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The West is losing the plot From Covid to Ukraine, a narrative crisis festers

Will America ever recover?(Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Will America ever recover?(Mark Makela/Getty Images)


August 21, 2023   5 mins

Since the rise of psychoanalysis in the late 19th century, philosophers, psychologists, historians, and cultural theorists have all sought refuge in the comfort of so-called “narratives”. In university classrooms across the world, this nebulous term is now frequently deployed when attempting to describe human affairs. A narrative, we’re told, is what gives us our identity. With a coherent narrative, we have a coherent identity; without one, identity starts to break down.

At its most extreme, this focus descends into a postmodern oblivion: a world where everything is narrative and there is no difference between Newton’s Principia Mathematica and Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Yet this does not mean that narrative analysis is useless. Quite the opposite, in fact.

For more than a decade, our ability to form a coherent narrative about ourselves has been degrading. By “our”, I mean the West, which emerged in its current form in 1945 after three decades of war, desolation, and economic upheaval. The narrative that it told itself was crystalised during the Cold War: that the West would stand for liberty and freedom against the very live totalitarianism of the Soviet Union.

But this framework crumbled together with the Berlin Wall and the fall of communism. Overnight, a new narrative was needed, and it didn’t take long for one to emerge. The post-Cold War narrative formed in response to the Gulf War in 1990, when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq aggressively attacked Kuwait, principally with an eye to seizing its oil reserves. The United States and a 42-country coalition intervened, the Iraqis were soon pushed back, and Kuwait was allowed to govern itself. Here was the seed of the new narrative: the West, having won the Cold War, would keep the peace in the new status quo.

This updated founding myth required a domestic component — something tangible at home — and it found it in the ideology of the New Economy, which emphasised the transition of Western developed nations from highly industrialised economies to more technologically driven ones. This idea grew organically with the computer revolution, a loosening of financial and trade regulations, and the feelgood vibes of the Nineties’ economic boom. This was a world where Bill Clinton played the saxophone as the stock market rocketed.

By the early 2000s, however, this post-Cold War narrative started to fracture. The first blow was the collapse of the New Economy ideology as a massive bubble in the stock market unwound at the turn of the millennium. And then, three years later, came the invasion of Iraq. This intervention was very unlike the first Gulf War in which Hussein had clearly acted as the aggressor. This time, the conflict was instigated by Britain and the United States, opposed by many European countries, and was justified based on false, made-to-order intelligence — the now infamous “dodgy dossier”.

Still, even with these tremors, our narrative broadly held together: economic growth continued apace, and the war gave rise to an anti-war movement that would eventually produce future President Barack Obama. But then came the next hit — a real hammer blow. In 2008, as housing markets collapsed across the world, much of the growth of the 2000s turned out to be fake, fuelled as it was by housing debt. More debilitatingly, the impressive financial architecture that had sprung up as the sector was liberalised turned out to be rotten.

But all was not yet lost, as two movements emerged out of the ashes of the 2008 collapse: the Right-wing populist movement and the Left-wing populist movement. The former, associated mostly with the Tea Party movement in the United States, saw the government and corporations as corrupt interlopers. Its Left-wing cousin, associated with the rise of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, saw things the same way. The two movements only differed on preferred solutions, with the Left wanting a more interventionist approach and the Right wanting to cut down on the state and promote market competition.

In the subsequent years, its Left-wing incarnation has mostly disappeared. In the US, it was absorbed back into the mainstream of the Democratic Party, won over with promises of radical social and cultural agendas that did not interfere with the economic bottom line. In the UK, the Corbyn movement collapsed in a wave of scandal, and a slightly confused group of Blairites seized the reins.

Meanwhile, the Right-populist movement mutated. Driven largely by the Brexit movement and the rise of Donald Trump, it dropped many of its more libertarian-leaning firebrands and became more pragmatic. It no longer wanted, say, tax cuts for the sake of tax cuts. Rather, it wanted cultural and economic rejuvenation. Taking place against a backdrop of severe and ever-increasing social and economic problems, this evolution was far from a surprise.

Today, however, there is reason to believe that the Right-populist movement has also failed. Donald Trump won the presidency, but he did not produce much in the way of constructive change. What happened instead is that the American political system became highly unstable, and many of the previously existing norms that held it together started to dissolve. This reached its crescendo in recent weeks with the arrest and indictment of Trump, an anarchic blip from which the country is unlikely to ever recover.

In Britain, the Brexit movement got its way and, after years of bickering, the Conservative Party eventually managed to pull the country out of the European Union. Once again, though, nothing changed. The economy did not take off like a rocket. Mass immigration increased rather than decreased. Right-populist cultural and institutional concerns remain as they had before Brexit. At the same time, nothing catastrophic happened either. The Remainers who promised economic collapse and a sharp fall in trade with Europe were wrong. None of this happened. Indeed, nothing happened.

In both the UK and US, then, there is reason to think that we have no real coherent narrative. No one is sure where to go next or what to believe. And as three recent events have demonstrated, this noxious position is already causing serious dysfunction in our political culture.

The first was the Covid-19 outbreak and the responses in the form of the lockdowns and the vaccines. Compare this traumatic incident with, say, the Iraq War. Today, most people in the West agree that the Iraq War was a mistake; it was tragic and produced a terrible aftermath, and we have managed to come to terms with it. If you were to sit down at a dinner table full of strangers, you would all broadly know what the narrative is on the Iraq War — and so you can discuss it. Yet this is not the case with Covid-19 and the government’s response to it. There is no accepted narrative. Did we beat the virus with our prudent and rational response? Or did we overreact and create havoc? There is no settled answer, so it festers.

The second of these events was the destruction of the Nord Stream pipeline last year. Once again, we have no official or widely accepted narrative of what happened. Most people appreciate that it was an enormous development that will have tremendous economic and geopolitical ramifications in the coming years. Yet we do not have a coherent narrative of why the pipeline was destroyed, who destroyed it, and what this means. Instead, conspiratorial thinking permeates and, as with Covid-19, it festers.

Then, at the start of summer, there was the march of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s Wagner private military company, on Moscow. As it happened, the media went into overdrive. We were told that a world-changing coup was unfolding; a major historic event, possibly of the magnitude of the collapse of the Soviet Union, was taking place before our eyes. But then, once again, nothing happened. Prigozhin stopped, apologised, and went to Belarus with some of his troops. The conclusion was inconclusive; there is no coherent narrative about what happened. We cannot digest it, and so it festers.

In turn, each of these world-changing moments confirmed that narrative breaks are becoming more frequent as time marches forward. The recent coup in Niger demonstrates this once again, exposing uncomfortable truths about French-African relations that we would prefer to ignore. And yet, as we try to ignore it, our global influence ebbs. Increasingly, major events — or pseudo-events — are taking place in the world and provoking impassioned reactions, but then seem to lead into a ditch of unmeaning.

And then what happens? After the initial passion or even hysteria, people are forced to move on without processing what has just happened. In other words, we, as a society, advance without forming a coherent, broadly accepted narrative. We drift on, allowing doubt to fester, paralysed by a sneaking suspicion that the West is losing the plot.


Philip Pilkington is a macroeconomist and investment professional, and the author of The Reformation in Economics

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j watson
j watson
9 months ago

Not sure how old the Author is but suspect good 20-25yrs younger than myself. It’s not uncommon on UnHerd to read articles proclaiming the collapse, or near similar, of the West and my contention would be they often lack sufficient historical perspective and fixate too much on the most recent trials and tribulations forgetting that these are often nothing new in the West.
This does not mean the West does not make mistakes (Iraqi), or grapples with trying to make sense of challenges (Covid, rise of China, the balance of Globalsation or Climate change). But it remains freer and more open than ever spurring humans into innovation and progress whilst continuing to be a beacon to suppressed people all across the world. The day the Boats and migrant waves start to head to China, or some other form of State maybe the West’s strength has truly eroded – not that we don’t need to better manage migration, but we should not lose sight of what the trend continues to tell us about human aspiration.
The Author I doubt grew up during the most difficult trials of the Cold War. We too easily forget the cloud of mass destruction we lived under – even as kids this remained rooted in our consciousness. And with an Iron curtain across a Europe we now freely travel around without great recollection of only the recent past. There is still much to be concerned about but it’s a transformed position, even now with the challenges from the CCP and Putin.
Freedoms in the West mean we eventually find solutions even if we go through agonies and disagreements in the process. If any of us were placed in Rawls ‘veil of ignorance’ now I’d contend that after pondering the options we’d all say please give me a life in the West in the late 20th early 21st Century over all other times in human history. The failure to recognise the strengths is what imperils us most and gives ammunition to those who hate what the West stands for.

Peter B
Peter B
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Completely agree.
You do wonder if some of the authors here have enough real historical perspective. The danger of not having lived through earlier times is that you replace actual experience with someone else’s historical narrative. And history is largely treated as the creation of a narrative today – people force-fitting a storyline that may never have really existed onto chaotic and messy events.

Paul Ten
Paul Ten
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

I agree. I think the suggestion that there has always been a common narrative until now is also down to a lack of historical perspective. We now view, for example, the Cold War in the light of how it turned out and what happened since. But at the time there were serious conflicting narratives: Margaret Thatcher is saving the UK from terminal decline and bolstering the West / Margaret Thatcher is destroying communities and ruining lives; NATO is a vital plank of freedom and democracy / NATO is escalating tension and it will all end in nuclear armageddon. Perhaps that balmy period between, say, the end of the Cold War and 9/11, from 1990 to 2001, was the exception. We are now back to the historical norm.
(As an aside, I like the interesting observation that after Brexit, nothing happened. Perhaps, for all the emotional and political energy expended on it, membership of the EU has always been irrelevant in economic terms.)

j watson
j watson
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Ten

Yes I thought I’d ignore the Brexit reference, but now you’ve prompted me – I don’t think we can say nothing happened. We’ve had 5 PMs in 7 years – unprecedented. And without Brexit v unlikely that would have occurred.
We’ve also had immense agonies over the form of Brexit which are still playing out. Economically the pound is fundamentally worth less and one reason our inflation higher than most, and it’s not benefitted (yet) from an increase in exporting.
The economic benefits and risks on both Leaver/Remainer sides were overstated in the Referendum campaign, but the decision has not been without consequences, one of which is the EU has actually more tightly bonded as a result, despite significant differences on-going.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Brexit is a bit of a sideshow though – the collective West is bigger and more durable than one country’s shambolic exit from the EU

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Brexit is a bit of a sideshow though – the collective West is bigger and more durable than one country’s shambolic exit from the EU

j watson
j watson
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Ten

Yes I thought I’d ignore the Brexit reference, but now you’ve prompted me – I don’t think we can say nothing happened. We’ve had 5 PMs in 7 years – unprecedented. And without Brexit v unlikely that would have occurred.
We’ve also had immense agonies over the form of Brexit which are still playing out. Economically the pound is fundamentally worth less and one reason our inflation higher than most, and it’s not benefitted (yet) from an increase in exporting.
The economic benefits and risks on both Leaver/Remainer sides were overstated in the Referendum campaign, but the decision has not been without consequences, one of which is the EU has actually more tightly bonded as a result, despite significant differences on-going.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Exactly – way too soon to say

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

“Freedoms in the West mean we eventually find solutions ”
Speaking as a non Western, and someone who is a great admirer of the West’s cultural trait of not shooting the messenger, I think you are underestimating the huge risk posed by the increase in the last two decades of
a. Collusion between media, politicians, bureaucratic class (which has absorbed academia)
b. Their willingness to curb freedom of speech when it suits them, with little pushback
C. Worst of all, the willingness of large parts of the voter base to support this complex and the suppression of freedoms

T Bone
T Bone
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Truth. Most westerners have been so coddled by material abundance and lived with such unrestrained freedom that they’re unable to process the unraveling.

