Sunday West 43
Greetings from Japan
Good morning, and greetings from Tokyo - the view from my hotel is pictured, although I apologise for my photography skills. I will post more in the coming days about this extraordinary country.
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Firstly, the UK edition of my history book Saxons vs Vikings is out in a few days. You can buy it on Amazon or through the publishers. (use the code SV20, valid until 30 November, which gives 20% off.) The original US edition was published in 2017, the first of five, but this volume is considerably rewritten with about 25% new material.
Since the last Sunday West, I have written about:
Homes for Hamas – one of the terror group’s fundraisers was able to access social housing in London, although he is far from being the only one. Jihadi John’s family were given free property in one of London’s more upmarket areas, for some inexplicable reason.
The first Canon Club took place in Clerkenwell. A second one is now booked for January, and I will announce the details when tickets are available.
How the Holy Land came to divide Britain. On why Tories have become more pro-Israel and Labour more pro-Palestine.
Europe’s turn to the Right. After the October 7 atrocity, a continent ever more pessimistic about multiculturalism – the surprise election result in the Netherlands this week confirms the trend.
On respectability cascades. If phrases become associated with extremists, it’s probably best to abandon them.
Middle-earth and Narnia in a post-Christian world. The third in my trilogy of Tolkien pieces, the first two being here and here. Although if I find a way of making money out of it, I will produce spin-offs.
If you’re thinking of defending the Cenotaph. Furthering the theme of respectability cascades, I wrote that middle-class respectable opinion is very uncomfortable about the narrative unfolding since October 7, and would much rather go back to their preferred situation of blaming Tories for ‘raising the temperature’. Which they subsequently got.
Hear me out, but maybe PR is the answer. The infighting within the Tory party has gone on too long, and become too boring, and maybe we should try copying the Danes.
On Richard III and why he continues to have a fan base, despite being obviously guilty.
Britain’s Rush Limbaugh
Elsewhere, a great article by Fred Skulthorp on James O’Brien
Rush Limbaugh is in many ways the platonic opposite of O’Brien’s current politics. But paradoxically the two men are both masters of their medium. Limbaugh, perhaps inadvertently, paved the way for O’Brien, having made the amazing discovery in the latter half of the twentieth century that you didn’t have to be shrewd or likeable, or even particularly intelligent to gain political currency over the airwaves. All you had to have was a convincing story about the decline and fall of the nation.
Limbaugh, like O’Brien, cultivated one of the nation’s most popular radio shows through such a narrative arc: a gift for sifting through the detritus of political news and gossip to serve up the apocalyptic. Limbaugh, like O’Brien harboured back to a mythic haven of a “previously sensible society,” preaching a gnostic revelation of seeing through a system of self serving incompetence and moral depravity. Like Limbaugh he has proven he is happy to shoot first and ask questions later. Ironically, they also preached largely to a similar demographic: vaguely embittered men who in their midlife who had somehow found themselves angry and alone. Crucially, like Limbaugh, O’Brien is capable of giving the impression he is always on the verge of saying something profound.
The end of history
Ian Leslie on a subject close to my heart, on how history has been ruined by activism.
In recent years there has been a precipitous, worldwide decline in the number of young people choosing to study the humanities, including history. Governments are funnelling resources towards STEM, and universities are responding to signals from the marketplace. But the humanities are also under assault from within; from a cohort of academics who have been raised in the deadening, homogenising discourse of critical theory (or a rather, a degraded version of it) and who are now abandoning the principles which made their discipline authoritative and vital in the first place.
There really isn’t much point in studying literature if you don’t value it as an end in itself rather than just a method of social activism and there is certainly no point in studying History if you don’t believe in the primacy of empirical evidence. If you want to tell the story of the Industrial Revolution as one of exploitation of black technological practices, that’s fine, but it has to be securely rooted in evidence. If it’s just a story, it’s worse than worthless.
If History is to be dominated by Bulstrodes, Slatons and Saraivas, all telling each other they’re doing fine and noble work in the name of social justice, then it will inevitably disappear from the mainstream of higher education - and what’s more, we shan’t miss it. To save the discipline from irrelevance, historians of integrity need to stand up and start calling this bullshit out, loudly, rather than muttering behind their hands while quietly going along with it.
Be not solitary, be not idle
Something I, and others, have wondered is why so many of the people caught tearing down posters have been women. Freya India suggests some explanations.
Personality differences may contribute too. The current social justice culture seems to align with traits more common among women than men. The urge towards censorship, for example, can be seen as a form of social exclusion and reputation destruction, strategies often associated with female antisocial behaviour. Tearing down posters in pursuit of social justice could be interpreted as a form of indirect aggression favoured by female activists.
