Please Don’t Sacralise Disability

Attitudes towards disability over the years have improved, and all to the good. It used to be that if someone was disabled they were mocked and abused for their outward deformities and their physical differences. In some sense their physical deficiencies allowed people to assume that they were just as flawed on the inside as the out; their outwards faults betrayed a ruined inner life, a maimed and deformed soul. On the whole, this is no longer the case, especially in the developed world. While some can still display a certain coldness that often stems from uncertainty mixed in with stiff politeness (at least in the UK), the acceptance of disability in the public space is obviously leaps and bounds of where it used to be, even ten years ago never mind 30, 50 or 100 years ago.

This is all fine. However, I sometimes think that maybe attitudes are swinging too far in the opposite direction, and are going hand in hand with group-based identity politics that infests much of modern culture. This line of thought was recently sparked again by the release of the film Wonder, based on a book of the same name, about a young boy who suffers from “a previously unknown type of mandibulofacial dysostosis”. This leaves his face deformed, him open to bullying from his peers and to bouts of the understandable “why me-ism” that punctuates the lives of anyone born disabled.

Yet, as Kevin Maher notes in his review in The Times, instead of dealing with the harsh reality of Auggie’s disability – much more graphically described in the book than is presented in the film – the film turns Auggie into a cute facsimile of a disabled child, who is just different enough to be noticeable but not so different that cinema-goers can’t cope. Instead of dealing with the subject with a greater degree of honesty, the film instead gives a slushily sanitised picture of the boy’s life, providing plenty of opportunities for emoting that don’t actually require much of the audience beyond a shallow surface engagement with the film.

There is another big problem with the film: its emphasis on niceness to the exclusion of all else. The boy, Auggie, is just so nice. And so are most of the other people in it. The general tone is one of weepy slushiness where everyone cries at the slightest instance, where love trumps all, Auggie is able to forgive everyone, and at bottom, everyone has a teachable moment in them designed to engender a sense of sentimentalism in the audience members.

This film demonstrates a deeper issue; the lens through which people view disability has arguably seen an inversion. Where once people saw outward physical flaws as a clue to the maimed spirit of the less than human sufferer, it is almost as though the opposite is now true. It is as though if one has a physical disability now, it is a sign that one is inherently good and pure of heart and character. The fact of having a physical disability seems to have purged one of all inner faults and flaws; they are all on the outside after all, so how can there be anything bad on the inside? This is exactly the message of Wonder. Auggie has a physical deformity that affects his face and is thus a completely pure, almost saintly boy who inspires everyone else with his inborn goodness to reach the same heights of internal wholesomeness.

Today, this is where depictions of disability shade into identity politics. Disabled people are often just a monolithic bloc; they used to be all bad (with exceptions), now they are all good (with exceptions). There is little room for true individuality or autonomy; disability itself is now just another front in the identity politics culture wars, particularly in the academy. This is demonstrated in Bruce Bawer’s account of Disability Studies in his book on the rise of victim studies in the academy, The Victims Revolution. He describes how these departments go as far as they can to diminish the medial and biological aspects of disability so they can focus on how disability fits into a social constructionist worldview of different identities in their hierarchy of oppression. If you would like more evidence for this, enter “disability theory” into Amazon and see what comes up.

It would be hyperbolic to say that this film is explicitly pushing a post-modern social constructionist world-view. However, it does the same thing as these academic departments by diminishing the reality of physical disability and doesn’t do imperfect disabled people any favours as individuals by reinforcing in others an impression of disabled people as inherently morally superior or courageous. This is a reality that is evident when random members of the public exclaim how brave you are for living as you do, or say how they cannot understand how you cope. Sometimes it feels like being caught in a pincer movement: resentful post-modern identity politics ideologues on one side (how oppressed you are), sentimentalists on the other (how brave you are). Each view disability in a way that reduces the person in question to a cypher for their own preconceptions, and each use it for their own ends: the ideologues to push their cultural offensive, the sentimentalists to make themselves feel good.

Sometimes, it is hard to say which is more irritating or damaging. The ideologues are more obvious given the post-modern cant they communicate with. Yet sentimentalists are just as bad; George Orwell describes in The Road to Wigan Pier how Socialist bourgeois recoil in horror when their sentimental view of the proletariat is scratched by reality. There is no reason this should not also pertain to disability, and this is not helped by depictions like Wonder.

It’s a shame, really. I do not begrudge people a film that makes them feel good. After all, in today’s world, who doesn’t want to feel uplifted for a while? However, presenting disability in the sanitised and sacralised way Wonder does isn’t necessarily a good thing. It’s a substitute for real engagement with complex issues that brushes over the jagged edges. I would argue that presenting disabled people as imperfect on the outside but basically perfect on the inside is the same dehumanisation that took place 100 years ago, simply reversed. After all, is anyone who is portrayed as completely good on the inside a real person?

Yes, I’m disabled, but I’m still human, so I’m nowhere near as anodyne as Auggie is depicted in the film, and nor is any other disabled person. Sacrificing Auggie’s imperfections, faults, flaws and complexities arguably strips him of his deeper humanity. No-one is perfect, and everyone has their issues. Being disabled does not alter that either way; we are neither worse nor better than anyone else in our intrinsic human nature. In a way, that is what unites us all. Our human nature, something that is capable of cruelty or greatness, is something we all have in common, whether able or disabled. Maybe it’s time we stop sacralising disabled people as a group and engage with them as the complex individuals they are rather than as representatives of a holy and redemptive monolithic group identity who are there to act as redemptive icons.

 

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Reading List

Universities largely no longer provide a solid grounding in the intellectual, philosophical or theological traditions or history of Western civilisation. Neither do they provide an honest portrayal of more modern history, viewed as it is through the distorted nightmare engendered by the ideological fun-house mirror of intersectionality. This reading list is a small way towards remedying that. Read what you want, as long as you get engaged with what is actually at the foundation of what Western culture is, rather than what the Alt-Right thinks forms the basis of “white Western culture”.

The Western Canon itself is vast, deep, complex and infinitely engaging. This is the main crime of the universities: they have reduced it to the smear of a load of “dead white males”, thus writing off with a snort of derision born of resentful ignorance the accumulation of thousands of years of thought that like it or not has made us who we are.

Some of the categories will overlap. Some books will be appropriate for more than one category. Yet, for ease of navigation, categorisation is necessary, however imperfect or restrictive it can be portrayed as being. I hope this list inspires rather than suppresses your interest. This list will mainly consist of secondary material, designed as an introduction that will enable you to view a world that made us through a window that presents the inheritance of the West with clarity and texture. Once you’ve read some of these books, you will hopefully feel fired to continue on to the texts that these works address and consider.

The rest of the books on the list will be on a variety of subjects that are of interest to today’s present and future world, which you can take or leave as you see fit.

Happy reading and learning.

