Newsletter 365

Published April 12, 2021
What? Me? Cancelled?

This week’s lead story isn’t a review but a profile, looking at Guy Warren who is turning 100. It’s not something that happens every day among artists, who tend to become victims of the Bohemian lifestyle or inhale too many dangerous fumes in the studio. Guy has managed to limit himself to a whiskey every night while avoiding the pub sessions he always found deadly boring. As for the paint fumes, well maybe like Bill Clinton he didn’t inhale.

After a long session talking to Guy, who is feeling a little physically dilapidated but remains as sharp as a scalpel, I’m left wondering if – apart from genes – the key to a long life is an invincible sense of equanimity. Guy is opinionated and forthright, but completely lacking in malice and resentment. He doesn’t wallow in regrets and acts as if he’s only at the start of a promising career! It’s an instinctive philosophy of tolerance and live-and-let-live that sets him apart from most people in the world today.

One has only to glance at the news – particularly the news from America, alas – to see people acting hysterically about vaccinations, masks, gun control, and a thousand other things that should be matters of common sense and common good. Politics has become so perverted from anything to do with genuine civil service that it’s more like a blood sport in which the aim is to eliminate your opponent by means fair or foul. Truth, once the first casualty of war, is now the first casualty of peacetime political life. It’s a deadly battle in the United States, where the Republican Party is lurching ever further into extremist territory. In Australia we have a kind of low-level buffoonery with a PM obsessed with spin over substance being occasionally tripped up by reality.

But the true sign of a society on the slide is the fact that the craziness and authoritarian impulses are not coming from only one direction. Earlier this year there was a story about the University of Leicester deciding to drop all literature courses that looked at work prior to 1500 CE, which means that Chaucer, Beowulf and Malory are for the chop. In their place will be “modules on race, ethnicity, sexuality and diversity, a decolonised curriculum and new employability modules.”

The first observation about these “excitingly innovative” new courses, is that even the language used to describe them is appallingly bad English. Instead of studying The Canterbury Tales, one can now sample “new employability modules”. The revamp of courses caters to the perceived popularity of different topics, treating students not as people willing to work and learn, but customers who will only take courses that appeal to their own shallow prejudices and preferences. One of the reasons for dropping pre-1500 literature is that it simply can’t be “decolonised”.

This is a particularly gross example of the intellectual and commercial debasement of universities but there are countless other instances of the dumbing down of tertiary courses to make them easier or more ‘relevant’ to today’s students. One of the side-effects of this process is that it hampers an understanding of the past, or at least an understanding not filtered through the modish ideological fixations of the present. We are creating a generation of ignorant, narrow-minded bigots who seek to impose their own version of morally and politically correct behaviour on everyone else.

The culture warriors of the left antagonise the culture warriors of the right. Round and round it goes in an ever-decreasing spiral and until everything implodes in a black hole of mutually asssured stupidity. If Guy Warren has made it through to 100 it’s not because he spent his life raging about partisan political nonsense and seeking to impose his will upon others. We should all take a lesson from his playbook, but – like global warming – chances are that it’s already too late.

The film being reviewed this week is Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, which is only available on Netflix but is far superior to this week’s theatrical releases. The best of the bunch was probably Antoinette in the Cévennes, which is a charming French comedy but not exactly deep. By contrast, Sorkin’s film is a political talk-fest that draws out all the underlying antagonisms that bedevilled – and still bedevil – American society. It demonstrates the gulf that exists between the rhetoric of democracy and personal freedom, and the reality of a state devoted to the maintenance of power. Most importantly the film shows that our present-day dilemmas were all active in the 1960s. Momentarily restrained by a liberal ascendency it has only required social media, with its capacity for spreading hate speech far and wide, to bring all the old demons back to life.