Tuesday, November 14, 2023


I think we all need to be a bit more non-binary, maybe not in THAT sense, indeed, many of those who proclaim themselves as thus are often fanatically binary in almost every other aspect of their interactions with the culture. No, what I am hoping for is a resurgence of the apparently dangerous notion that there might be, at least, two sides to any dispute.

After graduating and spending some time over here in Central America, I returned to London and got a job in the sheet music department at Foyles on Charing Cross Road.

It became obvious after a month or two that some of our regular floating browsers were not musicians, but instead scientologists.

Like the Israeli security guard who used to hide behind carousels of scores in order to closely observe and then pounce on thieves, these individuals were predatory in aspect. Just a short stroll away from their London HQ on Tottenham Court Road, they were using the capital's most famous bookshop as a hunting ground...for new recruits.

The day I discovered their true identity was a morning during which I had been conversing about the sect with a colleague. One of them overheard, rushed over and without much ado, made some pointed interjections.

All future engagements with them heated up along similarly rapid lines. They could be measured (and relentlessly patronising), unless one challenged one or more of their key tenets, and then the toys all came flying out of the pram.

And in the midst of these hissy fits, one could find oneself faced with sudden viperine anger of the kind that, outside of such cults, one possibly only ever encounters amongst frustrated drug users.

In three years at Cambridge I had never really come across anyone this impossible to engage with, except on their own terms. My suspicion is that there are more of their sort now in academia than there were back in the 80s.

The Palestine solidarity massive is a curious agglomeration of individual and collective needs to be heard and not listen.

There are people who genuinely seem to want peace, others that simply want a ceasefire in order to be able to pursue their asymmetrical conflict without any blowback of any sort from more intelligent, better armed opponents.

There are Islamists, Marxists, open and closet Anti-Semites, and what I would call Tantrumists — Gen Zedders that just need to have a big cathartic strop in public every so often.

And what these past few weeks have shown me is that it is not the most obviously toxic ingredients in this soup that we need to be most worried about.

The voices of elite-educated reason on Twitter (X) want us to get in a froth about some old dickhead from Pakistan who is more obviously un-western than anti-western, and who mouths off about Hitler not doing a good enough job. This individual, and others like him, are not exactly harmless, and will probably end up on a watch list pretty quickly if they continue to proclaim their un-enlightened backwardness when surrounded by a crowd of onlookers with smartphones as opposed to say, inside their mosque.

But they are not the real problem. Nor really is it the Hamas cosplayers shouting "Allahu Akbar".

It's the cultists. The ones that start off explaining their worldview in a measured, patronising manner but react with instantaneous, unlooked-for ire (and a surge of equivocation), should you question their holy terminology: genocide, Zionist entity, settler state, apartheid, imperialism and so on.

I listened to one yesterday, interviewed by the Times: a young Jewish film critic. I got goose-bumps. It was chilling. Asked about a sniper that reportedly shot at journalists the day before from a Gaza hospital, she coldly replied: "That's your intelligence...not mine." Quite. She might as well have said: "I am not here to be bothered by facts which don't fit my narrative".

These 'individuals' have their parallels in the anti-racist and transphobia inquisitions. In fact, identity politics seems to mean that everyone is being invited to belong to one of these sects. Like all those non-binary people with rigidly binary perspectives, we now seem to have a tolerant society just so every one can be intolerant in their own way.*

And this is a challenge for the liberal tenets of free thought and speech that I have long revered in my own, tolerant, way.

I never saw a reason to repress the members of the Church of Scientology even though I recognised that they could be manipulative and abusive. Yet the problem seemed rather small scale and the law and its officers could deal with the extreme cases.

But now I am not so sure how small scale the problem of cultism is at all, and whether the authorities have any sort of clue how to respond.

England used to have a sort of natural inoculation against these kind of closed-off mentalities. In the Middle Ages all kinds of bizarre movements would germinate on the continent, such as the Flagellants, but upon crossing the Channel, found that they suffered the same fate as most British comics in Hollywood, with the key difference that they were laughed at. 


* Tolerance as a sort of formalised blind eye to a patchwork of localised intolerances might be said to be one of the founding principles of the USA, so maybe its just another of those 'cultural exports' we now have to deal with.  





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