Monday, 8 August 2022

Was the sexual revolution a terrible mistake?

Author Louise Perry

 

Here’s some advice for your daughter and mine as they reach sexual maturity:

·        Hold off from having sex with a new boyfriend for several months.

·        Don’t use dating apps.

·        Monogamous marriage is by far the most stable foundation on which to build a family.

·        Run a mile from any man who is turned on by violence.

 

These are just some of the conclusions reached by Louise Perry in her disturbing, riveting book The Case Against the Sexual Revolution (A New Guide to Sex in the 21st Century).

A journalist who writes for both the right-wing Daily Mail and the left-wing New Statesman, and a former rape crisis centre worker, Perry is one of several fresh feminist voices (Nina Power and Mary Harrington being others), who brave the hostility of their progressive sisters by acknowledging that men and women are different, that the differences matter, and that unbridled sexual liberation might not be the road to utopia.

Superficially, women are more liberated than their forbears, but are they happier? As you might have noticed, mounting evidence suggests not. Perry blames the supposedly liberating forces unleashed by second wave feminism. The book is counter-cultural; its punchy chapter titles have such an old-school flavour that they appear bracingly cutting-edge:

1.     Sex Must Be Taken Seriously

2.     Men and Women Are Different

3.     Some Desires Are Bad

4.     Loveless Sex Is Not Empowering

5.     Consent Is Not Enough

6.     Violence Is Not Love

7.     People Are Not Products

8.     Marriage Is Good

Conclusion: Listen to Your Mother

 

Perry argues that the liberation of sexual behaviour that came about through the contraceptive pill, legal abortion and the Divorce Reform Act has benefitted men (though only high-status ones, and only superficially) by providing greater opportunities for no-strings sex. But there have been negative, unintended consequences. As Perry’s grandmother puts it: ‘Women have been conned’.

While the pill has ostensibly liberated women, it has led to more single mothers. The pill is apparently not as reliable as is widely assumed (100 women taking it will get pregnant in a year.) But with legal abortion as a back-up, it has killed off the shotgun wedding.

“When motherhood became a biological choice for women, fatherhood became a social choice for men.”

Nor does the state adequately compensate. It doesn’t supply the love and emotional support of a father, and in many cases doesn’t even supply the cash. In the UK, less than two thirds of non-resident parents (most of them fathers) are paying child maintenance in full. (Perry doesn’t mention an additional, systemic flaw in the Child Maintenance Service, which is that it provides a financial incentive for mothers to reduce the number of nights a child stays with their father to zero.)

The sexual revolution has attempted to sever sex from emotion, a process of ‘sexual disenchantment’. But this appears to be impossible for women in particular. Forget Sex and the City – the evidence shows that casual sex makes women miserable. Despite attempts by some magazines to advise women on how not to ‘catch feelings’ (Don’t look him in the eye! Take methamphetamines! Think about someone else!), it seems that sex is a deeply emotional experience after all. Most of us know this instinctively, but there are profound cultural pressures that want you to think otherwise.

One of these comes from pornography, which emerges as the book’s chief villain. The explosion of online porn is rendering men incapable of the real thing. Erectile dysfunction now affects between 14 and 35 per cent of young men, compared to two or three per cent at the start of the century.

Men appear to be catching some dangerous kinks from porn, which young women feel pressured to indulge, hence the increase in injuries and deaths from choking during sex.

And while a minority of women might make a morally dubious living from OnlyFans, the vast majority of those who attempt it end up with a measly handful of followers for hours of wasted effort, having jeopardised any future long-term relationship with a man. Despite our supposedly relaxed sexual mores, apparently men don’t tend to marry former sex workers. Who knew?

It might be some consolation if the proliferation of porn, the erosion of marriage and the ubiquity of dating apps meant we’re having more fun, but no. Not only are we staring down the barrel of an economic recession, we’ve been living through a sex recession for years.

“Put simply, the porn generation are having less sex, and the sex they are having is also worse: less intimate, less satisfying and less meaningful”.

And more dangerous. As well as the more violent elements of porn culture creeping into the bedroom, the liberal feminist notion that sex differences are trivial has also put women in danger. It’s easy to forget, if you work in an office, how much men and women differ physically. Perry puts it bluntly: “Almost all men can kill almost all women with their bare hands, but not vice versa. And that matters.”

(I’ve seen disturbing evidence of the failure to grasp this fact. Teaching at a school in a deprived part of the country not long ago, I had to intervene to prevent male pupils physically assaulting girls – slapping their faces, grabbing them by the neck. What shocked me was that the girls complained when these boys were punished for their violent acts. Is violent attention from a boy really better than no attention? Or, raised on a diet of kick-ass superheroines and fatuous bromides about gender equality, are today’s girls dangerously oblivious to the physical inequality of the sexes?)

You might think the solution to male violence is to teach boys to respect women, and remind them not to rape. But while Perry sees some utility in consent workshops, they are an inadequate means to tackle male violence. The problem is that while most men are not by temperament potential rapists, some are (the psychological consensus puts this at about 10 per cent), and these men don’t care what feminists have to say.

“Posters that say ‘don’t rape’ will prevent precisely zero rapes, because rape is already illegal, and would-be rapists know that. We can scream ‘don’t rape’ until we’re blue in the face, and it won’t make a blind bit of difference.”

The solution is to reduce opportunities for potential rapists. And that, sadly, means that some women might need to moderate their behaviour.

