I wish it were true Stephen, truly I do. So many of my wonderful left liberal friends say the same as you do, Mr Fry. I have often thought one of the faults of the members of the well-meaning, well-heeled chattering classes is their inability to imagine what it is to be an ordinary mortal. It seems, Stephen, that you make the same fundamental error as many have before and, no doubt, will make again. You are quoted often, Stephen, but here is the particular “nugget” to which I refer.
“’For years mankind has been told what to think and what to believe by shamans, priests and ideologues. There is an alternative: free thought, trusting our ability to find out, investigate, question, and test according to repeatable, reliable evidence.”
Well here’s the thing: I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, a time that was socially unrecognisable from the first half of that century. During my lifetime freedoms that would have once been considered controversial, if not dangerous, have become, quite rightly, the norm. In many ways I believe, at least as a British citizen, I have enjoyed a level of freedom completely unknown in recent human history. As for free thought, I have never once in my entire life been restricted in any way as regards to what I may or may not think. Indeed I have also enjoyed an almost unrestricted right to speak freely too. Aside from the “incitement” and “hate speech” laws I’m pretty much able to open my mouth, charge my quill or key my device and say pretty much what I damn well like.
I tell you Stephen – we already have the alternative you seem to feel is lacking. Free thought? Trusting our ability to find out? Of course, and of course again. Both great ideas, and ones of which I have availed myself many a happy time. I have never been barred from entering a library back in the dark ages before the web and I have never been disallowed from searching freely on the internet; to question, to test and to look at reliable evidence has been a pleasure that has never diminished for me.
But here’s the rub: If you look at the top searches in the West, as reported by the giant Google, over the last several years you will see Miley Cyrus and twerking topping the list in many regions, with the top tens across our free world almost exclusively occupied by sports people and celebrities. Seems to me, Stephen, that in the absence of religion and the like, vast swathes of the general Joe and Joanna are looking for someone to tell them what to do, how to dress, what to buy and what to think and are turning to the famous for guidance and to fill the gap that the now distrusted shamans, priests and ideologues may be leaving behind. Personally I’m happy for the priests in all their manifestations to leave – they’ve had their chance and they blew it and often blew it up.
I think that is no accident that there seems to be a deep dissatisfaction simmering below the surface in the West and no amount of consumption is going to cure it, nor greater freedoms. That is not to say that there are no tweaks (not twerks) that are still necessary to our laws and customs to completely ensure rights for all, but largely, from where I’m sitting in the glorious, democratic West, the view is pretty much unencumbered – not perfect, I know, but I see no oppressors on my horizon ready to shut down my thoughts, my investigations nor my questions.
I think that it is also no accident that great leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi and Mandela are still held in such high regard. Were they ideologues? Certainly, the word “ideologue” has been used by you, Stephen, as a negative, but in fact, if you look at the absolute certainty these heroes of our modern age displayed in their beliefs, I think they may very well be described as such. To steadfastly defend an ideology in itself should not, in my opinion, be a cause for criticism, yet the term has frequently been used in both politics and general social commentary as a derogatory term. Surely it is the content of the ideology that must be scrutinised and brought to account, and not the passion of its proponent or the force of its delivery. The meteoric rise of the far right in Europe in the last decade suggests to me that strong leadership is highly favoured by the public at large. In France, where the popularity of the far right Marine le Pen is greater, at the moment, than any other politician running for election in 2017 gives a clear indication of what many political pundits already know. Content isn’t that important to the voting population at large. Charisma, strength of delivery and apparent clear conviction wins the day.
For you Stephen, the idea of “forcing” your opinion on anyone, I am sure would be anathema. So many of my wonderful, left liberal friends would feel the same, I’m willing to bet. Whilst hoping to free us all, to send us into the world with our minds unfettered by the old guard, by religion and by the “bad” ideologues, you may simply be allowing the space to be filled by the vacuous and the hateful.
Personally, I yearn for the “good” ideologue- one whose ideals stem from a deep respect for humanity, common sense, science and ecology. Please, Stephen, do not ask us all to do our own thinking. We’ll probably give up too easily and simply turn to those who care not one jot about the morality of their ideals or about forcing their nasty, useless and often dangerous ideas upon us.
If you, the intelligent, the kind, the liberal, the charismatic idealists, abandon us in the name of “freeing our minds”, I fear we may soon all be marvellous twerking fascists.