Wednesday, April 15, 2009

That's him watched

Conor Foley unloads on Nick Cohen. Impressive: definitive, even.

No sign of Nick in the comments yet, but worth looking out for.

66 Comments:

Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Brighty! shows up in comments to confirm, in words of one syllable, that he was not fired by Gordon Brown. And to tell us that we should all be treating Nick's points veddy veddy seriously and not just throwing random and ill-informed insults.

Why won't you Engage With Our Ideas, you lefty bastards? Why!!!

4/16/2009 06:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remote Controller in this week's Eye reads like Cohen, with his kneejerk denunciations of evil liberals at the Beeb. He did the book review recently as well.

4/16/2009 02:49:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

I think its interesting that Conor sees liberals not being hard enough as being the most constant theme in all of Cohen’s writingI think he's correct. I also think its a undertone in most writing that comes from the Decent left and ties in with the issue of 'manliness' which has been raised here before.

I also have a theory as to what drives a lot of this hairy chested approach to politics. Hitchens, in particular, has a bit of a thing about not having actually served in the Armed Forces. His father served with distinction in World War Two and Hitchens has spoken with a degree of regret that the next generation hasn't been tested by having to go through the same experience. In a similar vein neither David Toube and Gene Vitzner who both have an exceptionally 'my country right or wrong' approach, the latter of whom spent many years living in Israel, have never served in the IDF.

These people who have never actually had to risk their physical health for the causes they are so deeply attached to whether that be Israel's Defence, Liberal Democracy or the fight against fascism feel a deep need, amplified by their entry into middle-age, to prove their machismo and committment to these causes.

Writing a few angry paragraphs from an Islington parlour certainly sounds a more agreeable way of achieving this than actually strapping on the body armour.

In this sense Decent politics fulfills the same function for the middle-class male ego as chest wigs or red sports cars.

But as I said its only a theory.

4/16/2009 04:03:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Sorry that should be middle-aged male ego.

4/16/2009 04:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Marc Mulholland said...

Conor's general take on Nick is to see him as a scourge of that liberalism with which Conor identifies (rule of law, amelioration, moderation, rejection of 'extremes'). I don't think this is right.

Nick is a scourge of the left, in the sense of those who see state and society as systematically subverted by the power of capital and entrenched interests, and who believe that a fundamental reordering is certainly desirable and probably achievable.

That Nick talks about 'liberals' is a quirk, really; a usage borrowed from the United States, and a ploy to define himself as a 'real left'.

Nick's fundamental thesis is that capitalism no longer exists (he states this bizarre credo in 'What's Left', a book with quite astonishing theoretical pretensions, mercifully ignored by most reviewers). Succour of the poor became somewhat sufficient circa 1945, and since then it has developed into demoralising dependency culture etc. Contemporary 'lefties' don't know to leave well enough alone.

Nick is a liberal with attitude, drifting towards the right of that spectrum, who dislikes the left. Conor's thesis that he really hates liberals, and that his former Spart days actually cohere with his current postures, derives, I think, from Conor's essential definition of liberalism as attitudinal, which I don't think is all that helpful.

4/16/2009 04:43:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Bubby's point is surely central to Decency, and NC in particular - the determination to make up for the feckless silliness of one's youth with macho berserker posturing in middle age.

HP brims with this stuff - the suggestion that bombing people is a bad idea and that one's government can do bad and misguided things is basically regarded as a puerile, childish, adolescent, teenage tantrum.

Whatever flaws were in David Edgar's political apostasy article in the Graun the other year, he certainly hit the nail on the head when he said (and I paraphrase) The sure sign of the mentalist is he who spends the second half of his life attacking the person he was in the first.

Like I say, it's an approximation, but close enough.

Verification - CLOWNES. This means that I win the Word Verification contest forever.

4/16/2009 04:45:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Nick's fundamental thesis is that capitalism no longer exists I think this is incorrect. Nick's fundamental thesis is that Islamism is facism and that the liberal-left have been only too happy to get into bed with it and make excuses for totalitarian movements.

That's his schtick and he's been beating everyone to death with it for the last few years.