And yet the advice from popular culture is for women to act recklessly. Perry cites an astonishingly idiotic piece of advice from Dolly Alderton, responding to a letter in the Sunday Times by a woman concerned that she was drawn to misogynistic men.

Instead of advising her to give such men a wide berth, Alderton encouraged her to seek them out.

“You need a kind, chill, respectful boyfriend in the streets and a filthy pervert in the sheets. They do exist. I hope you have fun finding one.”

If liberal feminists such as Alderton underestimate the dangers of the darker side of male sexuality, their second-wave forbears underestimated the protective function of marriage. In characterising marriage as a tool of patriarchal oppression, they appear to have scored a whopping own goal. It is no coincidence that the most influential of the second wavers were childless, and had little to say about motherhood. Those who came before them, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, recognised that men had a higher sex drive, and therefore a responsibility to contain themselves. ‘Votes for women, chastity for men’ is a suffragist slogan we seem to have forgotten.

“A monogamous marriage system is successful in part because it pushes men away from cad mode,” writes Perry. “A society composed of tamed men is a better society to live in, for men, for women and for children.”

How did we get to the point that we could forget such obvious, empirically proven truths as this? I suspect that part of the trouble might be the teaching of history as a process of liberation. Perry’s book prompted me to revisit Douglas Murray’s interview with Steven Edgington, in which he skewers this reading of history.

“There’s a deep underlying fallacy,” says Murray, ‘Which is the narrative of history as a narrative of emancipation. So that the story of our species is one of getting freer and freer. When we were in caves, trans people had the misfortune of not having access to clinics, and the gay cavemen just didn’t have anywhere to hang out, and the cavewomen who wanted to hunt just weren’t allowed – they were held back from hunting. And happily, over a certain period of time, all these wrongs have been righted, and now there may be just a few more things to free up, and then we are in nirvana.”

I recognise this fallacy from certain teaching resources, in which, for instance, Lady Macbeth’s repudiation of her womanhood can be spun as some kind of feisty feminist statement, rather than a grievous crime against nature.

A mature reading of history is that moral progress is not inevitable, that technological innovations have unforeseen negative consequences, and that freedom often has a price. It’s impossible to read Perry’s work and not wonder if more freedom in sexual matters might do us more harm than good. The author’s primary concern is the well-being of women, but the trends she identifies make me worry just as much for my son. Some thoughts on what young men can do to navigate the dating environment with dignity would have made for a more rounded book.

Older readers might be asking why we need a new book to point out what your mother could have told you. Because yet another dumb thing about modern culture is the way we dismiss the wisdom of our elders. Older women are ‘Karens’ who are told to ‘educate’ themselves. We nod along to the apocalyptic rantings of Greta Thunberg, even teaching them in schools as models of fine rhetoric. Mature women who know that biological sex is real, and say so, are pilloried as ‘Terfs’. The young dismiss the advice of their grandparents – ‘Okay, Boomer’.

But how is this attitude working out for a generation beset by rising levels of anxiety, depression and self-harm?

There is now a heart-breaking tendency for young women to try to mother themselves. Perry cites a viral TikTok video by a young American woman, Abby, who pulls up images of herself as a child and asks, ‘Would I let her be a late-night, drunk second option? Would I let this happen to her?’

Abby is trying to mother herself, and the thousands of tearful, grateful replies to the video suggest many other young women want to do the same.

Perry concludes, “They’ve been denied the guidance of mothers, not because their actual mothers are unwilling to offer it but because of the matricidal impulse in liberal feminism that cuts young women off from the ‘problematic’ older generation … Feminism needs to rediscover the mother, in every sense”.

With this bold and vital book, Perry has made a fine start.

 

 

 

Thursday, 21 July 2022

What's eating Liz Truss?

 



I was at Roundhay School with Liz Truss. So how come we had such different experiences?

 

One of the cruellest things an adult can tell a child is that your school days are the happiest of your life. When you’re buffeted by the turbulence of puberty, wretchedly pincered between longing and self-consciousness, the last thing you need to hear is that from now on, it’s downhill all the way.

So why do some adults say this? Some of us look back from an adulthood blighted by disappointment and grief, and pine for our lost innocence. And the opposite can occur: What if you had a rotten time at school, but then went on to great things, like becoming Foreign Secretary, or even a prospective Prime Minister? Might you then recast your school days in an unfairly negative light? This is the most generous interpretation I can muster of Liz Truss’s strange and insulting attacks on the secondary school we both attended in the 1990s.

Truss was a year ahead of me, and I don’t remember her. But my older brother does, and not fondly. For him, she was ‘aloof’, and a ‘loner’. You don’t get to be a Tory leadership contender without an ability to make friends, or at least allies. But if she felt socially isolated at school that might partly explain why she has such a negative perspective.

Truss has dismayed former teachers and pupils at Roundhay School in Leeds with her claim that it ‘let down’ children. She said in a speech in 2020, “While we were taught about racism and sexism, there was too little time spent making sure everyone could read and write”.

This is a bizarre claim. Yes, the modern Labour Party is arguably too focussed on race. See their video marking the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, which sets out Labour’s education policy to tackle ‘structural racism’: Labour would teach black history ‘all year round’, would have yet more emphasis on colonialism and Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, and would ‘empower children of all backgrounds to be the change our country needs.’

