Meet the new pearl-clutchers
Today it’s the liberal-left who punish moral transgressors.
In 2017, it was often remarked upon just how intolerant and censorious the liberal-left has become. How times have changed: 30 or 40 years ago, to be of the left was to challenge and lampoon authority, to dare to say the unspeakable – an ethos epitomised by alternative comedy. These days, by comparison, to be of the liberal-left is to censure and to censor, to stop others speaking the unspeakable, to stamp your authority upon those who break your precious taboos.
A curious role reversal has taken place. Back in the 1970s and the 80s, conservative morality was still dominant. The prevailing areas of taboo were homosexuality, pornography, blasphemy, drugs, infidelity, profanity, disobedience and challenging parental authority. Conservative morality censured those who affronted accepted mores relating to these areas. This was the era of Mary Whitehouse, a time when cinemas refused to show Monty Python’s Life of Brian, an epoch when the Sex Pistols and Frankie Goes to Hollywood were banned from the BBC’s airwaves.
That morality has mostly vanished, replaced by a new system and a new list of transgressions. Today, now that the liberal-left has become the puritan ‘moral majority’, the three cardinal sins are racism, sexism and homophobia. Anyone who offends this triumvirate of taboos faces disgrace, public shaming or worse. Even harmless joking or innocuous insubordination isn’t tolerated, as Tim Hunt found out. ‘Offensive’ or ‘inappropriate’ remarks can now even cost you your career and livelihood.
Just like the old conservative morality, the new liberal morality not only defines itself in negative terms, in terms of things it prohibits, but it also places in the pillory any transgressors. Lewis Hamilton, who was scolded for having the heretical opinion that boys shouldn’t wear dresses, was the final victim last year of this egalitarian fanaticism. The first victim this year (already!) has been Toby Young, currently being pursued for posting a few ungentlemanly tweets six years ago.
People possessed with vehement moral righteousness are unyielding in their sanctimony, and today’s moral majority are no different. This is why the liberal-left has not only become censorious and illiberal, but also positively poisonous. The more ostensibly compassionate and liberal someone is in their politics today, the more they consider it perfectly normal to say that they wish to see all Tories die. It’s become a left-wing virtue to proclaim how much you want your enemies to suffer. This is the curious dialectic of the new caring politics: the more compassionate it is, the more vengeful it becomes.
The ethics of the liberal-left may have replaced the conservative morality of yesterday, but it has not made us more liberal. In many ways, our new morality system, and its dogma of equality, is more intolerant than the one it replaced. This always happens when an ideology has righteousness and good intentions on its side: being ‘caring’ and on the side of Good versus Evil means that any means are justified.
Not everything new is good
According to the Daily Telegraph, during the Christmas season Highgate School in north London changed the lyrics of the carol ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ to ‘God rest ye merry gentlefolk’ because the traditional words did not reflect ‘modern progress in gender equality’, as a spokesperson for the school put it. ‘It felt right to update them for the 21st century, making the lyrics more inclusive and accessible to all.’
Highgate School has infamously embraced new PC dogmas, making the headlines last year over proposals for gender-neutral uniforms and toilets. Yet the spokesperson’s wording betrays the thinking of many who embrace these doctrines: the slavish devotion to progress for its own sake and mindless embrace of the modish and voguish. This is how neophilia works: something must happen because ‘it’s the 21st century’ or because ‘it’s the year 2018′.
Not everything that’s new is good, and not everything that’s in the past is bad. But we are certainly going through one of our spasms of neophilia at the moment. The ironic thing is that this love of the new has a decidedly retro, 1960s feel about it, when to ‘go ahead’ was to be totally with it, and the past became an object of derision. As a consequence, in the 1960s, much that was Victorian was literally smashed to pieces and reduced to rubble. We paid dearly for that decade’s neomania.
Similarly, today, one of the worst accusations one can face is being ‘stuck in the past’ or ‘wanting to turn the clock back’ – charges often levelled at Brexiteers. Another symptom of this hubristic neophilia was last year’s outbreak of iconoclasm. And now, in Italy, they’re changing the ending of Carmen (in which the heroine is killed) because it ‘was written 150 years ago in a very different cultural context. Times change.’
As Giles Coren put it at the weekend, today’s mood could be summed up by the imaginary hashtag #OldenDaysMustFall.
These ‘Little Iranians’ want to turn back the clock. They must be thwarted, writes Mungo Krankenhaus
So these protesters in Iran want to restore democracy to their country? They want to ‘take back control’? Well, I for one am not cheering them on. This is 2018 after all. Not 1979. You can’t turn the clock back, pretend you’re living in the 20th century. No, we’re living in the 21st century, in the age of the internet and the hijab. We’re not living in the 20th century, in the age of the Three Day Week, George and Mildred, and democracy.
Democracy is a dangerous thing. The ill-informed demos – and not to forget ‘the crass’ – should not be permitted to decide the fate of a country. This should be decided by the enlightened and the sophisticated, by clerical experts, not by the ignorant, racist, low-information, unbelievably stupid mob. Seeking to bring democracy, freedom and self-determination to their country by extricating it from theocratic control, these demonstrators are playing with fire.
These blatantly Islamophobic ‘Little Iranians’ are leading their country only towards instability, chaos and into the abyss of the unknown. Should they succeed, they would inflict on Iran a terrible act of self-mutilation. Businesses would leave Tehran for Kuwait or Qatar. There would be economic ruination. It would be a disastrous act without parallel. I mean: what about the children?
Theocracy has brought Iran peace and stability. Democracy could prove utterly disastrous. It must not be allowed to win.
Patrick West is a spiked columnist. His new book, Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche For Our Times, is published by Societas.
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