Simon Stevens is still at it, I see. I came across his latest articlle in the Huffington Post last night, followed by the usual mixture of appalled, bemused and puzzled comments, flagged up by a friend of mine on facebook. I took a look, and it was the usual nonsensical mess of misunderstood concepts purporting to be analysis. I know, given how much he has worked me up in the past, that perhaps I should just ignore the guy; yet there are a few things about Stevens’ latest article which reveal quite a bit about him, and which I want to point out.
Stevens’ latest article is about ‘Post-Truth politics’, and how it may apply to disability politics. As I understand it, post-truth politics is where politicians, writers or speakers appeal to emotions rather than hard, demonstrable facts. As Wikipedia has it, ” Post-truth politics (also called post-factual politics) is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.” Thus, unable to back up their arguments, we are seeing jokes like Trump and farage appeal to emotions and feelings such as nostalgia more and more they invoke romanticised notions of a past which never existed.
After giving this definition, though, Stevens attempts to apply it to disability. He says that accounts of damage done by welfare cuts to disabled people now fall under ‘post-truth’: ”In terms of people with impairments, the anti-cuts movement has been an expert in using post-truth to win hearts over minds. Sadly these post-truths have now been repeated in so many articles and even accepted by the United Nations, it is going to be almost impossible to undo the damage to people with impairments’ place in society caused by the mythological environment people now accept.” This is, of course, utter nonsense; it’s complete non-sequitur. It is as if Stevens is trying to take a buzz-word much in use at the moment, but which he does not really understand, and shoe-horn it into his grievances with the disability community. To stray into post-truth is not to lie or to state something someone else disagrees with; it is to stray into the subjective. It is a rhetorical concept describing quite a worrying phenomenon in modern political debate, but Stevens uses it as an accusation with which to lambast those he disagrees with. In short he does not understand the concept he is trying to discuss.
We know this guy has grievances with the disability community. He seems to begrudge the fact that he is an outsider, and not as central or important as he would like to be. Thus he sneers ” As someone motivated by real facts and evidence, I find post-truth hard to swallow as I can see how it enables so many individual voices to be lost, especially the voices of many people with impairments.” For ”lost voices”, read his own – this man does not care about anyone but himself. He then goes on to try to claim that the use of precise, statistical evidence somehow also now qualifies as post-truth, writing ” what we have ended up with is a generation of activists on all sides who can only work within the realm of soundbites and popularised headlines. ‘x% of people with label a are not getting solution k’ attempts to justify posttruth because it simplifies and reduces the argument to cause an emotional reaction.” Again that is non-sequitur: producing such definite statistics, as disability rights activists often do, manifestly does not reduce argument to emotion; precisely the opposite, in fact. Yet for some reason Stevens tries to claim statistics are postfactual.
The way he brands the use of such statistical information as regurgitating soundbites, moreover, suggests he has cottoned on to the current fashion among social commentators to use that term and tried to apply it here, where it clearly does not fit – a statistic is not a soundbite. He obviously thinks this makes him sound knowledgable when in fact, it betrays Stevens’ severe lack of understanding. He seems to be trying to attack activists standing up to government cuts, adopting the tone of an expert and employing buzz words and catchphrases he does not understand. He seems to want to carve out a niche for himself as a disability consultant and commentator by expressing views which run counter to those of most activists, claiming that he alone relies on evidence where everyone else resorts to emotion. This quite baseless claim is clearly an attempt to award himself credibility and authority, inviting people to listen to him rather than others. He seems to crave attention, blurting any old nonsense out, trying to sound like the consultant he thinks he is. Yet he clearly does not understand what he is trying to talk about, or the consequences of what he says.
This nonsense goes on. His article reads like a set of poorly understood phrases and concepts tacked together in order to try to sound like an intelligent disability commentator demanding to be taken seriously. Yet any analysis would demonstrate this man’s writing to be the self-serving tripe it is. He seems to want to attack mainstream disability rights advocates, as if he wants to be seen as more important than others. He seems to think his voice should matter more than it does, when in fact it is rightly shunned by most. We can read his attacks on other activists as quite a childish reaction to that very shunning. His misuse of language and concepts seems to me to imply he thinks he belongs in a league he clearly does not. This wouldn’t matter, save for the fact that this man is writing in a major online newspaper, and he appears to champion right-wing views. In attacking people who cry foul, he basically seeks to attack those of us currently standing up to the tories. In the huffington post, this might not be seen by others as the tripe it is.