The new puritanism

It’s hard to argue that the world hasn’t degenerated into absurdity. Nincompoops like Donald Trump get elected, followed by characters like Boris Johnson. The US lurches from one embarrassment to the next, while England commits virtual suicide by voting to leave the EU. Climate change accelerates while half the world denies it, or seeks to build more coal stations. Australia burns while the PM holidays, a pandemic the like of which none of us has seen for a century cripples the world economy, kills thousands, and turns our lives upside down while nincompoops keep on nincompooping. Then, a noble cause erupts on the back of a tragedy. The Black Lives Matter rally’s take off, not just in the States, but across the world, and there’s hope that it might drive real change, but even that is hijacked by the absurd and the ridiculous.

As I was discussing with a friend the other day, it’s been a tough two years for the thinking person.

I’ve held off commenting the last few days because what’s the point? But some of this just needs to be recorded for posterity. These things really happened.

So, where do I start? I guess the tame end of it is the ongoing controversy about historic statues across the world. Some of it is perfectly reasonable, and high time at that. One thing revealed through this is how many complete cunts there’ve been in history, and damn the context. King Leopold II of Belgium, for example – hard to imagine a more evil bastard than him. Then there’s sundry slave traders and small fry racists and dickhead characters here and there probably not worthy of commemorating, and no loss.

But it’s the nature of these movements that they’re broad and indiscriminate. They’re ruled by outrage and emotion, not by sense. They get carried with a sense of overweening virtue matched by historical necessity. The combination negates anything reasonable, and the cause loses shape, control is lost, and statues are defaced on principle, regardless of notoriety. And the problem with all this is not just that it’s pretty mindless, but that it threatens to trivialise what are worthwhile goals, and possibly even discredit them.

You may not like it in your seething, hot mess of emotion, but the fact is that you’ve got to win the hearts and minds. That’s your battleground, not the politicians – they’ll go where the votes are, and if you sway the hearts and minds of the middle-class, you’ll drive change. And the middle-class want to believe.

Through this period, society has woken up to what’s happening and reacted to it. A lot of it is opportunistic and almost laughable. Some may be sincere, but there’s a lot that is ridiculous. Take, for example, the Fawlty Towers episode Don’t Mention the War, which hit the headlines last week because it was pulled from TV screens in Britain. Now, the point of shows like this is actually to poke holes in the shallow aspirations and behaviours of the Basil Fawlty’s of this world. It’s a farce with a big slice of satire. It’s not promoting bigotry in this case; it’s exposing it. Predictably, John Cleese reacted in horror to the news, and ultimately the program was returned to the screen.

The classic movie Gone With the Wind is not so lucky. That was withdrawn from screening also because of its depiction of slavery. Where does this end? It may be a work of fiction, but the civil war, and the slavery they fought over, is a matter of historical fact. And if that movie what about the hundreds, thousands of movies – and books! – that portray unsavoury facts. It may be an unwelcome reality for many living today, but most of history is full of things to disapprove of, but you can’t just go and ignore it. The ancient civilisations – Egypt, Greece, Rome, etc., all had slaves. Serfs were a thing until a few hundred years ago. Then there are countless wars and oppression and violence perpetrated throughout this time. Where does the line get drawn? On what principle? On whose?

There’s talk of returning Gone With the Wind to the screens with a caveat before it starts. I assume that would count for hundreds of other programs also. Fine, if they must, but I wonder how much of that is necessary? Who watches GWTW as a how-to guide to slavery? Or to celebrate it? While acknowledging that we’re living through the stupidest time of the modern era, few people are so dumb as not to realise what they’re watching – a representation. And this is the danger of censorship – for this is what we’re talking of here – it’s anti-education when what we need is more education.

How are people to understand if they don’t see the context? How are they to appreciate history if we don’t represent it to them? I may be an idealist, but I reckon the best education is when one sees and learns for oneself. Knowledge comes when we make up our own minds, not when a popular construct is thrust down our throats.  Deny us that, feed us some politically correct codswallop, and we learn nothing.

