It has been said that both atheists and theists can look into the universe and be reassured about their beliefs. Even in our small corner there is an endless array of beauty, elegance and complexity, as well as ugliness, disorder and decay. You can see divine order or directionless chaos.
Now is not the time to re-litigate The God Delusion, but I was reminded of our well-developed confirmation bias by the tussle over Jeremy Corbyn’s pronunciation of Epstein, which he said as “Epshtine” during the general election debate on ITV this week.
I believe that Labour has an antisemitism problem, that Corbyn is somewhat responsible for it, that he is oblivious to Jewish sensitivities, and that he is reluctant to acknowledge antisemitism apart from other forms of racism. I don’t know if he hates Jews, but he’s clearly not a fan of Israel and Zionists.
It’s this context that made Corbyn’s pronunciation of Epstein notable. Corbyn emphasised the foreignness of the name, and not in the approving “look at me I’m so cosmopolitan” way beloved of guilt-laden polyglot whites.
This followed the recent publicising of footage from 2017 where Corbyn praised Jewish efforts to establish minority media after migrating to Britain. He said launching newspapers had “kept” Jews “powerful” and given them political influence.
There is a dark humour in the fact Corbyn was merely giving a specific instance of a general prog talking point: getting minorities into the media helps further the interests of their group. But the word “powerful” – overused by the left, in my view – conjures conspiracy theories of hook-nosed Jews pulling the puppet strings.
The British media is replete with the mind reading such incidents invites, with everyone capable of divining the true intentions of the offending speaker. (English Literature lessons have a lot to answer for.)
The problem, in my view, is less one of frequent dogwhistling and more an epidemic of bigotry tinnitus. Those who seek evidence of bigotry will find it, because language is endlessly open to new interpretations, however thin. And people who are often exposed to bigotry, and those who make a career of highlighting such incidents, are more inclined to see it in incidents regarded by others as innocuous.
Corbyn has some problem with Jews, but his every word on the subject need not be a sign of it. Perhaps he misspoke when he said “Epshtine”. Perhaps he thought that was how it was said. Perhaps he slurred his words for some medical reason. Only he knows.
Regardless, public debate needs space for clumsiness, slips of the tongue and other errors. Without it we have the madness of accusation and counter-accusation for every potentially suspect noise. And the more weak allegations are put the less credible the strong ones are.