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Artillery Row

Attack is the best form of defence

The right cannot always be fighting a rearguard action in the culture wars

Recently I did something I have never done before: I messaged a personal acquaintance to attack their politics.

This person, an artist, had been posting about museum protests, such as those done by Just Stop Oil. A follower had asked what they thought about them, and they had replied with a wishy washy answer — not committing either way, albeit hinting at a bit of upset — before concluding that they didn’t know enough about the subject.

I messaged to ask if they’d seen the painting of Balfour that had been destroyed at Cambridge University last month. I said that events were “scary” and that journalists were trying to take a stand but we needed artists to join us.

It turned out the artist did know about this subject after all. They told me that Balfour’s destruction didn’t count as a “museum protest” and it wasn’t a “‘great’ painting for starters”. They added that they had the feeling we wouldn’t see “eye to eye”. I replied “Yes, because I call out authoritarianism”.

Here was someone whose career revolves around creating and selling things, as well as having their work nicely framed in nice exhibitions — yet they were prepared to support vandalism under the pseudo justification of social justice. They told me the issue at hand was “complex” and not as “conveniently clear cut as one might like”. All I saw was someone who wanted a get-out clause when courage was needed.

Sadly, I wasn’t surprised. It’s rare to find artists who challenge social justice orthodoxies or say anything brave. The sector is one of the most conformist and authoritarian, whereas those actually trying to protect work in their industry are asking to be metaphorically burned at the stake.

My passive-aggressive exchange with the artist was hardly the intellectual equivalent of Waterloo, I should add, but it got me thinking about how often I am on the “defence” politically speaking. This may sound surprising to anyone who reads my work/ knows me on social media, but I am not particularly combative in my personal life. I tend to compartmentalise my politics — saving it for friends who are on the same page — and am hardly alone in this.

However, it occurred to me that this urge for “a quiet life” may be partly why my “side” (I refuse to call us conservative, as we are mostly liberals/libertarians) aren’t winning the culture wars, evidenced by the amount of ideological capture in the arts and most of our public institutions. 

We are rarely the first to “fire”, mostly reacting to attacks by the Woke Left, whether they’re trying to sack someone for having unorthodox views or they’re pulling down statues. The term “silent majority” exists precisely because vast swathes of people don’t speak up about their opinions. 

But what if we actually took a leaf out of the Woke Left’s book? Take the amount of times most “heretics” — Brexiteers/ those who don’t believe women can have a penis/ insert your own example — have been messaged by a personal contact to be told they’re a wrong ‘un. The ratio is normally very imbalanced, with a “wokie” much more likely to be giving the “heretic” a piece of their mind.

Their courage has made it ten times easier for others to challenge dangerous orthodoxies

Why wait for them to take a swing, though? One thing I love about Gender Critical feminists on social media and otherwise is that they are proud of their ideological position. They call themselves names like “Terfragette” — owning the term “TERF” “(Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist), which is so often used against them — and are proactive as campaigners. They aren’t merely “defending” themselves. GCs are on the attack; charging into battle, in fact. Their courage has made it ten times easier for others to challenge dangerous orthodoxies, across different political areas.

Having thought about the destruction of the Balfour painting, I wondered what would happen if “my side” emailed artists, asking them to show their support for the safety of exhibitions/ art works. Or to ask them if they condemn Humza Yousaf’s dystopian Hate Crime Act? The purpose would be to put them on the spot — in the way the Left is so good at doing. Sadly, shame works; we have to make it embarrassing to not defend free speech and Enlightenment values, and cool to do the opposite.

The point is that we cannot be as polite or apologetic as we have been, acting as though we have a dirty secret for the crime of believing in the pillars of a liberal democracy. Like it or not, we have to show ideological aggression, borrowing the tactics of those we oppose. We, like the woke, believe we are on the right side of history, after all.

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