Picture of a judge's wigThis Is Not A BLOG!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 23/08/23

Thereof Must I Be Silent?

(With apologies to Wittgenstein)

It has been a rare thing over the twenty years I have been hurling my brains at you from my monkish cell when I have been presented with a genuine dilemma.

And I do mean an actual dilemma rather than merely a point of uncertainty or indecisiveness, like trying to figure out which baguette to have for lunch. Such things - for all their apparent importance in the immediate moment - are matters of no substance or consequence whatever when viewed in the broader scheme of things.

There have been times since 2003 when a similar cleft stick has been thrust at me, of course. This was especially true in connection with things which happened to me as a consequence of the shitty behaviour of my employer. But the resolution of them was determined by the over-riding need to keep my job, and that is something which, I am glad to say, doesn't apply any more; they can't touch me now.

This is different.

(I'm not looking for advice, consolation or some sort of exhortation to stiffen the sinews here, by the way: I'm just describing something which - not merely if handled ineptly, but if handled at all - could have serious repercussions on my sense of well-being.)

So here it is, though with the serial numbers filed off for obvious reasons; if I were to be completely overt about it here, I would by so doing have jacta'd my alea and rendered any further rumination redundant.

There is a topic which I have been wanting to write about for at least two years. It is one of those Big Questions Of Our Time, one which has exercised minds, tongues and keyboards on both sides of the issue, one which - as is all too often the case - tends strongly to produce more heat than light. Indeed, because individual intimate feelings are more than trivially bound up in it and are therefore deeply implicated in the arguments put forward by both camps, the heat all too frequently manifests itself in the form of a blowtorch and the light by a magnesium flash.

There are two main reasons why I have held off exercising my inalienable right to spout off, even on a subject in which I have (to use that appalling American phrase) 'no skin in the game', in accordance with my being a member in good standing of the National Union of Bloggers, Interpreters and Literary Excursionists (NUBILE for short). Actually, there are two and a half reasons, the half being an essential corollary to the first one.

The first one is that the Issue is a complex one, although not necessarily irresolubly so. It is merely that the subject contains elements from so many different facets of knowledge and experience that tying them together in an exposition which is not merely clear and coherent but also sufficiently nuanced to state clearly what I actually mean and leave as little for misinterpretation as possible would involve the most intricate sarabande of expression.

(And here's where the half reason comes in: creating such a creature would involve a lot of my time and energy, neither of which attributes I have in sufficient measure nowadays. It would also take a long time for you to read, and I would feel uneasy about placing such a Frankensteinian beast before you.)

I have no doubt that I could write such a piece, however. I've done it before.

It is, therefore, the second reason which poses a far, far greater danger.

As I said earlier, the matter is one which strikes deep into what those engaging most closely with it see as their very identity, their very being, itself. As a consequence, it invokes an emotional commitment on their part above and beyond that of the standard investment required in major contentions of this type.

That this leads to genuinely fierce passions being engendered should not therefore be a source of surprise. Nor should we be astonished in any way that those passions often spill over not merely into outright hostility, but to verbal and rhetorical intimidation and even at times to physical violence. The whole thing is considered - to greater or lesser degree on both sides of the argument - to be A Cause. 'Causes' are dangerous, leading as they so often do to the elevation of feeling over Reason, the prizing of loyalty over considered thought, and the polluting of the well of discourse by the dysenteric poisons of Groupthink.

Such a phenomenon is dangerous wherever it may arise and in whatever context it exists. This is all the more the case where at least one side has persuaded itself that it is on the 'Right Side of History' and that victory was therefore assured if the True Faith be kept (ask the poor black people of the USA how this assumption has worked out for them over the last fifty years). That diamond-tipped certainty - allied with a message comprising largely of short, sharp soundbites - can convince those outside the core of the actual movement that yes, they too could stand with the angels. They don't need to understand both sides of the argument; indeed, they don't even need to think particularly deeply about the case for their adopted party. The Cause Is All.

This is always going to be attractive to those in our society who - understandably dismayed with how things actually are - will have a predisposition to latch on to something - anything - which gives at least the appearance of being 'progressive' or even 'liberal'. Even the most rational, the most balanced of people may thereby be drawn in.

And here's the very nub or crux of my dilemma.

For I know that, were I to write about this particular subject - in however detailed, however well-reasoned, however nuanced a form - there would be a very real risk that I would lose at least one friendship of great value and long duration. Other relationships - of the sort for which there still isn't really a word even after three decades of widespread internet interactions - could, from my reading of what has been written or approved by them on this point, be placed in similar jeopardy. And my mental state these days is such that consequences of that kind would be positively perilous.

I must emphasise that the people I'm specifically talking about are far from being the usual type of blind trend-followers; they are individuals of the most thoughtful and open-minded kind and who take a stance on most things which I would not merely share but cheer to the echo. But it seems that even they may have, on this issue, taken a position which I simply cannot share for all sorts of reasons, and to speak openly about where, how and why I disagree with them - however carefully and gently I may express myself - may well nonetheless be taken as an affront to their amour propre and lead to a lesion upon - or even a rupture of - the relationship which I would find traumatic.

I cannot 'publish and be damned' on this occasion: the damnation might be all too real.

So it seems that, despite my concerns about where all this - the onward march of what appears to my perceptions to be something akin to a cult, the way in which that cult's precepts have infiltrated into the very machinery of our society, and the way in which dissent from what has become the Official Line de facto is treated as heretical up to the point of overt violence or other means of silencing critique of it - may be leading us as a society, I must obey old Ludwig's admonition at least for the time being.

It shouldn't be like this. But it is.