Another word to avoid?

Sajid Javid, the Conservative Home Secretary, announced a report on “extremism” yesterday. According to the mainstream press, he used the opportunity to bemoan the rise of “far right populist movements” around the world, and in particular to condemn President Trump’s recent controversial remarks about a certain group of socialist Democrats that I am led to believe dictate to Congress over in the USA currently.

But therein lies the problem with the word “extremism”: it appears to be entirely based on subjective, or at best relative, ideas on what constitutes extreme views. After all, President Trump was elected by the usual American democratic system for his views, which would appear to make them mainstream by definition. And, as others have pointed out, the much denigrated “populism” has much the same core meaning as “democratic,” that is, representing what the people want. If extreme views are very popular, in what sense are they extreme? Hong Kong’s mass protests are populist and, from the viewpoint of Beijing’s ruling Communist Party, are right-wing and extreme.

Javid, as far as I can see from the press articles, was trying to have his cake and eat it, in that he was careful to say that the frontrunning contender for Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is not an extremist, and that neither is Nigel Farage, whose Brexit Party gained most MEPs in the recent European election. Yet both Farage and Johnson have been called “Far-right” by both Labour politicians and BBC journalists, partly because they appear to be allies of President Trump. So Javid’s is merely a subjective (and apparently politically expedient) judgement.

It would appear that Javid’s focus on far-right groups is because they are the extremists who seem most popular here, which again appears to be an example of the self-contradictory idea of the extreme middle of the bell-curve. When it comes to actual acts of far-right terror or violence, it is hard to think of good recent examples in this country (which was the focus of the report). The most prominent ultra-nationalist group that engaged in street-violence, the British National Party, collapsed several years ago.

We’ve had a good number of Islamist outrages with many dead, and street-violence seems a lot more common amongst Antifa-type groups attacking their opponents, leaving many injured. Left wing Green animal rights activists committed violent acts in the past (and by releasing captive Amercican mink caused ecological havoc), but seem to have been imprisoned out of effective existence for now, being replaced by disruptive, but not yet violent, Extinction Rebellion demonstrators.

Although a number of analysts have identified this last group’s underlying self-proclaimed aim as the overthrow of the current world political order, our Prime Minister has fallen over herself to meet them and even pass their radical energy policy into laws unmatched by any other country of the world. So are they “extreme” or not?

But individual political leanings aside, the very essence of identifying extremism is first to identify the centre, and this is the weakest area of such a report. In its coverage, the good old Independent quoted an analyst from Hope Not Hate to talk about the rise of populism in response to the failure to carry through the Brexit referendum vote. But Hope not Hate is a left wing, “anti-fascist” group specifically formed to oppose the right through activism. Unbiased? Centrist?

Javid himself set great store by his reliance on academics and “other experts” in the report. The latter, of course, actually means “pressure groups,” presumably like Hope Not Hate. But the kind of academics interested in such topics are, of course, sociologists. Even when I studied social psychology in Cambridge, sociology was a haven for the New Left. The big thing then was Adorno’s “Authoritarian Personality,” and his “F-scale” (“F” standing for “Fascist”!) appears specifically tailored to target mainstream bourgeois values and, particularly, Christianity.

Since then, here as in the US there has been a more or less total purging of any other viewpoint from the discipline. I can’t remember the exact figures, but a recent US survey showed that something like 98% of sociologists see themselves as politically “left”, and some figure like 37% as Marxists.

How could any such guild be trusted to identify the political centre? It would seem only logical for such people to exaggerate extremes to the right and underplay those to the left. This is evidenced by the way that academics tend to view Antifa violence against non-violent opponents as a justified “normal” response to “extremism.”

Another factor that raises concern about any government report on extremism is the now undeniable existence of the “Westminster Bubble.” All the metropolitan political élites have moved far, far to the left of working people, and therefore regard ordinary people as extremists, whether that be the Labour PM Gordon Brown caught on mic calling a woman who had questioned him politely about uncontrolled immigration “a bigot,” or the present Conservative Chancellor trying to undermine the new Prime Minister’s Brexit options, even before his party’s Euroskeptic membership have voted him in. Javid’s pejorative use of “nationalism” presupposes that “globalism” is the central norm, and that remains highly questionable.

