We must fight them in the Speeches
Review of Speechless: Controlling Words, Controlling Minds by Michael Knowles
Dear Substack subscribers,
Instead of posting regularly, I am going to move to posting only when I have something to say.
Below is a book review, but if you want to talk about books, a reminder that I host a book and beverage chat every third Thursday (tomorrow) - see you there.
Speechless: Controlling Words, Controlling Minds by Michael Knowles is an insightful look at how words shape reality and, equally, how reality shapes words, particularly for someone whose first book contained zero words.
It isn’t the usual “political correctness has gone mad and those campus lefties are to blame” type narrative. It traces PC further back than the campus wars of the 1990s and instead places the beginning of the movement with Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks. It also surprises (for a book written by a talking head for The Daily Wire, a popular conservative media brand in America) that it puts a large proportion of the blame for political correctness on those on the right side of the political aisle.
He demolishes an argument I have made, that we should just fight back against taboos in general, rather than adopting the politically correct ones in the place of stodgy killjoys of the past.
Knowles’ chapter on the war on Christmas in America tells exactly this story. At first, the argument was that Christmas shouldn’t be a holiday because it would lead people to be insufficiently pious. Today the war on Christmas is waged in the name of inclusivity - how times change.
Knowles argues that there is no such thing as a society without taboos and by being taboo neutral we are creating the vacuum for the politically correct to foist their rules on people.
This struck a chord as there is an inherent conflict between the political arguments on right and private conduct.
It is fairly typical for conservatives to hold different views about what the law should be and what the culture should be. For instance, when asked about laws that curtail free speech they take an absolutist perspective and argue the law should permit that thing to be said, but privately argue that it ought not to be said.
Most starkly this came up when I wrote two different pieces about pornography - one focusing on the law and the other focusing on the culture. In the former, I argued for the law permitting it and in the latter (which you have to subscribe to Mathilde Magazine to read) I argued that a culture that encourages the proliferation and consumption of cheap sex substitutes at the expense of the real thing is not a good one.
Two views that some would say conflict with each other but, in defence of my arguments in both of these pieces, I don’t think there is a conflict in holding certain ideals about what the law should be, and equally important ideal as to sex should be. And most importantly, that these domains should be separated.
Both the militant secularists and the traditionalists get this wrong. The reason for the separation of church and state (as first explained by John Locke) is not solely to prevent the influence of religion in the state but also to prevent the influence of the state within religion.
To re-interpret Locke, the government can’t keep a too rigid moral order (either of the religious or secular variety) without violating someone’s freedom of conscience.
Secularism at its best is a doctrine that means that culture must come from the bottom up not the top down.
Holding this separation is for everyone’s benefit and as such should be fought for against those that would have it be otherwise, whether it be the politically correct cramming down their ideals as hate speech laws or an old moral order reasserting itself with a vengeance.
There is another kind of conflict which those who oppose the speech controllers face.
This was best explained by an artist friend who vacillates between wanting to just paint beautiful things or creating art that mocks the absurdity of the PC mob. As an aside, someone should try hoaxing the Australia Council for the Arts and see how bad art can be and still get funding if it ticks the right identity boxes.
On one hand, people don’t want to spend time on wokeness when you could be putting something of value into the world - shall we call it (and excuse the language) the “fuck them” approach. This strategy (to the extent it is a strategy) is just to ignore them and get on with living. The Young Heretics podcast by Spencer Klavan comes to mind as an example here.
On the other hand, there is the “fight them” approach where you take them on either directly or through satire like Andrew Doyle does on Twitter.
But no matter which tacit or disposition one takes to the PC mob, both have the same problem.
Anti-woke is always how they refer to themselves. They are always in opposition. They want to cancel-cancel-culture or anti-the gender-agender.
Never for something.
The PC mob has a grander proposition than those that oppose them. That is why they win.
To win the culture war people need a vision, or in the the words of Knowles:
“If we are to master our political future, we must not merely demand the right to speak; more importantly, we must have something to say.”
Dara Macdonald is the Founder of All Minus One (
) a new organisation that wants to create a culture of freedom.