Whom are you serving?

You are being used, and they will spit you out when they are done. You may gather at a school to make your feelings felt, and you may end a good man’s career this time, and believe that this means you now have power to force society to bend more to your preferred norms, but you are being used. You have no more power than an atheist mob permits to you.

It was a different world in 1989, before the Wall fell.  As the year opened, protests burst out upon the streets of many countries against a Whitbread Prize-winning novel few then had heard of. In Bradford, Muslim elders hung from a stick a book they had never read and burned it in protest – they made at that time no threat against people or property, but all of respectable opinion in Britain was against them. When Persia’s spiritual chief issued an actual death sentence against the author, not just British opinion but that of the world was repelled. It was a turning point, but not in favour of the freedom proclaimed from all ends of social opinion; it was a turning point against free expression.

The shock at that fire in Bradford was not the act itself, burning a book – it is a very good book, but it is only paper. It was the sudden discovery of a new political identity within the population. Before Bradford there were Asians, undistinguished amongst their tribes and sects for most of us – now there were Muslims.

It was a rollercoaster year, 1989: the Satanic Verses, the invention of the World Wide Web, Tiananmen Square, and the collapse of European Communism, ushering in a new order to the world. The Wall fell, old, oppressed nations began to rediscover themselves and the thrive anew in freedom: except in the first to turn, Algeria, which fell to Islamicists. In the West, socialism was disgraced, but a backlash began in quiet corners, and the events of Bradford were too good an opportunity to miss.

There was no conspiracy – there did not have to be when men of ill-will were thinking the same thoughts and swapping fake outrage in the Grauniad. The Communist regimes in the East were no longer there, their failures and brutality exposed to the world, but those who had long hated their own society and culture, who had supported the Communists to destroy it, saw in the ash from those book pages a new way to attack the Judeo-Christian normality of society.

After Bradford it became a necessity not to offend Muslims, and that sounds benevolent enough – I really have no wish to annoy Muslims unnecessarily. The power game is not about benevolence though. There were some Muslims who saw an opportunity to push an agenda of their own – to persuade schools to treat Islam as unchallengeable, for example; there are always people like that in any group. That though is all far less important than the liberal offensive.

Driving Christian references from public life moved on apace after 1989. The tabloids’ favourite is ‘banning Christmas’, but it goes far beyond. In 1988, Margaret Thatcher ensured that school assemblies be ‘broadly Christian in character’, but thirty-three years later that seems inconceivable. State and society have been secularised from top to bottom, and discrimination laws so interpreted as to keep it that way.

So it was in 2005 or 2006 that I attended a talk on Islam in British life, and was shocked by something I heard, from the mouth of a learned judge. The subject of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons had come up and common commentary seemed to be that they were grossly offensive and should be shunned, even banned. An audience member then asked why he cartoons should be banned when we champion the right to free speech by Salman Rushdie. The judge, a liberal and certainly not a Muslim, said he thought we had got it the wrong way round, and the cartoons were unimportant but the Satanic Verses should have been banned. How the world had turned in that short time; as Eastern Europe cast off servitude and embraced freedom, Western Europe has cast away freedom.

The world of ‘acceptable opinion’ is different now. The result is not what Muslims would have wanted: would the average Muslim be happy with what was once a religious society becoming enforcedly atheist? Barely any Muslim is bothered by the public celebration of Christmas, but may be greatly offended by the suppression of religious expression.

Those at that school gate in Batley may think they are defending their religion, but it is a game played by the Guardianista liberal, which is the bitterest enemy of all religion.

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Motivations of the Cancel Culture

The ‘cancel culture’ is so ubiquitous, so pervasive, that it needs no description. It is today’s ochlocracy. The two questions it raises are: what to do about it, and why it happens at all. The former has been discussed elsewhere. The latter is more interesting.

Apart from a few half-hearted hits back (or state interventions from Peking and its friends) campaigns to cancel, ban, or sack chosen targets are associated with the radical left. There is something about that psychology which encourages it.

