Simon Caldwell enjoys a sharp satire on the new Puritanism
Woke: A Guide to Social Justice
By Titania McGrath
Constable, 150pp, £12.99/$18.99
An aphorism traditionally attributed to GK Chesterton noted that “when a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything.” This book makes the same point but in a very different way.
Titania McGrath, a “radical intersectionalist poet committed to feminism, social justice and armed peaceful protest”, is a parody of “wokeness” – the creed of progressive and generally atheistic middle-class liberal intellectuals on a moral crusade to reshape the world in their own image.
For the uninitiated, McGrath’s notions of social justice are radically different from those of Catholic social teaching and tend to focus, for instance, on raging against the perceived iniquities of “toxic masculinity”, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, fat-shaming, white privilege and hate speech.
The themes are dealt with in the form essays, divided into chapters bearing such titles as “Ecosexuality”, “Islamofeminism” and the “Tyranny of Facts”, in turn separated by a selection of poems such as “A Vegan’s Lament” and “I am Womxn”.
Many Catholics will find the content of this book offensive, replete as it is with foul, sexually explicit and irreverent language. McGrath comes across as a truly odious character – but that is the point.
She is the invention of Andrew Doyle, an academic and comedian who voted for Jeremy Corbyn but who is clearly disillusioned with the rise of new ideologies on the Left of British politics. He is out to show just how ludicrous they are. As even what passes for “edgy” comedy these days is circumscribed – preying smugly on soft targets such as the Tories, Donald Trump and Evangelical Christians – Doyle would never have been permitted a mainstream platform to poke fun at the “woke”.
Instead, he has used Twitter to subvert the establishment and has so far attracted nearly a quarter of a million followers to whom Titania spouts her hilarious remarks and argues, with great irrationality, with those so gullible as to be taken in.
In fairness to the naïve, the genius of Titania lies in her ability to blur the lines between the shocking things she says and the often equally outrageous and extreme remarks pronounced by those her creator is lampooning. It is guerrilla warfare but it is extremely funny. Woke dares to make fun, for example, of feminists obsessed with destroying “the Patriarchy”, of trans rights activists ready to use the force of law to silence dissenting voices and to ruin careers, and of the folly of those always ready to excuse Islamist violence. “Say what you will about ISIS,” declares Titania, “but at least they’re not Islamophobic.”
Such satire affords the opportunity for ordinary people to look from beneath the jackboot of the po-faced neo-Puritanism stifling public life and laugh.
Doyle is pushing certain boundaries, both in content and in his methods, but in others he remains restrained. Take the issue of anti-Semitism. If Titania was truly representative of the “woke” she would be buying into every abounding conspiracy theory about the supposed role of Jewish people and Israel in the world’s problems. These, as we know from the crisis dogging Britain’s Labour Party, have become an integral part of the new ideologies. Titania ignores this, but aligns herself with conspiracy theories generally by suggesting that Quakers were to blame for the 9/11 terror attacks.
Admittedly, Doyle’s targets are not strictly party political. Such madness exists on the Right too. Four years ago, for example, extremists in Yorkshire marked D-Day by paying tribute on Facebook to the Nazis who died. As one sported a tattoo of a swastika on her breast, it would be safe to assume such activists are also anti-Semitic.
Perhaps ideologues always end up hating true religion. In showing them to be preposterous, Doyle is doing us all a favour. Of particular value is the way he shows how human rights are being reinterpreted to mean something entirely new – a phenomenon which surely jeopardises the European project far more than Brexit ever could.
A vision, first proposed by Sir Winston Churchill, of a Europe united by human rights underpinned the Council of Europe and is the glue that holds member states together in peace. Titania is a Remainer but she has a palpable contempt for free speech and democracy and a vision of a European superstate in which real human rights have been superseded by a new set of legal mores, most notably those touching on sexuality and reproduction.
She hates heterosexuality and marriage and says the sight of a couple at a wedding is “one of the most violent images that could possibly be conjured” since it connotes “the height of heteronormativity, that invisible matrix of oppression that has enmeshed the globe from the very beginning of civilisation”.
That’s her view on Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to marry. Her opinions on the rights to a fair trial, to prohibition from discrimination, to freedom of expression, to family life and privacy, are similarly inverted.
As for Article 2, the right to life, Titania has this to say: “Live for yourself, not for an unborn parasite.” Titania may be a parody, but she is legion.