Must Reads

From Homophobia to Anti-Bigotry: How Did Christians Become the New Pariahs?

It is a chill February day in London in 2018 and a small demonstration is taking place outside a cinema just off Piccadilly Circus. Wrapped-up warm, the quiet protestors are holding up posters that say “Silenced” in capital letters. Most Londoners trying to get to their bus stops or across to the bars of Soho barely notice them. A passing couple clock that the group is mainly middle-aged and elderly. One says to the other, “Some kind of UKIP protest I guess.” But it is not. The assembled dozens came here to watch a film called Voices of the Silenced. But as their placards point out, Voices of the Silenced has itself been silenced.

The organizers booked the cinema three months earlier, and say they had complied with all the cinema’s rules for private screenings, including sending them the film in advance. But a day before the screening Pink News—an online remnant of Britain’s gay press—found out about the screening and called for its immediate cancellation. The call was successful. The Vue cinema swerved around any negative publicity by swiftly announcing that it had the right not to honour private hires if the film to be shown was “in direct contradiction” of its “values.” The cinema also warned the group who had hired the venue that there might be a “public order” and even “security”  threat if the screening was to go ahead.

So on the big night, with exactly 126 people apparently travelling to attend the screening from as far away as the Netherlands, the organizers are scrambling to try to find another venue at which their assembled punters might view the film. Chief among the evening’s organizers is Dr Michael Davidson of the Core Issues Trust. Davidson is not a doctor of medicine. He has a doctorate in education, but like some other public figures who use the prefix you feel that Davidson would not be displeased if someone laboured under a misapprehension about the precise nature of his qualifications.

Davidson had come to national attention in Britain six months earlier when he had been invited as a guest on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, co-hosted by Piers Morgan, to discuss homosexuality and so-called “conversion therapies.” Davidson has admitted that he used to be gay himself—or at least had “homosexual experiences.” But at some point he decided that it was not for him. He has been married to his wife for 35 years and has two children. He believes that where he has gone other people can follow, and so through his group he offers counselling on a voluntary basis to other people who would like to move from being gay to becoming a heterosexual like himself who admits that he still gets—though doesn’t act on – certain “urges.”

When challenged about all this on national television, Davidson calmly and politely makes it clear that he thinks homosexuality is an “aberration” and specifically that it is a learned behaviour. Asked whether it can be unlearned, he claims that it “in some cases is reversible for people who want to make that the trajectory of their lives.” Dr Davidson managed to get this out before his main interviewer denounced him to the others present in the studio. “Do you know what we call these people, Dr Michael?” Piers Morgan asked. “We call them horrible little bigots, in the modern world. Just bigoted people who actually talk complete claptrap and are in my view a malevolent and dangerous part of our society. What’s the matter with you? How can you think that nobody’s born gay and they all get corrupted and they can all be cured? Who are you to say such garbage?”

A relatively unflustered Davidson asked Morgan for evidence that people are born gay, pointing out that neither the American Psychological Association nor the Royal College of Psychiatrists believe that homosexuality is innate and unchangeable. At which point his interviewer ordered him to “stop talking for a moment” and “stop banging on about whacky-backy scientists in America.” Morgan then continued to shout at his guest, “Shut up you old bigot,” before he brought the whole interview to a close with the words “I’ve had enough of him. Dr Michael, shut up.” And so it finished. ITV had sent a car to a guest’s home in the early morning to bring him to a national television studio only for him to be told during his interview to shut up.
Six months after that event and Davidson remains clearly unmoved by that high-profile brouhaha. Talking on his mobile phone outside the cancelled venue in Piccadilly, he is relieved to be able to tell his audience that he has finally found a venue which would allow him to screen his film. So the assembled men and women head to Westminster’s Emmanuel Centre, just around the corner from the Houses of Parliament.

The doors to that venue are tightly shut, but at one side door, if you mention your name and your name is checked off the list, then the entire evening opens up. Indeed, once inside it becomes a rather jolly affair. We are all given a glass of prosecco and a bag of popcorn to take into the screening. One elderly woman comes over and thanks me for coming. “Obviously I know your own background,” she adds, and I realize she is not talking about where I was brought up, “as you talk about it often,” she adds gnomically. But she explains that this only means she is even more pleased to see me here. It is true that I may be the only out person at this gay-cure film-screening. But I suspect that I am not the only gay in the room.

The film Voices of the Silenced itself is less coherent than might have been hoped. The main point (as explained by Davidson himself in the film’s opening) is that “Ancient ideologies and modern ideologies are coming together.” It is never quite clear how, and the whole thing feels like two different films awkwardly melded together at a late stage in the editing process. The first film is about the ancient world, with very scary apocalyptic images. The second film consists of some very specific testimony from doctors and patients talking about being gay and then not being gay any more. As well as Dr Davidson there is a Dr Stephen Baskerville and an expert from Texas named (I cannot stifle an audible laugh) David Pickup.