I also think you are wrong in saying that Nick is now a scouge of of those who see state and society as systematically subverted by the power of capital and entrenched interests, and who believe that a fundamental reordering is certainly desirable and probably achievable.His views on the economy seem pretty contradictory. Some aspects are undoubtedly left-wing others right-wing. What's most noticable about his ecomonic views are not that they are primarily right-wing but that they are incoherent.

4/16/2009 06:30:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

economics is the achilles heel of the decents -- hitchens for a time back there was unleashing the motto "it's not the economy, stupid", and gave an interview to someone (reason mag? i could look it up) explaining to one and all that the whole point of marxism was that after the revolution no one would have to worry about economics ever (bcz it's unaesthetic and nerdy or something): i don't remember the exact argument, but it was basically "i choose my politics bcz it gets me out of the homework i am least good at"

olly is the only decent who even remotely has economic chops and he is (a) very partis pris and (b) very partis pris with entirely the wrong mob given events as they are now unfolding

4/16/2009 11:57:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I'd be wary of trying to find a single constant or most prominent theme in Cohen's writing other than the war with one's former self, dressed up and perceived as a war on "the left".

You could call it "renunciation and denunciation", if you like. The pattern is quite familiar - there's a period of political and/or personal crisis, often quite sudden, which is followed by a desire, never quenched or sated, to tell the world about the degeneration and ethical turpitude of one's former comrades and the dangers that they face.

What demonstrates its largely psychological aspect (in general I'm not in favour of analysing political positions psychologically, but here it can hardly be avoided) is its tone, its obsessiveness, its frantic necessity to always be exposing this and uncovering that.

This isn't an unusual course of behaviour for people taking their leave of the left, especially if they've been deeply emotionally committed to it - which is perhaps why it has that bitter-break-up-of-marriage feel to it, the endless desire to attack one's ex, to go over old quarrels, to rehash and restate the same criticisms over and again.

There are certain websites (or parts of them) I can think of which are largely dedicated to ex-members of far-left organisations obsessively detailing their quarrels with their previous parties. You could switch, for instance, between HP and the "debates" on the Socialist Unity blog (or various threads in the Urban75 politics forums) without, in certain respects, noticing much behavioural difference.

The obsessiveness would be much the same, no accusation too feeble or contrived to be accepted, no personality too obscure to be unworthy of close attention, no event too small or too long ago to be considered insignificant, no capacity to approach a nut with anything smaller than a sledgehammer, no interest in nuance or perspective. The same capacity to attract shriekers and drones, none of whom have any awareness that they are perceived as either. Which is as important, perhaps, as anything - no self-awareness whatsoever. The SU drones don't have any, the HP shriekers don't have any and Nick Cohen doesn't have a lot either.

4/17/2009 07:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you are all wrong because you are the italicised left. Because you are italicised, you are all responsible for the sleazy smear outfit at Number 10, and best friends with the worst prime minister ever, and not fit to remember the shiny beauty of Blair . "'The left', I should make clear, has no connection with the non-italicised left which consists of brave and sincere thinkers like Nick Cohen"

this incredible insight from Brian (who?) Appleyard
http://www.bryanappleyard.com/blog/

4/17/2009 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Anglonoel said...

I remember in the aftermath of September 11th 2001 various middle-aged members of the commentariat (Jeremy Paxman comes to mind) bemoaning the fact that their generation did not have the chance to fight in 'A Good War' a la WW2. It seems the 'Decent Left' is infected by this feeling, although armchair generaling seems to be as far as most of them get in actually taking part in military action.

Brian Appleyard? John Lloyd for Sunday Times readers....yawn...Why Won't The Left Denounce Stalin's Gulag In Every Article They Write?...zzz...

4/17/2009 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

For the highest of high hilarity, I commend reading through Nick Cohen's comments on the Brian Appleyard blog. It's like every night is Orwell Prize Debate night.

this one is a particular peach.

4/17/2009 11:11:00 AM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

Ooh, Aaro's got a book coming out...

Details here

4/17/2009 04:10:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Aaronovitch carefully probes and explodes a dozen of the major conspiracy theories.Any (alternative) nominations?

4/17/2009 04:40:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Hilarious that this should occur the same week Ahmed Chalabi essentially confessed that he helped Iranian intelligence fool the Americans into invading Iraq.

