Emma West: How to Argue with the Ruling Class, 5th December 2011, by Sean Gabb

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 216
5th December 2011

Thoughts on Emma West:
How to Argue with the Ruling Class
by Sean Gabb

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One of the ways in which a ruling class keeps control is its insistence on rules of debate that place opposition at a regular disadvantage. I cannot think of any time or place where opposition voices have been listened to on fully equal terms. In modern England, however, the ruling class and its various clients and useful idiots are particularly rigid in their shepherding of debate. This is so not only because England is an increasingly totalitarian place, but also because the main legitimation ideologies are all obviously false and cannot be exposed to open criticism. Therefore, while speech mostly remains free in the legal sense, it will only be listened to when expressed in terms that privilege the ruling class.

Some of the rules of debate in England are linguistic. For example, if you refer to someone as a homosexual, you will be told that he is gay. Or you will be told that the Indian cities of Bombay and Calcutta must be called “Mumbai” and “Kokata;” or that the native population of England must be called the “white majority;” or an immigrant a “migrant,” or a failed suicide a “self-harmer,” or a mongol a Downs syndrome sufferer. If you persist in using the now disapproved words, you may be dismissed as ignorant: you may be denounced as some kind of bigot. Sometimes, the words keep changing, or different words must be used depending on the audience – therefore, Ethiopian became person of colour, and then negro, and then Negro, and then coloured, and then black, and then Afro-Caribbean, and may still be any of these except possibly the third. In many cases, names are changed merely when something pejorative is replaced by something neutral – obviously so in the instance just given. More often, though, the changes are made to humble those outside the naming elite. Whoever must follow the other side’s naming conventions loses any claim to equality of status, and will at least tend to lose any debate. This is so when the shift of name is mostly verbal – for example coloured to black. But it is specially so when the shift involves an acceptance of new facts. See again the shift from “native English” to “white majority.” The former implies that a particular territory is historically the possession of a self-defined group, and suggests that this group has a right to continue in possession. The latter simply implies that one group among many has what may be a passing numerical weight. Equally, “migration” is so much softer and less threatening than “immigration.” Quibbling over words may sound petty. But to control the words usable in debate really is to have a very great if subtle advantage in debate.

A similar advantage is had by taking real or pretended offence, and calling on an opponent to apologise. When those crying out in horror have numbers or the power of government on their side, they can avoid the danger of arguing with an opponent by smashing his reputation. People are led to believe that he is a bad person. Often the person himself can be brought to agree. We saw how this can work last week. Speaking on a BBC programme that lies on the border between news and light entertainment, Jeremy Clarkson said that strikers in the public sector should be shot. No one but a fool could believe he intended this as other than a joke. But it raised a storm of synthetic outrage. The BBC gave in at once and apologised for any offence caused. Mr Clarkson may or may not have apologised, but certainly did not stand his ground. His enemies are now circulating rumours that his mind is unbalanced, and the credibility of a prominent non-conformist may have been destroyed.

Or there are demands for “historic apologies.” The Celtic peoples are rather good at this. So are the Indians. Peter Tatchell made an effort last month to get the Prime Minister to apologise for the criminalisation of homosexual acts throughout the British Empire. He failed. But demanding apologies for alleged ill-treatment in the past is a good way to advance present interests. It smooths the way to actual financial or legal advantages. Or – as with the Irish – it just wins battles in a long-term vendetta.

Or there is the hiding of rights violations behind the grief of victims. Last week, for example, I put out my annual call for the repeal of the laws against drinking and driving. My argument is that the dangers of drinking and driving are much exaggerated – the published statistics are puffed up by including cases where drunken pedestrians or cyclists have got themselves knocked down. The present law is only enforced by stopping drivers at random and breathalysing them. This is a breach of the old common law rule against interference with individuals except with probable cause. Most of the people stopped do not test positive. Most of those who do test positive were not driving erratically. Enforcement also takes the police away from their – admittedly casual – protection of life and property. It would be better, I say, to punish drivers who are caught driving without proper care and attention, or who have hurt others, and to make sure that the punishments are harsh enough to deter.