I am indebted to Rob Henderson, who penned a piece of Psychology Today about the motivations driving the Cancel Culture.

A successful ‘cancel’ attack is an exercise of power of the collective effort against an individual or institution. Hobbes looked at motivations that drive our apparently inexplicable actions, observing:

“The Passions that most of all cause the differences of Wit, are principally, the more or lesse Desire of Power, of Riches, of Knowledge, and of Honour. All which may be reduced to the first, that is Desire of Power. For Riches, Knowledge and Honour are but severall sorts of Power.”

Whether the thought behind the eyes of the man or woman who types #canceljoebloggs, or whatever may be a desire for fame if they publicly lead the persecution, or just for the exercise of power: for those who follow sheeplike and type the same, there is a desire to have a share in the exercise of power. However Henderson’s observations are more insightful:

The cancel culture is a social activity.

Looking at how it develops, that appears correct:  it is primarily social activity, like all the local cultural customs we used to have, and perhaps in substitution for them.  It is also an anti-social activity of course, but like a tribal raid on a neighbouring island, it binds the immediate society in enmity for another.

Ours is a big, disconnected, anonymous society, and retreating behind screens leaves us lonelier still, against our every instinct for social interaction. Finding society of a sort in an on-line community is like oxygen to the suffocated soul. As with any social structure, the need for acceptance is the first motivating factor, followed by the desire for enhanced social status. Building this social bond requires the creation of common cultural preconceptions and group identity. This is an electronic tribe, and that tribe will go to war. Any young man knows that being the boldest, the most fearless and the hardest to strike provides status. When the weapon is a keyboard, girls can take part in equality with the boys, or may form their own tribal group.

In the classical model, common tribal identity is founded on culture, rituals, religion, and is intensified as members pursue “Desire of Power, of Riches, of Knowledge, and of Honour“. The same is true of the hard-left on-line communities, which have developed and enforce internally their culture, ritual and religion.

The pattern of cancel culture activity all follows precisely the essential Stone-Age social model which in in-built in us all and studied endlessly in other contexts of social interaction. The tools are modern and the tools shape a new methodology, and the religion is a nineteenth century one founded by Marx and developed in the twentieth century, but that is as far as modernity breaks in: the online society from which the cancel culture emerges is a tribal structure no different from the immemorial pattern of humanity.

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Five Questions for the new ochlocracy

Tony Benn was wrong on most things, but he was a great Parliamentarian and he had five questions that may be asked of anyone with power:

  1. What Power Have You Got?
  2. Where Did You Get It From?
  3. In Whose Interests Do You Exercise It?
  4. To Whom Are You Accountable?
  5. How Can We Get Rid Of You?

To the Social Justice Warriors, the wokearchy, call them what you will, those questions are addressed. Their formal power is limited, but they infest the governments of Canada and the United States, and influence many others. Elections make little difference ,and that is the issue for Tony Benn’s five questions.

There is point denying that ‘social justice warriors’ have power.  It may not be formal, legal power, except when exercised by those who have inserted themselves into the structure of government, and there is no ‘deep state’, but it is real power with real-world consequences. Each time someone is sacked from a position of authority for denying a doctrine of the New Left; a Christian actress is denied work; a book is withdrawn from sale; a speaker turned away, or banned from a social media platforms for calling a man ‘he’; an academic is demoted; an honest man in public life reviled, mocked and forced to recant some commonplace observation, this is real power, hurting real people. When the police intimidate and record the names of those who transgress social-justice rules that are not laws, this is real power. The examples are well known and innumerable.

It is not just for the ‘new ochlocracy’ to answer these questions, because they will not address them with any honesty. These are matters which need to be considered by those who are meant to have constitutional power, and who are meant to use it to protect British subjects. If they are not doing that basic job, then the Five Questions are addressed to them.

