Sunday, May 21, 2006

Episode MCXII: in which a co-author of the Euston Manifesto warns against "wishful thinking"

One thing that is worse than Nick saying something stupid is when he says something that you think is basically right, because he almost immediately puts it in service of something stupid. So today, for example, Nick is bashing postmodernism (hooray!) but the antidote is, unfortunately, the common sense of the lay listener: "sentiments you always suspected were silly when you heard them on Radio 4." Well Nick, lots of things sound silly to the average Radio 4 listener: quantum physics and general relativity for two, and, in its time, the evolution by natural selection that you rightly defend against the ID crowd. So let's get it right: what's wrong with the PoMo crowd is that they deny (on principle) that there are facts of the matter in many domains where there are such facts: everything is just a "text", "socially constructed" etc. Which gets them into knots where stuff like Holocaust denial comes up.

Nick, moves immediately from PoMo-bashing to a diatribe against wishful thinking. This might lead the casual reader to get the idea that Nick thinks that wishful thinking "believing that what you would like to be true is true because the world would be better if it were" is a defining mark of the PoMo. But whether or not Nick thinks that, it can't be true, since PoMos put "true" in inverted commas, or if not, mean it "ironically" or some variation thereon. Someone who believes Satan is real (like George W. Bush) may or may not be guilty of wishful thinking, but their conviction that Satan is real differentiates them pretty sharply from PoMos.

So it's pretty mad to segue from PoMos to animal rights protestors. After all animal rights people presumably believe that, well, animals have rights, and that those rights aren't merely a matter of "social construction", they really do have them, it is true (in a non-ironic sense) to say that they have them etc etc etc. All of which bypasses Nick, because he (a) hates PoMos and (b) hates animal rights people, so (c) wants to write a column linking the two.

Incidentally, isn't it a bit rich for someone who believes that Iraq stands on the edge of being a functioning democracy to complain about "believing that what you would like to be true is true because the world would be better if it were". Oh well. "If you wanted to take on daydreamers whose make-believe world urgently needs dissecting, the animal rights movement would be this week's obvious choice." As the authors of the Euston Manifesto will, no doubt, be next week's?

bruschettaboy adds: it is also bloody bad luck for poor old Nick that the "believing that what you would like to be true is true" column happened to come out in the week that NCP Car Parks decided to make a complaint pointing out that about 50% of the famous "Islington Traffic Wardens" piece was cobbled together from half-truths and urban myths.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"believing that what you would like to be true is true because the world would be better if it were"

Worth pondering this comment in the context of Cohen's and other Decents' written output over the past couple of years, which mentions actual real events in Iraq very rarely at all. One might even say they were 'constructing' a 'narrative' where scrutinising the words of Guardian op-ed columnists was more worthwhile than scrutinising the important decisions taken by powerful people.

5/21/2006 12:17:00 PM  

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