Friday, 1 March 2019

The Prescriptive Society

One of the more enduring myths today is that of the legacy of the permissive society which suddenly arrived in late 1960s Britain. It is widely believed that since the cultural upheaval of that time, we have all been living in a golden age of greater enlightenment in which individual liberty and freedom has flourished, freed from the stultifying conformist straitjacket of the preceding reactionary and repressive conservative society of the 1950s. This is an outlook that has been vigorously promoted since then by the Left to camouflage the true controlling nature of their ostensibly ‘progressive’ agenda. The first person to puncture this myth was the now almost forgotten writer Tibor Szamuely, in an article for the Spectator magazine from August 1970.

Szamuely argued that the ‘myth of the permissive society is no more than a confidence trick’, one in which people suddenly became aware that they were now allowed to ‘indulge in hitherto prohibited activities’. He noted that the reality was rather different, since what happened was ‘that certain activities are now prescribed for all, whilst others are prohibited’, and branded this trend as the ‘prescriptive society’, warning that ‘if we don’t watch out it may soon become a proscriptive one’.

He correctly identified that this new found permissiveness applied ‘almost exclusively to one area’ namely that of sex. His words have a rather quaint nostalgic ring to them these days when he declared ‘we are constantly exhorted to enjoy as much sex as possible’ which ‘we are told is good for us’. This was written just before vocal feminism would start to intrude into public consciousness. So in this climate, before the women’s libbers started to take control, there was no talk then amongst the permissive apostles of sexual freedom about the horrors of ‘sexual abuse’ or ‘inappropriate touching’, which in more recent times has caused so much anguish for ‘progressive’ thinkers.

Szamuely challenged the claim of ‘progressives’ that society cannot ‘legislate for individual moral standards’, by pointing out their double standard which had resulted in ‘a greater degree of overt and covert censorship than in the past 150 years’. He identified the principle field of this censorship to be that of race, declaring that ‘the people who impose it are, almost invariably, the proponents of untrammelled sexual permissiveness’. Moreover, he exposed their additional degree of hypocrisy by observing that ‘naturally racial distinctions are disallowed, even between consenting adults, only if they offend coloured people – insulting whites is respectable, even desirable’.

Szamuely then went on to catalogue the various forms of censorship employed by ‘progressives’. He denounced the Race Relations Acts as ‘naked political censorship’, and warned of ‘other kinds of censorship that are stealthier and more dangerous’ such as the attempt to ‘desperately stamp out any attempt at the scientific study of race and racial characteristics’. In this respect he claimed not to be a geneticist, but just wanted to see the pursuit of ‘scientific correctness’ rather than what he termed ‘ideological worth’. Other forms of ‘withholding unapproved views from the public’ resulted in a situation were ‘getting these into print these days is no easy matter’. However, when ‘blasphemous’ works did manage to get published ‘by someone bold enough to challenge the ultimate progressive taboo’, reviewers can still ‘prevent them from being read’. He cited as an example books which made the ‘impious suggestion that Africa is anything less than perfect, or colonialism anything other than satanic’, were usually ignored by reviewers and ‘thus consigned to oblivion’.

He identified that ‘the most frightening aspect of the clampdown on anti-consensus views is the absence of any conspiracy behind it’, regretting that there was no ‘sinister secret agitprop’ plot, but instead a ‘progressive’ establishment ‘that has conditioned itself to react instinctively to any possible challenge’.

Szamuely asked why should ‘sexual licence be encouraged’ whilst ‘anything that can be construes as racism is suppressed’. The answer ‘progressives’ gave was that racism, unlike pornography, provoked hatred, violence and civil discord. In response Szamuely then asked why this did not also apply to class hatred, citing the several million victims of Soviet and Chinese communism. He denounced the double standard whereby the works of Marx, Lenin, Mao & Guevara are widely admired by ‘progressive’ thinkers, without them being in anyway troubled that these Marxists writers can provoke hatred and violence.

He concluded the article by questioning ‘the whole issue of permissiveness’, noting that ‘progressives have abolished the censorship of pornography’ claiming that ‘the printed word has no evil effect on the reader’, but take a completely opposite view towards publications dealing with the issue of race, because they judge that in this case ‘the printed word can have the most profound evil influence on the reader’. He proclaimed that ‘the absurdity and dishonesty of this position is self evident’ concluding that ‘progressives’ get way with this double standard because it is the essence ‘which forms the basis of our present prescriptive society’.

Regrettably, Tibor Szamuely had only a couple more years to live so he was spared the kind of society he so presciently predicted. ‘Progressives’ would soon abandon their support for pornography, after militant feminists condemned it as inciting hatred and violence towards women. In time sexual permissiveness (for heterosexuals) would also come under attack for giving licence to the predatory male. The sin of racism would be joined by sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and transphobia, and there would be a whole raft of legislation, supported by all the major political parties, to enable the state to meddle in citizens’ personal affairs in order to appease those driving a bogus egalitarianism or selective victimhood, confined, of course, to the usual protected categories of individuals.

So we have now ended up with the proscriptive society (now known as the politically correct society) that Szamuely warned against, due to the failure to challenge the zealous ‘progressive’ agenda to control speech, beliefs, opinion and behaviour, at a time when it first manifested itself under the brief libertarian cover of the permissive society.

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