Skip to content

Monthly Archives: January 2019

Ecstatic experiences and the trap of specialness

Here’s a conversation between me and David Fuller of Rebel Wisdom, about ecstatic experiences, spiritual pride and the trap of feeling special. I’m doing a talk on Aldous Huxley’s life and thought about ecstatic experiences this Wednesday evening in London. You can get tickets here.

 

Culture war profiteering

Another bomb has gone off in the culture wars. Gillette, the razor manufacturer, has sparked outrage – OUTRAGE! – with its advert suggesting men can and should do better. It’s been watched 19 million times on YouTube, rapidly attracting a million dislikes, as well as half a million likes.

Like it or hate it, people are talking about it. It’s generated a huge amount of publicity for Gillette, just like Nike’s advert featuring NFL refusenik Colin Kaapernick.

It’s a marketing tactic that goes all the way back to Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud and father of public relations. He formulated shocking, attention-grabbing marketing tactics, like arranging a march of suffragettes in New York, who all lit cigarettes at the same time. A press release announced they were lighting ‘torches of freedom’. The campaign was intentionally provocative. Bernays obviously didn’t really give a damn about the suffragettes. He was making waves, then riding those waves to get attention.

This is what’s known as culture war profiteering. War profiteers don’t care who’s winning, they see any war as an opportunity to make money. The last thing they want is for the war to stop, so they stoke it to continue cashing in.

Piers Morgan understands the game better than most. He obviously weighed in on the major issue of the day – the Gillette advert – declaring it ‘the worst ever betrayal of men’. Does he really believe that? It doesn’t matter. He seeks confrontations, so the media can report on his ‘furious row with Carol Vorderman’, or ‘Twitter feud with Ariana Grande’. It’s the Trump playbook. Provoke outrage. Get attention. Get clicks.

Milo Yiannopolous was a very successful culture war profiteer, for a while. Did he really believe that ‘feminism is cancer’? Who cares. It got a lot of attention. And hundreds of thousands of angry online men bought into his stage-managed provocations. Ghostbusters is being re-made with a female cast? Who gives a shit. But any incident can be stoked up by culture war profiteers. Here’s a riot, and I’m selling bricks.

Even a well-meaning intellectual like Jordan Peterson can’t resist but profit off the culture wars. It’s just too easy money. There’s the Jordan Peterson who writes earnest but mediocre books like 12 Rules for Living, and there’s the online Jordan Peterson, who goes into extraordinary paroxysms about post-modernism and social justice warriors. And it’s this latter Jordan Peterson who is truly raking it in.

On the Left, the same rules of the attention economy apply. Hone your message into the most simplistic polarising headline you can. ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race’. That will really get the white people talking. Genius.

Politics and culture have become a Punch and Judy show, and internet giants like Google, Facebook and YouTube are the puppeteers. They’re the ones who really profit off all this outrage and polarisation. Perhaps they didn’t plan it like this. But they created an economy based on attention and clicks, and it rapidly became obvious that the more obnoxious and polarising you are, the more you get clicks. Oh no you don’t! Oh yes you do!

It’s so easy to get drawn into the Punch and Judy show and find yourself screaming at the puppets.

There is Punch, the great villain of the culture wars – the straight white male.

This week, the American Psychological Association has announced that traditional masculinity – ‘marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful.” It urges therapists to help men “identify how they have been harmed by discrimination against those who are gender nonconforming”.

Stoicism is bad? Stoicism inspired the most successful form of therapy we have – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Competitiveness is confined to ‘traditional men’ and is pathological? What a simplistic, ideological and silly statement. How OUTRAGEOUS! OH NO IT ISN’T!

It’s also easy to get triggered by the leftist ideology of intersectionality, in which your moral value is defined by your identity – black is good, white is bad, female is good, male is bad, LGBTQ is good, cis is bad. Black female lesbian is very very good. Straight white male is very very bad. Bad Mr Punch!

Morality is messier than that. I have male friends who’ve been beaten up by their female partners. I have male friends whose girlfriends got pregnant to try and keep them, and who then used the child as an emotional hostage in their campaign. I have a lot of male friends who happily accept non-traditional gender roles, and embrace being stay-at-home dads.

Yes, male mental health could be better, and male suicide is a problem. But is there really a crisis in male mental health? The statistics suggest the real crisis is in the mental health of women and girls. The rates for hospitalisation for self-harm among teenage girls has gone up 189% in the last decade in the US, and nearly that much in the UK.

Why? Psychologists think it’s mainly because of social media. Girls are more socially intelligent than boys, and this natural, biological social sensitivity has been heightened and wrecked by social media. It’s not men that’s fucking young women up. It’s Instagram and Twitter – exactly the technologies that fired up #metoo.

All sides of the culture wars buy their ammo in the same gun shops. We are all being played.

There is a genuine issue with anti-social masculinity, but it’s biological as well as cultural. Testosterone makes us men prone to aggression and it makes us horny. One of the main challenges of civilization over the millennia has been what to do about young men when they’re at their most aggressive and most horny.

Different cultures cope with this issue in different ways. The West has shifted from a culture of religious prohibition towards a culture of permissiveness and tolerance – creating several outlets for male horniness, such as pornography, prostitution, the toleration of sex before marriage, and the toleration of homosexual sex. I think that’s probably worked better than religious prohibition, judging by how Islamic and Hindu men treat women in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh or Rotherham.

What’s interesting is the interaction between culture and biology. Apparently, male testosterone levels have been declining for the last thirty years, as muscle men become less necessary for manual labour and war. Our chemistry is evolving in real time in response to cultural changes.

But that is too nuanced to get me any clicks. How’s this: THE GILLETTE ADVERT MAKES ME WANT TO SLASH MY WRISTS.