The frequency of the words Conspiracy Theory, Dis/Misinformation and now “Malinformation” are proof of ignorance and intellectual laziness.

These words have absolutely no purpose other than to silence. I see Conspiracy Theories all over the place but I don’t call them that because they can be deconstructed for the nonsense they are. Take Systemic Racism or “Global Boiling.” These are intentionally vague nonsense terms solely created to increase political repression by creating an environment hostile to dissent. The nonsense of these phrases can easily be shown with empirical evidence.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
9 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

‘Coddled by material abundance’ = spot on, leading to weakness and decadence and unprincipled behavior


Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
9 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

‘Coddled by material abundance’ = spot on, leading to weakness and decadence and unprincipled behavior


Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Absolutely. I am old enough to have the perspective mentioned above and the willingness of young college educated people to do away with free speech changes everything. The West is only still a beacon to immigrants because of how bad everything else is, but we are not s shining city in on hill by any means.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Samir – I totally agree and add that the rise of the IT giants make the possibility of a totalitarian overthrow of Western values much easier than it would be in the past. On the other hand the existence of UnHerd and various other dissident online spaces creates a space for resistance to this trend to find a home as well. If western progressive governments succeed in pushing through laws to censor ‘misinformation’ then we are going to quickly be in a very dark place.

T Bone
T Bone
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Truth. Most westerners have been so coddled by material abundance and lived with such unrestrained freedom that they’re unable to process the unraveling.

The frequency of the words Conspiracy Theory, Dis/Misinformation and now “Malinformation” are proof of ignorance and intellectual laziness.

These words have absolutely no purpose other than to silence. I see Conspiracy Theories all over the place but I don’t call them that because they can be deconstructed for the nonsense they are. Take Systemic Racism or “Global Boiling.” These are intentionally vague nonsense terms solely created to increase political repression by creating an environment hostile to dissent. The nonsense of these phrases can easily be shown with empirical evidence.

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Absolutely. I am old enough to have the perspective mentioned above and the willingness of young college educated people to do away with free speech changes everything. The West is only still a beacon to immigrants because of how bad everything else is, but we are not s shining city in on hill by any means.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Samir – I totally agree and add that the rise of the IT giants make the possibility of a totalitarian overthrow of Western values much easier than it would be in the past. On the other hand the existence of UnHerd and various other dissident online spaces creates a space for resistance to this trend to find a home as well. If western progressive governments succeed in pushing through laws to censor ‘misinformation’ then we are going to quickly be in a very dark place.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Although I agree that we lack historical perspective, I don’t think you can wave away the real issues facing the west today. There is no imminent collapse of the west. We have suffered through many social upheavals in the past and come out the other side even stronger.

However, we are entering dangerous territory and need strong, capable leadership to navigate through that. The wealth gap is growing, endless wars never seem to end, mental health is deteriorating, faith in institutions has cratered.

Net zero has the potential to destroy our way of life. Open borders are ripping apart the fabric of many communities. Our Covid response pushed 165 million people into poverty. None of this needs to happen. It has all been self inflicted by an incompetent leadership class. Maybe that changes and the leadership class is dumped for competent people, but maybe it doesn’t.

The issues are very, very fixable, but I’m not sure we should have blind faith that this all sorts itself out.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Yes

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Yes

James Sullivan
James Sullivan
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

I have a lot of doubts about the stability of the West (the demography is horrid), and about its actual commitment to a free society (too many techno utopians who think they can impose a command and control society with universal surveillance), but Pilkington is one of those who seems to only ever talk in extremes and superlatives, and fails to acknowledge the vast murky gray areas and uncertainties. He’s had (for instance) some utterly ignorant essays up about the semiconductor supply chain, declaring things with arrogant certainty that were manifestly untrue as would be apparent to anyone actually in the industry (and I am one such).

Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

“Freedoms in the West mean we eventually find solutions even if we go through agonies and disagreements in the process.”
Maybe, but In 1861 the solution was a war that killed 2% of the US population.
Currently a good third of the US population at each end of the political spectrum thinks the other extreme is not just wrong but evil or “deplorable”. The trend is getting worse and not better.
The weaponization of government and the DOJ/FBI, and the Trump banana-republic indictments is a crossing of a Rubicon of sorts – regardless of whether or not he wins in 24 or is convicted of any the 91 charges there will 10s of millions that feel our political/justice system is broken – and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.
I have trouble imaging a realistic scenario for getting out of this mess.

j watson
j watson
9 months ago

US Civil War was certainly an agony, but whilst some argue US politics has become more extreme I think memories are too short. Go and read the trials and tribulations that rocked the US during Reconstruction and the subsequent period, from which it eventually emerged. It was just as polarised when segregation was being finally tackled in the 50s/60s. Middle aged and elderly folks fixate too much on a few marginal woke issues, just as they did hippies on campuses in late 60s. Did society collapse…err no and the US was fighting a major War also at the time that was going badly wrong. Can one be complacent, no not at all, but does one need to buy-into the Doomsters narrative, no.
Trump indictments show the strength of the US and it’s Constitution (designed to deal with this), and thus a reflection of the West, that an ex President is not above the law. As the cases come to Court and more details shared (and having spent some hours reading the indictments myself) the number of those claiming it’s all some political conspiracy will be up there with those still believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Of course some will close their eyes and ears and can’t bear to absorb facts and then appreciate how much they’ve been played. That’s inevitable.

j watson
j watson
9 months ago

US Civil War was certainly an agony, but whilst some argue US politics has become more extreme I think memories are too short. Go and read the trials and tribulations that rocked the US during Reconstruction and the subsequent period, from which it eventually emerged. It was just as polarised when segregation was being finally tackled in the 50s/60s. Middle aged and elderly folks fixate too much on a few marginal woke issues, just as they did hippies on campuses in late 60s. Did society collapse…err no and the US was fighting a major War also at the time that was going badly wrong. Can one be complacent, no not at all, but does one need to buy-into the Doomsters narrative, no.
Trump indictments show the strength of the US and it’s Constitution (designed to deal with this), and thus a reflection of the West, that an ex President is not above the law. As the cases come to Court and more details shared (and having spent some hours reading the indictments myself) the number of those claiming it’s all some political conspiracy will be up there with those still believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Of course some will close their eyes and ears and can’t bear to absorb facts and then appreciate how much they’ve been played. That’s inevitable.

Shale Lewis
Shale Lewis
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Funny how every persecuted refugee and entrepreneurial immigrant assumes their best option is to find their way to the shores of Western nations, while our own citizens can’t shut up about our supposed systemic racism and economic inequality.

Peter B
Peter B
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Completely agree.
You do wonder if some of the authors here have enough real historical perspective. The danger of not having lived through earlier times is that you replace actual experience with someone else’s historical narrative. And history is largely treated as the creation of a narrative today – people force-fitting a storyline that may never have really existed onto chaotic and messy events.

Paul Ten
Paul Ten
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

I agree. I think the suggestion that there has always been a common narrative until now is also down to a lack of historical perspective. We now view, for example, the Cold War in the light of how it turned out and what happened since. But at the time there were serious conflicting narratives: Margaret Thatcher is saving the UK from terminal decline and bolstering the West / Margaret Thatcher is destroying communities and ruining lives; NATO is a vital plank of freedom and democracy / NATO is escalating tension and it will all end in nuclear armageddon. Perhaps that balmy period between, say, the end of the Cold War and 9/11, from 1990 to 2001, was the exception. We are now back to the historical norm.
(As an aside, I like the interesting observation that after Brexit, nothing happened. Perhaps, for all the emotional and political energy expended on it, membership of the EU has always been irrelevant in economic terms.)

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Exactly – way too soon to say

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

“Freedoms in the West mean we eventually find solutions ”
Speaking as a non Western, and someone who is a great admirer of the West’s cultural trait of not shooting the messenger, I think you are underestimating the huge risk posed by the increase in the last two decades of
a. Collusion between media, politicians, bureaucratic class (which has absorbed academia)
b. Their willingness to curb freedom of speech when it suits them, with little pushback
C. Worst of all, the willingness of large parts of the voter base to support this complex and the suppression of freedoms

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Although I agree that we lack historical perspective, I don’t think you can wave away the real issues facing the west today. There is no imminent collapse of the west. We have suffered through many social upheavals in the past and come out the other side even stronger.

However, we are entering dangerous territory and need strong, capable leadership to navigate through that. The wealth gap is growing, endless wars never seem to end, mental health is deteriorating, faith in institutions has cratered.

Net zero has the potential to destroy our way of life. Open borders are ripping apart the fabric of many communities. Our Covid response pushed 165 million people into poverty. None of this needs to happen. It has all been self inflicted by an incompetent leadership class. Maybe that changes and the leadership class is dumped for competent people, but maybe it doesn’t.

The issues are very, very fixable, but I’m not sure we should have blind faith that this all sorts itself out.

James Sullivan
James Sullivan
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

I have a lot of doubts about the stability of the West (the demography is horrid), and about its actual commitment to a free society (too many techno utopians who think they can impose a command and control society with universal surveillance), but Pilkington is one of those who seems to only ever talk in extremes and superlatives, and fails to acknowledge the vast murky gray areas and uncertainties. He’s had (for instance) some utterly ignorant essays up about the semiconductor supply chain, declaring things with arrogant certainty that were manifestly untrue as would be apparent to anyone actually in the industry (and I am one such).

Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

“Freedoms in the West mean we eventually find solutions even if we go through agonies and disagreements in the process.”
Maybe, but In 1861 the solution was a war that killed 2% of the US population.
Currently a good third of the US population at each end of the political spectrum thinks the other extreme is not just wrong but evil or “deplorable”. The trend is getting worse and not better.
The weaponization of government and the DOJ/FBI, and the Trump banana-republic indictments is a crossing of a Rubicon of sorts – regardless of whether or not he wins in 24 or is convicted of any the 91 charges there will 10s of millions that feel our political/justice system is broken – and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.
I have trouble imaging a realistic scenario for getting out of this mess.

