LOUIS DE BERNIERES: All bow to the High Priests of cancel culture

LOUIS DE BERNIERES: All bow to the High Priests of cancel culture… who are so powerful I was warned NOT to write this article condemning them

Earlier this year, Sir Kazuo Ishiguro, one of our greatest writers, expressed anxiety that young authors were being forced into self-censorship out of fear of being trolled by the anonymous lynch mobs of the politically correct.

He said that he felt safe himself, because he was already well-established: ‘It may be an illusion, but I think I am protected.’

Ish may be more protected than I am by the fact that he is not white. I, too, am established and we are the same age but, for years now, I have felt that I have had to self-censor.

Louis De Bernieres writes that he feels he has had to self-censor as part of ‘cancel culture’ 

This is mainly out of consideration for my editors, who display mild panic at every sign of political incorrectness.

I don’t know whether or not they actually are ‘wokesters’ — I rather doubt it — but I think they might be terrified of those who are.

Everyone dreads being trolled by the Pharisees who pray in public, our social-justice and identity warriors.

I refer to the kind of people who force students to take unconscious bias exams in which you have to admit to things of which you are not guilty because otherwise you don’t pass; to those who have ‘cancelled’ or ‘no-platformed’ both our most influential modern feminist (Germaine Greer) and our most popular storyteller (JK Rowling) in order not to be ‘triggered’, and to be ‘safe’.

British novelist Louis De Bernieres

Even Lionel Shriver, who has been an outspoken critic of political correctness, admitted last week that she had agreed to remove dialogue from her forthcoming book after being told it was ‘othering’ — something one academic has defined as ‘treating people from another group as less human than one’s own group’.

I have had my own laughably insignificant experience of being cancelled. Some time ago, thanks to the success of my novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, I was made patron of The British Banjo, Mandolin And Guitar Federation but, after I wrote a letter to The Times about the attitudes of Scottish nationalists in January, some snowflakes from north of the border complained and I was promptly fired.

Even though I was warned not to write this article by a well-meaning friend, I decided to go ahead because my partner insisted that I must. She is full of the dread of what will become of us if there is no resistance.

My own fears have roots in the past. My parents are both dead now, but they were proud of having struggled through World War II because our freedom of speech and thought were thereby set in stone.

In fact, we didn’t become truly free until the Lady Chatterley trial, when Penguin was found not guilty of obscenity after publishing D. H. Lawrence’s sexually explicit novel about a love affair between an aristocratic woman and her gamekeeper.

Ever since then, we have steadily been losing ground. I think I might have lived at the best time in our cultural history, set up for freedom by my parents’ generation, and dying just in time not to see us spiral back down again into a stultifying intellectual and moral captivity.

My theory is that the older people in publishing, of whom there are no longer very many, may have become over-sensitive to the passions of younger members of staff.

These have come through the humanities departments of universities that have, since the 1990s, been steadily taken over by petit bourgeois armchair revolutionaries who have never used a shovel in their lives.

JK Rowling has been cancelled’ or ‘no-platformed’ writes Mr De Bernieres

These are the kind of people who hounded the writer and philosopher Roger Scruton for being conservative, drove Laurence Fox out of the acting profession (as he revealed in this newspaper on Wednesday), and have recently ganged up in their hundreds against Kathleen Stock, a professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex, for stating that she thinks there is a biological basis to sex difference.

This terrible sin is known as ‘essentialism’, which is taboo over all issues of race, gender and diversity, except in the case of white middle-class male heterosexuals (WMCMH), who are quintessentially evil and the cause of all that’s wrong in the world.

I first became aware of these tendencies in the 1990s, when English Literature departments in Canada became obsessed with post-colonial studies. Suddenly, people were studying works not because of their intrinsic literary merit, but because of who wrote them and where they came from.

It’s easy to fall into this kind of mistake. In my 20s, I fell in love with the work of a small posse of Latin American writers and, so, for ten years, read nobody but Latin Americans. One day, I suddenly realised that I had been loyally hoovering up any old dross as long as it was from Latin America.

Lawrence Fox (pictured) has alleged that he has been driven out of the acting profession

This kind of thoughtlessness has now extended in every direction, and ideology routinely trumps quality. Any and everything has to be ‘problematised’.

‘Cultural theory’ is taught as if it were fact, by people who say it’s a fact that there are no facts, but only ‘texts’.

The whole world is construed not as an empirical shared reality but as a text whose reality is dependent upon the standpoint of the ‘reader’.

So if you think a horse is really a car you are still perfectly sane if you walk round and round it looking for the doors and headlights, and you are exceptionally correct if you happen to be from the tiniest of tiny minorities.

The concept of ‘intersectionality’ means you get many more gold medals in the Oppression Olympics if you can find ever more recondite niches to occupy. There are an awful lot of boxes to tick these days, and those from the greatest number of oppressed minorities get to be the winners.

There is a comical struggle for the moral high ground in all this, reminiscent of the circular firing squads of the socialist Left in the past. The point of these ‘studies’ and this ‘critical theory’ is to privilege minorities at the expense of the mainstream culture that has allegedly oppressed them, and it is a dog-eat-dog competition to assert oneself as the most downtrodden.