 

Intellectual History

  • Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, (2014)
  • Anthony Gottlieb –
    • The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance, (2001)
    • The Dream of Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Philosophy, (2017)
  • Richard Tarnas, The Passion Of The Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View, (2010)
  • Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization, (2012)
  • Nick Spencer, The Evolution of the West: How Christianity has shaped our values, (2016)
  • Anthony Kenny, A New History of Western Philosophy, (2012)
  • Melissa Lane, Greek and Roman Political Ideas, (2014)
  • Nigel Warburton, A Little History of Philosophy, (2012)
  • Yuval Levin, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine and the birth of Right and Left, (2014)
  • Pierre Manent, An Intellectual History of Liberalism, (1996)
  • Norman Hampson, The Enlightenment: An evaluation of its assumptions, attitudes and values, (1990)
  • Roger Scruton –
    • Philosophy, (2016)
    • An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy, (1999)
    • Italo Calvino, Why Read the Classics, (2009)

 

Religion

  • The Bible
  • The Qur’an
  • David M Gwynn, Christianity in the Later Roman Empire: A Sourcebook, (2014)
  • Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity: AD 150-750, (1989)
  • Diarmaid MacCulloch, A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, (2010)
  • Henry Chadwick et al, The Penguin History of the Church, all vols., (1990)
  • Bernard Lewis –
    • Islam and the West, (1994)
    • What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, (2002)
    • The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror, (2004)
  • Alec Ryrie, Protestants: The radicals who made the modern world, (2017)
  • Kenan Malik, From Fatwa to Jihad: How the world changed from the Satanic Verses to Charlies Hebdo (2017)
  • Mircea Eliade –
    • A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1: From The Stone Age To The Eleusinian Mysteries, (1981)
    • A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 2: From Gautama Buddha to the Triumph of Christianity, (1985)
    • A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 3: From Muhammad To The Age Of Reforms, (1988)
  • Robin Lane Fox, Augustine: Conversions and Confessions, (2016)
  • C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (2016)
  • Rodney Stark –
    • Cities of God, (2007)
    • The Rise of Christianity, (1997)
  • Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, (2009)
  • Richard Elliott Friedman –
    • Who Wrote the Bible? (2013)
    • The Disappearance of God: A Divine Mystery, (2014)
  • Thomas Woods Jr., How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilisation, (2005)
  • David Cook, Understanding Jihad, (2015)
  • Tamim Ansary, Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, (2009)
  • Simon Ross Valentine, Force and Fanaticism: Wahhabism – History, Belief and Practice, (2010)

 

The Future and Technology

  • Erik Brynjolfson and Adnrew McAfee, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, (2014)
  • Tyler Cowen –
    • The Great Stagnation, (2011)
    • Average is Over, (2013)
  • Nicholas Carr –
    • The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the way we Think, Read and Remember, (2010)
    • The Glass Cage: Who Needs Humans Anyway? (2015)
  • Evgeny Morozov –
    • The Net Delusion, (2011)
    • To Save Everything Click Here, (2013)
  • David Kirkpatrick, The Facebook Effect: The Real Inside Story of Mark Zuckerberg and the World’s Fastest Growing Company, (2012)
  • Robert Levine, Free Ride: How the Internet is Destroying the Culture Business and How it Can Fight Back, (2012)
  • Aleks Krotoski, Untangling the Web, (2013)
  • Clive Thompson, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, (2013)
  • Brigid Schulte, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time, (2014)
  • Adrian Wooldridge & John Micklethwait, The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State, (2014)
  • Andrew Keen, The Internet is not the Answer, (2015)
  • Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, (2015)
  • Robert Colville, The Great Acceleration: How the World is Getting Faster, Faster, (2016)
  • John Palfrey & Urs Gasser, Born Digital: How Children Grow Up in a Digital Age, (2016)
  • Cathy O’Neil, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, (2016)
  • Ryan Avent, The Wealth of Humans: Work and Its Absence in the Twenty-first Century, (2016)
  • Adam Alter, Irresistible: Why We Can’t Stop Checking, Scrolling, Clicking and Watching, (2017)
  • Jean M. Twenge, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us, (2017)
  • Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, Everybody Lies: What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, (2017)
  • Franklin Foer, World Without Mind, (2017)

 

The Tragedy and Catastrophe of History

  • Barbara Tuchman –
    • A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, (2017)
    • The Guns of August, (2014)
    • The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World before the War, 1890-1914, (2014)
  • Margaret MacMillan, The War that Ended Peace: How Europe abandoned peace for the First World War, (2013)
  • Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, (2013)
  • Max Hastings, Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, (2013)
  • Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War 191 4-1918, (2012)
  • Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order 1916-1931, (2015)
  • William L. Shirer, The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich, (1991)
  • Richard J. Evans –
    • The Coming of the Third Reich: How the Nazis Destroyed Democracy and Seized Power in Germany, (2004)
    • The Third Reich in Power, 1933 – 1939: How the Nazis Won Over the Hearts and Minds of a Nation, (2006)
    • The Third Reich at War: How the Nazis Led Germany from Conquest to Disaster, (2009)
  • Ian Kershaw,
    • Hitler, (2010)
    • The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1944-1945, (2011)
    • To Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949, (2015)
  • Andrew Roberts, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War, (2010)
  • Antony Beevor, Stalingrad, (2007)
  • Patrick Cockburn, The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution, (2015)
  • David Kilcullen, Blood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror, (2015)
  • Jessica Stern & J. M. Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror, (2015)
  • Graeme Wood, The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State, (2016)
  • Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, (2017)
  • Primo Levi, If This Is A Man/The Truce, (2014)
  • Julia Boyd, Travellers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People, (2017)
  • Orlando Figes, Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991, (2014)
  • Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men, (2013)
  • Jerzy Kosinski, The Painted Bird, (2007)
  • Iris Chang, The Rape Of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust Of World War II, (2012)
  • John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War, (2007)
  • Alexander Solzhenitsyn –
    • The Gulag Archipelago Volume 1: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, (2007)
    • The Gulag Archipelago Volume 2: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, (2007)
    • The Gulag Archipelago Volume 3: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, (2007)
  • Anne Applebaum –
    • Gulag: A History of the Soviet Camps, (2012)
    • Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56, (2013)
    • Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, (2017)
  • Stephen Kotkin, Stalin, Vol. I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928, (2015)
  • Timothy Snyder –
    • Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, (2011)
    • Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, (2016)
    • On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, (2017)
  • David Cesarani, Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949, (2017)
  • Laurence Rees –
    • The Nazis: A Warning From History, (2006)
    • The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, (2013)
    • The Holocaust: A New History, (2017)
    • Horror in the East: The Brutal Struggle in Asia and the Pacific in WWII, (2011)

 

Politics and Political Philosophy

  • Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, (2004)
  • John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Utilitarianism and Other Essays, (2015)
  • Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, (2009)
  • Roger Scruton –
    • How to be a Conservative, (2014)
    • Conservatism, (2017)
    • Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, (2015)
    • Green Philosophy: How to think seriously about the planet, (2013)
    • The Uses of Pessimism & the Danger of False Hope, (2012)
    • A Political Philosophy: Arguments for Conservatism, (2007)
    • The Meaning of Conservatism, (2001)
    • The West and the Rest: Globalisation and the Terrorist Threat, (2003)
  • George Orwell –
    • Essays, (2000)
    • Down and Out in Paris and London, (2001)
    • Homage to Catalonia, (2000)
    • The Road to Wigan Pier, (2001)
  • Owen Jones, The Establishment: And How They Got Away With It, (2014)
  • Danny Dorling, Inequality and the 1%, (2014)
  • Daniel Hannan, How We Invented Freedom and Why It Matters, (2013)
  • Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, (2016)
  • James Burnham –
    • Suicide of the West, (2014)
    • The Managerial Revolution, (1972)
  • Pascal Bruckner, The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism, (2010)
  • Whittaker Chambers, Witness, (2014)
  • Thomas C. Leonard, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era, (2016)
  • Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, (2007)
  • Ed West, The Diversity Illusion: What We Got Wrong About Immigration & How to Set It Right, (2013)
  • David Goodhart –
    • The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-war Immigration, (2013)
    • The Road to Somewhere: The New Tribes Shaping British Politics, (2017)
  • Nick Cohen, What’s Left? (2007)
  • Thomas Sowell –
    • Conquests and Cultures: An International History, (1999)
    • The Quest for Cosmic Justice, (2002)
    • Black Rednecks & White Liberals, (2009)
    • Dismantling America: and other controversial essays, (2010)
    • Economic Facts and Fallacies: Second Edition, (2011)
    • The Thomas Sowell Reader, (2011)
    • Intellectuals and Society, (2012)
    • “Trickle Down Theory” and “Tax Cuts for the Rich”, (2012)
    • Intellectuals and Race, (2013)
    • Basic Economics, (2014)
    • Wealth, Poverty and Politics, (2016)
  • Shelby Steele, Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country, (2015)
  • Mark Lilla –
    • The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics: Revised Edition, (2016)
    • The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, (2017)
  • Jan-Werner Muller, What Is Populism? (2016)
  • James Bartholomew, The Welfare of Nations, (2015)
  • Edward Luce, The Retreat of Western Liberalism, (2017)
  • Bill Emmott, The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World’s Most Successful Political Idea, (2017)
  • Yuval Levin, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism, (2017)