Shale Lewis
Shale Lewis
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Funny how every persecuted refugee and entrepreneurial immigrant assumes their best option is to find their way to the shores of Western nations, while our own citizens can’t shut up about our supposed systemic racism and economic inequality.

j watson
j watson
9 months ago

Not sure how old the Author is but suspect good 20-25yrs younger than myself. It’s not uncommon on UnHerd to read articles proclaiming the collapse, or near similar, of the West and my contention would be they often lack sufficient historical perspective and fixate too much on the most recent trials and tribulations forgetting that these are often nothing new in the West.
This does not mean the West does not make mistakes (Iraqi), or grapples with trying to make sense of challenges (Covid, rise of China, the balance of Globalsation or Climate change). But it remains freer and more open than ever spurring humans into innovation and progress whilst continuing to be a beacon to suppressed people all across the world. The day the Boats and migrant waves start to head to China, or some other form of State maybe the West’s strength has truly eroded – not that we don’t need to better manage migration, but we should not lose sight of what the trend continues to tell us about human aspiration.
The Author I doubt grew up during the most difficult trials of the Cold War. We too easily forget the cloud of mass destruction we lived under – even as kids this remained rooted in our consciousness. And with an Iron curtain across a Europe we now freely travel around without great recollection of only the recent past. There is still much to be concerned about but it’s a transformed position, even now with the challenges from the CCP and Putin.
Freedoms in the West mean we eventually find solutions even if we go through agonies and disagreements in the process. If any of us were placed in Rawls ‘veil of ignorance’ now I’d contend that after pondering the options we’d all say please give me a life in the West in the late 20th early 21st Century over all other times in human history. The failure to recognise the strengths is what imperils us most and gives ammunition to those who hate what the West stands for.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
9 months ago

It strikes me that one of the biggest problems is the instrumentalisation of narratives. By this, I mean the widespread adoption by erstwhile authoritative and trustworthy institutions of the practice of telling stories not because they believe them to be true, but because they believe this will further their goal of achieving one or more outcomes. This itself is born of a worldview in which humans are hackable animals with malleable preferences; points of data in a complex model rather than unique, mysterious, free and dignified, individual beings. But despite the many and various proximate outcomes, goals, and aims, at the heart of this worldview is an overwhelmingly nihilistic absence of meaning and ultimate purpose.

Covid is a case in point. The proximate aim was, rightly or wrongly, to get literally everyone “vaccinated”. Authorities justified their relentless “safe and effective” narrative, and shut down anyone who dared question it – including, cruelly, people whose trust was repaid with life-changing and in some tragic cases, life-ending, injuries. Whether or not the jabs turned out to be actually “safe and effective” (whatever that means), or whether there would be better to ways to “end the pandemic” (whatever that means) was completely beside the point. The aim had been set, and so had the narrative.

And so with climate. The aim is, ostensibly, to get to “net zero” carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions by some point later this century, the sooner the better. The third part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) sixth assessment report published in 2022 is highly confident that “Educational and information programmes, using the arts 
 can facilitate awareness, heighten risk perception, and influence behaviours” (p506) because “more proximate and personal feelings of being at risk triggered by extreme weather and climate-linked natural disasters will increase concern and willingness to act” (p547), which may be achieved by “presenting apocalyptic stories and imagery to capture people’s attention and evoke emotional and behavioural response“ (p555). (Shocking, isn’t it? Read Chapter 5 yourself, here: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg3/).

Again, it doesn’t matter if the stories are true or false, or whether it is right or wrong to manipulate the negative emotions of ordinary people who, for no fault of their own, may lack the resources to read through the narratives being pushed at them while they try to take a few minutes’ respite from their busy, stressful lives in front of the TV. Such questions get literally no consideration in the IPCC report. It only matters whether or not they “work” to change behaviours because the end, which isn’t actually an end at all, justifies the means. All in the name of an ill-defined, confused, conception of the common good couched in terms of wellbeing, equity and justice.

That’s how and why the IPCC, and authorities more generally, are in my opinion losing public trust. They lack the humility and courage to be able to acknowledge the true limits of their wisdom and knowledge, which they conflate with the outputs of models. They are unable to admit, to themselves or to the public, that their narratives might be both factually and ethically wrong. This makes them institutionally incompetent to question and potentially change their story as the facts themselves change. But the public can see what is in front of their noses, even if our scientific-political-managerial priest class can’t. It’s not going to end well for them.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

A very articulate warning of the dangers of artificial ‘narratives’ fabricated by institutional actors to manipulate us in order to further their own agendas because they, and only they, know what’s best for us.
I don’t however share your optimism that the majority of the public sees what’s going on. The lack of mass pushback against the Covid narrative, the Net Zero narrative and now CBDCs is the most disturbing aspect of this dystopian attempt to turn us into obedient pawns on the technocratic chessboard.

Last edited 9 months ago by Rocky Martiano
Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
9 months ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

Thank you (and to Michael). In my experience the people doing practical jobs in the real world, eg delivery drivers, catering staff, tend to have a much better grasp on reality and a stronger natural immunity to manipulative narratives than the laptop class. The latter’s social and professional status depends to a large extent in parroting, or at least not challenging, the narrative-du-jour. If you can swallow it whole and internalise it as your own set of beliefs, it makes it so much easier to get ahead. That is less true for the former group, who are generally freer to say what they actually think rather than what they are told to think, particularly older people with more life experience and self-knowledge, and less screen addiction. Also don’t forget that it was because of mass pushback from people on the ground that the UK government caved on forcibly jabbing health workers, many of whom could see with their own eyes the effects that government policy was having on people.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
9 months ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

Thank you (and to Michael). In my experience the people doing practical jobs in the real world, eg delivery drivers, catering staff, tend to have a much better grasp on reality and a stronger natural immunity to manipulative narratives than the laptop class. The latter’s social and professional status depends to a large extent in parroting, or at least not challenging, the narrative-du-jour. If you can swallow it whole and internalise it as your own set of beliefs, it makes it so much easier to get ahead. That is less true for the former group, who are generally freer to say what they actually think rather than what they are told to think, particularly older people with more life experience and self-knowledge, and less screen addiction. Also don’t forget that it was because of mass pushback from people on the ground that the UK government caved on forcibly jabbing health workers, many of whom could see with their own eyes the effects that government policy was having on people.

michael a skinner
michael a skinner
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

Greed, pure and simple! Good rundown Andrew.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

A very articulate warning of the dangers of artificial ‘narratives’ fabricated by institutional actors to manipulate us in order to further their own agendas because they, and only they, know what’s best for us.
I don’t however share your optimism that the majority of the public sees what’s going on. The lack of mass pushback against the Covid narrative, the Net Zero narrative and now CBDCs is the most disturbing aspect of this dystopian attempt to turn us into obedient pawns on the technocratic chessboard.

Last edited 9 months ago by Rocky Martiano
michael a skinner
michael a skinner
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

Greed, pure and simple! Good rundown Andrew.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
9 months ago

It strikes me that one of the biggest problems is the instrumentalisation of narratives. By this, I mean the widespread adoption by erstwhile authoritative and trustworthy institutions of the practice of telling stories not because they believe them to be true, but because they believe this will further their goal of achieving one or more outcomes. This itself is born of a worldview in which humans are hackable animals with malleable preferences; points of data in a complex model rather than unique, mysterious, free and dignified, individual beings. But despite the many and various proximate outcomes, goals, and aims, at the heart of this worldview is an overwhelmingly nihilistic absence of meaning and ultimate purpose.

Covid is a case in point. The proximate aim was, rightly or wrongly, to get literally everyone “vaccinated”. Authorities justified their relentless “safe and effective” narrative, and shut down anyone who dared question it – including, cruelly, people whose trust was repaid with life-changing and in some tragic cases, life-ending, injuries. Whether or not the jabs turned out to be actually “safe and effective” (whatever that means), or whether there would be better to ways to “end the pandemic” (whatever that means) was completely beside the point. The aim had been set, and so had the narrative.

And so with climate. The aim is, ostensibly, to get to “net zero” carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions by some point later this century, the sooner the better. The third part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) sixth assessment report published in 2022 is highly confident that “Educational and information programmes, using the arts 
 can facilitate awareness, heighten risk perception, and influence behaviours” (p506) because “more proximate and personal feelings of being at risk triggered by extreme weather and climate-linked natural disasters will increase concern and willingness to act” (p547), which may be achieved by “presenting apocalyptic stories and imagery to capture people’s attention and evoke emotional and behavioural response“ (p555). (Shocking, isn’t it? Read Chapter 5 yourself, here: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg3/).

Again, it doesn’t matter if the stories are true or false, or whether it is right or wrong to manipulate the negative emotions of ordinary people who, for no fault of their own, may lack the resources to read through the narratives being pushed at them while they try to take a few minutes’ respite from their busy, stressful lives in front of the TV. Such questions get literally no consideration in the IPCC report. It only matters whether or not they “work” to change behaviours because the end, which isn’t actually an end at all, justifies the means. All in the name of an ill-defined, confused, conception of the common good couched in terms of wellbeing, equity and justice.

That’s how and why the IPCC, and authorities more generally, are in my opinion losing public trust. They lack the humility and courage to be able to acknowledge the true limits of their wisdom and knowledge, which they conflate with the outputs of models. They are unable to admit, to themselves or to the public, that their narratives might be both factually and ethically wrong. This makes them institutionally incompetent to question and potentially change their story as the facts themselves change. But the public can see what is in front of their noses, even if our scientific-political-managerial priest class can’t. It’s not going to end well for them.

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
9 months ago

Within the first paragraph I started to read this with the voice of Adam Curtis narrating in my head. And that’s no bad thing.

I don’t know if Pilkington and Curtis are fellow travellers, but they don’t need to be to share the concern of many: that the visible parts of the machine that governs us are utterly dysfunctional yet are seemingly oblivious to their dysfunction. The real divide is between those who think the dysfunction is a deliberate plan by a hidden globalist elite, those who think new technologies are profoundly changing society in ways we can’t control, those who think it’s just bad actors in government (choose your own bogeyman), and those that think hyper individualism breaks the community needed to agree on what is the opposite of dysfunction.

What do I think? Honestly, I have no idea. I have a depressing suspicion it’s all four. And I have an even more depressing hunch that even if it’s not all or any of the four, simply thinking like that gives agency to the handmaidens who will make them inevitable.

Perhaps it is inevitable. Empires expand, in trade if not in geography, until they can’t, then turn inwards and collapse. The reasons why are varied and always unclear even thousands of histories later. The West is an American Empire. Where else can it expand its trade or geography? That lack of purpose the author writes about is actually the West’s lack of room to expand, so we have turned inwards….

