In the wake of Caroline Flack’s untimely death, the finger of blame has been pointed in three directions: the Crown Prosecution Service decision to go to trial, the tabloids and online bullying. As far as prominent tweeters are concerned, tabloid and social media hounding were ultimately to blame. Petitions calling for criminal offences for media ‘bullying’ and stricter laws surrounding ‘safeguarding celebrities and people in the public eye’ are surpassing 500,000 signatures.
The reasons for taking one’s own life are rarely straightforward. Yet throughout this blame game, one thing was conspicuously absent. Within a day of Ms Flack’s alleged assault on her partner, there were calls for her to be sacked from her Love Island hosting job. ‘Sack Flack!’ a giddy headline read, reporting Twitter users’ conviction she should be fired. ‘[H]ope you are going to sack Caroline Flack as we know you would if it was a male presenter […]’ said one user, adding Flack’s personal life is, ‘hardly setting a good example’.
Some even began tweeting at ITV with the hashtag #sacktheflack. Her future gigs were either cancelled or likely to be, as other networks feared being tainted by association.
Indeed, she allegedly told friends that she felt she had effectively been sacked by ITV and her ‘career was over’. Already convicted in the court of public opinion and apparently by her employers, the upcoming trial would just add insult to injury.
For all the talk of online bullying, this crucial element of ‘cancel culture’ has been left out: Insults are not enough. Prosecution is not enough. Often, simple disagreements are not enough. People must be destroyed. Today’s weapon of choice: your job.
Why? The public world of work is where we gain recognition and our livelihoods. The cancellation of one’s ability to earn a livelihood is the modern equivalent of a public execution. In this way, the desire to scrub from public life alleged sinners has a medieval quality to it.
Indeed, we seem to be regressing to pre-modern ideas of what it means to be human. A lack of belief in the human ability to handle freedoms leads to the disappearing of ‘bad influences’. The public now acquires a child-like quality; we cannot be exposed to even a hint of wrongdoing or we will enact it in our own lives.
Ironically, it is this same impulse to cancel people that also drives censorship. And yet Flack’s death is being opportunistically used to fuel the latter. But this will do nothing to stop the toxic and medieval culture which doubts due process and metes out punishment to those deemed impure.
One of the curious characteristics of the post-1960s cultural establishment is that they’re the first ruling class in history to deny they’re the ruling class. It’s partly because they prize nonconformity and rebellion, which is hard to let go of once you’re in power and now want to police rather than smash the Overton Window (while likeing to imagine you’re still the counter-culture).
A good example of this comes in the Observer review of Afua Hirsch’s new book, We Need to Talk About the British Empire, which reports that:
Sure, lots of people express positive views about the British Empire, but that’s not because they’re taught that by an overwhelmingly left-of-centre education system, but because they have what you might call patriotic or ethnocentric (or, depending on your viewpoint, racist) beliefs, so they tend to make their opinions about history fit that. Someone’s view of Britain’s Empire serves as a useful proxy for “how much do you love your own country/ethnic group”, and lots of people do. But these are very low status opinion and very few teachers would express them.
I went to a Catholic secondary and my history teachers were all Irish or of Irish origin, so maybe my education was unusual, but I don’t think many people under the age of 50 were taught about the glories of the British Empire at school. Seventy years ago, maybe, kids might have been lectured about the world map being pink, but it hasn’t been the case for decades. This argument seems not so much a straw man as a straw ghost; it was true once, in the long distant ancien régime.
Indeed most people are taught very little about the empire, and the little they are is generally negative. Explorers like Drake, Raleigh or Columbus are presented as buccaneering, but it’s not as if teachers across the country are telling their pupils about Britain’s efforts to drive out the slave trade or end the practice of sati.
Not that I think they really should. Empires are vastly complex things and almost all had monstrous as well as benevolent aspects, because imperialism is a form of globalisation. In the British case the trans-Atlantic slave trade was a crime against humanity, and the empire presided over several famines in India, as well as benevolent rule in place like Malta or Hong Kong.
It’s a very complex issue, and perhaps one that would be divisive at secondary school level, but the idea we’re being taught about the glories of empire strikes me as bizarre. Indeed up to the age 16 I learned more about Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia than I did about my own country.
A report for the Church Buildings Council has claimed that the Church of England is currently closing more church buildings than at any time since the sixteenth century. And the weight of these closures is falling predominantly in urban areas. Since 1969, about ten percent of the C of E’s churches have been turned into carpet warehouses or yuppie flats or Mosques. I won’t allow mine to be one of them.
