Safe Spaces Are Making Us Sick: The rise of cyber cry-bullies. They’re coming for you!
Two short years ago, famed journalist and author Douglas Murray smashed the multicultural consensus on global mass migration with his international bestseller, “The Strange Death of Europe.” The 40-year-old historian is back with “The Madness of Crowds.” Murray’s new cri de coeur examines the rise of left wing mob justice in the age of social media.
It’s a cool October evening in London. Central Hall Westminster, a cobblestone’s throw from the House of Commons The air is crackling with political frisson. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is just getting his long anticipated early election through parliament.
But the many people who flock to the Central Hall are not into the political drama today. They are gathering for more profound affairs. Spectator magazine has invited to a conversation between English bestselling author Douglas Murray and US-born writer Lionel Shriver. The theme: Murray's new jeremiad, "The Madness of Crowds”.
The historic venue that once hosted the inaugural United Nations General Assembly is filling with 2,000 spectators eager to witness Murray’s latest rhetorical fusillade from the political front lines.
Murray is something of a celebrity culture warrior. Despite possessing what even his harshest critics call a “tone of genteel civility,” the Eton and Oxford graduate generates passionate and angry opposition. He has been shouted down at universities. His speeches are routinely quarantined on YouTube as “hate” speech. Tonight, the Spectator, his journalistic home, is charging a 37 British pound entrance fee to the packed out event to keep troublemakers at bay.
A few hours before the large event, Die Weltwoche sits across from Murray over tea. As befits an English conservative, Murray takes his tea with milk. On close inspection, the notorious intellectual does not look like a wild eyed agitator. On the contrary, Murray is quiet in his appearance, careful in his argument, and open to objections.
Mr. Murray, your new book is called “Madness of the Masses,” a somewhat bracing title.
It is a sort of crowd madness that we’re going through. Every society in human history has done bizarre things which look bizarre in the rearview mirror. But it’s very hard to identify those things as you’re going through them. That’s the self-appointed task — to try to ensure that our societies do fewer mad things in order that we’re less embarrassed in the future.
Let’s talk about some recent events. In Germany, an economics professor who was a co-founder of the Alternative for Germany was prevented by a mob from lecturing to his students. The police had to step in.
Of course. You can’t have people with different views speaking.
The main place that comes from is a catastrophizing view of the proximity of the far-right to power and positions of power, and then a demand that everyone must fight “white Fascism.” A certain proportion of the population needs “Fascists” to have meaning in their lives.
According to Murray, the mob’s current madness is rooted in a noble concern: the desire for equality — equal rights for men and women, heterosexuals, homosexuals, transsexuals, and religious minorities. However, it is as if a train was finally arriving at its destination after a decades-long journey, but, just before arriving, the locomotive suddenly goes full throttle. The train races past its target, derailing, and leaving behind noxious clouds of debris.
For Murray, this derailment is the result of the modern “Social Justice” movement. For more than four decades, the Left has cultivated eccentric theories, in the tradition of Michel Foucault — society as an eternal power struggle of individual groups against each other with an old white patriarchy ruling supreme atop the Capitalist power structure. Initially confined to academia, these theories have been gaining ever larger swathes of society, particularly after the 2008 financial crisis. Millennials without prospects, Murray contends, have turned to the Marxist Left as a substitute for traditional politics and religion.
A couple of days ago, we learned that Always [the feminine hygiene product] is removing the Venus symbol from its packaging in order to prevent insulting transgender women who do not have periods.
That’s the politicization of everything and the disappearance of women — a decision that trans trumps women.
Why do corporations do such things?
My view is that they are trying to demonstrate that they’re with the beat. The beats keep changing, of course, but they have to keep with it.
If anything, they overreach. Some corporations think of themselves of being perceived as “the big bad wolves” of the nasty Capitalist behemoth. If they overdo this stuff, they think they gain some kind of tithe. They think that it covers them, protects them in some way.
At another event — the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-, Trans- and Intersexual (LGBTI) Summit of the Democrats in the US — a transgender nine-year-old child asked presidential contender Elizabeth Warren about her policies concerning “safe spaces” for transgender kids in schools.
She [Warren] whooped and applauded as did everyone else in the room.
The mother of this so-called “transgender” nine-year-old couldn’t have been happier. She was positively beaming with joy at her child.
This is a sickness, in my view, which needs to be exposed. In my trans chapter, which I take last in the book, I try very hard to be as careful as possible in delineating it.