Last edited 9 months ago by Nell Clover
Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

I think the dysfunction is religious in nature, in the broadest sense of that word.
European Imperialism was very much Christian Imperialism, at least at first. Britain’s Empire was as much about competing with the French and the Spanish as a distinctly Protestant power as it was anything else in my opinion, at least at first.
I think what happened though is that the scientific developments that underpinned and sustained Empire eventually undermined the Christian mythos that gave birth to it in the first place.
At that point the British replaced Christianity with Empire as a foundational principal.
But then along came the 1st World War and destroyed all that.
I think we have been kind of floundering ever since.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
9 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Interesting. The rise of secularism and decline of Christianity is just one of several ‘plots’ I think we can agree on. I would add other new rising ideologies to that list – cult like eco and DEI fanaticism – which have welded to our feeble political elites. More fundamentally, surely is the future plot s not soo uncomprehensible. We are now – post lockdown catastrophe – a Socialist country with an old Thatcherite capitalist economy attached. The incessant growth of the Welfarist Progressive State and its bailout culture means we are reaching a tipping point. Enterprise is just not valued and is choked by high taxes and controlling Ulezy style regulations. Far more take from the State than put in. And that State is groaning with debt. That surely makes decline or degrowth the only ‘plot’ or narrative we shall see.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
9 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

That’s true of Britain. I think the real problem with the wider west was that post 89 the wrong conclusions were drawn, inspired by that optimistic idiot Fukuyama and all those not-so-ex Marxist “neo-cons”.
Instead of moving slowly to reintegrate Russia into the European / western concert of powers, we pandered to still-communist China in the belief that underneath all those red flags it was “capitalist”.
Instead of transferring the tilt of our nuclear weapons towards the growing threat from Islam (and bringing about a Soviet style fall of the Mullahs in Tehran), we went after minor, anti-Islamic irritants, like Saddam Hussein.
And finally, we imagined that along with China (Ha!) the whole world was “westernising” in some “capitalist” version of the “end of history” (unbelievable stupidity!) and that we might as well open our borders whilst clearing away a few of those tyrants who had been so embarrassingly helpful in the past – Mubarak, Gaddafi and so on.
All these policies were predicated on preposterous pride and optimistic delusion, not to mention Marxist insanity. And the result? The result is that the greatest opportunity for western renewal and renaissance in a hundred years was turned into the the very occasion of our downfall.
We are weakened, divided, colonised, sterile, impoverished and hopeless, facing a rising tide of threat from ruthless opponents with scores to settle. And the contemptible idiots who rose to prominence in the immediate wake of the Thatcher-Reagan triumph started the fateful ball rolling.

Lewis Eliot
Lewis Eliot
9 months ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Simon, I’ll stick up for Fukuyama, if I may. ‘The End of History’ simply observed that Western liberal democracy had outcompeted all other forms of governance in delivering prosperity. What it’s morphed into over the last twenty years is a different question, but none of the alternatives – past or present – seem to be terribly attractive.
The subtitle of the book, though, is ‘The Last Man’. It’s often overlooked and rarely discussed, but this aspect of the book is far from optimistic; my recall of the book is that Fukuyama suggested, in the absence of an existential enemy, the West would eat itself. And here we are.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
9 months ago
Reply to  Lewis Eliot

Of course you may. Courteous argument is meat and drink to me. And it is true that liberal democracy appeared triumphant at that stage. Moreover, it is also true that there are sound theoretical reasons for this success – but “End of History”? Where humanity is concerned? In a world of chance?
Also, whilst liberalism looked theoretically and empirically triumphant, conservative voices at the time were offering two warnings: first, that the Marxist enemy is unrelenting because essentially cultic or pseudo-religious – nothing abashes it (a Telegraph editorial made this point in 1989!).
Second, that what appeared to be pure “liberalism” turned out to rest (or at least partially depend) on cultural – perhaps even on ethno-cultural foundations, as Powell insisted.
But because the official right and centre flinched from acknowledging and dealing with this – indeed, hotly denied it – they left it to the Marxists to reveal these foundations as if they were shameful and to condemn them as such, consigning the whole “liberal” superstructure into the abyss, too.
Therefore, whilst I take the point that Fukuyama had every reason for his confidence at the time, he has proved a most misleading commentator; first, because he encouraged – whatever his own shades of nuance and misgiving – an excessively theoretical-liberal view of what makes society tick; and second, because in his very optimism he embodied the leading vice of that peculiar moment in our history.

Last edited 9 months ago by Simon Denis
Simon Denis
Simon Denis
9 months ago
Reply to  Lewis Eliot

Of course you may. Courteous argument is meat and drink to me. And it is true that liberal democracy appeared triumphant at that stage. Moreover, it is also true that there are sound theoretical reasons for this success – but “End of History”? Where humanity is concerned? In a world of chance?
Also, whilst liberalism looked theoretically and empirically triumphant, conservative voices at the time were offering two warnings: first, that the Marxist enemy is unrelenting because essentially cultic or pseudo-religious – nothing abashes it (a Telegraph editorial made this point in 1989!).
Second, that what appeared to be pure “liberalism” turned out to rest (or at least partially depend) on cultural – perhaps even on ethno-cultural foundations, as Powell insisted.
But because the official right and centre flinched from acknowledging and dealing with this – indeed, hotly denied it – they left it to the Marxists to reveal these foundations as if they were shameful and to condemn them as such, consigning the whole “liberal” superstructure into the abyss, too.
Therefore, whilst I take the point that Fukuyama had every reason for his confidence at the time, he has proved a most misleading commentator; first, because he encouraged – whatever his own shades of nuance and misgiving – an excessively theoretical-liberal view of what makes society tick; and second, because in his very optimism he embodied the leading vice of that peculiar moment in our history.

Last edited 9 months ago by Simon Denis
Lewis Eliot
Lewis Eliot
9 months ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Simon, I’ll stick up for Fukuyama, if I may. ‘The End of History’ simply observed that Western liberal democracy had outcompeted all other forms of governance in delivering prosperity. What it’s morphed into over the last twenty years is a different question, but none of the alternatives – past or present – seem to be terribly attractive.
The subtitle of the book, though, is ‘The Last Man’. It’s often overlooked and rarely discussed, but this aspect of the book is far from optimistic; my recall of the book is that Fukuyama suggested, in the absence of an existential enemy, the West would eat itself. And here we are.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
9 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

That’s true of Britain. I think the real problem with the wider west was that post 89 the wrong conclusions were drawn, inspired by that optimistic idiot Fukuyama and all those not-so-ex Marxist “neo-cons”.
Instead of moving slowly to reintegrate Russia into the European / western concert of powers, we pandered to still-communist China in the belief that underneath all those red flags it was “capitalist”.
Instead of transferring the tilt of our nuclear weapons towards the growing threat from Islam (and bringing about a Soviet style fall of the Mullahs in Tehran), we went after minor, anti-Islamic irritants, like Saddam Hussein.
And finally, we imagined that along with China (Ha!) the whole world was “westernising” in some “capitalist” version of the “end of history” (unbelievable stupidity!) and that we might as well open our borders whilst clearing away a few of those tyrants who had been so embarrassingly helpful in the past – Mubarak, Gaddafi and so on.
All these policies were predicated on preposterous pride and optimistic delusion, not to mention Marxist insanity. And the result? The result is that the greatest opportunity for western renewal and renaissance in a hundred years was turned into the the very occasion of our downfall.
We are weakened, divided, colonised, sterile, impoverished and hopeless, facing a rising tide of threat from ruthless opponents with scores to settle. And the contemptible idiots who rose to prominence in the immediate wake of the Thatcher-Reagan triumph started the fateful ball rolling.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
9 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Interesting. The rise of secularism and decline of Christianity is just one of several ‘plots’ I think we can agree on. I would add other new rising ideologies to that list – cult like eco and DEI fanaticism – which have welded to our feeble political elites. More fundamentally, surely is the future plot s not soo uncomprehensible. We are now – post lockdown catastrophe – a Socialist country with an old Thatcherite capitalist economy attached. The incessant growth of the Welfarist Progressive State and its bailout culture means we are reaching a tipping point. Enterprise is just not valued and is choked by high taxes and controlling Ulezy style regulations. Far more take from the State than put in. And that State is groaning with debt. That surely makes decline or degrowth the only ‘plot’ or narrative we shall see.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

I think technology plays a huge role. Think of the massive disruption caused by the printing press. That same dynamic is happening with the internet, but over a span of less than 50 years.

Another factor is the uniformity of the political class. Labour no longer has union leaders. All the parties are comprised of lawyers and business grads. In Canada, the leaders of the three main political parties have never held a real job. They’ve been in politics their entire lives.

If there were actual farmers sitting in parliament, I doubt Ireland would be killing off a third of its dairy herd, Holland wouldn’t consider liquidating a third of its farms, Canada wouldn’t consider forcing farms to reduce emissions 30%. We need more diversity in the political class.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

“Nothing lasts forever; Even the longest the most glittering reign must come to an end someday”.*

(* Francis Urquhart, PM.)

Last edited 9 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

I think the dysfunction is religious in nature, in the broadest sense of that word.
European Imperialism was very much Christian Imperialism, at least at first. Britain’s Empire was as much about competing with the French and the Spanish as a distinctly Protestant power as it was anything else in my opinion, at least at first.
I think what happened though is that the scientific developments that underpinned and sustained Empire eventually undermined the Christian mythos that gave birth to it in the first place.
At that point the British replaced Christianity with Empire as a foundational principal.
But then along came the 1st World War and destroyed all that.
I think we have been kind of floundering ever since.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

I think technology plays a huge role. Think of the massive disruption caused by the printing press. That same dynamic is happening with the internet, but over a span of less than 50 years.

Another factor is the uniformity of the political class. Labour no longer has union leaders. All the parties are comprised of lawyers and business grads. In Canada, the leaders of the three main political parties have never held a real job. They’ve been in politics their entire lives.

If there were actual farmers sitting in parliament, I doubt Ireland would be killing off a third of its dairy herd, Holland wouldn’t consider liquidating a third of its farms, Canada wouldn’t consider forcing farms to reduce emissions 30%. We need more diversity in the political class.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

“Nothing lasts forever; Even the longest the most glittering reign must come to an end someday”.*

(* Francis Urquhart, PM.)

Last edited 9 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Nell Clover
Nell Clover
9 months ago

Within the first paragraph I started to read this with the voice of Adam Curtis narrating in my head. And that’s no bad thing.

I don’t know if Pilkington and Curtis are fellow travellers, but they don’t need to be to share the concern of many: that the visible parts of the machine that governs us are utterly dysfunctional yet are seemingly oblivious to their dysfunction. The real divide is between those who think the dysfunction is a deliberate plan by a hidden globalist elite, those who think new technologies are profoundly changing society in ways we can’t control, those who think it’s just bad actors in government (choose your own bogeyman), and those that think hyper individualism breaks the community needed to agree on what is the opposite of dysfunction.

What do I think? Honestly, I have no idea. I have a depressing suspicion it’s all four. And I have an even more depressing hunch that even if it’s not all or any of the four, simply thinking like that gives agency to the handmaidens who will make them inevitable.

Perhaps it is inevitable. Empires expand, in trade if not in geography, until they can’t, then turn inwards and collapse. The reasons why are varied and always unclear even thousands of histories later. The West is an American Empire. Where else can it expand its trade or geography? That lack of purpose the author writes about is actually the West’s lack of room to expand, so we have turned inwards….

