Dr. Matteo Gemolo, a doctor in philosophy at Cardiff University and an independent political commentator. He writes about politics, human rights, freedom of speech, and secularism. He is project leader for policy papers on human rights and religions, and collaborates with LGBTI Liberals for Europe, Certi Diritti, and European Liberal Forum.
Although it may deceive many of us by looking extremely surreal, wokeness has never been more real than … now. Right at this moment, as I am sketching a critical piece on this topic, and I am trying to find inspiration for its introduction, a couple of people are sat next to me in the café where I usually work on my articles. As luck would have it, they are discussing one of the hottest topics of today’s politics: trans issues.
Attracted by the overdramatic, staged conversation, I raise my head from my laptop to give a quick glance at the loud flimflam: a white, young blondish girl with a bit of facial hair timidly growing in the shape of a beard is chit-chatting with an extremely tall and muscular black dude in his twenties, wearing a well-groomed moustache, and a flashy red skirt. It is indeed difficult for me to guess their invisible gender identities, which, in other circumstances, I would find completely irrelevant.
But what is interesting in this case is what they are telling each other because of their gender identity: they talk about that one time when they went together to the sauna that stands just in front of our café. That place is called “Macho Sauna” and it is a well-known haunt in the centre of Brussels conceived for those “penis people” who want to share the warmth of a steam room with other “penis people” who, until not so long ago, we called “gays”. With visible (and, unfortunately, audible) disdain, the couple is ridiculing the person who works at the entrance of the sauna—not for refusing their entrance, but for the opposite reason: welcoming them! Apparently, once granted the permission to join the club with an over-enthusiastic, “I am so glad to finally have two transgender people entering our sauna to make it more inclusive”, they found themselves upset by the whole experience: the atmosphere inside the jacuzzi was—how to put this?—too phallocentric. After all, this is clearly unthinkable in a gay club called “Macho Sauna”!
No matter how “inclusive” the act of welcoming a biological woman who identifies as a “man” in a gay sauna was, the big step taken on the pilgrimage route to Santiago De Inclusivela was not enough. In truth, no step on such a pathway ever seems to be enough.
Demanding the Impossible
No matter how hard we might twist language and idioms, no matter how “inclusive” we want our society to be, no matter how much we can bend logic and common sense, demands from the woke brigade are never meant to be satisfied. There is a very simple reason for that: what we call “social justice” is in fact extremely antisocial and deeply unjust. As a regressive and perverted offshoot of the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 70s, it is not invested in promoting “equality” between individuals anymore: guaranteeing equal opportunities to every person, no matter their social status, provenance, cultural and religious background, gender, or sexuality are backward political stances in the current hard-Left agenda.
Contrary to last century’s battles for equal opportunities—for the right to vote, for the ability to divorce, for the legalization of abortion, for the abolition of racial segregation, or the decriminalization of sodomy—what social justice warriors in the twenty-first century fight against are invisible enemies: “white privilege”, “patriarchy”, “cultural colonialism”, “gender binarism”. How to defeat such utopian opponents, if not through the deformation of what philosophers call logos?
Language must be reviewed and reformed to become “inclusive” and gender-neutral in order to avoid imperceptible offenses and micro-aggressions (whatever this means). Post-modern narratives need to be promoted at any educational level, through brand-new disciplines such as critical race theory and gender and post-colonial studies, to ensure new generation will have no other means to look at the world other than the distorted lens of biased and radical political ideologies. Old symbols—statues, flags, names of public spaces—which used to unify a nation, its people, and its culture must be destroyed in name of cultural relativism.
Old liberal concepts, such as freedom of thought and speech, look more and more like endangered species. Free thinkers are falling off the radar in environments where their voice should count the most: universities, media, and politics. The list of academics forced to resign from American and British universities for committing woke-felony grows in a worrying number day after day: Jordan Peterson, Germaine Greer, Selina Todd, Felix Ngole, Rosa Freedman, Tim Hunt, Jo Phoenix, Noah Carl, Amber Rudd, Jenni Murray, to name but a few of the most-known, have all experienced different degrees of censorship in British campuses over the last few years.
The latest of this line-up of heretics is Professor Tim Luckhurst from Durham University (UK), who is currently suspended from its duties for the capital crime of, God forbid, inviting conservative journalist Rod Liddle to speak at a Christmas dinner party in early December last year. The hard-Left student mob, who decided to boycott the dinner before Liddle could even start saying his piece, is showing to us—once again—its inability to cope with “alternative” views. Unable to listen, they prefer, instead, to brand intellectuals whose articles and books have never read (and never will) as “disgusting”: “These kids have never had their views challenged, they have never been gainsaid. Through years of secondary school, their world view has been created in a vacuum, every shibboleth, no matter how absurd, indulged by their teachers. They are wholly unfamiliar with the notion of an opposing argument. And so, when they meet one, their response is to run away with their hands over their ears and then scream abuse from a safe distance.”
