Find out more about Ben Irvine at

Saturday 28 September 2019

Intellectual Obesity

Readers of my latest book Space to Create will be unsurprised to hear that I’m still working as a delivery driver – or, as I like to call it, operating on the intellectual black market. I am too stubborn to compromise on my right to speak freely and honestly. For the same reason, I’ve also kept up my proud tradition of antagonising difficult people to the point where they have a furious meltdown. I believe I have discovered the psychological equivalent of nuclear fission. Instead of bombarding an atom with neutrons, I bombard people who refuse to accept responsibility with reminders of their responsibility. The more persistently and focusedly I do this, the more explosive the results.

On one such occasion, one of my work colleagues, a gigantic fat lady, ended up screaming into my face “I’m going to fucking nut you!”. I managed to ward off this threat by the simple expedient of saying “OK, good luck with that” while smiling and maintaining eye contact with her, but I can’t deny that the experience was intimidating. It was like being trapped in a corner while the huge boulder from the film Indiana Jones comes rolling at you.

The worst thing is, I triggered the booby trap fully aware that it was there, and fully aware of what the consequences would be. I knew the drill like the back of my hand; I’m sure you do too. First, someone tries to blame you for their own error or wrongdoing. Second, you decide to protest. Third, they refuse to accept that they are in the wrong, precisely because they know they are in the wrong. Fourth, you succumb to a sort of magical thinking in which you allow yourself to believe that you can convince them to be reasonable by being reasonable yourself. Fifth, you begin to calmly and logically recite the facts.

And then something remarkable happens. You witness the full power of a person’s intelligence being deployed in the service of burying the truth beneath nonsense. Instead of responding to the points that you are making, your accuser deliberately obfuscates. They make random statements that have a superficial relevance to the topic but no logical relevance. They deny blatant truths, then, moments later, contradict their own denials. They draw preposterous conclusions from your words, in order to make you look unreasonable. They repeat what you are saying in a sarcastic voice. They roll their eyes. They bluster with outrage. They interrupt you relentlessly, denying you the opportunity to finish a single sentence. They abuse you personally. They swear and shout and sulk. They accuse you of attacking them. They engage in whataboutery – for instance, telling you everything you’ve ever done wrong. And they go through this repertoire on loop, repeating the same nonsense over and over, in order to make you sound repetitive while you insist on the plain truth. In sum, they reason in an irrational way so as to aggress against you: they engage in irraggression, to coin a word. Irraggresion is the means by which an unfair accusation is held in place; the tar that makes the feathers stick.

In the event that you are subjected to irraggresion, you’ll find that if you to continue to try to reason with your accuser, either of two things are likely to happen (or maybe both). On the one hand, you may become frustrated. Perhaps you will raise your voice, or offer a rebuke, or even an insult. Alas, your frustration will only serve to make you seem guilty, which is precisely the outcome you were trying to avoid. This is especially galling if there is a bystander present, who will at best draw the conclusion that you and your accuser are ‘both as bad as each other’. On the other hand, your accuser may have a furious meltdown, as my work colleague did. Their covert aggression will become overt aggression. Either that, or they will summon up a hysterical self-pitying emotional response that makes you look like a cruel bully.

I understood all this during the ‘argument’ with my work colleague. I even tried to ‘go meta’ – to explain to her what she was doing while she was doing it. I explicitly suggested that she was being ‘manipulative’, but of course she responded with more manipulation – ‘don’t use them big words on me’, she hissed. I confess that I wagged my finger at one point, whereupon she called me ‘patronising’ (I declined to mention that ‘patronising’ is itself quite a big word). I tried softening my voice, to try to make her realise I wasn’t attacking her, to which she responded, ‘you’re not my school teacher’. Then I smiled, in awe of her skilful display of evasiveness, whereupon she promptly accused me of ‘laughing’ at her. ‘You think you’re better than me, don’t you?’, she snarled. My response – ‘Well, I think I am behaving better than you’ – triggered the final showdown. As she bouldered towards me, yelling ‘Come on then! Let’s have it outside!’, she even had the temerity to add ‘… I’m not scared of you’, as though I was asking her for a fight; again, bizarrely, she was trying to pin the blame on me. All the while, her indignance was fuelled by a simple fact: she knew she was wrong.

I wish I had a transcript of the whole conversation. It was truly remarkable. By this I don’t mean that the subject matter was remarkable. Quite the contrary: the issue itself was extremely trivial – it was so boring, in fact, that I refuse to write it down. (Suffice it to say: I was 100% in the right.) The remarkable thing is that such a caterpillar of triviality could morph into such a fantastic flapping butterfly of insanity. Watching my colleague’s outburst, I began to feel like a caterpillar myself. My reasonable approach seemed woefully mechanical, like an evolutionary throwback, compared to this all-singing all-dancing irraggression against which I was powerless, other than to escalate the situation. Fortunately, another of our colleagues stepped in at the last.

Me being me, I reflected on the incident afterwards. One of my fellow drivers once described the woman as a ‘fat bitch’, which seemed a little harsh, but now I’m not so sure. I think my colleague’s fatness was indeed a relevant factor in her bitchiness. She was fat in an aggressive way: aggressively fat. By this I mean that she was fat because it made her more powerful; it supplied her with more weight to throw around. I am sure there are many other explanations for people being overweight (not least the obvious one) but I do wonder if the current epidemic of obesity in Britain is, in part, a reflection of the increasing aggressiveness of British culture. Maybe you can eat your way up the pecking order.

At the same time, my colleague was one of those fat people who complain constantly of digestive problems. She had the most severe case of hypochondria I have ever seen. Obsessed with monitoring her food intake, she would eat nothing all day, which made her stomach hurt, then she would binge on food in the evenings, which supposedly caused her even more pain. In other words: she was fat because she was fat, and vice versa. As a result, she frequently took days off sick, her income being supplemented by generous benefits from the government. Her obesity was a source of strength for her even insofar as it weakened her.

After the incident, I also couldn’t help ruminating on one specific thing my colleague said, the only comment of hers that hurt me: ‘You think you’re so clever, don’t you?’. I am sensitive about being accused of intellectual snobbery. I have a PhD from Cambridge University but I was so repelled by modern academia I decided to self-fund my career as a writer. For a decade I have worked in a succession of casual jobs, to provide me with both the money and the mental space to be creative. I also wanted to learn about real life, all the better to write about it.

In short, I have made great sacrifices to avoid being the sort of intellectual who looks down on other people. Moreover, having spent so much time among Britain’s ‘working people’, my worldview has changed to the point where I am now more detached than ever from the intellectual mainstream. Having experienced the ‘cost of living crisis’ first hand, and having seen how the establishment is ignoring the needs of working Britons, I have written in support of Brexit, and against the damaging politically correct socialist shibboleths that currently dominate almost all British institutions. In doing so, I have driven a wedge between myself and academia; I couldn’t be an intellectual snob now even if I wanted to. By hurling this epithet at me, my colleague engaged in her most exquisite piece of manipulation. She knew my views. She knew what I stood for. By accusing me of enjoying privileges that I had categorically renounced, she knew she would cause me a deep sense of injustice. I would rather she had nutted me.

Ironically, by accusing me of being an intellectual snob, my colleague was once again, albeit inadvertently, accusing me of sins of which she herself was guilty. Anyone who has ever defended capitalism or Brexit in conversation with a socialist or persistent Remainer (‘Remoaners’ as they are aptly called) will know how staggeringly manipulative these people can be in defence of their establishment privileges. As members of the establishment, they tend to be intellectuals, or at least well educated. If you dare to challenge their self-serving worldview, they engage in relentless sloganeering, dousing your every utterance with random catchphrases, which are skilfully tweaked to have a superficial relevance but no logical relevance. They bluster with outrage. They interrupt you relentlessly. They resort to whataboutery. They shut you down, by calling you a fascist or a racist or a xenophobe. And so on. Their deliberate irrationality is designed to make you feel guilty for telling the awkward truth about the EU and socialism. In other words, they engage in irraggresion, dancing around the reasonable points you make, floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee, attacking you instead of acknowledging their own wrongdoing. This strategy, after all, is how they make their living. They demand endless reparations, because as self-styled benevolent overlords, shepherds of the wayward, they believe they are entitled to nothing less.

In all of this, they are fortified by the weight of their learning, accumulated during years of education. There is nothing wrong with education, of course. But in today’s universities, especially in humanities departments, much of what counts as learning is more like loading a vessel with ballast. Many educated people carry around a blubbery hide of theories and jargon and abstraction and ideology, the main purpose of which is to intimidate. They are intellectually obese, all the better to overpower reasonable people. When you make a reasonable point to Remoaners and socialists, they will likely roll a great boulder of pointless knowledge at you, squashing you and your point of view. In addition, their pointless learning makes them strong by making them weak. They don’t know how to live, because they never bothered to learn anything so trivial; indeed, normal human life is obstructed by what they did learn. So they live off the government. Supposedly, their intellectual burden entitles them to endless solicitousness from the likes of you and me. They are philosophical hypochondriacs.

No, I am not one of these intellectual snobs. I am one of the people who are saying: enough is enough. I intend to keep telling the truth, keep insisting on responsibility. Looking around me, I can see that I am not the only one. There is a ‘culture war’ taking place, and I am on the side of the people who do not want to fight. Patiently, focusedly, resolutely, we will keep making the arguments in the face of a grotesque level of manipulation and intellectual bullying. Will we prevail? I do not know. But I do know that we are apt to be blamed whatever happens. I fear that a national meltdown is on its way. I fear that people like you and me will be caught up in a wildly aggressive showdown that we didn’t deserve, even though we ourselves provoked it by insisting on being reasonable.