POC are just like you and me. Sure, there are technical, mostly visual, differences between us. However, considered in the grand scheme of things, such differences are quite trivial.
Far from a weakness, this diversity is a strength; we all play a role in moving our democracy forward, and ensuring the public realm remains a lively and vibrant place. Of course, by POC, I am referring to People of Commentary.
POC are everywhere. Turn on the television and you’ll be greeted by POC. Scroll through any social media feed, and without much effort, you’ll find posts made by POC. Walk through the middle of London, and soon enough, you’ll sight chattering congregations of POC.
Given the apparent omnipresence of POC, one eventually begins to ask: where did they come from? Were there this many POC in Britain 50 years ago? Yes, I know I’m pushing my luck.
In all serious consideration, the voice of commentators, self-described or not, for better or for worse, constitutes a large chunk of public, especially political, discussion in Britain.
Conversely, and it would seem simultaneously, we have witnessed a rapid decline of public intellectualism over consecutive decades. Indeed, the noted absence of intellectuals from public life is underscored when most people struggle to define what an intellectual actually is.
Many are inclined to believe that the British are, by their very essence, an anti-intellectual people. Distrustful of abstraction, they very much prefer a hodgepodge philosophy of empirical observation and sainted “Common Sense” – both of which, especially the latter, intellectuals supposedly and infamously disregard.
An immediate glance at ongoing matters would support this position. Despite the fundamental disagreements constituting the “Gender Wars”, it is clear that both sides consider Britain, thankfully or regrettably, uniquely resistant to transgenderism. In my view, this can be traced to our Anglo-Saxon forbearers, who gradually removed the notion of gendered words in our language besides the ones which speak to the empirical (that is, biological-anatomical) distinction between men and women.
All this said, empiricism isn’t exactly synonymous with “anti-intellectualism”, just as the names Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, George Berkeley, or Edmund Burke rarely come to mind when discussing “anti-intellectuals”. We can safely assume that intellectuals primarily deal in ideas, but we can’t safely assume said ideas are purely rationalistic and abstract.
Herein lies the distinction: there’s a difference between contemporary “anti-intellectualism”, which has contributed to the explosive ascendancy of POCs, and the “anti-intellectualism” which is distinctly “intellectual” in nature – pertaining to the limits, rather than uselessness, of intellectualism-as-abstraction. As such, we should consider post-war anti-intellectualism as a degeneration of a healthier and more measured position.
Without placing too much weight on the origins of Britain’s post-war anti-intellectualism, I would argue that such a precise attitude be attributed to the popularity of the ideas of George Orwell, as conveyed by cultural osmosis, rather than extensive reading; specifically, his preoccupation with ‘Ordinary People’ and the ways in which they are different to the class of ‘Intellectuals’ whom Orwell sought to disassociate himself.
This is an excerpt from “Ides”. To continue reading, visit The Mallard’s Shopify.
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By themallard — 11 months ago
A rarely remarked upon effect of Covid-19 has been the neglect of works that would have ordinarily garnered broader acclaim. Thus, as we’ve been distracted by the medical events, an assortment of commendable offerings have largely escaped public attention. One such work is ‘The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies’ by Polish academic and European Parliament member, Ryszard Legutko. Originally published in 2012 as Triumf Człowieka Pospolitego (Triumph of the Common Man), then edited and first appearing in English in 2016, Legutko’s book is a rare recent work of real import. A decade on from its original publication, Legutko’s book is still one of the best indictments yet of our liberal age
In a similar vein to the works of Christopher Lasch and John Gray, Legutko’s is an account that is tepid towards the Thatcherite consensus that has come to define the right whilst resisting the easy overtures of our dominant left-liberalism. It’s a book that illuminates the errors of the age as it rejects the pieties that our epoch demands.
