`The latest Lefty mantra: Check Your Privilege
Whatever you’re doing, stop. Actually, you’re reading this, so it’s probably best to carry on for the minute. But then when you’ve finished you need to stand up, step back, and take the time to “check your privilege”.
Until today I wouldn’t really have known where to even find my privilege, never mind scrutinise it. But thanks to Twitter – sociology’s version of NHS Direct – I am now fully up to speed.
Last week, in the midst of a debate about some vital issue of the moment (possibly something to do with Ed Miliband and Willy Wonka), someone indignantly instructed me to “check my privilege”. I didn’t have a clue what they were on about, and politely told them I thought they were nuts. But since then I’ve seen requests/demands for people to CYP popping up all over the place.
So this morning, after I saw Labour MP Tom Harris state he was off to conduct his own privilege audit, I threw myself upon Twitter’s mercy, and asked what this perplexing phrase actually meant. And now I know.
Apparently, if any of us wish to comment on a particular issue we have to first “check our privilege”. It’s like a sort of moral entry exam. Before expressing a point of view we must first establish our bona fides. So for example, if you want to talk about an issue such as welfare reform, you have to consider whether you are middle-class or not. If you are, then sadly you fail the test. You can’t comment. Or if you do comment, then your point of view is in some way invalidated.
Sufficiently briefed, I sat down to give myself a comprehensive privilege MOT. White: tick. Male: tick. Middle-class: tick. Public school education: fail. Able-bodied: tick (well, half a tick. I’ve only got one eye. But you get two for a reason). Heterosexual: tick, (though never say never).
My initial response was delight. I’d given my privilege a thorough going over, and everything looked to be in good working order. But then to my horror I realised this was in fact a catastrophe. Unless the debate veers off towards comprehensive education for the partially sighted, I literally have nothing to contribute. Or if I do contribute, who will listen? My privilege will act like a gag. A beautiful and very expensive Liberty silk gag. But a gag none the less.
Well, I’m sorry, but that’s not on. This is naked “privilegeism”. And I for one shall not sit still for it.
For a start, how do we actually define privilege? Let’s go back to the example I gave about welfare. Who really holds the privilege in this debate? Is it someone like me, who has never taken a penny of welfare, except to make regular withdrawals from the bank of mum and dad.? Or is it those who are actually subsisting on, and benefiting from, welfare themselves? Who, in this case, actually enters the debate from a position of self-interest? Shouldn’t it be those Shameless types who we all know are merely idling and scrounging and swinging the lead, who should be giving their own privilege the run down?
Also, who actually came up the whole CYP concept? How’s their own privilege looking, eh? Apparently the phrase “check your privilege” first originated on the social justice blog Shrub.com, (no, I’ve no idea what a social justice blog is either). Shrub was set up by Andrea Rubenstein, who describes herself as the site’s “primary blogger”, which sounds a touch hierarchical.
Anyway, from what I can glean, Andrea appears to be a woman, white, relatively able-bodied and university-educated. Something of a mixed bag, privilege-wise. Though, to be fair, she does acknowledge, “Once you have a basic grasp on the system of privilege, the next step is one simple self-realisation: you are privileged … we are all privileged”. To help us come to terms with this, she helpfully provides some useful “primers”, including “Privilege in action”, “Occasionally conversations with my men are instructive” and “Privilege is driving a smooth road and not even knowing it”. Where not holding a driving licence puts you on the pyramid of oppression isn’t made clear.
I’m sure Andrea means well. But I’m sorry, I’m still old enough to remember the days when being a white, middle-class male actually meant something. And surely if we know one thing about privilege, it’s that it doesn’t give up without a fight.
So fight we must. From now on, I shall be confronting the privilegists head on. Far from letting my privilege silence me, I shall use it to give my arguments wings.
So those of you who would have me “check my privilege” hear this. I’ve got my latest copy of Esquire sitting on my desk right now. It contains an article on page 110 on the philosophy of Pamela Anderson, and I’m going to read it, and I’m going to enjoy it.
I’ve seen the Phantom Menace three times. And though I hate Jar Jar Binks as much as the next man, it never even occurred to me he was a crass racial stereotype. And it never will.
