Britain has two competing traditions – one that’s humanist, devoted in ideas of freedom, equality, democracy and Bertrand Russell liberalism, and another that’s Tory ethno-authoritarian, seeing these words as mere rhetoric to be trotted out at will, utilised as a propaganda tool and violated whenever it serves the Machiavellian purposes of exploitation and the preservation of their generational power. Since 2008 the latter has been at war with the former, constructing a carceral techno-feudal future that threatens to capture us all. Permanently.
Isn’t it suspicious, the way these cancel pile-ons work? Pile-on mobs will never see the difference because they’re irrelevant: the partisan witch-hunt isn’t rooted in the transgression, it’s driven by the bloodlust (of the followers) and the cancel target takedown (of the organizers). The pile-on activists will always double down on the most uncharitable, mean-spirited, inexplicably dogged mania for execution vehement in justification specifics yet instantly adaptive to new justification (if convenient), just as vehement.
Mindful of the need to manufacture consent, neoliberal government – itself a professional class from the same collegiate background as postmodern academics – wields culture as a litmus (and loyalty test) of citizen right-thinking. Identity politics, race and gender essentialism, repurposed CRT, cancel culture, a caricature of woke-ism: rooted in legitimate opposition to generational corruption but weaponised by an unholy corporation of postmodern-neoliberal elites not in the service of equality or justice but for the consolidation of power.
Winston Smith, in Orwell’s 1984, wrote “if there was hope, it must lie in the proles” but this is wrong. Cultural renaissance – that is to say, a revitalisation of genuinely diverse liberalism including the essential respect for disruptive genius – will only come from a critical mass of comfortable, educated individuals with something to lose finding the courage to fight back. Will this happen? It’s not looking likely. If you know a little history, you’ll know it has never happened before.
“Western” culture faces an existential threat. After a few hundred years of retreat in the face of liberalism and social democracy, technology and centralisation of power is revitalising an Anglo-American oligarchy of neo-feudal lineage and billionaires. The restoration of elite monopoly on power can only be achieved by subordinating the middle class, and in particular non-conforming, non-compromising exponents of education-freedom-equity i.e. individuals and NGO organisations not yet committed to corporate state postmodernist consensus. To this end a war on two fronts: an authoritarianism fighting to control the centres of power and, in service of the oligarchy interests, a mobilising of the working class through a mix of surveillance tech, mass media training and – always looming – the threat of precarity.
From innocuous roots in late 1940s postmodernism has spread like a steady but relentless virus. For its practitioners it has become a kind of consensus of absolution from having to measure personal (or peer group) standards against the achievements of genuine pioneers past and present. It has changed the essential currents of self-expression from outbound character-individualism to inbound caricature-identity. Postmodern culture has calcified an implicit lack of higher ambition (and talent) into a consensus assault on individual merit, patiently but systematically building a citation-legitimised exclusion of all forms of creative non-conformity; a paradise for patient, banal credentialism. The postmodern networks of weaponised influence are both cynical and smart, directing the most merciless attacks on the most dangerous of targets: original genius in art, disruptive uncompromising creativity in science. If these trends continue unchecked – and there’s no sign of organized resistance – the culture war will soon reach a catastrophic and possibly irreparable coda.