Can there be a culturally appropriate art? There is no shortage of activists arguing for one, and they are arguing for something new and sinister, in free societies at least.
Let me be clear about the stakes. Artists reflect the ideas of their times, and nearly all Western novels and dramas now treat, say, gays and lesbians sympathetically. They are a world away from the thrillers of the 1970s in which the lisping homosexual was invariably the villain. Such stereotypes are not the issue today. Nor is the argument about whether a male novelist can create convincing female characters or vice versa or a white novelist create a convincing black character or vice versa. Readers have always been able to complain that a novelist has produced inauthentic work. Rather than an argument about what is said, we have an argument about what right artists have to speak at all.
As Lionel Shriver put it in a speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival, “Ethnicities, nationalities, races, sexual and gender categories, classes of economic underprivilege and disability are now encouraged to be possessive of their experience and to regard other peoples’ attempts to participate in their lives and traditions, either actively or imaginatively, as a form of theft.” Continue reading →
POLITICAL CORRECTNESS is destroying its own. It is abandoning its children, and declaring them illegitimate. It is shouting down activists who once subscribed to its doctrines and turning its guns on its own. Women are suffering the most, as they usually do. “Radical feminist” is now an insult on campuses and in many “progressive” corners of the Western left. Fall into that pariah category, and your opponents will ban you if they can and scream you down if they cannot.
It is tempting to say “serves you right” or “I told you so” to the feminists on the receiving end of the new intolerance. For years, a few of us have warned that the modern liberal-left would live to regret abandoning the principle that you should only censor opinions when they incited violence. It is only human to want to enjoy our vindication with the usual self-righteousness. But we will not understand why Western societies have become so hypocritical and tongue-tied if we do not understand what drove feminists to ban and what drives so many to ban them today.
Students may not appreciate it, but there is an advantage in not having to pay upfront for their education or on taking their chances with the ration system direct state funding would bring. “Student loans” and “student debt” are misleading terms. In reality, graduates must pay an additional tax only when their annual income reaches £21,000. If it does, they are liable. If it does not, the taxpayer, who funded their courses, must bear the loss. Today’s young have more chances to fulfil their ambitions than any generation in history. But here’s the rub. The true scandal in higher education is that only a minority, perhaps a tiny minority, ever will.
Degree misselling is just as widespread as financial misselling, but no admissions tutor is ever arrested, and no university is ever forced to repay the money it has taken from the taxpayer or graduate. Because universities take no risks, they can recruit with abandon and condemn thousands of young people a year to disappointment.
The approval of former MI6 agent John le Carré has not guaranteed the authenticity of the BBC’s dramatisation of The Night Manager. Those who know about the Middle East could barely make it through the first episode. Continue reading →
After the massacres in Paris on November 13, the US Secretary of State John Kerry made a statement so disgraceful you had to read it, rub your eyes, and read it again to comprehend the extent of his folly: “There’s something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that,” Kerry began in the laboured English of an over-promoted middle manager.
“There was a sort of particularised focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of — not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, OK, they’re really angry because of this and that. This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorise people.”
I have written before that the period after 9/11 has been a strange and neurotic time in Europe and North America. On the one hand, everyone knew that a murderously reactionary ideology mandated vast slaughter. On the other, actual Islamist slaughters were rare. Until the two assaults on Paris this year, there were just two large attacks since 9/11 on the rich world: in Madrid and London in 2004 and 2005. Fear of violence without the experience of violence produces the ideal conditions for appeasement. You can imagine your own deaths and the deaths of those you love. But death never comes. You are not provoked into retaliation, but instead are overwhelmed by the desire to avoid danger by excusing and indulging. No one in Pakistan or Nigeria could engage in the wishful thinking of John Kerry. Only the nervous peace of a phoney war could produce the thought that we could have it all ways. We could carry on being good liberals respecting the rights of women and homosexuals, believing in freedom of speech and of religion, while conceding miles of ground to men who were against every liberal and democratic principle we avowed. As much as the admirable and essential desire to prevent our fellow citizens suffering anti-Muslim bigotry, as much as the narcissistic desire to indulge in Western guilt, the basic desire to save our skins and calm our fears has shaped contemporary culture.
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour’s pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings during General Election campaigning.
I first saw Ed Miliband at the launch of a new book by Will Hutton. It was the autumn of 2010, and he had just become Labour’s leader. The party was full of leftish writers, who might be expected to help and support Miliband. But he didn’t want to charm them, or work the room and meet and greet. He just stood there awkward and alone. “Whatever his other qualities,” I thought, “this man isn’t a politician.” Continue reading →