 

Free Speech and Political Correctness

  • Flemming Rose, The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on Free Speech, (2016)
  • Kirsten Powers, The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech, (2015)
  • Mick Hume, Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech? (2015)
  • Greg Lukianoff –
    • Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, (2012)
    • Freedom From Speech, (2014)
  • Claire Fox, ‘I Find That Offensive!’, (2016)
  • Frank Furedi, What’s Happened To The University?: A sociological exploration of its infantilisation, (2016)
  • Tom Slater et al., Unsafe Space: The Crisis of Free Speech on Campus, (2016)
  • Stephen R. C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault,

 

Europe, Immigration and Islam (not at all controversial or anything)

  • Mark Steyn, America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It, (2006)
  • Bruce Bawer –
    • While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within, (2006)
    • Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom, (2009)
  • Walter Laqueur –
    • The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent, (2006)
    • After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent, (2011)
  • Christopher Caldwell, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West, (2010)
  • Innes Bowen, Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam, (2014)
  • Douglas Murray, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, (2017)

 

Literature: How We Got Here and Where We Could Go

  • Fyodor Dostoevsky –
    • Crime and Punishment, (2014)
    • The Idiot, (2016)
    • Devils, (2008)
    • The Karamazov Brothers, (2014)
  • Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, (2008)
  • George Orwell, 1984, (2004)
  • Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, (1999)
  • Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5, or The Children’s Crusade – A Duty-dance with Death, (1991)
  • Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa, The Leopard, (2007)
  • Joseph Roth, The Radetsky March, (2013)
  • Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities, (2017)
  • Stefan Zweig –
    • The World of Yesterday: Memoirs of a European, (2011)
    • Beware of Pity, (2013)
    • Messages from a Lost World: Europe on the Brink, (2017)
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther, (2012)
  • Voltaire, Candide, (2008)

 

 

 

 

The Summer of Love: How Hippies Changed the World (or how they tried to tear it down) – Thoughts

The Summer of Love: How Hippies Changed the World (or how they tried to tear it down) – Thoughts

 

The so-called ‘Summer of Love’ was born in the sun-drenched streets of San Francisco, centred around the Haight-Ashbury area in the summer of 1967, as portrayed in the BBC documentary The Summer of Love: How Hippies Changed the World. The three tribes of hippy, the Naturist, the Truth-Seeker and the Political were drawn there by the promise of freedom. The freedom that is, to do whatever one pleased, whenever one wanted, in whatever way one saw fit depending on the inspiration drawn from their drug-addled minds.

The climate in America at this time was ripe for a revolution. America had been struggling to reconcile its basic principles of the equality of man imbued with a sacred dignity as instantiated in its founding with the relativist approach to race that it had also instantiated at the beginning. The results of this cancerous relativism at the heart of American society and the struggle to end it by obtaining the final equality of rights to their fellow Americans is what Martin Luther King Jr. and his fellow civil rights campaigners were striving for, against heavy opposition and a less than cooperative federal government.

The impact of all this is movingly portrayed in Shelby Steele’s book Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarised Our Country. An interesting aspect of the book is when he recounts his realisation that the violent revolutionaries like the Black Panthers were following a course of action that would ultimately do far more harm than good, and instead of helping to bring equality of opportunity and equal rights would only serve to divide America even more than it already was, as they wanted to tear down the system, not reform it. The trouble with this is that it never ends well, and nearly always involves appalling violence along the way. What may start out as a wish to change society for the better – and the civil rights movement of Martin Luther King Jr. was forcing through changes that needed to happen – ends up with society teetering on the edge of chaos.

In its own way, the hippy movement, while it started out based on a naive understanding of human nature and society, and how it could be made better, dissolved into self-satisfied, self-indulgent moral bankruptcy, and went down the same path of revolutionary violence. If there was one single, fundamental difference between the approaches of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panthers and hippies, it was that King wanted reformation, and the Black Panthers and the hippies wanted a revolution.

The Hippies

The Naturists

The influences on the various hippy subcultures that came together in this period of orgiastic hedonism were varied and stretched back into the period before the war, before 1900 even, crossing over one ocean to Europe and another to Asia. From Europe, a big influence on the naturist component of the hippy movement was the 19th-century German phenomenon of the ‘nature boys’, who wandered around the Black Forest, living off nature’s bounty and moving with the seasons.

This idealised form of civilisational sentimentality, of course, had its roots in Rousseau’s view of man as burdened down by civilisation and only able to be truly free and truly moral in a state of nature. This view of human history is romantic because it is pure wishful thinking; tribal humanity was an extremely violent social organisation, and hunter-gatherer societies today, in South America for example, can still be extremely violent.

This emphasis on the communion between body and nature found its way, along with the ‘nature boys’, to California, with various groups choosing to live out in the California countryside, and moving around according to the seasons. They became somewhat of an object of fascination, particularly to the left-leaning group of actors and artists known as the Diggers, who looked to them for inspiration in their quest to feel closer to nature and the self-knowledge apparently inherent in it.

After a period of time, however, some members of the ‘nature boys’ tribe tired of life near the built up centres of human habitation and, following the crackdown on certain more radical members of the hippy community by law enforcement, decided to literally head for the hills. The hippies who went back to nature founded communes out in the wilds where they could be as close to nature as possible. Everything would be free (including each other’s bodies), everything would be shared (including children), and everyone would be equal (except the women weren’t and were often little more than female cattle to be used by the male bulls when they so desired).

An interesting note on which to conclude this section is that the commune movement, and the hippie movement more generally, had a profound influence on the development of Silicon Valley, in particular, future tech giants like Steve Jobs. The ethos of the commune translated itself into the realm of cyberspace, the most obvious example being the internet, where everything is free, can be shared, and everyone can be equal.

Except when it isn’t, like when not everyone was free or equal in the communes, and when only a tiny proportion of people win hugely from the otherwise totally Darwinian wilds of the internet. See, some people tend to just end up more equal than others in a state of nature.

The Truth Seekers

The Truth-Seekers were closely aligned with the Naturists but went further in their attempt to discover the true nature of humanity and to try and build a common consciousness that would bring people together on a higher plain and would enable the human race to leave behind all the evils that they saw as manifested in modern society, which was a hopelessly oppressive, violent, exploitative and bigoted structure thought up and kept by those in power in order to crush the souls and break the backs of the many. Or some such pretentious rubbish.

