(29 Nov 2022, @CCL, Dublin 2)
Today, I would like to consider the nature of our modern problems, why these are happening now and pointing out what we can do about making things better.
Crisis is a widely used word these days.
In recent memory we had a banking crisis or financial crash, and a European migration crisis. We have our own ongoing homelessness crisis, we have declared our own climate emergency or crisis, we have a biodiversity crisis and now facing a potential food security crisis, partially linked to an energy crisis, which we are told is due to the war underway in Ukraine.
The word crisis has a Greek origin – it means ‘a time of intense difficulty or danger’. Hippocrates for example used to it to mean a stage or a turning point in the course of all illness (as in ‘the crisis has passed’).
Yet it is probably not any one of these specific crises that have brought you here. You are more likely wondering what is actually going on in our world? Why does it seem that decisions are being made in which we have no say? Why is our society entertaining unreal ideas? Why are we not told important things by those who should do so? Why is it that we seem to be hearing only one side to many stories? And more recently: Why are trusted educators teaching our children dangerous ideas? Why, all of a sudden, are many of the ideas you may hold are supposedly only held by those on the so-called ‘far right’?
There is something else going on, with the crises we mentioned being symptoms of something deeper. That something else is a crisis of culture, which ultimately is a crisis of truth.
Analysing that something else is at the heart of my website SoWhat.ie
It is also the primary subject matter of various books I have written, including Dare to Speak. And it has at its root the absence of God from our world.
This cultural crisis facing secular western democracies is coming at a bad time for democracy because democracy is also under external threat.
The external threat is due to what are realistically called and not dis-respectfully so, global elites.
The Great Reset is a global idea, for many a threat, whereas for others a solution. We have overseen the rapid development of globalised trade over the past thirty years. Globalised trade, without proper market controls, means the rich are getting richer. So, to counterbalance that, we need globalised migration. Now these problems are too big for the nation state to solve alone and so we need some sort of global response. This requires that we forget about national democracies, we elevate the importance of international NGOs and global, multi-national corporates and leave it to them (a genuine elite) to sort the worlds’ problems. In that approach there is a disinterest in involving the ordinary man or woman in the street – ordinary people (and their notions of individual freedom) can get in the way of solutions. Democracy is messy. Democracy, as the globalists see it, in its present form is not worth saving.
More importantly is the internal threat to democracy, which is the end-result of a clash between ongoing secularisation & a new woke culture.
What is this internal threat? Allowing for a broad sweep across the history of ideas for past two centuries, despite our society’s original Christian roots, we have become very secularised. The drift started as a necessary separation of church and state, then, to use a World Cup metaphor, it led to God being put off the pitch onto the sidelines, then into the stands and, finally, like many a Liverpool fan, left outside the stadium. As Nietzsche said observing the process a couple of generations after the French Revolution: God is dead. We have killed him.
We are not allowed to invoke God in political conversation. Our western secularist society has pushed ahead without him, and all that depends on him. It says that all our structures, institutions – family, society, human nature are human constructs – things are the way they are, not because of their nature, but because we/society shaped them that way. For e.g., marriage did not need to be a man and woman – that was a useful convenience. So, nothing is fixed, there are no certainties. At the same time, secularism has, until recently, kept in place all the old foundational understandings/ principles which derive from the Christian understanding of the person… (and society briefly renewed these following Nazi crimes in the post-War UN Declaration of Human Rights). For example, secularist society has certain freedoms it recognises & these have help society to function well: all persons are equal, all have freedom of expression. But, unlike the Christian outlook, it does not regard these things as essential – just constructs, useful for the present, so to speak.
That secularist response initially worked. But the rot gradually set in. The word ‘rot’ is a real word, with a real meaning. It appears in old Norse, English, German – relates to the idea of natural decomposition and decay – when branches are cut from a tree, or a tree severed from its roots begins to rot. Its an appropriate phrase, given that secular culture cut itself off from its Christian roots, and now when secular culture is eventually tested by a hurricane, it is being blown away.
Without God, (that is, for a society without roots in God) there is no truth, no real morality, no creature, no human nature. And now, God’s absence is coming home to roost. (Without God, the creature vanishes – Vat IIG&S)
The battle between secularism (often identified with liberalism) and what is termed woke culture is now on, and secularism is unanchored – it has no real sense of morality. But woke has a morality – it is a child of secularism, with morality attached. It wants justice and equality. And as by nature we are moral creatures, woke will win if the battle is a straight fight. Woke culture essentially says – there is injustice, it’s caused by our current culture – we need to get rid of that culture and begin again.