Like Ed West, Michael Anton and Christopher Caldwell, Legutko is one of few contemporary writers willing to provide an honest account of the liberal status quo. By not succumbing to our assorted unrealities, Legutko is able to articulate the inadequacies of liberal democracy without the pusillanimous equivocation that’s sadly all too prevalent. The book is thus a welcome addition to what is an otherwise bleak scene for the conservatively inclined, entrapped as we are in the all-pervasive mould of liberalism.
Such commendations aren’t restricted to this reviewer, however. Figures such as Harvard’s Adrian Vermeule and Notre Dame’s Patrick Deneen have been equally effusive. For as Vermeule wrote: “Legutko has written the indispensable book about the current crisis of liberalism and the relationship of liberalism to democracy”, while for Deneen the book is a “work of scintillating brilliance. [With] every page…brimming with insights.”
High praise, undoubtedly, yet it’s well vindicated upon reading. The central thesis is that despite an outward appearance of difference, communism and liberal democracy share a range of similarities. An observation that appears prima facie preposterous, yet after 180-odd pages of tightly-packed prose the reader is unable to avoid this unsettling insight.
The rationale for this claim is as such: both are inorganic systems that involve unnatural impositions and coercive zeal in their pursuit of illusory utopias. Utopias that are to be achieved practically through technology and ‘modernisation’ and buttressed theoretically by the purported fact of human equality. The two are thus historicist projects, seeking to ground human affairs in delusions of ‘progress’ in lieu of any underlying nature.
Both platforms are thus mere dogma. They are, as Legutko states:
“Nourished by the belief that the world cannot be tolerated as it is and that it should be changed: that the old should be replaced with the new. Both systems strongly and – so to speak – impatiently intrude into the social fabric and both justify their intrusion with the argument that it leads to the improvement of the state of affairs by ‘modernizing’ it.”
The two systems are hence unable to accept human beings and political affairs as they actually are: man and the polis must be remoulded along the lines of each respective ideology. For the communists, this involves the denial of man’s natural egotism and the subordination of his individual efforts towards an ostensible communal good. That this requires extreme coercion in implementation, unfathomable violence in practice, and has been deemed a delusion since at least Plato’s Republic, is a tragedy that’s all too commonly known.
So far, nothing new. Yet it’s the author’s elucidation of the unsavoury aspects of liberal democracy that is of particular note, especially for us here at the so-called ‘end of history’ and in light of the easy-going liberalism that permeates our societies, even as they slip further and further into evident decay. As Legutko suggests, liberal democracy shares a proselytising urge akin to that of Leninist communism, yet it’s as equally blind to its theoretical errors and its evangelical impulses as was its communist forebear.
As Legutko sees it, a liberal-democratic man can’t rest until the world has been vouched safe for liberal democracy. Never mind that this liberal-democratic delusion requires a tyranny over the individual soul – we’re neither wholly liberal nor democratic – and entire groups of people. An emblematic example is the recent US-led failure to impose either democracy or liberalism (terms that Legutko fuses and distinguishes, as appropriate) on the largely tribal peoples of Afghanistan.
The justification for this liberal-democratic ‘imperialism’ is, of course, its final and glorious end. Once there’s a left-liberal telos insight, then all means to its achievement are henceforth valid. For the communists, their failures are now common lore. Yet for our liberal-democrats, their – still largely unacknowledged – fantasies continue apace, aided as they are by their patina of ‘enlightened improvement’ and by the imperial patron that enables them.
That the effects of all this liberalising are unnatural, usually unwanted and often utterly repulsive to the recipients tends not to matter. Like all movements of ‘true believers’, there is no room for the heretic: forever onward one must plough.
The ideological spell cast by liberalism is thus as strong as any other. As Legutko observes:
“The liberal-democratic mind, just as the mind of a true communist, feels as inner compulsion to manifest its pious loyalty to the doctrine. Public life is [thus] full of mandatory rituals…[in which all] must prove that their liberal-democratic creed springs spontaneously from the depth of their hearts.”
With the afflicted “expected to give one’s approving opinion about the rights of homosexuals and women and to condemn the usual villains such as domestic violence, racism, xenophobia, or discrimination, or to find some other means of kowtowing to the ideological gods.”
