Hands up who thinks that once Brexit is ‘done’, and Trump is no longer president, that when the UK has a government that is properly trying (for once!) socialism, with a Prime Minister who is a trans-non-binary vegan Syrian migrant with the pronouns Shazbot and Nanu Nanu, a switch will be flicked and the world will ascend into a state of calm and brotherly (or whichever gender it identifies as) love?
Once free speech has been ‘modified’ so that it’s absolutely fine to say whatever you want (unless of course designated ‘moderators’ from our best universities deem it unacceptable), that when Israel has unilaterally laid down its arms, that once white and any other privilege is accepted, dismantled and apologised for, and Rod Liddle is behind bars for being, well, Rod Liddle, people will realise there’s nothing to be angry about any more.
They will stop in the street, breathe a big sigh of relief, wipe away a tear, hug the nearest passer-by, and gently whisper into the ear of that person, “Hey, it’s all going to be ok. Let’s go to Alton Towers.”
“All he really wants to blurt out is, ‘You know, you have no idea how good we have it here.’”
There’ll be no need to keep calling each other Nazis or snowflakes, people will be so well educated on their own speech that if they do say anything, it’ll have to pass through more filters than a teen’s Snapchat.
Twitter will eventually close down because it will just be people tweeting and retweeting, ‘Good morning’ and ‘Good night’.
Except that won’t happen will it. And that is, possibly, because much of the current wrath, unreasonable behaviour and wrong thinking is merely the result of boredom. Or a fear of appearing boring. By boring people.
I was chatting to my hairdresser the other day. He’s an immigrant to this country but in the last year has become a British citizen. He told me that he is sick of hearing customers moan ‘about nothing’. He hears it every day, he watches what he says most of the time, but all he really wants to blurt out is, ‘You know, you have no idea how good we have it here.’
Obviously, he is aware, as most of us are, that not everyone has things how they want them. There are real problems in the world, but sometimes it’s hard to think that a problem can really be that big if it could be ‘solved’ by correctly addressing someone ‘they’ rather than he or her or whatever the c**king hell it is this week.
We live in a world where hope is often treated as naïve or worse, a demonstration of willful ignorance at how bad everything is or how awful we are. More often than not, optimism or even just a lack of panic, means you are on the side of ‘them’ and need to be isolated from the group.
And bravery? Never mind people like Fair Cop’s Harry Miller or Ayan Hirsi Ali, no, we’ve been recalibrated and real bravery is a celebrity who, backed into an uncomfortable public relations corner, but surrounded by a machine of well-funded reputation protection, pretends to be doing something brave from a position of absolute safety and privilege. Or another who stands up in front of their adoring fans and cohorts, and tells us what a shower we are for not caring as much as they do.
And when we see an activist on YouTube pounding the ground and crying, or screaming with teary eyes, whatever the cause, what do we think? Surely the majority of us identify that person as an overgrown infant.
Some of the emotions do seem real, hysteria can be like that. But too often it feels like the scheming anger of performance. It feels like these are the actions of a fat, coddled, lazy sprawling mass of fleshy bores who want everything their own way and want to be validated at the same time.
They’re bored and, without enough friction in their life, they create it. They’ve more or less realised they can get whatever they want, and so they turn perfectly reasonable opinions and people into the enemy. And they do this by creating a false reality.
Then there’s their own PR. They are so terrified of appearing boring, that they follow what they believe is a cutting-edge opinion or movement, without giving it any thought at all, any moment of doubt isn’t allowed.
It’s not really anything new, it’s just that usually it’s just a select group. You know, students. This feels more like a contagion that is being mindlessly followed and passed on, from your workmates to a BBC presenter.
And everyone has an opinion now, but you also need to have the designated ‘correct opinions’. Nuance is gone and we live in a tick box world of identity politics, where even judges can describe the behaviour of our own police force as ‘Orwellian’.
The beauty of the internet means that everyone can at least have a surface illusion that they are well informed on a topic, even when they aren’t. It takes no effort to read the headline on a publication delivered to your phone and then pass it off as not only some kind of considered view you’ve arrived at through hours of research, but also the gospel truth.
A previously measured and calm friend of mine recently informed me that the entire UK government’s cabinet was ‘far-right’ in their political views and that we were ‘literally’ living in something parallel to 1930s Germany. I probed for a few minutes until we reached an understanding that maybe he had been a little rash.
Identity politics is a short cut to having a personality; ‘I support this, so I am this’. It means you don’t need to worry that people might assess you on your ability to converse, or form opinions. They don’t need to have a view of your personality, your humility or critical thinking, they can just look at who you follow on Twitter.
Take the UK singer Sam Smith, an apparently utterly blank human and, at the risk of being a little unkind, someone who seems not the sharpest tool in the box. But since he ‘came out’ as non-binary he’s been able to talk about something where he can be ‘relevant’ and have the added bonus of appearing to be a victim (he/they/it recently making us all weep as he/they explained he may have to put up with being misgendered till the day he dies.
People won’t want to engage with you (well, your online ‘you’) if it makes them think if you have inconsistencies. Say you believe in a state that intervenes, and in helping the weaker in society, but also that ‘trans rights’ needlessly infringe on women’s rights, that’s not neat and makes you a less viable ally.
And since it’s messy, a helpful group of self-appointed experts held a secret meeting and created a ranking system and well, it’s been decided, on balance, that you’re a bigot.
Off you pop.
And so what is the answer if we’ve replaced one cult with another? We had religion, killed God, and came up with something else. Something to follow and give us completely unreasonable but solid lines and boundaries. Like with every good cult, anyone not on board, anyone not supping from the teat, is immediately attacked. Family with the wrong views? Attack. Friends not ‘onboard’? Attack.
And blind adherence to identity politics has presented so many odd positions.
It started with ‘I’m in favour of free speech but…’ and now we have progressed to the UK’s Labour Party eating itself in public as many of its members and front bench tie themselves in knots attempting to defend the proposed ‘pledges’ around trans rights and expel feminist groups.
And with such pernicious and spiteful division amongst the cancel culture crew, comes the inevitably surprising associations. Despite many accusations that being ‘pro-free speech’ is just a right-wing trope, it has hurled lifelong left-wing feminists into alliances with conservatives. At least temporarily.
To people who lived through the cold war, through the fear of a nuclear apocalypse, through Bush and Saddam, let alone through World War II or the civil rights battles of the 20th Century, this all seems petty. Invented fury and babyish tantrums.
That’s because largely it probably is.
Tom James new book Your Children Are Boring: How Modern Parents Ruin Everything is available on Amazon