One day in February 2020, I was sitting on a bench in Rushcutters’ Bay Park, Sydney, waiting for a colleague in Adelaide to email my laptop the next instalment of some writing he wanted me to edit. The glassy dark blue of the bay and the spidery white yachts at anchor delighted me. Who isn’t delighted by Sydney?
A group of about ten people were performing exercise routines at the direction of a gym coach in the middle of the park; mostly blokes in Aussie football kits but a few women as well in shorts and T-shirts. The routines they were being put through were a little unusual. They would be told to run on the spot, flap their hands at the end of straightened outstretched arms, rotate their hips, then suddenly arrange their hands and arms in gestures of defiance: variations on fascist (straight arm) and communist (upraised fist) salutes. It dawned on me that they were not doing calisthenics at all but rehearsing flamboyant arabesques for the March of the Dancers that would grace Sydney’s annual Gay Mardi Gras parade in a few days’ time.
Being homosexual, it made me remember how grimly conformist and “homophobic” (to use an unhappy word) Australia was when I was a boy in Townsville fifty years ago. For me, at least, “there was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine”, as Conrad once put it, as I reflected on this about-turn. Who can rejoice when a people famous for thinking for itself is so easily led by its betters that it toes one officially approved line after another, even when each new orthodoxy clearly contradicts the position it so obediently embraced before?
This essay appears in the latest Quadrant.
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I remembered, in this respect, not only the Australia of my childhood, but the Scotland and Ireland of my childhood after I and the rest of my North Queensland family arrived by ship in the UK in 1971 (my mother is Scottish, my father Irish Australian). Even as a child I could see how ostentatiously religious and glibly puritanical both of these Celtic-fringe nations were. And now each is as intoxicated as Australia by what John Paul II called “the religion of death”. Today’s Scots and Irish (as is obvious when I return) are as conformist as they ever were. It is just that, now, they are as devoted to “trans rights”, gay marriage and the abortion of the indigenous Anglo-Celts (Third World migrants are not keen on abortions) as they were devoted in the 1970s to Calvinism and the Catholic Church.
Those old Christian certainties arose incrementally and organically from a broad and deeply rooted culture. The West’s ruling ideology today, however, was drawn up by self-appointed elites and imposed without debate or consent. Like Islam, it is simultaneously a judicial and political construct and a captious religion. Like Islam, when it first appeared in the seventh century, it deifies what was previously regarded as evil, and demonises what was previously regarded as good. It is also the expression of a coup d’état, because it poses the question that Hobbes in his book De Cive says is politically central: Who has the right, in any society, to interpret things and impose a view about them on others? It is certainly not “the people” who have the right today to do either in Western “democracies”, where a population can wake up one day to find that some higher power has ordained that any male who says he is female is indeed female and can access female toilets, changing rooms and prisons. And that anyone who “misgenders” him—by pointing out, correctly, that he is a male—will be punished: in “democracies” like Victoria and Canada with the full force of the law. As St Paul wrote: “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in the high places”.
It was from “the high places”, after all, that the radiant initialism “LGBT” was handed down like the tablet with the Ten Commandments, to be quoted and honoured by all. But from where exactly did it come? Who created it? And when were we asked to vote to endorse its official status and the power which that status confers? Who eventually got to change its meaning—first by expanding it from “LGBT” to “LGBTQ”, and then from “LGBTQ” to “LGBTQ+”, much as “NKVD” became the “MGB” and then the “KGB” amid an equally undemocratic obscurity?
The Mardi Gras jamboree in Sydney’s Oxford Street has always reminded me of the “Red October” parade that used to take place in front of the Kremlin, the difference being that its “joyful”, “spontaneous” participants are always in uniform whether off-duty or on. So many male Sydney homosexuals dress alike, day in and day out. Which is very insubordinate of them. And, as in official “demonstrations” in the old Soviet bloc, the marchers adopt an insurgent posture despite their Weltanschauung being the state religion, and one defended and enforced by a vindictive and all-seeing inquisition.
