Boy, I needed this. A birthday present from my sister that really hit the spot.
Murray is a gay Spectator magazine columnist so not exactly the kind of writer I would normally read. But I was humbled in the early stages of the first chapter by his obvious open-mindedness as he described an evangelical film preview he attends.
The Christians have, at the last minute, been prevented from showing their film in a cinema because it is their take on homosexuality and scramble to find an alternative venue. In describing the experience, it’s clear that Murray does not agree with their viewpoints or those of the film.
What is clear though is that they are being discriminated against for holding their views and that is, quite rightly, what Murray takes issue with.
This sets the scene for the entire book really. The opening paragraph of the Introduction summarises it better than I can, though:
We are going through a great crowd derangement. In public and in private, both online and off, people are behaving in ways that are increasingly irrational, feverish, herd-like and simply unpleasant. The daily news cycle is filled with the consequences. Yet while we see the symptoms everywhere, we do not see the causes.The Madness of Crowds, p. 1
In four sections entitled Gay, Women, Race and Trans, Murray details very convincingly a human rights train that has, as he puts it, reached its destination in every case and then somehow gone careering past the buffers to wreak havoc in the public arena. He describes proponents of racial equality, feminism etc. as having lost their targets in largely achieving equality and, with nothing more to aim at, firing wildly into the crowds to take out the guilty as well as the innocent bystander.
Repeatedly he uses the metaphor of tripwires as those who dare to speak their actual opinion on any of these issues find themselves in a maelstrom of shrapnel from the explosive reaction. Some lose limbs, some lose lives. A rival definition of democracy has arisen; it’s the majority of decibels that now counts, not the majority of individuals. Woe betide anyone who tries to express an opinion that differs. They’ll find they simply can’t shout loud enough, even when there are 150 of the most seemingly influential of them.
The chapter on race is particularly enlightening taking place almost entirely in the US where this issue is probably more polarised than anywhere on earth outside the Gaza Strip. The reports of how free speech has been mown down by radical, rabid activism that shows a remarkable capability for contradiction and inability to use logic. In short, it seems that there are whole groups out there who abhor the idea of free speech simply because they seem to find speech itself challenging.
It is with some irony that within a week or two of me finishing it, J. K. Rowling fell from being the darling of the literary world to being one of its (many) devils. There is no logical reason why a woman who publicly objects to being defined as one of the “people who menstruate” should be publicly shunned or, as those who now rule the world call it, cancelled.
But, Murray argues cogently, those who make the rules don’t seem to have any logic to actually apply them consistently to us all. Rowling’s position is a perfect example, as are the comments on that article I’ve just linked to above. Murray must be kicking himself that he didn’t wait a year to be able to include this lamentable tale. The whole point of the trans movement is that those who wish to define themselves have the choice to do so thus resisting being defined by others. Except bigots.
Sadly, Murray’s book, while utterly timely and containing wisdom for where we go from here, is unlikely to be read by those who are causing the problem. Why? One reason is that it gives a coherent argument that needs to be reasoned with. Arguably more of a factor though is that it’s longer than 280 characters.