Friday, December 04, 2020

Britannia perdere!

Some people believe in conspiracy theories. Probably we all believe in them to some extent: we’re all inclined to say that The Tories; or Momentum; or the BBC are more to blame for the vicissitudes of life then is literally plausible.

The Government makes decisions which effect the economy; those decisions make things easier or harder for businesses; some businesses may have to close in hard times. If I say “The bloody Tories closed my favourite coffee shop” I am not telling the literal truth; but you probably understand why I said it.

Suppose someone says “The park bench has been removed by the fascist Tories who hate working class people sitting down”. Or suppose they say “The park bench has been removed by the Commies who think everything pleasant and enjoyable is inefficient”. Or maybe they say “The park bench has been removed by the forces of Political Correctness because Common Sense that parks should have benches and the Political Correctness Brigade always do what is contrary to Common Sense.” In each case, they are using “Tories” “Commies” and “Political Correctness” to generically mean the “wrong people” or indeed “other people”. It is very unlikely to have been fascists, commies or the Frankfurt Group who decided to rearrange the furniture in St Andrews Park. That the bench has been taken away remains a literal fact. That it would have been nice to leave it where it was is a perfectly valid opinion.

If a man says on Monday that the coffee shop was closed because of the Bavarian Illuminati, and on Tuesday that the bench was taken away by the Bavarian Illuminati, and on Wednesday that all the surgical masks that should have gone to nurses have been requisitioned by the Bavarian Illuminati, I should be inclined to think that he believes in the existence of the Bavarian Illuminati. But I would probably give only a limited amount of my time and energy to telling him that the Bavarian Illuminati, though real, were a seventeenth century masonic club with no actual power.

Is the man who attributes everything which annoys him to the Bavarian Illuminati annoyed by the same things which annoy everyone else? Does he see eye-in-the-pyramid where the rest of us see cock-up? Or does his belief in the Ancient Illuminated Seers of Bavaria determine the kinds of things by which he is annoyed? Do his fellow Illuminati Conspiracy Theorists share the same concerns? Does, in fact, his belief in Illuminati affect his behaviour in any way at all?

You meet a certain kind of pentecostalist Christian who sees the Devil wherever she looks. But that can go in two directions. She may believe that Satan has given her a migraine; and that the tablets the doctor gave her will make Satan go away. She may say that the very serious conversation she had with her teenaged son has temporarily driven away the demon that was tempting him to take marijuana. “Satan” is the word she uses to talk about illness and destructive behaviour. It is pretty much just her word for “bad thing”.

On the other hand, she may believe that Satan specifically manifests himself in candle flames; so that when she discovers a scented candle in her son's bedroom she destroys all his possessions and calls in a team of pastors to perform an exorcism. She may think that same-sex attraction is caused by Satan, and the way of driving the gay demon out of a teenaged boy is to hit him, over and over again, terribly hard. In this case “Satan” is a specific belief which drives her to do things that people who do not believe in Satan would regard as eccentric or harmful.

A thing is not necessarily true because the D**** M**** opposes it.

A thing is not necessarily false because the D**** M**** supports it.

It’s a good rule of thumb, though.

There are legitimate differences of opinion within the Great Virus Discourse. Two sensible people may disagree about the facts: how much good do face-masks do? Are children contagious? Can a person who has had the Virus once catch it again? Even when there is a general agreement about the data, there can still be a legitimate difference of opinion about how you balance two or more competing goods and how you assess complex risks. Some people will always say “I would rather accept a small risk of getting sick and dying than accept a large curtailment of my freedom — particularly if it is not me personally who is taking the risk”. Other people will always say “I am prepared to sacrifice some freedom in order to reduce my risk of getting sick and dying — particularly if it is not me personally who is having my freedom reduced.”

The Woke Utopia and the Political Correctness Brigade and the Social Justice Warriors are every bit as fictional as the Bavarian Illuminati. (The Devil I will leave strictly alone.) Does a person’s belief in one of these fictional entities affect where they place themselves within the Virus Discourse? Or are their beliefs only a habit of speech? Is the man who says “Face masks are Woke” or “Face masks are Political Correctness Gone Mad” saying anything more than the man who says “Face mask make my glasses steam up”?

P**** H******* has written extensively in the D**** M**** about The Virus.

I have picked two of his essays, more or less at random, as a sample.