4/17/2009 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Oh shit that book could not have been written more specifically to annoy me if it had been produced by O'Brien from 1984. Putting the Kennedy assassination (by Lee Harvey Oswald, who whether or not he happened to be a lone nut acting alone, definitely was both a CIA and KGB contact) on the same footing as moon landing conspiracy theories is a completely fucked premis to start with. (and of course, I bet he does not even mention things like the Gulf of Tonkin Incident or suchlike).

The book itself I expect to be the most ferocious battering of strawmen since The Dark Knight. God, front page post required.

4/17/2009 04:54:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

The cultural phenomenon of conspiracy theory is worthy of serious study but Aaro's book looks like an exercise in shooting fish in a barrel; a 5 year old child could argue the pants of a run-of-the-mill conspiracy theorist. Why doesn't he pick on some-one his own size?

Be interesting to see whom he swipes at along the way. Fisk was in measuring-the-melting-point-of-steel-in-burning-jet-fuel mode a couple of years ago.

4/17/2009 04:56:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

Re BB's comments, by "run of the mill", I mean the Princess-Diana-never-landed-on-the-moon brigade.

4/17/2009 05:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Marc Mulholland said...

For David Aaronovitch, there came a time when he started to see a pattern.Is that in as a joke?

It's a meta-conspiracy theory. While fools see only disconnected conspiracy-theories, the sage sees how they all connect up into a plot to destroy the world!!

4/17/2009 05:16:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

The thing about Aaro's book - as with Nick on Muslims is: didn't Jon Ronson do it first, and with research and wit? "Ronson also follows independent investigators of secretive groups such as the Bilderberg Group. The narrative tells of Ronson's attempts to infiltrate the "shadowy cabal" fabled, by these conspiracy theorists, to rule the world.[citation needed]" Wikipedia. (And on YouTube.) I've said it before, but Ronson actually is brave.

4/17/2009 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

The thing is that all of these people are nutpickers. Ronson did a lot of primary research, but he ignored the (often startlingly high-quality) secondary literature - basically in my book, if someone doesn't cite Peter Dale Scott or Alfred McCoy, they aren't really being serious. And even among the out-and-out troofers, they don't tend to go for people like David Griffin from whom useful information can be extracted - it's always the nuts.

4/17/2009 05:39:00 PM  
Blogger rioja kid said...

I think Ronson leant heavily on Ron Rosenbaum, who did the all time best analysis of conspiracy theory as a social phenomenon, in stuff like Tales from the Cancer Cure Underground.

On topic, sort of, Rosenbaum writes for Pajamas Media now, which is really a shame. If we ever get round to doing a "yes, but which one of those guys do you really miss" post, he's the man for me.

4/17/2009 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Hilarious that this should occur the same week Ahmed Chalabi essentially confessed that he helped Iranian intelligence fool the Americans into invading Iraq.And come to think of it, the Decents into being Decent..."DAMN YOU CHALABI! DAMN YOU TO HELL!!"

4/17/2009 05:51:00 PM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable, or something similar -
Yvonne Ridley on meeting Nick at a party:

http://www.tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=192374

4/17/2009 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Well, in Ronson's defence, B2, he's a journalist, not an academic. He may pick nuts, but that's because he does a sort of infotainment (and is therefore in the John Stewart camp). And primary research is good; there's very little of it from our boys.

Maybe Ronson picks nuts, but at least he meets them rather than relying on press releases, other journalists' reports and - hello Oliver Kamm! - 25 year old speeches. The thing about nuts is that they're much more likely to be violent that either Peter Hitchens or Peter Oborne.

4/17/2009 07:47:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Oh, I don't think NC comes out at all badly in that piece (its being in the Tehran Times, which sounds like a publication made up by Richard Littlejohn, doesn't help). There are religious beliefs I can take more or less seriously: Buddhism, worship of cats, Carrot Ironfoundersson being the true king of the dwarfs. The C of E may have some good hymns, but that's it for god-bothering from me.

Having experienced such venom and hostility firsthand, I find it very difficult to criticize those women who are too afraid to wear their hijab because of the bullies.
I think Nick would say that a lot more wear the hijab because of bullies. And if he wouldn't, I would.