There’s a plausible argument about adults. Adults should be allowed to do what they want. A nine-year-old child does not know what it wants. Certainly, it cannot make life changing decisions. It’s grotesque that the idea that a nine-year-old can have sexual identity has flooded through American culture. And American culture sweeps through the rest of the world’s culture.
Last example. The Oxford Student Union announced that they are abolishing clapping in order to avoid offending people.
This is the related issue of fragility. Fragility comes riding sidesaddle with the Social Justice Warrior efforts.
If you can’t cope with clapping, you’re going to have a hard time in the world as a whole.
The assumption that the vulnerable must be appeased is a problem. The world can be made more comfortable for us, but it cannot be made entirely different. Trying to appease fragility is actually exacerbating fragility. The mental illness epidemic is clearly a part of it.
Corporations, too, are trying to enforce safe spaces where minority employees are not confronted with experiences that might be unpleasant.
Human resources is often the only department of a business that’s expanding. It is the one that claims to be looking into solving diversity and enforcement of diversity, SJW [Social Justice Warrior] style. It’s surprising when very large multinationals fall for this crap and try to do it. It is what I call the “corporate intersectionalist.”
Intersectionality is a radical Feminist theory according to which all forms of oppression and discrimination overlap. Firstly, this gives each individual a ticket to the desired status of victimhood. And, secondly, it establishes a historical community of destiny of all victims and “minorities,” including women. This leads to demands for quota regulations in the workplace and measures to penalize all expressions of the perceived system of suppression.
So, an engineer is dismissed at Google because he has pointed to the biological differences between men and women.
The starting point of Murray’s analysis is homosexuality — a topic of personal salience as he is gay, himself. Murray argues that is has become unacceptable to merely advocate equal rights. As if to compensate for earlier discrimination, homosexuality must be regarded as morally superior to heterosexuality. Murray points out that companies now heavily support and financially underwrite Gay Pride parades. Moreover, it is now permissible for gay men and women to publicly engage in sexual behavior that would otherwise be unacceptable. For example, public demonstrations on behalf of sexual minorities often feature explicit sexual expression“which would cause many homosexuals, as well as heterosexuals, to blush.”
It is no longer enough to argue for simple equality of rights between men and women. The “slightly better” attitude is summed up by an often heard phrase from the former IMF chief, Christine Lagarde. She asks whether the last financial crisis would have happened, “if Lehman Brothers had been named ‘Lehman Sisters,’ instead.”
As far as the ethnic minorities are concerned, it is no longer about Martin Luther King’s dream of a world where a person is judged according to character rather than skin color. Instead, skin color, again, is becoming the dominant factor in identity politics, just the other way around.
Your previous book was about European identity and its challenges in light of mass migration. Your new book is about radicalized group identity within society. Where would you draw the line between beneficial and detrimental concepts of identity?
Meaningful communities are the ones that people find meaning that’s deep and worthwhile and genuine. I’m not a Nationalist, myself. But the good sense of nationhood allows for the fact that very dissimilar people have to cooperate and get on with each other, and, indeed, desire to get on with each other in the knowledge that they are in pursuit of a similar purpose of something they wish to defend. But they don’t have to agree on everything else.
I think the Nation is one of the only communities of meaning that exists. But, like everything else, it can go wrong. We know that.
What is wrong with “identity” [gender, race, sexuality] as you delineate in your book?
Those are the ones in which outsiders – outside, indeed, an incredibly narrow definition – aren’t included. I’m all for communities of meaning — the women’s rights movements in the sixties and seventies, gay rights movements in the same period. I think these were campaigning communities that were created of meaning. I don’t think they are useful communities of meaning any longer.
What about the European identity is worth defending?
There’s an enormous amount that’s worth defending. Europe has an enormous amount going for it. There’s a reason why people want to come here, and there’s a reason why we don’t move elsewhere. This is telling us something.
In his new book, Murray focuses on Big Tech. According to his analysis, Internet corporations are acting as Social Justice Warriors. Murray spent lengthy periods of time in Silicon Valley researching and talking to Big Tech insiders, including former employees of Google and Facebook. Murray is a classic, shoe leather, investigative journalist who goes into the field to seek answers. For his book, “The Strange Death of Europe,” he traveled the Mediterranean route — from the outer Greek islands to the epicenters of migrant communities in Europe.