There’s plenty to criticise in such a policy (I’ve had a go myself). The success of Glenn Youngkin in Virginia shows the potential for Conservatives to exploit concerns over teaching about race in schools. But this can be done without rewriting the past. If Truss is referring to the occasional PSHE lesson about prejudice, that’s hardly akin to neglecting the core subjects.

She also claims to have grown up in Leeds ‘at the heart of the Red Wall’, whereas Roundhay had a Conservative MP from 1955 to 1997, covering her time in Leeds. Truss’s narrative, of a Labour-dominated education beset by low expectations and fatuous wokery, doesn’t match the reality of 1990s Leeds. If Roundhay School let children down (and I don’t think it did), you can hardly blame Labour. Why does Truss make such easily refutable claims? I can think of no answer that doesn’t cast her in an unflattering light.

My experience of our school was positive enough for me to decide to become a secondary school teacher later in life. In hindsight, I can see that the quality of teaching varied widely. Some of it would be rightly condemned in our age of Ofsted and regular scrutiny. There was the maths teacher whose purple-faced response to the class performing badly in an assessment was to put the bin on his desk, read out the worst marks and thrust the scripts into the bin. The words, ‘Adam Wolstenholme – Zero! In the bin!’ became a catchphrase among my friends, to be wheeled out whenever my arithmetic appeared to be lacking.

But many of the teachers were inspirational. A couple in particular I’ll never forget. There was the dangerous maverick of an English teacher, Mr Ingham, who opened my eyes to the thrilling possibilities of literature. In one compelling lesson, he speculated about what would happen if our class were stranded on a desert island like the characters in Lord of the Flies, pointing out who would be Ralph, Piggy and Jack. This was an ethically dubious move, but one that made the novel – and literature – seem sharply relevant.

Then there was Mr Rothbury, whose introduction to A Level Sociology I experienced as an almost physical sensation of expansion, my mind inflating like a helium balloon. These teachers were unafraid to express strong opinions, and might sometimes hurt your feelings, but their expectations were high and they make you think.

It was a socially mixed school, with its share of deprived kids and the occasional fight. There were examples of bullying, but when such problems came to light the staff took robust action and called the police in when necessary. There was never any doubt that the vast majority of the teachers cared about us and had ambitions for us. It was certainly possible to attend Roundhay and get into Oxford, as did my sister, Helen – and a certain Elizabeth Truss.

Helen says now, “Roundhay was by no means perfect (what school is?) but to state that it ‘let down’ its pupils seems unfair on the many dedicated and inspiring staff who worked there at the same time (some probably still do). I certainly wasn’t ‘let down’. What’s particularly saddening is that having a former pupil reach the dizzying heights of Foreign Secretary (and PM?) is something the school should celebrate. Instead, it is being told Liz Truss succeeded despite, not partly because of, her education.”

There’s a type of successful person who likes to dwell on, and even exaggerate, the opposition they had to overcome. If Roundhay was rubbish, it makes Liz Truss all the more special. Such an attitude is understandable, though hardly admirable, and not a quality one would hope to find in a Conservative leader.

At its best, Conservatism has a respect for the past, and a gratitude for the endeavours of one’s elders. There will be a certain poetic justice if Liz Truss’s insulting lack of gratitude plays a part in depriving her of the top job.

 

Saturday, 25 September 2021


Male novelists must reclaim the freedom to write about sex


Paramount Pictures, 1969, Goodbye Columbus

THE reasons for modern writers to feel inhibited are legion. Even if you acquire an agent, a book deal and a substantial readership, you could still walk smack into a career-threatening scandal.

You could be embroiled in bitter controversy for portraying a character who expresses his annoyance at Asian tourists. (See the row over that most improbable of far-right bigots, Sally Rooney). You can be physically threatened and have your book tour cancelled for the non-crime of ‘cultural appropriation’ (as happened to Jeanine Cummins over her novel American Dirt). You could be required to delete from future printings of your novel a joke about Anne Frank, or pilloried for describing someone’s eyes as ‘almond-shaped’.

Given the density of the minefield out there, is it any wonder that some of our best writers – Kazo Ishiguro, Salman Rushdie, Lionel Shriver – have raised the alarm on the encroachment of self-censorship? Feel Free was the title of Zadie Smith’s 2018 collection of literary essays, but many writers must feel the opposite.

Most of these debacles fixate on race. But another arena that has become encircled with barbed wire is that of male heterosexual desire. If Sebastian Faulks finds it 'liberating' to no longer describe his female characters, that's up to him, but this act of self-censorship by one of our most vividly descriptive writers feels like a capitulation to sanctimonious bullying. In an essay in the TES last year, novelist Luke Brown highlighted the trend of male writers abandoning the portrayal of sexuality. Brown asked how male novelists could write honestly about sex, at a time when male desire has such a bad reputation.

“Heterosexual male desire has been linked so closely to abuses of power for so long that the two seem inextricable. It is understandable, then, that male writers might want to turn away from it altogether as subject matter.”

But why is male desire linked with abuses of power? Who is making these links, and why have we allowed their claims to take hold?

I first encountered this attitude as an undergraduate, when I learned about feminist perspectives such as Laura Mulvey’s concept of the ‘male gaze’. First applied to film but adaptable to other art forms, the idea is that the male point of view renders women as objects and thereby dehumanises them. As Janice Loreck has it: "The male gaze creates a power imbalance. It supports a patriarchal status quo, perpetuating women's real-life sexual objectification."

