Witchhunts are always with us. They are the means by which those who secretly know they are worthless get to feel superior to the people around them who make them feel that way. Being a witch, keeping a cat, not going to church, going to the wrong church, getting out of bed with the wrong foot, smoking, condemning homosexuality, not condemning homosexuality, having eyes the wrong colour, calling a black person coloured or a disabled person crippled, not believing in global warming or whatever the orthodoxy is.
Finding reasons to declare others to belong to some category of non-person has a number of important functions. It allows those who have a deep sense of their own inadequacy and worthlessness to feel that someone else is worth less than they are. It provides a sense of identity, and divides in-groups from out-groups, which is essential to our psychology. Most people are made very anxious by not having a set of external identities to impose upon themselves.
This is why the orthodoxy that serves to separate, in their own minds, the good from the ungood, is completely arbitrary. It doesn’t have to respond to any logic, or be consonant with any underlying morality, or even be internally coherent. All it needs is to sound right at a particular moment, and then it can be used to dehumanise those we dislike. Aside from the arbitrariness of what is right and wrong, another important characteristic is that the manifestation (or suspicion) of unorthodoxy trumps any virtue or strength that the person might otherwise possess, however many and however great.
People who are not unintelligent and think themselves rational can (for example) condemn democracy/capitalism/freedom because democratic/capitalist/free societies are not perfect, while excusing the abject economic and social failure of their favourite totalitarians as minor blemishes. I don’t know where I read the story of Giuseppe the Cocksucker, but it serves as a parable:
Said Giuseppe, “I built a factory here when the mines closed. I’ve employed half the village for fifty years. I rebuilt the church and dedicated a shrine to the local Virgin. I built a high school, a library, a clinic, a sports hall. I sponsor the football club. I take out advertising on every hoarding that’s unsold, and in every edition of the town newspaper. I run a fund that pays for young people to go to university in the city. I give every couple a car and a down payment on a house when they marry. I have nurses to look after the old people when they retire. Once I sucked a cock. Ask them who I am, go on, ask them. They’ll tell you, he’s Giuseppe the cocksucker.”
So who defines the witches of the moment? The subset of those who want to have control of others by dividing them who are able to make their particular hatred popular.
It is not unusual to see pacifists display murderous fury when their ideas are challenged. And the recent fashion for the end of the world by global warming has produced a particular virulent strain of misanthropic Malthusian, be it the world government fanatics, the advocates of stone age living, or the totalitarians who would dictate every mouthful we are allowed to consume and every step we are permitted to take. Prominent politicians and journalists on national newspapers are making comparisons with paedophiles and Nazis because not everyone is convinced that we’re all going to die in the next five minutes. The UAF, with the excuse of opposing the crude and sometimes thuggish racism of the EDL and the more genteel racism of the BNP, resort to every kind of mindless brutality. They are ‘right’, so they have permission to kill and destroy. It is a very common mentality, though not always expressed in the same fashion..
I suspect that a peculiar set of circumstances make these things easier to do in England. I visit about once a year and I am always struck by new things which NORMAL DECENT PEOPLE have discovered that NORMAL DECENT PEOPLE DON’T DO. A television programme or newspaper gives prominence to a particular point of view, or political initiative, is sufficient to start people spying reporting their neighbours, shouting at strangers in the street, and pinning medals on themselves, for something which no one would have bothered about a short while before. We (I am English in case anyone was wondering) seem to be particularly malleable, especially susceptible to taking at face value some random commentators division of people into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and constructing new beliefs about ourselves and others, a new ‘them’ and ‘us’, as though they were truths cast in stone from the dawn of time.
The number of apparently unexceptionable opinions that people feel entitled to shout abuse at you, or attack you, for expressing, or just for being suspected of holding, is disturbing. The number of things it is impossible to discuss rationally appears to be growing. I wonder where it will end.