Perhaps a herd instinct periodically takes over.
My mother was a bit like his: Peter Hitchens remembers his mother:
Haunted all her life by rationing, she would habitually break a chocolate bar into its smallest pieces. She had also been bombed from the air in Liverpool, and had developed a fatalism to cope with the nightly danger of being blown to pieces, shocking to me then and since.
I am now beset by these ingrained memories of shortage and danger because I seem surrounded by people who think that war might be fun. This seems to happen when wartime generations are pushed aside by their children, who need to learn the truth all over again.
It seemed fairly clear to me from her experiences that war had in fact been a miserable affair of fear, hunger, threadbare darned clothes, broken windows and insolent officials. And that was a victory, more or less, though my father (who fought in it) was never sure of that.
Now I seem surrounded by people who actively want a war with Russia, a war we all might lose. They seem to believe that we are living in a real life Lord Of The Rings, in which Moscow is Mordor and Vladimir Putin is Sauron. Some humorous artists in Moscow, who have noticed this, have actually tried to set up a giant Eye of Sauron on a Moscow tower.
We think we are the heroes, setting out with brave hearts to confront the Dark Lord, and free the saintly Ukrainians from his wicked grasp.
This is all the most utter garbage.
Indeed it is. And what kind of stupid people want war with Russia? Perhaps the same people that Brendan O’Neill sees clamouring for censorship? (And smoking bans, of course.)
So it isn’t only tinpot tyrants that demand censorship and big corporations that comply — Oxford students also clamour, complete with ‘instruments’, for censorship, and Oxford colleges comply. Self-censorship is now such an established Western institution that one of the highest seats of learning in the West practices it.
There are loads of other examples of pressured self-censorship this year, many of them lobbied for by the very same folk now saying ‘WTF’ to Sony. During the Edinburgh Fringe, a theatre dumped an Israeli-funded play in response to a letter-writing campaign by luvvies and daily protests by Israel-bashers. Down Under, the hilariously misnamed Festival of Dangerous Ideas ditched an Islamist speaker who was judged to be just that bit too dangerous by the right-on inhabitants of Twitter.The Economist officially withdrew a controversial book review in response to a ‘Twitter riot’ (that is how one of The Economists’s critics actually referred to the censorious uprising). Colleges in America disinvited controversial speakers in response to students kicking up a fuss, and outrageously Brandeis University cancelled an honorary degree for Ayaan Hirsi Ali after a gaggle of students and tweeters branded her ‘anti-Muslim’. And on it goes.
Where were Obama, David Cameron, George Clooney, the Guardian and the other newly self-styled handwringers over apologetic self-censorship when all of this was happening? They were either keeping schtum, or they were actually in the fray, in the mob, demanding the silencing of offensive material. Which means their slating of Sony rings very hollow, for Sony has only done what it has become absolutely the fashion to do: gag oneself, shut oneself up, censor one’s words and thoughts on the grounds that someone somewhere might be offended.
Self-censorship is the worst form of censorship, for it encourages people to internalise illiberalism. It plants a secret censor in every boardroom and newsroom and gallery and even in people’s minds — an invisible tut-tutter constantly warning us ‘don’t say that’ and ‘don’t show that’ because, in the words of Index on Censorship, there’s ‘the possibility of a hostile response’. It nurtures risk-aversion, even moral cowardice, and it discourages people from taking great leaps of the mind or pushing culture in a new and provocative direction. It stultifies the soul. It hampers the human spirit itself. And worst of all, it inflames the intolerant: the more people self-censor, the more the censorious will demand it, whether it’s Oxford students, Guardian feminists, or foreign tyrants. If Guardians of Peace really is North Korea, then that shows that the West has become so allergic to liberty that even that tyrannical hermit state is taking lessons from us, borrowing from our book of using online intimidation to make offensive speakers apologise and retract.
In 2015, we need more courage, more cojones. We need to stick by what we say and produce, and cultivate a climate in which people feel they can be daring again without having to second-guess ‘the possibility of a hostile response’ or cave in to the offended. We need to rediscover the celebration of courage that was the foundation stone of the Enlightenment. As Kant said: ‘Have the courage to use your own reason… walk firmly.’