Saturday, 31st January 2015

by Joshua Gaskell

As a ——, I feel ——, phr.

Pronunciation: /az ə — ʌɪ fiːl —/
Etymology: < as prep. + feel v. const. either with direct object, subord. clause, or obj. with complement or infinitive.

Used to introduce statements of identity politics in place of the robuster I think ——.

I’m prompted to write this definition by the memory of the edition of Question Time the week before last, and particularly the panel’s discussion of the judge who said to the teacher she was sentencing for having sex with his sixteen-year-old pupil, ‘If grooming is the right word to use, it was she who groomed you, [and] you gave in to temptation.’ Clearly grooming was not the right word to use, but the only member of the panel who attempted an interesting and nuanced answer was David Starkey, and he was shouted down for it. The rest of the speakers simply rephrased each other’s platitude, i.e. that the teacher was wrong to do what he did. As Starkey said to Anna Soubry, ‘you’re very good at saying the obvious’, which is true of many of Question Time’s panellists.

What particularly irritated me in this case was the way in which two members of the panel prefixed their answers with, ‘As a parent, I ——’. This style of answering is, I think, on the increase, and the reason I dislike it is that it’s unconducive to constructive, dialectical debate: instead of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, it’s I’m this, I’m that and I’m the other. Argumenta ad hominem (as opposed to ad rem) have always been thought of as the personal attacks resorted to by someone who’s losing a debate. Yet users of the As a ——, I feel —— construction actually volunteer themselves to be attacked ad hominem. ‘As a Muslim, I’m offended’, ‘As a parent, I’m disgusted’, ‘As a Scot, I’m sick and tired of ——’. These are formulas. They abrogate the responsibility to really engage with an issue, and dispose people to overlook the wood for the trees, society for the communities. It’s not that people who identify with a particular group and its politics shouldn’t have a say in the broader debate, it’s that they should have a proper say. I don’t think Germaine Greer got where she is by prefixing her every utterance with, ‘As a woman, I feel ——’.

If these formulas become dominant, then playing the man as opposed to the ball will be not so much an aberration of the rules of the game, but the rule of a new game altogether; one of which the spectator would undoubtedly see more, if he could be bothered to watch.