But the powerful argument made by hard pressed parish clergy up and down the country is that they didn’t get ordained to become glorified building’s managers. A church is not the building, it is the people. And so many congregations retreat from their cold and leaky building into the local school hall or community centre. The problem here, however, is that the church building is not a mere bricks-and-mortar encumbrance, it is a way of being rooted in a community — a powerful expression of the physical presence of the Christian community over time.
In the vestry of my church is a list of Rectors of the parish going back to 1212. In 1876, the local authorities forced the old church at the Elephant and Castle to be demolished to make way for road widening. A new church was built a few hundred yards away, only to be destroyed by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz. Again it was rebuilt. The bricks of my church are not an inconvenience, a distraction — they are a statement of Christian defiance. And under its roof, Christians from all over the world seek shelter.
Last Sunday morning, we heard a testimony from an Iranian Christian who escaped Tehran hidden in a vegetable lorry after her house group was disappeared (feared murdered) by the authorities. Later, I took Mass for the gathered Zimbabwean community. They had to pack up quickly to make way for the Ethiopians, who in turn had to make way for another group.
The challenges of this ministry are grinding and continual. The violence feels like it is getting worse. A fifteen year old boy was stabbed in the parish last month. The police have done nothing about the anti-Semitic stickers in the local (vandalised) phone box. Increasingly, I feel run down by the constant round of clearing up after the man who uses our Garden of Remembrance as his daily toilet and making sure the heroin needles are thrown away before the children arrive for church. But it is a shared task, and the sharing is bonding. I admit there are times I hanker after a little bit of Dibley, settling down on the sofa for another episode of rural porn, aka Escape to the Country.
But in this constant battle with unpleasantness, the beauty of my church building is an ally not a distraction. Not that everyone would see it as beautiful. Nonetheless, the nineteenth century church builders created a stone tower that withstood the incendiary bombs of the Nazis. And last year, the much loved and polished fifties replacement church was listed. That’s why I spend half my time with developers and architects: the building is a kind of sacrament within the community, an outward sign of a spiritual grace. “I will not cease from mental fight, till Jerusalem is builded here” wrote one local boy, centuries back.
UnHerd columnist Tom Chivers featured on The Today Programme this morning to discuss Dominic Cummings’s latest hire, Andrew Sabisky and his controversial views on eugenics. Describing Sabisky as a “deeply strange guy”, Chivers added that the Tory aide was also “bright and interesting” — traits that fit well with the ‘weirdo’ criteria outlined in Cummings’s original job posting. Have a listen below…
The first of Dominic Cummings’ ‘weirdos’ came in for his inaugural round of public hazing over the weekend, as journalists dug through the internet footprint of young ‘superforecaster’ Andrew Sabisky in search of nonstandard utterances with which to evidence their fears about Britain’s slide into fascism.
Prominent among their discoveries was a 2016 interview Sabisky gave to Schools Week on the subject of forecasting, which quoted his view that human cognitive ability is largely hereditary. In this interview Sabisky uses the dreaded word ‘eugenics’, asking provocative questions about why, given the choice to select between a number of embryos for the most intelligent, one would not do so?
This has been taken as evidence of his devotion to eugenics in practice. Buzzfeed reporter Alex Wickham reports that other spads are now saying they will refuse to work with him, while Labour MP David Lammy calls his appointment ‘deeply sinister’ and declares that he should be ‘nowhere near government’.
Humans are animals, and thus it is likely that were we to try and breed humans selectively for specific traits we could encourage the prevalence of those traits. But humans are also thinking, ethical creatures. As such, which traits should be considered ‘better’ would inescapably be a political and moral matter, as is the question of whether treating humans in this way is acceptable. Sabisky’s detractors skip over the question of whether there is any evidence of him holding the kind of worldview from which one might argue the human species could (or should) be ‘improved’.
There is in fact ample online evidence of Sabisky’s moral framework, as he is co-presenter of the Young Tractarians theology podcast. And while it is not impossible to be Christian and pro-eugenics, it is difficult. Historically such viewpoints have tended to come from modernising, ‘progressive’ branches of the faith. Sabisky, on the other hand, has provided interested listeners with some 23 hours of his adherence to the ‘Tractarian’ Oxford Movement, more traditional than which it is difficult for an Anglican to get without going full Roman Catholic.
Weighing Sabisky’s ultra-traditionalist, High Anglican faith against his willingness to explore provocative questions, I was struck by a turn of phrase used by Richard Dawkins, the other prominent voice to get a drubbing over the weekend for mentioning the ‘E’ word.