Journalist Robert Peston is one of a number who, astonished by the referendum vote, went out into the “real world” and found that what his class regarded as “normal” was entirely alien to many of the ordinary people. Given these considerations, it is pretty clear that any concept that depends so heavily on subjective judgement as “extremism” is not a good basis for policy-making.

Now, some beliefs are extreme on almost any current reckoning. Solipcism is an extreme view, but who cares that only you exist if you treat me reasonably? Moon-landing conspiracy theories and flat-earthism are extreme, but are hard to regard as in any way harmful… though I suspect they are symptoms of people’s loss of faith in science because of its rampant politicisation over recent decades. I might try to correct such beliefs by dialogue, but why should I worry that people hold them, or commission reports about them?

Belief amongst Muslims that America is the Great Satan and that infidels will perish at the Judgement are pretty common amongst those living in Western nations. But how do we measure these beliefs’ “extremeness”? To a secular westerner, they are certainly well out there. But they are pretty close to what I would take as the plain meaning of my reading of the Quran. Some of the Muslims I’ve met, and even treated when I worked, no doubt believe such things. But so what, unless they show signs of acting on them? If they do, it matters not one whit if they are mainstream or extreme Muslims – they are wrongdoers even if their just punishment leads to civil disorder.

It seems to me the best way to change such beliefs is to remove the grounds for them by living in a godly way myself, and seeking to reform the moral decline of western nations, that makes the “Great Satan” claim plausible.

The last thing I would do is try to make sure I control the school curriculum so that Muslim children grow up into good little secularists despite their parents’ wishes. (Activists are currently seeking to make teaching on female genital mutilation mandatory in primary schools, whilst ironically also mandating teaching on surgical gender transition. I’m not sure how a nine-year old Muslim girl will benefit from knowing in advance that Mum and Dad are taking her on holiday to be cut. Is she supposed to run away from home, or turn her parents in to the police, or just suffer for longer because of her insight into what awaits her?).

No, freedom of speech, and freedom of thought, mean nothing unless I am allowed to be hopelessly, and extremely, wrong about things I believe. Governments do not possess an absolute standard of truth by which to judge deviations in thought – Queen Elizabeth I was wiser than rulers today when she refused to try and make “windows into men’s souls.”

What governments can do, though, is the rather old fashioned thing of preventing, or punishing, violence against other people, whether it comes from right wing extremists, left wing extremists, or profoundly average people who happen to have gone beserk. To quote the Rev Gary Davis, a recording of whose music I featured recently, “I don’t pay no heed to that barkin’ dog – but that bitin’ dog I’m sceered of.”

“The magistrate does not bear the sword in vain.”

It is extreme actions (or more accurately, violent actions), and not extreme views, that are the proper business of government. Violence can be defined in a permanent way – normality cannot.

If you deplatform or put legal bans on what you regard as extreme views, then the most likely outcome is more violence, planned in more secrecy, by more people. By all means use information, that seems to warn of violence from certain people or groups, to guide your policing and security policy.

But spare me your “extremism” along with your “fascism,” “fundamentalism,” or “supremacism” that tell me nothing about those so labelled, but quite a lot, none of it pleasant, about those who use them.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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9 Responses to Another word to avoid?

  1. Ben says:

    “America is the Great Satan”
    I think you’ll find there are quite a few top members of the Labour party who believe that!

    Also: I’ve had “parents teaching their children that homosexuality is wrong” being cited as extremism.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      I think you’ll find there are quite a few top members of the Labour party who believe that!

      It seems to be the fashion in parts of the USA political scene, too. Funny how the same memes cross the Atlantic in either direction: here St George’s flag has been a sign of extremism for a decade or so – now flying the stars and stripes is becoming so too. So it seems that it’s not “nationalism” in the sense of “my people must rule the world” that is now reprehensible, but the existence of nations themselves.

