Bait and switch

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Yesterday was our last teaching day of the term so three of us teachers went for a final drink to celebrate in an izakaya (Japanese pub). For an hour or so we talked about fairly mundane stuff, like how nice Japanese students are. And they really are.

One of the teachers said he liked to impart his wisdom to his young students. I said I thought this was a bad thing. One man’s wisdom is another man’s unbearable sermonising. Also our students are there to learn English, not Ethics. It isn’t fair to impose your views, simply because they are young and are a captive audience.

I told my colleagues of one example of this. One young teacher during my first year of teaching English had insisted on imposing her progressive London views about homosexuality on her Macedonian students. I said this was not a good thing, partly because it was her job to teach English, not culture or ethics, but also because she mistook her mid-1990s liberal London views for universal truths. After asking her mainly middle-aged class of men what they thought of homosexuals, one replied he thought they were disgusting. The teacher then went on to lecture him on the correct view of to gay people.

My female colleague asked me what I thought of homosexuality. I told her that like everyone else who wants to be seen as civilised, I once had a gay friend, that some of my favourite writers on current affairs are gay (Douglas Murray, Peter Whittle, Lee Harris, Bruce Bawer), and that I think people should be allowed to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. (You must always remember to tack this bit on the end. Failure to do so will indicate that you are probably a Nazi).

Even so, I couldn’t help adding that I thought homosexuality was unnatural.

My colleague snorted at this and asked how something could be unnatural if people actually engaged in it. Surely, by definition, everything that people do must be natural.

I said that in that case paedophilia must be natural since some people do it. She said that this was completely different. Paedophilia harms people, homosexuality doesn’t.

What she had just done was an example of ‘bait and switch’. We had been arguing about what was natural or unnatural and she had switched mid-argument to what was harmful. She seemed to be suggesting that something natural couldn’t also be harmful. This view is probably part of the left-wing idea that people are born naturally good until twisted by corrupting societies.

But this is clearly not right. Rape is widespread in the animal kingdom, as well as among humans, and most of us would agree it is harmful yet this doesn’t make it unnatural. I personally think that rape is more natural than reading books and doing algebra yet while rape is harmful, reading and algebra are probably beneficial. I have no idea if my colleague would consider cancer unnatural because it is harmful or natural because people get it.

My point was only that everything that humans do can’t be considered natural simply because they do it. But regarding homosexuality, after thinking about it for a while, I offered to change the word ‘unnatural’ to ‘abnormal’. She liked this even less.

My male colleague said that he had once shared a flat with a transsexual and asked me what I thought about such people. I said I found them hilarious, though I think I might have been mixing transsexuals up with transvestites. I find it hard to keep up with such things. In any case, my comment was probably meant more to antagonise him than to describe what I really feel about transsexuals or transvestites. In truth I have never really thought much about either.

My colleague thought it was wrong of me to find transsexuals (transvestites?) hilarious. He seemed to think that finding something funny was the same as wanting to make it illegal.

He stated (rather sanctimoniously I thought) that in his opinion we shouldn’t judge others. I said that if he wanted to give up on judging people that was his affair but in doing so he would have to give up being human. After all, this is what humans do all the time. We spend our days saying that she is better looking than her, he has a huge nose, that group of people has a nasty world view and he should shower more often. Differentiating and making value judgements is just what humans do, like breathing. It is also what makes life worth living. If you never judged anything you wouldn’t mind if you ate fillet steak or wood shavings for dinner.

He said, ‘I just think it’s good to be open-minded. After all, who are we to judge others. Who are we to say that homosexuality is wrong?’

‘Well, by the same token, who are we to judge that stoning women is wrong?’, I retorted.

‘That’s different, that’s harmful to others’, he replied.

Here we go again. Bait and switch. The discussion had been about who we believe ourselves to be to pass judgement on others yet my colleague had switched from that to what is harmful. His logic seemed to be that we can pass judgement on harmful behaviour but not on what he considers to be harmless.

There are one or two things wrong with this. One is that he becomes the ultimate arbiter of what is or isn’t harmful. Thus we can pass judgement on stoning women because he is against it but others can’t pass judgement on transsexuals because he is for it. Yet a strict Muslim might respectfully disagree and believe that transsexuality was harmful in some way. By my colleague’s own lights, he can’t claim that his view of what is harmful should trump all others. After adopting his humble stance of non-judgementalism he is not in a position to claim to be the ultimate judge of right and wrong.

Back in the real world we all judge people and things relentlessly, regardless of whether they are harmless or not. I judge some women to be more beautiful than others and some people to be sillier than others. I can’t help doing this and it is not a harmful activity. Maybe what my colleague meant was that we should never voice our judgement on harmless matters. But then we would almost never open our mouths.

In truth I don’t think my colleague really knows what he thinks, and neither does he care much about having a coherent world view. He just wishes to strike an impressive pose and will say anything that sounds good. As T.S. Eliot once said:

Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm; but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.

This, in a nutshell, expresses my view of what motivates many progressive liberals: they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves. If in doing so they need to foist their harmful dogmas of diversity, multiculturalism, equality and mass immigration on the rest of us, then so be it.

In reality my colleague’s apparent open-mindedness and tolerance is nothing more than a pose, something with which to impress people, especially his impressionable students. Yet though I am certainly less tolerant than him, I am more open-minded. He is dogmatic in his beliefs in a way that I am not with mine. My beliefs have changed a lot over the past few years because I took a look at the world and saw that my views simply describe reality. This surely is what being open-minded means.

My colleague though, I feel sure, will stick to his progressive views. That adherence has little to do with them being either good or truthful views. He likes them because they enable him to feel good about himself. I doubt that he would ever adopt views that would make him unpopular; he is too vane for that. But maybe I’m just being judgmental.

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