The claim that the male gaze perpetuates women's real-life sexual objectification is at best a bold assertion, typical of the inhibiting encroachment of Theory into the arts. It's a perspective that promotes the woke worldview - that we must present the world not as it is, but as the woke think it should be. Out goes the artistic impulse, replaced with virtue-signalling literary activism. How dull.

A couple of years ago I took an MA in Creative Writing and had the privilege of reading a range of talented, young would-be novelists. The young male writers in the group tended to favour science fiction and fantasy. I noticed an absence of sexuality, or even love in the fiction of my male classmates, and began to develop a theory: Imagine being a young man with literary ambitions today. As a student of literature you’ve been trained to call out problematic attitudes to gender in the works of male writers. You’ve also seen, in the culture at large, a demonising of male, heterosexual desire, through the Me Too movement and elsewhere. But because you’re a young man, you’re also full of sexual longing. Such powerful feelings are bound to present themselves to you as a subject worth writing about. But when you sit down to write you’ll be cowed by the numerous ways in which you can get it wrong. So why not give up and choose to write about something else altogether? Far easier, or at least safer, to invent your own world and leave out anything to do with relations between the sexes. 

 How did an art form dependent on freedom of the imagination end up so hemmed in with rules? Partly it’s the proliferation of sanctimonious instruction online. A generation that reaches for Google whenever they get stuck now faces a range of pettifogging injunctions, interminable lists of all the things male writers must not do when writing about women. These sites contain some amusingly awful descriptions of women by men, which my fellow students enjoyed sharing. But I wondered what the youngsters thought would be okay. If you want to write about a male character’s desire for a female character, I asked, how can you do that successfully without being problematic?

One student explained that a female character in such a scenario had to be introduced with agency in a previous chapter. She couldn’t just appear in her first scene as an erotic experience for the male narrator. To be on the safe side, perhaps it was best not to describe how people look at all.

On the MA, the tutors – successful novelists in their thirties upwards – were far less inhibited than the students. A classmate of mine recalls:

“While lecturers wold give us tools to analyse and approach writing, fellow students would proudly impose restrictive rules on discussions and even their own writings to ensure a kind of ideological impeccability. Honestly, I got the impression that this was a recipe for cultural stagnation and neuroses. I wish them all well, but I also hope they grow out of it.”

But what if they don’t? What if this generation replaces the last with their aspiration for ideological purity intact? The instruction to not describe female characters could soon become as standard as ‘show don’t tell’.

Like it or not, we experience each other, in part, physically. This can be a profound experience, for example when we meet someone for the first time and feel a sudden and powerful attraction. It’s a hell of a thing, being struck by that thunderbolt, and a joy to see the experience rendered with imagination and precision by a skilful writer.

By closing off this entire sphere of human experience, writers are depriving themselves – and their readers – of something thrilling and beautiful. ‘Feel free’ is an attitude we should all endeavour to reclaim.

 
How can men write about desire? Let’s learn from the greats.




Here are three examples of male narrators being struck by the thunderbolt. They might not make it beyond the modern slush pile. But they are all, I suggest, gorgeously composed. Note how they depict the objects of desire in motion, with gestures suggesting character as well as physical attributes. Do they objectify women? Perhaps. But ‘objectify’ implies that the one doing the gazing has the power, and who has the power in these scenarios? I’m far from sure. And anyway, is power really the subject here? Could it, in fact, be something closer to love?

 

Here’s the opening of Philip Roth’s debut, Goodbye Columbus (1959).

 

“The first time I saw Brenda she asked me to hold her glasses. Then she stepped out to the edge of the diving board and looked foggily into the pool; it could have been drained, myopic Brenda would never have known it. She dove beautifully, and a moment later she was swimming back to the side of the pool, her head of short-clipped auburn hair held up, straight ahead of her, as though it were a rose on a long stem. She glided to the edge and then was beside me. ‘Thank you,’ she said, her eyes watery though not from the water. She extended a hand for her glasses but did not put them on until she turned and headed away. I watched her move off. Her hands suddenly appeared behind her. She caught the bottom of her suit between thumb and index finger and flicked what flesh had been showing back where it belonged. My blood jumped.

            That night, before dinner, I called her.”

 

This is from Sylvia (1992) by Leonard Michaels.

 

“She said hello but didn’t look at me. Too much engaged, tipping her head right and left, tossing the heavy black weight of hair like a shining sash. The brush swept down and ripped free until, abruptly, she quit brushing, stepped into the living room, dropped onto the couch, leaned back against the brick wall, and went totally limp. Then, from behind long black bangs, her eyes moved, looked at me. The question of what to do with my life was resolved for the next four years.”

 

This passage proves that it’s still possible to glory in the male gaze and get away with it (though it helps if you’re Martin Amis) This is from Inside Story (2020).

“She was lightly bronzed, the auburn hair had been recently and professionally primped (it now lay in moist coils and runnels), and there was the business suit and the business shirt (and the business shoes). But the face itself was not businesslike: not cunning, not even particularly shrewd, just sensible and amused. She took four or five steps in his direction, and her walk, with its looseness and ease, told him something new about her body: she liked it (which was a very good start).”

 


Sunday, 5 September 2021

Book Review: Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender and Identity - and Why This Harms Everybody



ARE we living through a ‘culture war’? Is there a danger that some of the crankier ideas at the fringes of academia have scaled the walls of the universities and are now running amok through society, threatening liberalism itself? Or is this just a moral panic generated by a few right-wing hysterics?

