Rehabilitating the Notion of Truth
Dr Philip Kiszeley
The activists who currently control the past are controlling the future. If we want 2021 and beyond to be even more of a wasteland than 2020, then we should just leave them to it. Let them set one identity group against another. Let them police language, thought and action. But if we don’t want that kind of division, if we don’t want that dystopian world, then let’s stand up to them – and reclaim the past. All we have to do is tell the truth. It takes some bravery to do it. But brave we must be. Now is not the time to be a victim.
Usually, when I think about the problems of the present, I look to the past for answers. But I’m going to do the opposite here. Instead of asking what history can teach us about 2020, our benighted Year of Covid, I’m going to ask what Covid can teach us about history. Or more precisely, what it can teach us about the dominant attitude towards our history – the attitude of the heritage and education sectors, by and large, and the state broadcaster. For them, it’s a straightforward story of emancipation: oppressed minority struggle versus tyrannical patriarchy. I maintain here and now – and I've said it elsewhere – that this is a grossly simplified version of events.
That is not to deny the existence of discrimination, by the way, historical or contemporary, nor is it to look askance at outright racism, sexism and homophobia. These are evils and we must do what we can to tackle them.
But one-dimensional history, with little nuance and even less by way of context, is not the way to go about it.
I think many people know why our past is presented the way it is – we talk a lot about identity politics and the Woke obsession with power. But what about how it works?
Let’s look to the present, then – the last 12 months – to gain some insight into how history is being re-written.
This time last year Britain stood on the threshold of a new era. The December General Election had just provided a once-in-a-generation realignment moment. An opportunity for real change. We said a great big NO to the appalling antisemitism of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. And at the same time registered our contempt for all things Woke.
Then came Covid. And everything changed again. So much so that for one fleeting moment all the babble seemed to dial down a notch or two. I mean: who in their right mind, with the spectre of a pandemic on the horizon, would talk seriously about imagined micro-aggressions? Who indeed, eh?
Well, the identitarians carried on regardless. Their prayers to the intersectional Gods of Race, Gender and Sexuality might have been mumbled for a while, but the true believers kept at their devotions. And in nothing flat they were back at full volume. Just as loud – and more divisive than ever before.
The conditions were ripe for it, of course. We had the first Lockdown. And since then, variations on the same theme. And as a result, we’ve endured more than our fair share of madness. If it wasn’t BLM ‘activists’ defacing statues, then it was the BBC cancelling Fawlty Towers. Two vivid examples, right there, of white middle-class privilege assaulting heritage - dividing people, repudiating the popular culture. All to no meaningful end.
Then there was Extinction Rebellion, running riot in the streets of the capital, their target the buildings that house political think tanks. ‘You disagree with me; I’ll destroy your property.’ That’s the new ethic, by the way: words are violence, apparently; silence is violence; but violence itself, for them at least, is perfectly ok. They put in another appearance, didn’t they, the totalitarian ER mob, not too long ago in fact, on Remembrance Sunday. They had a go at the Cenotaph. And what a powerful image that conjured: two worlds colliding, two value systems at odds with each other. Britain 2020.
Which brings me to the heart of the matter. And Covid – and the evolution of commentaries on the subject. It went something like this. First, the pandemic targeted women. Then it was a racist disease. Finally - and we have Owen Jones to thank for this one – the real victims were young members of the LGBTQI+ community, stuck at home in Lockdown with homophobic parents.
These positions take Covid and manipulate it to serve pre-defined ends. They add the virus as a kind of seasoning, if you will, to a favourite political recipe. It’s used to enhance a flavour that’s already there. It is not – and this is important – added to alter the taste of the dish.
The proposition comes first, then – a particular oppressed group MUST be the most oppressed by Covid. Then, the facts are carefully chosen to illustrate the point. Not to test it. Not to change it.
What’s happened with Covid during 2020 illustrates precisely what’s been happening to our history over the last 30 or 40 years. The dominant post-modernist view – that of the BBC and the institutions – is fundamentally flawed. It deals in victimhoods. Now, that’s right and proper in lots of ways – many people are victims of history. And the duty of the historian is to tell their story.
But the post-modernists do something slightly different. They construct hierarchies of suffering in order to serve a political agenda. More than that, they position these hierarchies within a conceptual framework that has ‘playfully’ deconstructed the notion of truth. And as everybody knows: if you play fast and loose with the truth, you can make the facts fit any theory you like. You don’t even have to bother with facts. Unsubstantiated ‘lived experience’ will do just as nicely.
The Result of all this? Chaos and stupidity.
And this is our inheritance in 2020, isn’t it. We see it in commentaries on Covid. We see in it the related social unrest.
The activists who defaced the Peel statue think the Hammer & Sickle is a social justice symbol.
The activists who defaced the Churchill statue think the man who led the charge against the Nazis is nothing more than an evil racist.
I’m all for social engagement, I’m all for political protest. And I am absolutely all for freedom of speech. But if that freedom is to mean anything, then with it must come the responsibility of understanding.
Sure, there are potentially infinite ways of seeing the past – of course there are. But for God’s sake let’s put the facts up front before we choose one. And while we’re it, let’s rehabilitate the notion of truth, shall we – and imbue it with meaning.