It may be that I have been moving in the wrong circles, but I have only recently heard someone called ‘a contrarian’. Actually, the someone was me. When I thought about it, for a moment I was a bit shocked.
“Really, is that why I don’t think like the others?” It was no consolation to discover that contrarians in the financial markets could make the biggest killing by not following the investment crowds.
Embarrassed though I am to mention it, this awkwardness goes back to a childhood fear of going mad.
None of us are exactly sane. One of the comforting things of surviving into one’s sixties is the discovery that few people are sane, stable or even mature.
But my fear of going mad goes back to when I got ill as a child.
I was about 5, and I got a fever. I remember two things about it; firstly becoming dreadfully ill; and secondly the dancing curtains. My room had vivid curtains covered with images of hot air balloons, riverboats and steam trains. During the fever, they all lifted from the curtain and danced in a terrifying way. I confused fever with madness as a child, and while I recovered from the fever, I have never recovered from the fear of going mad- or the fear of things that you thought were true and real and reliable, suddenly becoming untrue, unreal and unreliable. Those curtains were never the same friendly images again. They were always slightly dangerous.
So it wasn’t madness, it was fever. But it felt like madness. I became suspicious about what was and what wasn’t real. And I rather think that’s one of the reasons I so hate the idea of thought crime. The real becomes unreal and you have no control over it. You lose personal responsibility. It becomes about what others think you think.
Summers often turn out to be about ‘something’. ’68 was the summer of ‘Love’. 2020 seems to be about the summer of racism. Obviously everyone is against racism, but I think for the first time, I no longer believe in it. It used to be about doing things that damaged people who came from different countries to live in your country. “No Irish, no blacks, no dogs” were the awful signs that some landlord put up in the bad old 50’s. So we passed laws quite rightly making such horrible discrimination illegal.
But racism morphed. It moved from doing something to thinking something; and then much much worse, it became someone thinking you thought something. This summer everyone is guilty, if the new anti-racist posters are true:“silence is violence.”
That’s the point where my twitching about madness starts to stir. Silence can of course be many different things on a range from not caring at one end, through rather lofty contemplation to acquiescence at the other.
But I have three reasons for not believing in racism as people now accuse one another. It’s not easy to tell what race someone is; there is a sliding scale of skin colour; and there is a better, healthier way of describing why some people don’t like some other people.
The races are mixed for most of us. Last year I was bought a DNA kit for a birthday present. It turns out I am roughly 30% Anglo-Saxon’ 30% Celt; and 20% Jewish (with a bit of Russian thrown in -!) God forbid one racial bit of me should ever fall out with one of the other bits. Does the Celt in me deserve reparations from my Anglo-Saxon invader bit? Don’t even start with the Jewish persecution stuff, the massacre in York in 1190, the mass expulsion in 1290 by Edward 1st. Luther ? Hitler?
And I’m white. But I have never thought of myself as white. This skin tone stuff is equally confusing and on a sliding scale of pigment. Megan Markle looks white to me. My more remote Aryan ancestors came from India. When I look at someone, I see character not colour.
The problem with racism as the new thought crime is that it’s not really about race, or skin colour, it’s about power using colour. It’s the imposing of the American cultural crisis on the rest of the world, which has different cultural issues. It seems to be about transferring power from ‘white’ (whatever that is) to black (whatever that is).
The worst thing about the new racism is that it uses a prism through which everything and everyone are assessed through the lens of power. This new language of power-relations replaces one moral world with another. It changes our worth from what we do, and replaces it with what group we belong to.
So what we used to see as responsibility instead becomes unearned privilege. Holding people to account using personal responsibility, is replaced by collective guilt. We held people accountable for actions we could weigh and measure; now they are guilty either for what they look like (reverse racism) or for what others think they think.
We face a crossroads in morals and culture, and the new racism is the tool used to shift the direction.
We are losing a simple and direct morality which invited you to love your neighbour as yourself, and held you accountable if you failed or refused; we are replacing it with thought-crime, collective guilt, censorship and the re-writing of history.
You don’t have to be a contrarian to question and resist. In fact you might be mad if you didn’t.