Take four recent developments:
- Over 30,000 people complain to the BBC about Jeremy Clarkson’s “shoot the strikers” comment.
These events all tell us something sad about the British people - that many of us have become illiberal prigs, quick to take offence and to condemn. I suspect there are three related pathologies underlying this:
1. Narcissism. Events are interpreted through a me, me, me prism. They give us the opportunity to demonstrate our delicate sensibilities and our “moral compass.“ This approach excludes curiosity. It stops us asking: “why did s/he do that?” (The answers are, in order, because: he’s got a point; he’s got a book to sell; he’s been abused for the last hour; she’s probably mentally ill.) We are all newspaper columnists now - in the sense of having a self-absorbed moralistic incuriosity.
2. Infantilism. We have become like children, desperate to seek protection against things that upset us. We’ve lost Samuel Johnson’s manly attitude to freedom: “Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.” Instead, we now look to the “authorities” to knock him down.
3. A hatred of disorder. Richard Sennett has described how people respond to chaos and uncertainty by constructing a “purified identity”. Instead of embracing uncertainty and learning from it, “threatening or painful dissonances are warded off to preserve intact a clear and articulated image of oneself.” This warding off consists of demanding that dissonant experiences be suppressed.
I say all this for a reason. When I said yesterday that the public’s hostility to redistribution was due to cognitive biases, some rightists replied that this was typical lefty arrogance. But what they ignore is that public attitudes are also hostile to liberty too. For me, both are a matter for regret.