The political agenda of Silicon Valley is particularly visible in the Google image search. For example, in the search for “physicist,” the image of a white physics professor is displayed first, followed immediately by the image of a black physics doctoral student from Johannesburg. The user is subtly encouraged to reject the stereotype of the white male physicist, like Albert Einstein.
Why do Google image search results matter?
Well, it’s also done with text searches.
Murray pulls out his cell phone and types in the beginning of a Google search: “Men are.” The first suggested search term is “men are like a bus” — a Feminist saw about male interchangeability (if you miss one, another will come along). Google also suggests: “men are witches.” For women, Google suggests, “women are great,” and “women are beautiful.”
How did you first come across this problem?
I was speaking with people who had been inside the major tech companies. They showed me things that they had been doing which they were very worried about. I thought it was time that somebody spilled the beans on some of it. I think it’s incredibly worrying because most people have no idea what’s going on.
What is the potential damage?
First of all, they lie about history which is a real problem. If you can’t get an accurate read on history, there are mistakes you’ll make in the present.
They [Big Tech] have a way of embedding a specific ideology. The one I just showed you — women are just awesome and men are a bit crap — that’s being done as an over correction by people who think that we are in some terrible patriarchal nightmare. But that’s a profoundly unfair way to talk about men and women. I don’t think it will help young men and young women have meaningful relations with each other. Young people have enough problems to work out about the world, and themselves, and the other sex, and so on, without having this extra band of lies put in front of them.
Another phenomenon is the demonetization of YouTube content by Google [which owns YouTube]. You have been on a fair amount of shows that have been demonetized.
I think everything gets demonetized the moment that they see my name. The latest one that I did with Dave Rubin, he said, “Man, YouTube really hates you. They demonetize everything within a nanosecond of seeing your name.”
There is this talk of an “intellectual dark web” by conservative online celebrities. Are you a part of this?
Eric Weinstein, who invented the term, has often joked that he thinks the only person in the intellectual dark web is me. I don’t recognize that. I’ve been a writer for twenty years with the major papers. I don’t feel like I’m a fringe figure. I’m the eminently inevitable person. But some of the things I write about and talk about are extremely unpopular with a certain form of totalitarian wannabe, or aspiring, totalitarian Leftist. They think it’s very convenient, or an easy way, to “mute” my views (in the language of social media.)
With tech, they start trying to do one thing and end up doing another. Mark Zuckerburg never meant to be in the position he is currently in of trying to work out how to be World Censor.
What can be done?
Various people are working on platforms that try not to do this and stick to trying not to do it. There’s one that’s just launching, but I can’t talk about, yet.
Isn’t that bizarre? You write for major outlets. But, online, you almost have to make your own platform.
There’s inbuilt bigotry within the platforms. They privilege fringe figures who agree with them and try to mute mainstream figures with whom they disagree. They are trying to skew the debate.
How will they behave in the next presidential election in the US, which will be an epic battle?
They will try to get whoever runs against Donald Trump elected even if it’s Satan. They’ve been running on this absurd drug that claims that the 2016 election in America, like the 2016 Brexit referendum, here, was in some way stolen by the Russians through a few Facebook ads. I think the opportunity cost of that is huge because it’s denied them the opportunity they should have taken to course correct, work out why they lost.
Murray hopes his new book will reach the eyes and ears of Millennials, in particular. He fervently encourages young people to avoid beginning their adult lives and careers as self-proclaimed members of a victim group. He asks young repeople to reject the politicisation of all aspects of life and learn the art and virtue of forgiveness.
Despite his hopeful intentions, however, gloom pervades the “Madness of Crowds.” It leads this reader to ask: Is it possible, especially in Switzerland, to lead a happy life away from the extreme ideology that Murray so vividly describes?
Mr. Murray, for many people, what you describe in your book has little to do with the reality of their lives.
The only people who think that what I’m writing about is a fringe issue are people who are self-employed. Everyone in the workplace is increasingly realizing what I’m writing about is coming for them, next. That’s why I want people to read this book and to think about it and to stop doing this. Cut it off early because, otherwise, it’s going to eat us all up.
Douglas Murray is a British conservative author, journalist and political commentator. He is an associate editor of the British magazine, The Spectator. Murray writes for numerous publications, including the Wall Street Journal, and is a frequent guest on British broadcast news.
French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy hails Murray as “one of the most important public intellectuals today.”
This interview was first published in a slightly condensed German version in Die Weltwoche’s print edition on November 21st, 2019. Editing: Amy Holmes.