THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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January 2019

Postmodernist truth

To oversimplify post-modernist moral philosophy (or more accurately, amoral philosophy) there is no objective truth. One's stance in relation to the world is determined by one's class, sexual, gender, ethnic and other "identities" and – in the most up-to-date version – by the intersections between them. I may deceive myself that my view of the world has been developed by the application of my education and my reason to my experience, but in the "there is no truth" truth of the "woke", I think what I think because I am what I am.

This idea is a smidgen of truth taken to an absurd extreme. Of course one's life is shaped by one's experiences. Any political canvasser will tell you that he can have a good guess at the likely response of potential voters by where they live, the car they drive and how they present on the door step. Had I been born into another family in a different set of circumstances, then yes –  I would have trodden a different intellectual and moral path. Those of us who cling to the ideas of my namesake's era – the Age of Reason – do understand that our background, educational opportunities and experiences have a role. We simply consider there is a moral duty to strive – by reading, study, travel, discourse and whatever other opportunities present themselves, to transcend our experiences and strive for objective truth. We are not saying it's easy to find, but we believe that it's "out there".

It's a more optimistic philosophy, I submit. Whatever your origins, privileges or dis-privileges, you can strive for truth in our world-view. Unless you are of the elect however, post-modernism leads only to despair. You are as lost to hope and opportunity as the merest medieval serf. Your opinion counts for as much as that of a slave in the ante-bellum American South.

Born into the intersecting "privileges" of being white, male and – while not rich – not poor, what I think therefore counts for less than naught. There is no way for me to live blamelessly, let alone virtuously. The closest I can come is to "be an ally",  "stay in my lane", "shut the **** up" and listen humbly to my superiors. The post-modern West is in this respect at least headed for a new Dark Age.

Let me be clear that I do not seek to cast myself in the role of a victim here. I am lucky enough to be able to laugh at this analysis. I am financially independent and fear neither employers' nor customers' opinions. I thoroughly enjoy the discomfiture of the "woke" in my circle when I opine freely. I have fun asking them to justify their preposterous faith (it's not really a philosophy, as not only has it no rational basis, but it denies the possibility of such a thing).

One of the ways in which I keep my mind alive in retirement is by studying things for fun. A local novelist has been conducting writing classes for beginners and (though I have no intent of going into print) I have been attending for the stimulation of it. This morning a fellow-student was telling us about her novel. She has written a thriller informed by post-modern "wokeness". Her main protagonist is a privileged white male who thinks he is "woke" but isn't and the story is about his dangerous journey to true understanding.

She described him as "working in the public sector" (which she clearly thought made him a moral superior of those who pay to fund it) and "aware of social justice issues." However he has no genuine understanding of how privileged he is and how his life-choices impact others who are less so. As an example, he casually looks down upon young black men in his city caught up in drug-dealing criminality but has no idea that his cocaine habit is a cause thereof.

Before you pile in, gentle readers, with critiques of this unpublished work, let me explain why it has (despite its right on-ness) yet to find a publisher. Everyone to whom she has sent the manuscript has responded in similar ways. They like the story, but they don't know why she – as a young black woman – has written it. "You don't have to write like this any more", one publisher said. "We want novels from the point of view of people just like you" said another. I smilingly observed that they had told her to "stay in her lane", but sadly she didn't get the joke. I didn't add that they wanted her to stay on the metaphorical plantation and think as her skin colour predicts. I think that jibe would have ended our budding friendship.

She is right on. She is woke. Her stance towards society is politically correct but – as a creative – she has made the fatal error of attempting empathy. It is almost as shocking for her to animate a literary puppet of a white man as it would be for me to animate one like her. Which in the anti-wonderland of wokenes is not crude, pathetic racism but in the real world is.

Isn't empathy the whole point of creative writing? How limited we would all be if we couldn't inhabit the minds of others through their stories, poems and plays. How limiting it would be to see the world only through our own eyes and interpret it with only our own judgement. But the highest literature involves a truly creative mind attempting to inhabit the personalities of a variety of other humans. Every character in Austen, Dickens or Tolstoy is informed by the author's experiences and often based on the people she or he has met, but they are not all Jane, Charles or Leo in disguise. How wooden would they all be? Actually you can answer that question (painfully) by reading the "novels" of Ayn Rand. Her characters are a series of stick figures declaiming her ideas from a pulpit. Her books work well enough as the political tracts she should have written but fail epically as literature because she had no empathy.

I liked my new author acquaintance. Her different viewpoint won't disqualify her, if she's interested, from becoming my friend. I have offered to shoot the author picture for the dust-jacket of her novel when she gets it published. I hope she will because I would like to read it. It's my duty (and often pleasure) as a rational man to refine my own understanding by learning how others see the world. It's a good job I am not going to write my novel though, because by her rules it would certainly disqualify me from friendship!