A stance that is not only evident in our rhetoric, but by material phenomena as well. One need only think of the now-ubiquitous rainbow flags, the cosmopolitan billboards and adverts, the ‘opt-in’ birth certificates, the gender-neutral bathrooms, the Pride parades, the gender-transition surgeries, the biological males in female events and so on to confirm the legitimacy of Legutko’s claims and our outright denial of physiological reality.
Indeed, here’s Legutko again: [the above] “has practically monopolized the public space and invaded schools, popular culture, academic life and advertising. Today it is no longer enough simply to advertise a product; the companies feel an irresistible need to attach it to a message that is ideologically correct. Even if this message does not have any commercial function – and it hardly ever does – any occasion is good to prove oneself to be a proponent of the brotherhood of races, a critic of the Church, and a supporter of homosexual marriage.”
This sycophantic wheedling is practised by journalists, TV morons, pornographers, athletes, professors, artists, professional groups, and young people already infected with the ideological mass culture. Today’s ideology is so powerful that almost everyone desires to join the great camp of progress”.
Thus whilst the tenets of liberal democracy clearly differ from those of 20th Century communism, both systems are akin in their propagandistic essence, as he writes:
“To be sure, there are different actors in both cases, and yet they perform similar roles: a proletarian was replaced by a homosexual, a capitalist by a fundamentalist, exploitation by discrimination, a communist revolutionary by a feminist, and a red flag by a vagina”.
Variations on this theme inform the entirety of the book and are developed throughout its five chapters: History, Utopia, Politics, Ideology, and Religion. Whilst there is some overlap, the book is written with a philosophical depth reflective of Legutko’s status and which only a few contemporary writers can muster. As Deenen remarks:
“I underlined most of the book upon first reading, and have underlined nearly all the rest during several re-readings. It is the most insightful work of political philosophy during this still young, but troubled century”.
Yet the book isn’t exclusively an arcane tome. Aside from Legutko’s evident learnings, what further enhances the work is the author’s ability to draw upon his own experience. Born in the wake of the Second World War, raised in the ambit of Soviet communism, and employed in the European Parliament in adulthood, Legutko’s is a life that has witnessed the workings of both regimes at first hand.
The author recalls that the transition from communism to liberal democracy was greeted with an early enthusiasm that soon devolved into disenchantment. As he states, any initial exuberance steadily subsided, with Legutko sensing early on that “liberal democracy significantly narrowed the area of what was permissible – [with the] sense of having many doors open and many possibilities to pursue [soon evaporating], subdued by the new rhetoric of necessity that the liberal democratic system brought with itself.”
An insight which deepened the longer he worked within that most emblematic of our institutions of modern-day liberalism: the European Parliament. He writes:
“Whilst there, I saw up close what…escapes the attention of many observers. If the European Parliament is supposed to be the emanation of the spirit of today’s liberal democracy, then this spirit is certainly neither good nor beautiful: it has many bad and ugly features, some of which, unfortunately, it shares with communism.”
Even a preliminary contact…allows one to feel a stifling atmosphere typical of a political monopoly, to see the destruction of language turning into a new form of Newspeak, to observe the creation of a surreality, mostly ideological, that obfuscates the real world, to witness an uncompromising hostility against all dissidents, and to perceive many other things only too familiar to anyone who remembers the world governed by the Communist Party”.
And it is this tyrannical aspect of liberal democracy to which Legutko ultimately inveighs. After some brief remarks on the eclipse of the old religion (Christianity) at the hands of the new, Legutko’s parting words are an understandable lament that liberal-democratic man – “more stubborn, more narrow-minded, and…less willing to learn from others” – has vanquished all-comers. As he adds:
“With Christianity being driven out of the main tract, the liberal-democratic man – unchallenged and totally secure in his rule – will become a sole master of today’s imagination, apodictically determining the boundaries of human nature and, at the very outset, disavowing everything that dares to reach beyond his narrow perspective.” A sad state whereby “the liberal democrat will reign over human aspirations like a tyrant”.