So each time there is something in the film on the loss of the Temple in AD 70 and the Arch of Titus, then it cuts to the gays again. Or the ex-gays. We are told that “the new state orthodoxy celebrates homosexuality.” Then, along with a range of “experts”—mainly from the United States—we get the testimonies. What any of these have to do with the Arch of Titus is never fully made clear. Perhaps homosexuality is causing the collapse of this civilization? If so the accusation is never quite made. There is an “ex-lesbian” now married with five children who says that her “vulnerability” resurfaced 10 years ago but that she got help from a ministry. Several witnesses talk of suicidal thoughts, alcohol abuse and “self-centredness.” One (called John) mentions that his mother was “a Jewess,” which is a word you don’t often hear these days. There is a lot of testimony from a handsome 29-year-old German called Marcel. He describes his own tribulations. He says that as a child his mother beat him, naked, in front of his sister and this—it is suggested—may be one of the reasons why he has in the past found himself attracted to men. Some of the interviewees were from families where their parents divorced. Others were not. Several of the interviewees seem to have been very close to their mothers. Others not.

Dr Joseph Nicolosi—one of the stars of the film—offers up the idea that many of his “patients” actually hate their mothers, don’t know how to deal with men and thus develop certain fantasies as a result. He suggests that one cure for anyone troubled by homoerotic temptations is that they might consider taking up a healthy pursuit such as “going to a gym.” Suggesting, perhaps, that Dr Nicolosi has never been to a gym.

Of course it is easy to snigger at all this, and for some people it would be easy to be outraged too. Yet the human stories are there. John and Lindsay say that they have both suffered from SSA (Same-Sex Attraction) but have been able to tackle it together and are now working together as a very successful heterosexual couple with five children. “It’s not just us,” Lindsay reassures the viewer. “We know several people [who have also had SSA] who are happily married. It is hard work,” she continues, with John sitting slightly awkwardly beside her. “It’s not for the faint-hearted. And I think you have to just push through. Particularly in the present era: all the media and all the cultural pressures to do something else.”

Sadder than this couple are the several interviewees who were gay once but now appear here with their faces blacked out. Perhaps it is too charitable to reflect that it wasn’t so long ago that this need for blackened-out faces and back-of-head shots would have applied the other way around.

Towards the film’s end an Irish pastor sums up a part of the film’s point. He explains that he doesn’t mind people holding out the view that homosexuality is inherent and unchangeable. He just wants to be allowed to be able to hold his view. As Dr Baskerville reiterates, only one position on this matter appears to be able to be held in academia and the media, and that is “promotion” of homosexuality. “Sexuality is being politicized,” we are told in the final moments. And then, after another inexplicable reference to the Ancient Jews, the film ends with the dramatic yet careful line: “It is time to accept difference.”

Unsurprisingly this audience gives the film a very warm reception. And then something mortifying happens. Several of the film’s interviewees are in the audience and are invited up onstage to receive more applause. Among them is a young British man from the film called Michael. He seems slightly twitchy and nervous and filled with suffering. His forehead is more than usually wrinkled for someone of his age. For various reasons he has already expounded on in the film he doesn’t want to live as a gay man and so has put himself on an obviously internally wracking path to try to live as a heterosexual and to become (as Dr Davidson himself has) an ex-gay—perhaps also, in time, with the same pleasures of having a wife and children of his own. The evening finishes with a prayer.

On the Losing Side

On the way home and in the days that followed I wondered about my evening with the voluntary conversion therapists. And I wondered in particular why I was not more bothered by it.
First, it must be said that I do not fear these people—and certainly could not kick up that level of outrage which the gay press has decided to trade in as it loses its purpose. If there is a reason it is because I cannot see that events are going in the direction of the people in the Emmanuel Centre that night. Today, and for the foreseeable future, they are on the losing side.

When they appear on television they are treated with scorn—perhaps too much scorn. They find it hard to make watchable documentaries, and find it even harder to screen them. They are forced to hide away in secret venues, and seem unlikely to be taking anywhere by storm any time soon.

Of course if I was a young gay man growing up in parts of rural America or Britain—even today—I might think differently. Certainly if I had grown up in parts of the American Bible Belt, or had ever lived through (or been threatened with) the forced conversion therapies that went on there—and still go on in parts of the world today—I might look at Michael (Dr) Davidson and his friends in a very different light.

But here, this evening, they are the losers. And aware of the thrill that can occur when the boot is on the other foot, I feel a reluctance to treat them in victory as some of their ideological confrères might have treated me if we had met before, in different circumstances. The manner in which people and movements behave at the point of victory can be the most revealing thing about them. Do you allow arguments that worked for you to work for others? Are reciprocity and tolerance principles or fig-leaves? Do those who have been censored go on to censor others when the ability is in their own hands? Today the Vue cinema is on one side. A few decades ago they might have been on the other. And Pink News and others who celebrate their victory in chasing Voices of the Silenced a mile down the road one February night seem very ready to wield such power over a private event. In doing so they contradict the claims made by gay rights activists from the start of the battle for gay equality, which is that it should be no business of anyone else what consenting adults get up to in private. If that goes for the rights of gay groups then surely it ought to apply to the rights of Christian fundamentalists and other groups too.