In my youth I don’t recall anyone in any democracy being arrested or driven from their jobs for questioning the teaching of the Catholic Church—or any church. Alas, across the “democratic” West today, plenty have recently been sacked or had their collar felt for “transphobia” or opposing gay marriage, even when they have done so in private, but hacked, social media fora. As the leaders of the Khmer Rouge used to boast: “The Higher Organisation [Angkar Leou in Khmer] has as many eyes as a pineapple.” Who would have thought a few decades ago that such spying, and the triumphant exposure and punishment of “thoughtcrime”, could ever become a norm in Western democracies? And that they would be devised, not only to defend views that are false, but that are far more obviously false than, say, the Inquisition’s insistence that the sun revolved around the earth, or the ludicrous ideas about plant genetics imposed on Soviet agriculture by Stalin’s favourite scientist, Trofim Lysenko, ideas that led to famines, but whose perceptive critics were imprisoned or shot?
Christ observed that “the truth will set you free”. A lie, however—especially one known to be a lie, like the idea that one can change one’s sex—can only survive in an apparatus of repression. Even more repression will be needed if the arrant nonsense is to be forced down everyone’s throat, and, in the democratic West, the state is now far from the only foolish power trying to make an Iron Maiden out of the Emperor’s New Clothes. The other “eyes of the pineapple” are supplied by “a swinish multitude”, as Edmund Burke called the freelancers who usurp political decision-making, and their Gadarene frenzy almost certainly derives from their fear that what they are enforcing is false. (Burke did not refer to “the” swinish multitude, as is often alleged, but to “a” swinish multitude: he was not talking about the masses.)
The name of this multitude, as the Bible says, “is legion”. It includes Big Tech and the lynch mobs it depends on, as well as the book-burners in publishing houses and the witch-finders in HR departments. Red Guard students and cretinous millennials lend a hand, as do activist judges, “victims’ advocates” and holier-than-thou celebrities. Last but not least, our new “KGBT” pullulates with publicly-funded broadcasters, academics and policemen who regard the views of the voters who pay their wages with contempt. Christians like George Pell have naturally been the main targets of the KGBT. (I am also a Christian.) There has been no attack on people of faith per se, because, under the watchful eye of Angkar Leou, “some religions are more equal than others”. Indeed, Muslims have joined the gays, the disabled, the “indigenous” and male and female impersonators as one of the “multitude’s” loved and privileged chosen peoples. Alas, as Woody Allen noted of such intersectional coalitions: “The lion shall lie down with the lamb, but the lamb will not get much sleep.” And the frequency with which Western Muslims brutalise Jews, gays and women, circumcise their own baby girls, and rape non-Muslim children seldom attracts online Jeremiahs or official sanction.
Compared with the “soft” totalitarianism of today, the “hard” totalitarianism of the past—be it communist or fascist—was a miracle of common sense and internal consistency. The KGBT regards it as a crime, for instance, to doubt that saying she is male suffices to turn a girl into a boy. In fact, it claims that it is both less possible and more criminal for white people to “appropriate BIPOC characteristics”—that is, emulate the ways of “the Black, the Indigenous, and People of Colour”. Curiously, we learn that it is not wrong, however, for “BIPOC” folk to adopt white characteristics, for instance by “appropriating” languages like English or French. And when black actors play historically white figures like Anne Boleyn or the wife of George III in television dramas, Angkar Leou declares that it is as right and beautiful as it would be repugnant for white actors to playing Tina Turner or Muhammad Ali.
At this point, a spine-tingling scream shook me out of my reverie, followed by a swelling chorus of hoarse, stabbing cries from the direction of the revolutionary dancers, who I thought must have burst into song. I looked around and found that what had actually happened was that a flock of cockatoos had been waddling through the grass not far from where the dancers were prancing and had been startled when the happy campers executed a “Mexican wave”. They had flown off amid a cacophony of demonic shrieks. Now they were shuddering through the kauri pines with all the erratic inelegance of their tormentors, diving and jolting like crazy biplanes. The sight of these white Sydney cockies made me think of the red-tailed black cockatoos we have in Townsville and how much more beautiful they are. (The KGBT would have approved of this reflection.) This in turn reminded me of my years as a young ornithologist.