In this regard, Legutko’s remarks echo the German proto-fascist-democratic-dissident, Ernst Junger, who ‘hated democracy like the plague’ and saw the triumph of America-led liberalism as an utter catastrophe. A posture which is also evident in Junger’s compatriot and near contemporary, Martin Heidegger, and in his notion of the ‘darkening of the world.’
Yet it’s perhaps the most famous German theorist of all, Friedrich Nietzsche, to whom we should finally turn and in whose light Legutko ends the book. Largely accepting the popularised Hegelianism of Fukuyama – that there’s no alternative to liberal democracy – Legutko nevertheless muses over whether our current status as Zaruthustrian ‘Last Men’ is a concession we must make to live in this best of all possible worlds or an indictment of our political and spiritual poverty.
As he concludes, the perpetuation of liberal democracy “would be, for some, a comforting testimony that man finally learned to live in sustainable harmony with his nature. For others, it will be a final confirmation that his mediocrity is inveterate.”
A more accurate precis of our current situation I’ve yet to see, and one of many such reasons to read this most wonderful of books.
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By Ilija Dokmanovic — 10 months ago
It has been almost 12 years since the release of one of the highest grossing films of all time – that being 2009’s Avatar, James Cameron’s sci-fi epic.
There has been a running meme for the last couple years that despite the first Avatar film’s wild success in the box office, it isn’t a memorable film. The characters aren’t memorable, the storyline is a copy and paste of 1990’s Dances With Wolves, and that its success hinged on the technological breakthroughs in CGI and 3D film that were a staple feature of the film.
In retrospect, the running joke isn’t far from the truth. Avatar is a film that hasn’t held up for casual viewers on its own merits, but rather through nostalgia of a time that has long passed – a time before the insanity of the last 10 years in the social and political scene, where most people were more concerned about the film’s core messages; that being a deeply environmentalist film, a critique on colonialism, and the insatiable appetite of human discovery wreaking havoc on innocent and more noble creatures.
While there are aspects of the original film I enjoy, such as the detailed world-building that Cameron is known for, and the cutting edge visual effects, it still failed to resonate with me the way it has with many other viewers.
The preaching was exhausting when I watched it the first time in 2009, and it is still exhausting today. I get it. Humans are bad, save the trees, the military industrial complex is so evil, etc, etc.While the second installment Avatar: The Way of Water certainly delves a little deeper into the lore and ups the stakes for the protagonists, it still carries the same bare-bones environmentalist sermon that has become all too exhausting in this day and age, especially when we have Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil cronies ruining fine art and causing general inconvenience to all those around them in our current reality.
This is an excerpt from “Provenance”. To continue reading, visit The Mallard’s Shopify.
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By Sarah Stook — 1 month ago
In 1980, Ted Turner and Reese Schonfeld co-founded the Cable News Network (CNN). Despite derision over the idea of a 24 hour rolling news channel, CNN became a massive hit and would become the forefather to the news system today. In the 43 years since CNN first aired, news channels have changed from having bulletins every few hours to being on air 24/7. Our parents would have to wait for the top of the hour for news, unless breaking news broke into programming, whilst we can just turn it on with a press of a button.
Whilst many may marvel at the idea of 24 hour news, it is part of why news today has its problems. As a result of constant media absorption, competition from social media and the internet, as well as a fast-paced world, society itself has become obsessed with the news. Every tiny little story becomes splashed across screens, both large and small, in a desperate attempt to capture the moment before it vanishes.
Everything is Breaking News
If, like me, you have the BBC news app alert on your phone, then this will be a similar tale. The alert goes off. You check it. Whilst it’s officially classed as ‘Breaking News,’ it’s not really that important. Some things are of course important. Look at the death of Her Majesty The Queen last year. That was a news story that knocked everything else off the air. Considering that she had been our monarch since 1952, it’s fair to say that this was incredibly important breaking news.