      And so the alternative is … not anarchism, which would allow individuals to be as extreme as they like, but some universal top-down world government. I don’t see any other choices actually on the table.

      When yesterday’s universal norm becomes today’s extreme, somebody nees to explain who moved, and why.

  2. Avatar photo Merv Bitikofer says:

    You got my dander up, Jon, reading an earlier article (“Watch Your Language”) and it’s probably a good thing I decided I better read on here before responding since I found much to appreciate and agree with here – though perhaps I should have read on too to see what you have coming in the “Empire Strikes…”, but perhaps this is a good waypoint to stop in and shoot off at the mouth a bit.

    You wrote: “But spare me your “extremism” along with your “fascism,” “fundamentalism,” or “supremacism” that tell me nothing about those so labelled, but quite a lot, none of it pleasant, about those who use them.”

    The problem as I see it, though, Jon, is that it isn’t the oppressed (or “oppressed” who must apparently be obliged to dwell in scare quotes in the minds of those who have in their own turn gone all PC against PC itself) who should be blamed for the existence of Naziism, White Supremecy, Fascism, or extreme Left-Wingism that you so rightly castigate on the recognizably permanent standard of how they treat others. If those exist who still believe in racial purity or who foment unreasonable fears of all immigrants just because they are “other” and supposedly a threat – then I will call their evil and their idiocy by whatever name it ought to be called and scorn it with the requisite loathing that must be its due (whether it be populist, normal, or extreme). If somebody doesn’t want to be labeled a Nazi or Racist, then perhaps they ought to refrain from promoting Nazi or racist ideologies? Just sayin. I see no reason to bury my head in the sand over the various evils that may swirl around us or even into my own heart too. Being aware of them and naming them should be part of our guard against such things. Just because this or that evil group suddenly feels a persecution complex (even while they retain political power, ironically) does nothing to stir my sympathies in their direction, Jon. I think those of us who are disturbed by extremisms from both left and right ought to realize that they do fuel each other’s fear. Perhaps you perceive that the corrective is now needed more on one side than the other. You may be right. But until all of us learn to start policing both sides, I fear both will remain politically healthy and robust to much great social and political detriment.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Hi Merv

      Always good to get your dander up! Let me plunge in by quoting you:

      If those exist who still believe in racial purity or who foment unreasonable fears of all immigrants just because they are “other” and supposedly a threat – then I will call their evil and their idiocy by whatever name it ought to be called and scorn it with the requisite loathing that must be its due (whether it be populist, normal, or extreme).

      The two “tropes” I see here that relate to my post are:

      (a) the assumption that all debate about your example of immigration is prompted by racist xenophobia: that it inevitably has to do with unreasonable fear of all immigrants just because they are other; and

      (b) the question of what these terrible things ought to be called (consistent with “loathing”).

      In the first instance, to take the European example which is closer to me than your own southern border issues, the popular critique has to do with mass-immigration that demonstrably strains infrastructure and has a major effect on demographics. This is linked to a chronic failure of democratic consultation on the issue by those in power, and in some cases by a quite deliberate motive of irrevocably changing the culture (as in the case of Tony Blair’s immigration policy “to spite the traditionalists”, as admitted by one of his staffers).

      What has been pejoratively called “populism” is a bottom-up response (largely of those actually affected by the changes) to such top-down policies (by those isolated from them by their social position), of which more anon.

      The second issue is the main point of this OP: that terms of loathing have, in public discourse, largely replaced actual critiques of the issues. “Populism” for example, actually means “what the people think,” or “democracy,” but is used as a way to shut down “the popular voice” by a term of loathing.

      A gentle British pastor (a former chaplain to the Queen) has just been fired as a columnist in a Jersey periodical because, discussing the issue of the family, he wrote one sentence citing research that “families with a father and mother tend to have better outcomes than other arrangements.”

