When 1984 passed without much sign that George Orwell’s prophecies were coming to pass, we might have been permitted a sigh of relief. But there are signs now that such a sigh would have been premature.
The kind of society envisaged by Orwell is now at the door, and not primarily because of the swing to right-wing politics. It may in fact be time to abandon the terms right-wing and left-wing, because both of them have the capacity to destroy freedom through imposing their own doctrines on people generally.
One of the signs of a 1984 society was the corruption of language, so that words did not mean what they seemed to mean. Today we are stigmatised if we are not “tolerant”. But what does that mean?
It used to mean, in the words of Tim Dieppe, accepting the existence of ideas with which you disagree. “It now tends to mean accepting all other ideas as equally valid, unless you happen to disagree with this meaning of ‘tolerance’ – in which case you are not ‘tolerated’.”
People who believe that there are absolute truths or moral values are often said to be intolerant, though this is not necessarily the case at all. If I believe that certain lifestyles are wrong, I am just expressing an opinion, and it is impossible to deduce from that how tolerant of other opinions I am. It is even less logical to jump from that to say that I hate those who have a different view.
What we can easily end up with here is a society where those accused wrongly of hating are in fact being hated (and not tolerated) by people who believe they themselves are tolerant and hate-free.
Spooky? What about the idea of equality? Sounds wonderful, but it has come to assume a moral neutrality of all beliefs. Some people believe it is neutral not to believe in God, but in fact that is often just as strong a belief as being a Christian.
The Equality Commission in Northern Ireland prosecuted Ashers bakery for not being willing to make a cake that would promote same-sex marriage – in fact refusing to act against their beliefs, which did not involve hate or intolerance.
Felix Ngole, meanwhile, was expelled from Sheffield University after posting on Facebook an opinion in support of biblical teaching on marriage. What is that all about? Surely it is intolerance by the university of views that it disagrees with, plus lack of respect for free speech. As Voltaire (an atheist) would have said, even if we disagree with an opinion we should defend absolutely the right to express it.
In the near future holders of public office, such as school governors, civil servants, councillors, parliamentarians, police and judiciary, may be required to swear an equality oath – that is, an oath to uphold British values. If those values require agreement not to express certain views, Christians could be barred from public office. Is this what we want, when our basic freedoms in the UK have grown out of a Christian heritage?
There are other examples of 1984 behaviour – for example “hate incidents”, which the police are obliged to investigate on the basis of one person’s view of something quoted elsewhere. And the agreement between the EU and social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to take down any posts if “civil society” groups claim they constitute “hate speech”.
This effectively allows lobby groups, including Islamists, to censor opinions they disagree with by getting their members to mass report them.
Tolerance? Hate? Equality?
Confused? You will be.