The Extreme Right and the Limits of Liberal Tolerance in David Greig's The Events and Chris Thorpe's Confirmation.
The first section of this essay comprises a cultural, political, and economic survey of recent European history that accounts for the ways that anti-immigrant, antimulticulturalist and Islamophobic discourses have become the dominant touchstones of today's far right. Thereafter, this essay will examine the way that The Events and Confirmation assimilate and synthesize these ideologies, comparing the strategies by which these extremist-right attitudes are dramaturgically framed and dispensed. It is clear at first glance that both these plays can be seen to be performing interrogations into the way that extremist racist and neo-fascist ideologies are conceived and cultivated in contemporary Europe, both in their own way dealing with the shadow cast by Breivik's actions. Nonetheless, this essay goes further in suggesting that both works are engaged in bringing to light the ways in which particular qualities of contemporary far-right thought can be shown to be parasitic upon traditional leftist discourse, something that resonates significantly with the Europe-wide success of right-populist parties that have gained recent electoral traction, partly by aping many of the left's more recognizable tenets against globalization's more rapacious tendencies.
A crucial point of comparison marbled throughout both plays is the counterposing of a quintessentially left-liberal protagonist against an extremist antagonist. Here this essay suggests that in doing so both plays perform an interrogation into the limitations and liabilities of the conventional attributes of liberal tolerance, a tendency encapsulated in its most egregeious form by Facebook CEO's Sheryl Sandberg's remark when proposing that Facebook "likes" could be deployed to fight terrorism: "the best antidote to hate is tolerance." (1) In both plays we see a similar process of asking what form such a tolerance would take, of interrogating the precariousness and artificiality of a liberal belief system predicated on the benign acceptance of others' views when those views are fundamentally intolerable, and of the fundamental incompatibility between a protagonist with a predilection for tolerance attempting also to understand the extremist views of their adversary. Therefore, while this essay elucidates how The Events and Confirmation each engage with and absorb the most distinctive features of contemporary reactionary, racist, and far-right discourse, it also makes the case that the plays can be interpreted in conjunction as offering clear critiques of the way that the contemporary liberal left construes and uses tolerance as a political category, and as questioning whether this is an adequate response to an emergent twenty-first-century fascism.
The Emergence of the Contemporary Racist and Reactionary Far Right
Both The Events and Confirmation are responses to the growing prevalence of Islamophobia and antimulticulturalism in Western Europe, two distinct though related discourses that emanate from a resurgent reactionary right that has emerged over the last thirty years. The following section is a broad overview that demonstrates the long-term social and cultural trends that have incubated these dispositions, embedding them as key constituents of the contemporary far-right imaginary. This is a process that began following the crises of the seventies, where ideas implanted by the conservative New Right found purchase in the changed political landscape of the New Labor era, having continued currency and increased relevance to present-day culture and society.
One of the signal victories of free-market reform in the developed economies over the past four decades has been the neutering of all significant countervailing bastions of organized class opposition and its submission to neoliberal logic and its implementation in governance. The political defeat of the labor movement resulted in etiolated grassroots organization and the decline of union membership. Its institutional strength atrophied, the deradicalized working class became disenfranchised from its habitual sources of political representation, unable to resist the burgeoning dominance of financial capital, which was, through deregulation, offshoring, and the financialization of the economy, to incur massive social and economic changes throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Remarkably, following the global financial crisis, credit crunch, and subsequent Great Recession from 2008 onwards, neoliberal technocracy enabled banks, financial institutions, and corporations to continue to dominate policy-making and implementation. Equally remarkable, moreover, was the degree of popular consent for these agendas of asset-stripping privatization, wage-suppression, and reduction in welfare provision that are now well understood as the imposition of "austerity": an ideological narrative constructed by the right that involved reframing the 2008 financial crisis as attributable to excessive government spending, with huge reductions in the level of public debt the diagnosed cure.
One of the more pronounced effects to arise from the anxieties attendant on the prevailing economic insecurity since the financial crisis has been the intensification in social resentment against immigration. In Western Europe particularly, where the increasingly free movement of labor has exacerbated perceptions of competition for scarce resources and jobs, and where the successful neoliberal evacuation of politics from economics has made "cultural" issues more politically salient, this has found expression in reactionary populism directed against minorities and immigrants. In 2010, Slavoj Zizek wrote that "the big event of the first decade of the new millennium was when anti-immigration politics went mainstream and finally cut the umbilical cord that had connected it to far right fringe parties;" (2) it becomes increasingly clear that political discourse continues to swing to the right, creating conditions more hospitable to the ventilation of reactionary views in mainstream debate. Both the 2015 general election and the 2016 EU referendum campaign in the UK were instances where right-wing parties exploited the fears of privileged social groups by stigmatizing the less advantaged, with both the UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) and Conservatives successfully channeling resentment against elites stemming from the effects of deindustrialization and globalization into retrenched nationalism and a simplistic and virulent anti-immigrant hostility. Antipathy toward immigration in the UK has risen steadily over the past sixteen years, (3) with both New Labor and Conservative governments throughout that time using it as a proxy to displace blame for the growing pressures on public services like welfare funding, the NHS, and education. With the Conservative governments imposition of austerity exacerbating the post-financial-crisis stagnation in productivity and growth, (4) a 2016 Resolution Foundation report claims that over half of working-age households in the UK have seen flat or falling living standards since 2002. (5) The choice to adopt austerity resulted in both stagnant real wages and poor public services, each increasing discontent which led to Brexit, which itself fueled a surge in racism. The immediate post-referendum period was distinguished by a spike in racist violence and harassment. (6) Torsten Bell, Director of the Resolution Foundation, has identified the correlation between wage levels and the tendency to support Brexit, (7) while a recent paper by Markus Brueckner and Hans Peter Gruener shows that "lower growth rates are associated with a significant increase in Right-wing extremism." (8) In their study, Brueckner and Gruener find no such correlation in an increase in left-wing extremism.
That centrist politicians and the Archbishop of Canterbury, (9) let alone emergent far-right political parties like UKIP and Pegida, now espouse pieties about immigration being a "reasonable concern" is a testament to the reactionary narrative, germinating for decades, that a concoction of deliberate policies revolving around multiculturalism, excessively generous welfare, and insufficiently stringent immigration has brought European civilization close to collapse. The extremist antagonists of The Events and Confirmation draw from this well, the taproots of which were popularized by political theorist Samuel Huntingdon's influential "Clash of Civilizations" hypothesis. A riposte to Francis Fukuyama's famous "End of History" thesis, Huntingdon claimed in 1993 that "the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural." (10) Huntington's ideas were readily appropriated by many conservatives in the wake of the 9/11 attacks as correctly prefiguring a conflict between Islam and the West, with Islam configured as a deadly Other. Not only has the "Clash of Civilizations" trope since been deployed in response to "jihadi" terrorist acts in the West following the original attack on the World Trade Center, it has also been used as an intellectual justification for the rejection of multiculturalism, with the clash often framed as being between European Enlightenment and Islamic "medievalist" values. In the context of the post-9/11 "war on terror," a proximate cause of the resulting wave of Islamophobia, anti-Islam ideologues have contrasted Western secular modernity with alleged Islamic backwardness and totalitarianism, while the move of choice for many more overt conservatives has been in the retrenchment of a militant white nationalism such as in the formation of the English Defense League (EDL) in the UK.
The nodal point of contemporary rightist paranoia of a center-left of social democrats and multiculturalists aiding and abetting the Islamic takeover of Europe was when twenty-nine-year-old Norwegian Anders Breivik killed eight people by setting off a bomb outside government offices in Oslo and then shot dead sixty-nine participants of a Workers' Youth League (AUF) summer camp on the island of Utoya on July 22, 2011. Breivik was influenced by a transatlantic commentariat that was comprised as equally of hard-right counter-jihadi pundits such as Pamela Geller, Daniel Pipes, Mark Steyn, and Melanie Phillips as it was of more mainstream conservative content like Fox News and the British Daily Express newspaper. Breivik's manifesto, 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, was a collage of political commentary culled from these sources as much as it was a handbook intended to lay the groundwork for the civilizational war he believed he foresaw and hoped to inaugurate. In writing it, he attempted to diagnose the reasons for European malaise and stake a claim for a twenty-first century fascism that would, through a genocidal paramilitary purge, extirpate first "cultural Marxists" from the continent, with all Muslims to follow soon thereafter. (11)
Two distinct and successive phases of ideological narratives are of interest following the atrocity. First, as events were still unfolding, in default of any conclusive information about who was responsible for the massacre, news sources, commentators, and bloggers immediately assumed that the event was a "jihadist" terror attack, even though the targeting of a political institution (government offices) or the modus operandi of a Columbine-style gun massacre was incommensurate with violent Islamist actions in Europe up until that point. The most egregious example of this was of the UK tabloid The Sun, which led with the headline "Al-Qaeda Massacre: Norway's 9/11," and ran an editorial in which blame for the massacre was unambiguously levelled at Islamic terrorists, "the scourge of the West:"
Why Norway? The answer is simple. Because it is brave. It is a loyal member of NATO and plays its part in Afghanistan and Libya. It has courageously stood up to Muslim fanatics trying to stir up hatred in Norway, where Islam is the second largest religion. ... By daring to oppose terrorism, Norway has become a victim of it. (12)
These passages were later removed from the online version of the story, as were the newspaper's admonition to its readers that "We must ask ourselves whether--like Norway--we offer too cushy a life to bogus asylum seekers." (13) The US newspaper The Wall Street Journal also retrospectively redacted an editorial that suggested that Norway had been attacked "for being true to Western norms." (14) In the rewritten version, the editorial mentioned that it had falsely attributed the attacks to jihadists, but it still called the attacker an al Qaeda "copycat," thereby still yoking violent Islamism in as somehow complicit with the massacre.
As conclusive evidence of Breivik's culpability and motivation for the acts emerged, so did the second significant point of ideological contention whereby right-wing commentators mobilized in an attempt to deracinate Breivik's acts from his stated political intentions. Unlike the violence perpetuated by Islamic extremists, Breivik's professed religion of Christianity was discounted as not constituting a material contribution to his behavior. However, by far the most common strategy adopted in the attempt to depoliticize the massacre was the contention that Breivik was simply insane, thereby minimizing the extent to which his actions could be said to arise from a coherent rationale and resisting at all costs the application of the descriptor "terrorism," since that word would suggest an equivalence with Islamic violence. Elizabeth Humphrys and Guy Rundle articulate the hypocrisy of the hard-right commentariat in their explications of Breivik's acts: "Similarly ruthless acts by radical Islamists could be taken as a perfectly consistent expression of their philosophy, and indeed of Islam itself.... But any connection between radical Right statements and violent action were denied, in a way that suggested that a connection between their ideas and any form of action was in error...--the hard-Right argument of 'madness, not western civilisation' as the motive for Breivik's acts became the official story." (15) As Tad Tierz remarks, with Breivik safely pathologized, his actions could be dismissed as a form of sickness: "Suddenly we were being encouraged to see the massacre as something completely discontinuous with the increasing size and confidence of the anti-multicultural Right. The emergence of someone willing to put the Right's civilisational war into action on the battlefield of Norwegian society, we were told, was not a symptom of their program but an aberration caused by faulty neurocircuitry and/or a malignant personality." (16) Though it is still not widely known, in a section devoted to a cross-examination of himself, Breivik's manifesto actually does contain a passage where he considers the possibility that his actions will be interpreted from the perspective of psychopathology rather than ideology. Rather ironically, he forecasts that this will be a tactic deployed by those he considers his enemies rather than those with whom he shares his political tendency: "I am fully aware that the media will attempt to label me as a nut. This is the most common strategy of combating political dissidents. I know that the cultural Marxists and the full force of the European multiculturalist mainstream media will do everything within their power to portray people like me as nothing more than delusional nut jobs. After all it's their job to protect their interests." (17)
Since Breivik's manifesto was made public, many of the right-wing writers whose ideas had contributed to its fabric and architecture attempted to disassociate themselves from it. Mark Steyn's "Eurabia" thesis of a Europe on the cusp of being overrun by Muslim demographics, where "Radical Islam is what multiculturalism has been waiting for all along," (18) was viewed approvingly by Breivik in 2083. Steyns response was to muse, "It is unclear how seriously this 'manifesto' should be taken," (19) a statement which essentially amounted to an admission of the unseriousness of his own ideas, since they featured prominently within it. Daniel Pipes, another frequently cited source in 2083, made a contorted attempt to exculpate himself from any implication with Breivik's worldview by drawing attention to references within the manifesto to famously left-wing thinkers like Karl Marx, Gyorgy Lukacs, and Theodor W. Adorno, without acknowledging the disapproval with which these sources were treated. (20) Melanie Philips was sanguine when it came to light that two of her articles had been extensively quoted, and she responded in belligerent style: "The supposed beliefs of the Norway massacre's perpetrator has got the left in general wetting itself in delirium at this apparently heaven-sent opportunity to take down those who fight for life, liberty and western civilisation against those who would destroy it." (21)
This exposition has been given at some length in order to demonstrate that Confirmation and The Events must be understood as responses to a European political discourse that has shifted dramatically to the right in very specific ways, with anti-immigration, antimulticulturalism, and Islamophobia the views increasingly seen as acceptable diagnoses of the present situation and as formulas for its transformation. The fact that Breivik's worldview was shaped and corroborated not only by counter-jihadi comment but by mainstream sources such as the BBC demonstrates how far culturalist racist discourses have become validated in contemporary Europe, and it is this terrain that Thorpe and Grieg's pieces traverse.
The Events and the Contemporary Extreme Right
David Greig's The Events tells the story of the aftermath of the politically motivated mass-shooting of a community choir run by a priest called Claire, perpetrated by a character known only as The Boy, a young antimulticulturalist nativist racist. Within the play, certain aspects of The Boy's political rationale and ideological assumptions indicate a compatibility with a right-wing extremism specifically correlated to its twenty-first-century manifestation rather than to prior historical iterations, as the previous section of this article set out.
The Events opens with The Boy addressing the audience directly, referring them back in time to the colonization of Australia:
Imagine a boy-- An aboriginal boy-- He's standing on the rocks above the Illawarra River just at the very moment three ships from England come sailing up the long grey waters of the cove. (22)
Reflecting on the significance of the approaching force, he enumerates the apparatuses of subjection that the colonizing power will implement on their arrival: not only "conditions of personhood" such as convicts and officers but also "class and religion and disease and a multitude of other instruments of objectification." (23) Concluding his exposition, The Boy asks the audience:
If you could go back in time and speak to that boy, what would you say? You would stand on the rocks and you would point at the ships and you would say--"Kill them. Kill them all." (24)
On the most superficial level, The Boy is performing an imaginary identification, positioning himself as a contemporary palimpsest of the aboriginal which allows him to justify his militant xenophobia as necessary for protecting the security of his tribe. However, further than this, the passage is remarkably instructive about specific elements to do with the form and quality of the discourse of the extremist racist right and its favored representative tropes. In particular, The Boy's opening recitation strikes home because, as with so much contemporary reactionary diatribe, it borrows attributes from familiar leftist formulas. Specifically, the speech unsettles through its conflation of nativist racism against a putatively destabilizing Other with the language and sentiment of postmodern egalitarian justice that acknowledges the fundamentally oppressive and imperialistic character of the colonial project. Like his historical aboriginal counterpart, The Boy casts himself as a defender of the purity of his tribe, exploiting a familiar contemporary nativist trope of the indigenous occupant besieged by foreign invaders (as was clearly evoked by Breivik's own conviction of a correlation between his own activities and those of medieval orders of crusading knights). Nonetheless, it is significant that the vehicle for this toxic sentiment is compatible with standard anti-imperialistic critiques of colonialism as punitive and expropriative. The language deployed by The Boy, denoting an awareness of structural oppression, of real relationships between oppressor and oppressed, exploiter and exploited, is pressed into service for racist discourse that allows him to justify his prejudice and paint himself as a dispossessed aboriginal.
In this way, the speech can be read as a prototype of the curious doubleness that characterizes much right-wing sentiment. What political scientist Corey Robin calls "one of the most interesting and least understood aspects of conservative ideology" (25) is specifically this long-established tendency to ape the left, or more specifically to "look to the left for ways to bend new vernaculars, or new media, to their suddenly delegitimated aims." (26) Robin observes that "conservatives may absorb, by some elusive osmosis, the deeper categories and idioms of the left, even when those idioms run directly counter to their official stance," (27) and indeed this is a tactic endorsed by the conservative academic and activist David Horowitz, one of many reactionary advocates of the theory of a Gramscian culture war being won by the left, who has encouraged the right "to use the language that the left has deployed so effectively in behalf of its own agendas." (28) Writing about the ideological terrain mapped in Anders Breivik's manifesto, writer Richard Seymour observes that Breivik also considered engagement in hegemonic battles strategically important, noting that "as he puts it: 'Copy your enemies, learn from the professionals.' Thus, while 'cultural Marxists' exert dominance through front organisations supporting human rights, feminism or environmentalism, so 'cultural conservatives' should embrace front tactics based on alliances 'against Muslim extremism... for free speech' and for human and civil rights." (29) Hypocritical appeals for freedom and tolerance like this can be observed in tactics currently employed by far-right movements like the Tommy Robinson-fronted Pegida-UK in their protests against "Islamification," with Muslims accused of being sexist, homophobic, and therefore inimical to free speech through excessive religiosity. Like The Boy's inversion of the rhetoric of postcolonialist resistance to authorize his nativist racism, what this points up very clearly is the way that contemporary xenophobes and antimulticulturalists are currently concerned with recuperating the concerns of identity politics and redeploying them for their own strategic purposes.
While Grieg's play has already attracted a substantial amount of critical commentary, little attention has been paid to the way that it collates different aspects of contemporary far-right ideology and their methods of deployment in political discourse. The readings proffered so far typically interrogate how Greig's play works to perform its political and ethical engagement affectively. Clare Wallace has read the play as a framing of Rancierian dissensus that "harnesses the energies of dissonance and empathy"; Marilena Zaroulia has traced the play's negotiation of the deadlock between what, following Derrida, she terms "unimaginable" political violence and the (im)possibility of its forgiveness; and David Pattie has proposed that the presence of the local onstage choir throughout the play inducts the audience into a state of Deleuzean "immanent participation" which "force us into a judgement which is both affective and ethical." (30) While, as Wallace emphasizes, it has been repeatedly made clear that The Events is "[not] simply 'about' Breivik," (31) the play's trafficking with the contemporary thematics of right-wing political extremism, particularly the complex of factors oriented around Breivik's own avowed antimulticulturalism, is surely one of its most striking thematic features. While Wallace's, Zaroulia's, and Pattie's contributions tell us a great deal about various vectors of the play's affective potential (with Zaroulia specifically arguing that the play engages with the "limits of representation" (32)), there is as yet little recognition of how Grieg has deployed many of the schema of the contemporary far right within it or of how its appeals are coded within political discourse.
The sole survivor of the mass shooting, after her reprieve Claire begins a traumatic journey to understand The Boy's motivations: "I know what happened to me. / I want to understand what happened to him." (33) In reading The Events as a play that "captures and critiques elements of what has been, rather hastily and problematically, described as the 'failure' of multiculturalism," (34) Zaroulia has identified the deconstructive treatment of the character of The Boy--if "character" is a suitable word to apply to a figure that enacts every single member of the dramatis personae in the play other than Claire--as an instance of aporia at the heart of the play that at once elides "simplistic and hate-inducing demonisation" (35) and at the same time is "a sign containing no fixed value." (36) Zaroulia argues that as this strategy plays out, the essential lack of fixity in the character of The Boy serves "[to] challenge ideological positions that reproduce specific, often racially or ethnically driven understandings of self and Other, thus stalling possibilities of multicultural cohabitation." (37) This characterization of The Boy (performed in the Actor's Touring Company version of the play by a non-white actor) as a coexisting composite of personalities and symptoms coincides with Wallace's location of the play within a "dissensual ideoscape" that "participates in the wider, dispersed, and public debating and imagining of cultural identity and multiculturalism in the wake of the Norway killings." (38)
In the play, Claire reads The Boy's online writings and speaks to those he has interacted with, attempting to get a sense of what influenced his actions. The sequence is a series of segues where Claire's interlocutor shifts between The Boy's mother and a former schoolmate, among others. Here she comes up against a representative of what is ostensibly a hard-right political movement--again mediated by the actor playing The Boy--who excoriates what they see as Claire's dangerously naive multicultural openness as a jejune lifestyle affectation that she is only able to adopt because she has a lack of skin in the game: "You enjoy exoticism as long as you feel in a dominant position. As long as your tribe are in control." (39) The party representative reflects on the repercussions that The Boy's actions have had for their political movement in terms identical to those to the self-exculpatory dismay of the right-commentariat's reaction to Breivik's atrocity:
The Boy: The boy's actions have been a disaster for us. Claire: Why? The Boy: He's a madman. Claire: A madman who believes the things you believe. The Boy: Exactly, so by association we appear mad or extreme. (40)
Clearly Greig intends a parallel to the sections of the mainstream and radical right that sought to characterize Breivik as insane or disturbed, and as therefore acting out of pathology rather than political conviction. The party representative also stands for the kind of populist rightist demagogue that deploys inflammatory rhetoric but disavows the material effects that arise from cultivating a toxic political environment, a clear echo of the post-Breivik dissembling of the anti-jihadi commentariat; the "values" they aspire to preserve are articulated in opposition to a familiar litany of "Islamofascist" tropes: "Schoolgirls killed for going to school, mobs dancing on embassy roofs, burning books, what do you think would happen to you if you lived in Arabialand, Claire? Or Afghanistan? What do you think they do to lesbians? What's your general impression of the way little lesbian girls get treated in Islamic countries?" (41) Patties analysis of this passage rightly suggests that this is "an ethical position" that "operates by reversing Levinasian ethics; the Other is encountered only to be rejected--on the very basis that the Other is unknowable." (42) Yet while this is true of the party representative, it is emphatically not true of The Boy, who appears not to predicate his rejection of the Other on the assumption of essential difference. The Boy not only posits an imaginary identification between himself and an Australasian aboriginal at the outset of the play but also proclaims himself variously throughout as historical archetypes such as a "tribal warrior," Viking Berserker, and Stone Age man. Such identities are both ethnically diverse and anthropologically heterogeneous; in fact, notions of Caucasian racial superiority are conspicuously absent from the play. If anything, The Boy rationalizes his animus toward his multicultural society as the defense of an indigenous monoculture rather than specific racism directed toward particular ethnic or racial groups. It is perhaps worth noting that the liberal Claire is unable to formulate a response to the party representative's provocation, though she is incensed that their organization published the details of her community choir on a "list of state-funded propaganda for multiculturalism," (43) which, it is implied, is what prompted The Boy to target it. Like Breivik's insistence in 2083 that socialists, social democrats, liberals, and multiculturalists were abolishing Europe through multicultural, secular, and "religion-neutral" immigration policies, The Boy's act is one of mass political assassination, a symbolic slaughter of the group he most despises.
Paul Gilroy's reminder that racism is dynamic and diachronic is particularly instructive here, namely that "racist ideologies and practices have distinct meanings bounded by historical circumstances and determined in struggle." (44) The racism of The Boy is rooted neither in biological determinism nor a belief in the supremacy of "the white race" as it typically manifested earlier in the twentieth century. In its emphasis on ethnonationalism wedded to far-right antimulticulturalism, it realigns its focus from prior conceptions of biological determinism and trains it instead upon the purported cultural incompatibility of ethnic minority and immigrant groups with the "mainstream" culture. It is precisely this prejudicial distinction that informs The Boy's racist claim, "I don't hate foreigners. I hate foreigners being here. There is a difference." (45) This specific development in racist attitudes was a response to European immigration in the 1970s that foregrounded differences in cultural identity rather than biological markers of racial superiority or inferiority. The beneficiaries of this strategy were the National Front in the UK in the 1970s, who were able to claim that they did not have any views about inherent biological superiority and were therefore not racist, while still being able to legitimize exclusionary forms of difference. Like the perverse victimology pioneered by the BNP (British National Party) and Front Nationale, where majority European national cultures were able to portray themselves as being under threat from foreign peoples and traditions, The Boy's declaration, "I kill to protect my tribe," (46) based on an exclusionary affirmation of imagined indigenous belonging, is pitched against Claire's Utopian assertion that the multiracial community choir that she convenes is "all one big crazy tribe." (47) Claire's commitment to a notion of community that is lived, felt, and experienced, indeed, in its strictest sense, a unity in difference, throws the lineaments of The Boy's racism into sharp relief. In this way, the character of The Boy is reflective of reactionary political valences that are aligned as much with the contemporary racist focus on cultural traits over crude eugenics as they are with the definition of tribalism: politics based on the affirmation of one group identity against others, a significant hallmark of the rise of the "further right" in Europe and UKIP in the UK.
Confirmation and Contemporary Racism
Confirmation, which premiered at the 2014 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is a performance piece written and performed by Chris Thorpe and developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin. The piece is a one-man show about dialogue. In it, Thorpe tells the story of his interactions with a neo-Nazi white-supremacist activist that he encountered while researching the piece. The ensuing dialogue is framed and mediated throughout as an investigation into the concept of confirmation bias. First postulated by Stanford University cognitive and social scientists Charles D. Lord, Lee Ross, and Mark R. Lepper in 1979, (48) confirmation bias describes the tendency in people to seek out and interpret information in selective ways that confirm the beliefs they already hold while correspondingly being more dismissive of information that does not conform to their preconceptions. As Thorpe puts it in the play, "We have evolved to be beings that see in the world evidence that supports the point of view we hold already." (49)
The piece itself focuses on Thorpe's pursuit of the essence of confirmation bias as it is expressed through the interactions he relates that occur between himself and the neo-Nazi and committed racist that he gives the pseudonym "Glen." Thorpe positions himself with all candor as aligning with a leftist and socially liberal outlook, with the discussion framed as an attempt to have an honest and straightforward conversation across the political divide with the extremist racist right. As the piece develops, it becomes clear that Thorpe is voicing both the opinions of himself and Glen without making any clear demarcation between the two individuals, with the conversation proceeding at times as a verbatim account. As a consequence, there are points within the piece where the racist views of a white supremacist are articulated in great detail and with compelling rhetorical force. What Thorpe professes he hopes may be a process by which dialogue leads toward a measure of understanding instead moves inexorably toward what Jurgen Habermas calls "strategic dialogue," with each exponent attempting to assert their own viewpoint rather than achieving mutual recognition; it becomes clear that the failure of communication is a manifestation of confirmation bias itself. The piece deals with the ethical conundrum of how useful and effective tolerance is as a political category when it permits the ventilation of intolerable views, and the play's deft manipulation of perspective and point of view treats the issue of racism with uncompromising frankness.
Confirmation calls for a performance space enclosed by chairs on every side, a scenic configuration that perhaps has more associations with competitive sport than theatre. The choice is apt, as the function of the piece is exactly to portray conflict: not, however, the orthodox dramaturgical template of a suspenseful narrative but an altogether more dialectical form. The dialogic form that the show purports to have, however, is mediated throughout via a single point of enunciation: the voice of the solo performer, Thorpe himself. Like The Events, Confirmation is motivated by an interrogative impetus, with Thorpe its protagonist attempting to understand the convictions of a profoundly racist antagonist. The measure of understanding that Thorpe is prepared to extend is twofold: first, to appreciate where the extreme racial belief stemmed from and how it was formed, and second, to appreciate the methods of cognitive functioning that sustain such radical positions that have little apparent evidentiary basis in fact or objective truth. Where Grieg's play refrains from proffering neat or formulaic explications of The Boy's act, instead presenting a composite picture of equally valid interpenetrating factors, a constellation of possibilities that combined to make the atrocity possible, in Confirmation, Thorpe's approach is very different from the "aerial perspective" advocated by Greig, where "the writer's perspective [is] the way we are looking down on people and trying to work out how they work." (50) Rather, it sets in motion a mutually informing, dialogic development with Thorpe at the center, with the aspiration of an "attempt to have an honourable dialogue, real and imagined," with political extremism. (51)
The notion of confirmation bias operates as theoretical rationale and methodological means of enquiry throughout the piece. Thorpe says that after conducting his initial research into confirmation bias, it resonated immediately at the level of his political beliefs: "It intersected with that very lazy liberal interest I had in exposing myself to opinions that were very far from my own--where I would watch Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, or pick up the Daily Mail if it was lying on the table in a pub--in order to confirm my own rightness in my own viewpoints. That led me to the structure of the show whereby I speak to someone who is fundamentally very different from me, at least politically." (52) Thorpe elaborates with an anecdote whereby the instinctively liberal attitudes he holds allow him to apprehend his own confirmation bias as it operates:
I got off a plane recently and I hadn't been in Britain for a couple of weeks, and you know they have those free newspapers when you get on and off planes? It was the Daily Mail, in which the headline above the fold was: "At last, a man in Britain who wants to have an honest conversation about race." And I have to admit, the part of me that used to watch Bill O'Reilly to make myself angry went: "Brilliant. Nice to be home." Because obviously my assumption is that Nigel Farage or a senior Tory has said something incredibly provocative about race, and the Mail have picked it up and used it to open the floodgates for the people who normally comment on those articles with views just as terrible as the ones that I talk about in Confirmation. I opened it up and there was a picture of Trevor Phillips on the front page when it unfolded. (53) So that was a learning experience, because obviously that complicates things. Because it's Trevor Phillips. And because I agree with Trevor Phillips. And because Trevor Phillips is not the face that you expect to see on the front of the Daily Mail. And of course the Mail are doing a very clever thing because they're insulating themselves from criticism about having that conversation about race which would probably only go a certain number of ways for their readership--there's an assumption there for you--but it was a really good example of attempting to do what I used to do and the real world had come back and said, "It's a bit more complicated than that." (54)
Thorpe's example illustrates the way that confirmation bias both shapes expectations within specific horizons and conditions responses to the assumptions it itself cultivates. While the newspaper's deployment of the black former Commissioner for Racial Equality implicitly authorizes its ideological suggestion (that discussion around the topic of race is either prohibited or inherently skewed against whites), Thorpe's response is confounded when a quintessential liberal spokesperson espouses a view that is different from what they might usually be expected to say.
It is perhaps significant that the anecdote Thorpe chooses to illustrate the encounter with confirmation bias is about race, for the condition of contemporary racism in its extremist form is the central preoccupation of Confirmation. There is nothing inherently political in confirmation bias itself, and the notion could potentially be explored dramatically by using any topic about which there are differences of opinion. In Confirmation, Thorpe makes the piece explicitly political by using it to interrogate the contemporary salience of racism: "It's about race, in terms of the beliefs that I have and the beliefs that the person I'm talking to have and the gulf between them. It's about extreme racial belief." (55) At the outset, the piece documents Thorpe's early journalistic fieldwork of attending a BNP meeting which segues into an informative TED-style address in which the basics of confirmation bias are quickly limned. As Confirmation plays out, what began as a synthesis of a dramatic monologue and a lecture develops into a duologue that tells the story of the Thorpe's involvement with a white supremacist and the series of online encounters that ensue. As Thorpe has confirmed in interview, the conversations held by the real counterparts during the pieces research phase have been transcribed and redacted exactly as a verbatim piece might: "I'm saying the things that were said to me, and even though the piece uses them with a little bit of editing for repetition it is absolutely verbatim to what has been written or physically said." (56)
The starting point of Chris's (57) journey is when he meets Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind, a book about the difficulties of bipartisanship in US politics that considers the intractable differences in worldview between conservatives and liberals. Chris outlines his ambitions to Haidt: "I said that I'd come up with this idea of talking to someone with whom I profoundly disagreed. And I said, that if I was gonna find someone intelligent, who I could have an honourable discussion with, it might as well be someone with whom I disagreed in quite an extreme way. Who challenged my self-defined liberalism. I think I used the phrase, 'I might as well Go Big.' Maybe a white supremacist. I said. Maybe someone, for example, who would defend or justify what Anders Breivik did." (58)
As reported by Chris, Haidt's retort to this is revealing: "The mindset you're describing isn't a set of opinions, it's a pathology.... I think that the person that you're describing is probably mentally ill." (59) Haidt's surprising dismissal is in some respects a standard liberal response and one which is undermined throughout the whole of Confirmation. Such a view seriously underestimates the extent to which Islamophobes consider themselves to be genuinely embattled, and it fails to acknowledge that prominent right-wingers spoke about Breivik with unvarnished candor in the aftermath of Utoya. Italian MEP Francesco Speroni said the killer's ideas were "in defence of Western civilisation;" (60) Mario Borghezio, a member of Italy's Northern League, was reported as saying that Breivik had some "excellent" ideas; (61) and Jacques Coutela, a member of France's Front Nationale, called Breivik an "icon" and "the main defender of the west." (62) Furthermore, quite apart from outliers that did not feel the need to qualify their approbation for Breivik, many right-wingers were happy to decant elements of Breivik's grievances into the proposition that while the massacre was to be deplored, it remained a response to genuine concerns about European immigration that still required redress. Haidt's evaluation, as relayed by Chris, is revealing about the present political juncture, as it is in fact exactly the same response that was collectively proffered by the anti-Islamist commentariat that sought to declare Breivik himself insane. In this vein, all such maneuvers that dismiss right-wing extremism as a strain of fantasy rather than a dangerous and objective reality function as performative statements: ones that do not describe reality but that rather seek to inaugurate it through its utterance.
In the next section of Confirmation, Chris finds Glen, an interlocutor that runs a white-supremacist website who is indeed willing to defend all the extremist and racist opinions that Thorpe articulated to Haidt and more. As critic Andrew Haydon has written, Thorpe's intervention into the situation is of a quintessentially liberal compulsion: "[Chris speaks to Glen] not because he wants to be converted, or because he wants to change their mind, but because, well, I suppose because he wants to understand them better. And understand himself better. And, well, obviously, he would want to do that because he's a nice left-wing, liberal type." (63)
From his left-liberal perspective, Chris outlines to the audience a number of commonplace touchstones of the extreme right in preparation for his first encounter with Glen. They are conventional paranoiac tropes about Muslim belligerence and intolerance, and about the concomitant "Cultural Marxist" takeover of institutions and its expression in the policing of language and thought. At this point, these assumptions aren't qualified, prefaced, or identified in any way as being enunciated by Glen: in fact they amount to Chris listing his own assumptions about the right-wing extremist worldview.
Surprisingly, far from confirming these assumptions in the first instance, Glen instead opens with a rhetorical gambit designed specifically to challenge them. Written on pieces of card, these statements are offered, by Thorpe, to members of the audience that are invited to read them out loud into a microphone: "I'm going to tell you some things about myself, and just let me know if you agree.... I think we might be surprised at how much we agree on." (64) In this manner, the audience relays three of Glen's propositions that would be fairly uncontroversial coming from a leftist standpoint: Glen apparently advocates the renationalization of key industries and utilities, deplores the instrumentalization of education, and feels that the "white working class" is demonized. To these points, Chris's only point of contention is to have felt "a bit uncomfortable there at his use of the word 'white.'" (65) It is after these exchanges and when Thorpe has suitably established this frame that he can then allow the same audience member a further card that reads, "What you need to know about me, is that I'm a proud National Socialist." (66)
In the next iteration of the pair's dialogue, the roles are swapped so that selected audience members perform as Chris reading his questions to Glen, and Thorpe responds to them with Glen's words. Here Glen expatiates on the root causes of his racist proclivities, and he enumerates his grievances with contemporary society. He ascribes his sense of victimhood and powerlessness to the machinations of elites that use what in his estimation are the most distinctive signifiers of difference--racial and cultural--to divide and rule the mass of people. The perversity of this viewpoint is Glen's belief that it is the "white race" that is the victim of this policy, which has some kind of quintessential homogeneity of culture that is being "diluted": "The people who rule Britain have let in these elements, religions, social practices that threaten the historical way things are done and the civilised way things are done. They let in these barbaric practices and they tell us everyone's equal and they've invited in a monster." (67) As with The Events, Glen's preoccupations turn out to have specific contemporary salience, where the far-right fixation on perceived symptoms of "community decline" supposedly caused by fundamental cultural and racial incompatibility are mingled with nascent political and economic grievances, equally as fixated on multinational corporations, finance capital, and global elites as they are on immigrants and ethnic minorities. Conterminously, when Claire encounters The Boy's online writings in The Events, she comes up against identical reproaches directed at "failed elites who cling on to power and wealth through immigrant labour and globalisation." (68) With this both Greig and Thorpe not only articulate one of the key structures of the contemporary far right's resentment but also correctly diagnose a historically abiding feature of the class-based composition of those with fascist sympathies: the petit-bourgeois perception of being attacked both by those above and below, with the appeal of reactionary politics being in the maintenance of the status of the lower-middle class against emergent social blocs. Accordingly, when Chris finally visits Glen in his home at the end of Confirmation, the description is of a quiet village bungalow in a rural area. (69)
When Chris broaches the topic of Breivik with Glen, the white supremacists first response is to dissemble, embarking on a diatribe about the type of bullets used in the massacre, before admitting solidarity with Breivik's cause and opinions:
I think he was right. I think he was interpreting the situation in Europe in his own way, but it wasn't by any means an unreasonable way.... Of course he shouldn't have killed them but I can understand why he did.... Read what he wrote. It's reasonable. You might find yourself nodding along.... The guy's... [suspension points in original] he's not a madman. He called Islam like he saw it. He saw we were in a war.... He just wanted to be able to stand up and say, this is plainly what's going on, we are being overrun and dismantled and our country, our continent is no longer our own. (70)
Certainly this sense of dispossession accounts to some degree for the recrudescence of racist discourse in contemporary Western Europe, arising as a response to the perceived loss of land or living space, resources, and residual cultural hegemony. As Robin elucidates:
People on the left often fail to realize this, but conservatism really does speak to and for people who have lost something. It may be a landed estate or the privileges of white skin, the unquestioned authority of a husband or the untrammeled rights of a factory owner. The loss may be as material as money or as ethereal as a sense of standing. It may be a loss of something that was never legitimately owned in the first place; it may, when compared with what the conservative retains, be small. Even so, it is a loss, and nothing is ever so cherished as that which we no longer possess. (71)
Recent significant electoral victories for the right--both the election of Donald Trump in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK--were at least in part successful by indulging fantasies of loss and restoration in the slogans "make America great again" and "take back control," with immigration widely seen as a cause of social decline. In Thorpe's play, Glen's admissions are indicative of the way that the reactionary mindset habitually links this individual sense of loss to national decline.
Liberal Tolerance and Understanding
Confirmation and The Events are both products of and responses to the present political climate, offering readings of the ways they have assimilated the thinking of the contemporary far right and interrogated it dramaturgically. In what follows, this essay will examine both plays' strategies of framing their investigations into this xenophobia in terms of its collision with the expectations and assumptions of a moderate, liberal interlocutor far more receptive to cultural diversity than their extremist counterpart.
In performative terms, a significant point of congruence is the way that both pieces refrain from ascribing a single, visible, and identifiable signifier as a point of enunciation for the supremacist views each play interrogates. As Zaroulia has observed, in The Events, the identity of The Boy is dispersed throughout multiple characterizations, and therefore "by constantly deferring who or where The Boy is... the murderer is never entirely present to be judged." (72) The body of the actor playing The Boy hosts every character that Claire interacts with, a corporeal ubiquity-suggestive of the consuming trauma that he has inflicted on her life. Yet in doing this, Grieg deliberately denies the character who is a reservoir of racism the same fixity of representation that Claire herself is invested with. The Boy instead remains throughout an indistinct composite of fragmented but mutually informing vectors for right-wing populism and ethno-nationalism, as when answering the question "what are you?":
I am a Europe-wide malaise I am a point on the continuum of contemporary masculinity I am an expression of failure in eroded working-class communities (73)
Similarly, in Confirmation, Glen is not accorded a stable, definitive stage presence; his views are instead ventriloquized by Thorpe at points in which it is often not immediately clear whether it is Chris or Glen speaking, something Thorpe calls a "destabilizing ambiguity": "There are times when I think some of the most reasonable tones of voice that I employ in the play are generally around the expression of probably the most damaging views, and the points where I'm closest to losing control vocally or physically are the points where it's actually the more liberal half of that dialogue coming up against the frustration of being unable to express themselves with both the specificity and the extremity that they want to because of not wanting to break this self-imposed idea of who they are." (74) In both pieces the ultimate identities of the racist and extremist characters are somewhat occluded, and in both plays their views are mediated obliquely to the audience through their interactions with the moderate liberals that encounter them. In the strictest sense, they appear as Others, observed only in relation to the subjects that act as protagonists.
In The Events, Claire is envisaged throughout, in Greig's words, as "a typical liberal.... She's vegetarian, a little bit hippyish, she works with depressed people, and she runs this choir." (75) Claire is an archetypal bastion of inclusive multicultural liberalism whose journey to "understand the Other and their reasons to resort to violence" (76) takes place "at the limits of empathy." (77) While Ramin Gray, director of the Actor's touring Company production of the play, has suggested that "the core of Claire's philosophy is about openness to the other," (78) Grieg has remarked that Claire undergoes an "obsessive search for understanding, but I find that to be every bit as destructive and overwhelming as the compulsion for revenge." (79) Zaroulia and Wallace have both suggested that the coda of the play fulfills the conditions of Jacques Derrida's paradox of forgiveness ("forgiveness forgives only the unforgivable" (80)), which is expressed through Claire's deciding to deliberately spill the poisoned cup of tea that she serves to The Boy at the end of the play. Yet while a species of Derridean forgiveness in extremis is achievable, true understanding of what Zaroulia couches in the sense of "unimaginable" political violence is assuredly not. As Greig has speculated in an interview, "What I think the play does look at is that this idea of understanding is kind of a shroud that's put in front of you to avoid the darkness, when actually you need to face the darkness." (81)
Conversely, in Confirmation, the impetus toward understanding is advanced through Thorpe's faith in rational dialogue and honest communication, which, on the face of it, the neo-Nazi appears to appreciate: "you're a decent man, Chris, and I wish more on the left were willing to talk like this." (82) Yet even though there are moments when an increasingly complex picture of Glen emerges (it is revealed he is a disability rights campaigner and works to keep his local fire station open in the face of cuts), as Chris is punctilious to point out, "If that was the conclusion to all this--that even people you disagree with are complicated--it would have been a fucking waste of time." (83) There is no consolation in Chris's realization that Glen is "an increasingly nuanced, complicated racist," (84) because a figure that is not demonic is far more difficult to repudiate. Furthermore, while the motor behind Confirmation is Thorpes willingness to engage with someone with oppositional beliefs, the realization he reaches is that the process of engaging in argumentation exposes the precariousness and artificiality of his own convictions. It is Glen's belief that the Holocaust never happened that remains ironclad; conversely, Chris declines to enter into a detailed discussion about the Holocaust because he is unwilling to countenance the talismanic figure of six million deaths being challenged, even though, as he acknowledges, reputable mainstream historians have revised the figure down to something approaching four million victims. This sparks an awareness of his own inherent confirmation bias, with a realization that the liberal convictions he cleaves to are epistemologically unsound, functioning axiologically and instrumentally, and thereby susceptible to being undermined. In the heated exchange of racial politics that ensues where both Chris and Glen attempt to assert the rightness of their views, the only truth that emerges is the reality of their shared confirmation bias, though it is only Chris, not Glen, who acknowledges this.
For the liberal protagonists of both plays, the relationship between tolerance and understanding is one of mutual exclusivity. Chris and Claire's predisposition for tolerance forecloses on their ability to ever truly appreciate the intolerance of the extremist Other; conversely, their shared impetus toward understanding the racism short-circuits their ability to tolerate their adversaries' convictions. Claire spends The Events trying to understand The Boy in order to fix his identity as something so monstrous it would allow her to rationalize and justify her plan to retributively murder him; Chris spends Confirmation wishing for the neo-Nazi fascist to be as Other to his liberal self as it is possible to be, yet is eventually so confounded by Glen's similarity to himself that he doesn't "know which one of us is talking any more." (85) Ultimately, both protagonists fail to find the extremists as repellent as they would wish. Claire's last-second decision not to poison The Boy might be the flaring of a conscience finally reconciled to tolerate his intolerable existence; equally it might be a quintessential liberal humanist affirmation of the intolerability of murder, the moral center of the play choosing not to degrade herself to the level of her antagonist. The Boy's oddly flat final remark in which he puts his extremist racism down to a temporary infatuation--"I think I just got a bit obsessed with aborigines..." (86)--is so resoundingly unexceptional and commonplace as to generate neither insight nor Otherness sufficient for Claire to carry out her plan to kill him. In Confirmation, Chris becomes aware that the discussion has created disclosures that undermine the edifice of unquestioned axioms by which he lives, and he withdraws from his interactions with Glen to preserve the assumptions of his cherished heuristic worldview, in effect affirming solidarity with his own "tribe":
I am diluting myself, talking to you. I am losing myself and I can't fight if I lose myself. (87)
Both Claire and Chris's attempt to understand the extremist Other prove deleterious to the integrity of their own identity: the compassionate Claire collapsing into sadistic fantasies of torture, and Chris becoming progressively less and less aware of the distinction between himself and Glen. As critic Matt Trueman has observed, in Confirmation "the question is how much you tolerate intolerance--and at a certain point, Thorpe has to back away and retreat to his trench. Better no change, than change for the worse." (88)
Both plays present the liberal attempt to understand the extremist as a futile project, with Claire still uncomprehending and incredulous at the end of The Events, and Chris aware of an intractable deficit of mutual intelligibility in Confirmation that, should he wish to transcend it, "would require us to mutilate ourselves." (89) Ultimately, as Grieg himself has said, understanding the extremist racism of a Breivik-type figure might be a flawed aspiration because it "would give the perpetrators some kind of victory." (90) With the effort of understanding rescinded, Claire and Chris relinquish their attempts to comprehend their adversaries and recede into toleration in its purest form, namely as it is described by Yossi Nehushtan: "the state of mind or the behaviour only of those who hold a negative opinion about the other as such or about the other's values.... Indifference and pluralism... cannot be understood as tolerance." (91) Genuine tolerance implies that those doing the tolerating are making a judgement of their own moral superiority to those that are being tolerated.
To situate Chris and Claire's journeys within moral philosopher Michael Sandel's framing of tolerance, both move from an initially passive "liberal... non-judgemental toleration," which involves no moral judgment of the tolerable, to an active "judgemental toleration," which does involve such moral judgment after having encountered and repudiated both extremists. (92) This is a category of tolerance more suited to its original etymological roots, a pragmatic stoicism, tolerance as it is most commonly known and applied: "simply a resigned acceptance of difference for the sake of peace." (93) As Chris says in the play as he disengages from communicating with Glen, "there is only so much understanding in the world. And if I am wasting that making myself more tolerant of you. Maybe I don't want it." (94) In its conflation of tolerance with understanding, this enunciation generates a revealing insight into the mindset of the quintessential "tolerant liberal" as well as the failures of understanding that characterize Confirmation and The Events. Here Chris mistakes his tolerance for intolerance merely by virtue of his deciding to discontinue the dialogue and stop speaking to Glen, yet there is no alteration in his negative perception of Glen's views at any point. So far as Chris's liberal politics go, in practical terms there is absolutely no difference between Chris being tolerant and intolerant of Glen other than the resolution to curtail their communication. The political reality of tolerance, liberal or not, is to take no action against that which is being disapproved of: it is an attitude that seeks only the absence of intolerance itself. Specifically reactionary intolerance, in contrast, is predicated on action.
In comparing The Events and Confirmation's treatment of this issue, it is surely worth noting that both plays resolve with the liberal and extremist characters meeting face-to-face for the first time and engaging in dialogue: Chris visiting Glen at his house and Claire meeting The Boy in prison after portraying herself in the media as an avatar of forgiveness in an effort to get close enough to poison him. Both plays end on a failure of communication: in Confirmation, Chris peremptorily discontinues the dialogue; in The Events, Claire is still unable to discern anything of The Boy's motivation and instead learns purely about herself and her own capacity for mercy. In both plays, dialogue with the extremist generates nothing but a confirmation of its own redundancy, as real understanding requires relinquishing the certainty of one's own moral supremacy, providing another perspective on Chris's statement that "there is only so much understanding in the world."
Both Chris and Claire desist from any attempt to understand and instead are resigned to tolerate an abstracted, reified version of their adversaries, one they no longer wish to encounter personally. In positioning a liberal against an extremist, both plays perform an interrogation into the limits and liabilities of a dualistic attitude of liberal tolerance that condemns racist extremism while grudgingly permitting its expression. Put simply, it is understood as something of a mixed blessing, of practical value insofar as it preserves distance between those that are tolerated and those that do the tolerating. The presiding metaphysic apparent by the end of both plays is that the liberals require those that they tolerate, in the words of Matt Trueman, to be "cut off from the rest of us... to reassure the rest of us that we aren't equally capable of such acts; that there is something fundamentally, essentially, categorically different about that individual." (95) They do not change or reverse their opinions, and the best the liberal character finds they can do is withdraw from communication. Here we are uncomfortably returned to Zizek's familiar formulation of tolerance as an ideological category where political differences are redefined as cultural proclivities that are matters of beliefs and practice that must be afforded respect rather than be systematically challenged. The Events and Confirmation prove this precisely: tolerance might be the method by which racism is managed in society, but it is also a mechanism that prohibits its diagnosis and its remedy.
Conclusion: "In our minds, we're reasonable" (96)
The contemporary far right's animus toward multiculturalism is a well-known phenomenon that has equally well-known material effects. Since Paul Gilroy famously said in 2005 that "multicultural society seems to have been abandoned at birth," (97) David Cameron even more recently pronounced it officially dead, candidly stating "state multiculturalism has failed." (98) Both Confirmation and The Effects are dramatically calibrated to document and assess this political failure in its starkest manifestation. As this essay has shown, most, if not all, of the familiar constituents of Breivik's own variant of contemporary fascism are broached by these two plays. For The Boy, as for Glen, both faithful and accurate representations of extreme nativist racists, "multiculturalists" have formed a treasonous power bloc within all the institutions of the state, using the doctrine of "political correctness" to expropriate the White European male by exercising "totalitarian" thought control and prohibiting free speech on race and culture. It hardly needs to be pointed out that for the contemporary conservative or reactionary, the much-vaunted quality of liberal "tolerance" is nothing more than a hypocritical conceit at best and a calculated political stratagem to stifle dissent at worst. Political scientist Alan Wolfe's famous dictum of the past thirty years, "the right won the economic war, the left won the cultural war," indicates a victory for social liberalism that is bitterly resented by many on the right. The actions of Breivik, the self-proclaimed "Marxist hunter," underlined the seriousness of the stakes: the liberal is often despised as much as the immigrant/Muslim Other. Both Confirmation and The Events resonate urgently because of the ways that they expose, diagnose, and interrogate the malfunctions that arise from the dangerous, fissile nature of contemporary ideological polarization, where politics appears to be descending ever further into dysfunctional tribalism. The pieces are united in their articulation of the inadequacy of the liberal attitude to the problem of extremism and in their perpetuation of the gulf in understanding between entrenched viewpoints that no extension of tolerance will suture.
University of Lincoln
(1) Jillian D'Onfro, "Sheryl Sandberg: The Best Way to Fight Hate Groups Online Is With 'Like Attacks,'" Business Insider UK, January 21, 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com/sheryl-sandberg-use-like-attacks-2016-1.
(2) Slavoj Zizek, "Liberal Multiculturalism Masks an Old Barbarism With a Human Face," The Guardian, October 3, 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/oct/03/immigration-policy-roma-rightwing-europe.
(3) Ipsos-MORI polls have tracked "The Most Important Issues Facing Britain Today" since 1974. Immigration (grouped with Race Relations until 2014) appeared as the primary concern for less than 10% of UK the population until 2000, whereupon it grew consistently until for the months of August, September, and October 2015, it registered at above 50%. See "Immigration Is Now the Top Issue for Voters in the EU Referendum," Ipsos MORI, June 16, 2016," https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3746/Immigration-is-now-the-top-issue-for-voters-in-the-EU-referendum.aspx.
(4) The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that austerity reduced growth by 1% in each of the financial years 2010-11 and 2011-12. See Office for Budget Responsibility, Forecast Evaluation Report (London: Williams Lea, October 2014), http://budgetresponsibility.org.uk/docs/dlm_uploads/Forecast_evaluation_report_2014_dn4H.pdf. Keynesian economist Simon Wren-Lewis estimates a 10% cumulative loss of GDP to the UK economy up to 2013. See Simon Wren-Lewis, "We Already Have a Simple and Conventional Story to Explain the Weak Recovery," Vox, January 30, 2015, http://voxeu.org/article/fiscal-policy-explains-weak-recovery.
(5) "Half of Working Britain Has Seen No Rise in Living Standards Since Early 2000s," Resolution Foundation, June 28, 2016, http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/media/press-releases/half-of-working-britain-has-seen-no-rise-in-living-standards-since-early-2000s/.
(6) Harriet Agerholm, "Brexit: Wave of Hate Crime and Racial Abuse Reported Following EU Referendum," The Independent, June 26, 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/brexit-eu-referendum-racial-racism-abuse-hate-crime-reported-latest-leave-immigration-a7104191.html.
(7) Torsten Bell, "The Referendum, Living Standards and Inequality," Resolution Foundation, June 24, 2016, http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/media/blog/the-referendum-living-standards-and-inequality/.
(8) Markus Bruekner and Hans Peter Gruener, "Growth and Extremism," ANU Working Papers in Economics and Econometrics, no. 639 (2016): 1, https://www.cbe.anu.edu.au/researchpapers/econ/wp639.pdf. See also Benjamin M. Friedman, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2005), where Friedman links economic stagnation to intolerance.
(9) "Migration Fears Not Racist--Archbishop of Canterbury," BBC News, March 11, 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/vrk-35781613.
(10) Samuel P. Huntingdon, "The Clash of Civilizations?," Foreign Affairs 72, no. 3 (1993): 22-49 (22).
(11) See book 3 of Anders Behring Breivik, 2083: A European Declaration of Independence (2011). Pagination may differ depending on the PDF used. Here all further references will be to the version available at https://info.publicintelligence.net/AndersBehringBreivikManifesto.pdf.
(12) The full text of the redacted Sun editorial can be found here: "The Sun's Editorial(s) on Norway," Tabloid Watch, July 24, 2011, http://tabloid-watch.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/suns-editorials-on-norway.html.
(14) Ali Gharib and Travis Waldron, "Right-Wing Pundits Jumped to Blame Muslims And 'Jihadists' For Norway Attacks," Think Progress, July 23, 2011, https://thinkprogress.org/right-wing-pundits-jumped-to-blame-muslims-and-jihadists-for-norway-attacks-a2c38efe46d.
(15) Elizabeth Humphrys and Guy Rundle, introduction to On Utoya: Anders Breivik, Right Terror, Racism and Europe, eds. E. Humphrys, G. Rundle, and T. Tierze (London: Elguta, 2011), 6-10, 7.
(16) Tad Tietze, "Madness and Western Civilization," in Humphrys, On Utoya, 59-60.
(17) Breivik, 2083, 1383.
(18) Mark Steyn, "It's the Demography, Stupid: The Real Reason the West Is in Danger of Extinction," Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2006, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB122531242161281449.
(19) Mark Steyn, "Islamophobia and Mass Murder," National Review, July 25, 2011, http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/272617/islamophobia-and-mass-murder-mark-steyn.
(20) See Daniel Pipes, "Anders Behring Breivik, the Left, and Me," July 30, 2011, http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2011/07/anders-behring-breivik-the-left-and-me.
(21) Melanie Phillips, "A Wider Pathology," accessed March 12, 2015, http://melaniephillips.com/a-wider-pathology. Melanie Phillips has subsequently removed this article from her website.
(22) David Greig, The Events (London: Faber 8c Faber, 2013), 11.
(24) Ibid., 12.
(25) Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 49.
(26) Ibid., 50.
(27) Ibid., 52.
(28) David Horowitz, quoted in Robin, The Reactionary Mind, 51.
(29) Richard Seymour, "2083: Breivik's 21st-century Fascist Manifesto," in Humphrys, On Utoya, 17-25, 22.
(30) See Clare Wallace, "Yes and No? Dissensus and David Grieg's Recent Work," Contemporary Theatre Review 26 (2016): 31-38 (31); Marilena Zaroulia, '"I Am a Blankness Out of Which Emerges Only Darkness': Impressions and Aporias of Multiculturalism in The Events," Contemporary Theatre Review 26 (2016): 71-81 (72-73); and David Pattie, "The Events: Immanence and the Audience," Journal of Contemporary Drama in English 4 (2016): 49-60 (59).
(31) Wallace, "Yes and No?," 36.
(32) Zaroulia, "T Am a Blankness,'" 73.
(33) Grieg, The Events, 27.
(34) Zaroulia, "'I Am a Blankness,'" 72-73.
(35) Ibid., 75.
(36) Ibid., 76.
(37) Ibid., 77.
(38) Wallace, "Yes and No?," 37.
(39) Greig, The Events, 34.
(41) Ibid., 35.
(42) Pattie, "Immanence and the Audience," 53.
(43) Greig, The Events, 36.
(44) Paul Gilroy, There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation (London: Routledge, 1987), 43.
(45) Greig, The Events, 19.
(46) Ibid., 20.
(47) Ibid., 68.
(48) See Charles G Lord, Lee Ross, and Mark R Lepper, "Biased Assimilation and Attitude Polarization: The Effects of Prior Theories on Subsequently Considered Evidence," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39 (1979): 2098-109.
(49) Chris Thorpe, Confirmation (London: Oberon, 2014), 12.
(50) Veronica Rodriguez, "Zahir and Batin: An Interveiw with David Greig," Contemporary Theatre Review 26 (2016): 88-96 (89).
(51) Thorpe, Confirmation, back cover.
(52) Chris Thorpe, interview by James Hudson, March 26, 2015.
(53) Trevor Phillips was former head of the Commission for Racial Equality in 2003 and, on its abolition in 2006, was appointed full-time chairman of its successor, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
(54) Thorpe, interview.
(57) Throughout this essay, the forename "Chris" refers to the persona who encounters the events inside the world of the piece, while the surname "Thorpe" applies to the living artist.
(58) Thorpe, Confirmation, 23.
(59) Ibid., 23-24.
(60) John Hooper, "Ex-Berlusconi Minister Defends Anders Behring Breivik," The Guardian, July 27, 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jul/27/ex-berlusconi-minister-defends-breivik.
(61) "Italy MEP Backs Ideas of Norway Killer Breivik," BBC News, July 27, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-14315108.
(62) "Norway Attacks: National Front Member Suspended for Defending Anders Behring Breivik," The Telegraph, July 26, 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/norway/8664568/Norway-attacks-National-Front-member-suspended-for-defending-Anders-Behring-Breivik.html.
(63) Andrew Haydon, "Confirmation--Northern Stage," Postcards from the Gods, July 31, 2014, http://postcardsgods.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/confirmation-northern-stage.html.
(64) Thorpe, Confirmation, 27.
(65) Ibid., 29.
(66) Ibid., 30.
(67) Ibid., 37.
(68) Greig, The Events, 20.
(69) For a useful analysis of the class composition of voters for the fascist BNP, see James Rhodes, "'It's Not Just Them, It's Whites as Well': Whiteness, Class and BNP Support," Sociology 45, no. 1 (2011): 102-117. Rhodes argues that those most constitutive of BNP support are disproportionately skilled manual workers and members of the lower middle class.
(70) Thorpe, Confirmation, 39-41.
(71) Robin, The Reactionary Mind, 58.
(72) Zaroulia, "'I Am a Blankness,'" 78.
(73) Greig, The Events, 53.
(74) Thorpe, interview.
(75) "Author David Greig and Director Ramin Gray Discuss a New Play Which Deals With the Aftermath of an Atrocity," Herald Scotland, July 16, 2013, http://www.heraldscotland.com/arts_ents/13113941. Author_David_Greig_and_director_Ramin_Gray_discuss_a_new_play_which_deals_with_the_aftermath_of_an_atrocity/.
(76) Zaroulia, "'I Am a Blankness,'" 74.
(77) Wallace, "Yes and No?," 36.
(78) Matt Trueman, "Tag Wrestling in Three Languages: The Events," July 25, 2014, http://matttrueman.co.uk/2014/07/tag-wrestling-in-three-languages-the-events.html.
(79) Peter Simpson, "Interview: David Greig on His New Show The Events," WOW247, August 3, 2013, http://www.wow247.co.uk/2013/08/03/david-greig-on-the-events/.
(80) Jacques Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness (London: Routledge, 2001), 32.
(81) "Author David Greig," Herald Scotland.
(82) Thorpe, Confirmation, 38.
(83) Ibid., 31.
(84) Thorpe, Confirmation, 35.
(85) Ibid., 57.
(86) Greig, The Events, 64; suspension points in original.
(87) Thorpe, Confirmation, 58.
(88) Matt Trueman, "Review: Confirmation/Men in the Cities," August 14, 2014, http://matttrueman.co.uk/2014/08/review-confirmation-men-in-the-cities.html.
(89) Thorpe, Confirmation, 57.
(90) "Author David Greig," Herald Scotland.
(91) Yossi Nehushtan, "The Limits of Tolerance: A Substantive-Liberal Perspective," Ratio Juris 20, no. 2 (2007): 230-257 (233).
(92) Michael Sandel, "Judgmental Toleration," in Natural Law, Liberalism, and Morality, ed. R. P. George (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996): 107-12 (107).
(93) Michael Walzer, On Toleration (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), 10.
(94) Thorpe, Confirmation, 58.
(95) Matt Trueman, "Review: The Events, Young Vic," October 25, 2013, http://matttrueman.co.uk/2013/10/review-the-events-young-vic.html.
(96) Thorpe, Confirmation, 45.
(97) Paul Gilroy, After Empire: Melancholia or Convivial Culture (Abingdon: Routledge, 2004), 1.
(98) "State Multiculturalism Has Failed, Says David Cameron," BBC News, February 5, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12371994.
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