4/17/2009 08:16:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Since we're doing Kamm again, I was wondering whether Ollie might like to do a piece on contemporary Times editorials on rightwing military coups, starting with Chile in 1973 (and perhaps Turkey in 1980, if I recall correctly its general thrust).

worship of catsI prefer the tern "veneration" (indeed my religion is rendered thus on Facebook).

4/17/2009 08:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very accurate description by Sister Yvonne of Nick's odd head movements/abrupt speech eruptions when he has a glass of wine in his hand, for those who have observed Mr Nasty Nick close up, tho':

4/17/2009 08:47:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Cats, cats, cats.

Whenever will you learn that cats are false Gods, EJH? The Egyptians had this nailed a thousand years ago.

Plus, they're terribly cruel to my people, which probably makes you a fascist by proxy, or something.

4/17/2009 10:41:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Plus, they're terribly cruel to my people...Cats, not Egyptians. Maybe your average Cairoan (Cairoian? Cairowegian?) loves his hamster, I have no idea.

4/17/2009 10:44:00 PM  
Blogger rioja kid said...

From that article:

"I bounded over, grinning from ear to ear, to say hello to my old buddy, and giggled as I remembered a brief encounter we had in a watering hole next to The Observer. "

Hmmm.

4/17/2009 10:49:00 PM  
OpenID splinteredsunrise said...

I'm with ejh when it comes to cats. And, he might be surprised to hear, I'm sympathetic to him on leftists denouncing their former selves. (At least I try to be self-aware about it, and to cultivate other interests.)

But Aaro on conspiracy theories, that sounds like fun. Is there any chance he'll do a mea culpa for his own past as a WMD troofer? No, thought not.

4/18/2009 10:18:00 AM  
OpenID splinteredsunrise said...

Oh yes, and have been passed a copy of MacShane's antisemitism book. Jesus, it's awful. But then, the notes cite What's Left? as a source, so...

4/18/2009 10:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You also have to remember that Sister Yvonne is pretty friendly with Martin Bright - indeed responsible for Martin Bright's biggest ever (real) story, so as she keeps up good relations with Nock's mates, she probably was genuinely thrown by Nick's rudeness. - word verification "shabbroo"

4/18/2009 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Teabag said...

The Fabians row is still rumbling on.

Shiraz Maher has now got involved. (Warning: HP.)

4/18/2009 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

the notes cite What's Left? as a sourceFuck. Me. (imagine me doing the voice that Gordon Ramsay does when he looks into a chef's fridge and finds three kilos of decaying tuna).

4/18/2009 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

basically in my book, if someone doesn't cite Peter Dale Scott or Alfred McCoy, they aren't really being serious.Or for that matter David Kaiser, a respected historian, who recently wrote a book on the Kennedy assassination that concludes the mafia set it up, and that Oswald was chosen because of his connections to both the KGB and CIA. I haven't read it, but it got very good reviews.

Funny thing about "ludicrous" conspiracy theories. Awful lot of them have turned out to be true in some shape or form...

4/18/2009 11:20:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

the mafia set it up, and that Oswald was chosen because of his connections to both the KGB and CIA.Yes, IIRC this is basically Peter Dale Scott's view (the point being that LHO had the incredibly useful property for an assassin that he was so multiply connected to the intelligence agencies that there was an unbelievably powerful coalition in favour of not properly investigating what he was up to, a characteristic he shares with several of the 9/11 hijackers). PDS also points out that the real mistake that the assassinology community makes is that having done a vast amount of work uncovering an astonishing network of interconnections between intelligence agencies, right wing politics and organised crime, they fail to recognise that it's this very network, not the solution to a cheap whodunnit, that's the really interesting thing.

