As the new Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall, was announced, the ‘below-the-line’ comments of the Guardian report were predictably scathing. The usual vilification of far-Right fascism was offered, with some variations on the theme. Apparently Nuttall is ‘against abortion’. Inverted commas are necessary here, because critics did not elaborate on his stance. One comment asserted that this would immediately rule out Ukip in 50 per cent of the electorate.
That comment is a perfect combination of the identity politics and polarisation that dominate current debate. The assumption that all women are advocates of unlimited abortive rights is refuted by survey data, yet commonly stated as though it were fact. Often men make this mistake, perhaps through ignorance. Feminists claim to represent their sex en bloc, and freedom to terminate a foetus at any stage of pregnancy is asserted as an unambiguous stance of all womanhood. So, half of the population is homogenised into one correct view, with no consideration of the complexity of the topic.
In reality, polarised positions are held by a minority of people. Only extreme libertarians would regard the fate of a fully-formed human being at 39 weeks as solely at the mercy of the bearer’s autonomy. Some religious fundamentalists would totally prohibit abortion. But most people are somewhere between these poles, as indeed is the law. Compromise, however, is not in the vocabulary of the simplistic polarisers. You think abortion should be restricted to 20 weeks, maybe because you are persuaded that a foetus is viable by that time – you are anti-women. You think that immigration should be reduced to a more sustainable influx – you are xenophobic.
Lecturing this week on psychological therapies, I mentioned transactional analysis, and realised how well this once-popular model of human behaviour describes today’s discourse. Canadian psychiatrist Eric Berne devised TA in the 1960s as a therapeutic approach, which often entails helping a client overcome childlike defences to develop an adult ego state. Ideally, our interactions should be adult to adult, but sometimes people act as parents, or as children. Just as there are motives for controlling others, acting as the irresponsible child has incentives too, but sometimes we find ourselves forced into the latter role.
Parent to child relationships are readily apparent in our culture. Politicians like Emily Thornberry and Nick Clegg display a paternalistic regard for the people. Consider the many Oxbridge middle-class ‘headmistress’ types parachuted into Labour seats, who have little connection with constituents beyond the local party office. Scratch under their skin and they reveal themselves as critical parents, as in Nurse Ratched in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Voters are too easily swayed by populism and demagogues: they should be protected from the pitfalls of free speech and democracy. Experts are needed, to tell the ignorant plebs what to think and do.
Contrast BBC coverage of topics such as climate change or immigration with a conversation in the pub. The first is the privileged posturing of the politically correct broadcaster, projecting messages to the masses, while the latter is a frank exchange of views, delivered from a common-sense, experiential perspective. This is adult-to-adult interaction, although it may regress after a few pints or glasses of rosé, when ego relaxes and id (as Freud formulated) takes over. That is human nature.
The influence of alcohol, though, is no excuse for those earnestly sober people on anti-Brexit rallies. Look at the gatherings and you see a graduate class immersed in a child-to-child support group, their ‘I love EU soooo much’ placards adorned with love hearts. Basically they are saying ‘It’s not fair, those nasty people won instead of us’. Many tweets by celebrities are the stuff of primary school, like Lily Allen’s shocked response to the American presidential election (as if it really affects her): ‘Tomorrow, we take back our world’.
The infantilisation of universities is a troubling phenomenon, with safe spaces and censorship of any challenging fact or argument. There is a danger that older, conservatively-minded generations laugh off the absurdities of youthful moralising as a stage to be passed in life. But at the vanguard of these adult-shaped beings are commissars of rectitude who have gained positions of power. They have manipulated our political parties, institutions and the law. Kate Bush discovered this week, following her appreciation of Theresa May, the intolerance of the prevailing Leftish culture on social media. But others have lost their jobs, or been hauled before court, their livelihood destroyed, for expressing a divergent view.
The institutionalisation of ‘hate’ as a crime tells young people that some attitudes or beliefs are not merely disagreeable, but totally unacceptable. Hence pupils and students walking out, with their teachers or lecturers, in numerous educational facilities in the USA following the victory of Donald Trump. There is nothing wrong in criticising the result of an election – we conservatives have been doing this for decades. But to try to invalidate the verdict through demonstrations or other public protest is not constructive behaviour. Teachers and lecturers missed an opportunity to use the presidential election as a lesson in life: you cannot always get what you want. And if you didn’t get it, why not? Was what you wanted not what others want?
(Image: Garry Knight)