I recall a row between a one time friend and his younger sister. He accused her of stealing his mother’s Tupperware after her death and so he pledged never to talk to her again. Clement and Lucian Freud didn’t speak for forty years after they fell out after a race across Hampstead Heath. But the strangest story arose when a friend’s sister inherited magnificent walnut chest on a stand. He lusted after that chest. After he established that his sister didn’t want it he offered to buy it. But she insisted that it went to public auction. So Fred was forced to buy it under the hammer in Sotheby’s then he paraded it proudly in his dining room and asked his sister to dinner. He set the table especially so she was compelled to stare at the chest all dinner.
And neither of them commented. Beat that for English reserve.
We walked through Barnsley and Grimethorpe. I recall when I last lambasted somewhere for being dreary and run down, someone gently reminded me that all sorts of kindly acts and quiet heroism goes on behind the closed doors of ugly properties. This is true and I am silenced.
Ministry of Truth
Rewriting the truth was highlighted by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Ministry of Truth was a state engine for propaganda based on his experiences with the BBC.
Apparently today, some teachers in South African universities are preparing their own agendas for students, rewriting details of the wicked British colonial past in such a way that it does not offend African sensibilities. The colonials were all rapacious, cruel and racist and the Africans were exploited, robbed and often slaughtered. The fact that Messrs Rhodes and Beit – in fact the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets of their time – chose to give away the totality of their fortunes for the good of humanity is forgotten, while the question, “Which African leader has ever given away tuppence to any entity other than his own Swiss bank account?” is never asked.
However, it’s considered dangerous to contradict the apostles of the new truths even though their nonsense may pollute our children. The truth rewriters are using violent protest to force their case and generate publicity, and the numbers of protests are rising fast. Earlier this year, for example, leading sociologist Charles Murray was shouted down by student activists when giving a talk at Middlebury College in Vermont, USA. His book The Bell Curve just mentions ethnic variations in average IQ. He doesn’t actually say this is due to genetic differences but he discusses the arguments for and against this hypothesis. For this heresy, the students – who seem not to be there to learn but to destroy any opposition to their arguments – labelled Murray a “white supremacist”. The students then went on to assault both him and his host, Professor Angela Stranger, who was bravely trying to protect him.
Other universities have been comparing notes and it seems there is a ritualized progress to these protests: they involve chanting, and they bear a resemblance to a witch hunt. One said that this has all the hallmarks of a new fundamentalist religion.
This faith believes that important racial differences are not derived from genes but from the environment. If you claim that race is a valid biological concept or that there are gender differences, both are deemed to be “social constructs” – the idea that they have any validity is said to be “fiction”, designed to protect “white male privilege.”
The sad truth is that anyone who dissents from this orthodoxy – and apparently dissenters include nearly all who are seriously studying human variances – is deemed to be a heretic. To indicate the role genes play in human behaviour is committing blasphemy. The fact that there is a mountain of evidence to support the belief that genes do of course play a part in racial differences just strengthens the resolve of the witch hunters to double their protests.
One of the characteristics of religious fundamentalists is that the more crazy their views may appear to the outside world, the more their adherents cling to them as they damn all apostates.
When I have visited care and nursing homes, I have sometimes had to remind myself that the ancient husks listlessly watching bingo on TV – now grey, wrinkled and demented – were once virile and lusty lovers. They weren’t always hobbling or peering out in fear and dependent on us. Perhaps it would be valuable for each to have a picture of what they looked like, say, on their wedding day hanging on a hook at the end of their bed. And a mini CV. Perhaps that would help us keep in touch with our humanity.