With the best will in the world there are times when one wonders about the sanity of many people. This is one of them.
We have just handed over control of our country, in dangerous and uncharted times, to a fractious horde of mathematical illiterates with no idea how to run an economy, lockdown-loving fascists scheming to control our lives by any means possible and now with all the apparatus in place, mad Greens with apocalyptic visions of planetary doom, obscurantist “teachers” who have turned the wide horizons of education into a crucible of noxious mendacity and sexual fantasists wanting to manipulate the self-understanding of children, all lumped in with an assortment of monomaniacs squeaking out their solipsistic obsessions in, to borrow a phrase from Browning, fifty different sharps and flats.
Then there’s the avalanche of hysterical panic that followed the suggestion that abortion in America might – might – become more restricted. We’ll be hearing much more of it any day now, shriller and louder – inarticulate rage, pure and simple. Where’s the rationality, the reasoned arguments amid the churning torrent of abuse and invective?
In our politics and social interaction we have somehow lost what was once our precious capacity to reason. An instructive example of the confusion filling the vacuum came from the Guardian, a paper that can always be relied on for nastiness and sneering but which must have been really rattled because it dropped the rather patronising dignity it normally affects to warn its readers that the US Supreme Court decision on abortion is just the start of a sinister right-wing Christian plot to destroy all the “achievements” of the Left, from gay, les and trans “rights” to easy contraception. That makes sense, doesn’t it? (There is perverse pleasure in picturing those readers in their palatially renovated terraces or Murcuttian contemporary masterpieces, habituated to political complacency as our society drifts ever leftward, reaching in shock for their Valium jars and phoning their grief counsellors, unable to cope with the first big reverse for the Left since the election of Donald Trump.)
Reason was never the Left’s strong point. The leftists plunged into fury by the thought of not being able to carry on killing foetuses with unrestricted zeal are the same leftists who oppose killing in the form of capital punishment or the slaughter of whales but have no problem with destruction of their own unborn species. Never look for logical consistency on the Left; indeed, awareness of this deficiency among more reflective leftists is perhaps the reason they have disowned objective logic in favour of subjective “lived experience” and individual “narratives” as the sole reference points by which to judge an issue.
Yet amid the tumult and the shouting there must be some of us who wonder why we are all such extremists about things now. What happened to moderation and good sense? Why is every debate black and white, right or wrong, your way or my way without compromise? And why can’t we listen to other people’s opinions? Why can’t we decide public controversies with dispassionate analysis like reasonable people?
Why, for example, in the case of abortion does it have to be all or nothing? Many conservatives insist that abortion amounts to murder, and leftists would seem tacitly to concede that point by avoiding that term when they can and calling it ‘reproductive health’ which sounds like something we should all be in favour of but of course is not, especially if you consider the ‘health’ of the unborn child. But why can’t we agree that, yes, abortion is the taking of a potential life, but that also it will sometimes for social or personal reasons be necessary, and when it is judged to be so by competent medical opinion it should be done safely and expeditiously. That would be using our reasoning capacity to cope with a moral dilemma. That would be what a sensible society would do, with quiet regret.
But it’s not what ours does because the issue of abortion is no longer one of dealing with an unfortunate practical situation but has been taken up by feminists as an emblem of women’s “freedom”. If she can’t have an abortion at will she’s not in charge of her own body. A woman must be free to have sex when she wants and, if it is fructive and she doesn’t want to be a mother, dispose of the result. It is part of feminism’s envious desire for women to have all the same ‘benefits’ as men, who can have the sex and not be burdened with the outcome.
If feminists would forgo this impossible aspiration to defy nature by trying to homogenise women and men we could start to approach abortion rationally. “Trans rights”, on the other hand, should be less contentious. Unlike abortion, there is only one life involved and these “rights” are of direct concern to only a tiny minority of the human race. Why can’t we admit that, yes, there are cases where people do or believe themselves to inhabit a body of the wrong sex, and that these cases are unfortunate or not depending on the attitude the “trans” individual takes to his or her personal circumstances. Why can’t we calmly recognise that if a man wants to be thought of as a woman, with or without surgical changes, it doesn’t hurt anyone to respect him in his choice and treat him like one, without doctrinaire denial of what is essentially a private matter?
As long, that is, as it remains private. In exchange, why cannot “trans” people, or those who speak for them, admit that there is no objective change from male to female, that the body of the “woman” or “man” retains all the genetic properties of the sex it was born and that there therefore needs to be some degree of sensible regulation of what the “trans” person can do communally as a member of the sex identified with, notably with regard to sport and public facilities. In other words, concede the “trans” individual his or her right to be treated as who he or she wishes, but concede the rest of the population the right to live their lives as they wish. What’s so hard about that?
Or take climate change. Can we not establish the fact of this and agree what to do about it rationally? Is the climate warming or not? – it shouldn’t be a labour of Hercules to have a definite answer to that. Facts should not be a matter of opinion or prejudice. If the planet is dangerously warming, then can we not agree that various measures which to “climate sceptics” now seem excessive and unnecessary ought logically to be taken? If it is not, why can’t we apply all that worry to something that is objectively important, such as how to prevent the kind of aggression now laying waste to the Ukraine, and that everyone seems to have forgotten about, or relieve the invisible poverty that lurks behind many a front door in our outwardly prosperous society?
Or the unbridgeable divide over COVID and mandatory vaccination. Can we not agree that people who have moral scruples about the use of foetal cells in the manufacture of vaccines, or objections to being compulsorily vaccinated, should not be treated as pariahs but in return, to avoid real or imagined risk of contagion – to avoid exacerbating other people’s fears – should tactfully stay out of the way of their fellow citizens as much as they can? Isn’t that commonsense?
Calm, cool reason could save us oceans of anguish, rancour, nervous collapse, broken friendships. We should try it more often. Or am I being naïve, like Pollyanna? Is it that, in our imperfect humanity, perpetual outrage, the adrenalin rush of being always in a state about something, has become necessary to many people as a diversion from the contented boredom of life in a too comfortable, too privileged society?