On Sunday I saw a notice on my church door saying: ‘Join us for Iftar. The People’s Festival. Halal food stalls.’ I was not happy; who are ‘The People’ I wondered, and were a lot of white liberal vegetarians going along to tuck into halal food? I didn’t join them, but lots did, filling Trafalgar Square, Canterbury Cathedral, Wembley Stadium and the British Library forecourt.
Good luck to them. They are no doubt much nicer, sweeter people than I am. I am too suspicious to enjoy such festivities and already in a bad mood, after hearing Turner Prize winner, Lubaina Himid, on Desert Island discs saying she’s glad that artists often no longer work alone, preferring groups. The word ‘group’ make grumps like me shudder, being one of those rarely invited to join them. I am wedded to the image of the lonely genius toiling in the attic rather than a culture where the individual counts for less than the group and its inclusivity.
Individual thought, cherished in the West since the Enlightenment, seems to be under attack and a resulting lack of ability to think independently is having a desultory effect in many areas of our national life. We often hear sad stories about older people being duped by phone fraudsters, but it seems that even extremely bright younger people are surprisingly credulous too.
Four major Assurance firms, accountants employed to solve complex issues faced by management and boards, have decided to send their highly paid staff to compulsory classes, to ‘foster scepticism.’ They need to be taught how to challenge their stock exchange bosses. At the moment, apparently, they believe everything authority tells them.
This need is so urgent that such companies are prepared to hire five hundred extra staff to provide face to face tuition, costing £30m a year, about five percent of their audit profits, on them. Without this training even highflyers are open to corrupting influences and meekly unable to question what is true and what is not.
An increasing number of topics seem to demand acceptance without question; the peacefulness of Islam, the evils of Trump, the need for #Me Too, British responsibility for slavery, the validity of transgenderism, even the future of the NHS. Discussion is not allowed.
Most worrying of all, fear of independent thought is evident among the bright people at our top universities. Last year, Professor Nigel Biggar, Anglican theologian and priest was ostracised at Oxford for defending the British Empire. More than fifty of his colleagues condemned his research into the legacy of colonialism. Nearly two hundred academics from the UK, US, India, South Africa criticised Oxford for even allowing his project.
It’s tough and lonely being a sceptic. It takes guts to stand against the crowd, easier if you already feel like an outsider, or more happily, are powerful enough to be immune to attack. Celebrities recently bold enough to put two fingers up at the current virtue signalling include Meryl Streep. In 2015 she rejected the label ‘feminist’ in favour of, ‘humanist’ and decries feminist terms such as ‘toxic masculinity’ which she says are ‘harmful’ to men. Mamata Banerjee, from India Today, bravely challenges group think from Hindu and Muslim. John Cleese recently, recklessly caused a stir by saying London is no longer an ‘English city.’ And good old Andrew Neil has been side-lined by the BBC for being as well prepared as a top QC as he ruthlessly interrogated left and right in pursuit of that increasingly contested, vexed and vanishing commodity; the truth.