Not everyone appreciates this term so let me explain woke in a little more detail – so as to better understand the contrast I am making between secularism and woke.
To be woke it to be awake to injustice.
If I tell you that in the US black people constitute 13% of the population and 40% of the prison population is black, what would you think. There is a five times greater chance of being in prison if black. Black neighbourhoods are overpoliced and so more blacks end up in gaol.
We could look at stats around Gender pay gap or Colonisation (old colonial powers are richer than the countries they had colonised).
These are injustices, once seen cannot be unseen. One could say that this is to look at the world through a lends of victimhood and oppression, with a view to laying the blame on the ‘haves’. This is a narrow interpretative key, seeking to explain why injustice is everywhere.
Woke says: Don’t try to rationalise these away. Society rotten to the core. Look at the outcomes: the patriarchy dominates, there are wealth disparities, racial disparities, marginalised groups, climate disparities. The answers lie in throwing out everything; defunding the police, apologies for whiteness, make reparations, change education systems, pay for climate damage to affected nations.
Also woke says that these injustices just didn’t happen – they were facilitated by secular society and its rules – so throw all these out and begin again. To get anywhere we need to set groups against each other oppressor v oppressed, and silence the oppressor.
Secularism has said everything is a social construct – we have put society together. Woke agrees and says because of the deep injustices we need to throw it all out and begin again – secularism has no defence to that simple logic.
I want now to take one example of the woke/secularist clash which I deal with in Dare to Speak. There are many one could choose: freedom of expression (hate speech legislation being debated) or freedom of assembly or equality before the law (or other fundamental freedoms e.g., of religion, of conscience, parents’ rights in education).
Freedom of Expression
– It is one of the building blocks of democratic society and affirmed as such for many years by international courts etc.
– For the Christian, there is such a thing as human nature, as created individuals, and we have to live in community – so we need freedom of expression to hammer out issues, reach agreement, maintain peace. Obligation to live peacefully gives rise to the right of free expression. We need to communicate, and so have a right to express ourselves freely. It’s a fundamental foundational freedom for individuals in society – we need it to have a society)
– For the (old) secular liberalism: there is no human nature, that’s a construct, and freedom of expression is just a convenience, we could have done things differently.
– For woke: freedom of expression is one of those foundational rules which has allowed the oppressor to dominate the oppressed – it was the ladder the oppressor has used to get to where he is today. So away with it. Thus, we hear, your words trigger me, your prayer at the abortion clinic is causing me psychological damage, your views are hate speech because they judge me, interfere with my outlook. Your speech generates hate, which in turn can generate violence, so you should not be heard (words are violence)
– Under pressure, Secularism responds: you are right it says, we must protect people’s feelings – we will change the law. Thus, we see such things as UN prioritising undefined privacy over something as fundamental as freedom of expression.
– Secularism does not believe in any fundamental human rights – only that these were conveniences. Even if uncomfortable in the face of woke, it is powerless against the moral woke tide. So, we have hate speech legislation, restriction of movement, silencing of uncomfortable truth. Someone has to decide what can be said, so those in cultural power do so. This extends to history (written by the oppressors, so rewrite), media (hurtful truth suppressed), science (uncomfortable research not funded or quickly suppressed) …. Quickly move into a Dark Age with true knowledge is being hidden from everyone, what emerges is what those in power wish to emerge.
– Problem with suppression of f of expression is not just that someone is silenced (including the bad guys), it is that rogues prosper, the truth doesn’t get said, and good ideas die. We all have had the experience of being in a room where a presentation is made and someone questions it, challenges it, more reflection emerges, discussion, truth gets its chance. Without freedom of expression even proper science doesn’t get done!
– A similar analysis applies to all the other fundamental freedoms which we understand, as these are based on the Christian understanding of the human person : freedom of conscience, of religion, of assembly, of equality before the law. All can be lost as secular liberals don’t believe in these as fundamental necessary freedoms and will not defend them AND woke thinking sees them as obstacles to its supposed utopia.
One crisis I didn’t mention but encourage you to examine, bearing in mind the above ideas, is the Covid crisis, especially as the data emerges over the next year. A classic case of the tools of the cultural clash (especially the silencing) being manipulated and used by the powerful.
