I remember those summer days waiting with such delight for the next Harry Potter book. JK Rowling was a genius who brought delight in bucket loads around the world. Her novels were full of excitement and moral depth. But ‘they’ are trying to cancel her; for hate.
This is the new secular blasphemy. Rowling is a wordsmith; words are her skill. She uses them with great care and great expertise. She found herself objecting to the word ‘woman’having its meaning changed; “People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?,” she wrote.
She was told by her critics, the online mob, that in defending biological reality she was being ‘hateful’ to people who suffered from gender dysphoria; that is people who lived with having a mental picture of who they were as a gender, at odds with the reality of their body and biology.
Rowling tried to explain why when two different kinds of meaning crashed into each other, it was dangerous to allow people’s private maps of meaning to shut down everyone else’s experience.
“If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.”
And there you have the heart of the matter: ‘it isn’t hate to speak the truth.’
By some odd route, our society has found that it has different truths in competition with each other. So feminists and their truth about their struggle for power in the world being equal to men, has crashed into the trans community’s truth that if a man ‘feels’ he is a woman, (trapped in a man’s body) he is as much a real woman as ‘a person who menstruates.’
When these two truths crash head on, cancel culture has become the progressive’s weapon of choice.
‘Cancel culture’ is a new phrase. It’s only been around two or three years. It represents something as horrible as it is dangerous. It involves the mob closing someone down, and taking away either their freedom to speak, their job or their place in society.
What is so odd about it is that we have become sharply concerned as a society about hate and bullying. You would think that if there was any consistency around, anything that acted as a weapon for bullying and hatred would be found repulsive and rejected?
But the opposite has happened.
A lot of small vulnerable people have been ‘cancelled’. They have lost their jobs, and had their reputations as decent people trashed. No one seems to have been willing to stand up against this politically correct bullying, until they targeted JK Rowling.
It’s just possible she is rich enough and powerful enough and admired enough to see off the mob, but it’s not guaranteed. Amazon is full of fake hate reviews trying to trash her latest book and stop it being read.
I don’t know if the mob is going to be held back by JK Rowling and a few other doughty determined feminists, or if they too will be submerged by the hate mob. The mob see no irony in their vicious bullying into silence people they have identified and accused of being hateful. One rule for them, and another for everyone else.
But I found myself asking how we got here? Just in case there is any chance of escaping from this cultural mob violence in which no one is safe.
A psychologist called Jonathan Haidt found himself asking the same questions and wrote
a very perceptive book about it. ‘The Coddling of the American Mind.
He suggested that three very well intentioned but utterly disastrous attitudes had been slipped into the education system in America and the anglophile world.
The first was about suffering and took the form of ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.” The second was about the relationship between feelings and thoughts or analysis; and became “whatever you really feel is really true.” The third was that the world was made up not of good and bad ideas, but good and bad people, and you had to destroy the bad people to be made safe.
So we now have a generation who are terrified of suffering and feeling hurt in any way. In fact Haidt felt that the constant catastrophising in the media, was bringing a generation close to a state of almost clinical mental illness.
One of the most powerful antidotes to depression has been found to be Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, CBT. At its centre lies the skill of recalibrating feelings so they come second to a more sane and well-judged mental analysis. If that’s true, you can see what emotional paralysis we face by being unable to discipline or re-inform raw feelings in a counselling obsessed culture where getting in touch with feelings has become paramount, and trumps everything else.
Most mature philosophical and religious traditions recognise that it’s ideas rather than the people who hold them, who are good or perverse. So you fight the ideas, and try to change people’s minds. But cancel culture settles very happily for destroying the people.
How do we escape these three disastrous attitudes? We may need to find a philosophy or religious tradition with deep roots that exposes them for dangerous charlatans they are. If schools and universities won’t or daren’t do it, that just leaves the churches. It may be that the sanity of our civilisation depends on a group we have spent the last century ridiculing; to our cost.