Once in a blue moon, one of ‘those’ books falls into your lap. Living as I do partly in Normandy, and with an eye to the times we live in, I have started to read more about the SOE and the French resistance.
Not that the danger to our freedom comes from the Right any more. It comes from the Left (leaving aside whether or not Hitler’s National Socialism was or wasn’t socialism).
I came across a book called Gardens of Stone, ghost written exquisitely by/for Stephen Grady.
Stephen was a 15-year-old boy when France was invaded in 1939. His mum was French and his dad was English. His dad had been a Tommy in the First World War and settled to raise a family working as a gardener for the War Graves Commission, tending the graves of his erstwhile comrades.
The book is about how Stephen gets drawn into resisting the brutal fascism of the Germans in northern France. It’s written with captivating subtlety and frightening insight into the period. Time and time again through its pages the question is raised, why did so few people actually resist?
I find myself asking the same question today. Not that we are fighting the last war; we are fighting a very different enemy that is slowly strangling our freedom of speech. It’s hard to give a name to this enemy. We know them more by what they do than what they are called.
This elusive enemy gets people thrown out of their jobs, and out of the public square, for the flimsiest of reasons that defy all common sense and most peoples’ values.
A few examples from the last month or so: Steve Thompson, a BBC radio reporter was sacked for describing a fracas on the football field as a ‘handbag fight’. The whole of my life, rugby players flailing arms and fists off the ball have been described that way. I don’t really care about the phrase. It’s not important. But sacking someone for using it? That’s terrifying.
Greg Clarke, the chairman of the FA was giving evidence to a select committee of Parliament and was explaining how totally opposed to racism and sexism he was. But he was a year behind the times. He talked about the injustices perpetrated on coloured footballers. And in an instant, he was gone. Lost his job. He got the word inversion wrong. Values right, words wrong. What an idiot. This year the phrase is ‘footballers OF colour”.
Until very recently we have asked our actors to act parts that represented people different from their own characters. That’s what acting is. Not today. Seyi Omooba got a role in a show called ‘The Colour Purple”. She was cast to play a lesbian and was delighted to. But she had put on Facebook at some time that as a practising Christian she didn’t believe “homosexuality was right”. So she was cancelled. Respected theatre critics like Lloyd Evans came to her aid saying we had never up to this point expected an actor to agree with the ethical views or the feelings of a character in a play. Good luck with casting Othello on that basis.
So who and what is the enemy? Too easy and too useless to say “PC gone mad.”
It’s a complex combination of a risk averse culture, terrified of physical, psychological or emotional danger. It’s people willing to give up their individuality and ask the state to keep them collectively ‘safe’. If the price is not being free to think or act, and to always keep silence in the face of what other people tell you can be said or thought, they are willing to pay it and enforce it on everyone else.
Is this terror of risk and valorising of safety an unintended consequence or a spin-off of feminism? Mums prioritise care and protection; Dads enable risk and danger. Has our society become so feminised that we have outlawed any risk or danger?
If we lost all balance between the masculine and feminine values that might be so. How could we test that? A posh public school might suggest the answer.
At Eton, an English teacher Will Knowland put a video together called the ‘Patriarch Paradox’. It was designed to teach older boys how to handle difficult opinions they might not like It’s about masculinity.
The Headmaster got one complaint from a colleague and immediately banned it from being shown to the boys. Knowland accepted that reluctantly and instead put it on his private YouTube channel with a disclaimer saying it did not represent either Eton’s views or even his own. The Head summarily sacked him for gross misconduct.
If you want to see it (it’s rather skilfully done), check out ‘Knowland Knows’ on YouTube, and then ask yourself the question why a vivid and factually correct presentation of masculinity should cause a clever competent good teacher to be sacked and cancelled?
Over 1,000 of the boys have signed a petition demanding his reinstatement. They ask “How can the school reasonably expect teachers to engage in the promotion of free thought inside and outside of the schoolroom when the consequence of overstepping some poorly-defined line of acceptability is to lose their livelihood and home? Is this not an abuse of power?”
Is this another Steven Grady scenario, with resistance being lead by teenagers once the adults have bottled it?
We have several problems or questions at least which we need to solve to defend both our democracy and our freedom of speech. What is this abuse of power which brutally and permanently cancels football commentators, broadcasters, actors, teachers, journalists, academics politicians? The list goes on and on.
What is this enemy? Why are so few willing to resist? Douglas Murray thinks we are suffering from a mass psychosis, which is why he called his book the Madness of Crowds. Have we gone mad or bad? Who dares to resist?