Last edited 9 months ago by Nell Clover
Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
9 months ago

I ascribe much of our malaise to the feminisation of society. Females now account for nearly 60% of UG intake with much more power in the game of life. We are also temperamentally more neurotic than men (big 5 personality test results). We need a resurgence in male energy – this will go long way to stabilising the narrative. Doubtless a politically incorrect view.

Last edited 9 months ago by Susan Grabston
Glynis Roache
Glynis Roache
9 months ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

I’m with you Susan. Intellectually, I could outsmart my husband in our chosen profession but, in terms of taking the resulting stress, responsibility and potential conflict involved in delivering action, he was much better. We came to a fine arrangement. And stayed married.

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
9 months ago
Reply to  Glynis Roache

i totally agree. Women are unsuited to authority, allergic to logic, uneasy with honest conflict, and responsible for much of the mess we are in, and their numbers in higher education helped by DEI initiatives means this will only worsen for the foreseeable future.
My husband and I met at 17 in honors class in college, where I was the Delphic oracle in the room who could answer any question put by the professors. He was the boy overconfident enough to marry me. It’s lasted 40 years. I could have done anything, except for a fragile and somewhat unpleasant personality which made navigating life outside a classroom difficult. His success has meant I didn’t have to.

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
9 months ago
Reply to  Glynis Roache

i totally agree. Women are unsuited to authority, allergic to logic, uneasy with honest conflict, and responsible for much of the mess we are in, and their numbers in higher education helped by DEI initiatives means this will only worsen for the foreseeable future.
My husband and I met at 17 in honors class in college, where I was the Delphic oracle in the room who could answer any question put by the professors. He was the boy overconfident enough to marry me. It’s lasted 40 years. I could have done anything, except for a fragile and somewhat unpleasant personality which made navigating life outside a classroom difficult. His success has meant I didn’t have to.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

I don’t think we have a true feminization of society – what passes for the modern women is in my opinion appalling. I don’t think most of the women in power are any different from the men they rub shoulders with. On the other hand, to think that a society run by men is more functional is rather odd, given where it’s taken us.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

Well, as far as I can see, blokes nowadays are as least as bad. Blokes are more hysterical than ever. Nobody, male or female, debates any more. People have forgotten how to disagree amicably and how to enjoy a good argument. Too many, males and females, don’t debate, they shriek, they down-vote furiously, they seek to silence / cancel, and they are convinced of the unimpeachability of their own absolute rectitude.  

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
9 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Agreed. The men are as bad.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
9 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Agreed. The men are as bad.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
9 months ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

100% correct. And the feminization of men too. It’s really stunning to see too many men with fey habits, lack of emotional restraint, poorly dressed & groomed – it’s amazing anyone is having any sex anymore and as research has it, young people are having less sex than ever and no wonder!

Glynis Roache
Glynis Roache
9 months ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

I’m with you Susan. Intellectually, I could outsmart my husband in our chosen profession but, in terms of taking the resulting stress, responsibility and potential conflict involved in delivering action, he was much better. We came to a fine arrangement. And stayed married.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

I don’t think we have a true feminization of society – what passes for the modern women is in my opinion appalling. I don’t think most of the women in power are any different from the men they rub shoulders with. On the other hand, to think that a society run by men is more functional is rather odd, given where it’s taken us.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

Well, as far as I can see, blokes nowadays are as least as bad. Blokes are more hysterical than ever. Nobody, male or female, debates any more. People have forgotten how to disagree amicably and how to enjoy a good argument. Too many, males and females, don’t debate, they shriek, they down-vote furiously, they seek to silence / cancel, and they are convinced of the unimpeachability of their own absolute rectitude.  

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
9 months ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

100% correct. And the feminization of men too. It’s really stunning to see too many men with fey habits, lack of emotional restraint, poorly dressed & groomed – it’s amazing anyone is having any sex anymore and as research has it, young people are having less sex than ever and no wonder!

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
9 months ago

I ascribe much of our malaise to the feminisation of society. Females now account for nearly 60% of UG intake with much more power in the game of life. We are also temperamentally more neurotic than men (big 5 personality test results). We need a resurgence in male energy – this will go long way to stabilising the narrative. Doubtless a politically incorrect view.

Last edited 9 months ago by Susan Grabston
Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
9 months ago

We are approaching the endgame in a battle between the UN/WEF/WHO and the awake.
The former seek to control us with biometric digital ID, CBDCs and censorship. They are nearly there. Even Twitter is now about to cave to the EU and censor on its behalf. The UN is on a mission with its approved ‘factchecker’ program; the WHO seeks to control all medical information, which YouTube has already caved into. Look at restrictive free speech online laws rolling out in Australia, Canada, France and Ireland for example, and soon in the UK too.
Increasing numbers of people are waking up now and mounting a resistance, but it may be too late. Most estimate that about 20-25% no longer believe in the establishment narratives about the pandemic, Netzero or Ukraine. However, this must be contrasted with two things: the metropolitan libs who are largely on board with the establishment narratives, and the large numbers of people who don’t want to wake up, who just want to be told what to do.
In the search for a narrative, discussion of the ‘substitution theory’ is now rife – that the collapse of the religious narrative, followed by the collapse of the neoliberal and communist narratives, has left modern Western societies floundering. Woke ideology has filled the vacuum for some, and states plus the UN/WHO/WEF seem keen to promote this narrative through the education system. Amongst the awake, I see a worrying trend to return to religious explanations of the world, and indeed there are many who think we are in the last battle.
I fear the UN/WHO/WEF will prevail. They are probably ~80% of the way there. Then there will be only ONE narrative. Those dissenting from that narrative will at first be excluded from society, but could later end up imprisoned or deemed to be ‘mentally ill’. We are heading for totalitarianism.
That’s my narrative. Take it or leave it.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Unlikely

Simon S
Simon S
9 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

I regret to admit that I fear the same – however, I think the woke/cancellation insanity is in fact waking people up to the bigger picture (including in my family for example!). I also happen to believe that “the return to religious explanations of the world” derives from a very real sense that we human beings have lost touch with what I am going to call the sacred and are trying to reconnect with that – a sense or knowing that we are all interconnected at a very fundamental level, call it consciousness, call it energy, etc, and to embody and act on that knowing. So, again, I find cause for hope in this yearning, which will not only and inevitably manifest along traditional religious-cultural lines but also give rise to a more informed and indeed profound renaissance of the human spirit, however hard that word is for today’s progressive materialists to stomach.

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
9 months ago
Reply to  Simon S

It was gender ideology that red-pilled me. I couldn’t understand why, despite it being such blatant nonsense, and despite court cases being won by those cancelled by it, it was all still ploughing on regardless.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
9 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Me too. I got banned from posting on Guardian comments after linking to a peer-reviewed journal paper that studied the regrets of patients who had undergone sexual reassignment surgery. This was in 2015 before ‘gender’ was starting to become a big thing. That, and all the anti-white male rhetoric. It didn’t make me right-wing, but it did make me wonder if there was a concerted movement to erode trust between the public and its institutions, especially now how many once-respected agencies have co-opted a monomaniacal attitude toward genderism.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
9 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Me too. I got banned from posting on Guardian comments after linking to a peer-reviewed journal paper that studied the regrets of patients who had undergone sexual reassignment surgery. This was in 2015 before ‘gender’ was starting to become a big thing. That, and all the anti-white male rhetoric. It didn’t make me right-wing, but it did make me wonder if there was a concerted movement to erode trust between the public and its institutions, especially now how many once-respected agencies have co-opted a monomaniacal attitude toward genderism.

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
9 months ago
Reply to  Simon S

It was gender ideology that red-pilled me. I couldn’t understand why, despite it being such blatant nonsense, and despite court cases being won by those cancelled by it, it was all still ploughing on regardless.

Curts
Curts
9 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Spot on

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
9 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

The awake versus the woke. That’s today’s real battleground and I too fear the awake are not winning this war.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Unlikely

Simon S
Simon S
9 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

I regret to admit that I fear the same – however, I think the woke/cancellation insanity is in fact waking people up to the bigger picture (including in my family for example!). I also happen to believe that “the return to religious explanations of the world” derives from a very real sense that we human beings have lost touch with what I am going to call the sacred and are trying to reconnect with that – a sense or knowing that we are all interconnected at a very fundamental level, call it consciousness, call it energy, etc, and to embody and act on that knowing. So, again, I find cause for hope in this yearning, which will not only and inevitably manifest along traditional religious-cultural lines but also give rise to a more informed and indeed profound renaissance of the human spirit, however hard that word is for today’s progressive materialists to stomach.

Curts
Curts
9 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Spot on

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
9 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

The awake versus the woke. That’s today’s real battleground and I too fear the awake are not winning this war.

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
9 months ago

We are approaching the endgame in a battle between the UN/WEF/WHO and the awake.
The former seek to control us with biometric digital ID, CBDCs and censorship. They are nearly there. Even Twitter is now about to cave to the EU and censor on its behalf. The UN is on a mission with its approved ‘factchecker’ program; the WHO seeks to control all medical information, which YouTube has already caved into. Look at restrictive free speech online laws rolling out in Australia, Canada, France and Ireland for example, and soon in the UK too.
Increasing numbers of people are waking up now and mounting a resistance, but it may be too late. Most estimate that about 20-25% no longer believe in the establishment narratives about the pandemic, Netzero or Ukraine. However, this must be contrasted with two things: the metropolitan libs who are largely on board with the establishment narratives, and the large numbers of people who don’t want to wake up, who just want to be told what to do.
In the search for a narrative, discussion of the ‘substitution theory’ is now rife – that the collapse of the religious narrative, followed by the collapse of the neoliberal and communist narratives, has left modern Western societies floundering. Woke ideology has filled the vacuum for some, and states plus the UN/WHO/WEF seem keen to promote this narrative through the education system. Amongst the awake, I see a worrying trend to return to religious explanations of the world, and indeed there are many who think we are in the last battle.
I fear the UN/WHO/WEF will prevail. They are probably ~80% of the way there. Then there will be only ONE narrative. Those dissenting from that narrative will at first be excluded from society, but could later end up imprisoned or deemed to be ‘mentally ill’. We are heading for totalitarianism.
That’s my narrative. Take it or leave it.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago

“In both the UK and US, then, there is reason to think that we have no real coherent narrative. No one is sure where to go next or what to believe.”

This is the problem IMO. No one has a vision to build something great; there’s no grand project to unite people. The competing political movements are devoted to tearing things down. The left wants to destroy the symbols and institutions on which the west was founded. The right wants to tear down progressives.

At some point, we need political leaders who offer more than this.

Last edited 9 months ago by Jim Veenbaas
Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

It would be jolly nice if the parties in the UK could offer distinct visions and offered us to pick.

Ian Johnston
Ian Johnston
9 months ago

We did.

In 2019.

