‘Thomas Gradgrind . . . with a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh any parcel of human nature, and tell you what it comes to. It is a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic.’ Charles Dickens, Hard Times.
DICKENS’S Gradgrind (who by the end of the novel is redeemed) is a literary cipher, cultivated to satirise the ‘utilitarianism’ which had infected the outlook of his day. Dickens was caricaturing John Stuart Mill, whose own childhood was weighed out according to the simple arithmetic of his parents and their ruthless interpretation of the needs of their child.
I offer my own iteration. A ‘Gradgrind’ is somebody who can read the music on the sheet but cannot hear the joy in his head; he looks at the Mona Lisa but sees no more than flecks of paint on a canvas. His mindset is reductionistic, he therefore has nothing to say about the mysteries of the human mind (which is, he insists, no more than the human brain).
We are currently governed by a cabal of Gradgrinds, determined to stamp out all habits of human joy (except when experienced by themselves), and invisibly co-ordinated by Chief Gradgrind Gove, the Kenneth Widmerpool of our Potemkin government. These are people who parcel out our freedoms and demand our gratitude when, having confiscated our liberty, they replace it with a list of permissions (always subject to review).
Let us rehearse a few things that are problematic when it comes to the utilitarian worldview.
‘Utilitarianism’ is an ethical theory which assumes that morality is a practice of calculation, the operation of a set of rules. We should act, it demands, in ways that involve the maximisation of human happiness. By ‘happiness’ it means ‘pleasure’ and ignores the more antedated moral psychologies of philosophers such as Aristotle who argued (1,600 years earlier) that a proper account of ‘happiness’ will acknowledge that it is a ‘an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue’.
No such psychological subtleties exist in the minds of the Sage ‘nudge behaviourists’ for whom you have no soul, no virtue, and therefore no happiness, but exist as manipulable data points in a Godless worldview.
Pace the utilitarians, morality is a matter not of following rules but of developing appropriate responses in quotidian and everyday circumstances. We have obligations not merely of action but also of feeling. The utilitarian types remove from people the ability to justify spontaneous acts of kindness and they insist on a rulebook of ethics which only they can understand, being cleverer than the rest of us.
The utilitarian assumes that we can calculate the future, when of course God invariably teaches the lessons of humility. But there is no room for God, or humility, in the cloistered mind of a Susan Michie, chief activist in the Sage attempts to mathematise the workings of the human soul.
When the Sage nomenklatura initiated their slow-motion coup against the public last March, they were criticised for not having drawn up a cost-benefit analysis of the non-pharmaceutical intervention we now call ‘lockdown’. I did not concur with that criticism because it seeded the idea that ‘lockdown’ could in theory be justified if the data came out in certain ways. It was a ‘criticism of distraction’, one which colluded in the utilitarian worldview. It introduced a consequentialist assumption into the national debate, and neutralised the idea that some things are simply wrong.
Here are some ‘costs’ that can never be accurately represented on a government slide: the cancellation of the human smile (and therefore the human self) in public; the prohibition of the singing of the Psalms in Mass; the valorisation of fear in the normal rhythms of human interaction; the normalisation of suspicion of neighbour; the general bastardisation of language; the confiscation of our children’s innocence by forcing them into this whole ghastly narrative in the first place. And, not least, the overall recalibration of the relationship between government and governed, slam-effected by mechanisms of fear, and with the consequence that the public have internalised the tyranny and are now willing to comply with whatever the elites have up their sleeve for the next phase.
What is happening now is not just about ‘lockdown’ and what comes next (important though both those are). We are having imposed on us an ethical system which is metaphysically misconceived because it takes no account of the real nature of the human person. Just as with the rise of transhumanism and AI, the Lockdown Orthodoxy is attempting to subvert our conception of what it means to be human.
Thomas Gradgrind, you will recall, abandons his scales when he recognises in his own daughter a form of despair which cannot be placed on them. He becomes alive to the inconsistencies of the human heart, ‘making his facts and figures subservient to Faith, Hope and Charity’.
If there was hope for him, is there hope for the contemporary Gradgrinds? For the sake of us all, let us hope so, because their utilitarian impulse is about to be directed towards our children whom they see not as irreplaceable centres of beautiful innocence, but as potential sacrifices to the needs of Big Pharma.
A Godless philosophy, imposed with the disappointing compliance of the public, has resulted in the loss of the idea that some things are sacred. Our children will suffer as a result.