In his clarifying tweet, Dawkins said (my italics) that “Just as we breed cows to yield more milk, we could breed humans to run faster or jump higher. But heaven forbid that we should do it.” Dawkins of course is well-known as an abrasively militant atheist. Thus his use of ‘heaven forbid’ is intriguing, as from an atheist perspective heaven does not exist and therefore, in fact, cannot forbid the pursuit of eugenics.
For a Christian, we are all God’s children and of equal worth. All but the most contorted Christian perspectives would affirm that the notion of making humans ‘better’ via selective breeding is nonsensical, not to mention an insult to the dignity of our fellow humans and a blasphemous attempt to usurp God Himself.
But without God to tell us why it is wrong to breed humans like cows, it is (though, again, not impossible) far more difficult to argue against it. Dawkins’ resort to the phrase ‘heaven forbid’ underlines the way in which our post-religious abandonment of any shared source of moral authority leaves us struggling for concise language in which to reject moral atrocities such as eugenics.
An atheist progressive worldview is, in fact, considerably more vulnerable than a Tractarian one to the humanity-improving blandishments of eugenic arguments: even one of the Four Horsemen of Atheism is reduced to invoking heaven to explain why he feels eugenics is beyond the pale.
The progressive Twittermob coming after Sabisky might consider whether it is he they are attempting to persuade that eugenics is unacceptable, or in fact themselves.
This week’s long read double bill suggests something potentially explosive is afoot among America’s conservatives.
In the religious journal First Things, Why Liberalism Failed author Patrick Deneen discusses Michael Lind’s book The New Class War in an essay titled Replace The Elite. Meanwhile, over at American Affairs, Joel Kotkin paints a gloomy picture of the American republic’s apparently inexorable slide toward a dystopian techno-feudalism in America’s Drift Toward Feudalism.
Both essays address similar territory. Deneen outlines Lind’s argument about the emergence of a power-sharing settlement between working and middle/upper classes following World War II, and the way this was deliberately dismantled to serve the interests of an emerging meritocratic elite:
This elite is also culturally hostile to the masses it seeks to dominate:
Joel Kotkin tackles the same coming-apart of the elite and the masses, comparing the emerging situation with the political settlement of the Middle Ages. He argues that America is sliding helplessly toward a new feudalism, in which an incalculably wealthy handful of people control enormous swathes of land, money and power via the new data monopolies of the digital age.
This world is anti-democratic, anti-family — “a largely childless college campus environment, where they even pay female workers to freeze their eggs” — and increasingly polarised between a small class of plutocrats and a huge caste of gig workers. Beneath these service drones, “at the very bottom lies an untouchable class of homeless, those addicted to drugs, and criminals”.
Kotkin describes this new feudal order as supported by a new clerisy analogous to the ecclesiastical orders of the Middle Ages. This clerisy, he suggests, has taken on the role of enforcing moral orthodoxy:
Meanwhile, what Kotkin calls the ‘Third Estate’ (which comprises of everyone except the overlords and clerisy) have found their situation increasingly stagnant, constrained and indebted and their ways of life hollowed out and despised. This in turn is leading to a growing radicalisation of American politics, described in Deneen’s essay the ‘autoimmune response’ of populism to a ‘sick body politic’. How, then, is this likely to develop?
Per Deneen, Lind expects the managerial elite to give ground when faced with public anger. Kotkin sees populist pressure as unlikely to result in any greater power-sharing, predicting the emergence instead of a ‘bread and circuses’ techno-feudalism that blends infantilising welfare handouts with the surveillance capacities already evident in China to keep a restive but helpless Third Estate under the oligarchic thumb.
Deneen is as unconvinced as Kotkin: fear, he argues, will not be enough to force the new managerial elite to give up their hoarding of cultural and economic power. Rather, Deneen suggests that without a fundamental realignment of values between the ruling classes and the masses no amount of grudging power-sharing will bridge the political divide.
In their conclusions, Deneen and Kotkin are united: in effect they call for revolution. Though Deneen does not specify the mechanism to be used, he argues that “the current ruling class needs to be displaced by the ethos of the underclass: people shaped by and supportive of guild, ward, and congregation.” Kotkin, meanwhile, calls for the Third Estate “to reinvigorate its political will, just as it did during the Revolution and in the various struggles that followed.”
American conservatism is sounding less conservative and more radical by the day.