Beyond fake news

Catching up with The Q yesterday I mentioned a good friend I had hoped he would meet at my wedding was not coming because, as a devout Catholic, he disapproves of our match. Given the age difference he believes I am sinfully selfish in denying the future Mrs P2 both the chance of children and of lifelong companionship. He feels she is making a choice she will profoundly regret and says I have a duty to spare her.

To him, a true marriage is between a man, a woman and God so our civil ceremony will be a parody. He can’t celebrate it or let his children do so. Even if they skipped the pantomime with the bureaucrat, the wedding breakfast would still celebrate a sin. 

Asked how I felt about it, I told the Q I was disappointed. I liked my friend and was very fond of his children. I would miss them on the day. However I understand his thinking and wouldn’t want anyone there who couldn’t sincerely celebrate. 

The Q asked why I still called this man my friend. I was surprised by the question. My own opinions are so far from the modern mainstream that almost all my friendships depend on tolerance. To my friends, I am a loony tune extremist opposed to institutions they regard as essentially benevolent, though flawed. To me, they are sadly mistaken to think their precious state knows better how to spend our money and live our lives than we do. We exchange opinions frankly but then care for each other as friends should. 

That’s how post-Enlightenment civilisation is supposed to work, isn’t it? Any other approach leads to a fractured society at best. At worst it leads to the Gulag, the Stalag or the Spanish Inquisition. 

The Q said I was indeed cracked politically but that my tolerance at least did me credit. My whole life is shaped — indeed made possible — by it. That’s flattering but I deserve no praise. It’s a key value of our civilisation. “Live and let live” and “mind your own business” were not taught to me as a small boy but demonstrated in my parents’ every action. I often heard them critique or mock friends’ erroneous opinions or comical errors but never once did they consider that most medieval and stupid of tactics — a shunning 

Outside the circles of friendship and family it is just as important. I hold firmly to my economic, political and ethical principles but I’m not so naive as to be unaware that they are unpopular and unfashionable. To live a meaningful life in freedom, I need others to tolerate them. My tolerating their opinions while we peacefully reach democratic agreement on how to proceed in the political domain is a price I cheerfully pay. Not just to avoid the gulags etc., but to ensure our society continues to advance. Many modern truths were once heresies or jokes. I have acquired new opinions in my own life that I would never have found had they been suppressed. 

We are never all going to agree but often we can move in loose coalition in one or other direction. For example, many LibDems, about half the Tories and a handful of Labour people can agree — not on my ultimate objective of a tiny state — but at least to make the current monster smaller. We can be fellow travelers for a while until their more modest objectives are met. Such practical compromise just requires us not to fall out over our ultimate goals; goals that none of us is likely to live to see achieved. How hard can that be?

I think most instinctively grasp this and always will. I don’t think current threats to free thought and free speech arise from a wider loss of belief in the principle of tolerance or the wisdom of compromise. There have always been sociopaths who want to suppress dissent. Whatever their ideological pretexts or justifications they are of one tribe and an ever present threat. But they can only do harm when allowed to do so. 

The current problem is that the tolerant majority think their views are not respected. They’re not wrong, sadly. Whomever they vote for, they get the same result. So narrow is the political bandwidth in the West that voting in elections makes little difference. It changes the riders on our backs, but the new ones use the same chafing saddles, wear the same spurs and wield the same whips. 

Those currently suffering from Trump and Brexit derangement syndromes are therefore just learning what it has felt like for generations to those of us outside the political swamp. That was largely the point. Trump was a weapon with which to beat the political class in America, whether identarian, victim-farming Democrats or Republicans in name only. Those of us who voted for Brexit have widely different aspirations for our nation’s future. We are only united in our anger at a ruling class that has feathered its nest amid additional layers of government and bureaucracy beyond any practicable accountability. Brexit was also a weapon with which to beat the alligators in our swamp.

If party A and Party B offer such narrow choices that they blend in our minds into a Party X that always wins, citizens become disenchanted and cease to vote. That creates more scope for cynical parasites to infiltrate the state for gain. Such people are always going to form a large part of government and its bureaucracy but without an engaged and diligent electorate to restrain them they can drive out all honest politicians and civil servants. That’s exactly what has been happening  in Britain and America in the last 25 years or so. If you’re not a busybody or on the make why would you want to govern now? If you are, then what other career will do? 

Citizens who lose faith in the democratic system become vulnerable to demagoguery. If you feel your interests are unserved, your views despised and your earnings predated by the “Party X” alligators, then any chance to drain their swamp — or at least to hurt them — will seem like a godsend.

Party X is still not listening though as the derangement syndromes prove. Alligators angrily  gnashing their teeth are no more attractive than when they were quietly and contentedly preying on us. The very real risk is that in trying to introduce new political beasts that can hurt them, voters may populate the swamp with worse. That’s why, when striving for real change we should remember to check our allies’ credentials on the key issue of tolerance.