There are two other things. The first is that in order to fear what was happening that evening you would have to extrapolate from it. You would have to suspect that, when Davidson says he only wants to deal with people who come to him seeking help, this is a mere cover-story. You would have to believe that this is in fact just a front—the first part of a wider plan to turn something voluntary into something compulsory and from something compulsory for some people into something compulsory for all. And that would be to trample all over one of the bases of political tolerance. It would be to award yourself the right not just to come to your own conclusions about people, but to attribute motives to others that you cannot see but which you suspect. Which leads to a question that everybody in genuinely diverse and pluralistic societies must at some point ask: “Do we take other people at face value, or do we try to read behind their words and actions, claim to see into their hearts and there divine the true motives which their speech and actions have not yet revealed?”

If we were to do this in cases like these, then how would we do it? Do we insist that the other party has the darkest possible motives unless they fully satisfy us that their motivations are otherwise? Or do we have to learn some degree of forbearance and take them on trust? Even the responses to that question aren’t fixed. They fluctuate depending on date, location, circumstance and luck. Someone now in their seventies who was put through forced conversion therapy (especially if put through “aversion” therapy) will have more cause to be suspicious than anyone from each of the successively luckier generations that have followed. Warning sirens go off earlier if they were set earlier, or in harsher times.

Perhaps these generational and geographical differences will diminish over time and the flattening effects of social media will make everyone equally sanguine. Or perhaps these tools have the opposite effect, persuading a gay in 2019 Amsterdam that they are permanently at risk of living in 1950s Alabama. Nobody knows. We live in a world in which every fear, threat and hope imaginable is always available to us.

Yet one prerequisite for avoiding perpetual confrontation is an ability to listen to people’s words and put some trust in them. True, in borderline cases, when alerted that something strange may be going on, it may be necessary to dig behind the words to ensure that nothing else is happening. But if that has been done and nothing found then the words must be trusted. None of the press which had sought to silence Voices of the Silenced had shown that Davidson or his colleagues were forcing unwilling participants to submit to a regime of heterosexual conversion. None had even enquired into what details the film included or how his “counselling” was being done. And so a set of assumptions had been made about his group and words assigned different interpretations because of their speaker. In this calibration “voluntary” meant “forced,” “counselling” meant “persecution” and everybody who went to him was irrevocably and unalterably gay.

It is this last assumption which provokes the only big challenge that Davidson and his colleagues present. In On Liberty, first published in 1859, John Stuart Mill famously laid out four reasons for why free speech was a necessity in a free society: the first and second being that a contrary opinion may be true, or true in part, and therefore may require to be heard in order to correct your own erroneous views; the third and fourth being that even if the contrary opinion is in error, the airing of it may help to remind people of a truth and prevent its slippage into an ignorant dogma which may in time—if unchallenged—itself become lost.

Abiding by Mill’s principles would appear to be hard for many people today. Harder, indeed, than simply changing dogmas. In recent years the accepted opinion on gay rights in America, Britain and most other Western democracies has shifted unimaginably, and for the better. But it has moved so swiftly that it has also seen the replacement of one dogma with another. A move from a position of moral opprobrium to a position of expressing opprobrium to anyone whose views fall even narrowly outside the remit of the newly adopted position. The problem with this is not just that we are at risk of being unable to hear positions that are wrong, but that we may be preventing ourselves from listening to arguments that may be partially true.

As it happens, confused as their film-making was, and disagreeable though much of their world view might be, Davidson and his colleagues are onto something around the nature of sexual attraction. These are deep and toxic waters. But there is no point in identifying such waters and not plunging into them.

Replacing Dogma With Dogma

When it comes to matters around sexuality a set of presumptions have been adopted which are proving quite as dogmatic as the notions they replaced. In June 2015 the then Conservative Education Secretary declared that homophobic views were evidence of potential “extremism” in school pupils in Britain. Indeed as the BBC reported, Nicky Morgan said that “attacking core British values or being extremely intolerant of homosexuality were examples of behaviour that could raise the alarm.” They were evidence that a pupil might have been being “groomed” by “extremists,” and a pupil who said they thought homosexuality “evil” might need to be reported to the police. Of some interest is the fact that in May 2013 Morgan had voted against the law introducing gay marriage into the UK. One year later, in 2014, she said that she now supported gay marriage and would vote for it if it had not already become law. Another year later, in 2015, she was declaring views such as those she herself had held two years earlier as not merely evidence of “extremism” but fundamentally un-British.