This week, a world leader spoke out in strong terms about the naivety of the West in the face of China: “Neither the European public nor European political and business leaders fully understand the threat presented by Xi Jinping’s China.” The same leader described the US’ trade war with China as “coherent and genuinely partisan” and “the greatest […] foreign policy accomplishment of the Trump administration.”
Who is the Trump-apologist in question? Presumably some nefarious Eastern European tyrant — Viktor Orbán, perhaps? Not quite; rather it is his compatriot, billionaire philanthropist and scourge of populists everywhere, George Soros. That he feels it necessary to make this argument shows just how disturbing China’s geopolitics are.
Soros’ comments mark something else too — a wider crack up among the liberal elite. Many still cleave to the old assumptions about the onwards march of progress, the inevitability of globalisation and the benevolence of China. These progressives are stuck in the past; blinded by ideology, they cannot comprehend the politics of the future nor the re-emergence of history.
This group is perhaps best represented by George Osborne. As Chancellor, he argued Britain should “run towards China” and be its “best friend in the West.” Five years on he still trots out the party line; under his editorship the Evening Standard has been craven in its support for Huawei.
But another faction of the elite is shedding its illusions and embracing, if not a post-liberalism, then at least a liberal realism. As Aris Roussinos wrote for UnHerd on Monday, Emmanuel Macron is leading the way in Europe, declaring NATO brain-dead and the continent’s illusions about the end of history naïve. Now George Soros has joined the realist party.
He is right to do so. China is the defining geopolitical issue of our times. Their mercantilist approach to free trade and industrial policy has destroyed our industry. Their control over global supply chains threatens our national security. Just yesterday, the US Department of Justice charged Huawei with racketeering and conspiracy to steal trade secrets. Their approach to dissidents and minorities is unspeakable.
And where is the UK in all of this? The government has welcomed the Chinese state, via Huawei, into our infrastructure with open arms. The left, too, has nothing to say. After boycotting Trump, Jeremy Corbyn wore a white tie to banquet with Chairman Xi, while last month trade unions signed up to an agreement for the takeover of British Steel by a Chinese conglomerate.
The sooner we wise up and heed Soros’ warning the better.
What makes a good journalist, as opposed to commenter, cultural critic or activist? Inquisitiveness, I suppose; a desire that the truth be told; perseverance, and courage. Perhaps most of all, though, a sort of intellectual courage to accept that your prevailing beliefs might be wrong.
I watched Mr Jones earlier in the week, an account of the Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, who exposed the truth about the Ukrainian famine (for a good review, I’d recommend Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian.)
Mr Jones is thought-provoking but it is bleak — as you’d expect, I suppose, of a film about the Holodomor — and feels personal. The screenwriter Andrea Chalupa is of Ukrainian origin and director Agnieszka Holland is Polish, and both their families experienced the horrors of ideology in that benighted part of the world.
But it’s bleak not just because of the hunger and horror but because of its ultimate Orwellian theme — that lies often overcome truth. Walter Duranty, the New York Times correspondent in Moscow, was a fraud and hack who was feted for telling western optimists what they wanted to believe about the Soviet Union; Jones told them the depressing truth, that the utopian experiment was a disaster, and was sacked.
This is a story so timeless it’s almost a fairy tale, and still goes on today — numerous individuals make a good living spouting garbage because it’s the sort of garbage the educated middle-class want to believe.
In the early 20th century progressive, educated westerners wanted the Soviet Union to be a “new civilization”, as the Webbs called it, so the New York Times and its readers lapped up what Duranty told them — and this had huge, long-term consequences, especially in regard US handling of Stalin.
While Jones’s story was deeply tragic, Muggeridge’s was bleakly comic, having gone over to the USSR with a group of other naïve westerners and had all his illusions blown away. If you want to read about Muggeridge but can’t face a whole book’s worth, then I strongly recommend Scott Alexander’s very funny review of Chronicles of Wasted Time.
As Alexander points out, Muggeridge also had that useful quality occasionally needed in public debate: a determined belief that everything is going to hell. Often those people are wrong, but when they’re right — as in Europe in the 1930s — they’re useful to have around.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said that he was “ashamed” of his “white advantage, educational advantage, straight advantage [and] male advantage” when it came to the Church’s attitude towards black people, likening their treatment to how the Church treated Jews in Nazi Germany.
Here are his remarks in full during the Windrush debate at this week’s Synod:
“I am almost beyond words. Personally, I am sorry and ashamed. I’m ashamed of our history and I’m ashamed of our failure. I’m ashamed of our lack of witness to Christ. I’m ashamed of my lack of urgent voice to the Church, to use Andrew’s phrase. It’s shaming as well as shocking. It is shocking, but it’s profoundly shaming.