The Truth-Seekers attempted to reach this state of enlightenment through the use of LSD and other hallucinogens. Aldous Huxley was a big inspiration in their quest towards a higher understanding and state of being, with his “The Doors of Perception” filling the role of the Truth-Seekers’ Bible on what acid and other mind expanding drugs had the potential to bring about. Cary Grant lent the acid trip an edge of glamour along with the note of respectability brought by Aldous Huxley, although his claims that his 100+ trips led him to see himself as a giant penis launching itself from earth neatly characterises the moral emptiness at the base of the movement. Aleister Crowley meanwhile, in his search for new experiences and the true nature of things, engaged in witchcraft, Satanic rituals and free love (which devolved into “all women are free and fair game”), demonstrating that for more than a few people the whole thing was a gateway to enjoy a hedonistic lifestyle in service to a nothingness that was fronted by an empty, vacant smile and even emptier, vacant words that said little and meant less.

Having said all that, drugs like LSD, DMT and Psilocybin have been shown to induce truly spiritual experiences, as shown in the trials at Johns Hopkins University, and should, therefore, be researched much more thoroughly and carefully so that we can possibly stumble some way towards answering some of the most fundamental questions about humanity’s need for some sort of spiritual belief, and how and why this might have come about .

However, in service to a dangerously naive system of ideas based on little understanding (or willful misunderstanding) of how the world works and of how human nature manifests itself, LSD turned what was something touted as the next stage of human societal evolution into what was effectively a middle-class freakshow of young people off their minds on drugs, wallowing in syrupy sentimentality and foolish notions of the universal applicability of love to drive forward a revolutionary bulldozer through the society that allowed them to pursue their foolishly naive dreams in the first place. The fact that so many who experimented in this way at the time now resemble mad-eyed, burnt out shells perhaps suggests that the experience wasn’t as beneficial as it was claimed.

The Politicals

The last group of people present in San Francisco during this fervent period of cultural foment were the Politicals, the tribe of left-wing radicals, now known as the New Left who had incubated on college campuses, in particular at Berkeley. These were people who were heavily invested in left-wing ideas and theories, who wanted to change the system, mostly by burning the whole structure of society down and starting again. They saw the other two elements of the nascent hippy movement as possible allies in their attempts to change the world. By revolution, if they had to.

Just how revolutionary were the hippies and those they influenced and inspired? A Gallup poll in 1970 found that 44% of college students felt that violence was justified in order to bring about social change, 40% thought revolution was needed in the US, while 1.7 million saw themselves as revolutionaries. 20% of respondents had a favourable opinion of the Soviet Union as opposed to 1.9% in 1956 and 4% in 1980. Philip Roth’s American Pastoral captures the mood these radicals, this progeny of the politicals, referencing a quote from Weatherman  John Jacobs: “We are against everything that is good and decent in honky America. We will loot and burn and destroy. We are the incubation of your mothers’ nightmares”. They certainly were.

The Politicals’ guru was Professor Herbert Marcuse, the most famous member of the Frankfurt School of Marxist philosophy, aka Critical Theory, whose members had fled Hitler’s rise to power and found refuge in America. Marcuse was teaching at the University of California, San Diego at the time of the formation of the hippy movement. Marcuse influenced many radical scholars and activists, such as Norman O. Brown, Angela Davis, Captain Charles Moore, Kathy Acker, Abbie Hoffman, Rudi Dutschke, and Robert M. Young.

In his 1965 essay “Repressive Tolerance”, Marcuse claimed capitalist democracies can have totalitarian characteristics. The argument Marcuse put forward was that genuine tolerance does not allow support for repression because to do so would ensure that marginalised voices would be kept silent. He characterises tolerance of what he sees as repressive speech (anything not left-wing) as ‘inauthentic’. Instead, Marcuse advocated a kind of tolerance that was intolerant of right-wing political movements which he saw as inherently totalitarian (never mind the horror that was the result of the implementation of Marxism in the Soviet Union):

“Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.

Surely, no government can be expected to foster its own subversion, but in a democracy such a right is vested in the people (i.e. in the majority of the people). This means that the ways should not be blocked on which a subversive majority could develop, and if they are blocked by organized repression and indoctrination, their reopening may require apparently undemocratic means. They would include the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc.”

Along with his concept of repressive tolerance, Marcuse brought to American left-wing radicals the idea that the way to bring about the revolution that would overthrow the oppressive bourgeoisie was to apply Marxist philosophy to the realm of culture, a realm more important, more fundamental to human life than politics. He no longer believed that the working class was the tool that would cause the collapse of the ‘affluent society’, and instead looked to certain marginalised communities to act as the revolutionary vanguard for what was ultimately the doctrine of equality of outcome. In this case, the students of Berkeley were like empty vessels, waiting to be filled by the seductive elixir of Marcuse’s utopian ideals. The fact that these ideals would breed an empty nihilism wasn’t apparent, and if it had been it would’ve been too late; by that point, the students were caught, hook, line and sinker.

He placed great emphasis on complete personal liberation for the mind and body and a breaking down of traditional structures and mores like the family. This was in his view a tool of oppression and an incubator for right-wing totalitarianism that was used by the oppressive political right to keep their grip on power. Marcuse, like his post-modern counterparts Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, wanted to dissolve the social structures that glued society together and provided a separate ‘realm of value’ away from the state by questioning the value of everything to the point where nothing had any inherent, objective moral value and everything was morally and culturally relative. The fact that this absolute relativism is a self-defeating proposition shows how bankrupt the whole intellectual background to the hippy movement was.

The Results

And what was the result of all this? The ‘Summer of Love’, led by those who sincerely believed that they were the ones who would drive a fundamental, societally-altering change in American social and political culture, descended into a welter of protest and violence in order to speed the revolution along. All that achieved only a sense of bitter estrangement between those who supported the cause of the various militant organisations that grew out of the hippy movement, like the Weather Underground, and the rest of society who were horrified at what was happening on the west coast and at how it spread to places like Chicago where the clashes between the protesters and police led to the deployment of the National Guard.

The bombing campaigns carried out by groups like the Weather Underground lasted from July 1969 to April 1985. As Bryan Burrough writes in his book Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence on the violence perpetrated by the radical-Left in the 1970’s, during a period of 18 months in 1971 and 1972, 2,500 bombings were reported in the US by the FBI. That was almost 5 a day.

The rhetoric of destruction that came from many of the intellectuals who inspired the New Left movement played into and fed the worst and darkest emotions in the human hearts of those not old or experienced enough to know better; resentment, bitterness, envy, anger at what many saw as the most violent political system ever created. And what does one do against something or someone who perpetrates violence against you? You destroy it. Apparently, history wasn’t the strong point of the hippies and their fellow activists, otherwise they might have proceeded with more circumspection.

And this is the point; it is better to reform society, through its culture and institutions, rather than burn it to the ground. Those who are determined to subvert or destroy society’s institutions fail to realise that the most likely outcome in destroying these institutions – that either guarantee equality under the law or have the potential to do so after reformation – is a form of oppression and domination far worse than the one they opposed in the first place.

The remedy to injustices like those that the civil rights movement campaigned against is not to blow apart the established order and impose some new, ill-thought out and ill-planned socio-political order by coercive force, as the more extreme elements of the hippy movement ended up doing, cheered on by their less militant brethren. Mao was wrong; power doesn’t come from the barrel of a gun. Stable political power and a stable and prosperous society that all can enjoy are grounded in the healthy relationships and feelings towards one another that mitigate the more destructive passions we all bear within ourselves.

