Aug 10, 2008

Time to scalp a wingnut, part 3: Anthony Browne, Culture Warrior

I realized I had promised some more commentary on Browne last weekend but, for various reasons such as illness, apathy, war-watching, sleeping, drugs, sex, rock and roll, aiding the eventual victory of the Caliphate over Europe etc etc I had simply not gotten around to doing it.

So I will now, while the ibuprofen is still kicking in.

The thing that most comes to mind about Anthony Browne, when he is not talking about EU politics or the environment, is how American influenced his viewpoints seem to be. I know I am one to talk. When I was St Andrews, I hung with a mostly American crowd, and my classes were typically consisted of an American majority - and since my subject was International Relations, I no doubt got a very good grounding in US politics, both internal and external. Also some of my online haunts are American too, and no doubt that does have an influence on me.

However, there is picking up bits and pieces from American politics, understanding the context and the flavour of the political climate, and then there is importing entire concepts and trying to apply them to another country.

I am, of course, referring to the Culture Wars. If you're unfamiliar with the term, the link I give is a quick primer, but you can better understand the divide by reading Daily Kos for a week, then reading, say, Michelle Malkin, or the Pajamas Media crew. In short, it is the irreconcilable culture divide between those who consider themselves progressive and left wing, and those who consider themselves traditionalists and right wing.

The problem is that of boundaries, or the parameters of political debate. The debates have polarized, and each side tends to believe the other is both wrong, yet unmoving in their position. In short, they do not believe the other side is competent as a political actor.

This view tends to be far more prevalent on the American right, which has become increasingly militaristic, nationalist, contemptuous of debate or the rule of law and politicized since 2000. It does not take long to find well known and public commentators who advocate civil rights groups or political leaders be arrested for treason - or worse. Naturally, there is too much of this on the American left as well, especially amongst the more militant groups and ideologies, but it is nowhere as much within the mainstream as it is within the right. The most outspoken on the American right do not just disagree with the Democrats or the American left - they quite literally believe they are not competent to be leading the country, because of their ideologies.

And therein lies the problem.

When you look at some of Browne's statements over at the Spectator, you can see elements of this being alluded to within his writing. Such comments as:

"Only in the last few years has it dawned on the government how dangerous the Left's war on Britishness really is."
Saturday, 23rd July 2005, The Spectator


"The support of Islamic fascism spans Britain's Left."
August 1, 2005, Times Online


"Many of the politically-correct left - including the Guardian, the Independent, most of the BBC… - have chosen to champion those who are deliberately trying to murder innocent civilians."
The Retreat of Reason, page 11

all seriously suggest rather than disagreements with policies or ideology, Browne believes that the left is an actively hostile force within the country, who should be tarred and feathered for their hatred of British culture, love of criminals, politically-correct censorship, promotion of immigration and multiculturalism and support of Islamic terrorism.

Browne's own retreat from reason accuses a good proportion of this country as actively or tacitly seeking to undermine and destroy it, by using lazy tabloid strawmen and grand sweeping statements he cannot back up. The fact that he is treated as a serious political commentator on any subject beyond the environment or EU continually amazes me. And yes, you could easily go back through this blog and find me using lazy strawmen and bad arguments to attack people, but the difference is:

1) I'm funny
2) I'm not paid for it
3) As much as I mock Labour, the Tories, the Lib Dems etc I don't suggest that the ideologies behind them, or a vague, nebulous grouping like "the right" is trying to destroy Britain. Well, except the BNP, but they're fascist scumbags who can choke and die on my magnificent penis if they have a problem with it. Also, while they might be trying, the BNP are comedy fascists who couldn't organize a piss-up in a brewery, let alone a concerted campaign to undermine the country.
4) My arguments are not designed to be serious political commentary. They are meant to mock and belittle idiots who try to carry out serious political commentary while having no appreciable talent or knowledge about politics.

The thing is, Britain does not have a culture war like the USA does. There is not that deep divide stemming from the Vietnam War, the resurgence of religious belief in a legally secular nation, that polarization of issues. If anything, politics in Britain is converging, with all parties desperately trying to claim the centre, instead of trying to fight at a cultural level to move society in their favour. That has been the overall strategy of the American right in particular, which is why the proliferation of alternative conservative outlets, think tanks, political action groups, education and reference guides is a worry. Home-schooling, Conservapedia, the Christian rock scene, Pajamas Media and so on are all excellent examples of groups whose aims are to supplant the traditional outlets and politicize content in favour of the GOP and "movement conservatism".

Browne in fact has praised elements of this strategy, namely the American rightwing think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute or Heritage Foundation who:

have helped push the whole political centre of gravity way to the right of that of the UK. The AEI is (in)famous for promoting the invasion of Iraq, while Heritage has kept social conservatism and the importance of religion high on the policy agenda. Cato has helped mute the siren calls of protectionism.


It would be far healthier for democracy and debate in Britain if our ideas industry managed to step up to the American level."
Wednesday, 14th May 2008, The Spectator

Uh-huh. Because it has been so healthy in America recently, and has not turned their political culture into a slanging match where loudmouthed brownshirts like Michelle Malkin and Charles Johnson are considered serious thinkers.

Oh, wait.

Oh, and another thing, anyone who thinks that the AEI is a centre-right group is seriously out of whack. Any group which has Irving "I love wars of national greatness" Kristol and John "yeah, torture is fine" Yoo, not to mention Fred Kagan, John Bolton, David Frum, fascist sympathizer Michael Ledeen and Newt Gingrich is not, by any sensible measure near the centre. Unless the centre-right now stands for wars of aggression, unchecked executive powers, torture, suspension of haebus corpus and other nasty policies we have come to know and despise all over again, thanks to the Bush administration.

And I, unlike Browne, who would certainly assert such a thing was a feature of the mainstream left if our roles were reversed, do not believe that to be the case.

The attempt to start a culture war in the UK has always been the preserve of crazies. Look at the sort of people who try it, honestly. We have the BNP, Melanie Phillips, Anthony Browne, RESPECT, those Christian nutters on Channel 4 recently, the Muslim crazies like Abu Hamza...

Sensible people across the political spectrum do not want such a fight. It is pointless, wasteful and nasty. It does nobody any good, it degrades the political culture and ruins politics as a means to a better life. It makes enemies of otherwise decent people and sets the entire politically aware population against each others throats.

Its really not worth it. Not to say its not worth fighting, especially in the case of the USA, where the political culture swung scarily to the right for a while (2002-3), but it is certainly not worth instigating. And I have to question the motives, or indeed fitness for the office of political advisor, of someone who chooses act like there is one ongoing.

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