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Got a problem? Let’s invent something else to attack

Posted on March 17, 2021

I know this will disappoint people out there determined to pursue a culture war, so if you’re of that persuasion, take a deep breath.

 There is no woke brigade, there’s no such thing as a liberal elite, campuses (even when populated) are not awash with students cancelling people with whom they disagree and – wait for it – the notion of snowflakes is entirely in your head.

It’s worth a look at these imagined threats.

Wokeness is the cardinal sin in the eyes of the right wing commentariat – think about a continuum of odiousness running from Melanie Phillips to Laurence Fox to Piers Morgan and coming to a juddering halt with Julie Burchill. What irks this snarling herd most is a poisonous objection to people taking care about the language they use. This applies particularly when they talk about others or publicly espouse causes which address social injustice, which is something for which they have another label – ‘virtue signalling’.

For your committed culture warrior, it goes without saying that those who express such misplaced concern for the feelings and welfare of others, particularly if they hail from anywhere other than council houses (younger readers can google what they were) are part of a liberal elite. Those of their number who are actors, musicians or athletes obviously deserve to be singled out for special opprobrium. Stick to your greasepaint, shut up and sing, score your goals and pick up your fat wage packet. Can’t you see how privileged you are?

I think I might be a member too. I’ve got plenty of qualifications, I live near London in a private house and, for the most part, I prefer BBC to ITV. Oh, and I find all sorts of discrimination entirely unacceptable, I upbraid people for the use of bigoted language and I think the world’s in a bit of a mess and we ought to do something about it very quickly. Give me the membership form and I’ll sign up immediately.

When it comes to snowflakes, nobody has been more damning of their limpness than sturdy yeoman Piers Morgan, and so his own dainty flounce last week looks more hilariously precious with every re-run. His accusation against this generation of flimsy dependants is that they just don’t understand that they’ve never had it so good. What with the prospect of living with your parents or flatmates until you’re nearly 40, a lifetime of precarious employment, inheriting a planet that your elders are burning up by the day and  the likelihood of having to pay, literally, for the pandemic, it’s impossible to know what could possibly be feeding their fretful anxieties.

Of course, this doesn’t excuse their banning people they don’t want to hear from university campuses. It’s a damning attitude, justifying the insistence of the ever-alert Gavin Williamson in appointing a free-speech champion. Except that it’s not true. The government’s Office for Students has identified 53 such cases in over 62,000 invitations – less than 0.1%. Sledgehammers and nuts don’t even cover it.

The plain fact is that those who rail against the wokes, the elite and the snowflakes are tilting at windmills and squabbling with straw men. It’s a worthwhile trick if you can pull it off. The problem is not systemic, corrosive racism – it’s the people who constantly bang on and on about it. The issue is not the clear link between poverty, poor academic performance and ill health – it’s the bleeding hearts who excuse people for not taking responsibility for themselves. It’s not a question of politicians exposing themselves to ridicule and contempt through their irredeemable incompetence – it’s the biased, lefty comedians for satirising their failures.

If this false battle was just being conducted by a few jowly, wizened malcontents in the media it might even be mildly entertaining. Regrettably, culture wars are all too eagerly embraced by members of Boris Johnson’s floundering, lickspittle cabinet. Priti Patel labels the Black Lives Matter movement ‘dreadful’; culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, urges scholars not to ‘reinvent history’; housing minister, Robert Jenrick warns against removing statues or renaming streets. Because in a massively unequal society with the arts under threat and crippling housing shortages, these concerns really go to the heart of the matter, don’t they?

The last resort of culture warriors is to invoke the notion of good, old-fashioned common sense. They do so as if this concept was inscribed on pillars of stone, immoveable by either time or circumstance. Boys will be boys; know your place; let nature take its course; don’t go out dressed like that. It’s bilge like this that we’ve had to wade through for too long, so let’s carry on upsetting the applecart – and keeping our eye on the non-imaginary problems that really do need solving.

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