Thursday, 22 November 2018

The Brian Cox conundrum


If you're familiar with Twitter you'll know that every so often someone posts such an appalling take on there that you can't quite believe that they think like that. 

Often it's some kind of professional contrarian who whips up maximum publicity for themselves by saying the most extreme stuff possible, but then every now and again it's someone you actually admire.

I always assumed that because Professor Brian Cox is an intelligent and progressive guy, he'd be an ally of the most vulnerable people in society, but in a single Tweet he shattered that illusion to pieces.

Cox's Tweet was a reaction to John McDonnell saying that he's never seen human suffering like this in all the time he's been an MP, and that he can't forgive the Tories for what they've done to our communities, and to the most vulnerable people in society.

Here's what McDonnell actually said:
Brian Cox's worst take Tweet implied that McDonnell's 'civil but not pally' attitude towards the Tories means that he desires a one-party state where all political debate is forbidden, and attempts to seek the moral high ground by directing sympathy towards the wealthy and privileged Tories that McDonnell doesn't feel like being chums with, instead of towards the vast numbers of ordinary people who have suffered absolute destitution and appalling circumstances as a result of Tory welfare extremism.

The devastating impact of Tory welfare extremism is all too familiar to those who have to pick up the pieces for the last eight years (charities, mental health workers, food bank volunteers, friends and families of the victims ...) and to those of us who are actually capable of basic human empathy too.
  • The Tories have used hard-right austerity dogma to load the burden of the 2007-08 bankers' insolvency crisis onto the shoulders of poor and ordinary people, while continuing to shovel ever more tax breaks and handouts at the already mega-rich. 86% of Tory austerity dogma has been enforced on poor and ordinary women, while wealthy males (like Brian) have generally continued to do very nicely indeed. The United Nations have condemned Tory austerity dogma saying that it inflicts "unnecessary misery" and that if you got "a group of misogynistic men in a room" they probably couldn't devise a more effective way of hitting women!
  • The roll-out of Tory Universal Credit has been an absolute disaster, causing massive increases in in-work poverty and food bank dependency in the areas it's been imposed on. It's such a flawed and damaging welfare reform it's impossible to explain how bad it is in just a bullet point, so here's a full article.
So how is it that Brian Cox seems to have more sympathy with the wealthy and privileged Tories who have imposed these barbarous policies than with their victims?

How is he more upset that John McDonnell doesn't want to be pally with people whose welfare extremism is routinely condemned by the United Nations, than with the ideologically-driven architects of all of this suffering?
 

How is it that Cox creates the absurd argument that refusing to be buddies with people who wilfully inflict such suffering is akin to wanting a one-party dictatorship?

Brian Cox doesn't strike me as the kind of person who lacks basic human empathy, so presumably the reason he is more reviled by John McDonnell calmly criticising Tory welfare extremism than by the devastating real life consequences of this Tory extremism is that he's simply unaware. 

He just doesn't know anybody in the social classes who have suffered the appalling consequences of the systematic Tory abuse of disabled people, their devastating Universal Credit farce, their misogynistic austerity agenda, or their draconian sanctions regime.
Perhaps he's just so insulated from the devastating real-life consequences of Tory welfare extremism so he actually sees no reason to be angry?

Presumably everything is absolutely fine in the social circles he moves in, so he's got nothing better to do than post glib platitudes onto Twitter for Tories and the appalling "centrist dad" neoliberals to lap up.

Aside from the ivory-towered disregard for the people suffering at the wrong end of Tory disability abuse, Universal Credit, Sanctions, and austerity dogma, there's a far more important issue.

When Cox claims that refusing to be pally with ideological extremists shows that you believe in a one-party state he's wandering ineptly across the paradox of tolerance.

The basis of Cox's argument is utterly flawed. It's super-simplistic black and white thinking to say that just because you vehemently oppose the policies of a political opponent to the extent of not being pally with them, that you desire a one-party state.

Of course political debate is essential, but when it comes to stuff like Nazism, white-supremacy or the Tory policy of psychologically torturing disabled people, there's no grounds for friendly debate. This kind of extremism just needs to be opposed as vehemently and consistently as possible.

You don't convince Nazis to stop being Nazis with a friendly chat over canap├ęs, and you don't stop the Tories from systematically abusing disabled people by being chums with them in the bars and diners of the Houses of Parliament either.   

I mean how far is Cox willing to go in his desire to see us befriend our political opponents?

Apparently misogynistic austerity dogma, the deadly sanctions regime, and the abuse of disabled people are just talking points amongst political buddies rather than outrages, so what about even more extreme political ideas like those who would just love the chance to begin rounding up people they disagree with into concentration camps? Do we have an obligation to be friendly with them too?

In political reality the only way to stop political extremism is unyielding resistance.

If I refuse to be pals with neo-Nazi thugs, does that mean I oppose democracy and desire a one-party state? 

Of course not.  

If I refuse to be chums with white supremacists who believe they're genetically superior to others because of the amount of melanin in their skin, does that mean I oppose democracy and desire a one-party state? 

Of course not.

And if actively supporting the systematic Tory abuse of disabled people is friendship red-line I won't cross, does that make me desire a one-party dictatorship? 

No. It makes me someone who finds it extremely difficult to turn a blind eye to the unspeakably suffering of others so that I can be buddies with one of the people who is wilfully making them suffer like that.

The idea that we should maintain friendly relationships with our political opponents, no matter how vile and damaging their policies is not just naive, it's incredibly dangerous.

Cox finishes off his Tweet that "certainty suggests hubris, doubt suggests wisdom", but this isn't even correct in his scientific field, let alone in politics.

Yes it's a great idea to keep an open mind where there's genuine debate, but when it comes to people like flat-earthers, climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers, and other psuedo-scientific kooks it's an appalling mistake to openly debate them as if their nonsense is as equally valid as your meticulous research.

The same goes for politics. There are few things better than a good civilised debate between friends with different views, but if someone is a neo-Nazi, or a White Power extremist, or someone who actively supports the systematic abuse of disabled people, you need to be firm with them that their politics are completely and utterly unacceptable, rather than creating the impression that the virtues of ethnic genocide, white supremacism, or the systematic persecution of disabled people are somehow open topics that are up for debate.

When it comes to life-wrecking political extremism there's no grounds for neutrality. Anything other than resistance is collusion, and it's simply grotesque if your ridiculous centrist delusions lead you to actively maintain friendships with the perpetrators without regard for the victims, just because you're afraid of actually picking a god-damned side.

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