To understand the impact of this woke culture you also have to take into account the generational characteristics of Gen Z as the new generation are referred to. They are used to having, from an early age, their voices heard, to getting their own way, they are more in touch with their emotions, have a strong sense of personal autonomy and an awareness of injustice (without any deeper sense of how injustice comes to be in this fallen world and how we normally rectify it).
I think that Woke culture is to Gen Z as communism was a hundred years ago to many concerned Christians.
Many 20th century Christians thought that equality was a good thing, wasn’t it, and that was all that Communism was about. It took decades to expose its destructive ideology, and its evil as evidenced in the gulags (whose equivalents still exist today), as these were well hidden from the West.
Today we have people saying, Justice is a good thing, so why not let woke thinking have its head. It too is an ideology which ignores the nature of man, and it is blind to the damage it does to society.
As with communism we need to ask, how does woke achieve its end… Well, much like communism (not surprising given woke’s Marxist roots) it pit groups in society against each other; you may only speak with the voice of the group (so not really interested in the individual, no class/group traitors are allowed); you need to silence the opposition (Pravda) – this is now done by not discussing or not debating (who could have imagined that someone could win top political office by refusing to debate), by removing, cancelling; by labelling – such as transphobe, racist, homophobe, hate merchant, (pedlars of hate and racism was a phrase used by a politician last week) or by criminalising the person (as with hate speech restrictions). Woke also needs to provide safe spaces for stressed out soldiers, for its woke warriors, & protect them and others from microaggressions with trigger warnings.
Wanting social justice is good. But its absence is not necessarily the blame of the previous generation – society often has moved one step forward, only to slip back two (we are fallible human beings, original sin is a religious term to help describe the problem). And by definition, will never achieve social justice without input from right across the society. In fact, social justice is only achievable through charity.
There are other factors feeding into turmoil in society.
One is the pace of change in society – it is like a rollercoaster which is going too fast, and which could derail at any moment. There has been an enormous growth in the number of highly educated people, who keep asking questions. The ease of internet and social media communications multiply the number of viewpoint exchanges (and increases the capacity for manipulation)
Social media amplifies everything; and can also be an unhelpful echo chamber.
Currently what is happening on social media access is like a number of giant sociological experiments, whose outcome we cannot predict… an invention much more revolutionary than invention of the printing press, and which adds to the turmoil. (Can understand influence of Instagram on 14-year-old’s sense of self, but on social media this is but one of a vast series of experiments happening before our eyes. To what degree does it create lasting intergenerational divisions? How do bullying bots influence viewpoints? How does knowing everything impact on our trust in necessarily imperfect institutions? What difference does it make that 70% of young people can now easily view GTA or porn, whereas it was perhaps less than 7% two decades ago? If in real life lies always outpace the truth, then how does that work with social media in the mix? How on social media does boring reality compare with novelty.) I Discuss all this in Dare to Speak – there are no easy answers here in managing the interplay between rights, obligations, finances, global corporations and billionaires, although Elon Musk seems surefooted around the freedom of expression principle.
What does the cultural crisis look and feel like?
Broadly speaking, countries within our secularised Western culture appear to be in thrall of undemocratic elites, and previous ‘goods’ of society appear to be disappearing. The family is ignored – more likely to see an article promoting polyamory than monogamy, or pansexuality over heterosexuality. Human nature is denied, sensible voices are silenced, obvious societal trends around societal and family dissolution are ignored, there is unhelpful unanimity in mainstream media. The political reactive response would appear to be a growth in small groups, usually labelled as ‘far right’, which might emphasise things such as family and nation, as people search for certainties they can trust.
We are witnessing in public display, and in our laws, a new paganism, where we are encouraged to be ruled by our desires and what you want is who you are.
We are seeing make-believe promoted as reality.
In looking for parallels for this, the game ‘King for a day’ comes to mind, where a child, who wants to see his fantasies play out in reality is allowed to behave as if they were king, and everyone grins, smiles and puts up with the outcomes.
There is also the analogy where a family, out of genuine compassion welcomes strangers into their home. In this case, these strangers have a completely different understanding of what a human person is and of what the purpose of life is. The strangers settle in, remake the house rules over the heads of the parents who are not sure what is happening , and before they know it the strangers take over the education of the children.
Or there is the apparently true medieval story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The people of Hamelin in order to solve a rat-catching problem, employ this piper (in multicoloured dress), who gets rid of the rats and, as payment, heads off with their children – never to be seen again.
