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It is the scolding I cannot stand

The tone of an argument should not matter, I like to think, as much as the quality of the argument itself. I have been reading Charles Moore’s multi-book biography of Margaret Thatcher (he is working on volume three) and I am reminded of just how much a segment of the “chattering class” loathed her as much for what she sounded and looked like as what she said. To some extent, we try to rise above all this and point out the irrationality of disliking a view about X because of who is saying it, and so forth. Maggie was not the kind of person to pour a lot of oil on troubled waters (she was, however, more willing to temporize and compromise in certain cases than the standard narrative suggests). The accent, the emphasis, the Methodist-inspired approach, that “tone”, set a certain kind of person off the deep end. (To some extent, having wankers such as playwright Harold Pinter as your enemy is something to be quite proud of.) But even those who broadly agreed with a lot of what Maggie did and said might have to admit that it did put some quite otherwise rational people off.

And this leads me, to, yes, the Brexit vote this week. I cannot help but think that the very fact of Remainers often being the likes of the IMF, or Very Grand Economists, etc, is like the sensation for many of chalk scratching down a blackboard (I am giving my age away). When a EU Commissioner like Juncker attacks Brexiters, you can imagine how well, or badly, this goes down. And on the some of the interactions I have had on Facebook, much the same effect applies. I have been told, for instance, that the UK electorate has no excuse for whining about the undemocratic nature of the EU because British voters, by and large, don’t vote for MEPs and that the EU Parliament is chosen via proportional representation and therefore a fine and worthy body, and stop whining. The fact that MEPs cannot initiate, or repeal, legislation of any serious nature is ignored (MEPs do have blocking powers). And there have been a few outpourings of rage from a few of my acquaintances that a referendum is happening at all. What such folk don’t seem to realise is that such attitudes only make those of a EUsceptic strain even more annoyed, and more likely to vote Leave out of a “that’ll show you arrogant bastards” tone. In much the same that however logical a position of Mrs Thatcher in her heyday might have been, people, given the cussedness of human nature, disagreed.

The tone does matter, in other words. And although some of the vibe coming out of the Leave side is unsavory and foolish, the Remain side’s collective impersonation of 18th Century French aristocrats (just before the Bastille fell) is, in my view, even worse. It should not always matter, but it does.


18 comments to It is the scolding I cannot stand

  • Lee Moore

    Or more briefly, if the BBC is for it, I’m against it.

    I’d be in trouble if they ever came out in favour of bacon. But somehow I don’t think they ever will.

  • Paul Marks

    When the government (i.e. Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne – they are the government) supported the Labour Party continunig to get automatic payments from trade union members (i.e. no need to “opt in”) and supported eleven more years of the BBC tax – I knew the “fix was in”.

    Now we here that Baroness W. has “left Leave” – the lady was never a supporter of the Independence of this country. Actually Baroness W. is a typical member of the “chattering classes” – endlessly going on about “discrimination against Muslims” and “the politics of hate” (look in the mirror dear lady – you will see someone who practices the “politics of hate” all the time). The idea that this lady was ever really in favour of getting out of the E.U. is absurd.

    As for the chattering classes in general – they are wrong about just about everything (I say “just about” as even a stopped clock is correct twice a day). Their ignorance is only matched by their arrogance.

    They are the “good students” – the people who sat in school and university and believed every piece of nonsense they were told. And they do the same in every organisation – thus get good jobs and promotion, by endlessly CRAWLING (“yes” people) and helping destroy everything around them (as long as ordinary people, not them personally, do the suffering).

    And they have the cheek to consider themselves “free thinkers” or even “rebels”.

  • The scorn that the Remainders (from Cameron on down) have poured on those of us who have the temerity to want to vote “Leave” has fuelled more people than any of the speeches of BoJo and Gove (to say nothing of the crass efforts of Farrage and UKIP)

    It’s not the dodgy facts, which were problematic on both sides it is the attitude and to a great extent the unmitigated arrogance.

    Vote “Leave” on June 23rd.

  • Derek Buxton

    I am with Mr. Marks on this, except that in my day they were called creeps. Leave is the only sensible option, the result of a “remain” win is known, read the headings to all the Treaties. It is in plain sight and has been since our PMs were bought.

  • Pat

    “They are the “good students” – the people who sat in school and university and believed every piece of nonsense they were told. And they do the same in every organisation – thus get good jobs and promotion, by endlessly CRAWLING.”
    I call them the faux elite. They have no power or influence so they aren’t meaningfully in the elite, but they think that parroting the words of “wisdom” taught them at school makes them a part of the elite. They are often not in good jobs at all. Given that 40% plus of youngsters these days get awarded degrees basically by accepting whatever they are taught there are a lot of them (especially bearing in mind that only 20% of jobs actually require a degree).
    They argue either by appeal to authority (Obama and a long list of others say we should stay therefor we should), by denigrating the opposition (Who could possibly agree with Boris, Farage or Gove?- I swear some of them would say the sun rose in the west if any of these said it rose in the east) or by vulgar abuse (those who disagree with my position suffer from cognitive dissonance- the reply of course is no, you do)
    They are a pain in the arse- we need to cut university places by half- firstly so people aren’t wasting years and a shed load of money on degrees that will bring no value, and secondly to reduce the number of people who think that repeating what they were told makes them superior.