Most of us in here, almost all of us, the vast majority of us – well over 85 percent; and remember 15 percent is roughly the BAME in this country, so if we were representative it would be 15 percent – but well over 85 percent, over 90 percent, are white.
I have white advantage. Educational advantage. Straight advantage. Male advantage. None of these… all the things that enable us to go through life without the kind of experiences that Andrew spoke of in his wonderful paper, and Doreen knows so well.
I’m not ashamed of those advantages; I’m ashamed of not knowing I had them. And I think that’s where we probably need to start.
I’ll just take one phrase from the speech which was that we had a ‘hostile environment’ – what an extraordinary phrase, a terrible phrase. But we have transform it into a hospitable, welcoming one.
I can see that hostile environment coming back when other groups appear who we don’t quite like, or we don’t know how to deal with, or we don’t appeal to the voters sufficiently, and the Church doesn’t speak up for justice.
I’ve often wondered how the German Church in the thirties managed to ignore what happened to the Jews. I think they just didn’t really notice. They just took it that this was normal, and perhaps what we’ve done in the way we’ve behaved since Windrush with so many of our fellow British citizens, who we treated as something less… as something less important.
And there is no doubt when we look at our own Church that we are still deeply institutionally racist. Let’s just be clear about that. I said it to the College of Bishops a couple of years ago and it’s true.
I get loads of lists to approve. I get shortlists and longlists and lists of panels for interviews. We’ve just about got past the point in the last two or three years where they’re not all male. But they very, very seldom have minority ethnic people on them – either in applications for lay or clergy posts, senior clergy posts.
I’ve been trying to play nice. I send them back with a more or less polite note saying I’m not absolutely sure this is what we want. But we cannot go on playing nice – really, can we, I don’t think?
I will bring this back to Synod in due course but I think we need some basic rules – like, an appointment panel doesn’t work if it has no minority ethnic representation, or other discriminated against minorities. It just doesn’t work.
It doesn’t work on the CNC [Crown Nominations Commission]. It doesn’t work at any level at all in our Church.
It doesn’t work when long lists are simply one colour. It does not work.
Injustice. We did not do justice in the past. We do not do justice now. And unless we are radical and decisive in this area in the future, we will still be having this conversation in 20 years’ time and still doing injustice – the few of us that remain, deservedly.
We’ve damaged the Church. We’ve damaged the image of God. Most of all, we’ve damaged those we victimised, unconsciously very often.
And in this incoherent speech I want to emphasise my agreement with everything that Andrew said and end where I began: I am personally sorry to those who are here who have been affected, and those around the country, those where I could have done better. To CMEAC [the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns] and others turning up the volume. And I am ashamed and I will, I hope with all of you, seek to do better.”
Have you read about the plan to build two gigantic dams — one between Scotland and Norway, the other between Cornwall and Brittany? The idea is that this would protect a huge chunk of low-lying coastal Europe from rising sea levels. The price tag? £250-500 billion.
A bonkers idea, so let’s hope no one tells Boris Johnson — who’s never met a crazy infrastructure project he doesn’t like (apart from Heathrow).
This week he gave the final go-ahead to the 200 mile money pit that is HS2 — and also got serious about the idea of a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland. At a mere £20 billion, this would link somewhere outside Belfast with the heaving metropolis of Stranraer.
I’d like to propose a more modest engineering endeavour: a line in the sand. HS2 should be the last grand projet that gets approved by this government. Let’s have no more one-of-a-kind, all-or-nothing infrastructure schemes with out-of-control budgets.
Let’s concentrate on modular, micro-infrastructure instead. Projects whose key components are factory-produced commodities and where the experience gained through deployment can be reapplied over-and-over again (meaning that the more you build the cheaper it gets).
Furthermore, let’s make sure that if only part of a project is built, that part is still useful. For instance, half a bridge is not useful. Nor is half a nuclear power station or half a tower block. However, half a new fleet of buses will still get you somewhere. Half an offshore wind farm will still generate electricity. Half a street of houses can still be lived in.
The infrastructure we invest in should always give us options. The option of stopping, without writing-off the whole project, should costs escalate. Or the option of building more than originally planned, if things go especially well.
That way, the contractors and consultants have skin in the game — they are punished if they mess up, rewarded if they exceed expectations. But with big ticket infrastructure the boot is on the other foot. The purchaser (i.e. government) is at the mercy of the provider: pay more or lose it all.