      The response was a hail of abuse from LGBT activists which the editor dared not resist (not least because the activists also target the advertisers on which such publishing depends). Even after his dismissal, the comments are full of people insisting that such a bigoted homophobe must never be allowed to write anywhere again. In a climate where even major universities sack people for researching such issues, and governments for speaking about them (eg Sir Roger Scruton) that is quite a likely outcome.

      Once more, it starts with uninformed assumptions about the cleric’s character, and brings a “suitable” expression of loathing as a response. But there was not a single appraisal of the actual issue raised, or a critique of the research – the public message is that nobody must talk about the effects of new and traditional family structures, because such talk is “extremist” by definition.

      Such a shut-down on discussion enables politicians to continue to couch the issues in sloganeering terms: for example, in the US the constant clamour about Trump’s policies on illegal immigration seems to have consigned those of his three predecessors, which appear somewhat stricter to me, into oblivion.

      OK, from the specific to the general:

      Perhaps you perceive that the corrective is now needed more on one side than the other. You may be right. But until all of us learn to start policing both sides, I fear both will remain politically healthy and robust to much great social and political detriment.

      Very true, but it seems to me that the origin of the present polarisation is, as previous examples have been, largely prompted by a shift in the “mainstream” not so much along the traditional democratic left-right spectrum, but from a concern about truth to a concern about power. Which, given the influence of those like Foucault, is entirely plausible. A word like “fascist”applied, now, to ordinary people whose politics are much as they were when they voted Labour or Conservative in 1960, has to do with silencing them, not describing them.

      The big danger is that by calling everyone a fascist, simply for dissenting from the new order, you foment a polarised atmosphere in which truths cannot be hammered out, but only power speaks (through institutions of government, media, arts, and the academy). You have created a large underclass, with a real risk of civil war. You have also created an intellectual vacuum, in which the silenced may not be sure whether their leaders are democratic saviours or totalitarian opportunists. A major reason for that is that their opponents have already branded all of them totalitarian opportunists, and destroyed the arena in which discernment might be exercised.

      To see how non-simple the issues are, look at a historical instance of an actual (ie self-styled) fascist, Sir Oswald Mosley. My info comes from Wikipedia rather than deeper or more sympathetic sources. But he started the British Fascist Party after resigning as a Socialist member of parliament. Wikipedia suggests that the guiding principle of his apparently inconsistent political thought was to avoid the horrors of war, which he had seen first hand in the First World War. Fascists motivated by avoiding war? That’s not what we assume, is it?

      This, rather than a desire to share world domination, also prompted his advocacy of Britain’s accepting Hitler’s peace-pact. Well, is non-belligerence in foreign wars not a major motivation of the “right” people now, in Syria or Iran?

      Mosley prioritised the working class (a socialist idea), but also saw a totalitarian regime as the only way to bring order (Is that left or right? Mao and Franco were both totalitarians, and it is totalitarian to silence clerical journalists if they offend the dominant narrative).

      Following his release from Internment after the war, he advocated a single nation of Europe so that the slaughter could never happen again – a very similar aim to what the left-leaning EU is working hard to become.

      My point is that “fascist” as a buzz-word – or even “extremist,” fails to give any real insight into real politics. It doesn’t tell us what, specifically, was wrong with Mosley, that isn’t also wrong about Anti-fascists today. I fully agree that “policing both sides” is much to be desired. But in terms of affecting anything, what does that actually mean? Once the debate has become an issue of power, not truth (not to mention that the institutions of power are not equally balanced), then how is truth even reached, let alone made to prevail?

      The answer, ultimately, is I think a spiritual one – but even the spiritual must negotiate the pitfalls of the world.

  3. Avatar photo Merv Bitikofer says:

    Thanks for the detailed response.

    Regarding the charge that immigration sympathizers are uncharitably assuming that *all* opposition stems from racist motivation, your point is well taken. The generalizations leveled against opponents seems to be a tactic common to both sides. I’m also certain that not all “social justice warriors” have world-government ambitions wherein their agenda is forced down everybody’s throats.

