I had an email from The Spectator the other day, asking me to come on their podcast and discuss the latest work vomited directly from the mouth of professional Brendan, Brendan O’Neill. It’s on ‘the New Political Correctness’, which is apparently A Thing now. I’m not certain a) how it differs from the old political correctness, or b) whether it means anything other than ‘common human decency extended to more people than just straight white guys’, but there we go. I agreed, because someone has to try and convince poor Brendan of the error of his ways.
They sent me the articles, one of which, ‘An A-Z Guide to the New PC’, is essentially an excuse for Brendan to gleefully type ‘nigger’ and ‘tranny’ and get away with it. To quote Tom Slater, who works for Brendan’s pet hate machine Spiked, ‘someone should tell them that satire is supposed to be funny’. The other article, by Damian Thompson, begins by telling us that ‘transgender … includes transvestites and transsexuals’, before whining that nowadays one has to ‘patiently master the racial nomenclature that tripped up Benedict Cumberbatch’, because it really is awful that we can’t just talk about Orientals and Negroes anymore. The triptych of turgid tripe is rounded off by Rod Liddle lagubriously lamenting the fact that some people desire gender neutral pronouns. The whole thing would be quite funny if it weren’t for the fact that I can picture in my mind the hordes of Spectator readers nodding along and tutting at the arrogance and censoriousness of today’s young liberals.
I wasn’t aware that the podcast, which you can listen to here, would include both myself and Brendan talking at the same time until they Skyped me. I hadn’t expected to come face to face with Brendan until next month at the Oxford Union, when we’ll be debating ‘The right to free speech always includes the right to offend’, so it was a little bit of a shock. I haven’t listened back to the whole thing because I like the sound of my voice probably about as much as Brendan does, but a few things stuck in my mind.
He kept referring to me as Mr Squirrell, which was a little jarring – possibly because he thinks my name is funny, possibly because he didn’t think we’re on first name terms yet. I disagree – when someone writes an article lambasting you and referring to you as a ‘censorious leader’ of students, I think you form a certain connection.
Then there was his strange insistence that he’s a ‘progressive’, and he’s upset by the fact that today’s left-wing students don’t see everyone on earth as ‘equals’ and judge people based on their character rather than the colour of their skin. ‘See,’ he seemed to be saying, ‘You hate Martin Luther King, so really you’re a racist!’ I’m quite happy to judge people entirely on the content of their character when society starts doing that too. When people who’ve been systematically marginalised and oppressed because of the colour of their skin, or their gender, or their sexuality, are raised up to the same level of prosperity that middle class white men enjoy now, then I’ll happily judge people and their words and actions entirely on the basis of their character, rather than their background. But we’re not there yet. We’re so very far from there that pretending we are is nothing short of delusional or, as Brendan put it, ‘literally insane’. It’s a weird day when I get to play the pragmatist and accuse someone of being idealistic, but it happened.
I’ll let you listen and judge for yourself – there’s no doubt that Brendan (or Mr O’Neill, if he prefers) is a good speaker, and he has in common with some of the other right-wing pundits the ability to spin a seductive argument and reframe the debate in such a way that it almost seems like he’s on the moral highground. But if you peel back the thin veneer of intuitively appealing idealism and faux-egalitarianism, you can see it for what it is: a man from a dying breed of privilege, raging against the dying of the light.