Monday, February 12, 2018

Last Best Hopes

Definition of Fan

A fan is one who regards, or affects to regard, a book, comic or TV series as a record or description of a real person or real historical events.

A fan is one who sees individual episodes or comic books primarily as sources of pseudo-biographical or pseudo-historical information.

A fan is one who is more interested in whether a text is consistent from a pseudo-biographical or pseudo-historical point of view than in any literary, aesthetic or artistic merits that text might have.

You're Just Not the Man I Fell In Love With

Therefore the Valar may walk, if they will, unclad, and then even the Eldar cannot clearly perceive them, though they be present. But when they desire to clothe themselves the Valar take upon them forms some as of male and some as of female; for that difference of temper they had even from their beginning, and it is but bodied forth in the choice of each, not made by the choice, even as with us male and female may be shown by the raiment but is not made thereby.
The Silmarillion

It could so easily have made sense.

We could have decided from the outset that Time Lords were incorporeal intelligences. We could have said that they take on physical bodies when they need to interact with mortals; and that the form they take resembles the race they are interacting with: a human when talking to humans; a Silurian when talking to Silurians. We could have said that most Time Lords can put these bodies on and off at a whim but a few — especially the renegades — become attached to them. Of course these temporary bodies eventually wear out and need to be replaced.

This would have explained, at a stroke, why an ancient being from a fantastically sophisticated alien civilization is also a dotty English prof who likes cricket and jelly babies. It would be consistent with the First Doctor referring to his body as if it were a possession (”this old body of mine”); with the Fourth Doctor talking about “settling in” to his new body as if it were a new house; and with Romana talking about “trying on” and “wearing” new bodies as if they were clothes. It would explain why the Time Lords allowed the Second Doctor to choose his new appearance, and why the Watcher was really the Doctor all the time.

And it would deal nicely with the issue of gender. We don't know what Time Lords have in their pants, but they have the same secondary sexual characteristics as humans — breasts and beards and hips oh my. And they seem to have a very human attitude to gender presentation. The Doctor may be a bohemian and a dandy, but he wears neck-ties and shirts and cravats — never a skirt. Unless he’s in Scotland, obviously. Romana is ostentatiously feminine and Missy is positively camp. This makes quite a lot of sense if bodies have nothing to do with Time Lord's essential nature, but are merely things they choose to take on. An incorporeal intelligence isn’t masculine or feminine, any more than it is Northern or Scottish, but a particular body may happen to be one or the other. Missy’s exaggeratedly feminine clothes and the Doctor’s liking for cricket are examples of the same phenomenon: taking on a form which is more girly than a girl and more British than a Brit.

But this is not how we decided to do things. We decided that the Time Lords would be advanced human beings, with court rooms and affairs of state and harps and extremely silly hats.

My way would have made sense, and been consistent. But consistency is a straitjacket for writers. Not making sense turned out to be much more fun.

An Unwanted Opinion

My beloved Doctor Who shone on Christmas Day with an official figure of eight million viewers. I could cry that it's the end of a wonderful era, and political correctness has now ruined it forever after such a glorious swan song. No unwanted opinions please. 
Ian Levine

Some former Doctor Who fans are very cross about the BBC’s decision to cast Jodie Whittaker as the fifteenth incarnation of the Doctor. By which I mean, as the fourteenth Doctor. By which I mean, obviously, the sixteenth actor to play the Doctor on TV. Unless you count Comic Relief, in which case I mean the twenty-first.

Some former Doctor Who fans are very cross about the BBC’s decision to cast Jodie Whittaker as the thirteenth actor to be regularly billed as the eponymous character in the canonical TV series. Let’s not worry too much about the word “eponymous”.