I fully accept that I may have picked two unrepresentative weeks, and that the rest of the time he may be the very embodiment of sweet moderation. These are the two texts I have chosen.

May 23rd: “The New Authoritarian State’s Dream Has Come True Thanks To the Repulsive Word Lockdown. They’ve Made Us All Prisoners.”

June 14th: “From the lockdown to the destruction of statues, these febrile weeks show the pillars of our freedom and civilisation are rotten. As the Left now controls every lever of power, we face nothing less than regime change.”

As I say: his other essays may be the very embodiment of sweet moderation.

Both articles make some fair points which anybody might make. The May 23rd article eventually gets round to saying that the rules during the first wave of lockdown were a little ambiguous, and the police were at first rather officious and arbitrary in the way they enforced them. The June 14th article reaches the conclusion that Boris Johnson has not handled the crisis terribly well and that he has not performed well in parliament and as a result may lose the 2024 general election to Keir Starmer. But these banal claims are supported by a complex superstructure of conspiracy theory and magical thinking.

There seem to be three core beliefs.

1: Language has magic power. Names reveal the true nature of things; things’ nature can be changed by giving them new names.

2: Behind every event, there is always malign intent. There is no cock-up: there is only conspiracy.

3: At the heart of every conspiracy there lies, er, Tony Blair.

If there is a riot or other emergency in an American prison, the inmates may be confined to their cells. This is described as “lockdown”. The term is also used during a terrorist incident at an airport, or if a man with a gun is threatening school children. (It can also be used to mean “stop gap measure”, as in “try and lock down the engine until we get to the next garage”.)

H******* believes that the original meaning of the word reveals its true meaning, and therefore the true intentions of those using it. (This has been called the etymological fallacy.) Since the coronavirus quarantine was widely referred to as a “lockdown”, and since the term “lockdown” originates in the prison system, it follows that quarantine has turned citizens into prisoners. The people who introduced quarantine consciously intended to turn citizens into prisoners: the pandemic was a pretext to do what they wanted to do in any case.

The use of the word has changed reality: because we have accepted the use of the word “lockdown” we have accepted our new status as prisoners. This change is irrevocable. Even if the lockdown is eventually lifted, we will by definition only be like prisoners on parole.

“We will never get out of this now. It will go on for ever. We will not be free people again. Even when we seem to be free we will be like prisoners on parole, who can be snatched back to their cells at a moment’s notice.”

A claim that the centre ground of British politics might have shifted somewhat to the left in the last twenty five years might not be all that controversial. But H******* describes this shifting of the Overton window as “regime change”: the expression used to describe the military overthrow of a dictator by a foreign power. A change of prevailing opinion is therefore transformed into a coup.

Most of us would think that, if some angry demonstrators were threatening to destroy a statue, then putting barriers around the statue so they can’t get near it would be a sensible idea. H******* magically transposes this into an act of tacit approval: comparable to Neville Chamberlain’s attempt to contain and placate Adolf Hitler.

“This is why the memorial to Winston Churchill, and the Cenotaph itself, were shamefully boarded up on Thursday night – an act of appeasement if ever there truly was one.”

Poppies, Easter Eggs, the words of the National Anthem, the term “Happy Christmas”: left versus right politics is often fought out through the medium of symbols. I don’t know how “face masks” became the current locus of the struggle between liberals and conservatives; but they have.

There are some substantial points to be made about mask-wearing: but H******* doesn’t make them. Instead he says that masks “have been described as being as much use against a microscopic virus as a chain-link fence would be against mosquitoes.” Yes: and leeches have been described as a sovereign remedy against the pox; and seaweed has been described as an infallible means of forecasting the weather. But has it been described as such by anyone remotely qualified to have an opinion? The claim that masks are no help because a microscopic virus could jump through holes in the fabric is risible. If you sneeze or cough or shout you might propel drops of saliva into the air; the virus can inhabit the water droplets; wearing a mask reduces the risk of that happening. It would be like using a chain link fence to protect yourself from mosquitos if the mosquitos were all driving tractors.

But H******* does not speak of masks. He says “users of trains will be compelled to wear muzzles”. He isn’t particularly complaining that masks are uncomfortable and inconvenient. He isn’t asking for the science to back up the wearing of masks. He isn’t questioning if the laws are proportionate to the danger. He is worried about the symbolism.