4/19/2009 12:09:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

all the same best solution of thewhodunnit -- as in, it's true because it's funny -- is bonar menninger's friendly-fire-catastrophe version, in which the shot that blew jfk's skull open was fired *inadvertently* from the (notoriously unreliable) rifle touted by a secret serviceman in the car behind, who lost his balance and squeezed off a shot by mistake as the motorcade sped up

in this version, the core cover-up is out of panicked embarrassment: it allows all possible conspiracy re LHO to be anything you want it to be, but says LHO only hit jfk once (menninger says fatally, but this is speculation)

the book is full of stuff abt what happens when you shoot a pumpkin wrapped in masking tape

4/19/2009 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Yeah its a good point, though to be fair some conspiracy theorists share his view. The point being not so much who killed, but the fact that they could get away with it.

There's also a larger point that PDS seems to be making, and that's the structure of conspiracies. Conspiracy theorists tend to be portrayed as nutters who think there's a group of all powerful, secretive individuals, who are basically running things with total control. Well obviously that's nuts.

However if you change the structure to the following:
Conspiracies happen between powerful people with common interests and who mix in the same circles. These are people who have the power to both keep their activities hidden, have access to huge funds, can suppress inconvenient facts and have powerful tools at their disposal such as intelligence agencies, police operatives.

Well you've just uncontroversially described how the world works; and one which remains essentially unquestioned so long as useful idiots like DA suppress discussion of such things in the mainstream media. If inconvenient facts come out, make them look conspiratorial and the whole thing goes away.

4/19/2009 02:57:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I'm inclined to draw a distinction between:

(a) secret operations ;
(b) cover-ups ; and
(c) conspiracies.

The first two are quite normal and normally conspiratorial or quasi-conspiratorial in form: but of course they're not all-seeing and all-controlling operations that can do what they want, they're just among the natural defence (and indeed offense) mechanisms of the state. They try to control (in all sorts of ways) and they may or may not succeed in that, but their capacity both to control and to maintain secrecy is always limited. (Indeed in some ways secrecy may not always be required: if you're operating death squads it doesn't really matter if people know who's in them, given that there's nobody they can go to about it.)

The third set, the actual conspiracy, something which tries to carry out a secret, illegal operation, discrete with a given, definable and limited aim, but perfectly and with no leakage, is I think largely limited to the world of criminality. People conspire to carry out an act which will bring them profit, they try to ensure that nobody finds out and trust that nobody involved will speak. Not at all uncommon, but not usually of great import on a more than personal scale.

4/19/2009 08:27:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Watergate? Iran-Contra? The Zinoviev Letter? The Tonkin Gulf hoax? I think your third category could be very populated indeed; it is just about theoretically plausible that these ones were all found out and thus prove that a successful, secret political operation is not possible. But this is a poor theory of cockroach control and I suspect not much better in political terms.

I was always a fan of Carl Ogleby's definition - "conspiracy is the normal execution of normal politics by normal means".

4/19/2009 08:52:00 PM  
Blogger andrew said...

Tony Blair imagined that SH might give Al Queda et al WMD. That conspiracy theory was very popular with Decents.

4/19/2009 10:34:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Yasser Arafat? David Kelly? Both of those looked pretty fishy.

4/19/2009 10:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I put a digression on conspiracy theory into a lecture the other week. What I said then was that "small groups try to control things", "published statements don't correspond to real goals" and "a lot of effort is expended on covering tracks after the event" are descriptions of the normal workings of elite politics, so analysis written along those lines shouldn't be taken any less seriously. The time to get sniffy about "conspiracy theorists" is when you start reading that a single small group is trying to control things and (especially) that their published statements don't correspond to consistent and logically coherent real goals.

4/19/2009 11:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex Higgins said...

I think much more should be made of the role of conspiracy speculation in mainstream politics.

As Andrew said, the notion that there was "linkage" between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa'ida that amounted to a joint strategy was a conspiracy theory, and a very silly one too.

In fact, conspiracy theories propounded by people with power and their apologists are extremely common and seriously distort many people's understanding of the world.