Some of these former Doctor Who fans are are just nasty little boys who don’t want gurls in their treehouse. Some of them have a much wilder, political objection. The idiot who got up an actual petition against Jodie Whittaker's casting uses a lot of easily identifiable far-right code-words: the idea of a female Doctor was forced on the BBC by the “SJW community”; the idea that the Doctor has to be male is “common sense”. He mentions in passing that there are “only two genders” suggesting that he failed his German ‘O’ Level. And he thinks the series started in 1957. He isn’t actually concerned about Doctor Who as such: he objects to the idea that the Doctor could change gender because he objects to the idea that anyone could change gender. His distaste for Jodie Whittaker is simply a distaste for trans people. He sees the casting of a female Doctor is part of a wider PC/SJW plot to destroy civilization. He is a very silly man and I don’t know why I am paying any attention to him.

However, quite a number of the Jodie denialist community are worried about something much more serious than the end of civilization. They are worried about Doctor Who continuity. 

Here is one Tony Ingham on Twitter:

It doesn't make sense. It would make the Doctor leaving Susan on Earth to be with David criminally irresponsible if the poor guy was likely to wake up one day and find she'd become a bloke! And what about Leela and Andred? How could family relationships on Gallifrey even work?

I think “How might family relationships on Gallifrey work?” is a perfectly good question. In the same way that I think “What happened to Doctor Watson’s dog?” and “How many children had Lady Macbeth?” and “Was Mary Magdalene the beloved disciple?” are perfectly good questions. It is the kind of perfectly good question that can’t possibly have an answer, but that doesn't stop someone writing a really interesting essay or a really terrible short story about it.

But what state of mind would you have to be in to start from the premise that family relationships could never work if Time Lords are gender-fluid, that no solution is possible, and that a male-female regeneration is a good and adequate reason to give up watching Doctor Who forever? The casting of Jodie Whittaker breaks the entire text: a male Fourteenth Doctor won’t repair the damage. Once we have admitted that the Doctor can be a woman, the show called Doctor Who no longer exists.

First, you have to take the decision to treat seven hundred and something episodes of a TV show as if it was a single text: to treat Dalek Invasion of Earth and Twice Upon a Time as somehow part of the same story. This kind of fan often talks as if there was a single divinely inspired text of Doctor Who in heaven, and that the script writers merely channel that text. They don’t say “In Spearhead from Space, some jobbing writer made some shit up, partly as a joke and partly as a plot device, and over the years some other jobbing writers have kept the same joke going.” They say “In Spearhead from Space it was revealed that the Doctor had two hearts.” Revealed is an interestingly religious choice of words. 

Second, you have to be more interested in the one great story made up of every single episode of Doctor Who even the ones which haven’t been written yet than in the actual episode that we are watching right now. If a 2018 story says something that makes it impossible to believe in that one great story then you either have to pretend that the new story never happened, or else you have to admit that the one big story never actually existed in the first place and quit watching Doctor Who altogether.

I grant that some texts are meant to be read that way. It’s fair to assume that something which is true in Season 1 of Game of Thrones is still true in Season 7. It is perfectly sensible to rewatch the early episodes of The Good Place in the light of what you have learned from the later ones. Stan and Jack may have been stuffing their comics full of whatever nonsense seemed fun at the time, but various Thomas’s and Gruenwald’s worked fairly hard in the 1970s and 1980s to turn the whole thing into a halfway consistent shared universe. Anyone might read Spider-Man and wonder if Uncle Ben ever met Captain America during World War 2. But it's a deeply odd way of watching Doctor Who.

Next, you have to come up with a series of answers to which there are no sensible questions, and convince yourself that they represent some kind of absolute truth. Yes, indeed, the First Doctor had a companion called Susan Foreman and yes she did indeed call the Doctor “Grandfather”. And in one particular story the Doctor left her on earth because she wanted to marry David Cameron. Years after Susan had left the series, the idea that the Doctor sometimes physically changes from an older man into a younger man was plucked out of thin air. Years after that, someone else made the idea that he was a Time Lord up out of their heads. 

I was about to type “No canonical origin for Susan has ever been established.” But I don’t really mean that. What I mean is “No-one involved in the actual TV program either knew or cared how the idea of the Time Lords, or the Time War, or Regeneration would affect Susan Foreman, because she was a minor supporting character who no longer had any relevance to Doctor Who.