    This weekend I watched one of Brett Weinstein’s talks (“How the Magic is Done”) [] wherein he did manage to acknowledge a distinction to be made even among those who may self-identify as among the “social justice warriors” crowd. I’m thinking Brett’s views probably arent’ that far from your own, in case you haven’t heard of him.

    In any case (in the speech linked above) he proposes that we should more usefully consider an additional vertical axis overlaid on the existing political left-right horizontal axis. Consider a y-axis that spreads from “authoritarian” on the top to “libertarian” on the bottom. He considers himself a left-leaning libertarian (bottom left quadrant), and notes that his quadrant easily overlaps with and finds sympathies from right-leaning libertarians in the neighboring bottom quadrant. Where as the authoritarians in the top left and right quadrants hate each other and will not work together or sympathize. My thoughts are the that the social justice cause that has so many of you worked up into such a reactive lather are probably (and ironically) the more authoritarian type. I.e. “You *will* say ‘uncle’ to our preferred language changes and we are quite willing to enlist policies and government power to be virtual thought police in this regard as soon as we can get political power to do so…” Those people do exist, I’m sure. But I think you over-reach in thinking that they represent all of us who take thought for the oppressed. You take oppression into consideration, do you not, Jon? I know you do – otherwise you wouldn’t care about referencing the all-too-forgotten gulags of past left-leaning regimes, and beyond that, I know you as a Christian do not just outright dismiss the plight of the poor and the powerless – whether now or then.

    But the next question to ask is: Do you deny that there could be such a thing as systemic oppression that needs to be corrected at the systemic level? You certainly are ready enough to see it from the left side (in academia at any rate). If it does more generally exist, is it not possible that policy-level means can be fairly enlisted and advocated for the purpose of mitigating and correcting wrongs? And isn’t it possible that some of us see good reasons to work toward that without then having grand designs that what we work for in our local political regions or nations must necessarily be imposed on the world at large? [Although I do see the catch-22 in this, in that you could easily name issues for which I would freely admit wanting to impose certain view across all religious / cultural / national boundaries – such as human sacrifice or female genital mutilation – such things are wrong no matter where they are found; so I suppose I must plead guilty to subscribing to a kind of ethical hegemony in at least some regards. But none of us are unique in that regard – hopefully!]

    I suspect that what we have going on here is that both sides can identify strongholds of those that they despise (loath) [by the way ‘loath’ doesn’t necessarily imply a lack of prior consideration – it may well be that a situation was fairly considered, found to be injust, and the person who so considered has simply moved on to the active phase of opposing it with whatever labels it has come to merit.] Anyway – in identifying their opponent’s stronghold, they magnify the threat as if their opponent has already nearly taken over the world. When in reality, about the only stronghold I see for the so-feared social justice warriors is in academia (which is no trivial stronghold to have, granted). But, as you say, we have a solid (if not quite majority) mass of folks here in the U.S. who did elect Trump after all, and you have an apparent majority who elected Johnson there – so it would seem that all the scare of a left taking over everything may be a bit premature, if not disingenuous. It’s been said that nobody has the propensity like an oppressor to himself feel threatened, while he is holding a gun to somebody else’s head! Anybody currently in power is always alarmed if they see even some challenger off in the corner that is gathering a bit of steam.

    And threatened any oppressors ought to feel, to be sure! But not ultimately because of any political opportunists from opposing parties (who, as you’ve correctly pointed out are easily shown to turn oppressor in their own turn), but because there is a God who has made it clear how He feels about oppression and the oppressed. Despite all appearances to the contrary, we have to believe as Christians that there will be no rest for the wicked. Nor dare we comfortably presume that we ourselves never number among them.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      I have picked up on Bret Wenstein’s case, and I think I heard that very presentation, because I remember thinking that, once he went beyond a simple assessment of the forces that ended his career at Evergreen, his 2-axis model was probably sociologically over-simplistic. But then he’s not a sociologist.

