Following on from last night’s post about sanity and insanity, I’ve been wondering today if there’s been any consistent feature in modern madness – such as the sheer insanity of people now being frightened of tobacco smoke, and worried about carbon dioxide, and a whole bunch of other things – which nobody worried about, or even dreamed of, 50 years ago.
It seems to have been a process of gradually inflating or exaggerating the trivial into the monstrous.
That’s what’s happened with tobacco smoke. In fact it’s happened twice with tobacco smoke. Maybe even three times. The first ratchet step was made 60 years ago (80 if Nazi Germany is counted), when smoking began to be associated with lung cancer. This is something which more or less everyone now believes, and which allowed the next ratchet step to be made in about 1975, when secondhand, ambient tobacco smoke began to be associated with lung cancer as well. And lots of people believe this too. Which is what is now allowing ambient nicotine vapour to be treated like tobacco smoke, and the new fad of vaping banned, just because it looks like smoking. The whole thing has been one slowly growing insanity.
The same thing has been happening with global warming alarmism, but on a much shorter time scale. 25 years ago, nobody was worried about carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but now (just like with tobacco smoke) hundreds of millions of people believe that it’s going to result in the atmospheric temperature rising by several degrees, the ice caps to melt, and humanity to be all but completely extinguished. And it’s all sheer lunacy.
Both of these new terrors were more or less completely unheard of 50 or 60 years ago. If our forebears had known that their descendants would believe such nonsense, they would have been open-mouthed in disbelief.
And what about the European Union? That’s another piece of lunacy that has gradually gathered momentum. At first it was just a simple trading community with open borders and shared standards. But with a continuing push towards “ever closer union”, the European Community gradually metamorphosed into the European Union, which is a monolithic, undemocratic superstate. It’s a sort of new Habsburg Empire, being run from out of Brussels and Strasbourg by unelected bureaucrats who make laws about absolutely everything. And, just like previous expanding empires, it has now come into collision with Russia in Ukraine. Yet, in the face of these and other deepening problems, European zealots like Manuel Barroso always call for “More Europe.” i.e. more centralisation, more laws, more restrictions, more taxes. And all brought about by the slow inflation of the notion of “ever closer union”.
The problem of immigration in the UK is once again something by which a small influx of people gradually increased to a veritable flood. Once again, this has been through a slow process of amplification or acceleration.
Gay marriage is another example. In 1967, homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK, thus ending the needless persecution of a minority. But did anyone imagine back then that the result, 40 years later would be that homosexuality would be taught in schools, and homosexuals allowed to get married? Once again, a trend has been steadily amplified and exaggerated.
Chris Snowdon has another example in Health über alles, which is about how one measure of health – longevity – has been gradually amplified to become the sole measure of health. Which is sheer lunacy, of course.
Another example might be found in the Highway Code, and road signs. 60 years ago, Britain’s roads had hardly any signs along them. Now there are signs everywhere, giving directions, warnings, announcing speed limits and lane restrictions. And the roads themselves have been painted with white lines and yellow lines and parking spaces and zebra crossings and lane directions. It’s another kind of slowly-growing bad craziness.
There are probably any number of other examples of creeping madness.
It always happens the same way. Some small and apparently innocuous step is made in some direction. But it turns out that this is only the first step in a long march, during the process of which what started out as innocuous gradually becomes more and more oppressive and obstructive and crazy.
Now I’m sure that most people would agree that, as time goes by, opinions gradually change. I don’t, for example, have the same opinions about everything as my parents had. And I don’t think that they had the same opinions as their parents. If nothing else, each generation has a slightly different historical context and personal experience to shape its opinions.
But my parents retained their set of opinions throughout their lives. They didn’t ever stop believing something, and start believing something completely different. It seems to be only the present generation who are being asked to stop believing one thing, and start believing another. And being asked again and again and again. Asked, for example, to stop believing that ambient tobacco smoke is harmless, and start believing its harmful. Or to stop not worrying about the Earth’s climate, and start worrying about it.
It seems to be believed that all that’s needed to change a population’s mind about more or less anything is to send them a different very loud message, and they will all dutifully go along with the new doctrine, particularly if it’s backed up by accredited authorities called Sir This or Professor That.
Certainly there seem to be some people – many people, in fact – who will swallow whatever they’re told. And these are the people who not only gave up smoking (if they ever started), but are also now terrified of tobacco smoke. And these seem to be the same people who believe that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is dangerously warming the planet. Such people seem to trust authorities implicitly.
But there are plenty of other people who will carry on thinking what they always thought, regardless of all attempts to change their minds. In fact, one might say that the majority of people have pretty fixed opinions about everything, much like my parents did. And when such people are told by authorities to start believing something else, they don’t go along with the advice: instead, they stop believing the authorities.
The combined result is an increasingly deeply divided society. One bunch of people – ‘progressives’ or ‘modernisers’ or ‘true believers’ – always go along with the latest fashionable set of authoritatively decreed dogmas. And the other bunch of people – ‘conservatives’ or ‘sceptics’ – carry on thinking the way they always did, and consistently reject new dogmas. And in between them an ever-widening gulf opens up.
And this is round about where we are right now. And the divisions are only ever deepening, because such is the pace of change that more or less every year there is some new doctrine announced, which progressives immediately adopt, and which conservatives reject, and which becomes yet another matter about which they disagree.
I used not to think that I was a conservative, but I’m beginning to think that I actually am one – simply because I’ve carried on thinking the way that I’ve always thought. And I’ve even moved contrary to fashionable trends – for example by ceasing to believe that smoking causes lung cancer. And these days I find myself more or less automatically rejecting anything that looks even faintly ‘progressive’.
And I suspect that there are a lot of people who fit much the same description. They are people who have also been asked to believe any number of ‘progressive’ new doctrines, and who can no longer swallow any more. And may have even begun to cough back up some of the ones they swallowed. And because I believe that most people are pretty fixed in their opinions, it follows that most people (in Britain at least) are conservatives of the kind I’ve just described. It’s really only a small minority of people – 10%? – who are genuine ‘progressives’ and ‘modernizers’ who can’t wait to deck themselves out in the very latest fashionable beliefs when instructed to do so.
And since I think that UKIP is really just a small-c conservative party, it seems to me to be entirely possible that it could end up stealing most of the vote, leaving a tiny rump of ‘progressive’ Labour, Conservative, and Lib Dems. This won’t happen, of course, because it requires a change of mind to end a lifetime habit of voting for just one party, and start voting for another. And an arch-conservative (like Norman Tebbit, for example) is never going to do that. Conservatives tend to be conservative not only in their beliefs, but in their voting habits.
UKIP, I believe, is picking up votes from people in all walks of life, who have become heartily sick of the current all-party ‘progressive’ consensus. And the more ‘progressive’ new initiatives that are launched, the greater the flood of new recruits it gains. If, for example, the EU was to decree that the Ode To Joy replace all national anthems played in cinemas or on TV, it would more or less guarantee another flood of defectors to UKIP.
UKIP’s real problem is most likely that everyone in it has a slightly different idea of which conservative utopia they wish to return to. Is the clock to be turned back to 1990? Or 1965? Or 1914? Do we go back to pounds, shillings, and pence? And to feet and inches and miles? And the Gold Standard?
But I think we have come to the end of the current ‘progressive’ era, and that the future is going to be conservative, and things like the European Union, and Global Warming, and smoking bans will soon be nightmare memories, with which to frighten children in bedtime stories. And it will all be because the ‘progress’ was too rapid for most people to keep up with, and wasn’t genuine progress anyway, and because most people are naturally conservative.