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Artillery Row

The war on noticing in modern Britain

How DEI initiatives and the worldview behind them dull people’s natural perceptiveness

“Political correctness is a war on noticing” is my favourite Sailerism, as it perfectly captures what our ruling social ideology boils down to at the level of everyday life. His adage is now over a decade old and political correctness as a concept has been subsumed within that of woke, but Sailer’s characterisation is as valid as ever. In today’s Britain there is more to notice than ever before, while simultaneously the taboo against it keeps growing stronger. What this means is that people’s natural perceptiveness about the patterns of human behaviour they observe is dulled, either subconsciously, by their own self-censoring mechanisms, or deliberately, by those of the institutions they inhabit. 

One recent example is the General Medical Council’s “targets to address areas of inequality”. The GMC aims to “eliminate two areas of inequality affecting doctors” which are that “ethnic minority doctors are twice as likely to be referred to us by their employer than white doctors” and that “doctors who gained their medical degree outside the UK are three times more likely to be referred to us than doctors who took their medical degree in the UK.” If you were into noticing things, you might be able to think of some valid reasons why doctors who qualified outside the UK are more likely to be referred to the UK regulator than those who qualified in the UK, and then to consider perhaps whether this disparity is an indictment of our policy of importing medical staff rather than training sufficient numbers of our own. If you were not into noticing though, or more likely if you were forbidden from noticing either by self or organisational censorship, then you would view this statistic as merely “an area of inequality to be eliminated”, as the GMC appears to. The GMC’s responsibility is supposed to be to “protect, promote and maintain the health and safety of the public”, yet this is clearly not what they are prioritising here: one of many examples of where the demands of DEI override an institution’s actual purpose. As for the other area of inequality, ethnic minority doctors vs white doctors, this one could indeed be down to unfair discrimination, it could be some other factor, or it could be a combination, but given what we know about the anti-racist philosophies behind DEI initiatives, the same anti-noticing taboo would preclude a fair minded investigation. I wouldn’t put it past the GMC to have not separated UK vs non-UK qualified ethnic minority doctors in the statistics, which would mean the first “area of inequality” would be a function of the second.

Another example of the war on noticing is the controversy over high rates of school exclusions supposedly experienced by black children, which violate schools’ statutory duty not to discriminate against pupils over race. If you were into noticing things then you might note that the high rates apply only to black Caribbean children, not to black African ones (who have lower exclusion rates than white pupils overall) and therefore you would conclude that it is in fact clearly nothing to do with racial discrimination by schools at all but rather about cultural and/or economic factors in the caribbean population (and indeed to some extent in the white British population as well, considering they have higher exclusion rates than most immigrant groups). If you were not into or forbidden from noticing though, as Southwark Council seems to be, then you might decide to stop excluding disruptive pupils at all because you were afraid doing so might mean you’re racist. Of course, even if the African/Caribbean difference was absent this does not necessarily mean that the cause of overrepresentation would be racism, but the obvious cultural reasons in this case make it an especially egregious example of easily avoidable stupidity. 

Then there’s the ever growing list of female sex offenders who turn out to be trans women. “Trans women are women” is a perfect example of a statement of allegiance to the war on noticing. TWAW as an ideal can be preserved in some contexts such as white-collar workplaces where inherent sex differences can be elided, but the problem for its advocates is that in other contexts where these differences are more noticeable it becomes laughable. Real female sex offenders are so rare that it only takes a small number of male ones who are or who claim to be trans women to massively skew the statistics, as J. K. Rowling recently illustrated. As of March 2021 around half of women imprisoned for sex offences were trans women, despite them making up only 0.0016 per cent of the general female population. If nothing else, at least these trans sex offenders are doing their bit for gender equality in fields where women have traditionally been underrepresented.

The taboo on noticing demonstrably contributed to the deaths of 22 people and the maiming of hundreds of others

The twenty two people murdered by Salman Abedi in the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing were literally victims of the war on noticing. During the public inquiry into the bombing a security guard admitted that he did not approach the bomber for fear of being branded racist: “I did not want people to think I am stereotyping him because of his race … I was scared of being wrong and being branded a racist if I got it wrong and would have got into trouble” he said. Isn’t it quite incredible that this admission has been widely known now for years yet no lessons have been learned? The taboo on noticing demonstrably contributed to the deaths of 22 people and the maiming of hundreds of others, but this is generally ignored and we are encouraged instead to not look back in anger and instead to ramp up the war on noticing.

I could go on and on. The war on noticing contributed to the abysmal response of the authorities to grooming gangs. It is behind the many examples over the years of the Met Police being forced to change their approach to tackling crime solely because black men were overrepresented as perpetrators. And behind the battle to convince the public that trans women have no inherent advantages and so should be able to compete in womens’ sport. Forbidding people from noticing isn’t simply politeness, it has real costs, both for victims of crime, terrorism and antisocial behaviour, but also in a broader more spiritual sense: it is degrading for those of us who prefer to trust the evidence of our own eyes and our own reason over what we are told to believe.

Is the war on noticing fatal for society?