Yes, I will wait till Gatsby is on at the Greenwich Picturehouse, rather than the Odeon, because it’s a more refined cinematic experience, and there will be fewer people complaining “Oi, this isn’t The Hangover Part Three”.
Believe me, I’ve checked my privilege. I’ve looked under the bonnet, checked the oil and kicked the tires. It’s in immaculate working order.
Privilege isn’t driving a smooth road and not even knowing it. It’s driving a smooth road, with the wind in your hair, the sun on your face and not a care in the world. I'm sorry about that. Really, I am.
The Daily Mail did not kill Lucy Meadows
A coroner’s ruling that the press helped drive a transgender teacher to her death marks a new low in the culture of ‘You can’t say that’.
Since the UK phone-hacking scandal broke and the News of the World closed in 2011, it has been open season on the popular press. Self-righteous critics have felt free to blame the tabloid newspapers for everything from the recession to rape. Now matters have moved a little further down the slippery slope, with a state official effectively accusing the British press, and the Daily Mail in particular, of helping to cause the death of a transgender primary-school teacher.
Michael Singleton, the coroner for Blackburn in Lancashire, this week told the inquest into the death of Lucy Meadows that the ‘sensational and salacious’ press coverage of the teacher’s gender change had been a big factor in her decision to commit suicide in March. The coroner declared his intention to call on the government to implement Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals for controlling the press, to ensure that nobody else was driven to their deaths by such ‘ill-informed bigotry’. Singleton concluded his ruling by turning to the media reporters present in court and declaring, like an Old Testament prophet, ‘Shame on you all!’. (The Guardian headline omitted the ‘all’ from this judgement, perhaps because they were certain he could not be talking to them.)
Nobody has to like the Daily Mail, of course, and anybody must be free to criticise its coverage. But this is different. A coroner now feels free not only to declare that the Mail and others contributed to a tragic death – despite the absence of any real evidence to support that claim – but to demand that the government crack down on the press. That is a sign of how far the lobby to curb press freedom has advanced across British politics and society.
We have seen throughout the Leveson circus that anti-tabloid crusaders have used high-profile victims of phone-hacking as ‘human shields’ behind which to pursue their wider agenda of purging the press. Now it seems that some are prepared to use a suicide as a weapon in the propaganda war over press freedom. What was that about the ‘sensational’ exploitation of people’s lives to make headlines?
The story of Lucy Meadows hit the news late last year, after the head of a primary school in Accrington, Lancashire, wrote to inform parents that teacher Nathan Upton had ‘recently made a significant change in his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman’. Mr Upton returned to the school after Christmas as Ms Meadows, wearing women’s clothes. First the local and then national press picked up on the story after some parents expressed concerns about the effect this dramatic change might have on their children; one father was widely quoted as saying that his three sons at the primary school were ‘too young to be dealing with that’.
Then Richard Littlejohn, the conservative Mail’s notoriously provocative columnist, weighed in with his characteristically forthright opinion on the case. His column, published in December under the headline ‘He’s not only in the wrong body… he’s in the wrong job’, asked whether anybody had considered the ‘devastating effect’ this teacher’s gender transformation could have on the young pupils, and suggested that Ms Meadows should have left the school and gone to teach elsewhere.
In January, Ms Meadows complained to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) about ‘press harassment’ and about the Littlejohn column in particular. As a result, the Mail removed the offending article from its website, and Ms Meadows thanked the PCC for helping to resolve the dispute.
The tone of the Littlejohn article is clear from this extract (worth reprinting since it is no longer available on the Mail’s website):
‘The school shouldn’t be allowed to elevate its “commitment to diversity and equality” above its duty of care to its pupils and their parents. It should be protecting pupils from some of the more, er, challenging realities of adult life, not forcing them down their throats.
‘These are primary-school children, for heaven’s sake. Most of them still believe in Father Christmas. Let them enjoy their childhood. They will lose their innocence soon enough.
‘The head teacher denies that pupils will be punished for referring to the teacher as Mr Upton but added ominously that they would be “expected to behave properly around her”. Nathan Upton is entitled to his gender reassignment surgery, but he isn’t entitled to project his personal problems on to impressionable young children.’
