Looking back from the vantage point of 2030, it is clear that 2016 was the year when things began to change. The counter-counterculture, some have dubbed it; but that’s wrong, suggesting a return to the past, and this has been a very contemporary social revolution. It was, nevertheless, one of those defining moments when history stopped giving the false impression of marching in a straight line, and veered in a new direction.
The previous year, the then Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Grand Marshal of the Social Justice Warriors, asked why he had appointed a 50/50 ‘gender equal’ cabinet (despite, as at present, only a quarter of Canadian MPs being female), responded ‘because it’s 2015’. Already, that was sounding as embarrassingly preposterous in its own way as asking whether one would want one’s wife or one’s servants to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover. When things begin to change, they change fast.
While the undercurrents of the change had been stirring for some time, turbulence broke the surface when Britons voted to leave the European Union (ultimately leading to its collapse a few years later). One of the immediate issues was uncontrolled immigration, and its effects on unskilled jobs and communities. That was, however, only a symptom of a deeper malaise, of widespread distrust of an elite, metropolitan establishment which could not see beyond the end of its politically correct nose.
And then the even bigger shock, when a puffed-up reality TV businessman became President of the United States of America. Trump was no ideologue: elected as a Republican, only five years before he had been a registered Democrat; no-one could accuse him of being a deep thinker. And yet he understood instinctively that the Democrats had abandoned the common people, having become obsessed with rarefied concepts of identity politics barely comprehensible to most of the electorate. All in all, while many of Trump’s promises to a dispossessed white working class inevitably went unfulfilled, at the same time the worst fears of his detractors were also unrealised, and he turned out to be a better president than many had anticipated, securing a second term in 2020. Above all, his bombastic rejection of political correctness, which had been a decisive factor in his election, proved to be utterly sincere: backed by a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, and buttressed by conservative appointees to the Supreme Court, the authoritarian edicts of cultural Marxism, which had hitherto been tightening their restrictive grip on freedom of speech and conscience, began to be rolled back.
Symptomatic of the shifting cultural paradigm was the release of a documentary film, The Red Pill, towards the end of the year by Cannes award-winning film-maker Cassie Jaye. Having previously made documentaries about sex education and same-sex marriage, Jaye was essentially a figure of the progressive left: when, therefore, she set out to explore the largely unexamined world of men’s rights activism, it was from the perspective of a convinced feminist. And then the unthinkable happened: Jaye grappled with her conscience, and began to change her mind. Taking the time and trouble to consider the arguments deeply revealed to her that many of the tenets of feminism had been misconceived. As soon as it became known that her film was not going to be yet another diatribe against the patriarchy, traditional sources of funding dried up, and Jaye had to appeal for funds via Kickstarter. Finish it she did, however, and the effect was electric: if this young, sassy, West Coast former feminist could admit she’d been wrong, was the whole edifice built on sand?
But the tipping point originated in Canada, one of the most politically correct countries on the planet, in the person of a little-known psychology professor from the University of Toronto. Of course, everyone has now heard of the brilliant Dr Jordan Peterson, star of the internet and one of the great minds of our age; but it’s easy now to forget just how courageous he was. When Peterson first took to cyberspace to speak out with remarkable depth and clarity against political correctness, the university environment could not have been more hostile. The presenting issue was the enforced use of made-up pronouns for those who had decided they identified as ‘gender non-binary’ and couldn’t tolerate being referred to as ‘he’ or ‘she’; the real issue was about the threat to freedom of speech from authoritarian dogma. The university administration sent warning letters. Peterson was sure he would lose his job, and would probably be prosecuted. Academic colleagues turned their backs.
At the same time, though, Peterson had amassed over 90,000 subscribers on YouTube—more than the University of Toronto had students, he boasted—and in total his videos garnered millions of views. Online comments were overwhelmingly laudatory, and both Peterson himself and the university were deluged with messages of support for his position. The university wanted to act against him—had to act, if both its policies and the Ontario Human Rights Code were to be upheld—but they knew they couldn’t; unless that is, they wanted thousands of angry protestors swarming the campus while donors withdrew their funding. They were paralysed. The first brick was removed from the wall.
Because of the internet, the progressive cultural establishment, so long dominating what used to be called the mainstream broadcast media, finally lost control of the narrative of public discourse. Online, anyone can say what he thinks—anonymously, if he’s nervous of the consequences—and people did: especially on YouTube, excoriating criticism of so-called ‘social justice’ ideology was in the ascendant. Peterson made sure he was in the right place at the right time. Sometimes, all it takes is one brave man to speak the truth.
So here we are now, as the third decade of the millennium draws to a close. The threat from radical Islam is still with us, and here in the UK the National Health Service is at breaking-point. The housing crisis is worse than ever, plunging many into poverty, and no-one seems to have an immediate solution: it is openly acknowledged now that this is but one of many catastrophic consequences of the epidemic of family breakdown, and that despoiling the countryside with more concrete would not be the best response to our apparent inability to live together.
Things are a very long way from perfect; but why should we expect anything else? The world is a complex place, and we can at least dare to hope that our society is beginning to trust in the wisdom of ages, and has perhaps grown out of the folly of utopianism.
Prudence Dailey is a Member of the General Synod of the Church of England, and an aspirant cultural counter-revolutionary.
(Image: Alex Guibord)