To name a few, specific and general, old and new:

1) The US State Department has been inflitrated by communists
2) The Western left has formed an alliance with Islamic fundamentalists
3) Iran is plotting to bomb Israel and/or the US to bring on the coming of the 12th Imam
4) Yassir Arafat planned the 2nd Intifada
5) Strike x was started by outside forces i.e. Trotskists and do not represent legitimate greivances of the workforce (very common this one)
6) Violence was caused at demo x by professional anarchists deliberately seeking confrontation (also a fave)
7) The FBU strike was a plan by Andy Gilchrist to impose socialism on Britain (thanks, Channel 4 news!)
8) The NUM were funded by Colonel Qadaffi
9) Rachel Corrie was seeking to protect Hamas infrastructure (puke)
10) Media focus on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is the result of institutional anti-Semitism
11) The BBC is run by leftists
12) Global warming is hyped up by scientists who falsify data and seek government grants with alarming results
13) The IPCC suppresses scientists that disagree with the global warming swindle
14) The IRA, PLO, FLMN and ANC are all tentacles of a Soviet war against the West
15) Supporters of the Birmingham 6 are dupes of Moscow
16) Hezbollah is a tool of Syria and Iran


And so on. There are so many more

In fact, it's worth noting just how much of the politics of the contemporary Right - particularly in the US - consists of unfounded conspiracy speculation.

Paranoia about the supposed motives of opponents is, after all, one of the few ways of making it seem acceptable to defend privilege and injustice.

4/19/2009 11:12:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Both of those looked pretty fishy.Arafat I don't know very much about, but David Kelly's death is a classic example of something that only really looks fishy because it wasn't investigated properly.

4/19/2009 11:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex Higgins said...

'The time to get sniffy about "conspiracy theorists" is when you start reading that a single small group...'

I think it's just about looking at the evidence and weighing up what's plausible.

JFK assassinated by mafia and/or CIA. Plausible, but the evidence is not really there after all this time. The lone-killer theory is still the best.

9/11 was an inside job? Not even plausible to begin with.

I thought it was plausible that the FBI or CIA might be involved in assassinating Martin Luther King. But when I started reading the case made by William F. Pepper it just seemed absurd. His conspiracy, like Oliver Stone's in JFK, seemed to involve about half of the US military-industrial complex.

'The Pinochet File' contains documents from the US National Security Archive which are a good example of a real conspiracy at work.

Coldly cynical stuff. If Chomsky had paraphrased his guess at their contents, they could scarcely have been worse.

4/19/2009 11:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Martin Wisse said...

9/11 was an inside job? Not even plausible to begin with.No, but the idea that 9/111 was allowed to happen, either through incompetence or passive malice, that is less loony. The Bush administration had a buildin bias against taking terrorism seriously and 9/11 was the best thing that happened to them, transforming it from a lame duck into one that was able to push through most of what it wanted.

4/20/2009 06:26:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Watergate? Iran-Contra? The Zinoviev Letter? The Tonkin Gulf hoax? I think your third category could be very populated indeedI think only Zinoviev could really be thought of as a conspiracy as oppose to special operations/cover-ups. The distinction between conspiracy and the fact that special operations/cover-ups are conspiratorial in style isn't a pedantic one: it's about trying to separate an actual conspiracy, a specific secret event designed to achieve a specific goal, from the normal run of operations which are of themselves secretive.

I'm certainly imposing a tighter meaning on the term "conspiracy" than the legal one, as Ricky Tomlinson could tell you. But I'm not doing so in order to define conspiracy as only the sort of think the Smoking Man gets up to - and hence essentially define it out of existence - but more to observe that much "conspiratorial" behaviour is really quite loose and leaky and the people who engage in it are often identifiable.

4/20/2009 06:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Der Bruno Stroszek said...

I'm usually on the Ben Goldacre/Francis Wheen side of debates like this, but I have to say that most of the Decents are being complete hypocrites when they argue these points.

It isn't just that their political views are merely a cocktail of more socially acceptable paranoias than the ones they're decrying - Cohen's belief that he's a lone truth-teller in a sea of sheeple, Amis's belief in Mark Steyn's 'Eurabia' theory, aka The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Islam, both recognisable tropes from conspiracy fringe debates. No, it's that, when they get to define their stereotype conspiracy theorist, they're describing themselves.

The argument goes that the current rise in conspiracy thinking (and I'm not convinced there is a rise, but that's a different debate) is caused by people cocooning themselves in their favourite sites on the internet and never bothering to investigate things themselves or even listening to opinions from the other side of the fence.

