THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Overheard at my health club
What the British State has learned from COVID

Heresy and the clerisy

Reader Ian emailed me a question and was kind enough to hope it would provoke a post. It has. His email was long but the crux of it was this;

Why do you think commentators are so keen to present the "anti-vax" side as deranged?
The entire public debate seems to be "they work" so "you should take it" and if not you are an idiot who wishes harm on others.
It's a good question. I won't debate the pros and cons of the various vaccines, but will try to analyse why rational debate is so difficult. I have never been shy of expressing my views but even I have gone quiet during COVID.
My first thought is that it's a function of how un-nuanced public discussions have become. Many now conduct political debate at a comic book level. If your opponent is evil rather than misguided, your response is more severe. Ian and I thought about the vaccines and took different decisions but think no less of each other for that. If we functioned quasi-religiously, we'd cry heretic at each other and threaten hellfire.
It reminds me of an old post called Credo in which I lamented my loss of faith. As a first-generation atheist, I am still functionally Christian. I feel guilty if I break one of the commandments, even though I don't believe they came from God. The fully godless however tend to seek substitutes. Religion fills some need in our psyche and when it's gone we are vulnerable to other nonsenses-on-stilts. As Chesterton said;
When a man stops believing in God, he doesn't then believe in nothing, he believes anything"
Whatever the rights and wrongs of any given issue; political, societal or economic, it cannot be good if they can't be discussed. Traditional Marxism, for all its faults, was (at least in Western academia) a genuine attempt to analyse social and economic interactions rationally. Its thesis was finally discredited when the fall of the Berlin Wall was followed by a rapid and undeniable improvement in the lives of Eastern Europeans. Free markets delivered in a few short years what had been denied for decades and Marxism (as Marx understood it) died out in sane circles. 
Yet its former adherents did not return to the free market fold. Like those atheists they sought a new faith that met their same needs. There is a certain type of human – aspirant alphas we might call them – who will not accept the rewards and prestige that the market offers their skills, endeavours, risk-taking and luck. They yearn – whatever the consequences – for a new order that ranks them higher. My MP had no power or prestige as a sociology lecturer in a crappy ex-Polytechnic. Her life quest – camouflaged by screeds of turgid prose – is for a new order than rates her as highly as Bill Gates. 
Denied the old Marxism as an intellectual excuse for their aspirations, these types have constructed others. They had already been doing it for some time because, while they were still pretending the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact were defamed paradises, the proletariat in the West was rejecting their ideas. They had long sought new justifications for revolution and targeted new revolutionaries. Because, let's face it, the marshmallows of academia are never going to man the barricades themselves.
Different races and sexes, heterosexuals and homosexuals, the able and the disabled; all these and more "identity groups" were to be herded into opposing camps and incited to mutual hatred. Why? For the same old reason. To create problems that only an almighty state staffed by a clerisy of aspirant alphas could "solve".
It's not working so far. We rub along nicely for the most part. To the extent there's significant hatred it's mostly what they've cynically generated. They are going to fail again, but like their classically-Marxist predecessors they are going to do it slowly while ending a lot of lives prematurely and making the remaining ones poorer in every sense.
The main cost of their ideology at present is its intensification of divisions in debate. Their reduction of everything to simplistic binaries has crippled thought in the home of the Enlightenment. Whether talking about issues that affect every family (like the response to COVID) or recherché stuff like transgenderism, it's always now "the righteous" versus "the heretics". A crypto-religious fervour has people berating their families and friends when all should be focusing with calm, scientific rationality on the best way to preserve/improve the most lives.
I hope Ian can forgive his angry friends one day. In the middle of a witch-hunt, it's safer to cry "witch" than deny witchcraft exists. When I look back on my own conduct, I fear I shall not be proud. No I didn't cry "witch", but I lurked in the background trying not to be noticed while HM Government committed democide and HM Opposition bemoaned their lack of sufficient enthusiasm. I had no appetite to have "die, heretic!" screamed at me. Meanwhile, innocents died in care homes, of untreated cancer or heart disease or suicide. No I didn't take those lives, but I didn't save any either.
Let's hope the democides in the state apparatus – and friends who screamed "heretic" at their behest – have similar moments of self-reflection. Let's hope we see through the incitement to hatred that permeates critical race theory and its sister-doctrines and embrace the Age of Reason again.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


That, my friend, ls a great analogy!


I like your test of asking what would Thatcher do.

1. lead/agreed with the plan of scare the populace witless to ensure compliance (courtesy of a Stalinist he should never have accepted as an advisor)
2. then focus grouped every decision.

This is akin to blasting your thermostat with a hairdryer then wondering why the heating is wonky.


Your final sentence is very true. And the hypocrites who claim to be the defenders of the poor and the vulnerable were screaming for them to be enforced more fiercely.

I can sympathise with the government's problems too. What could Boris do, I asked myself, faced with press and public pressure and ultra-cautious advisors making doomsday predictions? Then I asked myself another question. What would Margaret Thatcher do? The only actual scientist ever to occupy Number 10 would have listened to the scientists and then done the right thing. If she could, so could Boris.

She wasn't cleverer than him. He may well be cleverer. She, however, couldn't easily be led astray because she had something he lacks. Morals. She didn't follow public opinion. The public recognised that and respected it, with the consequence that public opinion very often followed her.