In the 1990s Hillary Clinton supported her husband’s “defence of marriage act” which sought to prevent gay marriage from becoming possible in the United States. She watched as he backed the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for gays in the US military, meaning that any gay soldier who told even one other person about their sexuality could immediately be dismissed from the armed forces. As Robert Samuels wrote in the Washington Post, “Hillary Clinton had the chance to make gay rights history. She refused.” Yet in 2016 when she was campaigning for the Presidency for the second time and the views of wider society had shifted markedly, the LGBT community (as gays had now become) were one of the specific sections of the country whom Clinton claimed to be campaigning especially hard for. It is not unusual for politicians to shift positions. But the speed with which the times changed made for some remarkably sharp changes of position in the political class.

Other people and countries have instituted even swifter and noisier U-turns. Almost immediately after gay marriage became legal in Germany, acceptance of it was made a condition of citizenship in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Yesterday there was one dogma. Now there is another.

It is not just some politicians who must have suffered whiplash in recent years. Newspapers that were until recently decidedly unpleasant about homosexuals now cover same-sex weddings like any other society news. Columnists who were damning about equal ages of consent only a few years ago now berate people not fully onboard with gay marriage. In 2018 the MSNBC host Joy Reid was publicly shamed and made to apologize after historic comments from a decade earlier were found in which she had been critical of gay marriage—at a time when almost everybody else was unsupportive of gay marriage as well. When change happens so swiftly, there is much making up for lost time to be done, and little pity for those found dragging behind.

Making Everything Gay

And so some individuals, governments and corporations appear to believe that their job is to make up for lost time. They are forcing discussion of gay issues in a manner slightly beyond acceptance and more in the realms of “This will be good for you.”

By 2018 the BBC seemed to have decided that items of specifically gay news needed to be not just reported but headlined as major news. One of its top stories of the day on the corporation’s website in September that year was that the Olympic diver Tom Daley had felt “inferior” about his sexuality but that this had given him the motivation to become a success. This story was published five years after Daley had come out. He had not been silent about his private life in the interim period. And yet this human interest story was a lead item on the BBC’s website just beneath news of an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia which had killed more than 800 people. One day later and the BBC website had as one of its lead stories the news that a minor reality television star called Ollie Locke had announced that he and his fiancé (Gareth Locke) were going to join their surnames to make themselves the Locke-Lockes after their forthcoming marriage. In other headline news, the death toll from the Indonesian earthquake had risen significantly overnight.

Perhaps it requires someone who is gay to say this, but there are times when such ‘news’ reporting doesn’t feel like news reporting at all. Rather it seems that some type of message is being sent out either to the public or to people whom the media believe to be in positions of power. This goes beyond “This will be good for you” and nearer to the realm of “See how you like this, bigot.” There are days when you wonder how heterosexuals feel about the growing insistence with which gay stories are crow-barred into any and all areas of news.

Take a fairly average day at the New York Times. On 16 October 2017 a reader of the International Edition of the paper might decide to take a break from the opinion pages and turn to some richer fare. They might turn to the business pages. There they would find the lead story in the ‘Business’ section to be ‘Gay in Japan and No Longer Invisible.’ Perhaps the average reader of the business pages of the New York Times had never thought much about the visibility or otherwise of gay people in Japan. So here was their opportunity to learn about something they didn’t know. Specifically, about the story of Shunsuke Nakamura who recently used a morning meeting with fellow employees at his insurance company to come out as gay. This in a country where attitudes towards homosexuality have tended to be (as one professor at a Tokyo university is quoted as saying in the piece) “indifference rather than hate.” So the New York Times had chosen to splash a story over two pages, as their lead Business feature, about how a man had come out in a company with no negative consequences in a country that had no special problem with gays. Ordinarily it would have to be an exceptionally quiet day in the markets for such a story to be the most important story of the day in ‘Business.’

Turn one page and the story continues, this time under the headline ‘Companies in Japan More Welcoming to Gays.’ By which point the casual reader may well have satisfied their interest in the position of gay men in Japanese companies and begun casting their eye guiltily to the opposite page and the ‘Culture’ section. And what is the lead story and main headline there? ‘A Broader Stage for Love.’

The subject matter of this article could be guessed from the half-page accompanying photo of two male ballerinas, their arms and bodies entwined. “Ballet is slower to change than most art forms,” the paper informed its readers, continuing excitedly, “but in the span of just two recent weeks, New York City Ballet, one of the world’s premier companies, showed two ballets featuring significant same-sex duets.”

The cause for this vast splash is a ballet called The Times Are Racing, the latest production of which—at New York City Ballet—includes the casting of a man in a role originally created for a woman. The New York Times goes on to explain how the hitherto overwhelmingly heterosexual world of ballet was finally “responding to the contemporary world and putting it on the ballet stage.” A male choreographer who was involved promised an “exploration of gender-neutrality” in his work in an Instagram post hash-tagged “loveislove,” “genderneutral,” “equality,” “diversity,” “beauty,” “pride” and “proud.” A sole heretical outside choreographer was singled out for criticism for his stated belief that “there are gender roles in traditional ballet” and that while “men and women are of equal value” they have “different tasks.” The New York City Ballet’s stars—and the New York Times—did not agree.