It’s an interesting development. Perhaps, also, people are more likely to film and confront women than men, because of fears of violence, but I wouldn’t know how this could be proved either way.
India also wrote a very good piece on therapy culture on her substack.
Just look at the way these platforms frame therapy. Therapy is for everyone, says Hers. Therapy For All is Talkspace’s slogan. Therapy shouldn’t be a last resort, Cerebral reminds us. And the reasons to go are getting increasingly vague. Do you deserve some self-care? Are you “worrying like, more and more?” Need help with “any issue you have in life”? Connect with a therapist now. And I can’t help but notice that a lot of this marketing is targeted toward adolescent girls—have a “healed girl summer” with Talkspace! Use the discount code “SLAY!” for 10% off BetterHelp! Try therapy for “sad girl thoughts” and “big girl depression”!
Bleak, and once again we come back to the six-word solution to the mental health crisis: ‘be not solitary, be not idle.’
Has the Overton Window shifted since October 7?
Arnold Kling asks whether the Overton Window has moved to the Right.
I have been reminded a lot recently of the novel Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro. The narrator is a butler who was loyal to his lord. The butler idolized his employer. But as the novel unfolds, the lord he so fondly and faithfully served turns out to have been a foolish Nazi sympathizer in the years leading up to WWII. Imagine spending decades of your life serving someone you admire, and then having to face up to the reality that the man was a knave.
I can think of so many Jewish friends who in recent years loyally sympathized with progressive causes. And now these causes seem, among other things, to be riddled with anti-semitic leanings. I think that it will take many years for erstwhile progressive Jews to come to terms with the extent to which 21st-century Progressive causes are fraudulent.’
I think most of the radicalised students aren’t anti-Semitic, they’re just unthinking progressives who see the world through a prism of coloniser and colonised. But the end result is the same.
Goodies and Baddies
On a similar subject, Oliver Traldi on snowflakes for Hamas.
On Twitter, the sociologist Bradley Campbell recently wrote of this confusion: “People keep acting surprised by these sorts of things because they keep making the same mistake. They think the campus activists are concerned abstractly with hurt feelings. But they’re not, and they haven’t claimed to be ... What matters is the identities of the people involved—whether they’re part of what’s considered an oppressor or victim group in relation to one another.”
While a therapeutic, feelings-over-facts approach—a focus on safe spaces, microaggressions, trigger warnings, and so forth—is certainly one of the favored methods of America’s new diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) bureaucracy, it’s clearly not an inherent part of the woke gestalt. Rather, proclaiming one’s personal or group hypersensitivity and fragility is a technique to gain control of particular spaces by hijacking the language of America’s preexisting therapeutic culture, with the goal of forcing opponents into silence.
The animating force behind this schizophrenic rhetorical divide is the practice of dividing up the world into teams based on notions of who has “power,” which comes in a set number of forms: being wealthy, being able-bodied, being male, being “cis.” More than any other source, power comes from being “white.” In other words, it’s fine if we burn you or your children alive, or cheer on those who do; if you criticize us, that’s an inherently unjust and damaging exercise of power, because we have defined you as being “white.”
I have to admit that even I’m quite surprised, and disturbed, by some of the reactions since October 7, and I think because I’m closer to a nerd than the wamb, I underestimate how much people mask their true beliefs.
Converting to cultural Christianity
Following Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s conversion, Jacob Phillips wrote a smashing piece about cultural Christianity’s admirers:
It is not at all unusual now to read about how empirical evidence shows that outcomes are best for kids from the sorts of families mandated by scripture and tradition. It is becoming increasingly common for people to point out that the pill, and promiscuity, are destructive to women’s well-being. There are a multitude of current issues which show how a civilisational Christianity is simply advantageous to people’s best interests — for Western values like freedom of speech, democracy, toleration and human dignity all have their bases in religious sources.
The civilisational benefits of the Christian religion are mere by-products of the religion itself. Faith is radically uncontrollable, and it is just as active in despair and dereliction as it is in moments of great historical achievement. If your Christianity promises to improve life in a worldly sens The apostles didn’t lay down their nets to become fishers of self-fulfilment. The mystics didn’t emaciate themselves through fasting to defend our freedom of speech. The martyrs didn’t die for the good educational outcomes of stable families. At the centre of anything purporting to be Christian must always be the radically disruptive reality of lives being lived, and societies being led, in ways which are not of our choosing.
Andrew Sullivan was also very good on this
And Ayaan is no different than the elite Romans who converted because Constantine did, or because they were impressed by the way Christians led their lives. She’s no different than many cultural Christians in which the meaning of the faith is less salient than the fact that you were just brought up that way, and your parents were too. She’s not that different than many Westerners who are already Christians in the lives they lead and the values they cherish but who don’t regard themselves as religious.