God help you if you are a WMCMH and you want to open your mouth and speak, perhaps to suggest that maybe one’s sex and sexual orientation are not socially constructed, and to confess that no one has been able to discover any unconscious bias in the sewers of your psyche.

Germaine Greer, pictured has also been ‘cancelled’ according to Mr De Bernieres

 The more you can’t find it, the more it’s there, of course. That’s how deeply ‘structural’ and ‘systemic’ it is.

Connected with all this, which I think began in American universities many years ago, is the attempt to proscribe all ‘appropriation’ of other people’s cultural experience. What this amounts to is that you can’t write about being a woman in a kitchen unless you actually are a woman in a kitchen. You can’t wear a Mexican sombrero to a fancy dress party.

It means that Paul Simon suffered hideous flak for his Gracelands album, one of the greatest ever created, because he ‘exploited’ South African musicians, who then went on to become successful and beloved all over the world.   

It means telling Eric Clapton, one of the greatest blues guitarist who has ever lived, that he shouldn’t be playing the blues, and that he ‘exploited’ BB King by making an album with him. 

It means accusing me of ‘Orientalism’ for writing a novel that is now used for teaching Ottoman history in Turkish universities. Luckily, the offence of Orientalism is one that almost no ‘Orientals’ give a damn about.

Stone, 63, made her comments while appearing on SiriusXM’s Just Jenny show to promote her new book The Beauty of Living Twice

Bob Dylan is said to have answered a critic who accused him of appropriation by looking at him as if he were mad, and saying: ‘That’s how it works.’

It’s true; all art is related to all other art; all books are made of other books. Any artist knows that theft is of the essence. Without theft nothing new is created.

You steal what you want without shame or permission, and you make it new and original through your own talent. If some academic heretic-hunter tells you otherwise, the only response worthy of an artist is to give them the finger.

Irrationality and bad logic are at the heart of the matter. I have even read somewhere that logic is to be deplored because of its white male ‘heteronormative’ origins. The unintentional insult to women worldwide is apparent.

In informal logic, there is something known as ‘the genetic fallacy’. This consists in appraising the worth or truth of a statement on the grounds of its origin.

If it is raining, only an idiot would deny it just because it was, for example, Adolf Hitler who pointed it out. If it is not raining, only an idiot would say that actually it must be, as it was an ‘oppressed’ person who just said it was.

Thus, only a philistine would make their students study something because it was written by a particular type of person, rather than because it is excellent. There is no excuse for taking Chaucer off a reading list because of who and what he was.

The canon became the canon because of its excellence. The point is to add to it, not signal your piety by substituting someone else just because you think they were from a disadvantaged minority.

These days: Television host Daryl Somers (pictured) says he does not believe his classic variety show, Hey Hey It’s Saturday, would be shown on television today. Speaking to The Daily Telegraph , the 69-year-old said today’s ‘cancel culture’ would shut the program down

It is a great testament to the public that it keeps the arts flourishing in our civilisation with very little assistance from the universities, which for years have been abandoning the cultural transmission model of education. On reflection, giving our culture back to the people may even be a good thing, because it is clearly not safe in the hands of academics.

The trouble with grievance and victimhood studies is that they cannot thrive without creating, exaggerating, and cementing division, like the vulture that cannot thrive without a corpse.

You have to tell someone they are oppressed so they can get angry about it and become your disciple. Every time they fail, or something goes wrong, or somebody is curt to them, you tell them to blame institutional prejudice and unconscious bias.

Why bother to try when you’ve been educated to believe you haven’t got a chance? When pessimism and hopelessness have been drummed into you?

It’s true that it’s massively harder for a black person to get a good job than an equivalently qualified white person, but you don’t do anyone any favours at all if you persuade people that it’s actually impossible, and that any person of another race who is being nice to you, actually despises you.

Sadiq Khan, pictured, is an example of someone ‘who might have been told that they didn’t have a chance, but must have waved the idea away with contempt’ Mr De Bernieres writes

Luckily, we have fine exemplars of people who might have been told that they didn’t have a chance, but must have waved the idea away with contempt. Sadiq Khan, Rishi Sunak, Priti Patel, Diane Abbott, Ben Okri, Floella Benjamin, David Lammy, Kwasi Kwarteng, and Nadiya Hussain. The Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright Derek Walcott, author and broadcaster Lemn Sissay, Cabinet Office minister Alok Sharma, and Labour frontbencher Tan Dhesi…

The list is so long that one would lose heart attempting to exhaust it. None of them got to the top of the tree by playing the victim.

The lesson we should have learned from Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela is that, when all the shouting has died down, there is only one race and only one identity. The point is to stop shouting. To deny their message, and even to make a living out of that denial in the comfort of a university, strikes me as treachery.

Once I was in a pub talking to a young black woman, who said: ‘I don’t understand all this fuss about identity. We’re all just human, aren’t we?’

She saw the delight in my eyes, and we did a high five.

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