Sir Elton, Hillary & the ‘Misogynists’ – the despair of Bulverism
It’s an emotive word. After all, who would ever be happy to be called a misogynist? And so at one level, it is a clever, albeit rather desperate, strategy. Because this week, Elton John did a big fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in Manhattan (apparently bagging her as much as $2.5 million in the process!!). Having said that there was no one more qualified to lead America, he went on to say:
I never cease to be amazed at the misogynistic attitude of some people in this country. And I say to hell with them.
The reason I’m here tonight is to play music, but more importantly as someone who comes from abroad, and is in America quite a lot of the time (and) is extremely interested in the political process because it effects the whole world.
Many would agree with that last point – the world is waiting with bated breath for the result of November’s presidential – it can’t come soon enough. But misogyny? It’s an easy slur and hard to refute. But it is in fact futile and ultimately an insult of despair. For while misogynists abound in all walks of life, is it really the case that it is the main reason many people won’t vote for Hillary? Could it possibly have something to do with her policies, or her track record, or even her agendas (whatever they might be)? You see, this goes far beyond the American election. It illustrates an aspect of what is going on all around us.
The Hermeneutic of Suspicion
And that is what some rather pompously term the hermeneutic of suspicion – but while the description sounds rather esoteric, the phenomenon is far from it. It is happening all the time and all around us., from street level to academia. Hermeneutics is the business of interpretation (whether of texts, statements or reality) – but it is a contemporary obsession to be suspicious of every such statement. As such, it implies the absence (or perhaps merely the unattainability) of truth because it suggests the impossibility or irrelevance of a convincing argument. Instead, every claim to truth is merely a claim to power. The flip side of this is the assumption that any rejection of someone else’s view is motivated by some deep-seated prejudice or even ‘hatred’. Hence the hermeneutic of suspicion.
The Flaws and Dangers
This is all very serious – but the flaws in this approach abound and it is vital to expose them. To fail to do so is to have .
- For one thing, it is pretty arrogant because it subtly lays claim to an almost divine insight into others’ minds and hearts – as if Sir Elton had a unique mass telepathic ability.
- Furthermore, it tries to have its cake and eat it – you defend the people you support by attacking opponents as misogynists; and accuse them of just seeking after power. But at the same time, make claims of competence, integrity and sound policies as if their own motivations were whiter than snow. Hence Hillary is the best person to lead the country…
- And most scarily, the knock-on effect of all this is a total disintegration of tolerance (see previous post). What people say has become irrelevant – and free speech no longer needs protection. Rather, we need protection from the spouters of such speech; we need protection from the ‘hateful’ and the prejudiced. We no longer need to tolerate these people – in fact, we should not tolerate these people – not because of their intolerable views but because of their intolerable prejudices. Lock ’em up – they are a danger to society!
But this is, of course, ultimately self-defeating. Think of where this ends up. For the US Election:
- Anyone who fails to vote for Barack Obama is racist.
- Anyone who fails to vote for John McCain is ageist.
For the up and coming London Mayoral elections next month:
- Anyone who fails to vote for Ken Livingstone is a snob
- Anyone who fails to vote for Boris Johnson is an inverted snob
- Anyone who fails to vote for Brian Paddick is homophobic
And so it goes on. It gets you nowhere. Surely we should avoid such language altogether – and start considering the usual – and important – things like ability, policies, integrity etc.
The problem is that this trend invades all walks of life – including the church. When you are told that you hold or reject a particular theological position because of your Myers-Briggs score… or education… or upbringing… surely this is pretty much the same thing? Isn’t it? It is an easy and convenient put-down – and buys you some time perhaps. But in the end it merely buries you deeper into the pit of nebulous truth claims and counter claims.
C S Lewis & Bulverism
C S Lewis spotted this years ago – and he even gave it a name: Bulverism. This is what he wrote in an essay by that name, published in his essay collection, God in the Dock.
You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly.
In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it “Bulverism”. Some day I am going to write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father — who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than a third — “Oh you say that because you are a man.” “At that moment”, E. Bulver assures us, “there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall.” That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.
I find the fruits of his discovery almost everywhere. Thus I see my religion dismissed on the grounds that “the comfortable parson had every reason for assuring the nineteenth century worker that poverty would be rewarded in another world.” Well, no doubt he had. On the assumption that Christianity is an error, I can see clearly enough that some people would still have a motive for inculcating it. I see it so easily that I can, of course, play the game the other way round, by saying that “the modern man has every reason for trying to convince himself that there are no eternal sanctions behind the morality he is rejecting.” For Bulverism is a truly democratic game in the sense that all can play it all day long, and that it give no unfair advantage to the small and offensive minority who reason. But of course it gets us not one inch nearer to deciding whether, as a matter of fact, the Christian religion is true or false. That question remains to be discussed on quite different grounds – a matter of philosophical and historical argument. However it were decided, the improper motives of some people, both for believing it and for disbelieving it, would remain just as they are.
I see Bulverism at work in every political argument. The capitalists must be bad economists because we know why they want capitalism, and equally Communists must be bad economists because we know why they want Communism. Thus, the Bulverists on both sides. In reality, of course, either the doctrines of the capitalists are false, or the doctrines of the Communists, or both; but you can only find out the rights and wrongs by reasoning – never by being rude about your opponent’s psychology
Until Bulverism is crushed, reason can play no effective part in human affairs.
Lewis at his brilliant best. Let’s banish Bulver forever. His approach has no place in a truly tolerant and sane society!