      It’s somewhat ironic that the whole concept of “authoritarianism,” as assumed in your paragraph, arose from stuff I studied in social psychology. Theodor Adorno, a Marxist, based his metric of the “authoritarian personality” on the “F-scale” – “F” standing for “fascist”, and essentially corresponding to bourgeois/Christian values. So accepting that work makes left-wing authoritarianism impossible. Something deeply political was going on in sociology, and today’s situation cannot be understood, in my view, without considering Adorno, Gramsci, Marcuse (in the sexual spehere), Foucault (when discussing alleged power relationships like mysogyny, racism, and the various neo-phobias), the 1968 student revolutionaries, and all those who, quite overtly, transferred the Marxist vision of revolution to the social and political institutions of the West.

      And so I suggest that analysing what leads to a Weinstein persecution, and the other things my OP’s reference (language manipulation specifically) leads to a very different picture than simply asking directly about “institutional oppression.”


      Compare (since it’s historically more removed) Soviet Communism, which was in essence an ideology saying that a utopia could, and would, arise through a worldwide proletarian revolution. That was a major factor in world history for 70 years.

      But those furthering its rise varied immensely. There were those, like Lenin perhaps, who believed that a few million deaths by famine or firing squad was a necessary price to pay for a higher end.

      Others saw things entirely in terms of power, and used the ideology to that end: Stalin would be one example, and certainly those struggling for power further down the food chain. In the end, the USSR became entirely about power.

      There were those – maybe like Kim Philby – willing to cause the torture and death of Hungarian and other patriots because they really believed the system was working. For Kilby, even the disillusion of fleeing Britian to an impoverished Moscow left his ideals intact, and he simply blamed the leaders.

      There were also “useful idiots” (Lenin’s phrase) like G B Shaw and a whole raft of British intellectuals, who liked the ideology, believed what they were shown on staged visits, and didn’t want to believe the rumours of horrors or the show trials.

      Then there were those who knew nothing about communism, but simply heard the buzz-words like “equality,” “to each according to his need,” and so on, and assumed it must be a good thing.

      Then within the system itself, there were true believers, those forced to comply with it, and those who became true believers because they were forced to comply – the alternative being unbearable cognitive dissonance.

      Behind it all, what counted in history was the false ideology, which by its nature was totalitarian and oppressive, despite those who may have supported it for reasons of goodwill. It never could have delivered equality, still less freedom. Its failure is (to truncate a large discussion) because it assumed utopia could be built, whereas democracy assumes we will always need to balance the freedom and limitations of imperfect individuals, and that governments are no less imperfect, but more oppressive, than individuals.


      Let me speak to “oppression.” I encountered, and befriended, a fair number of those fleeing true oppression in my career. For example, an ethnic Indian couple who were exiled, penniless, from Idi Amin’s Uganda: Asians were successful business people there, and the idea was to give the wealth back to Africans. The businesses failed after the expulsions, becaused the problem was the ability of the Asians compared to the Africans- demonstrated by the way my family quickly got back on its feet in the UK. They gave me a souvenir from their trip back after Amin’s downfall.

      Similarly I had several families of Vietnamese boat-people. Again, they universally did well in the UK, starting businesses, getting their kids to college and so on.

      From an older generation was Lajos, an old Hungarian who fled the Soviet invasion of 1956. He remained active in ex-pat Hungarian Nationalism, and lived to rejoice the day when freedom was restored. His son suffered a different kind of oppression, suffering spastic paralysis from birth: that at times led to some random discrimination, as well as difficulty getting work. But it was his individual disability, and not his Hungarian name and origin, that were the problems to address, and he seldom gave way to any sense of grievance.

      Likewise I remember fighting on behalf of two foreign-born women in Industrial Tribunals: one an Indian, married to a Brit, who felt her dark skin was one factor that led her employer to treat her unfairly over another matter; the second, from Trinidad, who never considered her race, or her gender, an issue (in both cases the vindictive work superiors were women).

