Monday, August 22, 2005

Against Polytoynbeeism

Tim Hicks returns to my posting that asked what's gone wrong with comprehensives. He writes:

I have to say, I was rather disappointed with some of the comments that I saw to Jonathan's post. Valiant attempts by 'Bishop Hill' to channel debate in such a way that it bore some relevance to the issues actually raised in the post were, sadly, not always successful.

The most dispiriting thing for me was that despite explicitly stating that going back 50 years to the grammar/secondary modern dichotomy was neither possible nor desirable, those who opposed the principles that Jonathan was advocating chose to attack that straw man.

That was my feeling too, but it all looks a bit tame when you read Polly Toynbee's column from last Monday. Discussing the annual debate over whether A level students can really be getting brighter year after year, she wrote:

But loudest of all will be the gnashing of teeth from the miserable right, berating the dumbing down of standards (oh for the grand old days of Latin, Greek, beating, fagging, rugger and buggery).

This confrontation runs deep into the heart of the divide between progressive and conservative views of the world.

I was able to do O level Latin at my comprehensive. I do not see the fact that this is now next to impossible as any sort of progress.

But more, er, fundamental here is the clear implication that if you are not in favour of the "progressive" views that Toynbee favours then you must support the buggery of small boys.

This is utterly bizarre, and makes you wonder if the Guardian reads what their star columnists write before it is published.
"What are you saying this week, Polly?"

"Well, Alan, I am saying that anyone who has doubts over whether A level candidates really get better every year must be in favour of the buggering of small boys."

"Sounds great."
Except that this is a very common form of political journalism. You divide the world into two groups: there are sensible people like you and your readers, and there are people who hold ludicrous views. There can be no middle position.

Mark Steel has based a whole stand up and journalistic career on this trick. His every column or routine runs in essence: "So the Tories say X do they? I expect they say Y and Z too!" And everyone laughs.

They laugh because this technique is a form of political group grooming. It reminds you how generous and sensible you and your allies are, and how cruel and stupid your opponents are.

We need a name for it. I propose "Pollytoynbeeism" or, because it looks better, "Polytoynbeeism".

Written during a brief break in my holiday - Norfolk to Suffolk via Market Harborough.


Anonymous said...

Exercised by the gratuitous nastiness of Polly's remark about "hothoused supergeeks with monstrous strings of mega-results", I blogged on this at The Apollo Project last week.

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...


What? You mean there's more than one of them?!

(wacky latin humour there - true grammar school boy)

Liberal Neil said...

I agree. It seems to be a lazy way of avoiding having to evidence and argue your own case. Many columnists do this.

It happened over Iraq - oh, so you oppose the war with iraq, so you must be in favour of Saddam butchering and torturing people then.

Intensecure said...

"It happened over Iraq - oh, so you oppose the war with iraq, so you must be in favour of Saddam butchering and torturing people then."
That is called Christopherhitchenism. ;)