“We have become muzzled, mouthless, voiceless, humiliated, regimented prisoners, shuffling about at the command of others, stopping when told to stop, moving when told to move, shouted at by jacks-in-office against whom we have no appeal.”

If we call the quarantine a “lockdown” then citizens become prisoners. If we call a shift in the Overton window a “regime change” than the country is under attack. If we frame “putting up some barriers” as “appeasement” then the government is capitulating with our country’s enemies. And if we are told to cover up our mouths in confined spaces to reduce the risk of coughing on other people, we have had our mouths and voices removed.

It is as if we are all wizards in the Alan Moore mould, and a battle is being fought out in Idea Space.

Who are these appeasers who have made us prisoners and deprived us of our mouths? H******* talks of a group called The State, The Strong State, The Authoritarian State and The Elites: this seems to be distinct from Mr Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party. The Elites (lets call them that) regard quarantines and masks as good things in themselves. The new rules represent the way this organisation has always wanted the country to be run: they positively want to impose curfews, ban gatherings, and place people who haven’t done anything under house arrest. The coronavirus has provided it with a convenient pretext. The quarantine, he says, is an “induction period” to familiarise citizens with the idea that they are prisoners; as a preliminary stage to an even more drastic loss of freedom.

This is, he argues, the Same Kind of Thing as the restrictions which followed the terrorist attacks in 2001 and 2005. The anti-terrorist laws were the kinds of laws which The Elites wanted to bring in any case. Al Quedia was only ever “a bogeyman”: a fictional being who parents use to encourage young children to behave.

He does not go so far as to say that coronavirus is a mere bogeyman. He does, however, put scare quotes around the word “emergency” and talk about the “fictitious R number.”

Who is this Elite, and what is its reason for wanting to stop people going to parks and sneezing on each other? It is not Boris Johnson or the Conservative government. It seems to be a force in and of itself. It is envisaged as an Enemy Within which has been “growing in our midst for decades”.

People sometimes live together without getting married. Middle class people who have been to college sometimes find it hard to get jobs. The Church, the Opposition and the Queen are weaker than they were 50 years ago. This has allowed The Elites to finally show their hand. It isn’t clear what he thinks that the Queen was doing to Ted Heath in 1970 that she isn’t doing to Boris Johnson today, or in what way Harold Wilson was doing a better job than Kier Starmer.

“But now the new Strong State, growing in our midst for decades, has finally become powerful enough to emerge in all its naked nastiness. Or rather, all the proper institutions of a civil society have grown so weak that the Strong State can now get its way….The married family, the independent middle-class, able to make a decent living on the basis of hard-won qualifications, the political parties, Parliament itself, the Opposition, the Monarchy, the Armed Forces, the Church (pathetically anxious to close itself), the Civil Service, most of the media, the BBC, are just husks of what they were 50 years ago.”

Perhaps The Elites is an endless chain of masters and apprentices who are at this moment recruiting a clone army.

One concrete allegation is that the police have been illegitimately used to impose government policy during lockdown, rather than simply enforce the letter of the law. Well: it has always been the job of the police to encourage civil behaviour — to represent “order” as well as “law”. If P.C Plod sees some children being naughty he tells them they mustn’t and sees they get home safely, even if strictly speaking no law is being broken. “‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello let’s be ‘avin yer, you know it ain't safe to ‘ave more than three people at a picnic, I’m going to be back in ten minutes and gawd ‘elp yer if your still ‘ere” seems to be very much in the realms of what we expect British Bobbies to do. There are anecdotal claims that, back in March, some officers were not that clear where the line between “what the government advises” and “what is against the law” was drawn. But is it true that The Police, as a homogenous blob, have been “shouting angrily and menacingly at innocent citizens that they must go home, and that if they do not, they are killing people”? One high court judge, Lord Sumpton, likened the government’s use of the police in the early days of the quarantine to that of a police state: but he was making a very specific claim that police were being used to enforce policy which didn’t have legal force behind it. The government were in that specific respect acting as if we were a police state. We do not become the thing simply because someone has used the word.

A person might kneel down for any number of reasons. Anglicans kneel to receive Holy Communion; Muslims kneel and face Mecca; people learning Judo kneel out of respect for the dojo; men sometimes kneel when they want to ask ladies to marry them. People also kneel down to paint the skirting board or look for a lost contact lens.

