A few more things on heretics

There is, thankfully, a growing backlash against modern day witch hunts.

The historian Simon Schama, a friend of Salman Rushdie recently asked: “Is nothing sacred? Yes, the right to irreverence. The health of a free, democratic society can be measured by its protection of disrespect, so long as the right to offensiveness does not extend to the threat, much less the enactment, of physical harm.”

In contrast a group of editors and psychologists have proclaimed a new set of principles and practices for publication in the Nature Human Behavior publication. It has it’s good and bad points but it raises a lot of very subjective issues. It’s too long to include here but it is indicative of many trends in academia.

However, it sufficiently angered Steven Pinker to issue a statement: “Journalists & psychologists take note: Nature Human Behavior is no longer a peer-reviewed scientific journal but an enforcer of a political creed. I won’t referee, publish, or cite (how do we know articles have been vetted for truth rather than political correctness)?”

The Melbourne Writers Week held recently also hosted a few heretics. Among them was Yassmin Abdel-Magied who was hounded out of Australia for stating the bleeding obvious “Lest we forget (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine …).

The hounding was by the same crews who destroyed the historic Anzac Hall at the Australian War Memorial, refuse to include the Frontier Wars in the expanded Memorial and apparently plan to fill the new space with boys toys provided by arms manufacturers. They have even mentioned putting an F111 in the space despite the plane never seeing active service.

Yet Abdel-Magied and her interviewer, Roj Amedi, didn’t help their cause by spouting gobbledygook including the constant reiteration of the phrases sort of like, like, about like – which is normally the phrasing deployed by some teenagers. Roj Amedi also sneered a lot.

It is interesting to compare this with – say – Karl Marx, who Abdel-Magied and Amedi may see as an old unwoke white male but who produced one of the most brilliant polemics – the Communist Manifesto – written in the past couple of hundred years. Zola’s J’Accuse was also an untrallelled example of a polemic underpinned by superb prose and close reasoning with not a like, like to be seen.

And after mentioning R.I. Moore, the source of the Pope Innocent II information in the last blog, another of his books, The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe, 950 – 1250, is also well worth reading.

The book’s blurb summarises the story; “The 10th to the 13th centuries in Europe saw the appearance of popular heresy and the establishment of the inquisition, expropriation and mass murder of Jews, the foundation of leper hospitals in large numbers and the propagation of elaborate measures to segregate lepers from the healthy. These have traditionally been seen as distinct and separate developments and explained in terms of the problems which their victims presented to medieval society.

“In this book Robert Moore argues that the coincidences in the treatment of these and other minority groups cannot be explained independently, and that they all are part of a pattern of persecution which appeared for the first time and which consequently became a permanent feature of European society.”

A friend, Gary Max, pointed out that it’s not easy to define when intolerance of ‘otherness’ began and suggested it was probably in caves. He also mentioned another book with a great analogy about tolerance.

The new book by Rabbi Ralph Genende, Living in an Upside Down World, provides a striking comparison of the ultra-orthodox with the modern orthodox contrasting Noah’s closed and sealed ark, protecting against the wild storms, with the open tent of Abraham, which was open to the winds of change on all sides, but with a firm tent poll and tethers

But there is some good news – wokeness might seem to be taking over the word but its penetration is rather less than appears.

Jennifer Ann McDonell, Associate professor, University of New England writing in The Conversation (2/9/22) said: “While cancel culture may be a hot topic among journalistic and intellectual elites, a recent UK YouGov survey found that only around a third of Britons (35%) think they know what ‘cancel culture’ means. Of the two-thirds who don’t know what it means, close to four in ten claimed never to have heard the expression in the first place (38%).

“The term ‘cancel culture’, however, has become unmoored from its history and its original significations. In its clamorous current form, it has no coherent ideology: cancellations come just as steadily from the right as the left. Reframed by the dominant culture, and amplified by the media, it has come to be used as a term of approbation wielded against minorities to maintain the status quo.”

Meanwhile protesters at the University of Sydney event denounced an alumni, Malcolm Turnbull, as “ruling class scum” forcing the cancellation of a live event at which he was to speak and having it moved to an online presentation – suggesting that while modern technology might magnify persecution of ‘heretics’ but also gives their voice alternative channels.

…and lastly on the previous blog the mention of Gregory Bateson should have mentioned that Bateson was married to Margaret Mead who was also regarded as a bit of a heretic and her research was  questioned. Yet subsequent reviews suggested it was valid. Nevertheless a 2016 survey of anthropologists had two thirds agreeing with a statement that Mead “romanticizes the sexual freedom of Samoan adolescents” and half agreeing that it was ideologically motivated.