Monday, September 08, 2014

This Week In Wackiness

If you're going to assail a supposedly huge and dominant cultural force like "intellectuals", it would probably be better to specifically name the individuals that you're arguing with, rather than havering on and on about e.g. "The intelligentsia"; "Religious apologists"; "They"; "The BBC"; "Academia"; "The supposedly serious press"; "They"; "Apologists"; "The serious press"; "They"; "An opponent in debate"; "Religious apologists"; "Intellectual London" and "They".

And if you do insist on hectoring unnamed, possibly allegorical foes with wacky generalisations and frantic hand-waving, then it's probably also a good idea to avoid using the words "phantom menace" in your title, to minimise the sniggering.  

Further, if you do manage to name only one individual who can be said to represent academia, intellectuals and the itelligentsia in general, it'd probably be wiser to choose somebody other than Eric Pickles as your example.

Otherwise, this week's Nick is relatively unobjectionable, although I do have to observe that "Otherwise" leaves us with only an author photo and a Max Factor advert. 


parkenf said...

Yeah I don't normally read Nick but made the mistake of reading him this week as his topic seemed basically unobjectionable. Found myself agreeing with him which proves that I'm as confirmation-bias prone as the next man. Curses!

organic cheeseboard said...

To be fair to Nick he does name someone else, via a link to a piece by someone I've never heard of (Andrew Brown, who apparently edits the Guardian's online coverage of religion and who Nick has clearly had it in for for a while). Nick of course misrepresents the (balanced and uncontroversial) piece by Brown he's linking to, but that's by the by. He followed up to Brown on Twitter, saying "you are a coward because you don't take on religion" - surely a problem for the Guardian's online religion editor? Brown addressed this pretty lucidly on Twitter and Cohen, um, didn't reply, though he did have time to personally say thank you to anyone who praised his article. True bravery right there! Equally, since when has Cohen actually written anything directly 'taking on' religion? Praising atheists and atheism isn't the same thing.

Brown also says - correctly - "the claim that @nickcohen4 has dissuaded anyone who was tempted to jihad is quite brave" - and it's surely true, Cohen's article is among the most optimistically arrogant things I've ever read and confirms a lot of stereotypes about vocal atheists - arrogant, delusional and a lot less clever than they think.

His conclusion is equally bizarre:

They could have taken on militant religion, exposed its texts, decried its doctrines and found arguments to persuade young British men not to go to Syria and slaughter "heretics".

I'm not sure what he's arguing for here. If he wanted 'intellectuals' to 'expose the texts' of militant religion, does this mean he wanted people in the media (which seems to be what he means by 'intellectuals')to criticise the Koran? If so, surely there have been many hundreds of 'intellectuals' who've doen this in recent years. I can't think of many 'intellectuals' who've said anything especially nice about it.

But if he means their exposure of related texts like - say - those by Sayyid Qutb (everyone's gone very quiet on him recently), then that's surely been done ad nauseam by a lot of Cohen's 'intellectual' mates, and to what end? Very little, considering none of them afford Qutb the basic courtesy of intellectual charity (e.g. Andrew Anthony claimed never to have actually bothered to read Qutb because it's so badly written, Martin Amis used Qutb like he does everything else he reads, as a launchpad to demonstrate how clever Martin Amis is, Paul Berman waffled on for millions of pages before deciding that the true message of Qutb is that lefties are bastards). it's surely clear, by now, that repeatedly telling people they are stupid isn't going to win them over; but this genuinely seems to be what Cohen wants.

also what the fuck is this?:

The police don't send undercover agents into sceptic societies

Maybe not, but there is a track record, investigated by cohen's own paper, of the police spending massive amounts of resources infiltrating peaceful green activist socities and anti-capitalists. What is that meant to prove?

I like the introduction to Cohen's piece especially - what the fuck is that bullshit about checking the internet for bomb scares when his family are in London (and he lives in Islington, which is hardly a long way from 'central London' anyway) doing there? It's one of the worst segues i've ever read and it segues into a bit of untrue self-plagiarism to boot, his old (and still dodgy) punchline about atheists never committing any bombings.

am half tempted to use this piece as an example to students of how not to make a convincing argument given its lack of structure, ideas, or evidence...

flyingrodent said...

It really is a bizarre one - after all, it's not like it'd be difficult to dredge up a crowd of wrong-thinkers throwing up their hands in horror at e.g. Dawkins, for illustrative purposes. It's like Nick's managed to get so locked into just expelling grand generalisations at Them that the idea of actually telling people who it is that he's talking about never occurs to him*.