I may be wrong about this. Perhaps the current law is the only way to keep the roads as safe as they are. Whatever the case, I nearly always find myself going on the wireless to debate with the grieving relatives of people killed by drunken drivers. Many years ago, I gave a blunt response to one of these people – that, while private grief must always be respected, it has no claim to respect when dragged into debates over law or policy of state. This sent everyone else in the studio into a self-righteous frenzy, and got my microphone turned off. My favourite response is to sympathise, and to show that, if I were given my way, the guilty driver would have been locked away for life, or even hanged. Usually, this gives me the advantage of surprise. Even so, I still have to ask for the moral endorsement of someone who is arguing for a police state.

And this brings me to what I really want to discuss – which is the demand for argument by supplication. Last week, Emma West was filmed swearing at a tram filled with black people. She was immediately punished by having her life destroyed. For those who, for whatever reason, have not heard about her, this brief statement of mine gives the main story:

Emma West is a white working class woman who got into an argument with some black people in a South London Tram. You can see the video here:

Miss West has now been arrested for her opinions and locked away, and her children have been taken away by the social services.

Of course, if she had been wearing a headscarf and screeching about the “kuffar” who were killing her brothers and sisters in Iraq/Afghanistan, the authorities would have looked the other way.

For a woman to have her children taken away because she expressed opinions disliked by the ruling class means we have come as close as doesn’t matter to a totalitarian police state. I note that this has happened under a “Conservative” Government. Where are all those “Tory” MPs who like to preen themselves on how libertarian they are? Don’t ask.

 My view is that every single politician and official involved in this arrest of a dissident and legalised kidnapping of her children should be punished after the collapse of the present regime – not only sacked and deprived of pension rights (because they all will be in the disestablishment of the ruling class), but also made jointly and severally liable for compensating Miss West and her children for whatever they may have suffered.

I have quoted this in full not only because it gives the main facts of the case, but also because it brought a response that I was hoping to provoke someone into making. It came last Friday:


While the punishment meted out to this racist idiot is indeed unacceptable what is remarkable is that you should spring to her defence without disassociating yourself clearly from the contemptible views she espouses.  More remarkable still is that you propose that every politician and official involved should be punished, deprived of their pension rights and held liable for compensating Miss West

Scratch a “free market anti-statist” and you will invariably find a statist lurking within

For non-market anti-statist socialism

Xxxxx Yyy

Now, the writer of this is not a member of the ruling class. He may or may not be one of its clients. But he certainly comes into the category of useful idiot. Leave aside his assumption that a society can hold together by any other means than voluntary association or compulsion by the State – what interests me is his outrage that I did not join to my defence of Miss West’s rights a denunciation of what she said. Increasingly, you are only allowed to defend those persecuted by the ruling class by abasing yourself before the ruling class. Somewhere in what I said, I should have added a variant on the following:

I bow to no one in my utter revulsion of what this evil young guttersnipe said. Being myself a transgendered black lesbian, I have had more than my share of hate-filled bigotry. And I celebrate the immense patience shown by those poor abused people. That no one was driven to violence against West is proof of how strong our diverse and multicultural society has become. All this being said, it is only out of an old-fashioned, and therefore possibly misguided, liberalism that I beg for her not to suffer the full consequences of her totally abhorrent crime against humanity.

Well, I knew that I was expected to come out with this kind of dirt-kissing exercise, and I refused to comply. I refused, because it is inhuman to spit on someone who has already been brought down. I refused because a defence of someone’s rights is often compromised by adverse comment on what he has done. The paraphrase on Voltaire – “I disagree with what you say, but would defend to the death your right to say it” – is all very well when arguing with someone on the other side of a dinner table. My own view, when someone is lying on the ground, is to skip the disagreement.

This has always been my practice. In 1991, I wrote the first and one of the best defences of the “Spanner 15”– that is, of the homosexual men who were tried and punished for consensual acts in private: one of them was convicted of “aiding and abetting an assault on himself!” Not once in any of the essays I wrote or the speeches I made did I insist that I was not myself a leather-worshipping sado-masochistic homosexual, or that I would not like someone to drive a four inch nail through my penis. I got some very funny looks for this omission. But I refused then to distance myself from powerless and ruined victims of injustice – and I refuse now.