Generally, the app applies the term ‘Breaking News’ rather liberally. Holly Willoughby leaving This Morning after fourteen years is not worth your phone going off. Beyoncé removing ‘offensive lyrics’ from an old song isn’t worth it either.
That also applies to news channels. Sky News and BBC will have that ticket going across the bottom of the screen quite happily for just about any reason. Rare is the day where the bottom of Sky News is not a flash of yellow and black. Even a slow news day will have breaking news just to keep things a bit fresh.
It’s understandable really. In this day and age, news travels fast. It comes and goes in the blink of the eyes. News companies want to have their hold on the story before the next one comes. When Twitter/X or Facebook gets the news first, well, that’s one less story that they’ve managed to break to viewers. The big media organisations may have the means to research the stories and get the scoops, but they don’t ever get it out first. One is more likely to find out a story through social media than they are the 24 hour news or their app.
Considering the point of the 24 hour news cycle is to be fresh, that’s not really a good thing.
Every Little Story, Made Bigger
On the 18th April 1930, BBC news would announce that “there is no news.”
Can you imagine that today? Another issue with the 24 hour cycle and news today is the fact that there’s a desperation to find something to report on. When channels and apps are never off, they can’t have a rest. Something must be going on. It doesn’t matter what it is, but it must be something.
Perhaps it’s a take on a news story through the issue of race, gender or sexuality. Perhaps it’s a random study from Australia. Whatever it is, it’s got a place in the news because it’s something.
Take for example the Daily Climate Show on Sky News. What was originally a daily, thirty minute slot on prime time was axed to a weekend event. It’s not hard to see why this was. In its desperation to make more news out of something, Sky took a risk by devoting half an hour everyday to the exact same topic. Considering how climate change and its presentation is a divisive subject, it was hardly a risk worth taking. Changing it to every weekend was still a poorly thought out move.
You might turn the news on when you get up at seven in the morning. You might turn the news on at ten before you go to bed. What might link those two viewings is that they are exactly the same.
When the media can’t slot a new story in, they’ll just repeat it. If it’s an unfolding story, then of course you’ll see it or read about it again later because there are news things to be said. The problem occurs when it’s the same story over and over again.
Nobody wants to hear the same story they did fifteen hours ago without new information. It’s tiresome.
The Fear Factor
Then there’s the fear in which the media thrives.
From the moment that Boris Johnson told us that we now had to stay in our homes because of COVID, the media was all over the pandemic- perhaps even before then. With nothing else happening because everyone was locked down, all the media could do was run constant stories about the ever climbing death toll. At first, well, it was what we expected. Then it started to get a bit repetitive.
These stories tend to get a much frostier reception if reported today. Commentators scold the media for trying to scare us or create fear.
They could, however, get away with it during those early months. With nothing else to do, we had more time for the news. Their stories were constantly about the deaths and after effects of COVID. We were already unable to leave our homes and live our daily lives, with constant mask wearing when we went out, so did we need to be intimidated even more?
It’s not just COVID. Look at the climate protestors, especially the young ones, when interviewed. Some of them cry in fear for their future, weeping about the thought of a planet that could be gone when they have reached adulthood. Considering the constant doomsday coverage of climate change in the news, it’s easy to see where this fear comes from. Kids’ news shows like Sky’s awful FYI focus on the topic regularly. It’s constantly on mainstream news.
Children are more in tune with the world today. With all the darkness in the news and on social media, some will blame it for the declining mental health we are seeing in young people. Indeed, where is the hope? Well, people don’t watch the news to hear about new innovations or cute animals being born in zoos. Fear is more gripping than hope, and a bigger seller too, but it’s not good for morale.
It’s vitally important that we know what’s going on in the world, but too much news is bad for the soul. In a world where it’s all too accessible and the media makes money on constant news, we can’t rely on it for real information. We’re either fed fear or repetitiveness. The obsession with news is, ironically, making us less knowledgeable. Resist the urge to keep up behind what is needed. It’s better for you.
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