Douglas Murray’s hugely entertaining 2019 bestseller The Madness of Crowds (Gender, Race and Identity) made a compelling case for the former view, and exposed the ‘woke’ ideology in its myriad forms. Murray’s book was by turns scurrilous and heartfelt, and sweeping in its range of references. (The epigraph featured GK Chesterton alongside Nicki Minaj.)

The authors of Cynical Theories take a drier, more scholarly approach in their dismantling of the woke ideology, but the book is no less enlightening for that. It dives deep into the academic roots of Critical Theory and traces its progress over the decades, through the academy and into other institutions. It’s grim work, but someone had to do it. It helps to understand the intellectual provenance of bad ideas. Otherwise, how will you respond when your child comes home from school and explains that he is an oppressor because he is a white male? What counter-arguments can you summon when your teenage daughter declares that she’s really a boy, and simultaneously that there’s no such thing as biological sex? What do you say when your morbidly obese friend takes a Fat Studies course, claiming the link between obesity and ill-health is a conspiracy of hatred by doctors against overweight people?

Such issues are related, and don’t spring from nowhere. Cynical Theories traces them to the rise of postmodernism. Put simply, Western intellectuals, their faith in the enlightenment shaken by the horrors of the world wars, developed a deep scepticism of meta-narratives, and began to question the notion of objective truth. Then postmodernism mutated to become not just a way of seeing the world, but a politically actionable ideology, Theory, with four key principles:

1.     The Blurring of Boundaries

2.     The Power of Language

3.     Cultural Relativism

4.     The Loss of the Individual and the Universal.

 

For those who think such ideas are a continuation of the civil rights and feminist movements, the authors dissect the mindset of Theory to show how this is something very different. For example, the first principle explains not the belief that gay people should have equal rights, but that gender is itself an oppressive social construct that must be dismantled. The third leads to the ‘decolonisation’ of education and other institutions. Far from being merely a plea for more ethnic minority writers to be included on the syllabus, decolonisation claims:

 “The West has constructed the idea that rationality and science are good in order to perpetuate its own power and marginalize non-rational, non-scientific forms of knowledge production from elsewhere. Therefore, we must now devalue white, Western ways of knowing for belonging to white Westerners and promote Eastern ones (in order to equalize the power balance).”

 

If you’ve been baffled by claims that mathematics is racist, for example, there’s your answer.

A key feature of Theory is the blurring of education and activism. The authors explain:

“Activism and education exist in a fundamental tension – activism presumes to know the truth with enough certainty to act upon it, while education is conscious that it does not know for certain what is true and therefore seeks to learn more.”

 

Hence Theory’s hostility to free speech. The authors cite chilling examples of academics explicitly advocating the silencing of students who question Theory.

They conclude:

“What is perhaps most frustrating about Theory is that it tends to get literally every issue backwards, largely due to its rejection of human nature, science and liberalism. It allots social significance to racial categories, which inflames racism. It attempts to depict categories of sex, gender and sexuality as mere social constructions, which undermines the fact that people often accept sexual minorities because they recognise sexual expression varies naturally. It depicts the East as the opposite of the West and thus perpetuates the very Orientalism it seeks to unmake. Theory is highly likely to spontaneously combust at some point, but it could cause a lot of harm before it does.”

There are encouraging signs of such combustion. In the US, parents are taking the legal fight to Critical Race Theory in schools. The British legal establishment appears to be waking up to the harm being done to children by the unquestioning embrace of transgender ideology. Online and increasingly in publishing, brave souls are risking ostracism by pushing back against the most dangerous ideas of our time. This scrupulously fair, diligently researched book is a welcome addition to the fight.

 

 

 


Friday, 27 August 2021

While men can’t find encouragement elsewhere, they are right to seek it in online



ONE of my favourite Jordan Peterson moments comes when, during a live Q and A event, he answers this question:

“I plan on taking my own life very soon. Why shouldn’t I?”

His response, an uplifting, heart-rending blend of the practical, philosophical and spiritual, is proof of why he is such a cherished figure.

Peterson has helped countless people to improve their lives. And yet he remains one of the most vilified and comically misunderstood figures of modern times. Why?

There’s a clue in the angle some of his interviewers take. Cathy Newman, Anne McElvoy and others have implied that there must be something dodgy about Peterson because his audience is predominantly male. Men finding moral sustenance and practical guidance from other men? There just has to be something sinister about that.

The response to the tragic events in Plymouth earlier this month revealed a similar attitude. Some commentators concluded that Jake Davison had been led down his deadly path by online communication with other men. It’s true that Davison, though not identifying as an incel, lurked in the online culture of these ‘involuntary celibates’. Since he is not the first mass-shooter to do so, there have been calls for incels to be treated as terrorists.

Such calls should be resisted. The last thing lonely young men need is to be further demonised by a society from which they already feel excluded. It would also be a mistake to stigmatise the entire online male culture, as a lot of what’s out there – Peterson being just one example – is likely to do men far more good than harm.

Yes, if you look for misogyny and threats of violence among the online output of frustrated men, you will find plenty of it. But it’s not the whole story. Rather than succumbing to a moral panic about incels, we should ask what men seek from each other online that they don’t get from elsewhere. We might also consider guiding our sons away from the more poisonous elements of online culture towards that which will nourish, enlighten and strengthen them.

