On Kipling and cognitive dissonance

10 Jan

In a characteristically witty email today, my pal Mick shared his horror at realising he agreed with something Hitchens had written in the Quail on Sunday. Relax Michael. It’s cognitive dissonance makes us uncomfy when people with views we detest also have ones we share. I dare say Stalin and I could have found points of agreement on the novels of Sholokhov or the films of Eisenstein – though on matters like this, those in the public eye have a bit more than dissonance to contend with. Were the Labour leader to say such a thing he’d invite a jubilant Mail headline the very next day. Comrade Corbyn –STALIN WAS RIGHT”

(Some say we have the press we deserve, but what kind of pass have we come to that a term of kinship between those with a shared dream or duty should be routinely used in so cheap and nasty, so gratuitous a sarcasm? The abuses of Stalinism aren’t the sole culprit here. The c-word is a good and wholesome one, and we’re the poorer without it.)

As Kipling so eloquently put it to hear the truth you’ve spoken, twisted by knaves to lay a trap for fools. Honest brokers in the public eye – who cannot but incur the wrath of a billionaire press which also defines the centre ground for less sharkish media – find their every deed and utterance decontextualised and reassembled in poisonous forms. And as shown by a Guardian commentariat exchange in December, you needn’t be a tabloid writer to run with the pack.

Ninjawarrior‘s debating style routinely features such constructs as brass-necked … tolly  [sic] bonkers … pathetic … hotch-potch of hard Left misguided and deluded middle class protest clubs, contaminated by outdated , self-obsessed, pompous self-interest … and the likely sexist – we can guess but never be sure of gender in online personaabsolute tripe, darlin’.

On December 11 ninjawarrior had this to say below a piece entitled Corbyn praises Stop the war coalition:

Anti-war coalition – what a pile of piffle – how do I know ? “Andrew Murray, chief of staff at Unite and a member of the Communist party of Great Britain” says it all really. So Corbyn is in bed with the chief of staff of Unite and a communist to boot. “with friends like that, …………. ” and this naïve idiot wants to be P.M. ??? a complete comedy show : you couldn’t make it up.

When DrGee pointed out that ninjawarrior did make it up”, the latter demanded: “which bit was made up?”

Understandably perhaps, DrGee had by now had enough, leaving zerohoursuni – a chap we steel city scribblers have had our collective eye on for a while now  – to inject a note of sanity.

The bit that says Corbyn is “in bed with” a communist when all they share is a belief the war on Syria is morally wrong, strategically inept, and (unlike facing down Ankara and Riyadh, or getting real with Assad, Putin and the funny hats in Teheran) not a credible way of defeating Isis. StW is a popular front, defined as the coming together of diverse groups who for one particular issue are prepared to set aside sectional interests and differences. Ergo, jumping from shared belief on one topic to “in bed with” is indeed ‘making it up’.

At other times dissonance can be dispelled by the simple expedient – seldom a bad idea – of sharpening our thinking. My recent piece on 9/11 ‘Truthers’ elicited a reply that included this:

Where certainty is claimed, the finger tends to point in the direction of Mosad. As you’ll quickly gather, this development presents an awkward problem, especially for marxists and anti-racists, like myself. A minefield in fact.

Blaming Mossad for 9/11 is no less fanciful than blaming Bush, and just as reactionary. More to the point here, should incontestable evidence of Mossad involvement emerge, this would only be an “awkward problem” for those – including many Zionists and too many (i.e. greater than zero) anti Zionists – who through ignorance or mendacity fail to distinguish hostility to Israel (its racism, aggression, linkage to imperialism and the ethnic cleansing on which its current form is premised) from antisemitism.

Otherwise, no problemo – apart from egg on the face for the likes of me. That’s a risk I embrace with heroic fortitude in the interests of pushing back the frontiers of inquiry.

Finally on cognitive dissonance, I aspire, usually without success, to keep in mind – in the face of racism, fascism, snobbery, misogeny or other forms that combine the stupid, the vicious and the downright ugly – that life is not simple. The person displaying those traits may also be the one to risk their life, while my PC pals hold back and wring their hands, to pull me from blazing building.

2 Replies to “On Kipling and cognitive dissonance

  1. Ah, zerohoursuni strikes another blow for logic and critical thinking. Who is this Superhero? I’d like to down a pint with him.

    Hitler was a vegetarian – so I should start eating meat? Nick Clegg said that Stanage Edge was the most beautiful place in the world for him – I should stop considering it mine?

    Coming at cognitive dissonance from the other direction: Marie Stopes and Charlotte Perkins Gilman were white racist eugenicists; Kipling (mentioned above: our lad Vin Garbutt has a good sung version of ‘If’) was an antisemite, and JB Priestley (that lovely man, socialist, founder member of CND, referenced approvingly in an earlier post on this site) uncritically included casual antisemitic remarks in just about every chapter of Angel Pavement; former East German poet/singer anti-Stalinist Communist Wolf Biermann supported the 1999 NATO Kosovo War and the 2003 US invasion of Iraq (as did some of my good friends); Jack London had explicit racist and potentially fascist tendencies; my hero from childhood George Bernard Shaw, well, sexism, of course, and bizarre but, alas in some ways consistent, enthusiasm for Edward VIII’s fascism – let’s not go there. And so on, and so on…

    Thank you for another thoughtful and thought-provoking post.

    (I shall refrain from pointing out a couple of misspellings lest you retaliate with mistakes in my comment.)

    • You proof-reeding deman Domingo! The misspelling of misogyny I’ve left intact for posterity, and so this sight’s millions of reeders can make sense of our exchange. Couldn’t spot any others except ‘Mosad’ – a verbatim quote I could have followed with [sic] or, better, quietly changed it – and problemo, a colloqial sop to those of Iberian stcok whose naymes end in an “o”.

      Yes, we too would like to track down zerohoursuni. We want to offer him a guest slot at steel city scribblings. Reckon we’d have more joy finding Lord Lucan though.

      Re cognitive dissonance from the other side, Dickens, Shakespearo and Capital 1 are chocka with antisemitism. That last is a bit rich when you consider Marx was himself but two generations down from Jews converted to Catholicism. I’m surprised attacks on Marxism don’t make more of this but then those attacks are seldom made by folk who’ve troubled to read his opus-k. (On the plus side, another towering Jewish figure of international socialism and brilliant writer to boot, Leon Trotsky, was withering on the antisemitic bias of Stalin’s purges and show trials.) In any case, as I’m sure you’ll agree, and to return to cognitive dissonance, Capital remains the definitive work on political economy, surpassed by none and as valid today as in 1867.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *