The lesson in the Robert Webb interview: Inside the mind of The British Strain Of Transphobe

I listened to the clip everyone is talking about: Jesse Thorn’s interview with Robert Webb, challenging him very mildly on transphobia. It’s a fascinatingly instructive as to how the mind of The British Strain Of Transphobe works. When presented with an incredibly mild refutation of his stance, there was one thing he was incapable of saying: “I was wrong and not in possession of all the facts.”

This is the crux of The British Strain Of Transphobe mindset. It’s a core part of their identity that they’re smarter than everyone else. The vast majority of them start life on the private/grammar school-Oxbridge pipeline, where in place of education they’re just told this. The possibility of being incorrect is something The British Strain Of Transphobe is incapable of processing, because they’ve spent their lives believing they’re cleverer than everyone else, and this belief is integral to their belief of who and what they are. The British Strain Of Transphobe lives within an echo chamber of similar people. This is why, for example, transphobia spread like wildfire among the sceptic community, where many organisers are posh white folk, and it hinges on the belief of being smarter than everyone else.

And so, how does the British Strain Of Transphobe react to someone raising the mere possibility that they might be incorrect about something? Badly, because they take it as a fundamental attack on their identity as a person who is smarter than everyone else.

In the Webb interview, you can hear his rising sense of defensiveness, of something dancing around anger. This is because he is a man who cannot process the concept that he might not know everything, because if he’s not smarter than everyone else, what even is he? The British Strain Of Transphobe, cosseted in their echo chambers, can, most of the time, ignore or dismiss the thing which frightens them most – not, in fact, being smarter than everyone else. They shut out the messengers who might point out they could be wrong about something. On social media, they can put it down to trolls. In their vanishingly tiny circles, they shut themselves away from anyone who might point out there’s something they don’t know.

But the Webb interview was different. In this instance, Webb couldn’t dismiss the source of the message. He’d just spent half an hour talking with a well-educated arts and culture host – someone he respected. And then – wham! – this person Webb considered an equal smacked him with the thing he feared most.

Essentially, what you are witnessing in the Webb interview is the man having an existential crisis.

The actual subject matter of what Webb was wrong about was irrelevant to him. The thing which rattled him was a concept he and other British Strain Of Transphobes structure their lives around avoiding entertaining: that he was wrong about something.

Now, it’s unfortunate that despite having an understanding of the problem, I have no suggestions as to how to solve it. It’s just too powerful a part of their identity to challenge, someone living their whole life thinking they’re very smart and cannot be wrong. And when they are wrong, a polite (or impolite) refutation, “you’re wrong, here’s the facts”, just isn’t going to cut the mustard, because it’s not about the facts at all, it’s about their sense of self as a person who is smarter than everyone else.

At the end of the day, I don’t know what to do with this information. Maybe someone smarter than me can figure it out.

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2 thoughts on “The lesson in the Robert Webb interview: Inside the mind of The British Strain Of Transphobe”

  1. I agree with you, and also don’t know what to do with this information.

    Another thing: I don’t know specifically about Robert Webb, but a lot of this grew out of the Sceptics Movement in the mid 2000s which was about the fact that Homœopathy lacks scientific evidence, and feeling generally smug and superior for knowing that. How do you get from that entirely correct opinion on Homœopathy to a binary gender ideology that also lacks scientific evidence?

    The other factor seems to be the Occupy Wall St movement, and I think that is where the idea of George Soros and Big Pharma bankrolling the “Trans Ideology” comes from.

  2. I wouldn’t say it’s about being “a person who is smarter than everyone else”: I’d say it’s a self-belief, a conceit that they are “The person in the room who is always Right”.

    If they’re popular and influential in those circles of society, nearly everyone will decide that whatever they said is right, because of who said it; some, because there’s a human tendency to believe the Alpha-Male or Female is right, no matter whether they are or not; and some, because there is a craven tendency to nod along with the rest of the room and adjust reality to suit.

    And there are some, who know perfectly well that they’ve just heard a spew of twaddle and bollocks, and decide that it’s still worth being in the room: maybe these other idiots in the room – and, indeed, the speaker – are useful. Sure as hell, they’re easy to influence.

    And ‘The person in the room who is Right’ will eventually move up from being popular, to influential; and, eventually, powerful.

    They will internalise the lesson that anything they say is right, by definition, because they themselves said it aloud.

    Mostly, this is untrue – it isn’t right – but, if they are powerful, it will become true in an awful lot of ways that matter, in real life, to real people.

    …so they will become impregnable in their belief that they are The person in the room who’s Right.

    There’s a reason why this different to a belief that they are smarter than everyone else: such people are often very, very stupid. So much so, that they cannot sustain that particular conceit of cleverness, even though they know they are always clearly and unassailably Right – “Those clever-clogs experts know nothing!” – and they will never shift from that rock of certainty in their privileged lives.

    …And that’s a weakness, because they can be ridiculed.

    Better still, their peers aren’t quite ‘friends’: they never quite grew up from being terribly, terribly clever at Oxford, and they are *delighted* to ridicule someone who who has been shown to be not quite as clever as they are.

    Especially as their life and friendship has always been a crossfire of clever put-downs and intellectual one-upmanship; you can lose that game, badly, and they dread the thought of being photographed with someone who is publicly seen to be ridiculous, and is therefore very stupid indeed, and a risk to their reputation for being clever.

    Bad for the Oxford ‘Brand’, even.

    Bear that in mind: we’re not entirely helpless, here.

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