One of Peterson’s perennial themes is the menace of resentment. In 12 Rules for Life, in a chapter that links the Columbine killers to Cain and Abel, Peterson writes: “Whenever we experience injustice, real or imagined; whenever we encounter tragedy or fall prey to the machinations of others; whenever we experience the horror and pain of our own apparently arbitrary limitations – the temptation to question Being and then to curse it rises foully from the darkness.”

This appears to be the error at the heart of Incel culture. It begins with self-pity. I’ve come to appreciate that everyone hates self-pitying men. A lot of men instinctively know this, which is why it often falls to female commentators to point out where men are at a disadvantage in society. I invite male readers to attempt this experiment: Find a female friend, and explain to her that, in some ways, men have a harder time than women. Use this list: Males …

·      underperform at all stages of education compared to girls

·       are less likely to go to university or become apprentices

·       are more likely to be unemployed in their twenties

·       are three times more likely than women to be victims of suicide

·       make up 96 per cent of the prison population

·       die younger on average

·       are more likely to be victims of violence …

My guess is that, long before you reach the end of the list, your female friend’s expression will darken. She might interrupt you with examples of female suffering. Certainly she’s unlikely to gaze at you adoringly in the way Lois Lane might gaze at Superman.

There are good reasons for this. Women instinctively punish self-pity in men because, on a societal level, self-pity is death. On an individual level, as we see from its most egregious manifestations – Jake Davison being just the latest – it can lead to murder.

In their book The Boy Crisis, Warren Farrell and John Gray argue that men are socialised to believe they are disposable for historical reasons. I suspect the disposability issue lies deeper than that. A fascinating article by Maria Kouloglou in Quillette makes this point persuasively. She cites Hilary Clinton’s claim that “Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat.”

Kouloglou provides examples of female suffering being taken more seriously: Rescue efforts prioritise women and children. Drivers who kill women receive longer sentences than those who kill men. Female victims of violence receive more prominence in the media, and so on. Why? Kouloglou suggests: "Both men and women evolved to be protective of women because one man can impregnate several women, while a woman will usually only bear one child at a time, so it makes sense for societies to keep women safe so they can reproduce."

I'm not saying that the male disadvantages listed above aren't worth addressing. But I've come to the view that female suffering will always be taken more seriously, probably should be, and that complaining about it as an individual is a mug's game. When men and women engage in a suffering competition, everyone loses, but it's the men in particular who look weak, ugly and deeply unheroic.

Could the tragedy in Plymouth have been avoided if Jake Davison had encountered Peterson’s advice to that suicidal fan? Would it have helped if he’d been guided away from the more self-pitying elements of the manosphere? We’ll never know. But I’ll count myself among those who have benefited from the wisdom gleaned from the online male community. Some of this I could have done with earlier.

In my early twenties, I ended a four-year relationship with my girlfriend and experienced what I now know to be a common phenomenon in such circumstances – a destabilising surge of testosterone. I engaged in high-risk behaviours which I now shudder to recall. I wonder if a bit of Petersonian wisdom might have helped to keep me grounded during that dangerous time.  

Later, in my thirties, in a relationship with a domineering woman, I made the mistake of capitulating too readily in ways which (I now realise) were not only to my detriment but also to hers. How different things might have been had I been less influenced by the shame-inducing feminism I’d imbibed as an undergraduate, and had instead been exposed to the hard-bitten wisdom of the online Red Pill community.

The Red Pill element of the manosphere takes its name from the scene in The Matrix in which the hero takes a pill that enables him to see through socially constructed illusions. It’s often lumped in with incel culture, but at its best, The Red Pill perspective is deeply hostile to self-pity and misogynistic resentment. A common theme is younger men learning from older men who have discovered, often the hard way, that self-improvement is a better way of attracting and keeping a mate than moaning about the injustice of life or submitting to feminist dogma.

Drawing on evolutionary psychology, the Red Pill author Rollo Tomassi’s book The Rational Male explains how this works in practice: A woman is attracted to a confident, independent man. Once he commits, she wants to transform him into a dependable provider who will bend to her will. But if she succeeds, she loses desire for him. That’s why some women tame their husbands, then cheat with a more independent man.

Avoid being tamed, says Tomassi. Maintain a degree of independence, including the possibility of having other options. Competition anxiety is healthy.

Of course, Tomassi and those like him attract their share of nutcases. And they don’t offer a complete picture. The Red Pill types, in common with the woke left, talk too much about power and too little about love for my taste. But anyone of a certain age who’s been round the block a couple of times will recognise that Tomassi is onto something. They won’t teach this wisdom in school or university. You won’t find it on the BBC or in men’s magazines such as GQ, which appears to have swallowed the ‘toxic masculinity’ narrative. Once our fathers would have taught us such things, but now many boys are growing up fatherless.

The prevailing orthodoxy prevents the mainstream from teaching boys some key lessons about men and women. So the job of dropping certain truth bombs falls to online sages. For example, wouldn’t boys benefit from knowing that women tend to seek men with higher status than themselves – something Peterson likes to remind us of? If the much-lamented ‘boys don’t try’ culture in schools is to be challenged, maybe this is the place to start. If teenage boys won’t work hard to impress their parents or their teachers, who knows? Maybe they’ll do it to get the girl.

As the Red Pill podcaster Richard Cooper has it, ‘Don’t chase women; chase excellence’. And the women, he implies, will then be more likely to come to you.

Why aren’t more men chasing excellence? The online temptations of gaming and porn are well-documented distractions. But Peterson suggests something deeper. If men are told that masculinity itself is toxic, and that Western societies are tyrannical patriarchies, then attempting success in that context is a morally suspect endeavour. And as long as critiquing radical feminism can get you sacked, as happened to Eton teacher Will Knowland, schools will feel safer pushing an anti-male narrative.