These relationships, between us and God, us and our country, and between one another, provide the basis for a civic partnership that allows citizens to work together to raise up one another’s best interests. The disputes that are an inevitable part of living in a large social unit are thus easier to resolve with as little conflict as possible.

The hippy movement and the different strains of the New Left ideology that birthed along with it brought none of these things. Instead it brought a shallow self-righteousness that all too easily brought the ugly aspects of human nature to the surface; the  oppressive (and some of those attitudes were indeed oppressive and repressive) values of their parents were removed, but the vacuum was instead filled with a vacuous self-regarding yearning for participation in a revolution which many did not fully understand, let alone what the consequences of their actions might entail.

If there was a maxim that might best respond to the hippy movement and other revolutionary movements in the West, it might be something like “reformation, not revolution; cultural innovation, not cultural immolation”.

The hippy movement started out in the naive belief that love could conquer everything and that all that the West needed to do was give up on its oppressive past, socio-political structures and cultural mores and just jump into the whole caring, sharing, free love society that would release people from their humdrum existences. The fact is, none of the hippies’ forays into decadent hedonism would have been possible if not for the fact that the rest of the country, and indeed the West, still clung to the ways of doing things that meant these people could afford to do nothing and waste away in a muddy field trying to connect to the earth-spirit.

In some ways, the hippy movement was one of the most selfish cultural movements in modern human history, and when it didn’t get what it wanted, it lashed out like a spoilt child. It’s just a pity that their temper tantrums cost lives. We are still dealing with their legacy today, and because the revolution always eats itself, we now have the phenomenon of the modern university campus.

Aren’t we lucky?

 

 

Was Trump’s Warsaw Speech really that controversial?

Was Trump’s Warsaw Speech really that controversial?

Donald Trump made his first major foreign speech on Thursday, July 6, at the memorial to the Warsaw Uprising in Warsaw, Poland. He was surprisingly clear, coherent, and projected conviction and belief in the words he uttered.

I don’t agree with Trump on everything and believe that his personal conduct leaves much to be desired and does not give due respect and reverence to the office he holds. However, the reaction to this speech was disproportionate to what was actually said and reveals the ulterior motives of those making the point.

After the usual diplomatic flim-flam thanking the Polish dignitaries and saying how much he loved to be in Poland, a country placed at the centre of the European continent and witness to some of its defining historical moments, trials and tribulations, he got down to his speech. It was a long one, and the transcript is available here.

Trump however gave a realistic picture of the threats facing the Western world today. He talked about a variety of geopolitical security issues, from radical Islamist terrorism, to cybersecurity issues, to a commitment to Article 5 of NATO, to Russian meddling in the Ukraine.

Of course, because he didn’t spout the same platitudes about ‘hope and change’ and say everything would be fine if we just hold hands and sing ‘Imagine’. That led the predictable circles in the media to weep and wail about how dark it was, how lacking in hope, how deprived of optimistic visions of the future.

They proclaimed that he had regressed to his ‘American Carnage’ rhetoric seen in his inauguration speech. Sorry, the world isn’t a pretty place and there are people who would be quite happy to see the West enfeebled, in retreat and in eventual ruin. Facing up to that, with a degree of honest realism, is now beyond the pale. Maybe that’s why we’re in such bad shape.

After this, Trump really plunged into the heart of his message. And of course, the commentary classes went crazy. The New Republic and Vox.com called it an ‘alt-right’ speech based in xenophobic nativism speckled with a dusting of white grievance. (Compare Trump’s speech with that of Kennedy in 1961)

Eric Foner of Columbia University said on BBC’s Newsnight that Trump’s speech repeated the idea that Trump was espousing white nationalism and alt-right xenophobic nativism. According to him, saying that Europe and the West are based on Judeo-Christian values is basically white pride.

I’m sure those who also subscribe to Judeo-Christian values who aren’t white, like Middle Eastern Coptic Christians and Israelis are thrilled at this incredibly solipsistic and narcissistic display of privilege on the part of some well-to-do academic. 

He also implied that James Burnham, an ex-Trotskyist turned conservative writer was far-right because of the popularity of some of his works among Trump supporters. Finally, he claimed that Trump’s warnings about ‘creeping bureaucracy’ were redolent with far-right panic over the deep-state.

Maybe if he’d actually listened properly, or read the speech, Foner might have realised that Trump was warning against the weight of big government on individual liberty, so casting those who aim for smaller government as also beyond the pale. Messiah College History Professor John Fea tweeted “The West will never be broken.’ We will defend ‘civilization.’ Trump’s speech in Poland has [Steve] Bannon written all over it.“

These are just several examples of the reaction among the commentary class, who basically broke Trump’s speech down to their old stand-by of “fascism!” They don’t realise that their overuse of hyperbolic language concerning Trump’s rhetoric is simply turning people off to their white noise levels of hysteria and angst regarding some opinions they don’t agree with from a man they can’t control, who speaks his mind (often to the worse rather than better) and who doesn’t need them anymore, who doesn’t need their benediction as a member of their club.

They fail to realise that by continuing with their screeching about the impending fascist takeover, about Trump stirring up violence against journalists by tweeting a meme, about Trump supporters being the most violent (Antifa, anyone?), about the whole right of politics being beyond the pale of political and civil society, that they are driving the polarisation of America, and of the wider West. Leaders like Roosevelt and Reagan would now be beyond the pale for making very similar points. I mean Churchill even talked about defending “Christian civilisation” before the Battle of Britain. The horror.

Meanwhile, Trump explicitly said that new arrivals would be welcome and that those who would not be welcome are those who would wish to do us harm and destroy us. In other words, Islamist terrorists. That doesn’t sound tyrannical to me, that sounds like prudent control of a nation’s borders.

If and when something comes along that really is tyrannical in nature, what then? No-one will listen to them, because they will have worn out their tactics of offense, and their quivers will be empty should the situation arise where there really is a risk of something truly totalitarian in nature.

The fact that Trump’s focus on family, freedom, country and God, on the ideas brought to fruition at great sacrifice over millennia that made the West great, such as individual liberty, property rights, freedom of speech, equality before the law, all of which allow these people to have and express the opinions they do, and also the fact that that nation states have a right to be sovereign and have defined and defended borders, all of that is inherently bigoted and all that can be said is that defending these values and ideas is a sign of inherent bigotry.

The alternative is apparently to oppose these values because they are now Trump’s values, so even worse than they already were due to their growth in a part of the world that has never done anything good and has only got to where it is by oppressing everyone else. If you’re a liberal and you support Western civilisation that is built on the aforementioned values, then you’re a white nationalist. Even if you’re a person of colour.

Even if you’re a Never Trumper like Bill Kristol, who also commended the speech or George W. Bush’s speechwriter who called it one of the best presidential speeches given abroad in his lifetime.

Standing up for Western values does not make one alt-right, and to say it does only drives us further apart, cutting us further off from one another and inflaming the each side’s view of the other, risking further violence seen on the ideological extremes.

There can be serious questions about Trump himself, and rightly so. But the fact that Trump said that Poland and the West could be saved, and could go into the future with its head held high if we rediscover our roots and values, who we are, and from that draw the will to survive and prosper, isn’t and shouldn’t be controversial.