To the amazement of nobody it turned out that several of the male leads in the New York City Ballet are themselves gay, and one of them explained to the New York Times how early in rehearsals his dance partner had turned to him and said, “It’s so nice to get to step into a role where I feel I could actually potentially fall in love with the person I’m dancing with, as opposed to pretending to be a prince falling in love with a princess.” To which one might say that anyone who feels any tedium enacting scenes in which princes fall in love with princesses may find ballet isn’t their medium. But in case this outburst of diversity on the ballet stage is not enough, the story adds more of the five-a-day moral nutrition to the story with the news that this production “explores not only a same-sex relationship but also issues of race.” Describing the overall effect of two men dancing together, the choreographer declared that it just “blew her away.” “Suddenly, they could just be themselves,” the story concludes. At which point the reader of the New York Times has the opportunity to read the other main story about ‘Culture’: a story about how female comics joking about pregnancy and motherhood are finally becoming big.

There is nothing wrong with a newspaper of record deciding to devote its Business and Culture pages as well as much of its opinion and news pages to stories about being gay. But it sometimes feels as though there is something else going on in all this. The use of gay special interest stories for purposes other than those of actual news: perhaps making up for lost time, or perhaps just rubbing things in the faces of those not yet up to speed with the changed mores of the age. Either way something strange and vaguely retributive is in the air.

Of course people change, learn and often shift their positions. Most do so quietly, generally after others have done the heavy lifting. But one problem of changing societal positions so swiftly is that unexplored, even unexploded, issues and arguments are left behind in the wake. When Piers Morgan demanded of his guest, “How can you think that nobody’s born gay?” he displays too great a certainty over a question that is still uncertain. And whether or not anyone is born gay, or whether everyone who is gay is born gay, it does not follow at all that being gay is a one-way street.


Excerpted from The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race, and Identity by Douglas Murray, Penguin Press (September 2019), 280 pages.

Douglas Murray is an associate editor of the Spectator and the author of six books and a stage play about Raoul Wallenberg.

Feature photo: Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, holds a protest at the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, Kent, as Bishops disscuss human sexuality. PA Images / Alamy Photo. 


  1. I have to admit a certain sympathy to heretics, dissenters and contrarians. These days, they seem to be the flag bearers of the cultural shift, away from the trite assertions of the ideologically-driven. We’re beginning to realise that we’ve invited a monster into our daily lives, the tentacles of which are most felt in the workplace. Now, you can be reprimanded for using the phrases “nitty gritty” or “rule of thumb”, even though the use of the former has been traced to British maritime practice after slavery was abolished, and the latter was only ever used as a carpentry reference, notwithstanding its single and solitary use by the notorious Judge Cane (or Thumb), who was widely pilloried at the time, back in the 18th century.

    What I dislike is that offence is firmly in the eye of the beholder, with the default position that if anyone is subjectively offended, then the speaker must be offensive. What really amuses is that people have to be careful of avoiding possible future offence now, given that the goal posts are so constantly moving. Many a struggling comedian’s career has been laid waste with comments or routines, that were OK or simply risque at the time, only to be reclassified as problematic, at a later date. The recent movie Joker premiered to an eight minute standing ovation, and was heralded as a modern triumph- until several ‘woke’ liberals realised that some of the narrative observations of the film, could imply a certain critique of cultural trends instigated by the Left. So sometimes the offence can be a delayed action timebomb, or a sword of Damocles hanging over our collective heads…

    I just hope that the mainstream culture comes to it’s senses soon, and realises that there is money to be made, with a principled stand for liberal values. In theory, the idea that one should be intolerant towards the intolerant, doesn’t seem that dangerous- until you realise that it still the intolerant being intolerant, and that the person they are being intolerant towards might simply be a conservative, or indeed, an elderly woman pushing a stroller. It’s all so inherently subjective and hence prone to error, giving license to the young to bash who they like, verbally or physically.

  2. This is an interesting turn of the tides.

    It’s telling that what lies under the ideology of tolerance and diversity is as intolerant or more so than the ideology it supplanted.

    Or maybe it’s just human nature to relish in victory with your boot on the neck of your fallen foe.

    At any effect, it’s not a good look to be crushing the little guy. Especially taking into account the recent discoveries in genetics concerning homosexuality and the influence of genes in sexuality. This is also telling. Instead of using scientific discovery to bolster the arguments and cement the importance of tolerance towards all sexualities, it’s just more of the same. Outrage. Shout down. Cancel.

  3. Beautiful writing. I can’t wait to read this book.

  4. I’m three quarters of my way through The Madness of Crowds. Superb read; insightful and direct. A certain best seller.

