Category Archives: moral outrage

March of the moral thugs

Dalrymple writes that the demonstrations In London after George Floyd’s death

reinforced and propagated an obsessive interpretation of the world through the lens of race.

They illustrated two contemporary cultural traits:

  • The importance ascribed to opinion as an exclusive component of virtue. Holding the right opinions has never been as important if you want a reputation as a good person. The pressure to conform to the latest orthodoxy has increased, is increasing, and ought to be reduced. Good conduct, which requires effort, restraint, even self-sacrifice, has correspondingly become less important in earning a reputation for goodness. Holding a placard, chanting a slogan, expressing an opinion, is enough.
  • Vehemence as the marker of sincerity. Vehemence is mistaken for strength of feeling. In communist countries, it was dangerous to be the first to stop applauding the dictator’s speech and safer to exhibit enthusiasm to the maximum. And in a culture such as ours, which values the kind of emotional openness that is indistinguishable from psychobabble, vehemence is to be expected. The more you feel, as measured by the vehemence with which you express it, the better person you are, and the safer from criticism.

We have, says Dalrymple, entered an era of

moral thuggery. Substantial numbers of people, in the name of their moral outrage and sense of righteousness, would like to impose a régime in which people fear the midnight knock on the door.

McDonnell and the Glastonbury mob

Dalrymple points out that the most recent demagogic statement by John McDonnell, described as the shadow chancellor of the exchequer, proves that he is

unfit for public office.

It was

a grossly inflammatory, as well as erroneous, thing to say; no doubt he would defend it in his own mind as conducing to a Leninist heightening of the contradictions.

McDonnell has, in his career, been

at the very least equivocal on the subject of political murder; the question for him appearing to have been who is being murdered and who is doing the murdering.

The shadow chancellor

was not aiming at truth in his statement, but at a kind of incitement: an incitement to a gratifying sense of moral outrage among his audience that would assist his accession to power. He was appealing to an uncritical mob mentality, and it appears that at Glastonbury, where he spoke, he found one.

Dalrymple comments:

A mob mentality is gaining ground in this country, and all that stands between the rest of us and it is Theresa May, a nullity’s nullity; and even if she were replaced by palace coup, it would only be, most likely, by another nullity. Our choice, then, is between people who do not even have the courage of their lack of convictions and dangerous demagogues: not a happy choice, perhaps, but I know on which side I stand.

The case of Vester Lee Flanagan

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 11.07.59Dalrymple identifies three principal features: bitter paranoia, craving for celebrity, and self-righteous anger.

1. The paranoid stance

The belief, writes Dalrymple, is that

the world is so constituted as to do one down.

This has

sour compensations, chief among which is that it explains in advance all our possible failures. We fail, but never deserve to do so. We are absolved from even trying to succeed, since the forces arrayed against us are too strong; bitterness therefore increases in proportion to the alleged, or self-described, meritocracy of a society.

The advance of sociology

has given us a menu of impersonal forces from which to choose to explain away our failings and discontents. It is co-opted to become the omnium gatherum of self-exculpation.

There is grandiosity,

in so far as the paranoid person believes that much that goes on around him is directed at himself.

There have always been people of paranoid disposition, Dalrymple points out, and he cites the Azande of the Sudan, who used to believe that no one died except by the witchcraft of enemies,

Azande sorcerer

Azande sorcerer

so that it is hardly surprising that they developed a wary attitude to their neighbours and the people around them.

Where there is a cultural emphasis on racism,

an increased number of people, with a relatively high propensity as individuals to paranoia, will interpret the world in its light.

2. The apparent desire for fame

Flanagan appears to have felt an inner compulsion to be famous. Dalrymple comments:

Provided the fame sought is for valuable achievement which is a precondition of becoming famous, the desire is constructive and perhaps even necessary. But where fame is desired for its own sake, detached from any worthwhile achievement, it is malignant and loosens or dissolves moral restraint on behaviour.

Worthwhile achievement is as difficult as ever, but

self-publicity is increasingly commonplace and fame the desire of more and more people who would once have been contented with obscurity. Those with an extreme desire for fame — unaccompanied by any particular qualification for it — resort to ever more bizarre behaviour in order to reach it.

3. The claimed sense of moral outrage

Dalrymple writes that we do not think of anger as a sin any longer

but as the sign of a generous heart, at least when felt and expressed on behalf of others. To live your life without anger is to be complacent and self-satisfied. Since the state of the world gives plenty of scope for those seeking an occasion for anger, we may be angry on behalf of others all the time. The greater our anger, the greater our generosity of spirit. Since our anger is noble and generous, when we act out of such anger, we suppose that we are acting generously.

Anger

makes us love injustice, provided that it is we who are committing it. An atmosphere of rage is concomitantly one of self-righteous cruelty.

Web of the Cultural Revolution

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 08.45.15

(by Rowlandson)

The spider needs its prey to live

Dalrymple writes:

When a Nobel prize winner can be hounded from his university chair by the harridans of the internet (or any other self-constituted group of fanatics), the outlook for freedom of speech is not good. The West, having undergone its own Cultural Revolution, has taken up the baton of Maoist self-criticism.

What was Professor Sir Timothy Hunt’s wrongdoing? During a speech at a luncheon for women scientists, he remarked lightly, ironically,

Self-criticism

Self-criticism

Let me tell you about my trouble with girls…things happen when they are in the lab…You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry.

Hunted down

Such is the modern thirst, writes Dalrymple,

for moral or political outrage, which is the tool of the mediocre to bring about their revenge upon the gifted, that words are now taken in the most literal sense and given thereby the worst possible interpretation. The mediocre wait to take offence as a spider awaits its prey in a web; the spider needs its prey to live, the mediocre their offendedness to feel a sense of purpose to their lives.

Struggle session

Struggle session

Red guards of the internet

Professor Hunt was forced to resign

by what in effect was a witch hunt, or a lynch mob.

Dalrymple points out that

science doesn’t need women, it needs scientists, just as art needs artists and literature needs writers; whether they are men or women is irrelevant. There is no female science any more than there was Jewish or bourgeois science, of late unhappy memory.

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 08.52.07Heresy

It is not truth

that is the aim, but power. That is the purpose of propaganda in totalitarian regimes: to force starving people to acquiesce to the proposition that they have never eaten so well.

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 08.53.27It is

a totalitarian demand that a cell biologist, in order to be able to work at all, should subscribe to the current political orthodoxy, whether it be right or wrong. It is constitutive of these times in which diversity is claimed as the highest good that there should exist a demand that everyone should think alike or at least not utter heresies in public.

Orwellian

The aim, says Dalrymple, is that of Newspeak in Nineteen Eighty-Four:

that certain things should not only be unsayable but unthinkable.

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