The more you think about it, the odder it becomes. The invention of regeneration in 1966 retrospectively gives Susan the power to regenerate (even though she is no longer in the series); the invention of the Time Lords in 1969 retrospectively turns her into a Time Lord (even though she is no longer in the series); the casting of Jodie Whittaker in 2018 retrospectively gives her the power to regenerate as a man (even though she is no longer in the series). And this is so axiomatic that it is now impossible to continue to watch Doctor Who.

Even on its own terms, the argument is pretty feeble. Despite canonical statements to the contrary, the First Doctor is now firmly established to have literally been the first Doctor: there were no previous versions of him which we haven’t seen. It has been firmly established that he was at one time a baby, then a boy and an adolescent and then an undergraduate. When we first meet him he's an old man of 60 or 70. Susan is physically and psychologically a teenager, and will presumably become a middle aged woman and an old lady before her current body wears out. The Doctor eventually gives his age as 450, so unless some centuries have passed between Tenth Planet and Tomb of the Cybermen he is much older than he looks, in which case Susan’s present incarnation will outlive David by centuries. 

So the problem isn’t “Susan might turn into a man”; the problem is “Susan is immortal and David is mortal.” If this is an irresolvable problem then the Who-text was broken when Leela married Andred; when the Doctor revealed himself to have mixed parentage; or when he first had a dalliance with Madam de Pompadour.  Human / Time Lord pairings are what should be utterly verboten.

If nothing else, it’s a weird view of human relationships. We can somehow accept that David Cameron might see a very elderly Susan morph into a much younger person (with a radically different personality) and be completely okay with that provided she retains the same physiological sex. But if she changed into a similar person, but with a flat chest and man's Thingie rather than a lady's Etcetera than his marriage would be over. And the fact that this is a conceptual possibility means that you can't ever watch Doctor Who again. 

You don’t think its possible that a married Time Lord might have some kind of choice about their gender, do you?

This question was directly addressed in the very first thing Steven Moffat ever wrote for Doctor Who. You will recall that the the Doctor carelessly regenerates into Joanna Lumley while he is engaged to marry his companion, Emma. The Doctor is fine with the wedding going ahead, but Emma isn't; so the Doctor is equally fine with them just being friends.

"Well, never mind. We can still rattle around the universe, fighting monsters and saving planets. What could be more fun? My best friend by my side, my trusty old TARDIS and, of course, my sonic screwdriver."

And that would strike me a being the answer that any non-crazy person would come up with. Granted that Time Lords marry and are given in marriage and granted that Time Lords sometimes regenerate and granted that regeneration sometimes involves a change of twiddly bits it is perfectly obvious that a Gallifreyan marriage is “til regeneration do we part”. If Andred regenerates while Leela is still alive, or if Susan regenerates when David is still alive, then the marriage is over. Sad, of course, for the survivor, but every marriage includes the possibility that one partner might die while the other is still young.

That explains why the Doctor never talks about his own wife and children. After his first regeneration he is literally dead to them. There is probably a taboo against meeting your previous incarnation’s lover. Remember the symbiots on Deep Space Nine?.

The Third Age of Fan

I must tell you all that, rewatching Babylon 5, it touches depths that Dr Who could never come close to approaching. The fact that no new B5 is being made is the greatest crime to television drama. JM Straczynski is the greatest writer of intelligent science fantasy in history 
Ian Levine

Perhaps the most prominent Jodie denialist is semi-professional Doctor Who fan Ian Levine. Mr Levine has a complicated position in Who history. For being one of those who, in the 1980s, prevented BBC archivists from destroying the surviving black and white episodes of Doctor Who, he deserves our thanks and respect. For having been fan-adviser on Attack of the Cybermen, not so much. 

He is so cross that the next Doctor is going to be a lady that he has announced through the medium of Twitter that he is never going to watch Doctor Who again, ever, ever, ever, and that in any case Babylon 5 was always better than Doctor Who and in fact the best science fiction story and the best TV series that there ever was or ever could be. "Unsuppassable" was the word he used.

