It is occupational hazard for a writer is to slip and fall right down a metaphorical rabbit hole. My rabbit hole today was the boiling frog.
You know the metaphor; the rather silly suggestion that if you set out to boil a frog (who does that anyway?) you would need put it in a pan and heat it up very slowly. This would lure it into a state of false comfort. It would sit quietly enjoying the gradual warming of the water, and end up cooked. It would never have jumped out. But if you placed a frog you wanted to boil directly into a pan of boiling water, its reflexes would ensure that it leapt out of the water and away before it was mortally damaged.
It turns out that I’m not the only person to be interested in the metaphor. A lot of people have had their interest stimulated as to whether or not this metaphor has any actual truth in it. Weirdly, once of the most interesting was a German, Herman Holme. He was trying out various experiments that would, he hoped, show him where the soul was located.
He managed to demonstrate that a frog that has its brain removed will remain in slowly heated water,
For reasons I never managed to unravel, this took him into the odd world of experimenting on boiling frogs. In 1869, he managed to demonstrate that a frog that has its brain removed will remain in slowly heated water, but one that had its brain intact will leap out the moment the water reaches 25 degrees centigrade.
I’m tempted to stick with exploring the very odd things that people have written about this metaphor, but there is something more important at hand.
Cancel culture. Surely we might have arrived at a moment when we can say, ‘panic over’; it’s stopped. We get to slowly reverse this assault on our liberties and regain our sanity, security of employment and some degree of freedom of speech and expression?
Not if you listen to the victims. In a way I never expected, the loudest complaints and the most vivid warnings are now coming not form the political Right, but from the Left.
They warn that the steamroller of authoritarian conformity, driven by this renewed left-wing utopianism is, if anything speeding up, not slowing down.
It was no surprise that the ‘pale/stale/male prejudice’ was going to run for a while. But the discovery that even Shakespeare has had his chips as a dead white man, has taken a lot of people by surprise. He has fallen victim to the growing suspicion that his views about slavery and white privilege are not beyond reproach. He is being cut out of the syllabus in our best universities.
You might imagine though that left-leaning politically correct lesbians might escape this growth in censorship? No such luck.
Just this last week I came across two non-cis lesbian activists who have themselves fallen victim to the censorship monster.
Katie Herzog was being interviewed on that excellent podcast run by `Spiked on Line’.
She was a progressive freelance journalist living and working in Seattle, which is just about one of the most radical cities in America. She got interested in trans-regret, the phenomen describing people who had taken hormone blockers or experienced surgery to move them from one gender to the other, and lived to regret it.
For those who don’t know the territory, this seems to have become the ultimate progressive blasphemy.
The earliest warning of this in the UK may have been the case of James Caspian. He worked as a therapist helping people manage their gender dysphoria. But he became concerned at the levels of regret, and realised no one had done any research on the phenomenon. He started some research on the level of trans-regret, and provoked a terrifying reaction. As a consequence he was thrown of his research course at Bath university for even attempting to ask the question.
Katie Herzog lived in Seattle, not Bath, but her experience was similar. wrote a piece called the ‘Detransitioners’. It was for a publication who took her articles from time to time, called ‘the Stranger.’
The reaction to this piece of writing was immediately explosive. Not only was she dumped by the paper, but activists in Seattle burnt her work in public. They then put up posters with her face on them throughout the city denouncing he as dangerous to the community. She became unemployable anywhere within the media. She couldn’t even go out to coffee safely. Only by setting up a subscriber podcast did she manage to get herself earning again.
Bari Weiss was interviewed in the Daily Telegraph a few days ago.
Her story is different in detail but the same in substance. Another left-wing activist journalist, proud of being a lesbian with impeccable woke credentials. She had been hired by the New York Times to increase the bandwidth of their diversity.
She was rash enough to sign an open letter published by Harper’s Magazine which criticised cancel culture.
Immediately she herself was cancelled. The Twitter mob was enraged by her signing the letter. They went for her. Her employers at the newspaper, paying more attention to Twitter than any journalistic principles, panicked. One more journalist calling for free speech became a victim of the end of free speech.
When someone as prominent as Bari Weiss is silenced by the mainstream media, politically correct censorship has reached terminal levels. Perhaps the most alarming part of this is the conclusion that Weiss has come to. It’s simply apocalyptic. She finished her interview by warning:
In other words, the frog of liberal democracy and free speech is not going to jump. Many of us, most of us, have been looking for some sign, any sign that the frog was about to leap out at 25C, and save itself at the very last minute.
he frog of free speech is on its way to be terminally cooked.
But we now face the dreadful prospect that our frog, the one in the pot, is the one that has had its brain removed. And it’s not going to stir, move or twitch as the water grows terminally hotter. The frog of free speech is on its way to be terminally cooked.