Well, who does that remind you of? How many times have we seen Decents recycling the same quotes from ideological opponents over and over again because none of them can bring themselves to actually read something they don't agree with? How many Decents have written columns that are essentially cut-and-pastes from Harry's Place or some bizarre American wingnut blog?

Hell, the only reason why they keep writing books like this is because they're so astonishingly easy to research. Spend a happy afternoon browsing skeptic blogs and the James Randi forums, paraphrase what you've just read with plentiful quotes and hey presto, you've got a book. I tend to think this whole 'death of traditional media' thing is being blown out of proportion at the moment, but if people like Aaronovich are seriously expecting me to pay money to read something I can get for free on the Internet (and the Internet version is probably better written too) it makes me think the doomsayers might have a point.

4/20/2009 08:20:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Hell, the only reason why they keep writing books like this is because they're so astonishingly easy to research.

The thing that frightens me is that in neither Wheen's book nor "Counterknowledge" is the word "tobacco" even mentioned. If someone wants to write a book about pseudoscience, irrationalism etc and doesn't even mention Philip Morris and the "sound science" movement, then in my book they're not serious and just indulging in a bit of hippy-bashing.

4/20/2009 09:01:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

Of course, in the phrase "conspiracy theory", it's the theory that's doing all the work. We have a perfectly good word for a real one - a conspiracy. What makes the difference is what kind of theory it is. Conspiracy theory is a specific form of pathological thinking, characterised by arguing from lack of evidence to evidence (there's no evidence, WHICH PROVES THEY'VE REMOVED IT!) and very little quality control.

After all, ever since Milgram we've known that if you take a random sample of any population they are much more closely interconnected than you'd expect. In a sense, the Bush-era mine-the-AT&T-billing-records surveillance schemes were an example of state conspiracy theory.

4/20/2009 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Conspiracy theory is a specific form of pathological thinkingthis

4/20/2009 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Of course, in the phrase "conspiracy theory", it's the theory that's doing all the work.You've just described human thinking. Most of the time we all let our theories do the work for us, because that's how we're wired. This is just as true in academia, as it is among wackos. The difference is in how acceptable a particular theory is to mainstream opinion. One's that are acceptable are not seen as theory, but just "common sense" which evolves over time. David Aaronovitch's thinking is not particularly different from your common or garden conspiracy theorist, its just that his assumptions about human behaviour are both different and within "acceptable" boundaries.

That's not to argue that the worst (or even average) kind of conspiritorial thinking is "right", more that the average kind of reasoning by intellectuals is not significantly better. So maybe "Conspiracy theory is a specific form of pathological thinking, characterised by arguing from lack of evidence to evidence (there's no evidence, WHICH PROVES THEY'VE REMOVED IT!) and very little quality control.". But you could equally argue that mainstream thinking in the US is pathological, characterised by its assumptions that the US has good intentions, its rulers are largely benign and that unlike any other powerful nation it acts as a force for universal good (whatever that might look like), rather than self-interest. Here, lack of evidence that proves definitively that US actors were bad/evil is seen as proof that they must have been doing good.

4/21/2009 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

I'm usually on the Ben Goldacre/Francis Wheen side of debates like this,It depends on the debate. On the whole Social Studies of Science business, its not so much that they're wrong, as they don't actually understand the arguments of the people they're arguing with. Its extremely annoying.

Its actually made more annoying by the fact that arguments of people like Bruno Latour, Steve Woolgar and the like were based upon some extremely careful and detailed field work. Whereas the arguments of people defending scientism (which is largely what they're doing), is largely theoretical.

4/21/2009 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Dr_Paul said...

AngloNoel wrote: 'I remember in the aftermath of September 11th 2001 various middle-aged members of the commentariat (Jeremy Paxman comes to mind) bemoaning the fact that their generation did not have the chance to fight in 'A Good War' a la WW2. It seems the 'Decent Left' is infected by this feeling, although armchair generaling seems to be as far as most of them get in actually taking part in military action.'

Perhaps the Decents might like to talk to people who were in the last war. My father, who was conscripted into the British army in 1943 and was wounded by the Waffen SS in Holland in late 1944, has often said that my generation and others after mine in Britain are lucky not to have experienced what he and millions of other young men had to undergo.