      An example or two on the sexual-orientation front: I had one gay couple, whom I knew well (they rather alarmingly gave me a book on massage as thanks for some aspect of care), whose only significant problem was that one was an early victim of AIDS, owing to the promiscuity of one or the other. If any institution was to blame there, it was the post-Stonewall gay lobby that promoted casual sex for ideological reasons (David Horowitz well describes the obstruction of adequate HIV prevention by the activists, and the many deaths that resulted).

      In previous posts I’ve mentioned my transexual patients (more than one) suffering not from “transphobic” discrimination, but from the treadmill of surgery and medication they found themselves in in the clinics.


      My point in all this is that crude identity markers of race, ethnicity, gender, etc were never the crucial factors in these people’s lives: in many cases they overcame past oppression by refusing to accept its right to dictate to them. And in other cases injustices were scarcely, if at all, based on identity, but on individual issues. Sometimes, they resulted from the very identification with an “oppressed group” and the policies of its activists.

      Is there such a thing as institutional oppression? Well, on the one hand there may certainly be cultures of aquiescence and group-think that blind people to others, or encourage discrimination. But not always in the way we think: our police were branded as “insitutionally racist” after an enquiry into some notorious cases of the inadequate investigation of murdered black people.

      Yet a whole series of cases of the chronic gang-rape of under age, mainly white, children, which even now are continuing to come to light (but far too slowly) were allowed to continue for years. They involved almost entirely Pakistani Muslim gangs, but were ignored by police, social services, and the press, because nobody wanted to be guilty of “Islamophobia.” One senior ex-police officer testifies that, over a decade ago, the Home Office circulated police forces urging them not to pursue such cases because the girls in question were “capable of informed decisions,” which was crap.

      The label “institutional racism,” then, led to equal, or greater, injustice than it had originally addressed. It may even have been Bret Weinstein (or if not, someone like him) who pointed out that institutions cannot be racist (or homophobic, or whatever): to label them as such actually takes away individual accountability, brands the innocent, and encourages both false accusations and victim mentality. An example would be the idea of a “rape culture” in US (and to some extent British) universities, for which evidence is lacking and which harms everyone.

      In fact, in summary I think your comment endorses the point of my OP: that buzzwords (like “extremist”) tend towards oppression – which is about actions by individuals (or numbers of individuals) towards other individuals, not about division into classes of “oppressors” and “oppressed.”

      Accountability before other people should be for demonstrable actions that cause measurable harm to specific people. To shout “Kill the fags!” or “Punch a Fascist!” are both oppressive actions. This has always been the concern of Christian morality.

      But to put a “hedge about the law,” as is so common nowadays, and to say “You are a Nazi because you won’t enthusaistically endorse same-sex marriage, which encourages other Far-right extremists…” is also oppressive. As, of course, is telling white professors to stay out of college to teach their race a lesson.

  4. Avatar photo Merv Bitikofer says:

    Simple question then, Jon: Do you think that Martin Luther King, Jr. was mistaken then about the systemic racism here in the U.S.? Or just what is it that you do make of the civil rights movement here (in the sixties – so as to set aside the issue of what you apparently think it all may have entirely morphed into today).

    Do the biblical prophets need to be corrected, then, for calling entire nations out (often their very own Israel or Judah) for the oppression against the poor and needy?

    You don’t have to convince me of the oppressed status of others around the world or of past tragedies under Stalin (I’ve read Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag”). On the contrary, it is by remembering such things, and the holocaust, that we can see how it is that entire classes of people are discriminated against and severely oppressed simply for belonging to this or that class – and for nothing they individually have or have not done. Which is why I remain puzzled that you have trouble accepting this, or would consign the oppression of some today to be put in scare quotes. Sure – not all suffering is equal. But superlative status for one’s suffering should never be the condition for compassion or action.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      The simple answer, Merv, (although obviously I’m not an American, so limited in my knowledge of the US) is that Martin Luther King addressed the problems of 50 years ago, and the situation is very different now. Different problems require different solutions, just as he didn’t have to fight against slavery.

