In the long-awaited follow-up to his 2016 best-seller The Strange Death of Europe, Douglas Murray interrogates the vicious new culture wars playing out in our media, universities, homes and perhaps the most violent place of all: online. The Madness of Crowds is a must-read polemic-a vociferous demand for a return to free speech in an age of mass hysteria and political correctness.
The global conversations around sexuality, race, mental health and gender are heavily policed by the loud and frequently anonymous voices on social media and in the press. Once conceived as forums for open speech, social media and online networks have emboldened the mob and exacerbated groupthink-self-censorship and public shaming have become rife. As a result, Murray argues, we have become paralyzed by the fear of being criticized and have unlearned the ability to speak frankly about some of the most important issues affecting society.
Murray walks against the tide of censorship. He asks us to think more openly about what we're afraid to say; to think outside of the mob and the psychology of the crowd.
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About the Author
Douglas Murray is Associate Director of the Henry Jackson Society and Assistant Editor of the Spectator. He also writes for a variety of other publications including the Evening Standard, Prospect and the Sunday Times and international newspapers. His first book The Strange Death of a Europe was an international bestseller and has been translated into 23 languages.
Read an Excerpt
It is a chill February day in London in 2018 and a small demonstration is taking place outside a cinema just off Piccadilly Circus. Wrapped-up warm, the quiet protestors are holding up posters that say 'Silenced' in capital letters. Most Londoners trying to get to their bus stops or across to the bars of Soho barely notice them. A passing couple clock that the group is mainly middle-aged and elderly. One says to the other, 'Some kind of UKIP protest I guess.' But it is not. The assembled dozens came here to watch a film called Voices of the Silenced. But as their placards point out, Voices of the Silenced has itself been silenced.
The organizers booked the cinema three months earlier, and say they had complied with all the cinema's rules for private screenings, including sending them the film in advance. But a day before the screening Pink News – an online remnant of Britain's gay press – found out about the screening and called for its immediate cancellation. The call was successful. The Vue cinema swerved around any negative publicity by swiftly announcing that it had the right not to honour private hires if the film to be shown was 'in direct contradiction' of its 'values'. The cinema also warned the group who had hired the venue that there might be a 'public order' and even 'security' threat if the screening was to go ahead. So on the big night, with exactly 126 people apparently travelling to attend the screening from as far away as the Netherlands, the organizers are scrambling to try to find another venue at which their assembled punters might view the film. Chief among the evening's organizers is Dr Michael Davidson of the Core Issues Trust. Davidson is not a doctor of medicine. He has a doctorate in education, but like some other public figures who use the prefix you feel that Davidson would not be displeased if someone laboured under a misapprehension about the precise nature of his qualifications.
Davidson had come to national attention in Britain six months earlier when he had been invited as a guest on ITV's Good Morning Britain, co-hosted by Piers Morgan, to discuss homosexuality and so-called 'conversion therapies'. Davidson has admitted that he used to be gay himself – or at least had 'homosexual experiences'. But at some point he decided that it was not for him. He has been married to his wife for 35 years and has two children. He believes that where he has gone other people can follow, and so through his group he offers counselling on a voluntary basis to other people who would like to move from being gay to becoming a heterosexual like himself who admits that he still gets – though doesn't act on – certain 'urges'.
When challenged about all this on national television, Davidson calmly and politely makes it clear that he thinks homosexuality is an 'aberration' and specifically that it is a learned behaviour. Asked whether it can be unlearned, he claims that it 'in some cases is reversible for people who want to make that the trajectory of their lives'. Dr Davidson managed to get this out before his main interviewer denounced him to the others present in the studio. 'Do you know what we call these people, Dr Michael?' Piers Morgan asked. 'We call them horrible little bigots, in the modern world. Just bigoted people who actually talk complete claptrap and are in my view a malevolent and dangerous part of our society. What's the matter with you? How can you think that nobody's born gay and they all get corrupted and they can all be cured? Who are you to say such garbage?'
A relatively unflustered Davidson asked Morgan for evidence that people are born gay, pointing out that neither the American Psychological Association nor the Royal College of Psychiatrists believe that homosexuality is innate and unchangeable. At which point his interviewer ordered him to 'stop talking for a moment' and 'stop banging on about whacky-backy scientists in America'. Morgan then continued to shout at his guest, 'Shut up you old bigot', before he brought the whole interview to a close with the words 'I've had enough of him. Dr Michael, shut up.' And so it finished. ITV had sent a car to a guest's home in the early morning to bring him to a national television studio only for him to be told during his interview to shut up.
Six months after that event and Davidson remains clearly unmoved by that high-profile brouhaha. Talking on his mobile phone outside the cancelled venue in Piccadilly, he is relieved to be able to tell his audience that he has finally found a venue which would allow him to screen his film. So the assembled men and women head to Westminster's Emmanuel Centre, just around the corner from the Houses of Parliament.