As best I can tell, it's a lot of of the same-old, same-old. I have no problem getting on board the Woah-Religion-Makes-People-Do-Some-Vicious-Shit-Yo bus, but it's a considerably less attractive prospect when you realise that doing so means you're going to be sitting next to Nick forevermore, listening to him drone on about how we need to blow lots of motherfuckers up to combat the unacceptable violence of believers, and how enlightened, rational and reasoned blowing lots of motherfuckers up really is.

It's not really surprising that Nick doesn't understand why so many people don't want to join his Journalistic Bombardiers For Atheism Club, and he plainly isn't in the least interested in figuring it out. Doing so would take rather more self-analysis than he's willing to undertake, not least because he'd be required to consider the possibility that it's his own behaviour that's the problem.

That, bluntly, is not a discussion that he's interested in getting into.

*Although as always with Nick, you suspect that this is all deliberate. When you don't name specific people, it's rather more difficult for whoever you're actually addressing to defend themselves from your grand claims. Plus, there's the standard Decent wheeze of keeping all of your high principles so far up in the intellectual stratosphere of conceptual rah-rah that there's little of actual substance there to shoot down.

organic cheeseboard said...

To be fair to Cohen - and it's not often I say that - I'm sure that the 'confirmation bias' thing works here, i.e. we quite often refer to 'The Decent Line' on X or Y issue, but the different is that readers of this blog and other associated ones like AaroWatch (RIP) usually also read things like Decentpedia, and these arguments tend to be covered in detail. So Cohen's comrades on this might well recognise more of his phantom religious menaces than I (who barely ever reads anything to do with religion, I'm just not very interested) do. All the same, he's not meant to be preaching to the converted in his column surely, so he definitely does need to name names - but he almost never does. Maybe it's a style thing - he definitely sees himself as a polemicist, and maybe he thinks polemics get weighed down by detail?

Also - on intellectuals - a related point, that Cohen really doesn't seem to like nuance and sophistication in writing and argument, which I think stems from his veneration of Orwellian Plain Style and his distaste for deep thought (I can remember several instances of his basic misrepresentaiton of an accademic he was citing in support of his arguments - one was Jonathan Bate, another a mathematician).* This means that most 'intellectual' discourse is pretty much off limits for him.

This isn't really the place for it, but still, a related idea to the ridiculous thing Nick brings up at the end of his piece about intellectuals dissuading the yoof from joining ISIS - it strikes me that despite Decents' best efforts, the whole 'how to people get radicalised' issue still doesn't have very clear answers, not least from Decents. most thinking - certainly that of Quilliam - is that 'extremism' needs to be banned to stop people from going as far as supporting ISIS - but people are then a lot quieter about what 'extremism' means. I mean a Muslim mate of mine would, in an ideal world, I'm sure love to live in a fully Islamic (probably Shia) state, but he's perfectly happy living in Britain - yet that kind of 'in an ideal world' stuff is often taken as evidence of yer actual extremism. So what do the Decents want? It seems Nick wants more boilerplate anti-Islam rants in newspapers, but aside from that their solutions aren't even necessarily about bombing - they're more or less only interested in claiming that other people don't say enough about stuff.

Again semi-related, but until recently Nick was a fan of Niall Ferguson - what the hell are people playing at getting him to stand for the 'no' side?

* since we're doing the scholarly thing, see and

flyingrodent said...

Niall Ferguson - what the hell are people playing at getting him to stand for the 'no' side?

Or Nick, for that matter...

While Nick isn't entirely wrong on a couple of his points about the referendum, it's very, very noticeable that he seems to be about two years off the pace on the issue - these are mostly issues that were debated quite intensely about two years ago. To be fair, however, these are the kinds of issues that are going to come roaring back to prominence if the poll goes Yes, so maybe he's ahead of the curve.

And on Ferguson - well, he's Scottish, he can string a sentence together, and he's always willing to get his face on TV and say something controversial. It's the same media motivations that put Ferguson on TV to talk about independence that used to put Generic Mad Muslim With a Hook-for-a-Hand on the News at Ten to give off about Afghanistan, I think.

...people are then a lot quieter about what 'extremism' means.

Well, yes. Getting into the specifics of extremism would place a limit on who you can and can't imply or directly claim is an extremist, and it's fairly apparent that some folk aren't interested in anything that places boundaries upon their freedom to bullshit.

gregorach said...