The progressives in charge of our institutions rose up and rendered our choice null and void.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
9 months ago
Reply to  Ian Johnston

In 2019 Corbyn offered us Venezuela-on-the-Thames, the voters said, ‘no’.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
9 months ago
Reply to  Ian Johnston

In 2019 Corbyn offered us Venezuela-on-the-Thames, the voters said, ‘no’.

Chris Keating
Chris Keating
9 months ago

They do offer you choice Jonathan. You get a choice between Conservative Thatcherism and Labour Thatcherism.

Peter B
Peter B
9 months ago
Reply to  Chris Keating

Neither of those are remotely Thatcherism. Time to call advertising standards (if the organisation still exists these days – it feels like decades since I last hear it mentioned) ?

Peter B
Peter B
9 months ago
Reply to  Chris Keating

Neither of those are remotely Thatcherism. Time to call advertising standards (if the organisation still exists these days – it feels like decades since I last hear it mentioned) ?

Ian Johnston
Ian Johnston
9 months ago

We did.

In 2019.

The progressives in charge of our institutions rose up and rendered our choice null and void.

Chris Keating
Chris Keating
9 months ago

They do offer you choice Jonathan. You get a choice between Conservative Thatcherism and Labour Thatcherism.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

If by “right,” you mean “conservative,” then it’s unfair to say that conservatives want nothing more than to “tear down progressives.” The burden of proof is always (or should always be) on those who demand change. By definition, conservatives urge caution and are therefore on the defensive (although they sometimes resort to aggressive strategies). But you’re correct in advocating leaders who can see beyond immediate struggles. Abraham Lincoln was able to do that. His goal for the post-war South was Reconstruction. It didn’t last long, but it was a noble attempt to reunite the nation (among other things). I see no Lincoln on the horizon today. But maybe the first task is to win this new civil war. Only then will reunion be possible.

Last edited 9 months ago by Paul Nathanson
Curts
Curts
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Change isn’t always progress

Curts
Curts
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Change isn’t always progress

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

It would be jolly nice if the parties in the UK could offer distinct visions and offered us to pick.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

If by “right,” you mean “conservative,” then it’s unfair to say that conservatives want nothing more than to “tear down progressives.” The burden of proof is always (or should always be) on those who demand change. By definition, conservatives urge caution and are therefore on the defensive (although they sometimes resort to aggressive strategies). But you’re correct in advocating leaders who can see beyond immediate struggles. Abraham Lincoln was able to do that. His goal for the post-war South was Reconstruction. It didn’t last long, but it was a noble attempt to reunite the nation (among other things). I see no Lincoln on the horizon today. But maybe the first task is to win this new civil war. Only then will reunion be possible.

Last edited 9 months ago by Paul Nathanson
Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago

“In both the UK and US, then, there is reason to think that we have no real coherent narrative. No one is sure where to go next or what to believe.”

This is the problem IMO. No one has a vision to build something great; there’s no grand project to unite people. The competing political movements are devoted to tearing things down. The left wants to destroy the symbols and institutions on which the west was founded. The right wants to tear down progressives.

At some point, we need political leaders who offer more than this.

Last edited 9 months ago by Jim Veenbaas
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
9 months ago

This article started off well, but it feels abridged – incomplete, like the author suddenly got overwhelmed with the enormity of his task and looked for a quick way out.
This “narrative” – do we just expect it to be sort of presented to us from above, engraved on tablets of stone brought down from the mountain by some modern-day Moses or something?
It may be shocking to us younger generations who never had to do anything as messy and as challenging as fighting wars or creating whole new world orders out of our own sustained thoughts and ideas – and yet that is how the world which we live in (and “the narrative”) were created.
A narrative requires us to congregate around some largely accepted point of view – like with the Iraq war. And getting to that broadly accepted point of view requires us to come together and discuss the issue. We managed to debate and congregate around a point of view and a narrative with regard to Iraq as new facts emerged – which in turn made it easier (even unavoidable) to form an agreement on the issue.
With other issues – the pandemic, Brexit for example – no such discussion has taken place. And these aren’t issues which can’t be solved by new facts emerging (even though many Remainers seem to think that is the case). Threfore, the resepctive issue remains insoluble, festering – fenced off with barbed wire as societal nuclear waste that no one wants to go near.
I blame an awful lot on social media but I feel justified in many cases – as here. It has meant that any “discussion” which we might need to have has become disembodied, perversely abridged to fit a Tweet; and done from behind the safety of a handle so you never have to deal with the controversy and the responsibility of a real, controversial discussion in person.
That has resulted in:
A – “discussions” becoming less like the exchange of views with the possibility of settling on a shared opinion or establishing some kind of truth and more like the lobbing of tiny, responsibility-free grenades from your own opinion-trench (calling them “Tweets” is almost abominably cute)
and therefore
B – society fragmenting and no longer existing in a shared space where we all basically agree on the nature of the shared space and identify with the others in it by dint of some shared characteristic or idea. Our initial approaches to issues like lockdowns, Brexit etc. had the disastrous effect of entrenching views and making people hunker down ever more fiercely in their own opinion-trench – unwilling and/or unable to listen to the other side and maybe revisit/revise their own beliefs.
All with the result that – while we are still basically living in the same societies as these have existed historically – we inhabit entirely different realities.
The formation of a shared narrative is impossible under such conditions.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I think you are entirely right both on a) the importance of a single public debate which creates shared narratives, goals and decisions and b) the role of social media in trivialising, fragmenting and polarising what debate still exists.

On the other hand, we may be seeing some positive developments and, possibly, will see a revival in a single public debate over the next decade. In addition to the emergence of mostly constructive and well mannered forums like UnHerd, I would highlight nuanced podcasts displacing shrill twitter posts at the centre of discussion and that YouTube now allows entire lectures or debates to be published instead of just snippets. Underneath these tech driven structural issues, I think it is clear that public demand for constructive debate is still there. It is early days but it gives me hope.

Last edited 9 months ago by Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I think you are entirely right both on a) the importance of a single public debate which creates shared narratives, goals and decisions and b) the role of social media in trivialising, fragmenting and polarising what debate still exists.

On the other hand, we may be seeing some positive developments and, possibly, will see a revival in a single public debate over the next decade. In addition to the emergence of mostly constructive and well mannered forums like UnHerd, I would highlight nuanced podcasts displacing shrill twitter posts at the centre of discussion and that YouTube now allows entire lectures or debates to be published instead of just snippets. Underneath these tech driven structural issues, I think it is clear that public demand for constructive debate is still there. It is early days but it gives me hope.

Last edited 9 months ago by Alex Carnegie
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
9 months ago

This article started off well, but it feels abridged – incomplete, like the author suddenly got overwhelmed with the enormity of his task and looked for a quick way out.
This “narrative” – do we just expect it to be sort of presented to us from above, engraved on tablets of stone brought down from the mountain by some modern-day Moses or something?
It may be shocking to us younger generations who never had to do anything as messy and as challenging as fighting wars or creating whole new world orders out of our own sustained thoughts and ideas – and yet that is how the world which we live in (and “the narrative”) were created.
A narrative requires us to congregate around some largely accepted point of view – like with the Iraq war. And getting to that broadly accepted point of view requires us to come together and discuss the issue. We managed to debate and congregate around a point of view and a narrative with regard to Iraq as new facts emerged – which in turn made it easier (even unavoidable) to form an agreement on the issue.
With other issues – the pandemic, Brexit for example – no such discussion has taken place. And these aren’t issues which can’t be solved by new facts emerging (even though many Remainers seem to think that is the case). Threfore, the resepctive issue remains insoluble, festering – fenced off with barbed wire as societal nuclear waste that no one wants to go near.
I blame an awful lot on social media but I feel justified in many cases – as here. It has meant that any “discussion” which we might need to have has become disembodied, perversely abridged to fit a Tweet; and done from behind the safety of a handle so you never have to deal with the controversy and the responsibility of a real, controversial discussion in person.
That has resulted in:
A – “discussions” becoming less like the exchange of views with the possibility of settling on a shared opinion or establishing some kind of truth and more like the lobbing of tiny, responsibility-free grenades from your own opinion-trench (calling them “Tweets” is almost abominably cute)
and therefore
B – society fragmenting and no longer existing in a shared space where we all basically agree on the nature of the shared space and identify with the others in it by dint of some shared characteristic or idea. Our initial approaches to issues like lockdowns, Brexit etc. had the disastrous effect of entrenching views and making people hunker down ever more fiercely in their own opinion-trench – unwilling and/or unable to listen to the other side and maybe revisit/revise their own beliefs.
All with the result that – while we are still basically living in the same societies as these have existed historically – we inhabit entirely different realities.
The formation of a shared narrative is impossible under such conditions.

P Branagan
P Branagan
9 months ago

Sweet Lord, has J Watson been asleep for the last 3 and a half years. Freedom in the West?
We have lived through 3 yrs of a terror campaign by governments against their own people. Every institution of a civilised society utterly failed. Oppositions wailed for more draconian measures. Same with academics. The courts failed to uphold constitutions and human rights laws. The MSM – yes! the fourth estate whose sacred duty is to hold power to account – cosied up governments and day after day after day dialed up the terror and misinformation campaign.
All voices that dissented from the narrative were silenced across all platforms. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs because the would not comply.
As far as I concerned I have lived through 3 years in a totalitarian society where any views contrary to the mainstream misinformation campaign was silenced.
All our so-called inalienable rights and freedoms were thrashed.
Even now the wretched EU bans me from watching news channels which may give a different take on what’s happening in Ukraine.

I thought I was a freeborn citizen with inalienable rights. I was delusional.
In the West rights of ‘citizens’ are entirely contingent and can be taken away at the whim of the deep state.
As for the future? Any and all political parties will be thoroughly vetted by the elites and the deep state before they’re allowed to play in the theatre of politics. We’ll be offered the pretence of choice. But it’s all just theatre.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  P Branagan

I’m completely onboard with what you’re saying, but conditions in the west are nothing like that in real authoritarian states. Lockdowns in China meant people’s doors literally being welded closed. Drones were flying around identifying people outdoors.

And we still have the vote. We can actually punish the leaders who implemented draconian rules. That we choose not to says something as well.

At some point, you have to recognize the freedoms we still have and appreciate the horrors of places like China, Cuba, Iran, Russia etc


Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  P Branagan

I’m completely onboard with what you’re saying, but conditions in the west are nothing like that in real authoritarian states. Lockdowns in China meant people’s doors literally being welded closed. Drones were flying around identifying people outdoors.

And we still have the vote. We can actually punish the leaders who implemented draconian rules. That we choose not to says something as well.

