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purity testing

2023 Oct 03

Should a person speak on GB News? Is it a failure of solidarity to go on such a right-wing platform? On the one side it is argued that the left’s voice should be heard, that the right’s arguments should be challenged wherever they appear. The counter-argument is that appearing on such a platform lends validity to it and tacitly supports their existence.

Smoke billows up from a building. A fireman rushes up to the door yelling “FIRE! FIRE! EVERYBODY GET OUT!” A doorman stops them saying “What is your business here? You are not on fire! Show me your credentials. Show me your criminal record!”

A person stands up to speak in the great assembly. They are told to keep silent. They say “why should I not be allowed to speak?” and are answered “you are impure”. They say “It is what I have to say that is important, not whether I am pure or not.” That person gets ejected from the great assembly. They find themselves in a group outside of others who have also been ejected. They say “It is wrong that we should not be allowed to speak in the great assembly, is it not my friends?” Another member of that group says “You should remain silent, you have only just been ejected whereas we have been ejected for a very long time.” They are dissallowed in both assemblies.

Thus the left censors each other. The right divides and rules.

Back in college days in the early 80s, I was drinking in the bar. The rugby players were being rowdy. I heard them telling revolting jokes about another student, a very ‘out’ lesbian activist. I intervened and told them that they shouldn’t be so disgusting about her. This was a risk but I got away with it, or so I thought. The next day that student pinned me against a wall and said “I heard about what you did. You should shut up! I can stand up for myself thank you very much!”

It makes me think of the Monty Python’s ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch. “You were lucky!” They compete to be the worst off. This happens in more subtle forms in all sorts of ‘assemblies’. There always seems to be a way to not engage with what a person has to say based on some aspect of their history, ethnicity, class, sexuality, some aspect of who or what they are.

Who a person is is entirely relevant to understanding what they may be saying. This remains true of course. It doesn’t seem right that a person be excluded on that basis though. This ‘purity testing’ seems to be acting in a way that stifles any real debate. It diverts attention away from a topic and towards other more remote issues. The tactic is to catch someone in some apparent hypocrisy and thereby not engage in any debate at all. For example, a conversation turned to vegetarianism. My friend took a step away in order to scan my clothes for any leather. If they found any they could then discount anything I said. Any debate about land use or morality could then be circumvented - “ha, you’re wearing leather shoes, you hypocrite!” I was luckily ‘pure’ on that occassion. If I had not been it would not have affected the truth or otherwise of what I was trying to say!

What do you think?