  5. Douglas Murray has a great sense of humor. Pleasure to listen and to read.

    “… there are times when such ‘news’ reporting … seems … nearer to the realm of “See how you like this, bigot” …perhaps making up for lost time, or perhaps just rubbing things in the faces of those not yet up to speed with the changed mores of the age.”

    I’d take this a step further. Institutionalised dogma is a cash cow for MSM and progressive academia. They milk all aspects of intersectionality to widen division between the groups, whipping up hostilities, antagonising, pitting different groups against each other – to create new waves of resentment to surf on, to build careers on.

  6. This is a brilliant book. All of the great things people are saying about it is true. It is entertaining, funny, and profound. It is the most comprehensive and trenchant analysis to date of identity politics and intersectionality and what it is doing to society. Must read!!!

  7. This is a wonderfully balanced and perceptive article, thank you very much, Mr. Murray. If I may, though it might provide what you say with some form of legitimacy for people who struggle with reasoning, it is of relatively little interest who you go to bed with –– your arguments are sound, that’s all that counts.

    Meanwhile, yes. It does indeed often feel as if an un-nuanced proclamation of the wonderfulness of being gay (or any other mostly irrelevant category) is trumpeted to us, deafeningly, to the detriment of other potentially more interesting or important topics. Sometimes it would seem that the BBC and the New York Times are hell-bent on becoming the modern Pravda, which is a terrible shame because they also have an illustrious history of good, objective reporting that they’d do better to focus on.

    You do well to beautifully illustrate to us how the thrills of flaying one’s opponent with righteous indignation are much too delicious for Piers Morgan (and so many others…) to be traded in for dusty intellectual humility or curiosity. Torquemada might be amused, if he were of that temperament, to find his exact same tactics used to defend positions diametrically opposed to his. Moral superiority has always been irresistible to the guilty.

    Coming back to the beginning of the article, I commend your interest in attending the film viewing and your even-handed reporting of what you observed.

    It is a shame, though, that considering the possibility that having homosexual desires may not be irrevocable, and that some individuals may wish to attempt to change them, has been so apparently monopolized by faith-led initiatives that employs what seems to be rather dubious methodology. That said, I understand that the silence is so great on these matters that you may have had no access at all to other perspectives on the issue and can only report on what you know.

    Indeed, the silence has grown so deep on this that nobody seems to recognize anymore that generations of highly-trained, knowledgeable and careful psychotherapists have been working with patients such as these (individuals not happy with their homosexual orientation) with methods that have strictly nothing to do with aversion therapy, and everything to do with acquiring the deepest possible knowledge of oneself. They hold the patient’s choices in the highest respect, and work with extreme patience and carefulness to unravel the difficulties the patient finds himself or herself in. Sometimes these patients find a way of living with their homosexuality that is sufficiently satisfactory. Sometimes they work through the underlying difficulties and can discover new desires within themselves.

  8. Thank you Douglas for some quiet and nuanced reflection in a sea of shouting barbarians and clouds of ideological arrows. You very elegantly plot the disintegration of late modern democratic discourse in a manner that would not have gone amiss in Germany during the 1920s and early 30s.

    For the Germans, aside from a lack of a democratic tradition and the tainting of the democratically elected Weimar officials who had to negotiate the the humiliating treaty of Versailles, there were the stupendous losses of blood and treasure that went into that defeat, the destruction of the German currency four years later that destroyed the savings of an entire generation and then the crushing economic blow of The Depression, just when things seemed to be getting a little better.

    These things provide a reasonable account for the rise of fascism and the existential angst that led to later national aggression and radical anti-Jewish sentiment. Yet there is nothing so intellectually accessible for us in determining why there is such a similar atmosphere surrounding the existential angst that is prompting very similar carbuncular eruptions coming out of our own collective face, from all sides, and why it is they are so irrational and impervious to evidence based thinking…and why respectful debate has become an almost suspect pastime that is no longer honoured, even in the breach.

    The arguments for freedom of speech and tolerance that you raise from JS Mill were once persuasive and now they are not. Something else is going on inside late modern societies that is driving them inexorably towards eventual wars of toleration not dissimilar to the ones fought at the beginning of our historical period.

    The film that you went to see was perhaps the wrong place to start, because that little group is an outlier caught out on an isolated fringe that has long been surrounded and besieged by locally overwhelmingly powerful hostile forces. But the thing is that while such forlorn groups may molder onto the rubbish dump of history, there are in fact much more powerful forces afoot throughout the world, including Europe and the Anglophone world, in the form of religious fundamentalists and displaced working class people who have suffered from global deregulation of the economic system…and they really, really hate the Humanist Ascendancy and its (once liberal) urban tertiary educated constituencies.

    They elected Trump, Boris and the wave of anti liberal political forces that have recently swept into power across the world, shockingly displacing the Humanist Establishment as they go; an establishment that is on the defensive and trying to bolster itself with a bit of its own secular religious hard line orthodoxy and dogma.