When we shame boys for their toxic masculinity, we might think we’re encouraging them to be more respectful towards women, but at what cost to their self-esteem? In my teaching practice I’ve been approached by teenage boys wanting to express their objections to the infamous man-shaming Gillette advert, and more recently the proposal to introduce a 10pm male curfew following the death of Sarah Everard.

The Everard murder was also cited in school assemblies aimed at tackling sexual harassment. But I’m doubtful that the best way to discourage boys from inappropriate comments and touching of their female peers is to link such behaviour to a horrific murder. After all, contrary to the apparently mind-reading claims of certain feminists, only very, very few men are attracted to the prospect of strangling a woman and burying her in the woods. Most of us, like most women, want sex to be a harmonious experience shared with someone we love. It’s bad enough that we teach boys to be ashamed and afraid of their own sexuality. To now tell them that their failure to find a girlfriend makes them potential terrorists strikes me as cruel.

Peterson’s message, by contrast, is encouraging in the profoundest sense. His advice to the suicidal man concludes: “Don’t be so sure that your life is yours to take ... You have a moral obligation to yourself as a locus of divine value.”

Until such encouragement goes mainstream, men are right to seek it wherever it can be found.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 2 July 2021

Despite Labour’s victory in Batley and Spen, the clash of cultures in my former patch remains bitter

 MEETING on Zoom with an old pal from my journalism days recently, I experienced one of those vertiginous update moments when you realise how much you’ve changed. As we set about putting the world to rights, he remarked how different I sounded from the young man he’d known when we were both newspaper reporters in Batley and Spen.

    We hope to gain wisdom, or at least knowledge, as we age. But something else happens as well – we look back and realise the dramas played out in our youth are the ones that led to where we are now, not just personally but politically. And our current societal divisions, on which the Batley and Spen by-election shone such an unflattering light, are traceable to my reporter’s patch of two decades ago.

    Of the recent attempts to gain some purchase on what exactly is dividing us these days, one of the most persuasive has been David Goodhart’s book The Road to Somewhere.

    Goodhart’s key insight is to identify a clash of values between ‘Anywheres’ and ‘Somewheres’.

        “Anywheres dominate our culture and society. They tend to do well at school … then move from home to a residential university in their late teens and on to a career in the professions that might take to London or even abroad for a year or two. Such people have portable ‘achieved’ identities, based on educational and career success which makes them generally comfortable and confident with new places and people.

        “Somewheres are more rooted and usually have ‘ascribed’ identities based on group belonging and particular places, which is why they find rapid change more unsettling.”

    Somewheres, while comprising the majority of the UK population, have lost out not only economically but also culturally as their views have been ignored – and demonised.

    When they do make their views known – by voting for Brexit, for example – they are met with incomprehension and hostility by the dominant Anywhere elite.

    I qualified with a diploma in journalism in 1999 and took the first newspaper job I could find. I began at the Spenborough Guardian, and later moved to its sister papers The Batley News and Dewsbury Reporter. I was an Anywhere-minded youth in the heart of Somewheresville. When I told my Leeds-dwelling friends that I had a job in Batley, they’d splutter with contempt. Southern readers might not distinguish so much between Leeds and Batley, but you’ll have to trust me that there’s a difference between Yorkshire’s major city and its nearby towns. When Harry Enfield’s Yorkshireman said, ‘Don’t talk to me about sophistication – I’ve been to Leeds’, Southerners laughed because they thought Leeds was unsophisticated; Northerners laughed because they recognised Leeds-dwellers prejudices against Yorkshire’s former mill and mining towns. 

    It was snobbery or, to use Roger Scrutton’s more specific term, ‘oikophobia’. Those who lived in these towns outside the metropolis knew they were looked down on, but had a fierce sense of local pride. As an out-of-towner employed to report upon their lives, I soon learned to respect that pride.

    With hindsight, the best reporters among us tended to be Somewheres, who were either from the local area or embraced their patch by moving to it. Embedded in their communities, they would catch gossip over the weekend which I – commuting from the studenty part of Leeds – would miss. The papers’ senior staff were life-long locals who seemed to know everybody and had a deep sense of the area’s history. They were – only the cliché will do them justice – Pillars of the Community.

    Whereas I was just passing through. The plan was to publish a best-selling novel quickly, then move to London.

    Well, I stayed longer than I expected. Long enough to overcome my own oikophobia. I now recognise that my own Anywhere-minded blindness to Somewhere concerns was reflective of a wider failure of the political class to look out for its constituents. It’s this failure for which the Labour Party is now paying the price, despite the narrow victory in Batley and Spen on Thursday (Labour 35.3; Conservative 34.4; Workers 21.9).

    Many of the stories I covered at the Batley News and Spenborough Guardian amounted to a bigger story – that of Somewhere decline. Vast supermarkets opening on the outskirts of town killed off the high streets. Traditional pubs closed, and resentment at the increasing Muslim population was evident in the unnervingly high vote for the BNP in local elections.

    My views on immigration at the time were textbook Anywhere: Immigration was a net benefit for the economy – Look! It says so in the Guardian – and there the argument should end. Hostility to immigration was an expression of ignorance or racism.