The doors to that venue are tightly shut, but at one side door, if you mention your name and your name is checked off the list, then the entire evening opens up. Indeed, once inside it becomes a rather jolly affair. We are all given a glass of prosecco and a bag of popcorn to take into the screening. One elderly woman comes over and thanks me for coming. 'Obviously I know your own background,' she adds, and I realize she is not talking about where I was brought up, 'as you talk about it often,' she adds gnomically. But she explains that this only means she is even more pleased to see me here. It is true that I may be the only out person at this gay-cure film-screening. But I suspect that I am not the only gay in the room.
The film Voices of the Silenced itself is less coherent than might have been hoped. The main point (as explained by Davidson himself in the film's opening) is that 'Ancient ideologies and modern ideologies are coming together.' It is never quite clear how, and the whole thing feels like two different films awkwardly melded together at a late stage in the editing process. The first film is about the ancient world, with very scary apocalyptic images. The second film consists of some very specific testimony from doctors and patients talking about being gay and then not being gay any more. As well as Dr Davidson there is a Dr Stephen Baskerville and an expert from Texas named (I cannot stifle an audible laugh) David Pickup.
So each time there is something in the film on the loss of the Temple in AD 70 and the Arch of Titus, then it cuts to the gays again. Or the ex-gays. We are told that 'the new state orthodoxy celebrates homosexuality'. Then, along with a range of 'experts' – mainly from the United States – we get the testimonies. What any of these have to do with the Arch of Titus is never fully made clear. Perhaps homosexuality is causing the collapse of this civilization? If so the accusation is never quite made. There is an 'ex-lesbian' now married with five children who says that her 'vulnerability' resurfaced ten years ago but that she got help from a ministry. Several witnesses talk of suicidal thoughts, alcohol abuse and 'self-centredness'. One (called John) mentions that his mother was 'a Jewess', which is a word you don't often hear these days. There is a lot of testimony from a handsome 29-year-old German called Marcel. He describes his own tribulations. He says that as a child his mother beat him, naked, in front of his sister and this – it is suggested – may be one of the reasons why he has in the past found himself attracted to men. Some of the interviewees were from families where their parents divorced. Others were not. Several of the interviewees seem to have been very close to their mothers. Others not.
Dr Joseph Nicolosi – one of the stars of the film – offers up the idea that many of his 'patients' actually hate their mothers, don't know how to deal with men and thus develop certain fantasies as a result. He suggests that one cure for anyone troubled by homoerotic temptations is that they might consider taking up a healthy pursuit such as 'going to a gym'. Suggesting, perhaps, that Dr Nicolosi has never been to a gym.
Of course it is easy to snigger at all this, and for some people it would be easy to be outraged too. Yet the human stories are there. John and Lindsay say that they have both suffered from SSA (Same-Sex Attraction) but have been able to tackle it together and are now working together as a very successful heterosexual couple with five children. 'It's not just us,' Lindsay reassures the viewer. 'We know several people [who have also had SSA] who are happily married. It is hard work,' she continues, with John sitting slightly awkwardly beside her. 'It's not for the faint-hearted. And I think you have to just push through. Particularly in the present era: all the media and all the cultural pressures to do something else.'
Sadder than this couple are the several interviewees who were gay once but now appear here with their faces blacked out. Perhaps it is too charitable to reflect that it wasn't so long ago that this need for blackened-out faces and back-of-head shots would have applied the other way around.
Towards the film's end an Irish pastor sums up a part of the film's point. He explains that he doesn't mind people holding out the view that homosexuality is inherent and unchangeable. He just wants to be allowed to be able to hold his view. As Dr Baskerville reiterates, only one position on this matter appears to be able to be held in academia and the media, and that is 'promotion' of homosexuality. 'Sexuality is being politicized,' we are told in the final moments. And then, after another inexplicable reference to the Ancient Jews, the film ends with the dramatic yet careful line: 'It is time to accept difference.'
Unsurprisingly this audience gives the film a very warm reception. And then something mortifying happens. Several of the film's interviewees are in the audience and are invited up onstage to receive more applause. Among them is a young British man from the film called Michael. He seems slightly twitchy and nervous and filled with suffering. His forehead is more than usually wrinkled for someone of his age. For various reasons he has already expounded on in the film he doesn't want to live as a gay man and so has put himself on an obviously internally wracking path to try to live as a heterosexual and to become (as Dr Davidson himself has) an ex-gay – perhaps also, in time, with the same pleasures of having a wife and children of his own. The evening finishes with a prayer.
On the way home and in the days that followed I wondered about my evening with the voluntary conversion therapists. And I wondered in particular why I was not more bothered by it.
First, it must be said that I do not fear these people – and certainly could not kick up that level of outrage which the gay press has decided to trade in as it loses its purpose. If there is a reason it is because I cannot see that events are going in the direction of the people in the Emmanuel Centre that night. Today, and for the foreseeable future, they are on the losing side.
