Paul Thomas on left-wing intelligentsia

At times you wonder if we’re all alone in a world that’s gone mad.  At least Paul Thomas seems to see it our way.

Sections of the left-wing intelligentsia appear to believe the Eleanor Catton brouhaha says something disturbing about New Zealand. It doesn’t. It does, however, say something disturbing about sections of said intelligentsia: that they can look at a thing and see something else altogether.

This isn’t new. For much of the 20th century, some left-wing intellectuals had great difficulty acknowledging the obvious reality that the Soviet Union was a totalitarian monolith designed to crush the human spirit, a Nelsonian posture that led to the cul de sac of moral equivalence: insisting there wasn’t really much to choose between the West and the USSR.

We saw it during last year’s election campaign in the strenuous attempts to inflate the molehill of Dirty Politics into a mountain of corruption likened to Watergate. Some of the inflaters went on to portray the Internet Party as something it wasn’t: a legitimate political force operating in the national interest.

Ah yes.  Catton, Dirty Politcs and the Internet Party.  What a true left-wing triumvirate.  

And now Catton. Take this excerpt from Herald columnist Bryce Edwards’ review of the reaction to the writer’s remarks in India: “The hollowness of public debate and of the media and politics is increasingly of concern to some academics, researchers and journalists. Hence the Catton controversy has become a lightning rod for various dissident public intellectuals to vent their concerns. By standing up for Eleanor Catton, a critique is made against what appears to be yet another attempt to suppress dissenting voices and criticisms.”

A couple of things to note here: first, the assumption of intellectual superiority – “the hollowness of public debate and of the media and politics” consigns pretty much everyone else to the dunce’s corner; second, the transformation of a normal event – the debate triggered by Catton’s remarks – into something sinister – an attempt to suppress dissent.

The implication is that Catton and her fellow “dissident public intellectuals” are entitled to be as scathing as they like about New Zealand and New Zealanders and be listened to in respectful silence.

Why should a writer be able wade into the political arena – and even some of Catton’s cheerleaders admitted her analysis of the Key Government was unsophisticated – without her robustly expressed views attracting critical scrutiny?

Politics is an adversarial activity. If you take one side of the argument, you should expect those of different persuasions to come right back at you. As they say in America, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

And there you have it.  Catton and her supporters acted as if responding to Catton wasn’t allowed and purely bad manners.  Vicious right wing responses, if I recall correctly.

Vicious being a euphemism for solid argument that can’t be debated, so Catton must go for ad hominem, even as a celebrated intellectual – because righties are just vicious (and don’t bother arguing the point)

The same theme repeats over and over.  The right are well financed, are excellent communicators, and must be countered by?

Shutting them up.   Boycotts.  Abuse.  Threats.  Crime.

And yet they have a superiority complex that defies belief.  It is in fact the left that are the only people who have ethics, morals and a sense of fair play.

At their most overwrought, these attempts to equate critical counter-argument with suppression slide into Walter Mitty territory, becoming a sickly fantasy of persecution in which some of the least threatened dissenters in history are being subjected to harassment and intimidation by a “neo-authoritarian state”.

And mention must be made of the “Je suis Eleanor” motif, misappropriation and self-dramatisation on a nauseating scale.

When the delusional are in full cry, it’s just a matter of time before conspiracism rears its deformed head. Thus Plunket isn’t one talkback host shooting from the lip, he’s part of a shadowy right-wing network (including, of course, the even more hideous bogeyman Cameron Slater) directed and controlled by John Key.

“It wouldn’t surprise me,” wrote Green Party blogger Chris Ford, “if the Beehive didn’t have some hand in orchestrating some sort of populist smear campaign against Catton.” Seeing he raised the subject of smear campaigns, another way Ford could have framed it is, “I don’t have a shred of evidence to back this up, but I’m going to put it out there anyway”.

The truly scary thing is that they believe in their own imaginations.   I personally didn’t think one second about Catton until she wandered into politics.  She was safe from criticism.  I didn’t have a plan to ridicule her over-the-top style that only pleases brain wanky judges and isn’t actually readable by normal people who want to sit back and have a relaxing read.   It seems the NZ Post judges were of the same opinion, incidentally.   None of this would have been on my radar had she not suddenly assumed to come play politics.

And once she was responded to, it was all orchestrated, unfair, viscious and part of a deep conspiracy.

Do these people believe themselves?

I fear they do.

 

– NZ Herald


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