    I suspected such ignorance was at play when a local woman approached me with a story about anti-social behaviour by Asian men. She remarked casually, “But of course there’s no point telling the police. They won’t do anything because they’re scared of being called racist”.

    Looking back, I hear a chilling warning in that woman’s words. We now know it was fear of racism that prevented the authorities from protecting tens of thousands of girls from grooming gangs in Rotherham and elsewhere. It was this fear that prevented a security guard at Manchester Arena from challenging Salman Abedi, who minutes later detonated his rucksack bomb, killing 22 people, mostly teenage girls.

    Abedi was an example of what has become familiar type, the home-grown terrorist. Batley’s close neighbour, Dewsbury has the dubious distinction of producing the most prolific of these, Mohammad Siddique Khan, who in 2005 led the suicide bombing on London commuters.

    It’s not hard to imagine that the Somewheres of Batley and Spen, already uneasy about the pace of immigration, will have seen the 7/7 bombings as further cause for alarm at the rate of change in their communities. Working-class people have been telling pollsters for decades that they would like to see more controls on immigration. But these concerns have been ignored by the Anywhere elite. It’s not that Anywheres don’t care when 22 Arianna Grande fans are murdered, but they are more likely to regard such tragedies as a regrettable but understandable form of protest against Western imperialism, or simply the price we have to pay for an open immigration policy that benefits ‘the economy’ – even when those benefits don’t trickle down to skilled workers who have to compete with cheap immigrant labour.

    It should therefore have surprised no-one when Batley and Spen voted 60 per cent in favour of Brexit.

    The Brexit campaign saw bitter divisions in British society, but was largely peaceful. The horrific exception occurred on the streets of Batley and Spen with the murder of the constituency’s Labour MP Jo Cox. Her killer, a Nazi-obsessed loner with mother issues, shouted ‘Britain first’ as he attacked her.

    Maybe this could have happened anywhere in the UK. I’m wary of ascribing societal trends to random acts of savagery. But it was not a huge surprise that this particular tragedy occurred in a constituency where the tensions were already strung painfully tight.

    Certainly it was the stuff of Anywhere nightmares – patriotism (‘Britain first’) gone murderously berserk.

    But patriotism is a necessary ingredient for what psychologists call moral capital. And here lies another element of Labour’s self-destruction. Labour lost support under Corbyn partly because of his distinct lack of patriotism. Time and again he sided with our enemies rather than our allies. Now Starmer has taken steps to rectify this impression, and to purge the party of anti-Semites. But at what cost? In a further disturbing trend, Labour appears to have lost support among the Muslim community since Starmer took over.

    Enter George Galloway, who for years has been a hero among many British Muslims and has been telling those in Batley and Spen exactly what they want to hear. For if the Somewheres of Batley and the red wall have been neglected, Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain, with its uncompromising pro-Palestinian stance, appeals to the global sense of Islamic Somewherehood – the Muslim Ummah. During my tenure as a journalist in Batley, whenever the Israel-Palestine conflict flared up, our postbag would swell, and the community halls would fill with crowds eager to raise funds for Palestine and hear Israel denounced. There remains a rich vein of passion here which Galloway was only too eager to exploit.

    As if the divisions were not deep enough, the constituency has become a flashpoint of a fundamental clash of values. This time what is it stake is freedom of speech – the right on which all our other rights depend.

    Shortly after the beheading of a French schoolteacher for showing images of the Mohammed, a teacher at Batley Grammar School was forced into hiding after showing pupils the cartoons of Mohammed that sparked the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

    Of the candidates who stood in the by-election, only the SDP made this a central part of their campaign. The Labour candidate, Kim Leadbeater (Jo Cox’s sister) said this: “I think it’s perfectly possible to believe in freedom of speech whilst it’s also possible to be respectful of people’s different views and beliefs.”

    Galloway’s reply: “Clear as mud,” is bang on. Either we have a de facto blasphemy law enforceable by the mob, or we don’t. This is not an issue on which one can take both sides simultaneously.

    It’s disappointing, but hardly surprising, that mainstream politicians are too nervous to stand up to this contingent more forcefully. After all, having one’s throat slit is a fate even worse than being called a racist.

    Labour’s victory, though narrow, was hard-won. Activists campaigning for Labour in the by-election report being physically attacked. One former Labour staffer who was due to campaign there chose to stay away after he heard all Labour Party staff were being issued with personal alarms.

    He said: “I was a loyal apparatchik under Brown and Miliband, and did what was asked of me, but also believed in the party and what it stood for at that time. I rarely saw animosity directed towards staff or activists, and physical attacks were almost unheard of. I’ve seen the party lose its way. So much so I couldn’t vote for the Labour candidate in my constituency in 2019. I know others from my Labour cohort who also voted for other parties. The Labour Party feels broken, trapped in a spiral dive and unable to change course.”

    Labour will be celebrating this weekend, but its troubles are far from over because it has placed itself in an impossible position. It’s impossible to simultaneously appeal to the middle-class woke militants, the anti-free speech Islamists and the patriotic, small-town Somewheres. And if the loss of Muslim votes to Galloway pushes the party towards a more aggressively anti-Israel stance, the zombie of anti-Semitism will rise to haunt Labour once more.

    On Thursday Kim Leadbeater said the Labour win showed her constituents had ‘rejected division’.

    It was echo of her sister, who in her maiden speech said, “Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration … We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

    As I contemplate the bitter conflicts that preceded this by-election, these words seem more like a beautiful aspiration than a description of the brutal reality.