    Religion, whether of the secular Humanist or traditionalist kind are all alive and kicking vigorously. The traditional kind is not moldering into the dustbin of history as was once fondly assumed and has become quite obstreperous. In the Islamic world, the western educated urban middle class has either been rubbed out or is having to accommodate much more powerful and conservative social forces. In central Europe and the old Russian empire, the Orthodox church has come back with a vengeance as homosexuals over there are finding to their cost. In Melanesia, old time religion is doing just fine, as it is throughout sub saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent.

    Israel Folau is just following the religious community line where he comes from and there is not the slightest chance that they will alter their attitude.

    It is the Humanist Ascendancy that is under siege…; something Murray that you seem to have missed somewhere…and the fight has just begun.

  9. Religion is the supratribal ordering principle of mankind. Most people intuitively reject the hypothesis that their sense of meaning and value, free will and moral purpose are unintelligible by products of uranium223 decay. Philosophy of mind … for those who still read is running into the materialist dead ends that Nagle points out in Mind and Cosmos although , admittedly he has not yet found his way back to the sanity or Aquinas or Arisotle. Einstein and Heizenbergs’ MIND is still a vastly more coherent worldview than mindless matter in meaningless motion as the ultimate source of all human thought. I personally have found Roman Catholicism to be the only fully coherent worldview extant. And with gratitude.

  10. Paul, the overwhelming feature of modern economiy, technology and science is its capacity to analytically instrumentalize reality, build tools out of those instrumentalities, then uise them to extract instrumental value and do so inside a system that eventually overwhelms everything it touches, whether it be the natural world or our social/existential software.

    It does this because its operating principle is so voracious, it removes anything that slows it down or obstructs its way. Its disinhibitive, deregulatory and privatizing drivers take out everything except market forces. And although it is an almost entirely privately run system that no longer really needs the nation state, which it is steadily residualizing, it is more totalitarian in its operations and rigid in its conformities than any of even its most autocratic state predecessors…to the extent that its subjects have almost no idea of the extent to which they have been colonized and turned into existential ghosts, that have abandoned their heartlands and now scratch a living on the edges of themselves, playing with goods and services satisfactions that do little more than deliver colour and movement on the shiny surfaces of a world with no depth of field at all…

    This system has been so completely successful in absorbing everything into itself, it has created an existential desert that looks just like the valley of the shadow of death, that exactly parallels its equally devastating effects on the natural world.

  11. A great piece of prose, but perhaps overly bleak in some respects. It’s my belief that the fundamental flaw in our civilisation is that we crave easy answers to complex questions, especially as it applies to the political realms. By failing to look at systems through the lens of every potential unintended consequence, building contingency into the model, we unwittingly unleash powerfully chaotic and destabilising influences loose on our societies. Most of our political, social and economic conventions were built for far simpler times. We desperately need to evolve to more ‘mindful’ way of looking at the world, to elect for an upgrade to Culture 3.0, in which we look beyond the binary choices of Keynesian/Socialism versus Free Market thinking, to third-state politics and economics.

    Of course, any discussion of this nature necessarily begins with incentives, but doesn’t end there. In the past I have talking about how systems of aligned interest often act both perversely and to preserve themselves, with institutions acting well beyond their remit out of self-interest. We see it in corporations, media, education and the administrative state- it is so commonplace we almost don’t notice it’s there. The real problem tends to come when many systems start to act independently, beyond their mandate, all at once, leading to an aggregated phenomena, that outwardly looks like cultural insanity. And everyone keeps acting as though the triumph of one particular party will automatically fix every woe, a modern cure-all that amounts to nothing more than snake oil.

    The best analogy I can give is to look at the design of any complex system as rather like the exercise of writing. You need to grip the pen well, as you have been trained, in order to achieve anything legible. But beyond, that you have to account for all the possible scenarios that are far more frequent than in th political, economic and social realms, than in real life. First, someone might come along and try and grasp the pen from you, twisting the purpose of the system from that which was originally intended. They may also try to sweep away the bottom end of the pen, because they don’t like what you are doing, and are unaware of the all the unintended consequences that arise from removing the one thing they hate from the interplay of systems.

    You may find that the surface you are using is far more uneven and difficult to write upon than you anticipated. Events may change, and you may suddenly find that the calm room you were writing in, suddenly shifts to a car driven by an Italian driver. And, of course, the hand may cramp, refuse to work or disobey you- as within the body politic every entity has it’s own autonomous agency. The second greatest barrier to legible writing is the fact that by the very nature of progress, everything easy has already been accomplished, ensuring that any new or revisionary writing that takes place is almost always accomplished in the dark, either through the necessity to work at the frontiers of what is known, or by grasping at reformation that lies at the very edge of conscious suspicion, difficult to elucidate.