Well, who are these people we have welcomed along to control our lives? I would like to provide an instructive example from Canada following on the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide there (Maid). As the numbers of people availing of this ‘compassionate’ service increases, there are also doctors indicating that they will not cooperate with killing. This led to a prominent consultant to saying that if doctors in public service are not willing to provide this public service, then they should not enter medicine. Thus, thousands of years of medicine (at least 2,500 if we go back to Hippocrates) are turned on their head – a profession focussed on saving lives can now only be entered by people who willing to be killers.
Something similar has happened in the approach to abortion here – society effectively agreed that abortion should not be outlawed in certain circumstances; now there is an insistence that it is a healthcare measure in which all medics should be obliged to participate.
This is a feature of the emerging culture – it seems to turn everything on its head. We have a statutory human rights agency (IHREC) which in a submission on Hate speech legislation, asserts that the privacy and dignity of one class of person supersedes everyone’s fundamental right to expression. Or a hospital in England turning down a severely sick patient because it didn’t share the patient’s political views on gender.
This cultural crisis is visible everywhere. See it in lack of understanding of the human person, in the denial of womanhood, in issues around gender identity, in parent 1 &2 terminology , in surrogacy, in a fashion house promoting paedophilia, in education policy in preschool, in the undervaluing of competence in the workplace, in highly partisan myopic activist media, in the absence of right and wrong, invisibility of ideas of truth, in the denial of normative behaviour, including normative sexual behaviour, the disappearance of fathers and of families, ignoring of parental rights, in DEI in the workplace, in the push for undefined equity, in hate legislation, in patient autonomy, in blurring between legal and illegal migrancy; in euthanasia for children; in previously trusted medical institutions blurring the truth, in investment policy of pension funds and fund managers; in seeking to make abortion a fundamental right; in scientific manipulation of research results and data; in the disappearance of terms right and wrong from curriculum, even in maths, in call for reparations, in amplification of the far-right threat, in racist labelling, in silencing, marginalisation, in de-platforming by social media companies and also by banks and financial institutions refusing customers because of their political views.
How can we get ourselves out of the mess?
It won’t be easy. Individual woke warriors who recover their wokeness recognise they have suffered a form of indoctrination. When woke, they find it impossible to listen, so reasoning is not an effective tool.
Overall, the full answer lies in re-Christianisation of society – it is Christians who best understand these fundamental freedoms that democracy needs, and understand the given nature of humanity. A Christianised society will embrace democracy. It is Christianity which has made common sense common. So to solve the problem, bring back God.
But there are also specifics that I would regard as essential, today, now. Highlight three areas.
First– do not accede to the lie. Don’t be fooled by credentials; hold professionals to high standards; insist on merit and competency. Don’t accept dictionary definitions changing before your very eyes (respect, tolerance, racism, transphobe etc). Do not succumb to pronoun pressure. Stand by truth. This was Solzhenitsyn’s answer to communism. Face up to, stand up for, the truth of things. So, make your submissions to the NCCA on specific education policy, be informed on what is happening in the Dail and make your voice heard (eg medic on Mental Health Bill), on drugs policy, on hate speech. Even if you feel it is pointless – stand by truth. Send your email (I want this … I cannot vote for you because… and explain why?…). This is your civic duty – there are no opt outs. Need to stand firmly by the truth. There is no anti-woke party out there – there is you, with your own voice.
Second – help people, especially young people, live genuine Christian one-on-one charity (not just gestures) & thus they are more likely to see through unchristian hate methods of woke. Live charity yourself – listen to the work warriors and get them thinking – keep asking them the question why!
Third – relates to education: encourage the reading of history while it is still historical, before it is all rewritten. Promote natural anthropology. Get engaged with the civic culture you inhabit: do not abandon the schools in their time of need – there are always vacancies on BoM of schools. Remember: to with regard to schools it is not a question of who is right or wrong – it is fundamentally a question of who decides. And it is parents, and not strange ideas which emerge from New York’s UN district or Hollywood, who decide what is best for their children.
Get people to read the Gospels and to be open out to Christian richness.
Do your own bit for justice, but realise it cannot be separated from charity.
And all those actions can be carried out, with as much vigour as is required, without undermining Christian charity.
Finally, this Christmas I would encourage you to put Dare to Speak in the hands or stockings of young intelligent readers, it could be viewed as a form of exit counselling, and it is one useful way to move them from woke to freedom through considering morality, truth, and conscience.