Wednesday, 21 September 2016

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT IDENTITY: NEO-ROUSSEAUISM AND LIONEL SHRIVER



Several years ago, I wrote two small and modest pieces for the British magazine Standpoint. The magazine was a breath of fresh air for me when it first appeared. I had been a faithful reader of Punch until its demise, then turned to The Spectator and Private Eye until they became, respectively, boring and unfunny. Standpoint was unashamedly Right-wing without being immature. There was no Richard Littlejohn writing there. It dwelt lovingly on culture, my culture, not ridiculous forays into what I call the Hip Other, no pieces on rap, Piss Christ or contemporary LGBTQ dance, unless to jibe and belittle. Its writers were erudite, and treated the reader as though he was an adult rather than someone with an X-Box and a television habit. There was some political rough and tumble, too. I haven’t seen the magazine for some time, and I must check its progress. I hope it hasn’t chickened out.

For those of you who have no drying paint to observe, my two aquatically themed pieces are here and here.
Insignificant as they were, these micro-articles were sufficient to earn me an invitation to the Standpoint Christmas party five years ago, and through the surprisingly Dickensian snow of London Town I made my way to a comfortable bar.

It was a wonderful evening. I had a talk with Janet Daley. I was introduced, by Daniel Johnson, to Douglas Murray, one of the clearest writers on the Muslim threat you will ever read. But my abiding memory is of an hour-long conversation with Lionel Shriver.

Ms. Shriver is the author of several novels, including We Need to Talk About Kevin, which I had then recently read. She is elfin and boyish, with a charming US American accent and an intellect which prowls around her conversation without ever bursting into song and ruining things. I have to say I was very taken. We talked of literature, of which she is a practitioner, and philosophy, in which I hold a doctorate. I follow her career with interest.

Recently, Lionel – yes, I have decided we are on first-name terms, such is my pomposity – has been the target of a journalist at that redoubtable British newspaper The Guardian. Now, for my American reader, The Guardian is so Left-wing it makes The New York Times look like Der Stürmer. If I’m ever feeling particularly gloomy, I often race over to their homepage and just read the feature headlines. They are pure entertainment, even if I lack the emotional ballast to venture in and read. Every other piece is about how scary it is for some Pakistani woman to walk around London and see so many white faces, or how there simply aren’t enough black people on the small screen clustered around Benedict Cumberbatch at any given time, or how using menstrual blood as art is okey-dokey. I swear that when that newspaper hits the rocks, which it surely must, I will party like it’s 1999.

Enter Yassmin Abdel-Magied, which I have no desire so to do. Yassmin saw Lionel speak at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival. Her piece on the experience, the first line of which is 'I have never walked out of a speech', is here.
I note with amusement that this opening sentence is typical Guardian, which used to be called The Grauniad  by Private Eye, such was the parlous state of its sub-editing. I have been a sub-editor, and know several excellent purveyors of that orthographic trade. The whole point of the piece is that this cloth-head walked out of Lionel Shriver’s speech. The sentence should therefore read 'I had never walked out of a speech'. If you think that is being pernickety, you should fuck off and read The Guardian yourself. And don’t let me see you here again, or I will set the Traumaville hounds on you.

If you go to the piece and can get through it without experiencing gastric reflux, you will see two things. One is a link to another article by someone called Rowan Hisayo Buchanan – I suspect there would be no future for a writer called, say, Joan Smith, at The Guardian – which bears, like a cross, the title ‘Pain shape-shifts down the generations’. Does anyone outside of Islington in north London ever actually read this shit? The second thing you will note is a microcosmic vignette – I think I could do with a sober sub-editor myself – of what is wrong with today’s Pansy Left™ (Orwell).