Re-posted from Bombs and Dollars

Political Peter Pans: The Millennial Generation and Fairy Tale Politics

Political Peter Pans: The Millennial Generation and Fairy Tale Politics

 

In the most recent edition of the Spectator, Lara Prendergast penned a column describing how the millennial generation’s political views have been moulded by the world of Harry Potter. Having seen how my generation has evolved politically, how they vote, how they approach political life in the way it intersects (sorry) with culture, the depiction of the millennials as the Potter Politicals is apt.

One only has to see how the millennials view the world to see how much they’ve been influenced by the world of Harry Potter and his fellow wizarding denizens. They view it with a similar Manichaean lens, with the world divided into comforting black and white, good and evil, nasty and nice. Ergo, Labour under Corbyn is nice and the Tories under May are nasty.

This worldview helps explain why millennials are so committed to rooting out social injustice and inequality wherever they find it, believing that they are like Dumbledore’s Army, bravely resisting and fighting back against the oppression and victimisation practised by those who don’t conform to their way of thinking, in Britain and in America.

The irony is that in their own way, the millennials have become as intolerant of dissident voices and opinions as those they view as bigoted; Theresa May is now viewed as Dolores Umbrage by many. But then again, if we are to use the Potterverse as a metaphor for real life, Umbrage would better describe the campus censors, who go around college campuses castigating and policing those who hold different opinions to themselves and thereby creating an environment that is no longer conducive to free thought and enquiry, and which actively seeks to kill it off if it deviates from the accepted Left-wing narrative due to words now being elevated to the same level as actions; words are now violence, hence unsafe, hence the need for ideological safe spaces.

I suspect that J.K. Rowling wouldn’t be happy to hear of her creation being co-opted by someone who doesn’t exactly share her worldview or the worldview she portrayed in her books. Another example of this is given by anti-Islamist extremist campaigner Maajid Nawaz. He calls the unwillingness to name the ideology of Islamist extremism due to fear of giving offence the “Voldemort Effect” because Islamism becomes the ideology that must not be named due to the fact that it admits that Jihadi terrorism has something to do with Islam. Not naming the ideology only increases the levels of hysteria around it, as it did in the books regarding Voldemort.

Apparently, when Nawaz told Rowling of his use of one of her literary devices in passing she wasn’t overly pleased. One suspects that’s because she’s in the “nothing to do with Islam” crowd, and is uncomfortable with her creation that displays an extremely fixed view of what good and evil is being used in this way, which suggests she falls into the trap, as Nick Cohen puts its, of being unable to comprehend that even brown-skinned people can behave in fascistic ways rather than always being the victims.

Given her own political views, it is hard not to see the bad guys in Harry Potter as magical right-wing and conservative caricatures, with all the emphasis on blood (racial) purity, purging the Muggles (unclean, not of the race), excessive order and hierarchy (tools of oppression designed). It’s a neat trick and serves only to reinforce the “us and them” narrative between those on the political Left and Right.

The real problem with how Harry Potter has influenced the political worldview of my generation is that it displays a lack of realism in how they view reality. Everything is black and white, good and evil, and can be solved by make-believe, wishful thinking and magical actions. The faith (and it is almost a sort of religious faith) placed in Jeremy Corbyn (and Bernie Sanders), now seen as some sort of Dumbledore, to deliver on his promises to bring about fairness and equality rests on the naive belief that socialism, a morally and economically bankrupt ideology, works or is even a good idea. The fact that socialism is tied with Nazism for the most murderous ideology in the history of mankind seems to have passed many millennials by.

This faith in magical thinking, displayed by the application of the Potterverse to real world politics, and the belief in the power of bankrupt ideologies to act as a sort of redemptive moral force together with a government that acts like a replacement parent, arguably displays the real political immaturity of these political Peter Pans. Their reliance on fairy tale political beliefs shows that they haven’t come to terms with the fact that life, both socially and politically, involves trade-offs between bad and less bad options. There is never a solution that will make all the problems vanish in a puff of smoke, and some people will always be disappointed.

The goal of politics should be instead to provide a basis that allows the full flowering of the individual as a sacrosanct being of inherent value, and whose prerogative in life it is to pursue life, liberty and happiness to the best of their ability. And yet this worldview does not mean that we should view society as made up of atomised economic widgets. Community, a sense of belonging and deep-seated love and affection, of oikophilia as Roger Scruton puts it, for those around you, whether it be your family, neighbours, village, town, city or nation, is also vital.

However, there is a difference between communitarianism and collectivism. Communitarianism revolves around a degree of freedom of association and choice, whereas collectivism, as instantiated in the most recent wave of Left-wing group identity politics, removes this freedom to choose. In collectivist identity politics, everyone is divided up by their basic biological, racial or sexual characteristics, and must associate and behave accordingly with a pre-defined group. Being part of a community means that while you are part of a bigger whole, there is room for manoeuvre in how you conduct your life; in a collectivist identity group, there is no room and everyone must behave in accordance with their in-group.

The Potterverse has, I would argue, helped feed into the mentality that has given rise to the “us and them” phenomenon present in Left-wing identitarianism that is rampant on campuses today, and which punishes those who stray from the narrative. It has further helped divide people by playing into the resistance narrative currently on display in America, and to a lesser extent in Britain. It has also fostered and played into an unrealistic view of the world, where problems can be solved by magical thinking and sweeping programmes designed to end inequality and bring fairness. The fact that the policies millennials favour will bring neither and will only serve to grow inequality and unfairness doesn’t seem to be on their radar.

The political Peter Pans of the millennial generation need to leave behind their fantasies about life and politics and the warm embrace of the comforting world of childish dreams. They need to abandon their longing for magical solutions to their problems, and they need to start thinking about ways in which they can find solutions to their own issues. If they cannot sort their own lives out, maybe they should have the humility that comes with maturity to realise that they’re not prepared to sort the rest of the world out, either.

 

Christianity and the Imperative of Freedom of Speech

Christianity and the Imperative of Freedom of Speech

The most fundamental freedom that Christianity guarantees and demands as an absolute necessity for the good of us as human beings created in God’s image is freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech as an almost spiritual necessity in order to find truth and draw order out of chaos is something that’s integral to Christian doctrine. This is demonstrated in John 1:1, which begins with ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning’. This is an extremely important idea; the idea that God brought the world into existence through speech, by using his voice to shape the potentiality in chaos and to draw out an ordered world through the use of speech. 

Further on there is the passage ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’. This is where Christianity and its Greek philosophical predecessor intertwine in the idea of the Logos. In Greek, logos means the logic behind an argument, used to engage in discussion to formulate ideas, test theories and see how your preconceptions stand up under scrutiny, to see whether they have validity or need modification or discarding. It’s a form of learning and growth through conversation or dialogue, the word whose root is logos.

In the Christian sense, this passage in John established in the eyes of the Church and set out in the Chalcedonian Creed, Jesus as equal to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. This means that the Christian belief system places Jesus as a physical manifestation of the Word, of God speaking the universe into the existence out of the chaotic potentiality of nothing; they’re the same thing. The idea behind this, as Jordan Peterson argues, is that if a person made in the image of God embodies the immortal soul or Word of God properly then they’re the thing that draws order out of chaos here on earth, they’re the dividing line that sits on the border between order and chaos. This is what the Bible arguably portrays Jesus as; the same thing as that which spoke the universe into existence; the beginning of being.

How did Jesus embody the immortal soul of the Word of God and God the Word? He embodied it through articulated truth. Jesus was the salvation of mankind, and he brought this salvation through truth, the best defence against the suffering inherent in life. He was the truth, articulated through speech, used to save us from the suffering of our sinful existence.