To some of us at the time, Littlejohn’s column about Lucy Meadows seemed fairly constrained by his own standards. For instance, he acknowledged her right to change gender, and to continue to teach – though not at the same school where she had been Mr Upton.
To many others, however, it seemed that Littlejohn had committed a hate crime by criticising Lucy Meadows and the school. The outrage exploded on social networking websites in March, when it was reported that Ms Meadows had been found dead in her home, having apparently poisoned herself after two failed suicide attempts. Protesters gathered outside the Mail’s offices, and launched a Twitter onslaught and online petitions calling for Littlejohn to be sacked. These petitions now claim to have gathered a quarter of a million signatures.
The gathering storm of outrage culminated this week in the coroner’s official ruling that the press – and the ‘ill-informed bigotry’ of the Mail and Littlejohn in particular – had contributed to Lucy Meadows’ suicide. He called on the government to implement ‘in full’ Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals for taming the press, in order to prevent further deaths.
In fact, as the Mail and others have since pointed out, there was no real evidence to suggest that the press coverage of Ms Meadows’ gender change contributed to her death. She left a long and eloquent suicide note, trying to explain her reasons for taking her own life. It made no mention at all of the press.
Instead, she talked about her financial problems, the stress of her job and, most importantly, the way she had been left bereft by recent bereavements, including the loss of her parents. Ms Meadows’ therapist told the inquest that she had found the media intrusion ‘very stressful’ but ‘easier to deal with than she had thought’, because she had been more concerned about the terminal illness and death of somebody she loved. The woman who had previously been married to Nathan Upton, and had his child, said that Ms Meadows had been ‘more annoyed than anything’ about the press ‘intrusion’ into their lives. She said her former spouse had first discussed suicide in February: ‘She said there was not enough to keep her here.’
Like many suicides, Lucy Meadows’ death appears to have been the tragic outcome of a complex set of personal circumstances, difficult for anybody to comprehend from the outside. Such events do not lend themselves to sweeping explanations. That did not stop the coroner, despite the absence of any evidence, declaring that the shameful press had helped drive her to her death. He acknowledged that she had not mentioned the press in her suicide note, but effectively decided that he knew better than her.
It is also worth asking: even if Lucy Meadows’ note had blamed the media coverage, or named Richard Littlejohn, would it really have changed anything? The coroner said that if she had mentioned the press at all, he would certainly have summonsed ‘various journalists and editors to this inquest to give evidence and be called into account’. Yet whatever she had said or thought, the press reports and comments about the transgender teacher would still remain only words. It would still have been her who committed the act of suicide, and the ultimate responsibility for taking her own life would still lie with Ms Meadows herself.
As her suicide note put it, ‘I have simply had enough of living. I am not depressed or mentally ill in some way. I may have different worldviews to others to the point that most may not consider this a rational act. But it is right to me. All the things I have wanted to accomplish I have done. I have no regrets other than leaving behind those dear to me and causing them pain in doing so, for which I am deeply sorry.’
Coroner Singleton complained that the case showed ‘nothing has been learned from the Leveson Inquiry’ into the ‘culture, practices and ethics’ of the press. The implication is that the treatment of Lucy Meadows shows that the tabloid press is still free to do what it previously did to such victims as the parents of Madeleine McCann or Christopher Jefferies, who were star witnesses at the Leveson Inquiry.
But from my point of view, this case shows that things have indeed moved on since Leveson – and in the opposite direction. The Mail and others did not make false factual allegations of serious offences against Ms Meadows, as newspapers did against the McCanns or Jefferies. Instead, what Richard Littlejohn did was to express his opinion about the transgender teacher returning to the same school.
That opinion may have offended many, including the coroner who deemed it ‘ill-informed bigotry’. But it remains an opinion, not an offence. Yet the expression of opinions deemed outside the respectable mainstream of polite society is now apparently considered a suitable case for punitive action by the government and the courts, acting on the word of the good Lord Justice Leveson. That is a major change – and one for the worse.
It may seem perverse to some to have to defend the principle of press freedom in such a sad case as the suicide of Lucy Meadows. But these are the hard cases in which it is important to hold the line. Not because we necessarily agree with anything Littlejohn might say, but because we agree with another popular journalist, George Orwell, that ‘if liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear’. The fact that some might use press freedom for ends of which we disapprove is no reason to allow others to encroach upon it.