I expect some common-sense to emerge out of all that, but just as I was beginning to relax, the latest news hit me. A preening bottleshop owner in Melbourne chose to signal his divine virtue that he would no longer stock the beer made by the brewer called ‘Colonial’. Get it? Colonial! We’re against that here.

For fuck sake, it’s just a fucking beer, and there are other interpretations of the word anyway. This brewer is innocent. Not racist. He just makes a decent beer. Now he’s the victim of this nonsense.

There’s been a predictable backlash, but the brewer is in a no-win situation. Either he continues trading as Colonial, and cops abuse for it, or he changes the name to something more politically acceptable and gets canned for giving in to the bullies. How did we ever get to this point? Because everything is one extreme or the other.

I don’t care one way or another what they call their beer, but I think it’s an unnecessary and trivial distraction from the main game. I want change. It’s overdue. We need reform and acceptance and education. That needs to happen in a practical sense – policies, laws, compensation. This other stuff is nonsense that runs the risk of alienating the cause. For many, I suspect, it’s the look of it that matters. For them, it’s the violence of expression that counts more than actual change. And if change eventuates, it’ll be derided nonetheless, or they’ll find some other target to attack. There’s a lot of look at me these days, and a lot of it’s cowardly and dishonourable.

This is what happens when you get purists – nothing is ever enough. And what we have today is a puritan class of the noble woke. If you’re not a part of their team, then you’re worthless. If you don’t agree with them, you’re obviously inferior and quite possibly wicked. They set the standards and broach no contravention of them. If you prove to be unacceptable to their cause, you’ll learn about it swiftly. Judgment is quick and violent, and a pile-on ensues. It’s nasty and unconscionable, in many ways.

Here I am – in many aspects, most perhaps, I believe in the same ultimate goals, but it’s the methods and their conduct I so often find unseemly. Yesterday, I watched online as somebody I think little of made a faux pas and then clumsily sought to extricate themselves from the mess. This was a so-called person of the left, but with some history – not someone I’d trust a lot, but then I wouldn’t care that much either. My policy is to steer clear of people like that. Everyone has an opinion. As long as it’s not too evil I don’t care much, and I can’t be bothered debating with them. That’s not the view of the mob. She was set upon as if by a pack of hyenas and torn apart, likely to never recover. I didn’t agree with her either, but gee, her sin wasn’t worthy of the punishment.

Then there was another, one of their own, excused for aberrant behaviour a few years back because he’d ‘fessed up and issued a public mea culpa and three hail Mary’s. He made himself abject, basically, and because of that – and because they like him, he’s cute, after all – he was forgiven.

I’d have told them to fuck off; I don’t need your forgiveness, you can shove up your arse. And that’s even if I did end up admitting my error. We have to live with ourselves and live up to our god if we have one, but I don’t see why any of us must kowtow to another.

Perhaps this is one reason it aggravates me so much. Not only is it anti-reason, it’s anti-individual. Many of these, not all, are not themselves. They’re a construct – a simulacrum – of who they want to be, or how they want to be seen – what is expected of them. In becoming a part of the collective something is sacrificed – an individual perspective, an independent mind. The urge to belong and to be seen as a good team player has a corrupting effect when we do or say things against nature just to join in. This seems encouraged, but it’s everything I don’t believe in.

I’m of the view, old-fashioned as it may be, that we should be teaching people how to think, not what to think. Give them the tools, the principles, the basic building blocks of knowledge, and they’ll come to understanding, and even wisdom, in their own way. And it will be much truer. That takes some strength of character, but I’m of the belief that if anyone learns right they’ll know in themselves the difference between right and wrong. That’s where it should come from – from inside. From being your true self. That’s what every person should aspire to – to be completely and truly themself.

But I digress.

The militant left is insular and hypocritical. And sickening, in a way. They demand obedience and suffer from many of the excesses they claim of their enemies. I want to believe, but I’m a moderate and believe in reason and just cause. For the priggish and shallow they’re complexities they have no time for, and they lack the self-awareness to know it. And a sense of humour, that’s rare too – but to appreciate humour you must appreciate light and shade, and that’s what’s lacking.

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