No ideology should be on a pedestal

Committing to an ideology is like wearing a daisy chain, break it and you can’t wear it.

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The Independent Online

And so the Jimmy Savile scandal rumbles on, with every woman who's ever been felt up in or near the BBC, no matter how long ago, no matter at what age, and no matter whether on air or off it, piling in to add her experience of molestation to the charge sheet.

The sexual abuse of anybody is a serious matter, and without doubt the institutionalising of one sort of exploitation enables the institutionalising of another. Wink at a pest on Monday and you've left the door open for Mephistopheles himself to come hoofing through by the week's end. But we run the risk of minimising Savile's offences against children if we bundle them in with all the other liberties – from an uninvited grope to a full-on assault – broadcasters stand accused of having taken with grown women.

The psychology of the grope is interesting, and self-evidently has more to do with the exercise of power than erotic appreciation. Feeling a woman's reluctant body can be pleasurable only if reluctance is itself a spur and defying it a turn-on, which is a mystery to simple men like me who prefer desire to be reciprocal. Power corrupts, in sexual matters as in political, and one of the most important lessons to be learnt from Savile's progress is that we should check power at every turn.

Put no one on a pedestal, I say. There is little point in our congratulating ourselves as a society on how far we have come since feudalism if we simply replace a feudal tyrant with one whose freedom to rape and pillage derives from his status as a famous face on television. Droit du seigneur was the right of medieval lords to enjoy sexual relations with their vassals' brides on their wedding night. The only difference between this and Savile's (and whoever else's) helping himself to available virgins was that he didn't wait for their wedding night. "He groomed the nation," Deborah Orr remarked on Newsnight. An electrifying thought, reminding us of what we gave our consent to.

We are complicit every time we elevate a mortal, whether he's a disc jockey or a nuclear scientist. No other gods was the message Moses brought back from the mountain. No images of gods. No bowing down to them or serving them. How, in the age of celebrity, we stop the adulation I have no idea. But let whoever ministers to celebrity – every journalist who sells fame to kids, every television producer who does the same – accept a share of the responsibility the next time some hapless child blunders into its glare. And every parent, too, who fails to instil the proper scepticism from the earliest age. Thou shalt not adore. Thou shalt reserve thy judgement. Better a generation of cynics than devotees.

And as with people so with ideas. No system of belief deserves a pedestal either.

The folly of owning unswerving loyalty to a party or an ideology was nicely illustrated this week when the journalist Mehdi Hasan, at one time a senior editor at the New Statesman and currently political director of the Huffington Post website, found himself having to explain that his views on abortion, though not in keeping with the liberal consensus, do not make him "any less of a leftie".

According to Mehdi Hasan, coming out as a pro-lifer has exposed him to some pretty nasty comments in those places where pretty nasty comments are routinely posted. Mehdi Hasan paints himself as persecuted too often for my liking. I wasn't unsympathetic when he wrote recently of the "relentless abuse" he suffers as a Muslim via tweets, blogposts and comment threads, but I did wonder why he bothered looking in those places, since anybody who writes a word or ventures an opinion about anything is subjected to the equivalent. "Relentless abuse?" I could show him "relentless abuse". But it's not a competition. The wise among us accept we are not universally admired and look away.

To say which is not to doubt the integrity of Mehdi Hasan's pro-life views. His arguments are compassionate and well reasoned, and if it took courage to come out and proclaim them, then I honour that courage. But as for whether expressing those views makes him any more or less of a "leftie", well, frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. There is a good reason not to be a "leftie" as there is a good reason not to be a "rightie" and Mehdi Hasan himself has given it.

It is assumed, on either side, that if you believe A you must also believe B from which believing C follows as sure as night follows day. This is what we have long referred to in this column as the daisy-chain effect. You collect your opinions at the door and hang them round your neck along with your delegate's pass, and thereafter never have to work out your position on any subject for yourself. What you cannot do is break the daisy chain and wear it.

One step out of this accursed circle of like-mindedness – Milan Kundera saw it as a dance – and you are on your own, and a man on his own belongs to neither left nor right. I see this as an occasion for pride, not apology, though of course there's always some initial sadness at seeing the dance continuing without you. But be not afraid. Access to left-wing views is not automatically denied you from now on; you have not become a fascist overnight.

Welcome to the Land of Unaffiliated Thought, where one day is not like every other, where you can oppose abortion and vote Labour, or indeed favour abortion and vote Tory, where no man is a god and no conviction sacrosanct, and you need bow down to neither.

True, there'll always be someone waiting to dupe you, grope you or otherwise abuse you, but, all things considered, you're safer agnostic than adoring.