Cultural Caviar

An Uncivil Society

March 31, 2018

Multiple Pages
An Uncivil Society

Whatever else may be said about Marxism, it provided (for those who needed it) an eschatological philosophy in a post-religious world. It served more than one psychological purpose: It gave those who adhered to it the comforting feeling that they understood the inner or hidden workings of the world; that they were far superior in this understanding to those who did not adhere to it; and that they were participating in something far bigger than themselves. In short it gave them a sense, or illusion, of transcendence.

But though many Marxists claimed that the downfall of the Soviet Union did not affect their faith in the truth of their secular religion—because they said that the Soviet Union had never been a properly Marxist state in the first place—there is, in fact, no doubt that Marxism as an intellectual system was deeply discredited by the now-undeniable failure of the Soviet Union to deliver on any of its utopian promises. Marxism had, on the contrary, provided the pretext for the murder, as well as causing the miserable living conditions, of many millions of people; and it was as implausible to deny the connection of these with Marxism as it is now to deny the connection of terrorism with Islam.

“The freedom that many people desire is the freedom to limit other people’s freedom.”

But the desire for ideology did not die with its failure; on the contrary, the desire simply found its fulfillment in a variety of strange sub-ideologies. Future historians will surely find one of the strangest of these to be that of strident transsexualism.

There have probably always been transsexuals, and I remember the days when those who declared themselves such were sent to specialist clinics for various treatments and procedures. Everything was arranged in a somewhat hole-and-corner way, without the glare of publicity and the influence of ideology. The numbers were small and no political demands ensued.

In the space of the past few years, however, a full-scale ideological movement has grown up that will not be satisfied until the rest of society accedes to its demands, which include the reform of language itself. The demands, in fact, are kaleidoscopic, constantly changing, as the ideology itself twists and turns in an attempt to overcome its inherent contradictions. It cannot decide, for example, whether gender is a question of feeling or expression, whether it is inherent and fixed or flexible and socially constructed, whether it is binary or on a spectrum. Those who want a forensic dissection of this ideology, and a masterly exposé of its absurdities, as well as an account of its disastrous practical consequences in a society too lacking in moral confidence to oppose it (or any other sufficiently strident ideology), would do well to read a recent book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, by Ryan T. Anderson.

As a result of the supine acceptance of the ideology, it seems (if the author is to be believed) that full-scale experiments are being conducted on children, such as the use of puberty-blocking drugs, by doctors without any clear idea of the long-term outcome—experiments only somewhat ethically superior to those of Dr. Mengele, insofar as the children themselves agree to them or even demand them, though at an age at which one would not normally think of children as being able to make such far-reaching choices.

But perhaps the most sinister sentence in the book comes very late, in the acknowledgements:

There are several other physicians, professors, and lawyers who gave me assistance, but I cannot mention them by name due to their very valid fears of professional repercussions.

This, be it remembered, is a book by a man living in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The author hopes, with his book, to “create a culture where they can speak freely.”

Those who, like me, read books about current dictatorships are accustomed to acknowledgements of help received by the author from people who must remain anonymous for the most obvious reasons. But it is surely astonishing that a very small pressure group, an insignificant proportion of the population, has been able to create an atmosphere or climate in Western societies in which well-meaning, honest, and respectable people, including experts, are unwilling for fear of reprisal to express dissenting views about a matter of considerable symbolic if not numerical importance.

But this seems to be the wave of the future, so to speak. The threat to our freedom comes not from government, except when it cravenly capitulates to the demands of monomaniacs and tries to limit our speech by decree, but from pressure groups from within what used to be called, invariably as a term of approbation, civil society. Perhaps uncivil society would now be a better term for at least a part of it, which wants to reform not only laws but our minds and souls. It does this not for the sake of betterment, but as an exercise in, or as an expression of, power. The will to power seems to have infected people who once might have been content to live quietly, power itself now being the only goal worth aiming for in the absence of anything more elevated or elevating.

Stalin famously (or infamously) once said that writers were the engineers of souls, and that is what pressure groups believe themselves increasingly to be. They do not so much seek to persuade us by the force of their arguments as irreversibly to change our mentalities. Habit is character, and if we can be forcibly made to change the way we speak, eventually our thoughts will follow. Of course, such changes have always occurred, but less by design than spontaneously.

The totalitarian impulse did not die with the Soviet Union, but rather fractured into many different monomanias. The freedom that many people desire is the freedom to limit other people’s freedom, which they find much more gratifying than the mere expression of their own opinion, which has at most the effect of throwing a pebble into a pond, causing a ripple that soon disappears and is forgotten. Surely I am more important than that, and my opinion deserves to dictate to others?

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