Anyone can find out that in the modern political context taking a knee is not an act of worship, but an act of defiance and resistance. Some black American athletes chose to kneel, rather than stand, during the National Anthem as a protest against racism in the United States. That is what taking a knee means because that is what people who take a knee mean by it.

Contrary to what Matt Hancock believes, the term taking a knee does not come from Game of Thrones: the expression used in the TV show is very specifically bending the knee. I have only ever heard the term take a knee — as opposed to kneeling down or on bended knee — used in this specific political context.

H******* choses to imbue the action with a different meaning. His own meaning. He has unilaterally reframed an act of resistance as an act of submission.

“That is why police chiefs kneel like conquered slaves to the new gods of woke, and the leaders of the Labour Party do likewise”

(L******* F**, who Jonathan Pie doesn’t believe for one moment is a racist, similarly says that “anyone who asks you to take the knee wants power over you, nothing more.”)

Taking a knee does not mean what the people who take a knee say it means: taking a knee means what I say it means.

But what does woke mean? No-one can tell me. When I say “Woke means being insufficiently racist” they say “No, no, no it doesn’t mean that at all.” Sometimes they say that it means that anti-racism has gone too far. We used to be too racist; then we were just the right amount racist; now we are not racist enough. This sounds racist to me. Sometimes they say that it is a form of insanity. Sometimes they say it just means being a bit patronising. The word Orwellian is much overused. But being very strongly against a thing without being able to say what that thing is seems to me to be the very definition of Newspeak.

The Alt-Right are much concerned with what-they-call Political Correctness and Cultural Marxism. They weirdly connect it with Critical Theory and Deconstruction: modern literature departments, they say, think that words can mean anything they want them to mean. Taking a symbol which means one thing; coming up with a different thing which it might mean; and asserting that all the people who use that symbol believe in the new thing you just made up is a disconcertingly post-modernist tactic. .

If I said that the Cornish Nationalists wanted to abolish Britain, I guess you would know what I meant: they think that the nation of Britain should be dissolved into a number of smaller countries — Cornwall, Yorkshire, Wales, and so on. It is literally true that the Confederacy wanted to “abolish” the United States; and since “the U.S” and “America” are often used interchangeably, you could, without sounding completely mad, say “people who wish that the South had won the Civil War want to abolish America.” If I say that one side in the Referendum wanted to abolish Europe, you would understand me to mean that they wanted to dissolve the European Union, not that they hoped that the whole landmass would sink beneath the waves.

But what could it possibly mean to say the Black Lives Matter protestors are “ignorant armies who seek the final abolition of Britain”? (The final abolition: we have already gone part of the way to abolishing it.) The reliably unhinged M****** P******* said that the Black Lives Matter movement is dedicated to the “destruction of white society”. 

White society!

In certain kinds of pagan practice, a Priest-King was believed to literally be a god; and the god was believed to literally be the land. The health of the Divine-Priest-King and the health of the land were therefore the same. This is one of the things which the legend of the Holy Grail may originally have been about. The land is infertile because the King is infertile: find the Grail and the King will get his bollocks back. (This theory was one of the chief causes of T.S Eliot.) Some people feel at some gut-level that Winston Churchill is Britain; and that by desecrating the statue of Churchill you are slaying the god-king and bringing Britain to an end. Certainly some people act as if they think the existence of Bristol is mystically bound up in the statue of a particular seventeenth century businessman. Remove the statue of Colston a Bristol comes to an end. 

More prosaically: Britain and the history of Britain are indistinguishable. If any part of the country’s history is criticised or regretted or reinterpreted the country has come to an end. You can’t say the Colston was a slave trader without dissing the whole of history, the whole country, and anyone who has ever lived here. You can’t say that Winston Churchill had appalling views about Imperialism and lessor nations without spoiling the spirit of the Blitz, Vera Lynne and V.E Day. This is consistent with the idea that taking a knee is not a political protest, but an act of idolatry.

“That is why these strange crowds have begun to gather round ancient and forgotten monuments, demanding their removal and destruction. They do not know what they want, or understand what they are destroying. But that no longer matters. They think their moment has come, and they may well be right”

think I can now have a go at articulating how the theory works. 

Stay with me.

1: The movement to remove monuments to supposedly racist historical figures and the Coronavirus quarantine are the same kind of thing.

