Every now and then, social media conspires to produce a perfect storm of idiocy and moral bankruptcy so backward as to make one speculate about the possibility of living in some kind of surreal simulation populated by half-wits. Of course, I should know by now not to be surprised by the depths to which political discourse has sunk on social media. For the politically-minded, Facebook and Twitter can become an addictive form of torture, a sort of digital self-harming ritual. Last week, however, I saw something that makes a pretty conclusive case for the corrosive effect of social media echo chambers on both intelligence and decency.
A number of people, usually of a self-satisfied Tory-bashing inclination, were sharing this image, which, even by the standards of meme-as-cogent-political-argument, is a new low on so many levels.
To fully appreciate the idiocy and moral bankruptcy on display here, we need to understand the context. Most of us are aware of the current contratemps between the British and Russian governments. This, as in any international dispute, is essentially a clash between two sets of authorities. But so hypocritical are much of the so-called “anti-establishment” forces, they are prepared to take the side of any establishment, no matter how vile or debased, provided it is anti-British and/or anti-Western.
This was the case outlined in Nick Cohen’s prescient 2007 book, What’s Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way. He presents a catalogue of cases detailing the tendency of the modern left to cosy up to horrific right-wing brutes, murderers and religious zealots, provided they play the role of megaphone or sounding board for their own masochistic, anti-Western animus. Examples include Ken Livingstone’s fetish for Islamist ghoul Yusuf al-Qaradawi, “anti-war” liberals marching through the streets with placards reading “we’re all Hezbollah now”, and, of course, the usual guest-list for a George Galloway garden party. The same pattern can be seen in the modern Labour party with the ongoing anti-Semitism scandal and Jeremy Corbyn’s fairly consistent adoption of every anti-British and anti-Western position available.
From an “anti-establishment” position, which such people generally claim to have, this is simply incoherent, but particularly in the case of Vladimir Putin. The man combines all the worst features of Stalinist KGB bullying, Tsarist supreme leader worship, fascist martial pride, sinister homophobic Russian Orthodoxy and oligarchic vulture capitalism – literally a shopping list of everything the left is supposed to stand against. No person who claims to be leftwing could possibly share this garbage without being either ignorant of their own professed position, devoid of morality or decency, dishonest, stupid, or some combination of the above.
Of course one could (though not convincingly) make the claim that I am simply wrong about Putin, wrong about Britain, and wrong about the moral asymmetry between them. This was a position I saw adopted by a number of people defending this meme. Their claim was that the British are living under some kind of Orwellian autocracy and being fed a false reality about the world by that edifice of state power and oppression, the BBC. And, indeed, we should look to those brave crusaders for truth and freedom over at Al Jazeera and Russia Today in order to get the real woke picture of British neo-Imperialism. This argument was so absurd I lost several brain cells trying to render it intelligible. Anyone who knows anything about Qatar and Russia, of whom those outlets are the official state mouthpieces, could possibly claim epistemological equivalence, let alone superiority, over the BBC. The BBC is not perfect to be sure, and regularly irritates me for other reasons entirely, but it is a fairly moderate organisation that regularly diverges significantly from the establishment line. An establishment which, by the way, is, at worst, an imperfect liberal democracy, as opposed to a Sharia monarchy like Qatar or an expansionist militaristic oligarchy like Russia.
The left’s anti-Semitism problem is very much in the public eye at the moment and, though it takes slightly different forms on the far left and far right, it provides a classic case study in horseshoe theory.
I should point out, by way of caveat, that some of the pushback I have seen against this Putin-fancying, was from saner elements of the left who, at least, had the decency to try and understand the convictions they claimed to hold. The political left is, after all, not a monolith, though it can at times seem so when it closes ranks on a point of ideological dogma. However, I saw far too many moronic statements along the lines of, “top man that Putin, rather live under him than the fookin Tories!” Do I really have to highlight any further the loathsome combination of stupidity and moral suicide contained in such a statement? Perhaps so, because this does not even touch on the anti-Semitism aspect yet.
The left’s anti-Semitism problem is very much in the public eye at the moment and, though it takes slightly different forms on the far left and far right, it provides a classic case study in horseshoe theory; the convergence of views on opposite ends of the political spectrum. On the far right it tends to relate to racial myths and connections to communism, though both left and right-wing anti-Semitism tend towards a distaste for perceived Jewish corporatism and control of monopolies. On the left this tends to be the main focus; the Jews are seen as the master manipulators of the global banking cabals, often represented by Jewish financial dynasties, including the Rothschild family. Take the image that recently found Jeremy Corbyn in hot water for his support of the “artist” who produced it. It is a textbook case of Jew-baiting conspiratorial nut-baggery hiding behind a moralistic veil of compassionate anti-capitalism. Anti-Semitism thus co-opts the vernacular and style of counter-culture movements which allows intellectually lazy and ignorant ideologues to espouse it without understanding or bothering to enquire into the utterly hateful message they are acting as a megaphone for. Thus the fine line between wilful ignorance and evil frays to a thread. Take a good look at this image:
This kind of imagery has a long history, but found its twentieth century apotheosis in the disgusting Russian fabrication, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which claimed to be a record of a Jewish conspiracy to dominate global politics and economics. It should be noted that a fabrication is distinct from a forgery in that a forgery is a replication of a genuine document.
Much of Putin’s ideological profile and public image borrows heavily from the era of Russian autocracy that produced the Protocols. Furthermore, he has made a number of anti-Semitic comments, including some that eerily echo the conclusions of that document, including the notion that the Jews rigged the recent US election. Thus the fact that he “ended the Rothschild’s control over Russia by nationalising the Russian central bank” says far more about someone trumpeting such an achievement than about Putin’s apparently impeccable anti-establishment credentials. Furthermore, why anyone would think that a central bank controlled by Vladimir Putin is a good outcome beggars belief.
What ties all of this hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy together is an extremely unprincipled application of the concept, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” which has driven many people who value ethical consistency, myself included, away from the left. A knee-jerk anti-Western position on every matter is not moral, it is the exaltation of ideology (and not even an intelligible one at that) over truth and principles. The fact that some people believe the application of this twisted epistemological lens grants them a moral high-ground can and has led to very sinister results and I hold in contempt anyone who perpetuates this.