Think about his encounter with Pontius Pilate. Jesus said in John 18, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me”. Pilate then retorts “What is truth?” The implication of this emphasis on the articulation of truth through speech is that speech is necessary for us to try and live as truthfully as we can. We cannot know if it will succeed or even be sure what will happen, but we will only find out once we try. It requires Kirkegaard’s leap of faith. As we were created in God’s likeness, it is our duty to tell the truth as much as is in our power. Lies on the other hand only serve to unleash suffering on the world.

In this way, restrictions on freedom of speech, beyond those prohibiting direct calls to violence, are a sin against consciousness itself. It is only through free thought and truthful speech that we can guard against the chaos that lies bring with them. If you cannot say what you think and mean what you say in a dialogue, then your path to the truth is cut, and lies become more easily spread in the void that this restriction on articulated truth leaves behind. We may not know what would happen if enough of us told as much of the truth as we knew as much of the time as we could, but we do know what happened when the truth was replaced by lies.

Lies can be the most destructive thing in the world. There is no other way of saying it. One need only look at the bloody history of the 20th century, with its procession of totalitarian dictatorships that relied on lies to attain and keep power realise this. This was particularly true in Naxi Germany and in Soviet Russia, where lies opened the door to the darkness of resentment, envy, jealousy and bitterness in every human heart, allowing the leaders to pursue their utopian dreams that rapidly became charnel-house nightmares.

In Soviet Russia, the Soviet intellectuals went round the provincial towns and villages, spreading the lie among the most resentful and bitterest peasants that their plight was really due to their oppression at the hands of their Kulak employers, who were really just peasants able to afford a brick house, maybe a cow and possible an employee or two. The Soviets told the people that if they pointed out who the Kulaks were and surrounded their homes and businesses, then the Soviet authorities would have these oppressors shipped off to Siberia. Meanwhile, the food supplies would be collectively owned in a central supply so that everyone would be equally fed. As a result of this mass imprisonment of the Kulaks and the executions of those who kept their food and were thus enemies of ‘the people’, 6 million Ukrainians starved to death, along with another 30-50 million Russians who died of starvation and from the purges.

In the end, the entire population became complicit in the lie that none of this had anything to do with them, that is wasn’t their responsibility, that they hadn’t given in to their base desires and given their friends or neighbours away to the authorities, who of course portrayed themselves as the guardians of ‘the people’, and as the moral authority that would guide ‘the people’ on the path to their Communist heaven. This is what lies that loose the darkest emotions in the human heart can achieve: 30-50 million people dead between 1920-1959, with people so hungry that signs were put up reminding parents it was wrong to eat their children. The revolution literally ended up eating its children, because of lies. By the time enough people realised what had happened, it was too late, and their complicity in the lies that led to the horrors of Stalin’s Russia had become the complicity in the silence that enabled it to maintain power.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn said that the line between good and evil runs down every human heart. Lies, to each other and to oneself, allow evil to snuff out the good side; one must always be on the watch for this, as it is hard to keep the two sides in balance and very easy for evil to snuff out the good without eternal vigilance.

As with Communist Russia, so with Nazi Germany. Hitler and his fellow Fascists used the same formula of lies. The only difference was in application. This time, it wasn’t the Kulaks that were the victims of the lies about being the oppressors. This time, it was the Jews who were the oppressors of the German Volk. Instead of the lie of oppression occupying the realm of class structure, it occupied the realm of racial hierarchy.

The German people and many throughout Europe bought wholeheartedly into this lie because, as in Russia, it meant they could avoid looking within themselves to see where the faults in their own character lay and how these might have contributed to their situation. It was much easier to believe the lies of the Nazis and put all their failings, brought together with that of their fellow countrymen under the collective ideology of Fascism, on others who if purged would then lead to the purging of their collective faults. This lie also extended to Gypsies, homosexuals, dissidents and disabled people. 6 million Jews would die, along with 5 million others. 300,000 disabled people were among their number, with horrific experiments performed on them as a result of their abnormality. All because of a lie.

In totalitarian dictatorships, authoritarian leaders have to purge the bacterium of dissidents and dissenting thought from the body of ‘the people’ because these dissidents will disrupt with the virus of truth the lie that everyone else believes in. Only if everyone believes the lie that the authoritarians peddle will enough people willingly follow their leaders down the road to utopia.

The need for indoctrination and propaganda is essential to stamp out individual thought by leading people to willingly open the door in their heart that their resentment, envy, jealousy and bitterness is always threatening to slam wide, otherwise their minds would receive dissenting ideas that could contradict the lie that the authoritarians spread and many people will readily accept. That is why totalitarian regimes, especially Communism, always lead to genocide; more people always have to be killed to keep the body of the people pure to usher in the utopian date with history.

The use of speech as a means to articulate truth in order to mitigate the suffering inherent in life was instantiated in the Bible through the figure of the Logos, the human figure of Christ, who was the embodiment of the Word, the use of articulated truth to pull order out of chaos.

Freedom of speech is thus a necessity, and any attempt to restrict it beyond reasonable limitations against incitement to violence is a sin against consciousness. It is a sin because without the ability to freely articulate the truth through speech and dialogue in order to mitigate suffering and the resentment that spring from suffering, lies readily take the place of truth and feed on that resentment.

And we know where that leads.

 

 

 

 

On Disability and Individualism

On Disability and Individualism

Disclaimer: I do not claim to speak for every physically disabled person. I do not “represent” the disabled community. This is my opinion, which I think may fall on sympathetic ears within the disabled community. Nor, in the arguments laid out below do I apply it to every able-bodied person and their view of disability and disabled people.

 

Some time ago I read Bret Easton Ellis’s long but insightful “In the Reign of the Gay Magical Elves” where he argues that the attitude shown by the identitarian Left towards gay men like himself is arguably both condescending and infantilizing, with many advocacy groups reinforcing this by punishing those who stray off the ideological reservation.

I’m not gay so I can’t totally relate to everything Ellis describes in his piece. However, the sense that a body of organisations and affiliated notables who supposedly have my best interests at heart, all the while proclaiming the acceptable narrative of what a disabled person is and what they should do, be, say and think – and the fact that I’m against this collectivisation – is something I do have in common with Ellis.

In conjunction with this, the Paralympics in Rio also revealed the tendency among some to collectivise disabled people into a monolithic bloc, leaving the individuals within that group of “disabled people” subsumed. Now, I support the idea of the Paralympics and think it’s good that disabled people get to compete in a sport at the highest level they can. In other words, they are afforded equality of opportunity.

It is right and good that these people, who have been given a bad hand in the game of life whether through birth or fate, should be celebrated for their amazing achievements against odds that normal athletes don’t have to deal with.

However, I’m also ambivalent about what the Paralympics represent to some members of the general public. It is to be hoped that large numbers of those who watched the Paralympics did so because they wanted to see high-level athleticism, with the disabilities of the participants an incidental fact.

And yet I fear that it also holds that watching the Paralympics and showing support for the athletes is a way for some able people to salve their consciences about their attitudes to disability and perhaps being in general. What better way to do this than to watch “brave” athletes (Channel 4’s “superhumans”) breaking boundaries on the track, in the pool or on the water?

Sometimes it feels as though events like the Paralympic Games are an excuse for some “normal” people to not only expiate their guilt for their previous lack of acknowledgement of disabled people as individuals, but to take it as an opportunity to celebrate the sanctity of the Sainted Super Disabled, to be masochistically reminded only of “Tolerance” and to “Feel Good About Ourselves” when viewing these disabled athletes as symbols for all disabled people, rather than viewing each one based on his or her individual character and merits. This attitude also extends to the notion that disabled people are somehow endowed with inborn virtue for merely existing as disabled people.

