Millennials won't save us — but the neuro-diverse might
One of the strangest progressive slogans of recent years is the one that goes “we are the granddaughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn”. It’s plainly untrue — in most cases the people repeating it are the granddaughters of the people who lit the fire and cheered as the witches screamed.
Having unpopular opinions is stressful. Just as being a member of an ethnic minority in a neighbourhood raises the risk of mental illness, so does being a political minority.
This is why professions and institutions can so easily go through a purity spiral where people with minority opinions leave, or retreat into quietism – because most normal, healthily-socialised people don’t like to be hated.
Resisting prevailing cultural norms and beliefs is hard, even in 21st century western societies, which are arguably the most non-conformist in history. Most people have their lives to get on with.
In The Final Pagan Generation Edward Watts recalled how the cohort growing up in the mid-4th century watched, helplessly, as their culture was overwhelmed by the tidal wave of Christianity. Bit by bit, decree by decree, their religious supremacy and then freedom was hacked away, but:
I’m sure lots of Roman traditionalists expected the young to rebel against this strange cult of a Galilean Jew, yet within a couple of generations, their ancient religion had disappeared, and to even admit to being a worshipper of Jupiter was to become a social pariah. If your rivals control society’s taboos, as Christianity did by now, it makes it extremely hard to fight them.
Today progressivism also controls society’s taboos, which is why it’s extremely hard to argue against its beliefs and its policy ideas; people who do so fear losing their jobs and at best are just sidelined. (For any progressive reading this, many supposedly outrageously beyond-the-pale Right-wing beliefs are secretly shared by far more people than you imagine, it’s just that most normal human beings don’t want their lives made a misery.)
The social acceptability issue is also why so many of the prominent conservative talking heads appear like monstrosities; it takes a certain sort of person to say the unsayable, often attention-seekers, narcissists or the highly disagreeable. Witches, in other words.
When William Harvey proved that a witch’s toad was just a toad, she wasn’t grateful for ending the stigma of witchcraft. She wanted to be known as a witch, loving the attention and notoriety.
Today she’d probably be trending every few days on Twitter, abused by the self-proclaimed granddaughters of witches.
But witches aren’t the only ones who reject the new order. Progressivism already suffers from what Swedish academic Carl Ritter called “hegemonic degeneration”, that when a belief becomes established, made flabby by institutional protection, then the genuinely interesting and intellectually curious will look for something else.
The most intelligent people coming out of university now often seem to be, if not conservative, then at least critical of the new faith (not necessarily from the Right). But it also seems to me, at least, that many of the most intelligent critics appear to be somewhere on the autistic spectrum, which makes them far more interested in truth than social acceptability. Perhaps it is with the neuro-diverse that our future hopes rests.