    But the single biggest failure is the human capacity to soldier on in circumstances that are increasingly dysfunctional. We don’t want to admit that a job can’t be done, without help, or that the situation needs to change to accomplish the task we have been set. Everybody wants to appear knowledgeable, in control, an authority, when sometimes the best option is to say we have a problem, we don’t know the solution. So instead of ratting along in a railway car unsure of our destination, waiting for someone to try to pinch our pen, perhaps we should learn to cooperate more and compete less, and ask someone to switch the bloody lights on.

  12. Geary, life is full of unintended consequences, most of which we can only see clearly in hindsight. If one thinks about it, every human enterprise is a gamble against variables over which one is only ever going to have limited (but not insignificant) capacity to foresee or control; you know, the best laid plans and all that.

    Entrepreneurs know they are are going to lose on some of their bets, but trust to themselves that enough of them will come home to pay for the ones that don’t… And they trust to themselves that that if the battle goes against them, they have the capacity to minimize losses and escape with enough skin intact to fight another day.

    We cannot tackle our history, let alone our future enterprises like bureaucrats, as if its processes can be controlled by guidelines and tick boxes. It does not work that way and never has, which is why great enterprises are never contducted by anyone except accomplished risk takers, who know for absolute certain that things will go wrong, which sometimes are amendable…and other times not. And one really isn’t to know what the answers are until one gets to them.

    Of course good planning for any enterprise is of the essence, but it is an open ended process that constantly keeps getting adjusted as circumstances change.

    All these observations are about entrepreneuriality within a system that is reasonably stable, as in not being in some kind of crisis where the unrpredictable variables goes through the roof. Then eveyone is just guessing, feeling their way and going on intuitive hunches that may well be wrong, but perhaps not quite as wrong as those of everyone else.

    That is the sort of period we are starting to move into.

    I am of the view that modern times and the Indulgence Capitalism (where an economy and culture of disciplined needs and wants gives way to one of iconic fantasies of desire and immediate satiation at any price, that at a mass scale permanently and intractably blurs the lines between objective reality and subjective perception) that has defined it since the 1960s, is in decline and already locked into permanent environmental and existential crisis.

    In my view it will force economies out of consumer based investment into economic and ecological fortification that I would term capitalism ‘Lite’. It will break up and cantonize nation states into much smaller units. And at a cultural level, we will see a shift towards various forms of religious fundamentalism, including secular versions that haven’t appeared yet, as people are forced to seek existential software wealth solutions as a replacement for consumer satisfactions. The whole exercise will be characterized by great instability and the kinds of Reformational wars of toleration over fundamental values that blighted the beginnings of the modern period.

    I suspect Geary that you are a temperamental conservative who likes a bit of certainty and stability around him. But in some measure, don’t we all. Not even the most radical of us want permanent revolution and be condemned to riding the tiger indefinitely. I feel that our problem now is that whatever we do, it is going to be very messy. Major structural change always is. And it always leads to war.

    Great journeys must be imagined first
    and so trenchant in their intent
    to slake the deepest kind of thirst,
    they grasp imaginers by the throat
    and tell them bluntly
    only through travail and trial,
    by purging fire
    and hammer blows be smote
    can their spirit be reforged
    and history’s child
    be sired.
    This ordeal can either temper
    or destroy
    according to its whim,
    or perhaps the pilgrims’ strength within.
    Courage can surmount faint hearts,
    but how can faith presume
    that having gambled all,
    there is a way to save us in the end?
    There are no roads upon the other side,
    except the ones we make,
    every step perhaps at stake
    our lives,
    every view through soldiers’ eyes.
    And so we wile away our days
    beside brooding familiarities
    that will not speak to us for fear
    that it is not the sun that brightens
    all that we hold dear,
    but the bonfire of our vanities;
    that the deepening darkening shade it castes
    is not shadow,
    but decaying sanity.
    We look for hopeful signs,
    but at midnight,
    the clock rings its hands and says
    in anguished tones,
    “Ladies and Gentlemen,
    it’s time.”

  13. You should right more poetry- I find some of your imagery and themes reminiscent of the religious phase of John Donne, which was always my favourite period of his poetry. I would try focusing on scansion a little more though, especially in relation to shifting from iambic to trochaic for emphasis. This is quite easily accomplished in the editing phase, after the initial flood and flow of the creative process. By going back and focusing on specific words choices and changing the grammatical structure that surrounds them. During the process it also helps to occasionally read out loud, especially when stuck.

    I don’t want to make myself out to be an authority on the subject, just thought I would share a few of my own experiences in the field. I actually gave up writing poetry for a long while, after I found myself falling into rhyming couplet syndrome.

  14. Thanks for the feedback Geary and yes, I will be writing more poetry from time to time.

    I am heading to Google to ascertain the deeper meaning of iambic and trochaic scansion in order to nuance my poetic style along more classical lines.

  15. Thank you Geary for taking this trouble. I will take some time to absorb what you have said & follow your prompt to perhaps go through some utube classes…Christopher

Continue the discussion in Quillette Circle

5 more replies