Discover more from Damian Counsell
When masks come off and masks go on
When they feel at ease, humans reveal their true selves
The Right Side Of History
A favourite trope of historical dramas is the “That Aged Poorly” dinner party scene: Around a rich-food-laden table, aristocrats/tycoons/intellectuals smugly discuss a then-topical matter and spout views that we viewers now know, with the benefit of our many years of hindsight, are Recklessly Complacent or Deeply Problematic—or both.
In between mouthfuls of food, a confident, redfaced, upper-class Englishman in a dinner jacket will pronounce: “That Hitler’s a bally angry-sounding chappie, but he’s not done England any wrong, and I can’t help thinking he might be on to something when it comes to the Jews!”
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When the great numbers of “progressives” who believe that progress always means “the continuing benevolent movement of social mores in the direction of my own prejudices” encounter resistance to what they believe to be positive societal change, they imagine that their opponents will, one day, be portrayed like this—in some future, more enlightened, time; a time when everyone will understand that they, the “progressives”, were self-evidently morally superior and those who opposed them were wicked, or, at best, fools.
A crucial element in these vignettes is that the ruddy wrongthinkers on screen are portrayed in a context of ease and comfort—not only material comfort, but the comfort that comes from believing their conclusions are unlikely to be challenged by their fellows, the comfort that comes from being surrounded by those one trusts and trusts to assent.
Which reminds me of something more mundane…
What would you say is your worst fault?
I used to work at a Medical Research Council unit. Before I was made a member of an interview panel there, the unit’s director explained to me the institute’s One Clever Trick for screening candidates:
If your CV made the cut and you were called in for in-person assessment, your day would go as follows:
In-depth, but friendly, interview with the recruiting scientist
Tough grilling by a panel including scientists outside your field
Very casual, relaxed meeting with supposedly "minor" admin staff member
What candidates didn't know was that, even if they had bossed the rest of the process, the third stage could turn out to be the killer. Because the "minor administrator" was, in fact, a young-looking-but-senior staff member, who not only did her best to take the interviewee’s side and make them feel they were in the company of a comrade, not an enemy, but also made a careful note of:
What candidates said to her when their guard was down
How candidates treated a member of staff they might be tempted to consider their "inferior"
My goodness, how frontrunners fell at that last hurdle. From admitting: "I don't really want the job, but my girlfriend has just got a post at the university (Cambridge)" to exhibiting the general rudeness and contempt of a pompous ass who's been on their best behaviour in a professional pressure cooker for hours.
Torture is for losers
Right at the start, I want to make it absolutely clear that, pace the BBC’s simplistic headline, by citing this second example, I am not saying people I disagree with are Nazis; I’m saying that everyone—from fascist to communist to anywhere in between—is susceptible to the same psychological weakness: namely that, when surrounded by people who agree with you, you can forget that you and they are surrounded by people who don’t; you can forget that the real truth is Out There, existing concretely and independently of you and your mates, and continues to be indifferent to whether you believe it or not.
Whatever else you think about torture, if those you are torturing are committed to their cause, it’s not an efficient way of getting reliable information out of them. It’s so much easier to get the truth out of people who have to have their guard down. You can, of course, lower some people’s guards by depriving them of sleep or drugging them or offering them reprieve from suffering that you or your colleagues have subjected them to—or you can simply put them at their ease. There’s no need for people to go on the defensive if they believe they’re not being attacked.
Thousands of German POWs held captive in England during World War II were bugged by "secret listeners" who were themselves German refugees, working for the British. Historian Helen Fry and one of the last surviving listeners explain how the prisoners were lulled into divulging secrets of the Nazi war machine.
One group of German generals captured during World War II thought they had hit the jackpot.
Held in a stately home, they were allowed to keep personal servants, drink wine and eat good food.
As a result they boasted of how stupid the British were, and one even wrote to his family to wish that they could join him at his prison, as he rated it so highly.
But what the prisoners did not know was that British intelligence had bugged every part of their accommodation, from lampshades and plant pots right down to the billiards table around which they relaxed on lazy days.
Historian Helen Fry, who has written a book called The M Room: Secret Listeners who bugged the Nazis., says the information gleaned by the eavesdropping of the German generals was vitally important to the war effort - so much so that it was given an unlimited budget by the government.
Fields of scarecrows
Back in the oughts, when those of us of a Eustonite tendency were trying to warn their comrades and the wider world of the dangers of the crank Left, the crank Left that eventually took over the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, we faced two common responses:
“These racist, conspiracy-peddlers are straw men, figments of your imagination conjured up to justify your own warmongering political agendas.”