When they appear on television they are treated with scorn – perhaps too much scorn. They find it hard to make watchable documentaries, and find it even harder to screen them. They are forced to hide away in secret venues, and seem unlikely to be taking anywhere by storm any time soon.
Of course if I was a young gay man growing up in parts of rural America or Britain – even today – I might think differently. Certainly if I had grown up in parts of the American Bible Belt, or had ever lived through (or been threatened with) the forced conversion therapies that went on there – and still go on in parts of the world today – I might look at Michael (Dr) Davidson and his friends in a very different light.
But here, this evening, they are the losers. And aware of the thrill that can occur when the boot is on the other foot, I feel a reluctance to treat them in victory as some of their ideological confrères might have treated me if we had met before, in different circumstances. The manner in which people and movements behave at the point of victory can be the most revealing thing about them. Do you allow arguments that worked for you to work for others? Are reciprocity and tolerance principles or fig-leaves? Do those who have been censored go on to censor others when the ability is in their own hands? Today the Vue cinema is on one side. A few decades ago they might have been on the other. And Pink News and others who celebrate their victory in chasing Voices of the Silenced a mile down the road one February night seem very ready to wield such power over a private event. In doing so they contradict the claims made by gay rights activists from the start of the battle for gay equality, which is that it should be no business of anyone else what consenting adults get up to in private. If that goes for the rights of gay groups then surely it ought to apply to the rights of Christian fundamentalists and other groups too.
There are two other things. The first is that in order to fear what was happening that evening you would have to extrapolate from it. You would have to suspect that, when Davidson says he only wants to deal with people who come to him seeking help, this is a mere cover-story. You would have to believe that this is in fact just a front – the first part of a wider plan to turn something voluntary into something compulsory and from something compulsory for some people into something compulsory for all. And that would be to trample all over one of the bases of political tolerance. It would be to award yourself the right not just to come to your own conclusions about people, but to attribute motives to others that you cannot see but which you suspect. Which leads to a question that everybody in genuinely diverse and pluralistic societies must at some point ask: 'Do we take other people at face value, or do we try to read behind their words and actions, claim to see into their hearts and there divine the true motives which their speech and actions have not yet revealed?'
If we were to do this in cases like these, then how would we do it? Do we insist that the other party has the darkest possible motives unless they fully satisfy us that their motivations are otherwise? Or do we have to learn some degree of forbearance and taking on trust? Even the responses to that question aren't fixed. They fluctuate depending on date, location, circumstance and luck. Someone now in their seventies who was put through forced conversion therapy (especially if put through 'aversion' therapy) will have more cause to be suspicious than anyone from each of the successively luckier generations that have followed. Warning sirens go off earlier if they were set earlier, or in harsher times.
Perhaps these generational and geographical differences will diminish over time and the flattening effects of social media will make everyone equally sanguine. Or perhaps these tools have the opposite effect, persuading a gay in 2019 Amsterdam that they are permanently at risk of living in 1950s Alabama. Nobody knows. We live in a world in which every fear, threat and hope imaginable is always available to us.
Yet one prerequisite for avoiding perpetual confrontation is an ability to listen to people's words and hold some trust in them. True, in borderline cases, when alerted that something strange may be going on, it may be necessary to dig behind the words to ensure that nothing else is happening. But if that has been done and nothing found then the words must be trusted. None of the press which had sought to silence Voices of the Silenced had shown that Davidson or his colleagues were forcing unwilling participants to submit to a regime of heterosexual conversion. None had even enquired into what details the film included or how his 'counselling' was being done. And so a set of assumptions had been made about his group and words assigned different interpretations because of their speaker. In this calibration 'voluntary' meant 'forced', 'counselling' meant 'persecution' and everybody who went to him was irrevocably and unalterably gay.
It is this last assumption which provokes the only big challenge that Davidson and his colleagues present. In On Liberty, first published in 1859, John Stuart Mill famously laid out four reasons for why free speech was a necessity in a free society: the first and second being that a contrary opinion may be true, or true in part, and therefore may require to be heard in order to correct your own erroneous views; the third and fourth being that even if the contrary opinion is in error, the airing of it may help to remind people of a truth and prevent its slippage into an ignorant dogma which may in time – if unchallenged – itself become lost.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Madness of Crowds"
Copyright © 2019 Douglas Murray.
Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 Gay 11
Interlude - The Marxist Foundations 51
2 Women 64
Interlude - The Impact of Tech 107
3 Race 121
Interlude - On Forgiveness 174
4 Trans 184
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A smart, well written, and reasoned argument. Murray makes meritorious arguments for careful reflection and rational thought against the tide of mindless fads in the name of nebulous ideas of social justice. You may or may not agree with every point, but his reasoning is sound. It is well written, the narrative is clear, and he makes his points without getting bogged down in the irrelevant.