about sexual assault. This hysteria isn’t just misguided or wrong but stands as antithetical to the current campus climate; extremely sensitive and well calibrated to student demands for sexual assault education and masculinity retraining. Our intuitions about the safety of campus life are being sculpted by this culture of fear, rape hysteria and the privileging of selective subjective experiences over studies that, whilst notoriously difficult to replicate and cohere, are far from a compulsion to alarmism.

The actuary in everyone should be free to take risks, refine their ad hoc judgements and navigate the world for the dangerous and rewarding place it is. This would stand in contrast to the those who reduce sex to something of the transactional with affirmative consent thinking, where a breach of formal contract, a misstep from progressive propriety, a move outside of the feminist karma-sutra is sufficient grounds for a rape accusation. Each consent class held patronisingly insists it has something of infallible clarity to add the unavoidable – and often thrilling – complexities of modern sexual life.

Perhaps the effort and resources that are funnelled into the public discussion around sex, rape, entitlement and the effects of alcohol consumption has the potential to effect the only metric worth going by, the actual instances of rape. But this discussion needs to be had without the kind of demagoguery that paints campuses as unnavigable patriarchal terrain. The same dialogue must, if it is to deserve the title, explore different viewpoints, perhaps that rape hysteria does not help women; shoddy advocacy statistics do not help women; campuses are the safest they’ve ever been. Maybe some students, god forbid, agree with the remnants of second wave feminist thought that rattle around the web from time to time.

When Camille Paglia employed the caustic rhetoric ‘women should be free to risk rape’ she was a pugilist in the long since side-lined fight against authoritarianism.  The ‘freedom to risk rape’ was a cry against the nanny-state paternalists who would have women on campuses under curfew while male contemporaries partied into the night. This was asking for the freedom to go out into the world and be uncomfortable, to be freed from the cloistering chaise longue and the Victorian notion of women’s ultimate fragility. But now they wish to engineer a young persons sex life so that they are never – under any circumstances, under the threat of rape accusations, feminist hysteria and public humiliation – to be made uncomfortable. Sexual freedom is being curbed in the name of pandering to the modern pathology of pathologising everything. To cloak discomfort and regret in the language of psychotherapy (trigger warnings, trauma, PTSD) is to trivialise the violent assaults that do still occur.

To set rigid lines for consent and codify sexual pursuits to feminist standards is to set oneself a trap. To be ideologically consistent in this world one must insist that rape occurred where the ‘victim’ did not think it had, because their tolerances for uncertainty in the sexual sphere were higher and not fine-tuned to the feminist gold standard. If a woman simply hadn’t been educated to know that – because her leg was touched in the first instance without the Q&A-style affirmative consent courtship –  she has been assaulted, then who is anyone else to tell her such. In this case you must create victims where there are none, insist regret was something more; you are effectively educating people on precisely what there their lived experience should be given certain ambiguities in the bedroom; what their experience actually was ceases to matter. This is to manufacture trauma where it does not exist. Whilst the old authoritarians saved women from the dangers of the outside world by locking them inside, the new-authoritarians fail to save them from the same dangers through this futile engineering of our sex lives, to the very real detriment of fun. Anyone who has seen an educational affirmative consent infomercial can attest to this.