spiked columnist Andrew Doyle on his infamous woke Twitter character.
Andrew Doyle, columnist , 12th March 2019
Last April, I decided to set up a satirical account on Twitter under the guise of radical intersectionalist poet Titania McGrath. She’s a po-faced young activist who, in spite of her immense privilege, is convinced that she is oppressed. She’s not a direct parody of an existing individual, but anyone who regularly reads opinion columns in the Guardian will be familiar with the type. Given that such individuals are seemingly impervious to reason, and would rather cry ‘bigot’ than engage in serious debate, satire seemed to be the only option.
The obsession with victimhood from predominantly bourgeois political commentators is something I have always found inherently funny. It’s a phenomenon that has been amplified to a great extent by social media. This extremely vocal minority of activists enjoy pontificating to the masses from their online lectern, berating those who fall short of their moral expectations, and endlessly trawling through old tweets in the hope of discovering a misjudged phrase or sentiment that could justify a campaign of public shaming. In their eyes, there is no possibility of redemption. The most vicious remarks you’ll find on social media come from the racist far right and woke intersectionalists. They are two heads of the same chimera.
American physicist Steven Weinberg famously remarked that ‘with or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion’. It makes sense, then, to think of the social-justice movement as a kind of cult. Its members are generally decent people with good intentions. They have an unshakeable certainty that their worldview is correct. They feel the need to proselytise and convert as many of the fallen as possible. And even though they are capable of the most horrendous dehumanising behaviour, they think they are the good guys.
We are in this position because identity politics in its current form is a collectivist ideology. It does not value an individual for the content of his or her character, but instead makes prejudicial assessments on the basis of race, gender and sexuality. In the name of anti-racism, identity politics has rehabilitated racial thinking. This explains why an affluent and privileged person like Munroe Bergdorf can be invited on to national television to proclaim that ‘the white race is the most violent and oppressive force of nature on Earth’. How is well-intentioned racism even a thing?
A similar regression has occurred within the feminist movement. Fourth-wave feminism is predominantly victim-centred, and is based on the conviction that women are invariably oppressed and require the protection of authority figures. When the BBC promoted a smartphone app to help women speak up in meetings, it was merely toeing the standard feminist line on the intrinsic fragility of women. So we are left with the curious phenomenon of good people who are opposed to misogyny subscribing to an essentially misogynistic perspective.
Titania was an attempt to highlight the inescapable hypocrisies of such a mindset. I was inspired by the brilliant work of the satirist Lisa Graves, who was one half of the Twitter persona Godfrey Elfwick. Although often accused of ‘punching down’ at vulnerable minorities, the actual target of Elfwick’s satire was the woke establishment. It was inevitable that he should be banned by Twitter, because those in power cannot tolerate being ridiculed.
The problem is compounded because identitarians on both the right and the left typically believe themselves to be the underdogs, and are fuelled by a sense of grievance. In spite of the fact that we have a right-wing government, we should be in no doubt that woke politics is culturally dominant. I have previously argued that the notion of political correctness – the concept of a broadly agreed social contract that recognises that overt racism, sexism and homophobia are uncivil – is a laudable concept. Woke ideology has little to do with political correctness. It is about narrowing the Overton window, seeking out heretical opinions, and brutally punishing those who dare to think for themselves.
WH Auden put it well when he said: ‘Satire is angry and optimistic. It believes that the evil it attacks can be abolished. Comedy is good-tempered and pessimistic; it believes that however much we may wish we could, we cannot change human nature and must make the best of a bad job.’ There is an optimism behind Titania, because I am convinced that we can and should challenge the dominant orthodoxies that generate so much resentment among normal people, sick of being hectored by paternalistic moralists who claim the power to divine their secret thoughts. When Alex Clark in the Guardian described Titania as a ‘speedy cash-in’, she encapsulated perfectly one of Titania’s chief failings: she routinely intuits the motives of her ideological opponents, and frames her speculations as fact. She knows you are an evil fascist, even if you don’t know it yourself.
It is hardly surprising that the most indignant responses to Titania have come from those within the cult of social justice. A quick search on Twitter will reveal a number of people who are busy proclaiming their indifference to my work by constantly tweeting about it. They are of course entitled to hate the character, to claim they have a telepathic insight into my motivations, and, above all, to find it desperately unfunny. I tend to have a similar reaction when I am being mocked, although I like to think I’m not so entitled as to believe that my particular sense of humour is definitive. Then again, as Titania points out, ‘If you find yourself laughing at comedy, it’s probably not sufficiently progressive’.
Andrew Doyle is a stand-up comedian and spiked columnist. Woke: A Guide to Social Justice , by Titania McGrath, is published by Constable. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)
NYT op-ed: No Hate Left Behind
Lethal partisanship is taking us into dangerous territory.
Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard, argues that it is the activation of group identity — of the friend-enemytype, about which I have writtenbefore — that is driving hostile polarization:
Certainly there is a tribal flavor to political polarization. Men’s testosterone rises or falls on election night, depending on whether their side wins, just as it does on Super Bowl Sunday.
But, he continued,
the coalitions clustering at the poles are not tribes in the classical anthropological sense. Today’s left- and right-wingers for the most part aren’t inventing myths of shared blood and common ancestry, or binding together in ritual ordeals, or blending in appearance with a common uniform.
Instead, Pinker argued,
I think we’re seeing a somewhat different psychological phenomenon: dynamically sorting ourselves into coalitions defined by moralistic condemnation of designated enemies.
Pinker cited the questions raised in the work of Kurzban and Peter DeScioli, a political scientist at Stony Brook, wondering
why so much of our moralizing does not consist in pondering how to universalize the maxim of our actions or to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number, but rather of condemning, demonizing, or scapegoating a designated sinner.
When, if ever, will things improve? Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at N.Y.U., is not optimistic. He emailed:
I am expecting that America’s political dysfunction and anger will worsen, and will continue to worsen even after Donald Trump leaves the White House.
The reasons for my pessimism are that 1) social media gets ever more effective at drowning us in outrage; 2) overall trust in institutions continues to decline, which makes it seem ever more urgent that “our” side take total control; 3) the younger generations have not seen effective political institutions or norms during their lives, and also seem less adept at handling political disagreements; and 4) the norms of campus regarding call-out culture seem to be spreading quickly into business and many other institutions.
Leda Cosmides expressed some of her ideas about the connection between us-and-them thinking and evil, the topic with which I began this column, in an interview that was originally published in a Chilean newspaper in 2001 and still resonates:
The world has many people with evil motives, who will twist whatever ideas are around them to their own ends. Hitler, for example, was more influenced by folk notions about “blood” (found everywhere) than by any real biological knowledge.
She went on:
Since the Enlightenment, people have been trying to build bridges between disciplines, and when they do, new insights are achieved and humanity benefits. Should the healing arts have been kept separate from biology? If they had, we would not have antibiotics and modern medicine. Should psychology be kept separate from biology? If it is, we will never understand how the mind works. As a result, we will never understand how to make war less likely, how to cure autism, how to help people understand risk, or how to prevent racism, to name just a few problems on which evolutionary psychologists are making progress. Indeed, if we keep psychology separate from biology, people will continue to believe that “race” is a sensible concept; in contrast, human population biology tells us that humanity is not divided into distinct “races.”
I read that yesterday, the part about the actual speaking event sounds actually pretty unnerving. Maybe he’s exaggerating, but I got a sense of actual zombies, and if his security failed, he would have been seriously mobbed and his life in danger.