I mean, God help the disabled man or woman who doesn’t want to conform to this idealised collectivist idea of what being disabled means. What about those who don’t want to be representatives of the disabled class? Who don’t want to teach with their supposed inborn moral clarity and insight? Who don’t feel like an inherently moral authority capable of redeeming all who seek it?

I hate to break it to you, but suffering oppression, adversity or misfortune in life – whether being born disabled or becoming so later in life for example – does not make you inherently noble, just as being in poverty doesn’t imbue you with goodness. Your base, immutable characteristics do not decide your moral status; it’s what you do with that, how you choose to act because or in spite of your apparent limitations, how you bear the suffering of existence, that really defines your moral character.

In my opinion, those who sanctify disabled people (again, it is hoped that this is a minority) by viewing them as more inherently good, noble and dignified than able-bodied people do so by using the disabled person’s physical deformity as a psychological expression of their own emotional and spiritual deformities and deficiencies. By having this exterior deformity, disabled people are arguably assumed to be almost holy in their inner spiritual, mental and emotional purity. They are therefore worthy at the same time of veneration and of exploitation by various identity politics ideologues under the guise of the search for redemption of the able-bodied person’s soul.

Some able people need us to fit this image so they can find redemption for their own deficiencies which they see manifested in physical form by our disabilities. It’s a classic case of psychological projection that reduces disabled people to cyphers for some able peoples’ personal characterological deficiencies, and the treatment of disabled people as inherently virtuous allows the able-bodied person to dissociate from past and present character flaws. In the case of identitarian ideologues, this is cynically exploited for their own ideological ends.

In the case of identitarian ideologues, this is cynically exploited for their own ideological ends, to push a radical agenda of equality of outcome, with disabled people the shock-troops designed to render those who would resist their crusade immediately cast as unfeeling monsters standing in the way of social justice for society’s most vulnerable.

This view of disability might explain the reaction the depiction of a less than perfect disabled individual in the entertainment sphere in recent years, in the character of Will Traynor in the smash-hit book and movie Me Before You, about a man who’s run over and paralysed, and ends with him choosing to commit suicide at a Dignitas type clinic in Switzerland. Now, I don’t agree with the ending but thought it was an interesting take on a disabled character that opened up the possibility for dialogue around extremely emotive and complex questions like the issue of quality of life, and how much agency a disabled person can have.

But of course, because the film didn’t depict Will as some sort of morally pure superior being, it went off the ideological reservation for what is an acceptable depiction of disability, with many disability rights campaigners and other activists panning it for its dark take on living with a disability. In other words, as soon as a story came along that depicted a disabled person as a flawed and imperfect individual, like the rest of us, the disabled community was up in arms about it not being perfect and upbeat enough, and campaigners were using the film as an opportunity to beat able-bodied people over the head with their uncaring insensitivity.

Well, I would argue that actually both the book and the film were a refreshing change to the usual view of disabled people as an almost holy symbol that serves to save some able peoples’ sense of guilt. This was a portrayal of a disabled individual’s life that didn’t shy away from the tougher aspects of what it entailed and didn’t pull any punches over what it actually meant.

The character of Will Traynor himself, disability aside, is also interesting. To start with, he was a horrible, self-centred, egocentric, arrogant, surly, rude, ungrateful and sometimes malicious man. Further from the Sainted Super Disabled one could not get.

As such, I found it refreshing to see a disabled man who behaved more like many people might if they were in the same situation, which is not as well as they might hope because none of us is inherently good.

Did the campaigners and activists not see that this film might actually bring people closer together through the potential for dialogue? Did they not see that there was a possibility that a more realistic view of a messy, flawed, individual who happened to be disabled might mean some members of the general public who went to see the film might leave with a more realistic impression of how disabled people might actually behave, rather than continuing on with their cozy fantasy of the Sainted Super Disabled? Of course not. That would have involved compromising their ideology.

The reaction to this film and the issues around the Paralympics I discussed earlier will never be entirely mitigated. In the end, the best thing that any decent person can do is to treat each disabled person as an individual. Acting and being treated as an individual is more attractive to me than being a member of a collective identity that is the be-all and end-all of my existence, from which there is no escape.

In this world, not only am I chained in my disabled body, but I am chained in my mind by the shackles of ideologues who would exploit my situation for their own ends. No thankyou. Incidentally, this is also why I am a supporter of free speech, despite the identitarians now running riot in our universities. Again, my body is shackled. I can only experience freedom using my mind. To limit my speech, as the identitarians do on our campuses and increasingly in wider society, strips me of my only recourse to freedom. Again, in their bleak world of reductive identity politics, not only is my body in chains but so too is my mind.

All this leads me to why I consider myself a conservative; the values of obligation and responsibility, individual liberty and freedom that conservatism enshrines as its core principles are the only way that people as thinking individuals can achieve their full potential through choosing to take as much of the burden of responsibility for living as they can.

As Shelby Steele says, “Only human initiative is transformative, and it is an eternal arrogance of the Left to assume that government (SJWs) can somehow engineer or inspire or manipulate transformation. You cannot help people who have not already taken initiative—meaning total responsibility for their future. And it takes very little to help those who have actually taken such responsibility.”

The response to disability, like all other challenges that life can throw at you, is to show the initiative needed to take up the freedom that we enjoy in the West in any small way you can, in spite of the challenges being disabled places before you. The new reality of this freedom can be disconcerting and can leave one feeling resentful at the weight of the burden that freedom places on your shoulders; the requirement of freedom that you show greater responsibility, discipline and sacrifice. In the end, a truly meaningful life is only possible if you have the freedom to pursue that life as you see fit in accordance with the law, guided by a sense of responsibility derived from a moral code that demands you approach life with as much grace and fortitude as possible.

In the end, a truly meaningful life is only possible if you have the freedom to pursue that life as you see fit in accordance with the law, guided by a sense of responsibility derived from a moral code that demands you approach life with as much grace and fortitude as possible, carrying the spark of liberty in your breast, keeping it alight to pass on to the next generation.

In the end, this approach shows greater respect for disabled people as individuals. I find conservatism, more than the politics of today’s Left, offers the simple fairness of true freedom in which both individual success and failure are always possible, a fairness grounded in an ideal of unbiased clear-eyed interaction between people.

This does not mean that I think there is no place for some sort of safety net for disabled people, or that there are not huge challenges that disabled people face every day, both in dealing with their condition and in facing the many societal challenges that still face them.

But only in this kind of fairness is there respect for disabled people as individuals who could be competitive with others once any residual discrimination is removed and they are allowed to compete and given the tools they need to perform to their full potential, taking into account any limitations they may have. This does not mean making endless accommodations beyond what is reasonable, as this is counterproductive and ends up hurting those one is trying to help. It instead means allowing disabled people to reach their full level of competence unhindered by an ideological worldview that demands everyone must be equal in the final outcome. That is not a world I would like to live in.

Indeed, I would argue that this approach is the only route to disabled people feeling some sense of having transcended their often painful physical reality. This is the same for everyone, but for those of us whose physical existence is bound by disability, this is of the utmost importance.

To conclude, I’ll leave off with another quote from Shelby Steele: “only the impartiality of true freedom—uncontaminated by group preferences… [will] provide exactly the right incentives to do precisely this”.