2: Everyone was much sadder than they should have been when Princess Diana died. Everyone was much more frightened than they should have been when the Twin Towers were destroyed. Being too sad when a celebrity dies and being too scared of terrorists are the same kind of thing.

3: Being too scared and too frightened are the same kind of thing as political dictatorships: both involve telling other people what to do. Everyone was forced to be sad about Princess Di and everyone was forced to be afraid of terrorists whether they wanted to or not.

4: So we can refer to these metaphorical dictatorships as the Dictatorship of Grief and the Dictatorship of Security.

5: We are more scared of The Virus than we need to be. This is the same kind of thing as being too sad about Di and too scared of terrorists. We could refer to this as the Dictatorship of Fear. So by the laws of magical thinking, we can say that we are now living in a Dictatorship.

6: Being told that you have to wear a mask or you will get fined is the same kind of thing as being told you have to wear a school uniform or you will get detention. Schoolboys dislike uniforms; dogs dislike muzzles: by the law of magical thinking, the new rules about face masks have reduced us to the status of children or animals.

7: This is intentional: The Virus is a pretext to (symbolically or magically) remove our freedom.

8: This symbolic or magical transformation of citizens into prisoners, dogs, or schoolboys has been perpetrated by The Establishment; The State or simply the Government.

9: However, a separate group, called The Radical Left or Forces Hostile To This Country have exploited our new symbolically servile status. The FHTTC have (by means of further magic) converted American anger at the killing of George Lloyd into outrage against the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol.

10: The police could and should have done more to stop the destruction of the statue.

11: Since they did not, the police tacitly approved the destruction of the statue.

12: It follows that the Police are controlled or infiltrated by the FHTTC.

13: The destruction of the statue demonstrates the weakness of the Old Establishment and the strength of the New Establishment. At the beginning of the essay, the baddies were the government and civil service who insisted that people wear masks on trains. Now the enemy are young black people who want to destroy racist symbols. But destroying statues and wearing masks are the same kind of thing -- part of a symbolic/magic attack on Britain.

14: Some people were quite cross when J.K Rowling apparently endorsed the view that trans women were not really women and shouldn’t be allowed to go to the lavatory in restaurants. This proves that it is no longer possible to say that trans women are not really women...even though she did.

15: Some people say that when they stop reading someone on Twitter, they are “cancelling them”. By the law of magical thinking, we can say that “cancelling” someone on Twitter is the same thing as literally destroying them or obliterating them in real life.

“Anyone, as she learned last week, can now be ‘cancelled’ – the new radicals’ chilling word for the obliteration they like to visit on their victims.” (J.K Rowling still has 14.2 million Twitter followers, so she can’t have been as obliterated as all that.)

15: The FHTTC do not, in fact believe that trans women are women; or at any rate it is not possible to find out if they do. You can’t ever know if you are saying the right thing or the wrong thing: obliteration and cancellation is an end in itself.

16: To summarise: the Elites turned us all into mute, childish, servile, prisoners: the FHTTC exploited this by destroying Britain and obliterating J.K Rowling. But this is only a stepping stone towards the final phase of the masterplan. Behind the FHTCC lurk…The Blairite Legions.

17: Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson were “eurocommunists”

18: Kier Starmer has joined the taking a knee protests. It follows that he is a Blairite, and therefore a communist, because taking a knee is about begging for favours from the most recent versions of the accepted creeds: he “kneels in supplication to the New Orthodoxy.” It isn’t quite clear what the New Orthodoxy is, but Kier Starmer supplicates the hell out of it. Note how, once again, we can magically make symbols mean whatever we want them to mean.

“I pointed out that Labour’s smoothie Mandelsonian and Blairite Eurocommunists were far more dangerous than Jeremy Corbyn’s crude and obvious Marxism....Now, when Sir Keir Starmer (another one of those who dallied with a Trotskyist sect in the 1980s) kneels in supplication to the new orthodoxy, who wants to tell me he is a ‘moderate’?”

19: Boris Johnson is weak and incompetent and will certainly lose the next election. Kier Starmer will not be as cautious as Blair was: as a result, in 2024, there will be a full-on communist coup, comparable to Russia in 1917. Since the police, the schools, and the civil service are already controlled by the Left, there will be no resistance, and this new Starmerite Euro Communist State will remain in power for at least two generations.

