Forty six minutes into this discussion about trigger warnings, freedom of speech and campus lunacy, Brendan O’Neill tackles Bea Campbell about her role in the Satanic Abuse witch hunts of the 1980s. He says he supports her freedom to make false allegations, though not to destroy working class families.
The conversation I really want to have is this, it’s about, not so much freedom of speech, but the difficulty of speech, the difficulty for those who need to speak, the difficulty of giving voice, particularly when what they need to say has been shrouded in shame, whether it’s about the shape of their body or somebody abusing their body. This is at the centre of experience of women for ever, as far as we know. Now, the thing that’s fascinating about that difficulty is that all sorts of other oppressed and marginalised groups have something to say about that as well.
Primo Levi describes, let me just remind myself of the way that he puts it, ‘the unlistenable to, the unlistenable to, the unheard things that need to be said’.
Let’s just remember where the great inspiration for the contemporary language of feminism came from. It came from people who defied death, in Mississippi, in Alabama, just to vote. Black people who in order to vote had to risk life and limb and had to actually recuperate some sense of personal worth, which they recovered amongst each other, to give voice and to enter the public realm.
Now, the thing that I think is shameful about you [O’Neill] and your Institute of No Ideas [some discussion because O’Neill isn’t formally attached to the Institute of Ideas] I want to refer to your article about… rape… you had a go about this current rape thing that you go on about and you likened contemporary feminism to the Ku Klux Klan. And you cite that great, heroic, astounding figure Ida B. Wells, who campaigned against lynching and particularly named the ways in which white people enlisted the spectre, your term, the spectre of rape to lynch black men. The thing that you do is to traduce, to erase, the history of black women at that time in the service of your repudiation of the implications of rape.
She went on from there, and you can listen to it if you like.
Let’s look at what she did.
First, she claimed primacy over other people. She claimed to be more important, to make her voice louder than O’Neill’s. She did this by playing to the natural sympathy everyone has for people who feel ashamed of themselves or who have been abused, then saying that’s a female experience, centrally so. She is, of course, female.
Then she made the inevitable leap to the civil rights movement in America.
So far, the logic of this is:
- Victimhood is more important than equality and freedom
- I am one of a victim class
- I also claim honorary membership of an even more evocative victim class
Remember, this is a response to an allegation that she had been part of a campaign of lies about parents forcing their children to eat excrement during satanic rituals, a campaign that resulted in state child abduction.
What she’s doing here is drawing a veil of virtue over herself. How can you criticise someone without a voice? Campbell is without a voice despite having one of the biggest platforms of anyone in the UK; her voice has been heard in the national media, in books and in academia for decades. But she has no voice as a member of an unvoiced group.
How can you not reverently make room for a voice that has been kept hushed by shame, of body image and shame that stems from abuse?
How can you disagree with someone whose great inspiration, dammit, came from Black Americans who’d been denied a voice, just like her?
It’s drivel, of course. So is what follows. O’Neill has erased black women by quoting a black woman. This is gibberish. But not even O’Neill is brave enough to challenge it as she comes out with it.
If you want to know how it is that someone could help tear families apart, causing irreparable trauma to children, over an obviously bogus piece of hysteria and yet retain both a sense of personal virtue and an always-warm seat on BBC discussion programmes, as well as a lifetime sinecure in a university, this is your answer. It’s the veil of virtue.
This veil acts as a turbocharger for the motte and bailey doctrine (if you haven’t yet read the paper at the end of that link, take a few minutes and rectify that right now). Motte and bailey arguments have a solid, defensible inner core (the motte), and a fatuous or worse hinterland (the bailey). If challenged on the bailey, the proponents retreat to the motte until it’s safe to come out again. An example motte and bailey feminist approach was given on the starslatecodex blog a year or so ago:
The feminists who constantly argue about whether you can be a real feminist or not without believing in X, Y and Z and wanting to empower women in some very specific way, and who demand everybody support controversial policies like affirmative action or affirmative consent laws (bailey). Then when someone says they don’t really like feminism very much, they object “But feminism is just the belief that women are people!” (motte) Then once the person hastily retreats and promises he definitely didn’t mean women aren’t people, the feminists get back to demanding everyone support affirmative action because feminism, or arguing about whether you can be a feminist and wear lipstick.
The turbocharged version is, instead of “But feminism is just the belief that women are people!”, you get “But feminism is the only way the marginalised can ever have a voice, especially those who men have made feel bad about their bodies, and it’s exactly the same as the civil rights movement, and you don’t want to lynch black people do you, you bastard???”
Campbell isn’t the only person who does this. It’s characteristic of her generation of political activists. This is why it’s ironic, and often quite funny, when younger activists, the current crop in particular, attack those of the 1970s using exactly the same tactics and shout them down for being trans-exclusionary – transsexualism not having formed a part of the identity politics that set, like concrete, in the minds of 1970s activists thirty years ago.
This inflexibility is a serious problem now. In the aftermath of the mass sexual assault of women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, we read that
Barbara Steffens, the minister for emancipation in the North Rhine Westphalia (NRW) government, said the New Year’s Eve incident was “the tip of a very unpleasant iceberg”. She called for a “larger societal condemnation of a male abuse of power”.
This incident in Cologne was created by migration without assimilation, not by masculinity, and European men don’t behave like that. A politician who can’t understand that can’t deal with it either. But by falling back on this call to ossified identity political roles, distraction can be achieved. Distraction without effective action, that is.
This is how several thousand children came to be raped in full knowledge of the authorities in northern English towns like Rotherham for a decade and a half or more. The crumbling, Soviet-era concrete of the political priorities of the Labour Party meant that imaginary white racist backlashes were more important than the actual racist rape of white children. And you know, you wouldn’t want to be suggesting there was anything systematic about the rape of white people by non-whites would you? I mean, not even if we both know the statistics show exactly that.
Just as nobody on the panel in the clip above was willing to challenge Campbell’s ridiculous attempt to co-opt US civil rights as a cover for British witch hunts because they didn’t want to risk appearing to attack the US civil rights movement, nobody was willing to risk being called racist in Rotherham.
It’s time to stop buying this crap.
It’s time to say that Bea Campbell stands in a line of descent from Matthew Hopkins, not Ida B. Wells. In more current issues, it’s time to stop letting the descendants of Bantu colonisers of southern Africa pretend their anti-white crusade is anti-colonialist.
It’s time to challenge not just the ideas of the regressive left, but also their false assumptions of virtue.