How dangerous for a society is the war on noticing? Today’s ruling opinion seems to hold that the aforementioned victims merely represent acceptable collateral damage and that the show can go on rolling indefinitely. Some thinkers, though finding wokeness to be distasteful themselves, have sought to justify it from a functional perspective as a largely symbolic and relatively low cost way to include groups which do not compete sufficiently well in liberal meritocracies. Anatoly Karlin for example has claimed that “wokeness is the tribute that meritocracy pays to human dignity”. As an example Karlin has compared the divergent fates of Sam Brinton (celebrated as the first genderfluid person in US federal government leadership) with Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu. Brinton, an interesting figure who somewhat resembles Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen from the recent Dune 2 (in a dress), was flying high until two unfortunate incidents came to light where he was found to have been stealing womens’ luggage from airport carousels. He was then quietly binned. In Russia however, Shoigu, though known chiefly for his incompetence and corruption, has continued in his post for over a decade due to his loyalty to Putin. Karlin thus assesses wokeness as being manageable and much less damaging than conservative crony authoritarianism. I agree with Karlin on this — I too would prefer, if I was forced to choose between them, a regime that celebrated but then binned Sam Brinton over one that elevated and continued to support Sergei Shoigu. The US government in this case did “manage” the war on noticing such that DEI considerations did not override actual criminality when it came down to it. Unlike Karlin, however, I do not think that Putin’s Russia or wokeness are the only two choices available to us.

Another example of an organisation that seemingly managed the war on noticing is Google, which for many years proudly highlighted its diversity programmes in public while in reality continuing to hire predominantly white and Asian men as engineers in order to keep the show on the road. This is why James Damore had to go when he spoke up in his famous memo against “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”: the ideology could be ignored or worked around but it could not be challenged openly. Damore perhaps unfortunately fell victim to Richard Hanania’s “anti-woke as autism” theory, whereby “anti-wokeness strikes me as a kind of autism, mistaking social desirability bias for underlying reality.” Damore perhaps thought that if he could only explain the logical flaws in Google’s diversity policies, the company bureaucracy would come around to his side. A more sensible Damore would have worked more strategically to build alliances against DEI among power-brokers within Google. More recently though, with the embarrassment surrounding the Gemini release which portrayed things like black vikings and native American founding fathers, the costs of the war on noticing may finally have caught up to Google. Holding officially to an ideology that you do not in reality fulfil can seem like a good solution for a while, but what happens when people in the organisation don’t get the memo and actually do start trying to fulfil it? The war on noticing is not necessarily fatal, at least not directly and immediately. What it does do though is degrade institutions and repress the most perceptive people in them, which over time leads to both material and spiritual decline.

The war on noticing is not inevitable

If you had asked me a few years ago I would have been quite a doomer on this issue, viewing the seemingly inexorable strengthening of taboos against noticing as an inevitable consequence of the need to manage a diverse society. I still think that these taboos are enabled by increasing diversity and that the failure to think hard about the costs of the immigration-driven transformation of Britain has been the worst failing of our ruling class in the last fifty years at minimum. However, more recently I have come to see our current situation more as a consequence of the ideology that has taken hold of this ruling class. The situation is certainly abetted by diversity, but it is not made inevitable by it.

There is no reason to believe that there is an especially large number of people in Britain, of whatever background, who are on board with the war on noticing. Those that are can perhaps be conceptualised as the 13 per cent of the population who the More in Common report on 2020s Britain described as Progressive Activists, who have sharply divergent views on most social issues from the rest of the country. This group is, to give one illustrative example, the only subset of the population where over half think that workplaces do not focus enough on diversity and inclusion. Or for an example more relevant to the war on noticing, stop and search, a policy which is of course frequently branded as racist by progressive activist types. Even among black people, who are generally deemed by this sort of person to be the most unfairly targeted group, slightly more support than oppose it, while among all other ethnic groups, the numbers are more in support. I am confident that we would find the same results in opinions of how to deal with disruptive behaviour in schools, crime, illegal immigration and terrorism. It is not Nigerian parents for example, who are the ones clamouring for “no exclusions” policies in schools.

Elite opinion is what really counts for shaping a society’s ideological makeup in the long term

This is not to argue that Britain will be saved by the common sense of the people buttressed by injections of “based immigrants”, nor that the progressive activists’ small numbers render them irrelevant. Elite opinion is what really counts for shaping a society’s ideological makeup in the long term and these progressive activists are disproportionately represented among those who shape it. Furthermore of course, the more diversity a society has, the more potential grievances there are for the activists to exploit. My point rather is that an alternative ruling ideology that accepted a reasonable degree of “noticing” while proscribing genuine racial discrimination is one that the population at large, whatever their background, would readily accept. Progressive activists would revolt, but most of their power is not held directly but results from their self-appointed role as moral arbiters plus the acquiescence of the rest of the population to shaming tactics and social pressure. The remainder of it comes from DEI bureaucracies which have been made necessary by quite recent legal changes, particularly the 2017 updates to the public sector equality duty in the 2010 Equality Act. If those who head our institutions had the courage and ideological justification to simply “just say no” to woke shaming and those with political power had the will to reverse the legal mechanisms that buttress it, there is little the progressive activists could actually do in response.

As for what this ideological justification would be, I think that despite the potential appearance of naivety, the most plausible option remains Chris Rufo’s version of colourblind equality coupled with strong and smart political will to enforce this (the link above regarding the Equality Act gives some examples of this in the British context). This policy has the caveat that it is a national not international one: there is no obligation to extend colourblind equality to the whole world, otherwise the entire concept of a nation becomes meaningless. There also needs to be an acceptance that groups are always going to differ on average, which is something that is already tacitly understood by most but is currently dangerous to state openly. Bringing this future about will be a challenge, but it is a necessary one if we don’t want to be prevented from noticing for the rest of our lives and to have to bear the increasing costs of not doing so.

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