“The Johnson Government is now just keeping Downing Street warm for Sir Keir and his Blairite legions. But this will be far worse than 1997, when the Blairites moved softly and cautiously, nervous that they might rouse the Forces of Conservatism. For the past few weeks have also demonstrated that all the pillars of British freedom and civilisation are hollow and rotten, and that we are ripe for a sweeping cultural revolution as devastating as the one Lenin and Dzerzhinsky launched in Petrograd in 1917.”

And all because some people find that breath masks make their glasses steam up.

Do you disapprove of gay people because you believe in Satan: or do you describe gay people as Satanic because you disapprove of them?

Does your fear of Political Correctness cause you to object to providing wheelchair access to theatres; or do you call wheel chair ramps Politically Correct because you disapprove of them?

Do you hate the government because they are hiding the evidence for Flying Saucers; or is the Roswell Cover-Up really just a metaphor for your intrinsic distrust of government?

Do you find face masks annoying and decide that the people who want you to wear face masks are deliberately trying to annoy you? Or are you annoyed by face masks because you already believed that the government likes annoying people?

If you believe that the Illuminati are running the world, then you see the Illuminati everywhere. If Kier Starmer is doing well: Kier Starmer must be an Illuminati. Contra wise, if Jeremy Corbyn did badly: Jeremy Corbyn cannot have been an Illuminati.

Mask are annoying: masks must be an invention of the Illuminati. 

Why do the Illuminati want me to wear masks? It must be because they don’t like free speech. Or want me to look like a dog. Or a slave. Or maybe there are mind control drugs in the material.

The precise enemy changes. The Jews; the Commies; the Gay Agenda. The telepathic alien lizards. FHTTC; SJW; PCB. 

The exact chain of control changes.

But always. Malign intent. They are out to get you. Civilisation is about to end.

But they never are. And it never does. It never, ever does. 

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Richard Worth said...

Well, you both went to York, and you both think that Tony Blair is a baddie, so you may have something to talk about. More seriously, if you have access to a public library you may be able to look at some of his wider views. Opinion seems to be divided on how well researched they are, and how much polemical.
You may have noticed an absence of any of my usual defences of moderate conservatism or the wider state, given that they all seem to be part of the Conspiracy.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I am not interested in his wider views. I am interested in looking at two articles as an example of how conspiracy theorists think.

Andrew Rilstone said...

If I point out that Jack Chick believed in a literal Satanic conspiracy in which the Pope created Islam in order to promote the sales of Dungeons & Dragons at Halloween, it is no help to say "But there are moderate evangelicals as well". I never doubted it.

Sophie Jane said...

Probably worth noting that "The Elites" is usually code for "The Jews" once you scratch the surface. Wacky specifics aside, the basic principles are straight out of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion - hence the stuff about "cultural Marxism" and postmodernism and the undermining of "our" cultural values.

Also worth noting that the initial wave of Covid conspiracy stuff back during the first lockdown showed signs of astroturfing by the usual American "New World Order" types. Or at least, the couple of websites mentioned on the glossy leaflets I got through the door had high production values, frequent references to "commoners on both sides of the Atlantic", and ambitious but underpopulated discussion boards.

(Though the last screen I removed from a local bus stop seemed to borrowing from the German far right, judging by the White Rose reference. The internet means this stuff gets around.)

Andrew Rilstone said...


Sophie Jane said...

Fake grassroots - PR or marketing designed to look like a spontaneous popular initiative. The "National Smokers Alliance" from the days of Big Tobacco is the usual example; the LGB Alliance would be a current one.

James Kabala said...

J.K. Rowling is obviously beyond the reach of cancellation, but Twitter pile-ons are meant to intimidate lesser-known people who might want to express similar opinions. (Some of whom actually have lost an agent or had a book publication cancelled for spurious reasons. But apparently the world of young adult fiction is a very toxic place, and the victims would probably have joined eagerly in the mob against someone else.)

Another way to put it: Obviously Philip Pullman a decade or two ago did not cancel C.S. Lewis, nor did he think he could. But was he trying, with some success, to create a world in which Lewis was less respected and Christian fantasy in general was viewed with greater suspicion, which might have a negative effect on lesser authors? I think he was.

Nick M said...

James - I’m not sure what your point is.

