As free markets ride out multiple global crises, the Conservative government discusses bringing back grammar schools, Ukip maintains its position as Britain’s third most popular party, and Labour continue their downward plunge in the opinion polls, you might be forgiven for thinking that the right wing is on a roll.
But that depends on what your definition of right wing is. There’s economic left and right, and in that field we can say that the right is more or less dominant. But it feels now like having conceded defeat in the economic arena, the left has decided to wage war in another area, and is currently crashing forward erratically in the culture wars.
This all began perfectly normally. In an effort to secure an end to discrimination of all kinds, and guarantees of equality and fair treatment, a relatively relaxed, acceptable form of political correctness was formed throughout the 1980s and 90s. However, those initial aims secured, rather than congratulating itself on a job well done, the left decided to push on, and is now making headway down a weird, looking glass path.
Like Marlow in Heart of Darkness, the further it sails down this maddening river, affected by heat, sun and devotion to an inevitable, unknown goal, the less conceivable it becomes to turn back, and it’s becoming clear that nothing good is waiting at the source.
These unhinged leftie sailors are now gripped irretrievably by a kind of hyper-enhanced identity obsession. The correctness of their politics has been buckled and warped, and is now tangibly incorrect and in need of repair. They no longer make sense, to themselves or to anyone else.
The logic in their peculiar model is illogical, and involves punishing people not because they’ve done something wrong, but because they’ve hurt someone’s feelings. The line at which a crime is deemed to have been committed isn’t fixed, it always lies at the precise point at which the accuser’s feelings were hurt. It’s a Kafkaesque distortion of justice, in which being accused of a previously non-existent crime (you’ve hurt my feelings) immediately means that you cannot not have committed the crime (you are guilty of having hurt my feelings, the proof is that my feelings are hurt.) You can’t win this argument, the evidence is invisible and subjective. Arguing your case or demanding a fair trial will, in this twisted court, only deepen your guilt — not only have you committed a crime, but you’re unrepentant: you are now the worst kind of aggressor. And the punishments can be Draconian, as victims and their legitimized lynch mobs demand at the very least public shaming, sometimes the suspension of social media accounts — an essential career tool for many — and in high profile cases that the ‘criminal’ be sacked, even when their fictional misdemeanor is unrelated to their job.
These days, the only place that I see any kind of concerted push back against this worryingly totalitarian shift is within the right wing. By contrast, the entire left spectrum is actively enabling this very puritanical, fanatical form of political correctness. It’s taken a powerful hold over college campuses, the liberal arts, the leftist media and the BBC.
At university there are now nauseatingly labelled safe spaces, in which students are babyishly coddled and ‘protected’ from facing up to dissenting opinions, for fear of, and here’s another strange, new PC term, being triggered. Trigger warnings are even required on some texts, lest students become freaked out unexpectedly by Huckleberry fucking Finn. This infantilizes students, who then go on to try and infantilize the world by forcing their weird morals on fully functioning adults who neither want nor need their embarrassing, junior school sermons.
But it goes beyond simply proselytizing, as academic programmes are undermined, progressive discussion is disrupted, and writers and public speakers are threatened and intimidated.
And this overbearing, know-it-all culture of offense, which is simultaneously aggressive and thin skinned, is inextricably bound up with the millennial left.
Among the right wingers who are fighting back, conservative traditionalists are more than willing to weigh in, but it’s the more centrist libertarians that are standing up most noticeably for free speech and the necessity of constructive disagreement, and who most clearly articulate and respect rational Enlightenment values. Anyone who understands the dire consequences of allowing a hardcore of moral zealots to control our speech, and by extension our thoughts and our culture, must now refuse to be cowed and must face down the censors, regardless of political allegiance. Freedom of expression is simply too fundamental a right to do otherwise.
The ultra-PC illiberals are carving out-of-control down a bizarre, self-defeating route. With every restriction they place on others, they clamp down equally hard on themselves. The end result, if extrapolated, is dismal. Our arts, our interactions, everything we read, listen to or consume would be heavily regulated and restricted, crippling progress and shackling creativity. We would be dehumanized and segregated, confined to our respective safe spaces according to superficial and unimportant differences like skin colour and sexual orientation, restricted from empathizing, connecting or exchanging ideas, and strictly disallowed from just mixing things up and seeing what happens. There are those in history who have tried to implement such regimes before. Their ideas went against all the most positive facets of human nature, and they were kicked out of civilized society. Clearly such dark urges — to punish and control, obey and proscribe — can appear in many forms and from any direction, and now a new variety has manifested.
Sam White is a freelance writer and journalist. Follow him on Twitter @SamWhiteTky