1     What power have you got?

There is power to wreck careers and beggar ones victims, to wreck lives and families, without appeal or redress.

Power is not just exercised by the ochlocracy nor just by those who believe in the woke doctrine: those who sack and decommission may be those who are simply afraid of criticism or worried that they will be next, like those who turned their neighbours in to the KGB for a quiet life.

2    Where did you get it from?

There is formal power which in Britain is authorised by the Equality Act 2010, a lever piece of social justice warfare from the lamentable Harriet Harman. Its honeyed terms start with the principle that no state body nor employer should treat each person fairly without regard to characteristics irrelevant to their job, and that every member of the public should be able to have access to services sold to the public, but it has been a Trojan horse, as many have found to their cost in the Tribunals. The Act is an excuse used far beyond what it actually says.

In the last few years, formal power has been eclipsed by mob power; the ‘cancel culture’. This is power not granted but taken. It arises by neglect by everyone else; fear; activists pushing themselves forward where no one else can be bothered to make such an effort; blackmail; lying to cowards about the rules and about who is watching them; developing a cadre of useful idiots.

3    In whose interests do you exercise it?

The activists’ own interests and amusements; no more.

4    To whom are you accountable?

Accountability is to none. There is no appeal nor mitigation. There is no referral to any accepted law. Even a mugger in the street may listen to a plea or a bargain, but a woke mob will not.

5    How can we get rid of you?

To those with formal positions; your jobs can be terminated, just as you terminated others’ jobs. To those who attack your fellow workers; your Equality Act condemns bullying and intimidation, so watch your own backs. Employers may realise how many valuable staff they are losing and can adopt anti-bullying policies which catch you – and that is a forthcoming article.

For the mob – you have power because cowards permit it to you. That can be withdrawn at any moment. You have taught the rest of the world what are effective tactics for taking down those you do not like, and it may be that at any moment those weapons will be turned upon you.

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Is Twitter evil?

Is Twitter the most evil thing on the Net? Arguably, but the accusation really lies on those who use it. The latest Online Harms Bill may do more evil still. If that is counterintuitive, let us look at some reality.

The effect of Twitter is devastating. It has been touted as a democratisation of the expression of opinion, which sounds like a good thing. It has in fact been destructive. It provides a platform for people who only know how to shout abuse, and so it normalises filth, insult, rage and threats of real-world violence. It has infantilised journalism now that lazy journalists just read tweets for their sources as if they were real. It cannot be used for debate and is destructive of debate. In the political sphere, it serves mainly as a platform for hate campaigns against individuals or political opponents. It could destroy democracy by preventing discourse, spreading conspiracy theories and libels; and by showing us how real people think so that we react ‘Why in the name of all sanity do we allow these people the vote?’

However, these platforms are just reflecting the people who use them. The abuse of social media is not in the same class as the cheeky satires of former days. It brings up excrescences from the pit of the soul, unrestrained, uncultured, unthought. I do not intend to sully this page by quoting from the sewer of things which are said. On social media, the pseudonymous Everyman may rain his foulest thoughts upon anyone in the public eye. If pub conversation is foul-mouthed and inane, that is still restrained by the presence of friends or neighbours: the open internet has no such restraint.

The public people are all there: the politicians at the top of the tree, the Hollywood A-list, the headlining journalists, the footballers you scream at through the television screen, and all within a keypress for anything you have ever wanted to say to them. They have formal power and influence but here, here on Twitter or wherever, you have power to hit them and hurt them, and that exercise of power feels glorious.

Those politicians and footballers are people though. They might appear on the screen like the fictional characters in a bizarre soap opera, but they are real flesh and blood, with families and feelings.

Women in politics suffer indescribable abuse on social media, as any of them will attest, and ethnic minority women in politics have the worst of the lot. They have to be on social media because it is expected, but to find every exposure met with the crudest insults, slanders, threats to rape and kill – it is more than the average soul could bear, and even when she switches the machine off, her mind goes back, worrying about what is being said behind her back, unseen and unchallenged.

