Conformism dressed up as radical edginess
In 2010, liberal campaigners convinced themselves that their everyday prejudices were daring political positions.
‘Singers aren’t supposed to have dairy before a show, but we all know I’m a rule breaker. Pizza is just so good!’ When Canadian singing sensation Justin Bieber tried to suggest he was a crazy, convention-defying radical, he was (quite rightly) derided for being about as dangerous as cotton wool. But in 2010, the trend for liberals to spout conformist nonsense as if it represented a threat to the entire established order became almost as ubiquitous as Justin himself.
This trend was most noticeable around the supposed ‘taboo’ about discussing population control. In March, the US liberal-left magazine Mother Jones ran a piece headlined: ‘The Last Taboo: what unites the Vatican, lefties, conservatives, environmentalists, and scientists in a conspiracy of silence? Population.’ A year earlier, green activist John Feeney had written a piece for the BBC News website, stating: ‘It’s the great taboo of environmentalism: the size and growth of the human population. It has a profound impact on all life on Earth, yet for decades it has been conspicuously absent from public debate.’
Last year, the grand old man of BBC natural history, David Attenborough, declared his support for the Optimum Population Trust, leading the OPT’s head to announce that Attenborough had broken an ‘absurd taboo’. Two years before that, the Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting declared: ‘It’s the one issue no environmentalist organisation wants to talk about. Population.’
In truth, as Brendan O’Neill noted earlier this year: ‘The acceptance of overpopulation is now so widespread, so uncritical, such a casual dinner-party prejudice as well as an organising principle of radical activism and global institutions, that the Guardian could recently publish an article about a new campaign allowing wealthy Westerners to offset their carbon emissions by funding population control in the Third World and illustrate it with a photograph of 12 little black babies – and nobody batted an eyelid. No one. Except spiked.’
If liberals aren’t pushing the boundaries around population (if only in their own minds), they are fantasising about being locked up for treason. The reaction to the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton has been one of eye-rolling disinterest. Guardian columnist Tanya Gold declared: ‘I am going to be tried for saying this, but a royal wedding will make idiots of us Brits.’ On that basis, half the British media will be in the dock with Gold, all desperate to be indicted for being able to see through the whole charade in order to prove, as Frank Furedi points out, their superiority to the Wills’n’Kate-loving, souvenir-buying masses.
If next year’s big liberal grump is going to be that April wedding – the moaning about the cost has already started – then the focus of 2010’s moanfest was the visit of Pope Benedict. It turns out that the pope is a Catholic, which doesn’t go down well with those who want to tear religion down.
One of the leading pontiff-icators, Independent columnist Johann Hari, led a clarion call to the nation’s Catholics by patronising the hell out of them: ‘I know that you are overwhelmingly decent people. You are opposed to covering up the rape of children. You are opposed to telling Africans that condoms “increase the problem” of HIV/Aids. You are opposed to labelling gay people “evil”. The vast majority of you, if you witnessed any of these acts, would be disgusted, and speak out. Yet over the next fortnight, many of you will nonetheless turn out to cheer for a pope who has unrepentantly done all these things.’
All of this is based on the assumption that it takes great minds like Hari to tell Catholics that the pope isn’t actually the font of all wisdom. Yet even in Ireland, at the height of the Catholic Church’s influence there, people quietly ignored its teachings on contraception, drinking and anything else that seriously impinged upon life. In Britain in the twenty-first century, when the Catholic Church has next to zero influence, the idea that Catholics need the insights of the commentariat and New Atheists to bring them to their senses is just insulting. Religious people have minds of their own. It’s often the people who spend all their time criticising religion who seem to be the most conformist of all.
True geniuses spend years agonising over the uniqueness of their insights. Only dullards get an idea and then assume that they are the first people to have it. Unfortunately, the liberal media seemed to be full of them in 2010.
Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked.
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