It isn’t quite clear whether his objection to a female Doctor is political or canonical: he says that he has no problem with strong female characters, but that the Doctors themselves can only be men; but he also describes the casting as “politically correct”. But his sudden epiphany that Babylon 5 was always better than Doctor Who, and his embracing of it as a Who substitute is both wonderfully ironic and historically inevitable. A very, very long time ago — at the time of the Paul McGann movie, I wrote:

“The post-fan aspires to the condition where the person who has read the episode guides, memorized the synopsis, and learned the character stats for the role-playing game is at no disadvantage to the person who has actually watched the programme. Content is all, execution and artistic merit is nothing. Babylon 5 is the consummation of this approach.”

If I were writing the same essay now, I would have said that the Harry Potter books do the same thing even more successfully. Doctor Who fans have to struggle to make the Who-text make sense. For many of us, the absurdity of that struggle is precisely what makes it fun. Harry Potter and Babylon 5 come with their geek-potential pre-loaded. There are no silly questions: any continuity problem which occurs to you has almost certainly occurred to J.K Rowling and J. Michael Straczynski.

Doctor Who was never a very good match to Ian Levine’s approach. Babylon 5 will suit him much better. He has his reward. And I remain thankful that he stopped that archivist from wiping the Dead Planet.

Monday, February 05, 2018

I Might Be In The Swamp

"What are your politics?"
"Well, I am afraid really I have none. I am a Liberal."
"Oh, they count as Tories. They dine with us. Or come in the evening, at any rate."
The Importance of Being Earnest

An American once asked me if Tony Benn was a liberal.

“On the contrary," I replied  "He was on the left of the Labour party.”

To which the American riposted  “Oh, I thought he supported high taxation, socialized medicine, trade unions and fairly generous welfare spending and opposed the death penalty and nuclear weapons.”

“Yes,” said I “That’s what I mean by ‘on the the left of the Labour Party’”.

“Oh,” the fictitious American retorted “But that’s what I mean by ‘liberal.”

On November 18th, the Guardian published a short essay by the former leader of the British Liberal Democrats, under the headline “Liberalism has eaten itself — it isn’t very liberal any more.” 

Any fool can type “Christ was not a Christian” or “Marx was no Marxist”. It’s just a smart-arse way of saying “I don’t think that Jesus would have agreed with some of the doctrines which the Christian church now subscribes to” or “Present day leftists haven’t properly understood Karl Marx’s political ideas.” If Tim Farron had said that the Green party was no longer green, the Conservative Party was not interested in conserving things or that the Worker’s Revolutionary Party was neither Holy, Roman nor an Empire, we would all have understood perfectly well what he meant. 

But when Tim Farron types that liberalism is no longer “very” liberal he doesn’t mean that his party, the Liberal Democrats, has drifted away from the political ideas which it was founded to promote. What he appears to be saying is that there is a thing called liberalism, which is distinct from the liberal party. When this thing called liberalism exists in conjunction with Christianity it has a desirable quality which he calls…liberalism. But when Christianity is removed from that thing called liberalism, that quality called liberalism is lost. However, Christianity and liberalism are not the same thing.

The Athanasian Creed seems positively straightforward by comparison. 

Let us try to unpack the argument as best we can.

I: The Liberal party was founded by Christians - it grew out of the eighteenth and nineteenth century Protestant Non-Conformist movement

"British liberalism is founded in the battle for religious liberty. The nonconformist, evangelical Christian groups that were persecuted by a society that favoured adherence only to the established church built a liberal movement that championed much wider liberty, for women, for other religious minorities, nonreligious minorities, for cultural and regional minorities, for the poor and vulnerable."

A lot of the great liberals of the past were definitely Church of Wales, Unitarian or Methodist. And so were a lot of the great socialists and the great Tories. Tony Benn was fond of saying that the Labour Party owed more to Methodism than to Marx; Mrs Thatcher’s dad was a Methodist local preacher. Was there a special link between the liberals and the Non-Conformists? Or would it be more accurate to say that the Non-Conformists were more inclined than the Established Church to think it their Christian duty to change the world through secular, political action?

