It was in March 2019, when Will Self had his famous ‘stare-off’ willy-waving contest with Tory moron Mark François, when a problem I had been wrestling with for some time really hit home.
Self claimed, probably not unreasonably, that all the racists in the UK had voted for Brexit, whereupon François used an old sophist’s trick by retorting that he had just called 17.4 million people racists. Self of course denied it, but it was simply repeated with more belligerence and mock outrage. That was followed by the famous stare-off, before the programme moved on. Self probably thought it was enough to stare contemptuously at the idiot opposite him and no doubt all the bourgeois, liberal, intelligent folk who voted to remain were happy to think what a thicko his opponent had shown himself to be.
Another example: there is a scene which can still be seen on YouTube in which Nigel Farage, in a debate on climate change in the ‘unelected’ European Parliament, holds up two pictures of the Arctic ice cap, the later showing much more ice than the earlier. The more informed (or at least less mendacious) folks present more or less sneer and continue with the debate, while Farage continues to hold up the photos, with a look of mock bewilderment on his face, as if to say, so why is there more ice now?
And in both cases I’m screaming, at least internally, why the fuck doesn’t someone refute him?
A couple of small points here. I realise that some people use or read the word ‘refute’ as synonymous with ‘deny’. It isn’t; it means to disprove, or at least present strong arguments against. And I’m well aware that people making these spurious arguments are often either too pig-headed or over-invested to see the truth, or, as often as not, well aware that they’re talking a pile of solecistic shite.
But I feel that the we should be wary of the idea that some people can’t be argued with, and that Reason, as Hume tells us, is the handmaid of the passions — and, as modern neuroscience adds, it’s a waste of time to present facts when people have made up their tiny minds. It’s a very handy meme to be spread about by those who want, in the words of Steve Bannon, to ‘flood the zone with shit’, so that appeals to feelings have more power than debate — and to spread a sense of despair in those of us who still think the Enlightenment had some good notions. As I’ve blogged before, I still think it means we’re just doing the arguing wrong; we need a Socrates, or that other bloke who tells us we have to find common ground for a starting point and not simply use the twitter method of calling the other guy a dickhead from the start (even if he or she is).
But most important in these cases is to remember that François wasn’t talking to Self, and Farage wasn’t addressing the EU Parliament; they were talking to the viewers on tv or online, or more specifically, those among the viewers who could be sympathetic to their agenda. And it’s fascinating to note that many encounters are shared later online, by both sides of an argument, to reinforce their position. So we have the same footage entitled something like, Farage smashes the climate hoaxers out of the park and Farage shows himself to be an ignorant twat on climate. Or similarly, François shows total ignorance of logic or François shows up Self as remoaner bigot.
But I still can’t get my head round why the supposedly smarter side of these debates can’t, at the time, make the necessary (or to them, too obvious) comment that François or Farage’s arguments simply don’t stand up. It’s not as if Self would have to use technical terms, like association fallacy or even draw a Venn diagram (which could be dismissed by the new ‘Gove Fallacy’, aka the Contempt for Intellect Ploy). He could simply say something like, “so if all pompous, best-selling novelists like me voted remain, are you saying that all remain voters are pompous, best-selling novelists?! That’s your logic, that is.”
And yes, the Arctic ice did indeed increase in the year 2012 to 13, from an all-time low of under four million km², to just over 5 million (September figures). But surely Sr Barossa should at least have pointed out that it was half as large again just two decades ago, even if he didn’t have a blow-up of this graph to hand. And of course the year after that, it plummeted below the ever-sinking blue line anyway.
But there is a smugness about the good folk of the bourgeoisie, a belief that these truths are so fucking self-evident that we don’t need to explain them to the oiks, who wouldn’t understand anyway. And that’s an attitude that’s so easily played on by the bad guys (who, as a future blog will explore, have even more contempt for the plebs to whom they cosy up so oleaginously).
This came home again last week, when watching comedian David Baddiel’s excellent, if harrowing, programme about Holocaust deniers.
Sharing their websites and even steeling himself to go and meet an obnoxious Irish denier (and listen to his toe-curling — musically and in content — songs about the ‘Holohoax’), he still left it to our good sense that the ‘facts’ these people presented to prove the Holocaust couldn’t have happened were bullshit. I find it painful enough as a goy, albeit one whose Jewish great grandparents walked to England from Poland and Lithuania in the 1990s to avoid pogroms, leaving behind relatives who will have perished in gas chambers or massacres back home; how it feels to members of the Jewish community I can hardly imagine.
But again, these people aren’t talking to me, or Baddiel, or the liberal intelligentsia. They’re hoping more impressionable, perhaps wavering viewers and online folks will start to doubt — and those potential marks have to be shown the refutation of these idiocies, not just contemptuous dismissal. So when the Irish arse says that Auschwitz was almost a holiday camp, a safe refuge for the Jews, with a swimming pool and bakery ovens that couldn’t possibly have burnt that many bodies because it takes an hour to … it leaves a bad taste in the mouth just typing this crap … surely these statements have to be challenged, every fucking time. Haters gonna hate, sure, but new ones needn’t be too easy to recruit.
Yes, in covering the obliterated camp at Chelmno (I like many had not heard of this one, for reasons the programme made plain), the subject of rapid incineration of masses of bodies had been gruesomely detailed, but the points need reiterating.
And then, in Mr Baddiel’s twitter feed, commenting on the programme, one denier posted some figures, captioned these numbas don’ add up. I hadn’t seen them before but they are ‘census’ figures from 1938 and 1948, claiming the total number of Jews in the world was about 15 million in both years, give or take a few, but certainly not take six million. Now this apparently is an old canard. The figures are genuine, but the facts are that the 1938 census was not done super-accurately and all the years’ figures after that were estimates, extrapolated from the ’38 figures, the intervening years not being conducive to the accurate collection of data. Indeed, the same data source for the following year, when a census of sorts was carried out (conveniently ignored by the nasties of course), does show a multi-million Jew drop.
But no one points this out. No one asks where all those post-war Jews suddenly went. The usual liberal response now is a combination of people calling the poster a dick and others responding proudly with the usual cry of ‘reported and blocked!’ Anything but engage rationally. But in the meantime, it’s just possible the seeds of doubt have been sown.
Or am I missing something? Is it not only a waste of time, but counterproductive? Do I have to adopt a secret identity as Voice-of-Reason Man? I hope not, I look ridiculous in a cape and tights at my age.
Incidentally it has always baffled me that most Holocaust deniers would love to see a holocaust being enacted; I never understand why some aren’t saying, yes, it happened, it was a good idea and let’s try to get it right next time. Maybe they are. I don’t really want to know.
As Woody Allen said in Deconstructing Harry, “not only am I well aware we lost six million, but I also know that records are made to be broken”.
And don’t get me onto flat fucking earthers!