No doubt a coroner should be free to express his prejudices about the press, just as a tabloid columnist is at liberty to express his opinions and prejudices and be judged on them. But there is no excuse for demanding state action to curb the expression of opinions that are not to the taste of the bench.
The discussion around the Lucy Meadows case reveals how persuasive the creeping culture of ‘I blame the media’ and ‘You can’t say that’ has become. You do not have to like the British tabloid press at all. But in a free society, I’m afraid you really should have to lump it.
Gay marriage opponents like supporters of apartheid, says C of E bishop who apparently can't find his Bible
Is God an apartheid practitioner? Presumably he must be if we regard him as the author of Leviticus
A senior Anglican bishop has likened opponents of gay marriage to Christians who used the Bible to justify slavery and apartheid.
Opponents of gay marriage like supporters of apartheid, says senior bishop
The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Rev Nicholas Holtam, suggested Christians should “rethink” their interpretation of Scripture in light of changing attitudes towards homosexuality in society.
In a strongly worded intervention as members of the House of Lords prepare to debate the Government’s draft legislation introducing gay marriage, Bishop Holtam told peers that allowing gay couples to wed would be a “very strong endorsement” of the institution of marriage.
Bishop Holtam previously opposed gay marriage, but is now the only diocesan bishop in the country to publicly favour the proposed new law.
In a letter sent to Lord Alli, a gay Muslim peer, and published in The Daily Telegraph, Bishop Holtam distanced himself from the Church of England’s official opposition to same-sex marriage, saying: “Christian morality comes from the mix of Bible, Christian tradition and our reasoned experience.
“Sometimes Christians have had to rethink the priorities of the Gospel in the light of experience.
“For example, before Wilberforce, Christians saw slavery as Biblical and part of the God-given ordering of creation. Similarly in South Africa the Dutch Reformed Church supported Apartheid because it was Biblical and part of the God-given order of creation. No one now supports either slavery or apartheid. The Biblical texts have not changed; our interpretation has.”
Bishop Holtam’s intervention comes as peers from all main political parties prepare to mount a last-ditch attempt to block the draft legislation, which has been championed by David Cameron.
Among peers set to criticise the Bill on Monday are the former head of the British army Lord Dannatt and Lord Lothian, or Michael Ancram, a former Conservative Party chairman.
Lord Dear, the retired chief constable of West Midlands Police and crossbench peer leading opposition to the Bill, has described the Bill as “ill-thought through”, saying its critics were not “anti-homosexual”. Earlier this week he said Monday’s vote would be “too close to call.”
The Church of England, which has 26 bishops in the Lords, formally opposes the move and there has been speculation that the Most Rev Justin Welby, the recently appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, will be among bishops voicing their concerns about the policy at the debate.
A statement issued by the Church’s House of Bishops and Archbishops’ Council last year and endorsed by the Archbishop, said same-sex weddings were against Anglican teachings and would undermine the state of marriage, as well as being “divisive” and “legally flawed”.
However, the statement prompted a groundswell of opposition within the Church and two suffragan bishops broke ranks to say it did not speak for them, nor for a substantial number of clergy and churchgoers.
Bishop Holtam, a diocesan bishop who sits in the House of Bishops but not the Lords, indicated his support for gay marriage in an interview and a speech last year but has been cautious about intervening in the ongoing debate.
Lord Alli, however, asked the bishop to set out his views for the benefit of peers debating the Government’s legislation next week.
In the letter to the Labour peer Bishop Holtam said: “You, as a gay Muslim, will not be surprised that there are a variety of views within the Church of England where we are experiencing rapid change similar to that in the wider society.”
He added: “The possibility of 'gay marriage’ does not detract from heterosexual marriage unless we think that homosexuality is a choice rather than the given identity of a minority of people.
“Indeed the development of marriage for same sex couples is a very strong endorsement of the institution of marriage.”
The Church’s leadership indicated as part of its opposition to the move that it favours civil partnerships as a way for gay couples to demonstrate their commitment to each other.
However in the letter Bishop Holtam suggests civil partnerships are same-sex marriage in all but name, saying “this now needs recognition in law.”
