THE PIOUS BLACKMAIL THAT HAUNTS OUR POLITICS
May 1st, 2020
The use of metaphors can cast light on abstract truths so I hope you will bear with me as I mix a few in a cocktail.
It might be considered normal to see one’s fellow man or woman, primarily and naturally, as a robust and healthy drinking companion, love interest, team-mate, military comrade, business partner or interlocutor in enjoyable conversations on, art, food, politics and ideas. To require them to be, instead, eternally suffering patients or, perhaps, avatars of the man who fell amongst thieves on the way down from Jerusalem to Jericho so that you can endlessly assume the attitude of Good Samaritan towards them might seem to be a kind of psychological aberration. Indeed, the Good Samaritan himself, had he been more than a figment of the Saviour's imagination, would probably have returned happily and quietly to his normal life after his admirable ministrations believing that his left hand should not dwell upon what his right hand had done. To demand that the default relationship be changed from the natural one to one that occasionally obtains and has to be addressed but, nevertheless, is an exceptional and unfortunate one, and even to see it as an exciting opportunity might seem perverse.
In spite of this, to move to my next metaphor, there are those who see such opportunities as the hitting of paydirt in a ‘49er Gold Rush. Having staked their claim they jealously guard such a recasting of human life with a bizarrely hypochodriachal emphasis on illness rather than health. They seem to reframe in a sinister manner TS Eliot’s line about spiritual illness:
The whole Earth is our hospital
Why would they do this? It is, perhaps because, being socially inadequate and not being terribly adept at the usual vigorous forms of life listed above, they realise that being the noisily self-professed carer in a carer-cared for relationship has enormous advantages, not least of which is that it acts as a distraction from their inadequacies. It provides them with something to be instead of being a normal person. This might explain psychologically the character of Charles Dickens' Mrs Jellyby in Bleak House with her 'telescopic philanthropy'. She devotes her life noisily and busily to charity for the distant Africans of Borioboola-Gha while failing to relate to or look after the real people around her.
There is another advantage which goes with this which brings me on to the elaboration (and perhaps, hopefully not excessive, torture) of a third metaphor; that of the dog in the manger first alluded to by Diogenianus in the 1st century. In this story a dog who does not like grain sits in a manger in a stable thus meanly denying the horse who does like grain access to it. My elaboration of the story has the grain jealously guarded by the dog, not merely out of selfish spite but because he has realised that it is, in fact, the gold paydirt mentioned above. He guards it jealously having realised that, in our political dispensation, it is the most precious commodity of all.
He has discovered that making the whole world a hospital and reconfiguring all relationships in terms of medic and patient (with him as caring medic of course) creates a moral imperative that no one will dare to challenge. This then becomes the basis of an unimpeachable claim to moral authority that can be used to control others through bullying and moral blackmail.
To throw further light on this let's look at two other examples of this dynamic. Climate change hysteria is predicated on the assumption that the very life of the planet and the human race is at stake. Children are told they may not even grow up. If this somehow attains the status of incontestable fact or article of faith, then who, on Earth, is going to go out on a limb to challenge it? It gives the proponents of the idea enormous power over individuals and even governments and banks. Similarly, in many cases of anorexia nervosa a similar dynamic may be at work. Perhaps a young woman who feels helpless may be tempted to use the threat of putting her life on the line as a way to manipulate those around her on the assumption that they will never dare apparently being seen to challenge the value of her life. A moral absolute which no one dares challenge for fear of being cast into outer darkness as callous or heartless is falsely set up as being in play. At this point those who care for the climate or the suffering young woman have their hapless entourage in a full nelson.
At this point I will make two observations. Firstly, the most effective of professional pastoral carers are those who achieve emotional detachment form the bottomless pit of human problems and who ‘have a life’ in which they can take refuge. Secondly these dynamics reduce the Africans of Borioboola-Gha, the suffering patients or the man who fell amongst thieves to mere means to an end. They become fodder to vampiric carers who prey upon them and who really have little tangible or concrete concern for them as Kantian ends in themselves.
And this, after climate change and anorexia, brings us back to Eliot’s metaphor and the British “national religion” of the NHS so ludicrously celebrated in Danny Boyle’s quasi-religious, balletic hymn to the institution at the 2012 Olympics. The NHS was famously introduced by a socialist government and, since then, used as a means to manipulate all governments. It has been said that some on the left will not rest until the whole British state is subsumed inside it and Britain, indeed, becomes nothing more than a giant hospital.
The modern left has realised that the dynamics described above can operate as a foundation on which to base a vast panoply of bullying power. It acts as the lever that can move the political earth and one against which much of the right and of society itself feels helpless to defend itself. Most people feel in their gut that the obsession with the NHS (and all the other PC obsessions with 'suffering' minorities) is disproportionate but are unable to cognitively and logically wrestle their way out of the full nelson that it represents. This is what the climate hysterics and some anorexics (and those who care for them) are counting on; an unassailable moral stranglehold.
For evidence of the helplessness this creates one only has to look at how the supposedly conservative Boris Johnson has felt unable to fail to bend the knee before the Sacred Cows of Climate Change and the NHS by pouring money into these causes even before the COVID-19 emergency. It is just more politically expedient to go along with them than take the risk of being ambushed while trying to make the complicated argument of the sort I make here and being branded as a callous Tory once again.
The whole of our culture is in thrall to these moral bullies. Just watch Jeremy Corbyn as he angrily banged a saucepan in one of the obligatory 8pm clap-ins for NHS workers. He somehow contrives to make his apparently charitable action look aggressive and accusatory at one and the same time. In our culture we now feel that we are constantly being manipulated and manoeuvred by someone with a hidden, grudge-driven, passive-aggressive personality disorder whose source we can't quite put our finger on.
There is an answer though. We simply need to draw back the curtain on these all-pervading creatures threatening us with moral purdah if we don't join them in their loud and busy caring for every man and his dog. We will then see them for the inadequate, small-statured, morally failing and intimidating Wizards of Oz that they are.
To turn from L.Frank Baum to an older source of these paradigms. What we are really dealing with in the modern Left is the pharisaical hypocrites and 'whited sepulchres' of the New Testament that the Saviour himself reserved a special loathing for. Once you understand that the sting is drawn.