This is, I suspect, going to seem like a fairly abstract post: something of interest to those who do politics and media stuff and above all, to those who are interested in spin and the dark arts of spin doctoring.
It is also an important one – or at least a precursor to an important debate, to which I will return in a while: namely, what we think about “no platforming” of transphobes like La Bindel and Dr Hakeem. More of that later.
From Paris to Lawson
But let’s start with the inspiration for this debate. Yesterday, Paris published an article written some fifteen years back by Nigella Lawson. The article itself is replete with nastiness and, if it were written today, I think would provoke instant widespread condemnation.
But fifteen years ago? Reaction seems to split evenly: some have written in condemnation of Lawson, labelling her a transphobe and demanding apology. Others are more measured, suggesting maybe she has changed her views: that we should discover what she thinks today; counselling caution. Above all, let’s not make enemies where we don’t need to.
My own reaction? On the whole, I am profoundly uninterested in what a media chef has to say about trans issues. She was clearly uninformed, and quite possibly will never pronounce on the subject again. What’s to be gained by having a go? And there, for me, is the real question.
Because as far as I am concerned, politics and public debate is little more than a series of performed narratives. The content is important. But it’s what the public take from any debate that is key.
How do we look if we go after any and every two-bit player in the great debate? Strong? Determined? Or bitchy and vengeful?
And do those latter qualities detract from our overall presentation. That, for me, is pretty much the heart of it.
In replying to debate on Lawson, I mentioned, a couple of times, the McCarthy hearings. What did they achieve beyond introducing a new epithet for bigotry – McCarthyism – into the language?
Sadly, I think they did achieve something. Sure, they may have achieved that senator’s original aims in one or two instances: identified the odd “fellow traveller” and communist; removed from public influence a few individuals who might have worked against the American interest.
More widely, though, I think McCarthy did have some wider success, placing the issue of un-American activities fairly and squarely onto the agenda of public debate: making it unsafe to hold certain views; warning, loudly and clearly, what the consequences would be for certain views.
Oddly, the McCarthy principle can be found in the motto of our very own Prince of Wales: “nemo me impune lacessit” (trans: “do you feel lucky, punk?”). They sent out a message that, if you wanted to take a particular position, you had to be prepared to back it up. Or else.
I’ve seen that process at work elsewhere, most weirdly in a company where one individual used creative psychoticism as the basis for carving out his own little niche empire. His approach? Anyone dared to touch HIS area of expertise and he would be down on them like a ton of bricks, instantly, literally. Those of us not directly involved felt it was all a bit uncouth – and amusing. But after 6 months, he had made his point. No-one – but no-one went near his area without politely asking his permission first.
So, too, with war criminals. It would be nice to imagine we pursued them for abstract ideals such as justice. But mostly we don’t. The reason is “pour encourager les autres”: to show to others tempted to overstep the mark what happens when they do.
Effect is key
Which brings us full circle to Nigella. If we chase her, and God knows however many others who have expressed transphobe views, two questions. Do we have the resource, the energy? And if we do, what is the effect that pursuit has on the public at large?
Does it lead them to dismiss us as a bunch of mad trannies? Or do they, even if they hate us for it, also give us a grudging respect?
If its only the former, then break out the olive branches. If the latter, then let vendetta commence.
I haven’t, to be honest, quite made up my mind yet. Comment, though, would be useful.