Peter Tatchell and the Total State
I have some respect for Peter Tatchell. He campaigned against the anti-homosexual laws before this was a safe thing to do. He has shown courage on other issues. This being said, I am troubled by his latest set of recommendations. Writing on the 8th January 2018 for The Friends of Europe blog, he declares that “equal rights are not enough.” It is not enough for people to be treated equally before the law. It is also necessary for children to be brainwashed into agreeing with him. He says:
To combat intolerance and bullying, education against all prejudice – including racism, misogyny, disablism, xenophobia, ageism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia – should be a stand-alone compulsory subject in every school. Equality and diversity lessons should start from the first year of primary level onwards, with no opt-outs for private or faith schools and no right for parents to withdraw their children. …. These lessons should be subject to annual examination, ensuring that both pupils and teachers take these lessons seriously; otherwise they won’t. A pupil’s equality grades should be recorded and declared when applying for higher education and jobs, as it is in the interests of everyone to have universities and workplaces without prejudice.
To see what Peter means, let us take a number of issues:
Whether the various races are of equal intellectual or moral capacity;
Whether the sexes are of equal intellectual or moral capacity;
Whether sex outside an exclusive relationship with a person of the opposite sex is right or advisable;
Whether changing sex, with present levels of technology, is advisable;
Whether mass-immigration is good for a host community.
I could mention other issues, but these will do. No side in any of them is self-evidently true. The truth of each side must, therefore, be a matter of argument. In all cases, argument either way rests on assumptions that are themselves matters of argument. For the authorities to classify one side in any of these issues as “hate” is as much an abuse of power as criminalising particular views about the Nature of Christ or the sources of religious knowledge. Let attacks on life and property be punished according to law. But let any opinion stand or fall by the appropriate evidence.
Peter is demanding that all education should be made into a scheme of propaganda for what he presently believes. He seems to be demanding that anyone who refuses to preach this should be banned from teaching. He is also demanding that any child who, for whatever reason and perhaps for however long, dissents from what is taught in class should be denied entry to university and marked for life as a dissident.
Except the issues are different, this sounds like the practice of the Soviet police states. It seems calculated to produce in schools an environment of hysterical conformity and of spying and of malicious informing – an environment that will be carried into the adult world. Since elsewhere in his article, he calls for what looks like a comprehensive censorship of the media, Peter may think he has a scheme to make everyone agree with him for ever and ever. I doubt this. In any society that retains the smallest trace of freedom, conformity will be at most superficial and temporary. Even in the Soviet police states, generations of propaganda and labour camps failed to keep the system from eventually collapsing, after which every banned opinion flourished again like weeds in an untended garden.
I could end here. There was a time when I would have ended here. Or I might have suggested that powers taken to impose one set of views could one day be used to impose the opposite. I might then have expected Peter to slap his forehead, and confess how, in an excess of zeal, he had called for a total state. But that was thirty years ago, and I have too much respect for Peter’s intelligence to believe he fails to understand what he is saying.
On the one hand, as said, I am troubled by his recommendations. There is some chance that our Fake Conservative government will take them up. In some degree, they have been taken up. Several years ago, I sat in a meeting where a teacher explained how the father of one his pupils was a UKIP activist, and how the boy’s outspoken Euroscepticism in class might be a matter for intervention by the “safeguarding team.” No new law would be needed to impose what Peter is recommending. I can easily see how the Ministers would take this up as another attempt at signalling virtue to the Cultural Marxists – or “the Puritans” – they have done nothing since 2010 to dislodge.
On the other hand, I find the recommendations reassuring. They suggest a perception of weakness. These people have had something like total control of the mainstream media and of education at least since 1997. They have silenced dissent wherever they control. They have still not established ideological hegemony. They are growing old. One at a time, the true believers are giving way to a new and mediocre generation of apparatchiks. Now is the time when you must expect to see them turn desperate for what they have built to be set in concrete. When they were young, they built their total state behind a façade of semi-liberal platitudes. Now they are old, and now they feel that they have been building on sand, the gloves are coming off.
I do not think they will win. A year on, and the Referendum result in England and the Trump victory in America have disappointed those who worked for them. The fact remains that, despite a wall of propaganda and Establishment money, majorities voted to leave the European Union and for the promises that Mr Trump made and appeared to believe in keeping. There will come a time when the present order of things falls with a sudden crash. 2016 was not that time. But the slow and silent undermining that precedes a crash is undeniable. Peter Tatchell and his Puritan friends know this. They have nothing to lose from calling for an openly total state. In the long term, even so, it will avail them naught.