As is the case with all truly interesting people, the least interesting thing about Douglas Murray is his sexuality. He has been a steadfast voice of reason during an age of unreason, and a formidable opponent of the woke activists who presume to speak of his behalf as an openly gay man. A prominent journalist and the bestselling author of several books including The Strange Death of Europe and The Madness of Crowds, Murray has not shied away from touchy topics. The former work addresses immigration and Islam, the latter race, sex and sexuality, both from a contrarian perspective for which many have been fired, doxed, or otherwise humiliated. Murray’s position is, simply put, that immigration and identity politics are not sacrosanct; valid arguments against these topics exist and they ought not to be censored. In a recent interview with the political commentator Dave Rubin, he calls on the silent majority who agree with his perspective to “reassert themselves as adults” by speaking their minds.
Murray specifically chastises employees at Penguin Random House for their attempt to prevent their employer from publishing Jordan Peterson’s upcoming book Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. He calls the inability to listen to contrary points of view a “generational phenomenon” which has been adopted by children who believe that “speech is harm, and harm is not harm, that silence is violence and that violence is fine.” Murray was addressing my generation, and despite what may be regarded as a sweeping generalization I am not the least bit offended. Not every twenty-something thinks this way, but the most vocal among us do and that is a serious problem: “the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity” (Yeats).
One example of a childish notion is a proposed amendment to the free speech guidelines at The University of Cambridge, which would require faculty members to “be respectful of the diverse identities of others.” Thankfully this amendment has been voted against, but it is still concerning that such a preposterous idea gained widespread support at one of the world’s most esteemed institutions. Like so many other wokisms, the offending phrase seems innocuous at first glance. The danger lies in a definition of “identity” which has been warped and distorted by critical theorists and Critical Social Justice activists. Previously, a call to respect identity was a call to reject discrimination. Article 14 of the United Kingdom Human Rights Act, for instance, prohibits any discrimination which is based on superficial characteristics like race or sex. It does not, however, protect a person’s ideas from being questioned, disagreed with or mocked because of those same characteristics. As James Lindsay has noted, the woke definition of identity is somewhat different: “by ‘identity,’ Critical Social Justice thought means ‘social identity,’ which implies ‘political identity’ in a universe that is only concerned with identity politics.” As such, if an academic is required to respect the “identity” of his colleagues, he must also respect their politics. It should not be necessary to mention that there are certain views which deserve neither respect nor toleration, and which must be actively fought against by disseminating better views. Some in the Cambridge community wish to prevent that from happening, and it is by no means an isolated phenomenon.
A similarly puerile letter was penned by eight student organizations at McGill University in Montreal, in which the students “demand” that the school’s administration overhauls its statement on academic freedom. They begin by saying that McGill was “built on a history of oppression” and that its existence was “made possible by profiting off of the labour of enslaved and marginalised peoples.” Presumably, these vague claims serve as the pretext for the student’s call to reinvent the meaning of academic freedom by prohibiting any ideas with which they disagree. Citing the critical theorist David Gillborn, these students claim that legitimate speech is “dictated by whiteness.” Thus, speech should not be protected if it “harms” marginalized groups. Potentially harmful speech should only be permissible after a professor undergoes “robust equity training.” It is unclear how these students found a platform for their views in a society which is hellbent on silencing them. It is equally unclear how they would proceed if, after participating in the proposed training, a professor continued to believe in freedom of speech. Should such a professor lose his job? Should he be fined? Perhaps he should go to prison. After all, if speech is violence it should be punished accordingly.
There was a brief glimmer of hope in 2017 when Jordan Peterson made international headlines after his opposition to Canada’s misguided Bill C-16. Students at Queen’s University in Kingston had the privilege of listening to him speak one year later about the rising tide of compelled speech in Canada. Only a small group protested after demanding that the lecture be cancelled, but fast forward two years later and the same ideas which Peterson, Murray, Lindsay and others have warned against have been embraced by many at Queen’s, Cambridge, McGill and numerous other universities. Wokism is not being treated appropriately by students, faculty or alumni; the only appropriate response is outrage, and Douglas Murray leads by example because he is willing to say what others believe but are too afraid to say – or, for that matter, too afraid to hear.
Unfortunately, the outrage we hear most often is that of woke university students. Their ire has become frequent enough that it should have lost any of the meaning it may initially have had; outrage should be reserved for those moments which are truly outrageous, and not adopted as a default position to society itself (unless one happens to live in a tyrannical society, which we do not). Murray’s response to woke sophistry is powerful because it is sorely lacking. It is difficult to know whether this is a result of fear, cowardice or indifference. Whatever the case may be, students should not read Murray’s latest condemnation of their age cohort as an insult but rather as a challenge. If my generation continues to embrace childish ideas (or continues to humour those who believe them to be sophisticated) we should expect to be talked down to like children. If we have any self-respect we will do what can to distinguish ourselves.