4/21/2009 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger Dr_Paul said...

Bruschetta Boy wrote: '... in my book ...'

And what book is that?

4/21/2009 01:52:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Aaro in the Times today mentions The Wire:

Carcetti and the scribblers who created him effectively rebuke my naivety by assuming - without debate - that, whatever a politician may do, he may certainly not rely on the electorate to respect his honesty.But the debate is there, really, Aaro has just chosen to frame it inadequately. Aaro claims that his decision would be:

Tell the voters what the problem is. Perhaps they'll understand. I wouldThey'd understand that he's willing to let the city go to ruin to further his own political ambitions? The public might respect his honesty but it'd mean the end of his career.

anyway!

4/21/2009 04:49:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Is Blogger pissing about with spaces at the moment?

4/21/2009 06:32:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

As I recall, wasn't it a political calculation. If he admitted the problem, he'd piss off part of his support and so possibly cost future ambitions.

4/21/2009 06:33:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Yeah that's exactly it - Aaro is using completely the wrong example to illustrate his point. Wasn't the problem that if he admitted the defecit he'd lose key teacher votes? Carcetti is a pretty good politician precisely because he would never admit this stuff in public as he is entirely concerned with preserving his own political future at the expense of the people who elected him - and as it turns out, not admitting the defecit in public is a pretty good move (maybe Aaro hasn't finished the season yet). Season 5 is where you see the 'old' Carcetti, as he was first introduced, back. If Aaro was looking for someone from the wire to introduce that piece, surely Bunny Colvin in season 3 would have been better? if anything, the wire is about pragmatism in politics, and what people have to do to survive in their jobs - and the one character who does 'the right thing' ends up missing out on a very lucrative future. Aaro is to a certain extent right, but it's totally unrealistic to think that politicians would actually do what he's suggesting.

on cohen:

What's most noticable about his ecomonic views are not that they are primarily right-wing but that they are incoherent.exactly - and the proof of this is in his new book which shows that over the last few years he's largely left the subject alone, arriving at banker-bashing far too late to look like anything other than an opportunist. He mentioned subprime a while back but it was really just a buzzword he latched onto briefly - there was no sign he really understood or foresaw the crash, and his output on the crash has offered absolutely zero insight beyong 'it's weird for labour to have praised bankers so much'. Of course, Cohen only says that now because he also fell into the trap of taking Oliver Kamm's word on economics as gospel which was a pretty bad move as it turned out (as is taking Kamm's word on history as gospel but that's by the by). At least Kamm is sticking to his guns.

ejh as usual nails it:

I'd be wary of trying to find a single constant or most prominent theme in Cohen's writing other than the war with one's former self, dressed up and perceived as a war on "the left".This is pretty much it, although I think that Cohen, along with many other Decents, is fighting a sort of littlejohn caricature of his former self. The opinions he ascribes to 'the british left' don't really belong to any lefties i know and whenever he gives evidence to support his claims it invariably turns out to be dodgy as hell, usually because it has been copied from harry's place. The same can be said of Andrew Anthony, who seems to have been, in his past, someone with really quite boneheaded and unpleasant beliefs which in retrospect he's now caricatured still further and thinks are somehow symptomatic of the british left, when he was fairly clearly an outlier back then; he is attacking a caricature of an outlier now.

4/22/2009 12:30:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Oooh, actual Aaro watch - Aaro accidentally bumped into somebody I know in a branch of WH Smith today. He apologised.

4/22/2009 03:45:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I should think he did, bumping into top British columnists like that.

4/22/2009 04:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meanwhile , Nick sees the sunny side of Boris Johnson, talking up Bo'jo's ludicrous empty stunt as if it were the real deal

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard-home/columnistarchive/Nick%20Cohen-columnist-186-archive.do

also, Nick's piece on the Observer was an attempt to marry tory "cut public spending" and "old left" ideas

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/apr/19/national-debt-budget-nick-cohen

4/23/2009 06:37:00 PM  
Anonymous mary said...

http://palestinethinktank.com/2009/04/25/from-aggression-to-victimhood-david-aaronovitch-or-how-the-mighty-fall/

this might interest the Watchers.

4/25/2009 09:51:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home