Tim is trying to make the point that there is no necessary contradiction between being an evangelical Christian and being a liberal. I am not sure how far claiming that the movement's origins were Christian (even if that is true) supports his case. Most people have a perception that evangelical Christians want laws against blasphemy and obscenity, whereas liberals are against censorship. They think that evangelicals want abortion and euthanasia to be against the law, but that liberals think that people should be free to make their own choices. They think that evangelicals believe that God gave men and women different roles whereas the liberals support the equality of the sexes. This is why they are “surprised and confused” when a liberal such as Tim Farron says that he is also an evangelical Christian. If this is a misconception, Tim could very easily have typed “That may have been true at one time, but evangelicalism has moved on: most of us are much more progressive on those kinds of issues than we used to be.”

But he doesn’t

II: Although the Liberal Party has lost the election, a separate thing called liberalism has “comprehensively triumphed” everywhere else. 

"Liberalism has apparently won. Even members of the Conservative and Labour parties call themselves liberals today. Let’s be honest, you can’t work in the media without being a liberal. Even most of the journalists who write for the rightwing press are in truth liberals."

"Despite my best efforts, the Liberal Democrats have not won. But irrespective of my efforts, liberalism has." 

Is it true that we are all liberals now? Many people would agree with Tim that you can’t work in the media without being a liberal. Many people would agree that liberals run even the so-called right-wing press. And many people do indeed believe in something they call the Liberal Elite.

But the people who talk about the liberal elite aren’t talking about an elite made up of members of the Liberal Democrats. They certainly aren’t saying that in order to work at the Daily Telegraph you have to believe in 200% council tax surcharges on second homes. Liberal, in this sense, simply means “of the left”. And it is almost always used in a pejorative sense. Indeed, most people who think that you have to be a liberal to work in the media (hello, Richard Littlejohn! can you hear me, Kathy Hopkins?) subscribe to a conspiracy theory in which the media is controlled by a secret society known as the SJW or the Cultural Marxists.

Liberal, in this pejorative, American sense doesn’t imply beliefs which are particularly left-wing by British standards. A liberal, in this sense, believes that women should be paid the same as men, that evolution and climate change are real things, and that everyone should be allowed to go to the doctor if they get sick. The far right call this “leftie” or “PC” or “liberal” or “SJW”. The rest of us call it "what everyone believes in nowadays."

If Tim wants to adopt this usage, then he is free to do so. If we define “liberalism” as “views which are not on the extreme right” then it is certainly true that everyone except the extreme right is now a liberal. 

3: However, there is some analogy between this triumph of liberalism and the conversion of Rome to Christianity in 313 AD, which Tim takes for granted was a Bad Thing.

“Yet its triumph is hollow, just as Christianity’s apparent triumph was hollow when it became the state religion of the Roman empire.”

“My experience is that although liberalism has won, it is now behaving like the established church of the empire in the fourth and fifth centuries. It has gained ascendancy and lost itself in the process.”

This is a very odd thing for a self-proclaimed Bible believing Christian to say. I understand why a conspiracy theorist like Dan Brown might think that Jesus was just a new age hippy mystic until Nasty Constantine deified him in order to sell his new faith to the pagans. I understand why a, er, liberal theologian like Giles Fraser would think that the historical Jesus was basically a Corbynite social reformer and that the doctrines of the Atonement and the Resurrection are part of a vicious death-cult invented by Wicked Constantine in 325. But why should an evangelical think that the conversion of Rome was a disaster? Surely it was the post 313 Church that established the text and canon of the Bible they hold so dear? And surely it was the post 313 church that formalized the doctrines and creeds that they are so committed to?

Would Tim Farron rather we were all Arians?

I fear that there is a very dodgy sectarian undercurrent to this. I am very much afraid that evangelicals identify the ancient Roman church with the present day Roman Catholic church, and believe that Roman Catholics are “not Christian” or at any rate “not very Christian”. I fear that they believe that the Protestant Reformation — specifically, whatever sect they happen to belong to — restored the primitive apostolic faith. And I suppose that Tim Farron wants to wrest primitive liberalism back from these nasty fake liberals with their newspapers and their temples and their idolatry. 