They could have taken on militant religion, exposed its texts, decried its doctrines and found arguments to persuade young British men not to go to Syria and slaughter "heretics".

Do people actually believe this bullshit? If someone is of a mind to travel to a foreign country to fight and kill, I really, really doubt that you're going to persuade them otherwise with a critical analysis of scripture. Firstly, these sorts of beliefs are very heavily armoured and largely immune to reason even amongst moderate believers. Secondly (and probably more importantly), I have major doubts about both the extent to which scripture shapes people's professed beliefs about doctrine, and the extent to which their professed beliefs match their actual beliefs as revealed by their actions. Nobody really gives a shit what the book says, or who really wrote it, or whether it's internally consistent (except certain flavours of tedious, shouty atheist), and to imagine otherwise is to fundamentally misunderstand the psychology of religion and how it operates as a social force. They want to see themselves as the Good Guys, fighting an epochal struggle against the Forces of Evil, and they'll twist, fold, spindle, and mutilate their supposedly sacred texts to any extent necessary to do so.

It's surely clear, by now, that repeatedly telling people they are stupid isn't going to win them over; but this genuinely seems to be what Cohen wants.

That's because he's not actually nearly as concerned with reducing the influence of religion as he is with preening about how smart he is, and convincing himself that he's one of the Good Guys, fighting an epochal struggle against the Forces of Evil.

organic cheeesboard said...

Yeah, I mean I really don't see how more people lining up to 'attack' the koran would have stopped someone from deciding to join ISIS, or even just thinking ISIS might be a good thing - part of radicalisation, as even Nick's favoured commentators demonstrate, is a feeling of Muslims being victimised - how would yet more anti-Islam discourse in the media change that? Equally, Cohen clearly ignored the news stories where kids jetting off to Syria were buying books like 'The Koran for Dummies'. Like I sort of hinted up there, it's extremely unlikely that a few more media types laying into other Islamism-related texts like Sayyid Qutb's books would have any influence on any young British Muslims. And if it would, the Cohen approach, of reading what other people say about Qutb then parroting it, isn't exactly brilliant argument either.

Also the people that young Muslims might have a chance of being swayed by - chief among them Tariq Ramadan - are inevitably off-limits for Cohen and his chums, chiefly because the main types of Muslim Cohen seems to have any time for are, um, ex-Muslim atheists (or contrarian, unrepresentative gobshites like Majid Nawaz and Shiraz Maher). even Mehdi Hasan is seen as some sort of dark Islamist by Decents.

But then again Cohen seemingly has very little interest in radicalisation or even religion, really - as you say his main concern seems to be with others on the Left he's decided he dislikes and who obviously aren't as clever as him.

organic cheeseboard said...

Oh and as for Nick on Scotland. It's typical of him that he only takes an interest in this kind of thing at the very last minute, and as such ends up looking massively out of date. But when he moans on about how awful nationalism is, I'm reminded of his comments in Frontpage Magazine in 2008:

David Horowitz and Ben Johnson can take the necessary next step. Because they are patriots first and foremost they write with great brilliance and rigor on the liberals’ betrayal of country but cannot appreciate their betrayal of liberalism and of all those suffering at the hands of anti-American and anti-liberal totalitarian movements.

So patriotism is good, but nationalism is bad. I'm not so sure there's that big a gap between the two.

and there's more bollocks:

The British have a consoling national myth that we do not need written constitutions like those over-rational foreigners

Do we? I certainly don't recognise this as a national myth. Hasdn't Nick just made this up?

also kudos to Nick for invoking Nazism:

the old multinational British state, for all its flaws and crimes, at least limited blood-and-soil nationalism, because it could include people of all backgrounds and ethnicities

Surely the Britain we'd be left with still would, in fact, include people of all backgrounds and ethnicities? Scots living in Britain - who of course don't get a say this September - wouldn't be forcibly removed, would they? I really don't see his point here. also Nick's keen, elsewhere, to paint Britain as a festering sea of Jew-hatred, so...?

Magistra said...

Meanwhile, the Condemnathon is getting even more surreal, with complaints that while Muslims may be condemning ISIS, they're not doing so in the right way.

organic cheeseboard said...

That piece is especially impressive in terms of its contradicting a previous post on Left Foot forward entitled "If we really want to help moderate Muslims, we should stop telling them what Islam is". The author? Um, James Brandon, who also wrote the piece Magistra links to which - yes - tries to tell Muslims what Islam is.