Pissed-off Toff observes that in a world in thrall to group-think, anyone with a mind of his own must be very careful of what he says, and where.
As we were drinking champagne in the drawing room before going through to the oak-pannelled dining room at the end of which a comforting log fire was crackling, one of the guests, a man no longer young but with an interesting look about him, started saying how much he hated the wind turbines that deface otherwise pristine countryside. But no sooner had he got going, than he pulled himself up short and looked around our small group, like one who has made an awful faux pas.
Did anyone mind if he expressed himself on this topic, he asked. Was he about to offend anyone? One of those present had, it turned out, once been involved in promoting these eyesores which local communities hate but which earn so much money for the landowners on whose estates they are planted. And this being a civilised occasion, the conversation ceased.
Only minutes later, in the same drawing room with its eighteenth-century furniture that brought boyhood memories flooding back, I turned to a girl – or woman, should I say – whom I had not seen since Oxford days. After we had reminisced for a while, I observed that we could hardly have guessed, at the time, who would end up rich, successful and happily married, and who would end up poor, lonely and divorced. Apart from anything else, this is a topic which rather exercises my mind, nowadays.
No sooner had the words passed my lips than I realised my mistake. As my host had told me, my interlocutor had recently split up with a husband who had not treated her well. Who might, even, have taken her to the cleaners. An indignant chill descended, and this friend from university days, not seen for thirty-five years, made it clear that I had said something quite unacceptable. And what was success, anyhow, she asked …
I had expessed myself tactlessly; foolishly, even. But I was not going to be bullied into silence, especially since as someone who has himself made a bit of a mess of his life, I could hardly be accused of smugness or arrogance. So I carried on.
“That didn’t quite come out quite right,” I said, stopping well short of the ‘apology’ that is now universally required. “But I’m sure you get my meaning. Which is: we could not have known, then, which of us were to fulfil our potential or come to something … put it how you will … and which were to fizzle out or sink without a trace. I think it’s all rather interesting.”
And I gave the example of X, a golden boy at Oxford, impossibly glamourous with his good looks and grand connections, worshipped by the opposite sex, and with the world for his taking. But his life turned out an unmitigated disaster and he was now a broken alcoholic. Was that not something to ponder over?
* * * * *
In a civilised drawing room where conversation should flow freely, two guests had either censored their own thoughts and words, or had felt the pressure to do so; the first guest falling foul of the ‘green energy’ dogma which we must now accept as gospel; the second guest – myself – commiting the sin of being ‘judgemental’ … even though in the discussion which I initiated, I was perfectly happy to judge myself, to my own detriment.
Two cases of ‘wrong-think’ in as many minutes, therefore. So what is happening? How did it get to the point where there is a long list of topics on which you cannot express yourself unless you have first put out feelers as to whether your views are acceptable to those present?
* * * * *
Perhaps it all started with immigration, and the impossibility of having any sort of sensible discussion about it. I remember a conversation in a restaurant twenty years ago, when a couple of the girls present, who had never given much thought to any question beyond where the next drinks party was being held expressed their passionately-held view that immigration control was an abomination, and that if anyone from anywhere in the world wanted to come and live in Britain, then let him – or of course her – do so.
It was useless to point out that since half the world wanted to come here and sign up for free housing and free benefits, that was not possible. But in the face of their utopian dreams, and of their unassailable self-righteousness, no argument was allowed. Anyone who disagreed with them – anyone who said that it was not viable to allow unlimited numbers of people to settle in this small and overcrowded country – was a ‘racist’; hardly human, even. Discussion over.
Then there were the horrors of Brexit, in which we saw exactly the same pattern. Here again was an issue in which evidence and rational discourse played no part, and which faith was everything. In the eyes of the metropolitan liberal élite who were overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the EU, anyone taking an opposing view was not just wrong, but wilfully idiotic; a heretic; evil, even, and to be condemned as such.
And the same for the new religion of ‘man-made global warming’: not, as I never tire of saying, a scientific fact, but a faith-based thesis, and one which is already destroying us. Just try, as a middle-aged man, suggesting to an adolescent girl that the world is not in fact burning up, that the internal combustion engine has no effect on the climate, which has always changed anyhow and no-one knows why … oh, and that methane from cow-farts will really not cause the planet to explode … try suggesting this, and you will hear screams of horror. Omigod! Get him outta here, Dad!! I can’t listen to this!!!
Thus, too, with sex, an area to which religious fervour now attaches more than ever before. To express any view on any aspect of this topic is to enter a minefield, especially in the surreal ‘trans’ debate. Thus when, to an intelligent fellow-OE of ‘liberal’ tendencies (and yes, the word does now have to go inside inverted commas), I found myself stating the indisputable fact that men are men and women are women, that a woman has a womb and that the two sexes have different chromosomes … when, with a heavy sigh, I spelt out the obvious for the umpteenth time, I was met with a point-blank denial of reality.
“If a man says he’s a woman, then he – um, I mean ‘she’ – is,” came the reply. And the poor chap really meant it. Or to paraphrase his statement: If I believe something to be true, or if I want it to be true, then it is true.
Oh, and then Covid. Very soon after the appearance of this virus, it was clear that the actual level of threat that it posed had become an irrelevance. We were required, simply, to believe that Covid 19 was the worst plague since the beginning of history. We must believe that it was going to kill us all, and that in order survive we all had to lock ourselves up and stop living, and that anyone who said otherwise was an evil murderer. But none of this was based on proven fact. It was all a matter of faith, and hysteria.
And last and most poisonously of all: race … a topic now so overloaded with passion and hatred that the sensible man keeps his mouth firmly shut and hopes that the storm will pass.
* * * * *
Which brings us to a recent on-line interview with the excellent Jordan Peterson, clinical psychiatrist turned philosopher turned international celebrity or pariah, depending on your point of view.
“We are all prone to religious fervour,” he said, before observing that “all sorts of discussions are becoming inflated with religious concerns […] and an over-committed way of thinking.” In other words, deprived of its natural and historical outlets, the religious instinct has overflowed into all areas of life.
“It’s a real psychic plague,” he says; “the major challenge facing our civilisation […] it makes it impossible to take any intelligent action regarding [for example] the environment, because everything immediately becomes so hyper-moral that we can’t have a reasonable discussion.”
Nor is this a phenomenon that just plays itself out on the TV news or in the pages of the newspapers. Rammed down out throats by media whose language is hyperbole and whose very raison d’être is the promotion of fear, hatred and conflict, no matter what the consequences … rammed down our reluctant throats, these quasi-religious quarrels have fatally infected social intercourse at all levels. And not just social intercourse, but love, too.
So that now, when I say anything to anyone, other than that the weather is nice today, I have to watch out. Have you not found the same? And is this not very dangerous?