Lampooning the language of social justice is a cheap shot
In Jean-Paul Sartres play Huis Clos, three characters are chucked into a room and forced to confront their moral turpitude for eternity, with the added complication that none can resist acting as judge and jury to the others; in the film Groundhog Day reality is equally inescapable, albeit in jollier surroundings and with a furry animal on hand. I feel your bemusement: why thank you, SparkNotes, you might say, but where are we going with this?
In short: directly to hell. Longer version: nowhere good, but circuitously, via multiple grim stops connected by rail replacement buses that are driven by maniacs. To pass the time en route, we will be forced to watch repeats of Question Time and issued with brand-new copies of Titania McGraths Woke: A Guide to Social Justice. Occasionally the bus will stop and on will pop someone from that parody of Leave.EUs Breaking Point poster: Peter Bone, perhaps, or Andrew Bridgen. The one spare seat will always be next to yours.
The past week has been like that. Various right-leaning commentators have been thoroughly delighted by the arrival of Woke, a speedy cash-in by comedian and writer Andrew Doyle, who created the character of Titania McGrath to poke fun at what he calls the hyper-inclusive identity politics that especially flourishes on Twitter. Unsurprisingly, what that version of identity politics mainly comes down to is discussions of race and gender and, despite all the gags and folderol, its little more sophisticated than the familiar howl of those who never shut up: Arent I allowed to say anything any more?
Like all such inventions, Tits operates according to the law of diminishing returns: you laugh at first, but quickly realise shes no Dorothy Parker. You begin to suspect that the comedy is secondary to the grinding axe, which matters not a whit if youve already been persuaded to part with your 12.99 by such high-profile fans as Sarah Vine.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, by which I mean the theatre of the absurd, real people said real things and then attempted to persuade us that they didnt really mean them. Karen Bradley, secretary of state for Northern Ireland, didnt mean to say that security forces had committed no crimes during the Troubles, despite an ongoing investigation into the possibility of prosecuting agents of the state in relation to the Bloody Sunday killings. The home secretary, Amber Rudd, didnt mean to refer to Diane Abbott as a coloured woman while defending her, and other women of colour, against the kind of rampant abuse Abbott suffers.
It is not possible to be inside others heads, but it is possible to speculate that Bradleys outbreak of misspeaking reveals her ineptitude, her inability to master her brief and her governments craven relationship with the DUP; and that Rudds reveals not a lack of sympathy for Abbotts position, but the impossibility of fully empathising from a position of entrenched privilege. In both cases, the problem is one of the asymmetry of power.
Thats just the kind of argument that would land me in trouble with Titania, of course; an obsession with using the correct terminology being right up there as the identifying mark of an idiot bleeding heart with too many O-levels. But language is important, and acknowledging that the words you use reflect social and political reality, and that how they land is equally, if not more, crucial to what you thought you meant when you said them, is a basic requirement of shared discourse.
But there is a paradox. Attacking and dismantling structural inequality is not particularly accelerated or refined by denouncing individuals. Getting rid of Rudd, as weve already seen once, does not make the hostile environment disappear.
We seem to dislike this obvious information. When Margaret Beckett appeared on Question Time last week she was roundly booed for pointing out that Brexit will have consequences and that the electorate might wish to comment on them by means of a second vote; a second vote that you dont have to support to find that reaction weird and disproportionate.
Were not, currently, keen on proportionality. Were keen on bad faith (you), good faith (me), finding out who we dont agree with and cancelling them, yanking off their masks to reveal the villain beneath. The left say the right do it, the right say the left do it, and they all use the bizarre language of gammons, melts, snowflakes, elites. It doesnt get us much further than the temporary glow of self-praise, and it certainly doesnt get us off the bus to hell.
If you enjoyed our content, we'd really appreciate some "love" with a share or two.
And ... Don't forget to have fun!