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I also refuse because what is demanded of me is an endorsement of a legitimising ideology. Here – and for the sake of clarity alone – I will explain what I think of Miss West’s actions. She was vulgar in her speech and uncharitable in her sentiments. But I do not for a moment think that, except for her and people like her, what has been made of my country would be a vibrant love feast without end. While modern commerce and modern technology almost cry out for some mixing of peoples, state-sponsored mass-immigration has been made an excuse to destroy the internal cohesion of my people and to free my rulers from practical accountability. That a quarter of this country’s population may now be strangers, who have been encouraged neither to adopt nor even to respect our ways, is a problem to which I can think of no satisfactory answer. But I refuse, when speaking out against their growing intolerance of disagreement, to bow my head to the people who rule this country. They are not good people led astray by bad ideas. They do not occupy any moral high ground. Until such time as they grow more tyrannical than they have yet become, I will avoid arguing with them on their terms. What they have done to us is evil in itself, and, because it is highly unstable, it will almost certainly lead to greater evils. The least bad outcome will be a swift collapse of the regime they have created, and their punishment with some regard given to due process. And they deserve no less. They are in a position to know exactly what they are doing. If they have chosen not to make the obvious connections of cause and effect, their ignorance is culpable.

Because, more than is usually the case, it is founded on lies and violence, the present regime must eventually collapse. I have no inclination to join some future equivalent of storming the Bastille. Something I can do, though, is to look these people in the face, and refuse to observe their rules of debate. The purpose of these rules is to restrain a debate that would otherwise turn dangerous. No revolution has ever succeeded except after there had been a withdrawal of consent. Let this be withdrawn, and the secret of all power is laid bare – that we are many and they are few. There is little else I will do. But, however small it may be in the overall scheme of things, this much i have done already.

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5 thoughts on “Emma West: How to Argue with the Ruling Class, 5th December 2011, by Sean Gabb

  1. Barbara

    Stirring stuff, and I support most challenges to "the Ruling Class", but amazingly I read another man who simply misses the point of the Emma West racist rant on tram.

    Incredibly you do not seem to have any inkling of what you missed. Probably because you don't care about Emma West in reality, and care even less for her child.

    She is just a totemic means to a point you are making against our rotton government.

    You do not see the woman, the mother, nor the child.

    And so you miss the essential.

    Emma West has a duty of care to her infant, and this is a serious and dignified job.

    She was wrong – possibly mentally ill or intoxicated – to put her child in any needless confrontational position.  She was wrong to indulge in such loud rage whilst holding her infant.  She was wrong to be so out of control whilst caring for her baby.

    That's it. 



  2. seangabb Post author

    England is becoming increasingly totalitarian, and political correctness [PC] is a major factor in this. It has always been so in principle. Totalitarianism is just the state interfering in every aspect of life. I fear many people today tend to think it is an unwelcome tyranny but it might be welcome politics. Indeed, when the college students say that all life is politics, really, they are unwittingly accepting the increasing activity of the state in every aspect of life as if it was a perennial fact. Are they thereby welcoming it as such in the future?  Was it welcome in Germany in the 1930s?

    It is not so easy to tell.  Bertrand Russell wrote of his first visit to Japan that everyone was smiling and he thought they were a happy people but later he found out that if they did not smile they might be punished. Then he was not so sure. Something like that went on with the Nazis. And something like it is the case with race relations in the UK today.

    In the eighteenth century liberals accepted the right of the state to interfere with every aspect of life in principle, that the state had this authority, but they then argued that the state should not exercise this right but instead to have a very limited state.  PC is totalitarian. Other signs of the state have been increasingly exercising that right is the state activity on smoking and obesity over the recent years. Where is politics going to go next? It needs to be pushed back.

    As long as there is free speech then the bias in any debate does not matter much but the state bans free speech in PC matters of race, sex, and on inequality in general.

    An ideology is no good at legitimating what does not look legitimate to others. It needs to look realistic to anyone who accepts it. Most ideology never legitimises anything but is an end rather than a means, as are all the great religions. The idea that Marx had that religion aided the ruling class is as hopelessly unrealistic as his class ideas themselves.

    This idea Sean has, that we listen to what favours the ruling class, seems to be very clearly false. It is on par with the unrealistic idea of Richard Dawkins that children believe whatever their parents say, thus that religion is child abuse. Both over-rate the power of authority. Children have to think for themselves, as do subject of the Crown, and one problem they have is in understanding what their parents say, especially on religion. Children are not likely to believe it even if they do repeat it.

    As we can arbitrarily classify things as we like, we are free to say there is a class that rules, but that is better logic than it is either sociology or political theory. There is a current common sense and one of the widely accepted ideas today is that we need a state. Another is that the market is where we need to beware but, despite the recent discrediting of MPs on expenses, the state dodges risk and it still seems safe to most people today. But PC is laughed at. It is not accepted but it is nevertheless respected. In this it is like the state regulations on health and safety in that it is thought to be well  over the top but it is still accepted as the law and conformed to as such.

    PC does privilege the so-called minorities of women, non-whites, homosexuals, cripples and others who PC holds might be discriminated against. Healthy white males are made thereby the underprivileged servile class.  All those PC laws need to be repealed if we are ever to be free.

    Sean is right that the PC fans want to impose their terms onto all people as the correct ones. Steve will most likely meet this in the future. I have done so, many times, and I have responded much as Steve is highly likely to do in the future. PC cant will not work well on liberal propagandists. PC propagandists do not seem to do well against liberals in my experience. Note that they see those labels as a sort of magic thus that the label PC worked on the PC propagandists as well, or almost as well, as “racist” or “sexist” were supposed to work on the general public when it emerged in the late 1980s.  The reaction of the silly PC propagandists was to automatically deny that they were really PCers! Steve and I have seen Green propagandists denying that they were Greens at ASU meetings in the past. Many people just fear labels.

    Whether we win a debate depends on whether we get others to see truths that refute their case. Bias cannot affect that opportunity very much. The thing is to get people into debate. It is held to be unfriendly, so most people seek to dodge debate in the first place; even propagandists do, unless they think that the opposition is weak. But once we get the debate going then any bias matters little. Once in debate, terms too matter little and we are free to use our own terms anyway, as Steve says.

    Of course Clarkson says sorry rather than risk his BBC job. Ditto footballers do the same. This public apology aspect is leaning towards totalitarianism, even if it still has a way to go to get to the show trials of the late USSR.

    In the 1950s, many men used to commonly say this or that man ought to be shot. Someone could be heard saying it nearly everyday and no one took it seriously. It was common hyperbole. Clarkson said it was a joke and it might have been but it seems more like hyperbole. He has since rightly said that suicides ought to be considerate of others and not use the railways to jump under a train as it causes hold-ups but many PCers have attempted to say this is yet another gaff, but it is clearly quite sound.

    I think the changes to the common hyperbole by Clarkson were just to dodge cliché, Steve.


    The strikers need to be encouraged into a debate about trade unions with liberals and then told how the unions are against other workers, as Robert Owen rightly said in the 1830s. 

    Cant apologies should be ridiculed, as Sean tends to suggest.

    The picking on alcohol and tobacco is overdone and it is one of the things that the state might cut back on to ease their debt.

    Steve is right that many of those things should be left to firms.

    Real debate will not often take place on air with all the sterile rules to stop progress. A good investment might be to realise this and get at some PCer in real debate after the formal airing of the programme, maybe by mail or E-mail.

    This is not so much the ruling class ruling us so much as ideological PC that leads to the silly PC laws. The ruling class too will be broken by them as the elite colleges were interfered with by stupid Gordon Brown, who wanted working class students in there. PC wants blacks, cripples and others in there too.  That is not in the interests of the ruling class but owing to what Richard Dawkins calls memes but he errs in thinking them not subject to reason. They made their way by reason. Dawkins, like so many others, overlooks that the rule of assumption is the most basic rule in logic.

    Emma West was speaking out on as bus for some reason, most likely because she feels oppressed. She risked being attacked and one man in the background seemed to have been calmed down by his girlfriend. The most that would have been apt would have been to put her off the bus. But that is not the norm, today, when others make similar scenes.  A fine would not have been fair given society today. I have heard many such attacks by blacks on white on Birmingham buses while I have been on them and that would fill the courts up in fining the lot of them. She was just giving the blacks a bit of abuse for a change. It was, near enough, merely free speech. A fine would be unjust. So is the aftermath reaction of the state.

    Sean seems to be wasting words by inserting ruling class every second sentence. PC is not pro-state or pro ruling class but ideas as ends in themselves, like the chief idea of PC viz. equality. That daft ideal is clearly dysfunctional. As Dr Johnson pointed out, any society requires some subordination. As he will let us know in his due LA talk, Sean is wrongheaded on class.

    That is not to deny that some of the very rich do gain even extra by taxation. I am not saying that Sean has nothing whatsoever in the case that he might make but that PC will not be soundly related to the ruling class does seem clear even before he has put his case.

    I repeat, Steve looks biased towards most similar offenders in saying that this one should be fined. Maybe he has not been on the buses lately. If she had been put off, as I think is apt, that would be more than what happens on many Birmingham buses but it is what should occur every time; a fine in the already wasteful and dysfunctional law courts?  No.

    I see no reason why modern commerce or technology requires some mixing of alien phenotypes. Liberty does, if ever that is what the phenotypes want.

    I think we have to admit that PC is in some ways a distortion of liberalism. Equality has been thought of as a liberal ideal both before and after the sea change of the 1880s. 

    It is not clear why Sean imagines some due collapse, or any punishment of failed politicians even should there ever be such a collapse. As Adam Smith rightly said, there is a hell of a lot of ruining in a great society. 

    What looks way more realistic is that PC might go too far with the public such that it gets not only laughed at but also ridiculed too as the shameful cant that it is This did happen in the 1950s and ‘60s at the hands of the comedians but there emerged the PC alternative to comedy, as Bob Monkhouse rightly called it that championed PC in the 1970s and that remains in fashion today. When they finally get laughed at then real comedians may return and PC will then have lost a major source of support.

    Revolution is the stuff of Romantic myth.

    The cuts may well cut the tolerance amongst the public of daft PC, as Steve suggests.  

  3. seangabb Post author


    I see you have thoughtfully posted the contents of my private email to you – see below – in the public realm without my consent. Yes, very libertarian.

    I am not a member of the ruling class, nor am I one of its clients, and the only one in this correspondence who falls into the category of "useful idiot" in the service of said class is your good self with your naive  pro-market ideology.

    How the hell it constitutes "abasing yourself before the ruling class" by criticising the racist claptrap of Ms West  which you conspicuously failed to do, just boggles the mind. I couldn't  care a tuppence s if you want to take the politicians to court for inflicting  hardship on Ms West but there does seem to be something of an inconsistency between that and your claim to be an anti-statist.

    You inept comments about society being held together by either voluntary means or by the coercion of the state, with the clear implication that I inadvertently support the latter by rejecting the market, demonstrates that you know next to nothing about anarcho-communist theory. Socialism or communism – they traditionally meant the same thing  – is a voluntaristic society par excellance.  That is what is meant by "from each according to ability to each according to need". A market economy in any shape or form and not just a regulated market economy as in the state capitalist Soviet Union is intrinsicially coercive – despite the much vaunted freedom to trade (if youve got something to trade with). Such an economy cannot do without  the state to protect and promote the interest of those who effectively the means of production.  Nor indeed can the relationship between employer and empoyee be anything  other than an assymetrical coercive one and the mutualist wet dream of returning us to some kind of petty commodity producing society in which we all engage in free market transactions on a mythical level playing field is a pious wish incapable of  realisation

    You have a lot to learn about revolutionary socialism, a lot.


  4. seangabb Post author

    Les writes:

    Although there are a number of matters written in this thought-provoking piece which may well be deemed 'controversial', almost all 'politically incorrect', I suspect that discerning readers will agree with more than they oppose.

    It needs perhaps to be stated for those who only read this casually by skimming an eye across it, that I am certain Dr Gabb finds racism just as offensive as I do.

    His point(s) run somewhat deeper and although there is seldom any true congruency in our views – he is one of the very few writers who makes me want to analyse my own logic and seek out flaws. 

    1. Guessedworker

      Why on earth would anyone find racism “offensive”. It is natural, normal, moral and healthy. It is an evolved behavioural trait which has the fitness gain of rejecting maladaptive genes.

      But you don’t mean this racism, do you? You mean “Racism!” which is the obsessional charge of anti-racism, a politically-acquired mental illness of a viral-ideational character invented by a Jewish homosexual activist in 1930s Germany named Magnus Hirschfeld. It is an ideology of white dispossession which operates in our time and circumstance by labelling all dissent to the coloniser as a unique political sin.

      Please understand the differences in cicumstance here. Whites are not dispossessing Africans and Asians. Africans and Asians are dispossessing whites. Eliminating the capacity to reject “the other” works wholly in favour of the coloniser and against the indigenous victim.

      It is, of course, racism in its own terms. Why be dragged along by it? Haven’t you
      any more about you than that?