Comedian, musician and writer MITCH BENN on wishful thinking and romantic fantasies
There was an article in the Daily Telegraph this week (I’ll give you a minute to stop grinding your teeth in grim-faced anticipation as to what huffing buffoonery might be forthcoming… all done? Let’s continue) bewailing the plight of conservative students (and let’s face it, being a conservative student is a plight in and of itself) trying to study law, politics or PPE at the communist brainwashing madrassas which currently pass for universities in this country (the Telegraph didn’t quite phrase it like that, but that was definitely the subtext).
These poor souls – and we may as well at least try to be understanding of their situation because let’s face it, these are the very people who’ll be running whatever’s left of the country in 30 years’ time – are feeling under pressure to conform, to submit, to hide their conservative lights under bushels so as not to incur the wrath of their pinko lecturers who have, like the jackbooted Thought Police that they are, been spreading the foul Trot propaganda that Brexit might not (steel yourselves) be the best thing that’s ever happened to this country, and tailoring their lectures accordingly.
One such wistful young buck was pictured gazing sorrowfully into the lens, above a caption explaining that he ‘feels there is an anti-Brexit bias at university’.
Bias. There’s a word that gets slung around by all sides of the political bunfight, and as often as not by people who don’t seem to know what it actually means. Because here’s the thing: if you discover that all the people who know quite a bit about a given topic fail to share or endorse your position on that topic, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they’re all biased, that they’re all conspiring against you, or that they’re cravenly adhering to some sort of unquestioning intellectual orthodoxy.
It could just be that you’re wrong.
I feel that the concept of ‘wrong’ has been neglected of late. Conservative (big and small ‘c’) commentators will no doubt lay the blame for ‘wrong’ having fallen from favour at the door of progressive educational theorists, with their supposed aversion to introducing children to the whole concept of wrongness, for fear of crushing their innocent spirits with the stain of the dread red biro of failure.
Maybe that is where it started (or maybe not) but both sides are at it these days; dismissing the notion of right and wrong, whether it’s Michael Gove scoffing at ‘experts’ or Jeremy Corbyn’s more zealous apostles praising him to the skies for winning that election he lost.
This has manifested itself in the broadcast news media as an obsession with (at least the appearance of) ‘balance’, when addressing any topic on which consensus is less than absolutely 100%, with the (one assumes) unintended consequence that consensus has more or less been eradicated. There’s almost nothing that everyone agrees on any more, since what used to be the criteria for consensus – i.e. facts – don’t seem to be held in very high regard these days.
‘Balance’ doesn’t mean giving equal merit or airtime to all sides of an argument; it means giving merit where it’s due. Taking a position squarely against something – deciding that it’s ‘wrong’ – is only an example of ‘bias’ when it’s done in the absence of, or in spite of, the facts. When it’s done in accordance with the available facts, it’s just sound reasoning.
An example: everyone remotely sane disapproves of drunk driving. Are we all therefore guilty of ‘anti-drunk driving’ bias? Or are we simply acknowledging the fact, supported by decades of medical and criminal evidence, that drunk driving is a murderously reckless and stupid thing to do?
I’m sorry kids, if your economics and politics professors – who have dedicated their lives to knowing (that’s knowing; not feeling, not believing, knowing) about this sort of thing, have determined that Brexit, whatever your Dad and the Daily Telegraph say, is in fact a suicidally stupid bad move, that’s not ‘anti-Brexit bias’, it’s intellectual rigour and professional integrity.
They’re no more biased against Brexit than a physics professor teaching about gravity is biased against hovering.
Ah, but the Brexiters cry, you’re hoist on your own petard here, aren’t you? Going on about the importance of facts over opinion when where Brexit is concerned it’s all opinion so far, isn’t it? How can there be facts about something that hasn’t happened yet?
Well we do have some facts; enough to make some fairly sound predictions. And while no prediction is ever entirely concrete, ones based on the facts we have so far (ours) are a better bet than ones based on wishful thinking and romantic fantasies of bygone empire (theirs). And in particular, we have a pretty good idea of what will happen economically, as those who’ll be imposing the new economic reality upon us (the EU and the WTO) have told us what will happen (short version: we’re screwed).
So the Brexiters’ position is like that of a little guy who finds himself in the roughest pub in town, standing next to the biggest meanest bastard in that pub, who, when said big mean bastard sets off to the gents and says ‘Touch my pint and I’ll kill you’, thinks ‘Well until he actually kills me there’s no way of knowing what will happen, so I’d better drink his pint just to be absolutely sure.’
There aren’t two sides to every argument.
Well okay there are, but there aren’t always two valid sides, and our reluctance to say so is why we’re not only faced with Brexit, but a resurgence in Flat Eartherism in the 21st bloody century. Who knows what idiocy it might yet unleash.