He said: “Like the Archbishops now, I used to think that it was helpful to distinguish between same sex civil partnerships and heterosexual marriage. Many in the churches think the commonly used description of civil partnerships as 'gay marriage’ is a category error.
“However, the relationships I know in civil partnerships seem to be either of the same nature as some marriages or so similar as to be indistinguishable. Indeed, the legal protection and public proclamation which civil partnership has afforded gay relationships appears to have strengthened their likeness to marriage in terms of increasing commitment to working on the relationship itself, to contributing to the wellbeing of both families of origin, and to acting as responsible and open members of society.
He added: “Open recognition and public support have increased in civil partnerships those very qualities of life for which marriage itself is so highly celebrated. It is not surprising this now needs recognition in law.”
The legislation was passed by the House of Commons last week despite an attempt by almost half of Conservative MPs, among them two Cabinet ministers, to block the move.
It includes so-called “quadruple locks”, described by Bishop Holtam as “extraordinarily robust”, to protect religious groups, including the Church of England, who do not wish to carry out same-sex ceremonies.
Homosexual weddings pave the way for polygamy, warns former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey
A former Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday warned David Cameron that his ‘equal marriage’ reforms open the door for multiple weddings and marriages between siblings.
Lord Carey said that same-sex marriage laws amount to a radical and disturbing upheaval which is likely to lead to unintended consequences.
Among them he listed the inclusion of polygamous and multiple relationships into the definition of marriage, and the right for two sisters living together to demand a legal wedding.
The intervention from Lord Carey, one of the most prominent campaigners against same-sex marriage since the Prime Minister first announced his plan in the autumn of 2011, comes as peers prepare to debate the new marriage law.
Ministers are braced for an attempt to wreck the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill next week.
A group of MPs have already written to members of the House of Lords urging them to vote down the Bill, on the grounds that in the supposedly free vote in the Commons they were warned by Downing Street that their careers would be at stake if they failed to back it.
Lord Carey, 77, said that the Bill overturns the historic understanding of marriage as a platform for a man and a woman to raise children that has lasted since the dawn of Christianity.
That, he argued in a paper published by the Civitas think tank, means that the doors will fly open for very different legal versions of marriage in the future. ‘A reason why we should be worried by the redefining of marriage is the unintended consequences of such a step,’ Lord Carey said.
‘Once we let go of the exclusivity of a one-man one-woman relationship with procreation linking the generations, they why stop there?
‘If it is about love and commitment, then it is entirely logical to extend marriage to two sisters bringing up children together. If it is merely about love and commitment, then there is nothing illogical about multiple relationships, such as two women and one man.’
The former Archbishop, who stepped down from Lambeth Palace in 2002, cited the arguments of US academic and lawyer William Eskridge, a prominent advocate of gay marriage rights, who has maintained that it is illogical to limit the number of people in a relationship. Instead he has proposed the scrapping of any laws that limit the numbers or sex of people entering a marriage.
Lord Carey said: ‘In no way do I mean to be alarmist about the possibility of this happening in a large scale way, but it is happening in the United States and there is nothing to stop the trend continuing.’
He added that the idea promoted by Home Secretary Theresa May that people who care deeply for each other and want to spend their lives together should have the right to marry is ‘a wholly inadequate understanding of marriage.’
The former Archbishop said: ‘Those of us accused of being on the wrong side of history can only plead with the Government to respect our concern that extending marriage to same-sex couples is not only unwise, but also sets a dangerous precedent.’
Lord Carey’s plea for rejection of same-sex marriage was published alongside a series of arguments both in favour and against the reform published by Civitas in The Meaning of Matrimony: Debating Same-Sex Marriage.
Among contributors was Culture Secretary Maria Miller, the minister in charge of piloting the new law through the Commons.
Mrs Miller said: ‘Much of the strength of marriage lies in its ability to change with the times. As society has changed, so marriage has changed, and become available to an increasingly broad range of people.
‘In the 21st century marriage is an inclusive - not exclusive - institution. It is available to all adults who are prepared to make vows of life-long fidelity and commitment. Except, that is, if you happen to love someone of the same sex. I believe that simply isn’t right.’
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.