We complain about people being easily led into error, but (as Theodore Dalrymple used to say to prisoners who told him they were "easily led"), "... but you weren't easily led into anything good were you? Your teachers never led you into studying French or doing your homework". The wicked members of Marxist academia differ from their opponents (with noble exceptions) only in that they actually try to lead young minds. I was not surprised to learn that when Margaret was asked what should be done with money raised for a foundation in her honour, she said "teach free market principles to young people".

I always thought Boris was immoral (does the wrong thing but knows it). In truth we now know he's amoral (doesn't know there is a right thing). He can't stand on his principles – not because he lacks courage – but because he doesn't have any. That, not any lack of intelligence or resources, is why he's an awful leader.


COVID exposed it. The Stafford Hospital scandal exposed it. In truth, was it ever concealed? You don't need to hide something if people refuse to look. The faith British people have in the NHS is just that - a faith. A comedian can get a laugh at the O2 by saying "I have never been religious myself...." [comedic pause] "...because I am not a f***ing idiot". [Crowd roars approval]. Yet the same audience of oh-so-modern, oh-so-clever sceptics would engage in ritual pan-banging on demand in support of the saints of the National Health Soviet – an institution that takes tens of thousands of life-years from them when compared to French or German healthcare. The same advanced thinkers simply will not think AT ALL when it comes to a clear and unarguable failure. The only comparison that's ever made in public discussions is with the very poor US system. But even that poor system produces superior cancer survival rates.

Before the late Mrs P. died, I discussed with her the idea of my retiring early and going into politics – with the honest intent of fighting to shrink the state. She said three things that convinced me not even to try. Firstly, it would be hard to get on the candidates list because parties don't like financially-independent candidates likely to resist the whip. Secondly, if I did succeed I would hate the whip and end up as a rebel with no chance of advancement. Thirdly, "your blog has your views on the NHS for anyone to read. If the party doesn't discover that before letting you in, some journalist will and you'll be dead meat." Was she wrong?


Good piece.

I don't think the NHS explains this as we see similar issues in many countries. I do agree that the structure of the NHS means it will always do a poor job of delivering healthcare. (this is replying to the comments not the article)

I can understand the government problems. Teachers don't want to go to work so claim it is unsafe. The government can't be bothered to fight. Government can't admit that they shirked their duty to stop the teachers from shirking, so accept the "scientific" explanation of their opponent. Once you accept a falsity logic can take you all kinds of crazy places. Then if you work in a business where never admitting error or uncertainty is key, you don't get to get off that ride. In the UK I do think many difficulties comes from Boris being lazy and not wishing to confront his opponents.

My disappointment and surprise is more in discovering how few of ones friends will even contemplate that something they are told is good might be bad.
"here is a simple argument that this policy has to be causing net harm"
tends to receive
"why don't you care about people"

Anyway, as a "I have no need of that hypothesis" agnostic, I still see merit in the instruction to hate the sin love the sinner. To know that this too shall pass. And whilst you can't fight everyone, there are fights worth paying the social cost. Especially on behalf of others who don't have any say. It is notable that children and working class have rules imposed on them that would never be accepted by say MPs.


The pandemic exposed just how unfit for purpose the NHS really now is. I suppose a consequence might be the development of a two tier system of care where some are prompted to arm themselves with private treatment and the rest of us make do with a second class service.

It's soul-destroying how quickly it becomes second nature to necessarily modify one's speech in keeping with "the narrative" of 'wokeism'. During the pandemic it was dispiriting to realise that, even on an important issue, most people seldom, if at all, think critically instead clinging like limpets to an opinion, picked up wholesale, without being able to logically defend it. There can be no possibility of discussion with such people.


The NHS is a weird phenomenon in British politics. How people can understand that soviet methods do not work for delivering groceries or telecoms, yet believe (against all evidence – because it produces clearly inferior outcomes) they are the way forward for healthcare is beyond me.

And yes, you are right, apart from killing thousands who would live under the German, French or even US healthcare systems, the NHS also poisons social relations. The NHS was not asked to save the people when a healthcare crisis arose, but vice versa.


Thank you. I have actually been writing a lot more than usual, but elsewhere and on different topics. COVID-mania has knocked the stuffing out of me politically. My fellow-citizens are further from me ideologically than I could ever have imagined. I must sound insane to them. If everyone sincerely believes the world is flat, then for all practical purposes it is and the man who insists otherwise is a lunatic. I have sadly concluded that only an economic and societal collapse no humane person could ever wish for will re-enlighten those whose minds Marxist academics have darkened.


It's a logical consequence of the NHS as implemented. Politicians long ago saw behaviour that risked imposing in cost the NHS (mountaineering is the earliest one I recall) as something they were entitled to disapprove of. And disapproval quickly justifies discouragement; if people won't voluntarily comply, coercion is (oh so reluctantly) the next step. The end point of the process being use of propaganda to make the public supportive of and complicit in coercion. And the public falls for it; for example, Mr Mullins and his "No jab, no job" policy. In my view, the rot has spread right across government from its roots in the Department of Health.


Glad to see you are posting again.

The comments to this entry are closed.