Cancel culture is a new form of conformism, spreading like mushrooms on a rotting tree, attacking the roots of common sense, rationality, logic, linear and critical thinking, and causing all of them to decay. Stronger than ever, woke conformists have appointed themselves the “avant-garde” of progress. Everything falling outside of the hard-Left side of Western politics is at risk of being condemned as a form of bigotry and therefore repressed: “just because you can no longer say your opinion in the New York Times doesn’t mean you’re being silenced. You just can’t share it in the New York Times”, explains the former liberal and currently regressive mainstream Left.
According to canceledpeople.com database, more than 200 people (mostly academics, journalists, and intellectuals) have either resigned or have been fired recently because their views had in some way caused offence. Numbers have been exponentially growing since 2018. In 2021 alone, almost 1,500 people submitted cases to FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) because they believed their rights were in jeopardy.
The New Faith
Rather than “politics” and “ideology”, we should speak of “religion” and “creed”. Cancel culture has become a merciless crusade fought by a woke-possessed brigade, armed with tambourines and rooster haircuts, which shouts at sinners: “Repent! Repent! Repent mother***er!” This is not a metaphor, but a surreal scene which took place in October last year at Netflix headquarters in California, when the American comedian and YouTuber Vito Gesualdi took to the street to defend Dave Chapelle over allegations of transphobia.
The preachers of cancel culture wish they could tear down all shows, books, and statues which do not perfectly align with the most up-to-date ethics of our time. In the United States, at least 130 monuments have been either toppled by protestors or removed by city councils over the last couple of years; more than 500 around the globe since George Floyd protests. This is a masterpiece of damnatio memoriae (condemnation of memory), inspired by a very successful Medieval practice which consisted in excluding the heretics from any official historical account. The uncreative and tyrannical aspects of such an operation are worryingly echoing the darkest trends in human nature, seen in the destruction of monuments in the Middle East at the hands of Islamic State (ISIS) and other Islamist groups.
As with any other form of radicalized religion, the intolerance towards apostates from the cancel culture sect is if anything worse than its treatment of nonbelievers, who must be banished from the public arena lest they spread their heretical views. British philosopher and author Kathleen Stock resigned from Sussex University in October 2021 in the aftermath of a one-year-long despicable student campaign against her. As a “gender-critical” feminist, Stock has never hidden her views on transgender issues. Why would she ever have to? She defended her work as an academic and, in particular in her latest book, Material Girls: Why Reality Matters to Feminism, showing a strong belief in the importance and irreducibility of the biological reality of human beings. The last thing she had the chance to see at campus while walking down the “green mile”, leading to the class where she had taught for almost twenty years, was a line-up of posters being vandalized with the following slogans: “Kathleen Stock is a spiteful bootlicker”, “Kathleen Stock is a transphobe”, “Fire Kathleen Stock”. The cleansing and purification of universities of their unorthodox lecturers is not new to modern history and should terrify everyone—especially liberals—as such.
History and Art as Battlefields
According to hard-Left fanatics, we either kneel to their dogmas—sometimes literally, as Black Lives Matter (BLM) demands—or we are expelled from their churches. The problem is that their expanding definition of churches is coming to include all public spaces. Their zeal for censorship is no less authoritarian because it is hidden behind a smokescreen of social justice activism.
When the French Revolution set about rewriting history in the Reign of Terror, it invariably relied on myths. Their woke successors have no less of the fervour and are no less delusional and destructive. In both cases, a tiny minority that happens to control the levers of power decreed what it was to be on “the right side” of history. “When history becomes propaganda”, says the British historian and author David Starkey, “I’m afraid you get rather bad history”. I would add that when history becomes propaganda, what we get is bad “fiction” too.
In theatre and cinema, for instance, the line between fiction and reality is fine by definition. This is not a problem in itself, of course. What is problematic is when movies are confused or explicitly employed as political weapons to advance radicalized political agendas. Art is once again becoming propaganda, another worrisome reminder of dark times in the not-so-distant past.
The Danish Girl, a film directed by Tom Hopper and released in 2015 to world-wide acclaim is a perfect example of how this blurring of art into propaganda can alter the representation of historical facts. Loosely based on the 2000 novel of the same name by David Ebershoff, the movie tells the story of Danish painter Lili Elbe, starting from the premises that she was the first transgender person to go through sex reassignment surgery in mid-1920s Copenhagen. This is fake news. Elbe was in fact an intersex person who was found to have both ovaries and testes and went through a medical procedure to have the latter removed. This had nothing to do with transgenderism, nothing to do with gender dysphoria, nothing to do with pronouns. The fascinating and touching story of one of the first intersex artists we have a record of has been erased from popular culture and sacrificed on the altar of trans ideology. The hypocritical apology made in November 2021—nearly seven years after the movie was released—by English actor Eddie Redmayne, who had played the role of Lili Elbe while not being a trans himself, was, against stiff competition, one of the most absurd things to happen last year.
At the end of the French Revolution, Jean-Paul Marat described the whole calamity as nothing but “a web of farcical scenes”. There could not be a more apt description of the current woke attempt to revolutionise language, history, common sense, and logic.
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