IV: Because many liberals are not Christians, liberalism has lost a quality which it once had. This quality Tim calls "liberalism". 

"In discarding Christianity, we kick away the foundations of liberalism and democracy and so we cannot then be surprised when what we call liberalism stops being liberal."

"My experience is that although liberalism has won, it is now behaving like the established church of the empire in the fourth and fifth centuries. It has gained ascendancy and lost itself in the process. It isn’t very liberal any more."

I am pretty sure what Tim Farron is not saying here. He is not saying that the liberals (in the first sense, the Liberal Democrat Party) have ceased to believe in raising income tax by 1p to pay for the health service. He is not even saying that liberalism (in the second sense, the near universal progressive consensus) has ceased to believe in progressive values. He is claiming that liberalism has lost one specific defining liberal characteristic. The salt has lost its savour and Tim Farron knoweth wherewith it can be salted. 

I will accept for the sake of argument that liberalism emerged from the eighteenth and nineteenth century Non-Conformist movement; I will allow him to conflate Non-Conformism with evangelicalism, and I will even swallow the implication that the fourth century Roman Church and the nineteenth century Church of England are "establishment" Churches in a somehow analogous way. 

What I will not accept is that because liberalism was originally Christian, it follows that liberalism is irreducibly Christian. It certainly doesn’t follow that if you “discard” Christianity -- if some liberals are also catholics or atheists -- that you “kick away the foundations” of liberalism. You might as well say that because the Freemasons were originally a guild who built Cathedrals then building Cathedrals is what Freemasonry is all about and your local lodge is no longer very masonic. 

I think that what is happening here is simple metaphor-abuse. I am reminded of the pundits who argued that since marriage is the foundation of our society, allowing lesbians to get married will cause society to fall down. 

It might be that liberalism has some hidden premise that only works if you believe in sola scripture and baptism by total immersion. But Tim would need to demonstrate this. He isn't allowed to take it for granted.

So what is this quality called liberalism which is present when Christianity is present, but absent when Christianity is absent?

Ladies and gentlemen, the true definition of liberalism is…

(loud fanfare and drum roll) 

….freedom of speech. 

“What is at the heart of a liberal society? It is to uphold that we have a right to offend and a duty to tolerate offense. George Orwell said: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.””

Is that truly what he believes? Is that the one quality which makes liberalism liberal, which modern liberalism has lost? Is that the quality which disappears from liberalism when the majority of liberals stop being Methodists? And indeed, is there the slightest evidence that evangelical Christians are any more inclined than anyone else to say that they don’t agree with Jerry Springer the Opera or Monty Python’s Life of Brian but they will defend to the death those works right to be heard?

Oh, and did you spot the way that when George Orwell said "liberty" Tim Farron heard "liberalism"?

I don’t know if freedom of speech is at the heart of a liberal society, because I don’t really know what “at the heart of...” means. It is a classic preacher’s cliche. Clergymen are always telling us that improved street lighting on the Putney High Street should be right at the heart of our Christmas celebrations and that the problem of drug misuse in the under twelves is at the very heart of our Christian witness.

If free speech is at the heart of a liberal society, does that mean that it is the most important thing: that we should be prepared to sacrifice other things in order to secure it? Or does it mean that free speech is the good thing on which all other good things depend — that unless you secure free speech you will never secure any other reform?

I think that freedom of speech is one of a number of Good Things which need to be balanced against each other. I don’t think that freedom of speech is more important than universal enfranchisement. I would never have said “Well, it’s a shame that women are still not allowed to vote, but at least they are allowed to say offensively nasty things about men.” I don’t think that freedom of speech is the freedom from which all other freedoms derive. I don’t think that you have to fight for the right of offensively bigoted people to say offensively bigoted things before you can start to work towards racial equality.

Both ideas sound like nonsense to me. But perhaps they don’t sound like nonsense to Tim Farron. Perhaps that is why I am a Corbyn-supporting reformist and he is a Liberal Democrat. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats are and always have been the Freedom Of Speech Party.

In what way has this freedom to be offensive, this right to tell people things they do not want to hear, been withdrawn?

Tim cites two pieces of evidence.