(There are men who instinctively feel that women are beneath them and should not be in politics. I pity any women in their circle.)

The legal responsibility of social media platforms is an arguable one. On the face of it, they are just blind carriers, providing space not content, and no more responsible for the abuse that fills it than the Royal Mail is responsible for the content of letters. However, the letters here are open, and published with the platform’s logo at the top, and the platform does have control if it chooses to exercise it. It is not like a newspaper though, with the sub scouring every paragraph printed for libels: the social media platform is (like so much of modern tech) an unexpected landscape with no precedent to follow.

Lawmakers in much of the world have specifically decreed that mere web hosts are passive carriers not responsible for their content, which is practical. Microblogging sites though when they have rules and administrators are teetering on the edge of the law’s indulgence.

Into this has been brought the ‘Online Harms Reduction Regulator (Report) Bill’, which is a Trojan horse, and a stalking horse. This is a private member’s bill in the Lords and stands little chance of becoming law, but it has found vocal support amongst many who should know better. The danger is that this Bill will be a pattern for future actual legislation, as it follows the Government’s own egregious Online Harms White Paper. Both seek to appoint a regulator with open-ended power to control all speech on the web.

The promoters of the new Bill urge that it would be a weapon against abuse, but it does not address it. What it would do is require Ofcom to recommend the appointment of an official censor for the entire internet. The initial duty, according to the Bill would be to make “recommendations for a duty on online platform service operators” to prevent “harm”, and then to require the government to bring a Bill to implement all those recommendations.

This harms is not restrictively worded, but includes:

“(d) discrimination against a person or persons because of a protected characteristic; ….
(g) threats which impede or prejudice the integrity and probity of the electoral process; and
(h) any other harms that OFCOM deem appropriate.”

The Bill has been introduced by a Liberal Democrat peer, taking the illiberal, undemocratic stance his party does, and its intent must be understood in that context. These threats to “the integrity and probity of the electoral process” echo the LibDem obsession with imaginary Russian interference with the Brexit referendum (long since disproven, but still pushed as if fact and presumably not applied to open European interference with the referendum). The idea of ‘Discrimination’ is breathtaking: the existing law affects those who provide public services, forbidding them form withholding those services on the grounds of race, religion, sex etc, but to apply that to all private human discourse is astounding. Even that is not enough though: “any other harms that OFCOM deem appropriate” wraps up anything.

Someone will be hired as “Chief Censor of the Internet”. Think about what sort of character would seek out such power. Then fear.

Is Twitter evil? You can decide that for yourself. It can always be switched off though. Censorship cannot. It is the real evil.

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The Wrong Side of History

The idea of inevitable progress is worse than folly: it is a positive impediment to thought, leading to decrepitude.

Finding patterns in things, Isaiah Berlin observed, is a human trait (“To understand is to perceive patterns”) but he know it was all fantasy, like seeing the shapes of animals in the clouds. History, viewed from a distance shows few examples of constant motion in any direction: short of the social changes brought about by the discovery of metal and new materials, the invention of wheels and writing, it is hard to place any ‘inevitable’ thread in the human story, but for one, which Thomas Hobbes observed:

it is evident that dominion, government, and laws, are far more ancient than history or any other writing.

Things may change in any society in a way we perceive, from tyranny to freedom, from oligarchy to democracy, but all these concepts have come and flourished and decayed and fallen many times in recorded history. There is no inevitability. Berlin again said:

Historians of ideas, however scrupulous and minute they may feel it necessary to be, cannot avoid perceiving their material in terms of some kind of pattern.

