This is profoundly ironic, as the very people who make such charges — Melanie Phillips is a good example — spend the rest of their time waging war on political correctness. People should be able to do and say whatever they like, they maintain, regardless of whether it might upset or offend others … until, that is, it upsets or offends them. Then they will rant and rage, insisting (in the name of free speech, mind) that you are absolutely forbidden from calling those who deny climate change deniers, or comparing creationists to flat-earthers.
The most blatant exponent of these double standards is a professor of sociology at the University of Kent called Frank Furedi. Writing in The Australian today, he compares Leo Hickman and myself – who had the temerity both to suggest that manmade climate change is real and to criticise journalists and a Tory MP for claiming that the current cold weather in the UK disproves it – to 16th century witchfinders.
Furedi is the eminence grise of the weird movement that arose from the ashes of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), a Trotskyist splinter that made a name for itself in the late 1970s for disrupting and attacking other leftwing groups. Through its various incarnations – Living Marxism magazine, Spiked, the Institute of Ideas, the Modern Movement and others – this movement has shifted ever further to the right. Today it occupies the furthest fringes of rightwing libertarianism, asserting a doctrine of extreme individualism which would have made Ayn Rand blanch. You would be hard-put to find a movement more antagonistic to protecting people from oppression or protecting the environment from destruction.
Living Marxism (later called LM), which Furedi founded and which was run by the RCP, campaigned against gun control, against banning tobacco advertising and against banning child pornography. It argued in favour of global warming, human cloning and complete freedom for corporations. It defended the corrupt Tory MP Neil Hamilton, denied the Rwandan genocide and supported the Bosnian Serb ethnic cleansers. Its offshoots attack all attempts to protect the environment as “anti-human”, though nothing damages the interests of humans as much as destroying the biosphere.
The movement’s theme, spelled out repeatedly by Furedi and others, was that people should not be seen (in the words of LM’s manifesto) as “fragile victims in need of protection”; instead they should be encouraged to believe that there are no limits to what they can do or say. But oddly, this works only one way. As soon as you criticise them, they become fragile victims in need of protection, tearfully insisting that their critics are witchfinders who have stepped over the limits of acceptable speech.
When, for example, I exposed some of the movement’s entryist (political infiltration) tactics, Furedi compared himself to the victims of fascism, McCarthyism and the Inquisition. I have never come across anyone else who appears capable of such extremes of callous disregard of other people’s interests and whining self-pity. He seems to me to be a classic example of what Arthur Koestler called a mimophant – someone who has the sensitivities of an elephant towards other people and the sensitivities of a mimosa towards himself.
These people can’t have it both ways. Either, unconstrained by political correctness, we should be able to state our views clearly and point out when someone is wrong, or we should treat each other like delicate flowers which should never be criticised. But we can’t demand the right to contradict others while insisting that they’re witch-hunting if they contradict us.