RESISTING WOKENESS: ANDREW DOYLE AND DOUGLAS MURRAY IN CONVERSATION
SUNDAY 3 NOVEMBER, 12:00—13:00, Cinema 3
The Culture Wars are not dissimilar to Star Wars. Both raise salient questions like, ‘what’s Obi Wan Kenobi doing there in the first place?’ Remember the bit in Star Wars: A New Hope, when Luke Skywalker is getting done in by Sandmen and suddenly there is Obi Wan, in a hoody. Why was he there? Because the Empire was growing in strength and it was time for him to stop doing whatever else he was doing (servicing lightsabers maybe) and fight the Empire.
When Douglas Murray walked into Cinema 3, I thought, ‘what is he doing here?’ The interview with Andrew Doyle was scheduled, but even so, the writer of a biography on Lord Alfred Douglas must have better things to do than discuss how to defeat ‘Wokeness’. A talk on Lord Alfred Douglas would have been more ‘cultural’ and educative. Then I thought of Camille Paglia who was interviewed in 2016, and Lionel Shriver last year – both at the Battle of Ideas. What were they doing there?
Douglas Murray must feel compelled enough to enter the culture wars, and 'fight' the Woke establishment, before it is too late. He is speaking up, he told Andrew Doyle, because not enough people in the UK do. The typical Brit, he has decided, is not that bothered about free speech, not enough to stick their head above the parapet anyway. I think he could be right but, whilst I think apathy is there, it is also because people are busy. ‘Normal’ people, who have not even heard the term ‘Woke’ (meaning to wake up to social injustice) have far too many things to worry about (children, job, health, enjoying their life) to get into disputes on social media about social justice.
Wokeness could not work even if we wanted it to
In Murray’s recently published book, The Madness of Crowds, he points out that Wokeness could not work even if we wanted it to. It is too full of inconsistency. Both Doyle and Murray laugh at how they have been labelled ‘fake gays’ – being gay is no longer about sexual orientation, it is integral to one’s political identity. According to the new left, a gay man ceases to be gay when he has, say, conservative views, because gay people are supposed to be left-leaning. Doyle pointed out that he is often called ‘a gay comic’ by critics, a problematic label that seems to suggest that his comedic material is somehow dependent on his sexuality.
bizarre form of overcorrectness
Wokeness may also function as a ‘bizarre form of overcorrectness’, said Murray. After many years of undeniable discrimination against many social groups, it was perhaps inevitable that the drive for equality might go too far. Instead of the train stopping at the station, it has sped up and missed the target. Suddenly, people are under suspicion and assumed to be discriminatory. What fills the space on the platform is ‘cancel culture’, where a person is ‘cancelled’, that is removed from any public position and ‘shamed’, for something that was said or written years ago. Forgiveness is rare: ‘acting in the world’ is more perilous because mistakes, which are inevitable, will not be forgiven, regardless of the individual’s contrition.
Murray had some advice here: ‘stand up for your mates,’ he said. If you know that someone you work with or know is a decent person, and they face ‘cancel culture’, stand up for them against the mob. Whilst it is a fascinating time to be alive, we face the judgement of future generations, claimed Murray. We are encouraging children to focus too much on well-being and individual identity, at the expense of them engaging with the world and fulfilling potential. On this note a primary school teacher asked a fascinating question, having described how a ten year old pupil (at the teacher’s school) had sought guidance about gender identity. No teacher wants to tell a child that they can’t change gender for fear of the worst case scenario – what if the child attempts suicide? Have we become, to some extent, compromised by the threat of young people committing suicide?
How best to resist wokeness? Through the medium of comedy, as Doyle has done with Twitter character, Titania McGrath, or through ‘straight’ argument, as Murray has done in The Madness of Crowds? What is certain is that society does not change for the better without people speaking up on what they think. To do this, we have to accept that some views, and comedy, is going to be offensive. Whatever anyone says about Murray, he is as convincing in the flesh as he is in his writing. The Madness of Crowds testifies to his earnestness when he writes the harrowing story of a young man who started the process of gender transition, before later regretting it. I thought that The Madness of Crowds was a very profound book. Not everyone agrees. Titania McGrath duly reported it to the police.
The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity by Douglas Murray is published by Bloomsbury