The Madness of Crowds
By Douglas Murray
Bloomsbury Continuum, 288pp, £20/$28
Søren Kierkegaard once wrote that “where there is a crowd, there is untruth”. Douglas Murray’s satirical but serious dissection of modern media which demonstrates how, like the Gadarene swine in the parable, it is forcing all of us headlong over a cliff, interprets Kierkegaard’s axiom for our own times..
The book’s four chapters – entitled “Gay”, “Women”, “Race” and “Trans” – examine each of these fraught themes to show that what began as a genuine pursuit of justice (at least in the first three subjects) has morphed into an endless witch-hunt directed against hapless individuals, denounced as homophobic, racist or transphobic who resist becoming “woke” (ie instantly alert to new forms of social injustice, whatever their manifestation may be). Perhaps his next book should be about climate change zealotry, the latest arena where no dissenting voices are allowed.
If I sound dismissive of this new religion of “wokeness” it is because, like Murray, I share a distaste for the “derangement” (his word) of the media.
Murray, whose earlier book, The Strange Death of Europe, was a courageous attempt to have a sane discussion about mass immigration into Europe, is at an advantage in his first chapter as he can hardly be accused of homophobia. “Perhaps it requires someone who is gay to say this,” he writes, before going on to comment that once equality in this area was achieved, the battle went on “morphing into other demands”. As he points out, a decade ago “almost nobody was supportive of gay marriage” – yet now it has become “a foundational value of modern liberalism”, where to oppose it is “to put yourself beyond the pale”.
Murray writes of the different “waves” of feminism, a movement that started out sensibly but which now, in its “fourth wave”, has phrases like “toxic masculinity” and “the patriarchy” embedded in its self-righteous dogmas.
On transgenderism, the author raises questions which are rarely asked (if they are, the questioner may face career ruin), such as what is the basis, outside the fashionable ideology of gender studies started by the US academic Judith Butler, for undergoing drastic, life-changing hormonal treatment and surgery?
Quoting from Stephen Pinker’s book The Blank Slate, in which he lays out the obvious biological differences between men and women, Murray reminds readers that “the facts are there all the time, in front of our eyes. It is just that we are not meant to notice them or … we are expected to stay silent.” Raising the problems of intersexuality (formerly called hermaphroditism) and citing the difference between “hardware” issues (such as genetics) and “software” issues (such as psychology and feelings), Murray is as cautious here as he is on homosexuality. He argues for debate, research, prudence and a recognition that changing one’s sex is a profound alteration. Indeed, he condemns the “spurious certainty” of those who advocate transition from one sex to another at a young age.
Those of a conservative outlook will not be surprised to learn here that Silicon Valley, in Murray’s estimate, is “several degrees to the left of a liberal arts college” thus ensuring that Google, for instance, leads the unwary searcher towards its own ideological stance on the meaning of “family”. Murray is looking at society as a sane but secular humanist. He notes that “Equality in the eyes of God is a core tenet of the Christian tradition,” then raises the problem of “equality” in a secular society where many people “realise, fear or intuit that people are not entirely equal”. Beauty and brains are not equally distributed. This leads us to envy others whom we learn of through the febrile and furious social media.
Inevitably, Murray’s book raises urgent questions about how people should conduct themselves in today’s age of “wokeness” if they are not to be destroyed by it. Unsurprisingly, he does not have solutions, except to point out the pitfalls of our current public derangement.
He also asks whether, “in some manner, with which we still haven’t begun to wrestle, we have created a world in which forgiveness has become almost impossible”. Twitter remarks, Facebook comments and hasty emails work against true debate and discussion – an open invitation to the dark angels of our nature rather than our better ones.
Murray, along with others like Sir Roger Scruton and Jordan Peterson, is one of those voices much needed in the public arena, where you have to be a tough and seasoned gladiator to face the jeers of the crowd.
Christians might reflect that the forgiveness the author pleads for, along with courage, clear thinking and the sanity that knows madness when it sees it, cannot be found in this world alone.