My obsession with the feathered tribe began as a child in the 1960s. Under the teak poles that held up the cabin of “Palleranda”, my grandparents’ Queenslander in Townsville, there was a set of panelled rooms where the family mementos were kept. In the first room, which in the 1930s had belonged to the Japanese butler, there was a heap of old chequebooks. Dated between 1902 and 1920, they contained records of the payments my grandmother’s father had made to the staff of his cattle station south of Townsville: they were printed in his own little bank. The Lascar cook and some of the stockmen had signed their stubs with thumbprints. “Lochinvar”, which was near Jerona on the Barratta Creek, also boasted its own stop on the Townsville-to-Ayr line. (While Lochinvar railway station still exists, the cattle station has long since disappeared.) What impressed me, even as a boy, was the abundance of the chequebooks and other important documents and the carelessness with which they had been abandoned, like brush turkey eggs in a rotting midden. There were great dry ulcers in the books where the termites had been at them, and little woody eggs in the wounds.
In the next room, there were khaki and silver photographs that my grandmother would show me of her Edwardian “Lochinvar” childhood. There was one of my great-aunt Edna, a blurred young cloche-capped flapper on a sailboat, seen from above, each breast an oyster flimsy with folds, arms raised amid rigging like the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Others showed the wives of Aboriginal stockmen in frothy bibs like Victorian dolls. They had the amazed, contemptuous eyes of dolls. Others were of “Shinty”, the pet kangaroo, who had lived under the pillars that held the homestead up. She would graze there on piles of old newspapers. One day, unfortunately, Shinty’s attention strayed to a precious volume narrating the family’s history back “home” in “the old country”, and she left nothing but a heap of confetti. My eccentric great-grandmother blew Shinty’s head off with a Browning pistol.
My favourite photographs were of the eccentric and her cousins in their Edwardian “open sandwich” hats, and the homestead itself on glorious stilts like a man-o’-war in full sail. Or Christmas dinner beneath the house in 1913 with its chrysalis fowl and its twinkling crystal, the crockery a collection of blown wild birds’ eggs. In the final panelled room beneath the house there was collection of real blown wild birds’ eggs belonging to my grandmother.
In the late 1960s my grandmother would take me to this room underneath “Palleranda” to show me the boxes of these eggs she had plucked from their nests sixty years before on the Barratta Creek. Her pride-and-joy was a beautiful malachite-green emu egg like a rugby ball, its surface pitted like an orange. It was the story of how my grandmother had come to filch them, however, that rendered the eggs exciting and made me so interested in the creatures that had laid them.
Before the First World War, when they weren’t even teenagers—some were only five or six—my grandmother and her sisters were given horses and revolvers so they could gallop over the bush shooting goannas and snakes. They would post the skins down south to a shoe and handbag maker in Sydney to pay for the toys they wanted. At that time, there was a Chinese gardener at Lochinvar. The homestead was on a lagoon and the Chinaman would dip kerosene cans in the water and carry the perforated drums around the property on a yoke, watering the crops. He could apparently grow everything under the sun, including peanuts, grenadillas and sausagefruit. And, every morning, for their breakfast, he would give each of the little girls a pineapple as big as a coffee pot: they would cut the top off and eat the flesh with a giant spoon. In return, they would take his orders each day for the type of birds he wanted them to shoot for his dinner, noting carefully his description of the appearance, habitat and nesting places of the species he felt partial to, be it parrot, squatter pigeon, black duck or even rufous owl. (Though an exacting connoisseur, he was catholic in his tastes.) It was thanks to the efforts she had to make to execute his commissions that my gran became fascinated by the avian world, and she communicated this passion to me.
More of a gamekeeper when it came to birdwatching than a poacher like gran, I joined the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) when we settled briefly in Scotland in 1971. Or rather, as I was only ten, I had to join its youth wing, the Young Ornithologists Club, whose members wore a tin badge in the form of a kestrel with outspread wings, its talons embedded in the legend “YOC”. It reminded me of the Third Reich eagle perching on a swastika in the war comics I loved. Led by an adult ornithologist, we kids would go searching through Birnam Wood near Dunkeld for a glimpse of the monstrous capercaillie. We also visited Dunsinane Hill in the Sidlaws where we found the nest of a grey-legged partridge whose green eggs reminded me of the emu’s. I had lost interest in our feathered friends long before February 2020, but, remembering how happy my Scottish excursions were, I was moved that day to google the RSPB website. The first item that popped up was a list of the organisation’s press releases. One of them, from 2019, shocked me. It did not relate to English or Scottish birdlife but to an RSPB project in the distant South Atlantic. Titled “Gough Island Restoration Plan”, it read:
Part of the UK Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island is home to more than eight million breeding birds from at least 24 different species, including highly threatened species such as the Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross, Atlantic petrel, MacGillivray’s prion, Gough bunting and Tristan albatross. The critically endangered Tristan albatross, one of the world’s greatest wanderers, is in need of an eleventh-hour intervention.
