(Content warning: slurs)
If it were possible to bet on the public pronouncements of terrible people, you could make a ton of money with a very simple rule: if someone has awful opinions on trans people, sooner or later you’ll discover that they have lots of other awful opinions too.
Here’s just one day’s trawl.
First, SNP MSP John Mason lodged a Holyrood motion calling for the Scottish Parliament to restrict abortion. Trans people were shocked – shocked! – by the news that someone who is a vocal critic of trans women’s rights and bodily autonomy would also like to restrict the rights and bodily autonomy of other women.
“This is our shocked face,” we said.
Then, tiresome contrarian Brendan O’Neill of climate-denying, right wing billionaire-funded Spiked incited violence on a current affairs programme. Trans people were shocked – shocked! – by the news that someone whose publication repeatedly incites hatred against minority groups might also incite hatred against other groups.
“No, really, this is our shocked face,” we said. “We’re shocked. So, so shocked.”
What’s almost as tiresome as these tedious arseholes is the fact that a significant number of people couldn’t care less about any of it until and unless their own particular group is suddenly in the firing line.
Mason’s anti-trans stuff merited barely a squeak, but now he’s targeting cisgender women there’s finally talk on whether the SNP’s broad church should be a little less broad, and whether a modern, supposedly progressive political party should accommodate creationists with regressive views. There’s an irony to that, of course: two very high-profile SNP politicians are science deniers too, but because the science they deny is about trans people that’s apparently okay.
And then there’s Spiked, which rose from the ashes of the Balkan holocaust-denying LM and whose writers are reliably on the wrong side of everything.
Despite its origins as a far-left publication, LM quickly tacked rightwards and was beloved of far-right thinktanks. It was against the anti-apartheid sanctions on South Africa, claimed straight people didn’t need to worry about AIDS, attacked environmentalism (the greens were “Hitler-loving imperialists”), told its readers that whaling bans were “cultural imperialism”, was against the no-platforming of the National Front and (as Wikipedia puts it) “engaged in a sustained campaign of denial of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.” They were memorably described by one old socialist as “media pranksters and disco fascists.”
To borrow a phrase from Douglas Adams, LM were a bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be first against the wall when the revolution comes. And yet they’ve carved out an important niche in the UK media.
Despite the obvious fact that you shouldn’t trust any of them to tell you the time, Spiked writers and O’Neill especially have been on the BBC’s speed-dial list for years to rail against feminism, LGBT+ rights, Muslims and of course trans people with very little opprobrium; it’s only when the hateful rhetoric finally extended to “ordinary” people that there seems to have been any sign of surprise, let alone a backlash.
As the Best For Britain Twitter account put it:
Sorry, but if you invite someone who has written pieces like:
Why I’m Sick of Gay Pride
Now It’s The Tranny State
Angelina Jolie’s Mastectomy; When It’s Trendy to Be Ill
Breivik: A Monster Made by Multiculturalism
you can’t legitimately feign shock when he talks crap.
But it’s not just talking crap. It’s sowing division and in some cases, hatred. By the time “ordinary” people start to pay attention, those bitter seeds have already been sown.
And the media has played a huge part in it. In much the same way it ignored the danger of Trump because he was good for ratings, it treated genuinely dangerous people like Nigel Farage – who yesterday told the Brexit Party faithful that the people would “take the knife to the pen-pushers in Whitehall” – as ratings fodder. Spiked’s BBC presence has long been massively out of proportion to its UK readership because its writers can be relied upon to say “controversial” things on cue. And thanks in a large part to the state broadcaster, we’ve been encouraged to see hateful, unethical and amoral people such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson as hilarious comic figures.
It’s been really strange to see so many people’s reaction to the Prime Minister’s furious, frightening posturing this week. Boris – BoJo – is bad? But he’s the funny man from the TV!
Because of course, for most of us Boris is the funny man from TV – a character the media continued to push, despite the reality being much darker. This is of course the man who as a journalist, falsified stories; the man who as a more junior politician conspired to have a journalist beaten up; the man who as a schoolboy was part of a group famous for destroying restaurants and humiliating homeless people.
It’s the same with Rees-Mogg, another hilarious rich man from the TV. His unlawful machinations around Brexit are entirely in keeping with his record. Suzanne Moore in The Guardian:
Rees-Mogg is a class warrior (for his class alone) who has a track record of voting down every socially progressive policy. Far from being “eccentric” or “freethinking”, as the extreme right likes to characterise itself, he embodies their tick-box views: anti-gay marriage; anti-abortion; doesn’t believe in climate-change legislation, votes against any rise in benefits, even for disabled people; supports zero-hours contracts and tuition fees. He supported Trump, although he has since distanced himself. This is pure neocon territory.
He’s like a walking version of Spiked. And inevitably, where one lot of intolerance exists, more is just around the corner.
…When the Tory party was pushing for more ethnic-minority candidates, he warned against having too high a proportion of them. “Ninety-five per cent of this country is white. The list can’t be totally different from the country at large,” he said. In 2013, he was “guest of honour” at – and gave a speech to – the annual dinner of Traditional Britain Group (TBG), which describes itself as “the home of the disillusioned patriot”. It wants to return black people to “their natural homelands”.
Can you believe that a man with terrible right-wing views seems to be racist too? This is my shocked face.
I don’t need to start quoting Martin Niemöller to remind you that when you tolerate the mob, sooner or later the mob will come for you. Here’s Marina Hyde in today’s Guardian on the current UK political landscape:
the “big thinkers” who pander to these instincts are never going to be the ones getting hurt.
…To adapt that phrase of the alt-right to whom you tack closer every day: mobs don’t care about your feelings. If I had to come up with an adjective to help you understand mobs, it would probably be mob-like. Very mobby. Mobtastic. If you go to the country in a people v parliament election, you may indeed get elected and be part of a triumphant Tory majority. But when you have been elected, and when you’ve “got Brexit done” – which is to say, when you’ve either taken the UK off the no-deal cliff, or opened up the next however many painful years of trade negotiations fuckery-pokery, which is never going to solve the problems it is magically supposed to – you, then, are “parliament”.
The even angrier people are then versus YOU. That’s when they come for you, because you asked them to. You invited them in. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this line “the revolution devours its children”? That’s you, babe.
There is a well-worn path between demonising minorities and advocating violence – whether literal violence or metaphorical violence such as a “hostile environment” that treats some people as lesser humans, or a state that deprives humans of their rights. But again and again we ignore that and put terrible people on TV because they’re good for ratings. We give them publicity, and a presence. And by doing so we give them terrible power.
In 1984, the educator Neil Postman suggested that in the age of show business, we were “amusing ourselves to death”: that the future would look less like 1984 and more like Brave New World.
As Postman wrote, Huxley’s vision was that the people in power wouldn’t need to seize our rights because we would be persuaded to hand them over voluntarily.
in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.
At the very end of his book, Postman concluded:
What I suggest here as a solution is what Aldous Huxley suggested, as well. And I can do no better than he. He believed with H. G. Wells that we are in a race between education and disaster, and he wrote continuously about the necessity of our understanding the politics and epistemology of media. For in the end, he was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.