“Even if these phantoms do exist, they have no power. Tony Blair is in his Right-wing pomp within the Labour Party. The sold-out, market-loving Centre-Left dominate global politics. Why should we care about your campfire ghost stories about the likes of the organising committee of ‘Stop’ The War1? You’re paranoid obsessives.”
Of course, now, like hindsight-armed viewers of historical-drama dinner parties, we have lived through an era in which these crank-Left “straw men” not only showed themselves publicly as flesh-and-blood, but invaded the Labour Party and wore it as their cleanskin.
Many of these debates of the 2000s took place on blogs, because, back in the oughts, social media was in its infancy, and mostly fully of teens and children. But, today, real-time politics happens on Twitter. Anyone warning of sickness on the Left can answer accusations that the are conjuring up straw men to make their case by citing sheaves of sick tweets written by Lefties. And, shockingly, the kind of crankery worth warning about isn’t confined to user Ivan3498505, grinding away in a Siberian botfarm, but is routinely emitted by supposedly moderate westerners in proper, responsible jobs in academia and public-sector institutions, or even in the media.
They emit this stuff because there are so many ready to receive it. They speak their minds online because they feel at ease there. They damn themselves because they feel no fear of condemnation. And there is no need for hidden microphones, because their words are broadcast live to the entire planet, or for spies to make transcripts, because they type up their own words for us in black-and-white.
The timeline takes to the streets
So we come to today, 11th November 2023: Armistice Day, originally a celebration of the agreement of the end of hostilities in the Great War in 1918; since folded into Commonwealth nations’ Remembrance Day: a memorial to all members of their armed forces who lost their lives in the line of duty.
A debate has been raging in the UK about whether or not to ban “pro-Palestinian” marches planned to take place today—after such demonstrations have recurred every weekend since 7th October 2023, when the terror organisation Hamas, operating out of Gaza, invaded Israel and attacked Israelis, killing 1200 of them, mostly civilians. The full horror of those attacks is hard to grasp, a fact not lost on those who, for their own political reasons, now spread conspiracy theories about them, claiming that the attacks never happened/were staged/were expected by Israel all along/were, in fact, perpetrated by the Israelis themselves.
Every too-online observer with a political bone in their body has an opinion on this. My opinion doesn’t matter either, but, since you care enough about it to have read this far, here it is:
The marches are overwhelmingly indifferent to the war crimes that started this new round of conflict and they are uninterested in calling for the return of the hundreds of Israeli hostages still in Hamas’s hands. The overwhelming wish of the marchers, expressed loudly and repeatedly, is for the end of the state of Israel. The organisers of and participants in the marches include supporters of Hamas, a proscribed terrorist group.
BUT I don’t want to see the marches banned.
I do HOWEVER want those marchers openly inciting violence or committing other criminal offences to be arrested. I have no interest in identity-based “anti-hate” laws and have zero faith that they will ever be applied consistently by those paid to enforce them. But, as long as the police fail to remove those participants breaking longstanding non-identity-based laws—for fear of “inflaming community tensions” (or on other fuzzy politically motivated grounds)—then expressions of hatred made on these demos will intensify alongside the incitement. This is exactly what we have seen happen over the past few weeks. Today will not be their peak.
The one good outcome of this is that the marchers are now comfortable enough that they can show their true selves in public even more frequently than they did at the start. No one can pretend any longer that these are “peace marches”. Apart from their routine, ongoing bellicose chants…
They call for the expulsion of Jews:
They imply that non-whites who disagree with them are traitors to their skin colour with the racist slur “coconuts” (brown on the outside, white on the inside).
They intimidate Jews by hanging around outside synagogues waving flags and smoke grenades.
They do all of this because they feel safe to do it. They do it because they are surrounded by peers who not only won’t challenge their behaviour, but who agree with them. They do all this because our media refuse to report their behaviour accurately to outsiders who would be less sympathetic to it. They do all this because they believe there will be no legal consequences.
As I write, Channel 4 News is reporting that the pro-Palestinian marches “passed off peacefully”2, but the tiny counter-protest near the Cenotaph by the “far right” did not, because of “scuffles”. Simultaneously, the Metropolitan Police have issued an S35 Dispersal Order for Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea, in part, it seems, because pro-Palestinian demonstrators have been launching fireworks at police.
We have put them at their ease. They have shown us who they are.
Elected Chair: one Jeremy Corbyn
UPDATE: In a glorious self-own, Channel 4 News has already had to delete this tweet: