The Metastasis of Debate

There are some subjects I can discuss without fear or reservation. Scottish Independence is an obvious example. Nuclear disarmament another. Pacifism – as in real pacifism, not the pathetic “passivismstrawman beloved of warmongers with vested interests in presenting their insane idealogy as the natural state of affairs. Expressing these views has lead to disagreement, ostracism, even abuse over the years. Yet it wouldn’t even occur to me to keep those views to myself. Bravery doesn’t enter into it: to be brave, you have to overcome fear. I don’t have any fear discussing these subjects, so I can’t call myself brave in doing so.

I don’t know the mind of the First Minister of Scots, but were I in her place, I would view her repudiation of Steve Bannon and everything he stands for not as bravery, but as simple common sense.

The responses to the First Minister’s decision prove it.

Steve Bannon doesn’t need an introduction to regular readers. Indeed, I first encountered Bannon (not in person, thankfully) a long time ago, back when he was “just” a humble media mogul taking up Breitbart’s reins. The former editor of the site I used to contribute towards started writing for Breitbart: even so, he was adamant ensure that the varied and divergent politics of the contributors would be absent from the scholarship, free of cross-contamination. Fool that I was, I was determined to uphold that. After he broke that convention, long after the site closed its doors and with no consideration to its other contributors, I realised the folly of such an idea when certain ideologies invade our public sphere.

Steve Bannon, who the BBC claim is “promoting an anti-elite movement,” is interested in replacing the current consensus with something else. Much of his rhetoric focuses on what he wants to destroy – the state, the liberal elite, the global establishment. Such sentiments understandably appeal to the disenfranchised, the vast majority of people in the world who have been neglected and abused by appeasers. Bannon wants to “bring it all crashing down.” There is precious little detail in what he wants to replace it.

The people he chooses to align with shouldn’t inspire any confidence.

“He’s got an adviser [Dugin] who harkens back to Julius Evola and different writers of the early 20th century who are really the supporters of what’s called the traditionalist movement, which really eventually metastasized into Italian fascism. A lot of people that (sic) are traditionalists are attracted to that.”
Summer 2014

Speaking to The Spectator magazine while on tour in Europe, Mr Bannon said Mr Mussolini “was clearly loved by women. He was a guy’s guy. He has all that virility,” Bannon said. “He also had amazing fashion sense, right, that whole thing with the uniforms. I’m fascinated by Mussolini”.
16th March 2018

“You’re part of a worldwide movement bigger than France, bigger than Italy,” he told a cheering crowd in Lille, France for the party’s convention. Ms Le Pen said inviting Mr Bannon to speak was important because he was “the architect of Donald Trump’s victory”. She also cited his views on giving regular people “power, which in his mind and mine, too, has been practically illegally captured by the elite”.
“Every day, we get stronger and they get weaker…. History is on our side.”
18th March 2018

At the event Bannon refused to call Orbán, who has described refugees as “Muslim invaders”, and Salvini, who has cracked down on migrants, as racist. “These people are trying to make their countries better. I certainly do not condemn Viktor Orbán and Salvini,” he said. “I absolutely do not condemn Orbán or what Salvini is doing, these individuals, these populist national movements across Europe, are trying to get the sovereignties of their countries back.”
15th September 2018

On Saturday, Bannon spoke at Atreju, the far-right Brothers of Italy annual conference where he was greeted by a cheering crowd. “Trump and Brexit and [the Italian general election in] March 2018 are all inextricably linked,” Bannon told the audience, “it’s a rejection of the way things are and it’s a way forward … it’s the little guy saying ‘we have a better idea’ … and the first thing is a rejection of what the elites have foisted on Western civilization.” Bannon went on to say Salvini and the Brothers of Italy, led by Giorgia Meloni, are the “true disruptors,” like Trump and former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage before them. “What Farage and UKIP were able to do in the U.K.; what Donald Trump and the Tea Party have started to execute in the U.S … The torch was passed to you.” On Sunday, Bannon will fly to Prague and Budapest where he is scheduled to meet far-right leaders including Orbán.
23rd September 2018

The idea that the First Minister of Scotland, who has long been uncompromising and outspoken against Bannon’s fellow travellers, would even consider attending an event which funded and promoted a man whose closest allies have said despicable things about her and her justice secretary is not news, and should not be news. What should be news is why the BBC, after everything that’s happened, justifies granting him a 40-minute interview with Sarah Smith as “a powerful and influential figure.” Not that this is in any way unusual: the BBC has a history of indulging white supremacists.

We must all be very, very careful about how we proceed. I was absolutely aghast to read that Scottish International Ltd actually invited Bannon to speak at an event at Gleneagles. Several people of incredible power and influence in Scotland – Angus Grossart, Andrew Wilson, Kevin Pringle, among others – were present. Now, given that we haven’t suddenly seen a remarkable change in tack from Scottish business, the Scottish Government, or the SNP, I’m pretty certain that nothing came of it. Much like the SNP’s meeting with Cambridge Analytica, I’m hoping that the invitation was a petard on which Bannon could hoist himself, before scuttling off to someone more receptive to his tactics.

Some would – and have – said that the First Minister shouldn’t have withdrawn, but debated with Bannon, unravel his arguments, show him up. That both Bannon critics and Sturgeon critics seem to think that their champion would’ve “won” shows that this is one of those cases where a debate would prove nothing – because a debate wasn’t on offer. It was never on offer. What would it prove? Nicola Sturgeon would accuse Bannon of being anti-globalist, anti-Islamic, anti-EU, anti-immigration – and he would agree. Then he would accuse Nicola Sturgeon of being a globalist, an ally to Islam, pro-EU, pro-immigration – and she would agree. Meanwhile those who agree with her would cheer and boo, while those agreeing with him would boo and cheer. And what would be learned? What would be accomplished?

For all the talk about demanding a debate – and let’s not forget demanding a debate you have no interest in treating honestly is a common tactic – people like Bannon don’t want to debate at all. They want an audience, whether it’s fawning adulation or hissing condemnation – because they feed on it, breathe it, and use it to propagate their ideologies.

1/ As a former employee of – I worked there on the publishing side for ~12 years- I bought a ticket to its event, but am leaving my seat empty to join the protest outside against Steve Bannon’s role in the event.

2/ You can read ‘s statement on why the newspaper chose to host Bannon at this event. I know this statement was the product of a great deal of discussion and debate in the editorial department, and included perspectives from outside it.

3/ But here is the reality- while The Economist is an important voice in world affairs- and for liberalism- it is tragically confused on this issue. Part of the reason is that almost no one there has anything personally at stake. Look at the masthead: http://mediadirectory.economist.com

4/ In 1939, when the physical threat against Europe was real, The Economist knew where its stood. https://amp.economist.com/leaders/1939/09/09/for-the-right?__twitter_impression=true 

5/ Today, mostly white liberal elites cocooned in 7 World Trade have nothing to lose from cozying up with Steve Bannon and a nice cup of coffee. They will tell each other they are for free speech, that they are critical thinkers. Bullshit.

6/ They would do well to read @zephoria, and contemplate what giving Bannon this platform means. https://points.datasociety.net/media-manipulation-strategic-amplification-and-responsible-journalism-95f4d611f462 

7/ Bannon is a voice of hatred. His work on this earth has harmed millions. His putrid perspective is not worthy of the “severe contest” between ideas The Economist was founded to pursue. Indeed- this is his work. https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/24/politics/hundreds-children-still-separated/index.html 

To my friends at @TheEconomist, to @zannymb– I know you will continue to consider this decision going forward. I hope you will take urgent action to diversify your ranks. We only get to an if we deny those who themselves would deny the future to those not like them.

As Bobby Gillespie found out, there’s an unpleasant tendency for supposed ideological opposites to crack open the bubbly and have a good laugh after a “debate” – because they’re all getting the oxygen they want for their causes. Can you imagine Nicola Sturgeon and Steve Bannon doing what Caroline Flint, Michael Portillo, and Andrew Neil did?

Denying them that oxygen works. Just ask Milo.

Over the past three years, I have spent literally millions of dollars trying to do talks, speeches, events, rallies and protests, to say nothing of all the stuff I do behind the scenes I can never tell you about. A lot of that money was my own wealth, from before I even started in journalism. My events almost never happen. It’s protests, or sabotage from Republican competitors or social media outcries. Every time, it costs me tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. And when I get dumped from conferences, BARELY ANYONE makes a sound about it — not my fellow conservative media figures and not even, in many cases, you guys. When was the last time any of you protested in the street at the treatment meted out to me or Pamela Gellar or Mike Cernovich or Alex Jones?

We cannot treat Bannon like Nick Griffin – an incompetent boor with no media savvy, no vast riches, no powerful friends and allies, who could be easily discarded and replaced with a less unpalatable proxy for his views. The mainstream media think he is just another colourful idiot who they can deal with – not a deeply dangerous individual Bannon is rich, powerful, intelligent, media-savvy, and knows how to get what he wants. And the worst thing of all? People don’t seem to have a clue what that is.

Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they (liberals) get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.
Steve Bannon

Right now, the BBC – indeed, a great many in the media and political world – are getting Steve Bannon very, very wrong.

2 thoughts on “The Metastasis of Debate

  1. Marconatrix says:

    This all sounds like a most timely warning. Thankyou!

  2. Arthur Jones says:

    My thoughts are that you are spot on. Nicola Sturgeon’s judgment on this matter shows that she can see, as you have seen, the context and the bigger picture. Beware any influential person who cries “revolution” without saying in any detail what it amounts to. Brexit too is a kind of mini revolution, an aimless one, accompanied by political and economic chaos. It fails to address the grievances that gave it energy, and has been hijacked by the rich and powerful for their financial and political ends. I suspect Bannon and co. have similarly, and on a much bigger scale, hijacked the ani-globalisation/anti-capitalism movement to remove it from the Left.

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