At some point, you have to recognize the freedoms we still have and appreciate the horrors of places like China, Cuba, Iran, Russia etc


P Branagan
P Branagan
9 months ago

Sweet Lord, has J Watson been asleep for the last 3 and a half years. Freedom in the West?
We have lived through 3 yrs of a terror campaign by governments against their own people. Every institution of a civilised society utterly failed. Oppositions wailed for more draconian measures. Same with academics. The courts failed to uphold constitutions and human rights laws. The MSM – yes! the fourth estate whose sacred duty is to hold power to account – cosied up governments and day after day after day dialed up the terror and misinformation campaign.
All voices that dissented from the narrative were silenced across all platforms. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs because the would not comply.
As far as I concerned I have lived through 3 years in a totalitarian society where any views contrary to the mainstream misinformation campaign was silenced.
All our so-called inalienable rights and freedoms were thrashed.
Even now the wretched EU bans me from watching news channels which may give a different take on what’s happening in Ukraine.

I thought I was a freeborn citizen with inalienable rights. I was delusional.
In the West rights of ‘citizens’ are entirely contingent and can be taken away at the whim of the deep state.
As for the future? Any and all political parties will be thoroughly vetted by the elites and the deep state before they’re allowed to play in the theatre of politics. We’ll be offered the pretence of choice. But it’s all just theatre.

Steve White
Steve White
9 months ago

This is a great little essay. So true and helpful. I would note that those saying things like, “trust the science”, and asking us to trust the narrative they put out are also doing so in a time of great decline and suffering. Which is a clear indicator that they are not to be trusted. I think if we follow the narrative, it always leads back to a pile of money for those in control of the narrative. Globalism has led to more corporate interests behind the political positions.

Last edited 9 months ago by Steve White
Steve White
Steve White
9 months ago

This is a great little essay. So true and helpful. I would note that those saying things like, “trust the science”, and asking us to trust the narrative they put out are also doing so in a time of great decline and suffering. Which is a clear indicator that they are not to be trusted. I think if we follow the narrative, it always leads back to a pile of money for those in control of the narrative. Globalism has led to more corporate interests behind the political positions.

Last edited 9 months ago by Steve White
Chris Keating
Chris Keating
9 months ago

The West has lost the plot. It used to be be able to provide a good life for it’s citizens and was an exemplar for the rest of the world. This is no longer the case as the good life is getting ever harder to attain.
The political parties that are supposed to mediate this have all converged to the neo-liberal consensus so there is no alternative to the current entropy on offer.
It’s a total failure of politics and the public are getting restless looking for something different, but all they get is a grab bag of lies and disinformation that they no longer believe and the politicians don’t bother to make even vaguely plausible.
Meanwhile the looting and pillaging of the rest of the world by the Western elites has become more blatant than ever. How the game is rigged has not been so obvious for years and it will take some digesting but the scales are slowly falling from many sets of eyes.

Terry Raby
Terry Raby
9 months ago
Reply to  Chris Keating

the good life has never been so easy to attain – and for so many. Parents, grandparents may be able to shed light on that question. By looting and pillaging do you mean trade? – never in the history of the world have so many in poorer countries been lifted into the good life. New scales (or perhaps tired old scales) are growing and regrowing it seems.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Terry Raby

Just to be clear, 165 million people were pushed into poverty because of Covid lockdowns. After 25 years of steady and continuous improvement in poverty – I mean those living off less than $2 a day – lockdowns blew that out of the water.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Terry Raby

Just to be clear, 165 million people were pushed into poverty because of Covid lockdowns. After 25 years of steady and continuous improvement in poverty – I mean those living off less than $2 a day – lockdowns blew that out of the water.

Terry Raby
Terry Raby
9 months ago
Reply to  Chris Keating

the good life has never been so easy to attain – and for so many. Parents, grandparents may be able to shed light on that question. By looting and pillaging do you mean trade? – never in the history of the world have so many in poorer countries been lifted into the good life. New scales (or perhaps tired old scales) are growing and regrowing it seems.

Chris Keating
Chris Keating
9 months ago

The West has lost the plot. It used to be be able to provide a good life for it’s citizens and was an exemplar for the rest of the world. This is no longer the case as the good life is getting ever harder to attain.
The political parties that are supposed to mediate this have all converged to the neo-liberal consensus so there is no alternative to the current entropy on offer.
It’s a total failure of politics and the public are getting restless looking for something different, but all they get is a grab bag of lies and disinformation that they no longer believe and the politicians don’t bother to make even vaguely plausible.
Meanwhile the looting and pillaging of the rest of the world by the Western elites has become more blatant than ever. How the game is rigged has not been so obvious for years and it will take some digesting but the scales are slowly falling from many sets of eyes.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
9 months ago

Lots of interesting comments on a provocative article. The latter is provocative, at least to me, because of its assumption that we lack any “narrative.” Actually, we have not one but two. These are fiercely clashing collective stories (worldviews that rely on blends of history and myth) about who we are, how we got here and where we’re going. One of these claims general continuity with much earlier Western stories (usually by defending stories that were generated either directly or indirectly by religious traditions). The other claims radical discontinuity (the secular and utopian political ideologies that originated in the nineteenth century but now coalesce aggressively and cynically around wokism).
Lying uneasily between them is not a third story, to be sure, but nonetheless a vast missionary field for those politicians, pundits, public intellectuals, “journalists” and “influencers” who do have stories. This is the realm of emptiness, vacuity, ignorance, and passivity, which sustains itself on nothing more than pop psychology and hedonism at best and indifference or relativism at worst.
This dismal situation, this polarizing paralysis, is hardly new. Western civilization has gone through several profound transformations ( more than one renaissance and more than one reformation) over the past three thousand years. But that doesn’t seem comforting enough to me, because I live now. Moreover, every period of renewal came after long periods of chaos or suffering. I’m not satisfied, therefore, by those who say that the story will eventually, in spite of everything, leave us living happily ever after. This cultural civil war might easily turn into a violent one. For the time being, we can at least use words to compete with our adversaries.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
9 months ago

Lots of interesting comments on a provocative article. The latter is provocative, at least to me, because of its assumption that we lack any “narrative.” Actually, we have not one but two. These are fiercely clashing collective stories (worldviews that rely on blends of history and myth) about who we are, how we got here and where we’re going. One of these claims general continuity with much earlier Western stories (usually by defending stories that were generated either directly or indirectly by religious traditions). The other claims radical discontinuity (the secular and utopian political ideologies that originated in the nineteenth century but now coalesce aggressively and cynically around wokism).
Lying uneasily between them is not a third story, to be sure, but nonetheless a vast missionary field for those politicians, pundits, public intellectuals, “journalists” and “influencers” who do have stories. This is the realm of emptiness, vacuity, ignorance, and passivity, which sustains itself on nothing more than pop psychology and hedonism at best and indifference or relativism at worst.
This dismal situation, this polarizing paralysis, is hardly new. Western civilization has gone through several profound transformations ( more than one renaissance and more than one reformation) over the past three thousand years. But that doesn’t seem comforting enough to me, because I live now. Moreover, every period of renewal came after long periods of chaos or suffering. I’m not satisfied, therefore, by those who say that the story will eventually, in spite of everything, leave us living happily ever after. This cultural civil war might easily turn into a violent one. For the time being, we can at least use words to compete with our adversaries.

Thomas Condon
Thomas Condon
9 months ago

The history of the world
.
Starvation
Survival
We think we’re God
Collapse

Repeat
.

Thomas Condon
Thomas Condon
9 months ago

The history of the world
.
Starvation
Survival
We think we’re God
Collapse

Repeat
.

Dick Illyes
Dick Illyes
9 months ago

I just finished The Fourth Turning Is Here. As someone in my eighties who has lived through the three previous eras described as Turnings by Howe I can say that they are a big deal. We are in the Crisis phase. The fit is truly going to hit the shan in the next few years, and the result will probably be a levelling like the one following WWII.
I operate a tree nursery in rural Texas south of Houston and the immiseration of the lower working class has gotten much much worse in just the last two years. People who could always find something are now broke, out of work, and hungry, and other parts of the country are probably a lot worse. Open borders are almost certainly the biggest reason. Ideas like the Basic Income pushed by Andrew Yang are going to get a lot of attention as this immiseration spreads. 

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
9 months ago
Reply to  Dick Illyes

At some point, a breaking point! The USA will figure out it can’t take care of the world. The five million migrants, most illegal, Biden has let in is putting tremendous upward pressure on housing costs and downward pressure on wages at the lower levels. The Democrats- who are elite and very rich indeed – don’t see or feel it, but millions of others do. The reckoning is coming.

Last edited 9 months ago by Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
9 months ago
Reply to  Dick Illyes

At some point, a breaking point! The USA will figure out it can’t take care of the world. The five million migrants, most illegal, Biden has let in is putting tremendous upward pressure on housing costs and downward pressure on wages at the lower levels. The Democrats- who are elite and very rich indeed – don’t see or feel it, but millions of others do. The reckoning is coming.

Last edited 9 months ago by Cathy Carron
Dick Illyes
Dick Illyes
9 months ago

I just finished The Fourth Turning Is Here. As someone in my eighties who has lived through the three previous eras described as Turnings by Howe I can say that they are a big deal. We are in the Crisis phase. The fit is truly going to hit the shan in the next few years, and the result will probably be a levelling like the one following WWII.
I operate a tree nursery in rural Texas south of Houston and the immiseration of the lower working class has gotten much much worse in just the last two years. People who could always find something are now broke, out of work, and hungry, and other parts of the country are probably a lot worse. Open borders are almost certainly the biggest reason. Ideas like the Basic Income pushed by Andrew Yang are going to get a lot of attention as this immiseration spreads. 

Douglas Redmayne
Douglas Redmayne
9 months ago

A narrative is a fictional account which, if enough people choose to believe it because it stimulates their brain’s reward system by giving them an “ identity” or an ego attachment, becomes treated as a truth. Narratives are essentially needed because the multitude have little control over their emotions.

Douglas Redmayne
Douglas Redmayne
9 months ago

A narrative is a fictional account which, if enough people choose to believe it because it stimulates their brain’s reward system by giving them an “ identity” or an ego attachment, becomes treated as a truth. Narratives are essentially needed because the multitude have little control over their emotions.

Yan Chernyak
Yan Chernyak
9 months ago

Well, isn’t it ironic that author laments the absence of coherent narrative while arbitrary choosing his own moments in history to prove his point in meta-narrative? 😉 It’s especially evident when he moves from dot-com bust immediately to Iraq without even mentioning 9/11

Last edited 9 months ago by yan
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
9 months ago
Reply to  Yan Chernyak

That omission was glaring. It was the true start of the disruption to the post-war narrative which i’d say continued through the fall of the Berlin Wall up till that point. What it demonstrated was our ultimate vulnerability to attacks from those with a different narrative. The panic (whether media-generated or simply internalised) which followed still echoes in the bowels of the West, reverberated via technology.
What might change? Just perhaps, a greater understanding (which articles such as this at least try to address, along with Comments) that there’s a problem with narratives per se. Perhaps we now live in a Post-Narrative world, and should start to think about how that can best be navigated.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
9 months ago
Reply to  Yan Chernyak

That omission was glaring. It was the true start of the disruption to the post-war narrative which i’d say continued through the fall of the Berlin Wall up till that point. What it demonstrated was our ultimate vulnerability to attacks from those with a different narrative. The panic (whether media-generated or simply internalised) which followed still echoes in the bowels of the West, reverberated via technology.
What might change? Just perhaps, a greater understanding (which articles such as this at least try to address, along with Comments) that there’s a problem with narratives per se. Perhaps we now live in a Post-Narrative world, and should start to think about how that can best be navigated.

