Clarkson and the cultural split

Workplace propriety has proven to be a minefield of potential wrongdoing. Even the best intentioned of employees may stumble into the inappropriate. I am horribly unqualified to make any judgments on such matters. My experience of workplaces is restricted to a couple of summer jobs and a Saturday job in sixth form.

But even I am confident enough to venture that it is always unacceptable to punch a colleague in the face. I feel secure in the belief that I would have the backing of my employer, and public sympathy, if I was ever punched in the face at work. So why have nearly a million people flooded online to sign a petition, protesting against Jeremy Clarkson’s suspension for indulging in such an act?

Those who have rushed to defend Clarkson haven’t done so to reflect on this particular incident. Their reasoning is far more instinctive. Clarkson has become a symbol of something far greater than an interest in motoring. Declaring yourself to be a fan or a detractor of Clarkson is a statement of an entire set of values. The strength of feeling in the responses to Clarkson’s recent suspension is a symptom of a deeper divide in society.

Those who stand by Clarkson do so because they believe he is a figurehead for the everyman. The popularity of his defence is really the popularity of the idea that the average Joe is being maligned by our society.

However, this idea is a dangerous one. It is one that encourages a naive mentality of ‘us’ and ‘them’, and promotes irrational behaviour like defending those who punch their colleagues in the face.

But there is some truth in this idea. A didactic and intolerant tone has become increasingly common in many liberal campaigns. Cuntry Living provided a recent example when someone started a thread suggesting “banning cis-men”. This is the kind of uninspired, unengaged thought that feminist movements should be acting against. No particular group is exclusively guilty of this. Anti-feminists can be equally aggressive and intolerant. The labelling of feminist concerns as “femi-nazism” is just one recent example.

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Whatever the cause, be it feminism, immigration or the role of welfare, we need to avoid this irrational herd-mentality. Critical thought, and the debate that democracy depends on for its existence, will cease to function properly. As a result healthy societal tensions will descend into cultural warfare. As Clarkson’s fans have discovered, if you are uncritically and unthinkingly loyal, you defend the indefensible and end up looking like a bit of a moron.