Pullman may be trying to create a world in which a Lewis was less respected

But equally Lewis was trying to create a world in which Christianity was more respected

I’m not sure what the difference is

James Kabala said...

I think my point was that an attack on an untouchable famous person can still be scurrilous even if unsuccessful, and it can still have a chilling effect on less famous people. Maybe it was not the best example, but one with which I knew our host would be familiar.

Sophie Jane said...

Although in the case of Rowling, it’s less scurrilous attacks and more widespread disapproval of bigotry.

(I am, as always, grateful to Hatsune Miku for giving us Minecraft, Harry Potter, and Father Ted.)

But this, I think, makes a wider point: that people who hold repugnant opinions often find it easier to believe there’s an organised effort to silence them than to understand their views aren’t common sense, obvious, or widely held. It’s one of the basic routes to right-wing radicalisation.

Nick M said...

James Kabala - are you saying that it is wrong to attack C S Lewis is anyway for fear it has a ‘chilling effect’?,

Andrew Rilstone said...

I don't have a problem with the technique of "stone man" arguments -- where you fix the flaws in an opponent's argument, and then try to refute the improved version.

And I don't think that "rhetorical flourishes" should be taken literally. If someone says "If I had my way Eton College would be burned to the ground and replaced by a comprehensive', it is unlikely that they are really advocating arson; and there is not much point in explaining that physically destroying and old building would not in fact address systematic inequalities in education. I think it is reasonable to assume that they strongly disapprove of elite private schools and strongly approve of non-selective state funded education, though.

What I don't think is helpful is to say "The speaker certainly said something silly. But if he had said a quite different, and more sensible thing, he would have had good point. So he has a good point."

"Twitter can be, and has been, used by both the far left and the far right as a medium to bully their political opponents" is a perfectly valid point.

But C.H said that the Woke Left (specifically) have invented a technique called Cancellation, which has been used to do actual harm to J.K Rowling. And this is, I submit, bollocks.

I used to write about an obscure comic book called Cerebus. It is unquestionably the case that many people stopped reading the comic, and told others that they should stop reading the comic, after the "this is why women were rightly denied the vote for so long" incident. Dave Sim didn't use the word "cancellation" but he said that he had been "voted off the island".

What follows? That people who found his views on women repugnant should have carried on reading him anyway? That they should stop reading him, but refrain from discussing or critiquing his views in public? (I do believe that one or two people stopped talking to me because of my advocacy of Sim; but I no-one remotely tried to censor my essays. Some people told me strongly that I was in the wrong.)

The nastiest mis uses of Twitter have been by the Gamergate and Puppy types: and I don't believe that you can describe them as Woke.

I find it hard to believe that Pullman damaged C.S Lewis's posthumous reputation significantly. (He remains something like the fifth most successful author in the history of the human race.) It is possible that saying "These books contain Christian ideas" might make people who would have been hostile to the books content in any case less likely to read them. Pullman and Rowling have both circulated the "nylon lipstick" fallacy; and it is true that this is now the only thing that people who have not read the books know about the books. But I don't think that "bad literary criticism" equates to "woke obliteration".

Andrew Rilstone said...


There doesn't seem to be anything specifically Jewish in CH's conception of the Elites, and I would be reluctant to say that because one very pervasive conspiracy theory concerned a Jewish plot to take over the world, that any theory about a plot to take over the world is "really" about the Jews. I seem to recall that an investigation into David Icke concluded that he wasn't using coded language: he really did believe in telepathic alien lizard people.

(But of course, if I say that I think that the definition of anti Semitism has become too wide, I will certainly be Cancelled.)

Gavin Burrows said...

Sophie Jane is indeed right to say "The Elites" is usually code for "The Jews”. What’s though to be the oldest conspiracy theories were anti-semitic. Which in itself makes for a good reason for opposing them. (Well, that and them being completely stupid.)

But I don’t think conspiracy theories reduce to anti-semitism. Some are, ostensibly at least, leftist. While some S11 ‘Truthers’ blame Israel for the attack, for others it’s the CIA. For others it’s the lizards. The detail doesn’t even seem important to them.

It seems to me that what they are at root is an articulation of powerlessness. They’re literally reactionary, in that they contend we’re in a world where it’s only possible for us to react. (I haven’t read these original articles, Andrew has a stronger stomach than me. But I’m guessing the Man of Many Asterisks doesn’t propose any solution.)

