September 21, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
Speaking this week to the Press Gazette, Ian Hislop, the editor of satirical magazine Private Eye and star of BBC’s “Have I got News for You” was musing about the nature of those people who have just started or restarted participation in politics recently. What he said was very interesting, because he has noticed, like I have, the inability of many of these new participants to understand the nature of political debate.
“There are a lot of people who’ve discovered politics recently but haven’t got the idea that – in the world of politics – it’s possible for the opposition A) to have a point and B) to offer criticism. So a lot of Ukippers cancelled their subscriptions earlier in the year because they thought the jokes about Ukip were not funny and not fair. This was followed by a very similar vein of Scots Nats saying: ‘These jokes aren’t funny, and they’re not fair.’ And I think we’re about to get the Corbynistas, that’ll be the next wave saying: ‘You’ve no idea what you’re talking about.’ A different sort of politics has just arrived – whether it’s Farage or Sturgeon or Corbyn. And any criticism – and certainly any jokes – are not welcome.”
This is a real shame. I have often complained about those people in politics, mainly, I must say, on the left, who are unable to tell the difference between someone being wrong and someone being wicked. This can make debate difficult, certainly, but not impossible, as long as the other person doesn’t mind being thought of as lower than vermin on the grounds of their political views. At least people like this let you speak.
But this is worse. Right now, there are groups of people involved in politics, supporting political parties that have been surging in the polls like UKIP, winning seats and pushing to tear Scotland away from the UK like the SNP, or causing a political earthquake within a party the like of which we have rarely ever seen, such as the Corbynistas. They are worse because they are not even listening, if you disagree you are not just wicked, you are more than wrong, because they have no intention of listening to a word you are saying so your words are pointless.
Maybe I’m old fashioned, but if I really believe in something, and someone opposes me, I think it enhances my case, not diminishes it, if I gain a real understanding of their point of view, in fact I would go as far to say that if I want to actually best someone in an argument, I should become more of an expert in their point of view than they are, so that I am ready for their arguments, and thus more able to answer those arguments.
But too many of these new participants in politics have no idea what any of those arguments even are, because they are too busy making ad hominem (personal) attacks on anyone who doesn’t share their views to listen to them, and thus are learning nothing. Civilised debate is overrun by what Marina Hyde in the Guardian calls irrational emotionalism, and when you learn nothing, and are unable to counter any arguments against what you believe in, you might be more likely to resort to mindless violence – right now in words, but later, who knows.