Mice were accidentally introduced by sailors to the remote Gough Island during the 19th century. These rodents have now colonised this World Heritage Site and learnt to exploit all available food sources on the island—including seabirds. Video cameras reveal how the mice eat the flesh of live seabird chicks—and, more recently, live adult birds too. Tristan albatross chicks weigh up to 10kg (around 300 times the size of the mice), but the open wounds inflicted frequently lead to their deaths.
We now know that even the adult Tristan albatross, one of the largest seabirds in the world with a wingspan of over 10 feet, will sit there defenceless as it’s slowly eaten alive. The mice threaten the future of the estimated eight million breeding birds who live on Gough.
The situation is so severe that just 21% of Tristan albatross chicks survived to fledge during the 2017/18 breeding season. Such low breeding success is rapidly pushing the Tristan albatross towards extinction …
The RSPB and Tristan da Cunha have developed an ambitious programme to save the Tristan albatross and other highly threatened species on Gough … Our plan is based on internationally recognised best practice methods to restore island ecosystems damaged by invasive non-native species. We will apply rodenticide bait administered in the form of cereal bait pellets across the island to remove the mice. The operation is planned to go ahead in 2020.
Just as I was absorbing this grisly but pregnant tale, a “ping” alerted me to the arrival in my laptop inbox of the piece from Adelaide I was waiting for. Once I had revised and returned this document, I forsook my idyllic harbourside seat and walked to the New South Head Road, just south of Rushcutters’ Bay. I followed it eastwards up the hill towards Edgecliff station, where I wanted to get a train to Bondi.
I had climbed about half the way when I passed on my left an Indian restaurant whose management had placed a startling notice in the window. I couldn’t help stopping and reading this broadside, which was an old newspaper article glued to a piece of card. It announced that the humble eatery was the very place where the superstar Michael Hutchence had dined on the night before he took his life. (He hung himself at around ten on a November morning in 1997 in the nearby Ritz Carlton Hotel.) If the owner of the hostelry thought that advertising its link with Hutchence would be enough to convert passing flâneurs into patrons of the establishment, his confidence was misplaced, at least in my case, though I was very fond of the singer’s hit “Suicide Blonde”, which had reportedly been inspired by Kylie Minogue, one of the Melbourne priapist’s numerous conquests. Nevertheless, my gaze having strayed from the article to the bill of fare, I noticed that goat curry was on the menu. I happen to be as mad about goat as the gardener at Lochinvar was about black duck, and, as both delicacies are only rarely offered by Australian restaurants—despite goats and black duck hardly being uncommon—I was soon dining within on the flesh of a kid braised in tamarind.
Much as I tried to enjoy the meal, however, the afternoon had left me feeling uneasy. I tried, as one does, to brush it off and tell myself that my circumstances ought to make me feel content. Or at least at peace. But I was troubled.
I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was something to do with the unwholesome dancers. Was that really how people thought homosexuals like me behaved? And then I couldn’t help thinking of the victims of our “swinish multitude”, the righteous gulag that the dancers’ pseudo-victimhood was celebrating. And then there was the albatross press release, which had left me as queasy as when I read Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Conqueror Worm” at school. My unease had something to do, too, with Hutchence’s death after he had dined with his poor father in the very room where I had been eating, and the sense that the death and the dancers and the suicidal albatross and the “swinish multitude” were somehow linked. A few months later, I came across a piece in a newspaper that clarified my sense that the different forms of my disquiet were related. They were inspired by the same thing.