You see, poor Yassmin has been traumatised, that new-found hobby of minorities and students, by what Ms. Shriver said. The crux of the speech was the legerdemain that is “cultural appropriation”. Now, the logical impasse that this phenomenon leads to is not hard to discover. If no one is allowed to appropriate the cultures of others by wearing their hats, eating their cuisine, or wearing their hair in stupid Trustafarian dreadlocks, then there is going to be some cultural untangling to do and, for example, some of the blessed minorities and magic Negroes worshipped at The Guardian are going to get a bit bored without being allowed access to all the good things wrought by white men. Electricity, for example. But that, you see, is the whole point. It is only Whites who culturally appropriate, and cultural appropriation is therefore a Bad Thing.

Lionel’s speech is an erudite whistle-stop tour of her area of expertise, literature, and an appraisal of where it might without cult. app., which is sure to be a degree course by now. But poor Yassmin wouldn’t have known that, having left after 20 minutes. Her personal trigger was the following from Ms. Shriver;

“Let’s start with a tempest-in-a-teacup at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Earlier this year, two students, both members of student government, threw a tequila-themed birthday party for a friend. The hosts provided attendees with miniature sombreros, which—the horror— numerous partygoers wore.

When photos of the party circulated on social media, campus-wide outrage ensued. Administrators sent multiple emails to the “culprits” threatening an investigation into an ‘act of ethnic stereotyping.’ Partygoers were placed on ‘social probation’, while the two hosts were ejected from their dorm and later impeached. Bowdoin’s student newspaper decried the attendees’ lack of ‘basic empathy.’”

You will all be familiar by now with this kind of sandpit behaviour and neo-Rousseauianism. But is is special snowflake Yassmin’s trembly lipped response which is worth your time;

‘“Mama, I can’t sit here,” I said, the corners of my mouth dragging downwards. “I cannot legitimise this …”

My mother’s eyes bore into me, urging me to remain calm, to follow social convention. I shook my head, as if to shake off my lingering doubts.

As I stood up, my heart began to race. I could feel the eyes of the hundreds of audience members on my back: questioning, querying, judging.

I turned to face the crowd, lifted up my chin and walked down the main aisle, my pace deliberate. “Look back into the audience,” a friend had texted me moments earlier, “and let them see your face.”

The faces around me blurred. As my heels thudded against they grey plastic of the flooring, harmonising with the beat of the adrenaline pumping through my veins, my mind was blank save for one question.

“How is this happening?”’

Note the themes that recur every time something like this happens. The turning of a sulk into a triumphant personal drama, the bold defiance of the victim stranded far from her safe space, the evil white person who caused The Triggering, the idea that what an intelligent person has to say needs ‘legitimising’ by a doofus cum laude.

Yassmin’s piece can’t go where Lionel’s goes. She lacks the intelligence and has only a quiver full of emotivism with which to fight. Her piece goes on and on in this vein, and is the type of thing The Guardian excels in, being now the intelligentsia’s anti-White newspaper of record. Whether or not Yassmin had left for a refreshing pot of Sumatran nettle and lychee tea by the time Lionel got to the kicker is not recorded. Here is the upshot of the dread Sombrero Party;

‘The student government issued a “statement of solidarity” with “all the students who were injured and affected by the incident,” and demanded that administrators “create a safe space for those students who have been or feel specifically targeted.” The tequila party, the statement specified, was just the sort of occasion that “creates an environment where students of colour, particularly Latino, and especially Mexican, feel unsafe.” In sum, the party-favour hats constituted – wait for it – “cultural appropriation.”’

It is, of course, hilarious that Yassmin’s ‘writing’ is now seen as the Left version of discursive best practice, while Lionel’s is cursed as white privilege. I will leave you with a caveat Yassmin adds to the whole sordid affair. Lionel had said, in short, that being black, queer or disabled was a state of affairs, but not an identity. Yassmin makes sure that she too does not infringe on the new mysteria, those sacred spots within churches where only the priest may enter;

‘I can’t speak for the LGBTQI community, those who are neuro-different or people with disabilities, but that’s also the point. I don’t speak for them, and should allow for their voices and experiences to be heard and legitimised.’



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