And the path to faith is not usually a simple, Damascene leap, like Saint Paul’s or Pascal’s, let alone a crude obeisance to an “inerrant” text, but a meandering process of discovery, and reflection, and the living of life itself. It is, especially in modernity, more like Ayaan’s evolution than Pascal’s revelation. Demanding of modern humans an instant acceptance of the supernatural, let alone a set of esoteric doctrines, is rarely going to work. And in this respect, Ayaan is showing us the way.
The prevailing image of religious conversion today is one that is individualistic—conversion is in some sense experienced within the self—and sentimental—one is transported by emotions—which then cause one to affirm a certain set of religious dogmas. Such things do happen and to be absolutely clear they are great, but this individualistic and pietistic model is also of modern, recent vintage. Such experiences have always happened but they were not thought to be the majority, even less the default or only case.
In defence of British cuisine
Gobry also wrote a good article in defence of British cuisine – from a Frenchman, indeed.
Well: a great food culture requires three ingredients. These ingredients stack on top of each other, each being a prerequisite for the one that comes before, like a three-stage rocket. They are:
1. Great terroir, from which great produce can be grown
2. Great peasant traditions (note that when I use the word, the term “peasant” has absolutely nothing pejorative about it, it is in fact one of the most noble occupations there can be)
3. An aristocratic culture that takes the above two and refines them and takes them to a new level
Rest in peace, Friend
A while back but this Helen Lewis piece on Matthew Perry perfectly captured the feelings of a generation.
Chandler was everything I wanted in a boyfriend—smart, funny, emotionally unavailable—and Matthew Perry’s embodiment of him surely shaped the sexuality of a generation. Later, I realized that I didn’t want to date him as much as be him. The other Friends might have struggled to find work (see: Monica’s “mockolate” recipes, Joey’s porn cameo and Rachel’s waitressing) but Chandler had the ultimate 90s problem, in the form of a job that paid the bills but achieved absolutely nothing. Perry’s performance lifted a motif of the decade—the sterile life of the office drone, also found in Fight Club and The Matrix—into exquisite comedy. He bantered by the water cooler. He got sent to Tulsa. He knew that nothing he did mattered, and that his real life was waiting for him at Central Perk.
Remembrance Day as ‘war Christmas’
Niall Gooch on whether Remembrance Day can survive.
Another aspect of this oddness is the increasing grandiosity of commemorative events. A few years back, a restored Dakota dropped hundreds of thousands of poppies over the White Cliffs of Dover. Sporting mascots dress as giant poppies. Then of course there is the excessive vigilance about whether people in the public eye are wearing one and whether they have the correct attitude to Our Brave Boys.
It’s not sentimentality per se, though sentimentality is part of it. Nor is it hyper-patriotism or militarism. It’s a kind of desperate reverence; an artificial and overwrought deference to any event, person or item linked to Remembrance. It seems to be more and more common, for example, to describe all military personnel as ‘heroes’, regardless of where they served, for how long and in what capacity, devaluing the very concept.
I have a partial explanation, namely that Remembrance is a form of safety blanket in a much-changed world, so we cling to it very tightly – perhaps too tightly, just as we might grow unhealthily attached to the possessions we rescued from a house fire that destroyed everything else we had.
Boiling point in Ireland
Horrible scenes in Dublin this week, with the stabbing attack on children followed by scenes of looting and lawlessness. I think Ireland’s decision to follow the rest of western European in embracing large-scaled immigration is very unwise, and the statistics are astonishing, but this sort of mob rule horrifies me. Not that the British approach, of simply suppressing discussion of the issue under a carnival of orchestrated togetherness ‘against hate’, is especially productive. Only the previous day the ever-astute Conor Fitzgerald wrote about a situation waiting to boil over.
Moving away from the crisis of the moment, the real gap in the political market is not for an immigration-skeptic candidate but for someone who can articulate a forward-looking and vital idea about Ireland that is not oriented around international respectable opinion, taxing multinationals and/ or government as social activism. I don’t think it’s crazy to think McGregor, who has been alarmingly successful at most things he tried his hand at, might be good at that.
Whatever the story behind the attack, these kinds of incidents are extremely disturbing to a society which had been incredibly safe and peaceful in recent memory. For all its problems, the Republic of Ireland in the late 20th centuries had perhaps the lowest homicide rate in any society, ever.
Finally, probably everyone has already seen it but I found this video by Germany’s vice-chancellor very moving, in particular the reference to Germany’s ‘special relationship’ with Jews.
Have a great week, and thanks for subscribing.
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