First, social media. "Liberalism has eaten itself" turns out to mean “some people on Twitter can sometimes be a bit awful.”

“Five minutes on social media will give you a window into a society that condemns and judges, that leaps to take offence and pounces to cause it – liberals condemning those who don’t conform as nasty and hateful, the right condemning liberals as fragile snowflakes.”

I invite the reader to examine this claim very closely indeed. Note that Tim again adopts the American usage where liberal is the opposite of the right and the right is the opposite of liberal. Even granted this usage, you would expect him to say "the right condemns liberals and liberals condemn the right”. Instead, while we are all looking the other way, he performs his rhetorical masterstroke.  “The right condemns liberals and liberals condemn those who don’t conform.

Those who don’t conform.

It isn’t that liberals say that white supremacists and rape apologists and people who think that wheelchair users should be barred from going to school are nasty and hateful because nasty and hateful is what they in fact are. Liberals are calling them bad names because liberals don’t like people who won’t conform.

Note the subtle way he brings everything back to non-conformism, which is where we started. The true liberals, refusing to conform to the liberal consensus on the internet, are like the Anabaptists, refusing to conform to the protestant consensus in the Church of England. The liberals on the internet, shocked when someone says that secondary modern students are little different from cavemen, are like the fake Christians who made a pact with Caesar. Any one who deviates from received opinion is a non-conformist, and every non-conformist is a liberal. So the brave soul who is prepared to come right out and call a spade a nigg-nogg is the true liberal and the person who tells him that we don’t want that kind of language round here is not a liberal at all.

(There is also a sort of a pun going on around the dual meaning of "non-conformist". Non-Conformist has a specific religious meaning; but it can also just mean "anyone who won't fit in".  Not all non-conformists are Non-Conformists. And most Non-Conformists were rather conventional folk.)

Then we get an odd digression on “shared values”. 

“People talk about shared values today – I’ve done it myself. But when they do, what they mean is: “These are my values – and I am going to act as though they are also yours, and will demonstrate contempt for you if you depart from them"…..The cultural leaders of our day have made the arrogant and fatal assumption that we have these shared liberal values, and have sought to enforce them via John Stuart Mill’s hated tyranny of opinion.”

Is this true? Is this what people mean when they say “shared values”? Is this what Tim meant? Did he truthfully declare some idiosyncratic private belief of his own  to be a value that everyone shared and then try to enforce it? Are consensus progressive values merely the personal whims of a handful of individuals which have been forced on the majority by the minority? Is it really so arrogant of me to assume that everyone round the table agrees that black people and white people should have the same civil rights? Wouldn’t showing my contempt be the very mildest possible reaction if it turned out that someone at the table supported slavery or didn't think that Muslims should have freedom of worship?

But this is the claim. The people in charge -- the Establishment, the Emperor, Twitter -- have a set of rules, and if you deviate from those rules you risk of.....being disapproved of and called bad names.

And the people at risk from this terrible fate are....people who aren’t sufficiently liberal.

Don’t believe anything you may have read about Gamergate and the Puppies issuing rape and death threats to what-they-call SJWs and what-they-call feminazis. What we need to fear is the baying mob of consensus progressives.

And that, of course, is what this is all about.

There was once a  politician -- let's call him "Tim" -- who was also, confusingly and surprisingly, an evangelical Christian. And he dissented from the consensus by saying that he thought that it was a sin to be gay. And everyone in the liberal media judged the poor politician. They condemned him and demonstrated contempt for him. He was despised and rejected of Twitter, a man of sorrow and acquainted with John Humphries.

So he went home, and tried to come up with a way of defining the word liberal such that the people who said that gay sex was forbidden by God were the liberal ones, and the people who said that it was fine to be gay were not true liberals.

So he decided that judge not lest thee be judged was the whole of the law. And so it turned out if the liberals had really been liberals they would have tolerated his intolerance and not said that he was hateful and nasty for thinking that a whole section of the population were going to hell.

Because if liberalism doesn’t mean the right to call one lot of people sinners without another lot of people looking down on you then it doesn’t mean anything at all.