Yan Chernyak
Yan Chernyak
9 months ago

Well, isn’t it ironic that author laments the absence of coherent narrative while arbitrary choosing his own moments in history to prove his point in meta-narrative? 😉 It’s especially evident when he moves from dot-com bust immediately to Iraq without even mentioning 9/11

Last edited 9 months ago by yan
Andy Iddon
Andy Iddon
9 months ago

Piece seems a longwinded way of saying our institutions are corrupted beyond remedy. The rich turned on everyone else, the only threat to their security, and now we’re dispossessed and powerless. Class war won.

Andy Iddon
Andy Iddon
9 months ago

Piece seems a longwinded way of saying our institutions are corrupted beyond remedy. The rich turned on everyone else, the only threat to their security, and now we’re dispossessed and powerless. Class war won.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
9 months ago

The steady drip drip about UFO’s being released by governments and former or current government officials around the world – is one thing I am having trouble fitting into the narrative. Why now? Who benefits from this?

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
9 months ago

The steady drip drip about UFO’s being released by governments and former or current government officials around the world – is one thing I am having trouble fitting into the narrative. Why now? Who benefits from this?

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
9 months ago

Take the Ukraine. Practically no-one in any of the political and news media will criticise the decision to fund the war rather than negotiate back the Minsk Accords.
Such a level of force consensus destroys debate. The only sceptical voice left is the populist right of the Republican parties and the online conservative/libertarian community.
Effectively, the international Left has given up criticising Washington because their lot are in power. Non-critique of US foreign policy hence becomes another another angle in the culture war.
This leaves a Manichean world – little wonder the Internet is babbling about the Woke being the latest manifestation of the Gnostic cults.
Religious fervour is in the air either way, and all balance or logic will fall by the wayside.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
9 months ago

Take the Ukraine. Practically no-one in any of the political and news media will criticise the decision to fund the war rather than negotiate back the Minsk Accords.
Such a level of force consensus destroys debate. The only sceptical voice left is the populist right of the Republican parties and the online conservative/libertarian community.
Effectively, the international Left has given up criticising Washington because their lot are in power. Non-critique of US foreign policy hence becomes another another angle in the culture war.
This leaves a Manichean world – little wonder the Internet is babbling about the Woke being the latest manifestation of the Gnostic cults.
Religious fervour is in the air either way, and all balance or logic will fall by the wayside.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
9 months ago

A really good and timely article. Thanks! Blair tried hard to feed the UK an ersatz narrative because he figured that was the way to make us more receptive to his notion of “progress”. Nowadays, the wokerati have an agenda to root out any vestiges of pre-Blair narrative to which UK folk might be clinging. They are keen to rubbish our thoughts about our past, present and future. Once they have succeeded in this, they envisage that we shall all be grateful to embrace the woke narrative.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
9 months ago

A really good and timely article. Thanks! Blair tried hard to feed the UK an ersatz narrative because he figured that was the way to make us more receptive to his notion of “progress”. Nowadays, the wokerati have an agenda to root out any vestiges of pre-Blair narrative to which UK folk might be clinging. They are keen to rubbish our thoughts about our past, present and future. Once they have succeeded in this, they envisage that we shall all be grateful to embrace the woke narrative.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
9 months ago

Having been involved in more than a few suicides I know one function of narratives and that is personal.

It is when an individual’s narrative breaks down – often due to lies or false accusations – in other cases due to just sheer implausibility – ie, they are not the woman that their therapist told them they were, but remain a hairy, 45 year old bricklayer – that suicide is not far off.

Last edited 9 months ago by Dumetrius
Dumetrius
Dumetrius
9 months ago

Having been involved in more than a few suicides I know one function of narratives and that is personal.

It is when an individual’s narrative breaks down – often due to lies or false accusations – in other cases due to just sheer implausibility – ie, they are not the woman that their therapist told them they were, but remain a hairy, 45 year old bricklayer – that suicide is not far off.

Last edited 9 months ago by Dumetrius
john d rockemella
john d rockemella
9 months ago

Conspirafact! All we know is the government works with big business, and they are complete puppet governments. NGOs and the rich run the world, no conspiracy that’s life, democracy does not exist and nor should it, failed scheme setup up subdue the masses whilst they create technological advances to enslave humanity through the peoples greed and ever need for convenience. Large money keeps us divided and the rich separated from society. Unless we all learn to live together and love each other through kindness and understanding it will drag along for millennia!

john d rockemella
john d rockemella
9 months ago

Conspirafact! All we know is the government works with big business, and they are complete puppet governments. NGOs and the rich run the world, no conspiracy that’s life, democracy does not exist and nor should it, failed scheme setup up subdue the masses whilst they create technological advances to enslave humanity through the peoples greed and ever need for convenience. Large money keeps us divided and the rich separated from society. Unless we all learn to live together and love each other through kindness and understanding it will drag along for millennia!

rupert carnegie
rupert carnegie
9 months ago

Most would agree with the author that there is a deep malaise affecting western society and, as a result, many are drifting into a pessimistic fatalism. But western society has been here before and snapped out of it. The pessimism and polarisation of the 1930s was followed by the sense of purpose and achievements of the 1940s and 1950s.

Perhaps the West needs an an “other” to threaten it to provoke a bust of purposeful energy. If the Nazis and then Marxist-Leninists played this role then perhaps the less extreme threat from the techno authoritarianism of China will suffice this time. Perhaps some other challenge will lead to a response which gives coherence to society again. Perhaps one source of our perplexities since 1990 has been simply the absence of a satisfactory threat or challenge to motivate us.

What is clear, however, is that there are plenty of people today who hunger for a sense of purpose – climate campaigners, radical progressives of all sorts, BREXIT and MAGA enthusiasts amongst others – but we lack the agreed mission or narrative to provide a focus for, ideally, all Western society to rally round. Arguably, global warming ought to provide such a narrative but I suspect it is too impersonal and slow moving to qualify. Perhaps we need a more urgent threat with a human face.

Meanwhile a knowledge of history suggests we should avoid despair. As with individuals, societies can suffer from periods of listlessness without drifting inexorably towards extinction. Cheer up.

Last edited 9 months ago by rupert carnegie
Chris Keating
Chris Keating
9 months ago

I think that losing of the other with the collapse of the USSR convinced the Western ruling classes that they no longer had to mollify the general public as they did while a competing system existed, so they no longer bother.
Added to that, they have snatched back the state from the people and handed the public over to the thieves of the private sector. Its like the last few rounds of a game of Monopoly where the property owners suck you dry and chuck you out of the game.

Chris Keating
Chris Keating
9 months ago

I think that losing of the other with the collapse of the USSR convinced the Western ruling classes that they no longer had to mollify the general public as they did while a competing system existed, so they no longer bother.
Added to that, they have snatched back the state from the people and handed the public over to the thieves of the private sector. Its like the last few rounds of a game of Monopoly where the property owners suck you dry and chuck you out of the game.

rupert carnegie
rupert carnegie
9 months ago

Most would agree with the author that there is a deep malaise affecting western society and, as a result, many are drifting into a pessimistic fatalism. But western society has been here before and snapped out of it. The pessimism and polarisation of the 1930s was followed by the sense of purpose and achievements of the 1940s and 1950s.

Perhaps the West needs an an “other” to threaten it to provoke a bust of purposeful energy. If the Nazis and then Marxist-Leninists played this role then perhaps the less extreme threat from the techno authoritarianism of China will suffice this time. Perhaps some other challenge will lead to a response which gives coherence to society again. Perhaps one source of our perplexities since 1990 has been simply the absence of a satisfactory threat or challenge to motivate us.

What is clear, however, is that there are plenty of people today who hunger for a sense of purpose – climate campaigners, radical progressives of all sorts, BREXIT and MAGA enthusiasts amongst others – but we lack the agreed mission or narrative to provide a focus for, ideally, all Western society to rally round. Arguably, global warming ought to provide such a narrative but I suspect it is too impersonal and slow moving to qualify. Perhaps we need a more urgent threat with a human face.

Meanwhile a knowledge of history suggests we should avoid despair. As with individuals, societies can suffer from periods of listlessness without drifting inexorably towards extinction. Cheer up.

Last edited 9 months ago by rupert carnegie
Rachel Taylor
Rachel Taylor
9 months ago

I’m afraid this reads like a list of recent events, reaching the buffers at the present. I think the author is referring to historical perspective, where the lack of it for recent events is tautological.

Shale Lewis
Shale Lewis
9 months ago

Ironic that the invasion of Kuwait is used in a context which suggests objective truth, since wars are always justified by narratives, which are necessarily at odds with each other…

https://adst.org/2016/09/sparking-iraqs-invasion-kuwait-loans-land-oil-access/

I recall the argument over the decision to get involved in this foreign conflict as a kerfuffle between the moralist interventionists and the pragmatist isolationists, much like the current Ukraine schism.

If you read the link above, ask yourself if we in “the West” are qualified to get involved in the squabbles of other nations, or if it’s apparent to outside observers who has moral authority in this dispute. We certainly couldn’t manage to intervene effectively to stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which seems like a much clearer case of a majority population murdering their minority brethren out of contempt.

After WWII, some public figures pronounced the end of isolationism and moral relativism, since some evils simply cannot be tolerated by civilized human beings. But is that really true, or just another narrative? After all, we did form an alliance with the most prolific mass murderer of that era, in order to defeat the second most prolific murderer. And even The Atlantic published a very convincing argument that this ultimate crusade of Western justice was merely a reconfiguration of global empires…

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/05/world-war-ii-empire-colonialism/629371/

As long as humans are vainglorious and self aggrandizing, whether by violent force, virtue signaling piety, or often both, we cannot avoid narrative subjectivity and moral relativism. In fact, we often do more harm than isolationist avoidance of foreign affairs. There is a price to be paid for the pursuit of justice, however we define it. But when we are insulated from the true costs of our decisions, we forget this.

Last edited 9 months ago by Shale Lewis
John Riordan
John Riordan
8 months ago

This article’s central theme falters somewhat on the claimed importance of the narrative. Maybe narratives aren’t all that important? One obvious reason why is that there has never been a time when most people agreed on what the narrative actually is, in the sense debated here. Even during the height of the post-Cold War boom when Fukuyama had declared the end of history, there were many people who either refused to believe socialism was dead or who confidently declared that capitalism was immediately going to suffer the same fate.

harry storm
harry storm
9 months ago

One can almost feel the author’s desperation to find events to support his own “narrative” about narratives. Basically unreadable.

harry storm
harry storm
9 months ago

One can almost feel the author’s desperation to find events to support his own “narrative” about narratives. Basically unreadable.