When Andrew says “the precise enemy changes” that seems to me essential. There has to be a shadowy ‘them’ - untouchable and ultimately undefinable - for the conspiracy to work. Hence the fixation with symbols of power, rather than the actuality of power. Everything hangs on the precise meaning of the word ‘lockdown’, the last election result is an irrelevance.

You may well feel powerless in your life. Conspiracy theories give you a way, not of challenging that powerlessness, but of channelling it. I am as powerless as you. But I know things! I know who was really behind all those Black Lives Matter protests, whereas you sheeple think it was something to do with anti-racism.

So facts are for fetishising, rather than for examining. Asterisk Man simultaneously believes that the police are too repressive, (forever figuring out new ways to menace innocent civilians) and enabling of destructive mobs.

But what would he say if we pulled him up on this? He might come up with some linguistic gymnastics to justify it. There’s some who can even do that with ‘Trial of a Time Lord’. But mostly he’d tetchily tell us we were missing the point. And to him we would be.

Conspiracy theories are feel-bad. But they’re there for people to enjoy that feeling, just as much as with feel-good.

On the other hand, those masks do make your specs steam up.

Gavin Burrows said...

"What's though to be" was originally "what's thought to be". But the Bavarian Illuminati got to it.

Sophie Jane said...


It's in the nature of dogwhistles to be plausibly deniable, of course... but "cultural Marxism" as a concept goes back to the Nazis, and the "global elites" conspiracy cycle is a product of and promoted by the far right. Tick the tropes off against the Protocols - and keep an eye out for the addition of blood drinking and child sacrifice to the list.


I agree with all of this, but conspiracy theories don't appear out of nowhere - they're folklore spread within particular cultures. If you erase the context by insisting the details don't matter then you're missing their cultural and political significance.

Sophie Jane said...

(Meanwhile, the latest sticker on my local bus stop simply says "Boris Johnson is not a prime minister. He is a nomenclator." Not sure how many people are going to parse that one even if it wasn't posted upside down, but it's of a piece with the rest.)

g said...

Andrew, does CH in your two comments above actually mean PH? I fear you may have the wrong Hitchens.

Gavin Burrows said...

Sophie Jane, yes I agree with you too! Some conspiracy theories can seem like harmless idiocy. Flat Earthers can continue boycotting the model globe industry forever, as far as I'm concerned. But they're always at least latently dangerous and pernicious.

By "the details don't matter" I meant the conspiracy theorists themselves don't seem to care. With those who claim the CIA staged S11 to get to invade Iraq, I have sometimes wasted my by pointing out the CIA opposed invading Iraq. They just immediately substitute Mossad, the Bavarian Illuminati, or something else from their shopping list.

Andrew Rilstone said...

yes . PH. sorry.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I have no idea who Hatsune Miku is.

Where does the idea of the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory having a Nazi Origin come from? It is usually traced to the 1990s (the same time the myth of Political Correctness was invented, and by some of the same people.) The Frankfurt Group itself was a phenomenon of interwar Germany, but did Hitler directly see them as part of a wider Jewish conspiracy (except in so far as he presumably saw everything as part of a wider Jewish conspiracy...)

Gavin Burrows said...

In a statement I hope never gets taken out of context, I think you're right about Hitler. The Frankfurt school were on the hit list. We all know what happened to Walter Benjamin. But I don't think they were made into a catch-all figure of blame, like the Israeli Illuminati or the CIA lizards.

But it's also true that the Nazis' targets were often cultural. Perhaps most (in)famously with the degenerate art exhibition. So perhaps cultural Marxism just without the capped C.

It's possibly also significant that the Frankfurt School conspiracy theory originated in America.The group had a helpfully European name, all that was required to mark them out as suspect. ("Frankfurt, that's in Yurrup y'now.")

Sophie Jane said...

Hatsune Miku is a virtual idol singer and/or mascot of a piece of software that lets you create synthesized songs. She's now also the honorary creator of anything good that was originally credited to a transphobe:

I take "cultural Marxism" as variation of the Nazis' "cultural Bolshevism" - which, like Bolshevism in general, they thought was promoted by the international Jewish conspiracy.

Mike Taylor said...

(I have nothing to add at this time, but want to check the "Email follow-up comments to" checkbox.)