      To name a few differences, in no particular order: there had not been a black President in King’s day. There was not the breakdown of family life (as compared to other ethnic groups) and religion amongst blacks that there is now .* There was no affirmative action (no black female James Bond). There were no instances of activists insisting on segregation of blacks from corrupting whites in education and elsewhere (“I wouldn’t go out with a white man”). There was no full scientific understanding of the illusory (and transient) character of race, and the stupidity of the old idea that one drop of black blood made you black (though politicians are claiming native American status on the same spurious ancestral grounds).

      King had no concept that increasing equality would lead to an increasing stress on the importance of skin colour. Now progressives characterise all whites (and to a much lesser extent far-eastern races) by skin colour as “privileged”, “supremacist,” “dangerous,” and so on. That was more the line of the Black Panthers who opposed King.

      So the questions to be asked are exactly why certain groups and individuals have poor outcomes, in such a changed legal and social situation. Why is Baltimore poor (to use a very recent example), when Uniondale, NY, is not? Even before King, social indices for employment, education and wealth for most blacks were improving during the twentieth century. That trend accelerated with the Civil Rights legislation, but has been reversed in recent decades, I understand. So what did the country do then that America has lost sight of now? It’s certainly not about KKK membership.

      The thing about the biblical prophets is that they got their diagnoses right, under the Spirit. They did not propose false narratives and solutions that made matters worse. Interestingly, they did not even give blanket approval to oppressed groups – repentance was required for all, and that was on an individual level.

      To address your question of oppression simply due to class-membership, consider the UK example of knife-crime. Essentially, you are most likely to be a victim of stabbing in inner cities if you are a black teenager. And the most likely perpetrator will be a black teenager, whose status in a gang is based on having the “bottle” to murder randomly. Needless to say, many of the victims are also junior gang members.

      Now, you can cite poverty, poor education and family breakdown in those areas (and left politicians do so, exclusively) – but Asian and whites suffer from those too, but tend not to share the gang culture. Except that in one recent case, a rich non-black from a “privileged” area was killed by another non-black friend, both being imitators of inner-city gang culture. No doubt one could identify environmental factors leading to this, but the press coverage has, rightly, been about personal responsibility for actions.

      Those ex-gangsters most involved in addressing the situation certainly call for more things like gym-facilities, but they are usually able to get funding to set them up themselves – their major message is to motivate the kids themselves to stop seeing themselves as victims, choose new role models, and improve their lives. Those who escape nearly always seem to give such role-models as a major reason (and not, for example, getting preferential treatment for employment).

      Today, it seems, self-oppression of various sorts is a far bigger player than race hatred. And that cuts across all kinds of other categories from functional illness to drug addiction.

      *Interesting statistic from a black commentator, Tom Sowell. Poverty rates amongst blacks (I’m not sure how either poverty or black is defined) = 22%. Amongst whites = 11%. Amongst married blacks = 7%.

      • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


        Which is more harmful: racism, or the myth of racism? One tale I heard here recently was from a bright black inner city kid who had heard, in his community and from the media, that however hard he worked, a black kid would be discriminated against in university entrance (the same being said for jobs), so he might as well forget university.

        A second, related, meme is that black kids will do badly even if they get to university because the courses discriminate against them, so a black kid is bound to feel an outsider (much as a previous generation of state-educated families told each other Oxbridge was for toffs, not ordinary folk – a self-fulfilling prohecy for some).

        The guy goes for it anyway, finds he gets into university easily on good grades and interview, thrives in his study (as I did at Cambridge, despite my state education) and does well. The problem he overcame was not institutional racism, but a cultural myth of racism (reinforced by some parts of institutions like the media). Either racism or the mythical variant may hold back that particular class – but the solutions are very different, and the right diagnosis essential.

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