There is no pattern though, and there is no set idea of progress, whatever the Whig historians thought or Marx wrote. As to inevitability, consider the Augustine Age of the Roman Empire; universal peace, prosperity, law and cultural continuum – and compare it with the situation in Europe just 500 years later. Europe did not match the achievements of Rome until the Renaissance, if then. The Renaissance was not to last either: it posited a stable relationship of crown, mitre and scholarship, but it just took a monk nailing his theses to a church door showing the falsehoods on which that culture was built, and it came crashing down.

If you who believe that the process of modernity is proof of rightness, consider these:

In 1642 the Civil War began in England. It is seen today as a modernising struggle for democracy, but it was the opposite. Parliament was old, mediaeval and progress in that age, demonstrably, was to enlightened despotism as demonstrated by Europe’s most advanced monarch: Louis XIII of France. King Charles gathered young and energetic advisers, while those who opposed him were the older generation. John Pym was 58 in 1642 (four years older than Thomas Hobbes); John Hampden and Cromwell spritely at 47 and 43 respectively. The coming men would dispense with the mediaeval hang-over that was parliament. The Civil War was reactionary, a rebellion launched by the passing generation quickly before it was too late, before the young pups could take over. Democracy was against the tide of history.

In 1688, James II & VII tried again. He had lived in exile in France, seeing the spectacular achievements of his cousin, Louis XIV, who excelled his father (and bankrupted his nation, but that was unseen). The old ways got in the way and had to go; the reformation was a past enthusiasm to be replaced by the modern counter-reformation. King James removed the old guard from their positions and appointing new, younger men steeped in the ideas of the Sun King. Parliament was dismissed and royal authority over state and church established. It was the way all the world was going. Democracy was reactionary and old-fashioned; it survived only by a rebellion of the old guard.

The Whig Interpretation of History which followed the Glorious Revolution tried to recast the reactionary rebellions by imagining a general progression towards freedom and democracy. It served well: it gave a rousing national story to encourage us to ever-greater achievements and it ensured that future developments in Britain and its Empire followed that idea, but it was based on wishfulness, not fact.

In the 1850s, slavery in the southern states of America was perfected as a system, as the local establishment thought, such that the Manifest Destiny of these states was to expand over a ‘Golden Circle’ embracing Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Led by the Democratic Party, the bold new vision declared that “We will expand, as our growth and civilization shall demand – over Mexico – over the isles of the sea – over the far-off Southern tropics – until we shall establish a great Confederation of Republics – the greatest, freest and most useful the world has ever seen.” To bring it to reality, private armies invaded Mexico and conquered Nicaragua (until an attempt to conquer the rest of Central America caused a reverse). In Congress, a proposal was debated to establish slavery as the law in any new territory acquired by the United States to the south, in anticipation of this expansion. It was the future. Only the Civil War and the merciful abolition of slavery ended this vision of ‘progress’.

In 1912 the first of the International Conferences of Eugenics met. This was a vigorous scientific discipline, promising an improvement of all mankind. Chairs in Eugenics were founded at universities, the imagined benefits became a staple of futurist literature, because this was the certain future. Those who opposed eugenics were ignorant, superstitious reactionaries, so the world was assured by its ‘enlightened’ minds. The opening of the Nazi death camps wiped this grotesque future from our future.

In the 1930s, democracy and ideas of individuality seemed to be winding to their end. Socialism was the future, the nations were assured, and the only struggle was between factions of socialism: Communism or Fascism. Pliant journalists shown the new Soviet Union came back to say “I have been over into the future, and it works.”, even as Ukrainian peasants starved in their millions. Anyone opposing socialism was behind the times, ignorant of modern thinking, harking back to an anarchic system incompatible with modern life. A modern, mechanised age required a modern, ordered, mechanised system of rule, and both fascism and communism promised order and effective action. We saw how that went.

In each case, the widespread acceptance of inevitability sapped resistance. It narrowed the scope of the imagination. Those who opposed socialist takeovers, as Franco did, just imposed their own versions; because that was modern.

Belief in today’s enthusiasm as a universal, timeless ideal drives out constructive thought. From this will come only stagnation and collapse.

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