Extract and interview with author Douglas Murray
Suddenly we have a genuine crisis on our hands. The petty politics and fashionable shibboleths of the era now look very petty indeed.
In his most recent blockbuster book, The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, Douglas Murray confronts the formation of thought in an era mass hysteria.
The veneer of civilisation is very thin indeed, as we are witnessing during the the rapid spread of the coronavirus. Everyone reverts to type. The public fight in the aisles of supermarkets. Politicians use the opportunity to funnel yet more billions to their mates and into the gullets of their favourite corporations. And governments introduce yet further totalitarian measures, many of which will linger long after the pandemic has evaporated.
The problem with lying to the public for years on end is they don’t believe you when a genuine issue arises.
Below is an extract from the Introduction to The Madness of Crowd, reproduced here with the kind permission of renowned British publisher Bloomsbury.
And beneath that is a link to Bettina Arndt’s recent interview with Douglas Murray.
We are going through a great crowd derangement. In public and in private, both online and off, people are behaving in ways that are increasingly irrational, feverish, herd-like and simply unpleasant. The daily news cycle is filled with the consequences. Yet while we see the symptoms everywhere, we do not see the causes.
Various explanations have been given. These tend to suggest that any and all madnesses are the consequence of a Presidential election, or a referendum. But none of these explanations gets to the root of what is happening. For far beneath these day-to-day events are much greater movements and much bigger events. It is time we began to confront the true causes of what is going wrong.
Even the origin of this condition is rarely acknowledged. This is the simple fact that we have been living through a period of more than a quarter of a century in which all our grand narratives have collapsed. One by one the narratives we had were refuted, became unpopular to defend or impossible to sustain.
The explanations for our existence that used to be provided by religion went first, falling away from the nineteenth century onwards. Then over the last century the secular hopes held out by all political ideologies began to follow in religion ’ s wake. In the latter part of the twentieth century we entered the postmodern era. An era which defined itself, and was defined, by its suspicion towards all grand narratives.
However, as all schoolchildren learn, nature abhors a vacuum, and into the postmodern vacuum new ideas began to creep, with the intention of providing explanations and meanings of their own.
It was inevitable that some pitch would be made for the deserted ground. People in wealthy Western democracies today could not simply remain the first people in recorded history to have absolutely no explanation for what we are doing here, and no story to give life purpose.
Whatever else they lacked, the grand narratives of the past at least gave life meaning. The question of what exactly we are meant to do now — other than get rich where we can and have whatever fun is on offer — was going to have to be answered by something.
The answer that has presented itself in recent years is to engage in new battles, ever fiercer campaigns and ever more niche demands. To find meaning by waging a constant war against anybody who seems to be on the wrong side of a question which may itself have just been reframed and the answer to which has only just been altered.
The unbelievable speed of this process has been principally caused by the fact that a handful of businesses in Silicon Valley (notably Google, Twitter and Facebook) now have the power not just to direct what most people in the world know, think and say, but have a business model which has accurately been described as relying on finding ‘ customers ready to pay to modify someone else’s behaviour ’ .
Yet although we are being aggravated by a tech world which is running faster than our legs are able to carry us to keep up with it, these wars are not being fought aimlessly. They are consistently being fought in a particular direction. And that direction has a purpose that is vast. The purpose — unknowing in some people, deliberate in others — is to embed a new metaphysics into our societies: a new religion, if you will.
Although the foundations had been laid for several decades, it is only since the financial crash of 2008 that there has been a march into the mainstream of ideas that were previously known solely on the obscurest fringes of academia. The attractions of this new set of beliefs are obvious enough. It is not clear why a generation which can ’ t accumulate capital should have any great love of capitalism. And it isn’t hard to work out why a generation who believe they may never own a home could be attracted to an ideological world view which promises to sort out every inequity not just in their own lives but every inequity on earth. The interpretation of the world through the lens of ‘ social justice ’ , ‘ identity group politics ’ and ‘ intersectionalism ’ is probably the most audacious and comprehensive effort since the end of the Cold War at creating a new ideology.
To date ‘ social justice ’ has run the furthest because it sounds — and in some versions is — attractive. Even the term itself is set up to be anti-oppositional. ‘ You ’ re opposed to social justice? What do you want, social in justice? ’
‘ Identity politics ’ , meanwhile, has become the place where social justice finds its caucuses. It atomizes society into different interest groups according to sex (or gender), race, sexual preference and more. It presumes that such characteristics are the main, or only, relevant attributes of their holders and that they bring with them some added bonus. For example (as the American writer Coleman Hughes has put it), the assumption that there is ‘ a heightened moral knowledge ’ that comes with being black or female or gay.
Identity politics is where minority groups are encouraged to simultaneously atomize, organize and pronounce.
The least attractive-sounding of this trinity is the concept of ‘intersectionality’ . This is the invitation to spend the rest of our lives attempting to work out each and every identity and vulnerability claim in ourselves and others and then organize along whichever system of justice emerges from the perpetually moving hierarchy which we uncover. It is a system that is not just unworkable but dementing, making demands that are impossible towards ends that are unachievable.
But today intersectionality has broken out from the social science departments of the liberal arts colleges from which it originated. It is now taken seriously by a generation of young people and — as we shall see — has become embedded via employment law (specifically through a ‘ commitment to diversity ’ ) in all the major corporations and governments.
BETTINA ARNDT INTERVIEWS DOUGLAS MURRAY
The Madness of Crowds by Douglas Murray (Bloomsbury, $32.99) is out now.