  • QET

    The arguments for Remain having been repeatedly demonstrated to be weak, if not outright shams, their tone is all they have left. Today’s Left are just bullies, nothing more.

  • Watchman

    It’s a problem of being in authority, that you feel you know best and that you can explain it to others to justify your actions, which is fine, and that when they refuse to comply you slowly get irate with them and your tone slips. Good teachers actually ensure they are not doing this (but, unlike democratic governments, they can set expectations of behaviour from those over whom they are in authoirty). Politicians, often strong believers in either a cause or in their own brilliance, tend to think once they have explained something, people should understand and agree with them.

    Add in the echo chamber effects of diplomacy, ‘expert’ opinion (note none of the experts seems to have produced a peer-reviewed paper yet…), social media and simply living in London (where you can find just about any community of interest to help you echo your own thoughts), and the temptation to think you are right and others are wrong and to talk accordingly becomes understandable. Obviously the situation should be avoided, but few politicians seem to know how. Remember, the same problems caught Mrs Thatcher in the end.

  • Watchman


    Not sure why you are blaming those who pick up the habit of following authority blindly (to pass exams) at school on the universities – most first-year courses are now actually geared up to get students to think rather than accept (my favourite irony being a senior professor pointing out to me that with teacher evaluation, it is possible that the most effective teachers are those whose students rank them lowest as they are constantly being challenged to be outside their comfort zone…). That some people still follow teachings (and note that with smaller numbers at universities, many still did) and will even argue quite creatively to support these without having to challenge thier key beliefs is hardly a surprise, considering humanity has a bit of a tendency to follow authority where possible.

    The vast majority of students do not want safe spaces, and learn to think. Some might then choose to espouse ideas which are frankly wierd, but most of those I have met have at least learnt enough to argue about it rather than simply parrot what they have learnt (especially as most UK universities have an almost total absence of staff who support the idea of safe spaces and self-censorship).

    A group of students do try and parrot accepted views (I suspect PPE degrees, with three disparate if related subjects to master, encourage this), and progress to careers as you describe, and these have to some extent hijacked political parties, but that there are bland careerists around is probably more to do with the middle-class monopolisation of the system meaning that there is actually little competition for the children of well-off parents, who then don’t have to challenge themselves, rather than a flaw with the universities.

  • I suspect PPE degrees, with three disparate if related subjects to master, encourage this

    I know some libertarians with PPE degrees who might disagree.

  • Bod

    In candor, Perry, I suspect that it was always the case that not all PPE syllabi (let alone PPE students) were created equal, and that in what – 30-odd years? – the variability in quality of the syllabi (and the caliber of the average student) may be quite different from when the libertarians with PPE degrees you’re thinking of may have gone thru’ the mill.


  • PersonFromPorlock

    Voting on tone rather than argument may be the best way to decide things, since it controls for the sort of people who are in charge, and ‘character is destiny’. Personalities are a good deal more stable than positions.

  • the variability in quality of the syllabi (and the caliber of the average student) may be quite different from when the libertarians with PPE degrees you’re thinking of may have gone thru’ the mill.

    True enough.

  • There exists a certain sort of intellect, enamored of the depth and profundity of its own thought, ensconced in the warmth of its own certainty, and cocooned by a tightly surrounding swarm of the utterly like-minded, which simply cannot conceive that a well-endowed mind might in good faith reach conclusions at odds with its own.

    When faced with such conclusions, therefore, that sort of intellect must attribute them either to stupidity or to malice, or both.

    Your betters simply cannot believe that you are both well-informed and sincere, when you so fundamentally disagree with them. They do not have the cognitive basis to do so.

  • RAB

    Jean Claude Juncker is President of the European Commission. He bestrides Europe and the media like a latter day Napoleon, making up half pissed pronouncements as he passes on his unsteady way. “We must excuse France its little financial irregularities because France is France innit? and many more ludicrous musings in that vein.

    It is worth remembering that he was Prime Minister of Luxembourg twice, a “Country” that has a smaller population than Bristol or Cardiff. It is like putting Mr Patel from the corner shop in as CEO of Tesco International.

    I didn’t vote for him, nor was I asked to, there is no mechanism for it. There is also no mechanism by which I can remove him if he turns out to be a fuckwit (and he is of course). So please do not demand me to be a loyal citizen of a political Union that takes no notice of my wishes and gives me no say in the exercise of power within that political union or the ludicrous direction it is taking.

    Vote Leave on Thursday the 23rd.

  • Gene

    Many years ago in my (regrettably) leftist phase, I was a regular reader of The Nation magazine. Reading a typical issue (with the occasional exception of Hitchens’ columns) always left me with an odd feeling that I didn’t get from other publications, and which I couldn’t put my finger on for a long time.

    Eventually I realized I was experiencing the sensation of being SCOLDED.

    That realization played a recognizable part in my evolution away from the censorious, delusional beliefs that once led me down the leftist path.

    IOW, the effect of tone is not to be taken lightly.

  • Cal

    “The tone of an argument should not matter, I like to think, as much as the quality of the argument itself.”

    But the Remainers don’t have any actual arguments, do they? All they have to persuade people is their tone. Which hasn’t worked as well as they expected.

  • Chris Patrick

    ” The Lady is for leaving. “