It was an article in the Financial Times of December 9, 2020, about a Chinese functionary named Zhao Lijian: “Top Wolf Warrior Unleashed to Maul Beijing’s Western Critics”. The feature, by the FT’s Beijing correspondent, unwittingly revealed how undemocratic elites are rather more willing to articulate the feelings of the local masses than the democratic variety. It also revealed that they tend to see Western openness, not as something to emulate, but to exploit:
As China’s most high-profile official on Twitter, with nearly 860,000 followers, Mr Zhao, 48, has built a personal brand that is rare for a foreign ministry spokesman … The diplomatic furore that Mr Zhao set off last week, when he tweeted a computer-generated image of an Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to the throat of an Afghan child, was the latest in a string of incendiary incidents that delight Chinese nationalists. In a sign of acceptance of Mr Zhao’s tactics, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a think-tank that reports to China’s State Council … said that China had to “counterattack” against critics on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, all of which are blocked in mainland China … Despite Twitter having been blocked in China since 2009, Chinese diplomats have opened dozens of accounts in the past two years. Posts from Chinese officials are often translated and shared widely on social media. Mr Yang [Dali Yang, a sinologist at the University of Chicago] said China’s foreign ministry had an advantage because it had ready access to international social media platforms, while accounts of foreign leaders and diplomats were regularly censored in China. WeChat, one of China’s largest social media platforms, last week removed a post by Australian prime minister Scott Morrison about Mr Zhao’s tweet directed at Chinese Australians. “I don’t think that the west has fully appreciated that China can create a bubble of its own [at home],” said Mr Yang, “and at the same time interact with the rest of the world in this new way [on Western social media].”
Putting down my copy of the FT, I now understood the origin of my unease on the night I dined in the eatery immortalised by Michael Hutchence. I realised that I had glimpsed in him the fate of my civilisation, undermined and finally eaten alive by “Conqueror Worms” like the park dancers who were as feeble and despicable as Zhao Lijian, and like the mice who feasted on the albatross, their triumph dependent on the freely chosen impotence of a more powerful victim. Like the decadent West, Hutchence was prepared to die rather than offend pleasure, according to those of his circle who insist he choked during a sex game. (He accidentally strangled himself, they say, while using the noose to induce a suffocation orgasm.) Or, again like the West, he was prepared to die rather than endure privation, according to the friends who say that misery drove him to kill himself. (These friends say Hutchence was upset that the visit to Sydney of his child by a London lover would be delayed because of some obstacle devised by the lover’s aggrieved husband. But why should an adored millionaire be suicidal with nothing but such pinpricks to worry about?) Whichever demon drove him, it would seem that neither his self-interest, nor the interests of his loved ones (he had just dined with his father, after all), were equal to the most trivial considerations, and it is the same with the West’s self-destructive rulers. (These are not always the elected ones.)
The suicidal always find it easier to do hard, mad, enormous things (killing themselves, for instance) than very easy, sensible things (such as excluding the Chinese Communist Party from the Western social media outlets that it silences at home). As we see by the unreciprocated migration rights they give to the Chinese, and those the Chinese call “barbarians” who invade us via the Mexican border, the Mediterranean or the English Channel, our Tristan albatross-like leaders devote a great deal of ingenuity to doing terrifyingly big things for hostile parasites, but are unable to take even small and prudent steps to defend their own children. It seems self-evident to those who frame the West’s immigration, trade and human rights policies that the wishes and wellbeing of native Westerners are less important than those of their potential supplanters.
The West is very different in this regard from other world civilisations, where they believe, as Christ observed to the Canaanite woman, “It is wrong to take bread from the children and give it to the dogs.” In the West, it is too often the dogs who are given the daintiest treats and the children who are sent hungry away. Our statesmen, for example, have granted to all mankind the right to claim a refuge in the West from racial and political persecution. As this affects billions, it commits our societies to a burden that none can actually bear. It also opens the door to a limitless number of intruders, not only to the harm of the West’s existing population, but in defiance of what are known to be their wishes. This is itself a form of racism. Though it may seem to our betters that it is only the lowly folk they are meant to care for—their “children”, if you will—that they are sacrificing to gratuitously succour an enemy, they, too, will one day end up in the same pit. The mighty albatross with its ten-foot wingspan forbears to drive off or destroy (as it easily could) the mice that are eating its young alive, but is soon itself eaten by the weaklings it empowered.
Harry Cummins wrote “The Common Cause of China and Islam” in the January-February issue