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Common sense has a bad name. Among the educated middle class, it has connotations with the backwardness of provincial folk, reverence to tradition, and outmoded mores on gender and cultural diversity. That so many people continue to think in this way is no validation, because the intelligentsia derides the very notion of ‘normal’. Our culture is being turned upside down, as we reap what has been sown by decades of progressive education.

The younger generations have been schooled in defiance of time-honored social norms. Full-time mothering, gender stereotyping of firefighters and soldiers, binary sex biology, White men reading the news, jingoistic choruses at Last Night of the Proms, and any restrictions on who comes to Britain from abroad. How 1950s, how discriminatory! Sacred cows have been slaughtered by the counter-culture. Replacing national identification is the panoply of special status groups under the umbrella of identity politics. Instead of knowing who we are by particularity of people, place, and past, a new deck of cards has been dealt. Now each person’s value is determined by gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, with favor conferred on perceived victims of prejudice.

In their ardent support for emancipatory causes, the younger student and graduate cohorts believe themselves to be anti-Establishment. Yet they are on the same side as the liberal-left polity that emerged from the postmodern deconstruction agenda. In the 1960s and 70s, society was radically reviewed through the prism of power relations, as defined by feminists and other identitarian movements. But those anti-Establishment agitators forged a new Establishment, and as repeated throughout the annals of history, they solidified their privileged position. The ancien regime was ousted and barred from stepping back over the threshold.

Activists in the recent past were genuinely fighting against injustice; for example, homosexual rights. Their voices were a clarion for liberty. But campaigners have progressed from equality of opportunity to equality of outcome to demanding special status for favored groups. In Orwell’s words, some more equal than others. Reinforced by laws and institutional codes of conduct, Cultural Marxism is winning.

Shouldn’t offspring be bucking against authority, and the attitudes of their elders? This hasn’t happened. Instead of changing course, the younger generation has ventured further along the path taken by their parents, who seem relatively cautious and not fully detached from the ley-lines of family, faith, and nationhood. Liberal-minded mothers and fathers, who demonstrated against nuclear weapons or for gay rights, now find themselves chastised for wrong-think by their ‘woke’ sons and daughters.

An easy target is the unenlightened masses (both middle-England social conservatives and working-class Labour voters). These are the long-suffering folk who grumble about incessant political correctness and petty bureaucracy but tend to accept their lot. More troublesome are the small but influential band of libertarians. These thinkers (such as Sargon of Akkad and Paul Joseph Watson) can see that the emperor has no clothes and that the supposedly liberal Establishment is really an authoritarian elite.

Nowadays the young tend to approve of constraints on individual autonomy. Freedom of speech, democracy, and equality before the law are not appreciated, for they are interpreted as a license for hatred, rule by ignorance, and ‘the patriarchy’. Nurtured to believe in a neoliberal value system, the globalist graduate class is offended by anything hinting of sexism, Islamophobia or racism, or any reluctance for the new creed of transgenderism.

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Perhaps young people are subconsciously aware of the incompatibilities in identity politics, such as feminism versus transgender rights, Islam versus homosexuality, and open borders versus green ecology. But they don’t show any willingness to acknowledge let alone debate these dilemmas. Their Panglossian world is a pursuit of ‘tolerance’, ‘social justice’ and ‘diversity’. Scratch the surface and you’ll find no rational argument against intolerance, injustice or cultural imposition.

Cognitive dissonance is avoided through moral relativism. It’s okay to lampoon Christians (the small minority) who reject the theory of evolution, while nothing is said of the wider prevalence of such skepticism among Muslims. It is okay for Black actors to play historical White characters while vice versa is forbidden. Relativist thinking allows identity status to trump universal laws or logic. When Serena Williams spouted a volley of invective at an umpire for awarding a point to her opponent, she was deemed right because she is Black and female. What you are is more important than who you are.

This moral framework is built not on sturdy blocks of reason, but a flimsy façade of emotionalized value judgments. In York, a rally by ex-soldiers persecuted by lawyers for their actions in the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland attracted placard-bearing students chanting ‘racists off our streets’. Outside a court in Huddersfield, where several Muslim men were being tried for gang-rape of White schoolgirls, another gathering of anti-racist protestors appeared. Police forces are always publicising their pursuit of hate crime, but no action is taken against this hateful insensitivity to the families of rape victims or old soldiers who had served their country in exceptionally trying circumstances.

How can educated young people think so irrationally? We interpret this distorted moralism not as deliberate individual action but as an expression of oppressively regulated group-think. Conflicting ideas are not discussed but simplified into moral dichotomies of good or bad. A politically-incorrect utterance is tackled not only by rejecting the idea but also the person. Ad hominem attacks are then permissible, sometimes with the zeal of the ‘two-minute hate’ of Orwell’s 1984.

This reactionary moralism has spread like a virus, transmitted by culture rather than by pathogens. We have named this disease ‘moralitis’, as described in fuller detail in our monograph.

Although reaching an epidemic level in society, moralitis is highly concentrated in the political and cultural Establishment, and in the younger generations. However, the majority of the afflicted have a mild form of the disease. They are carriers, and although they display symptoms of moralistic certainty, they are mostly virtue-signaling. Having absorbed the ideological divisions of good and bad, they respond emotionally to any challenge to the approved schema, partly because they lack the confidence to defend their position. Their words and actions are mere compliance.

The more severe cases are the contagious, who have a fixed delusional mentality, and who propagate an uncompromising ideology of identity politics. These are the vociferous doctrinaires who tend to seek positions of influence, from becoming student union officials to rapid career advancement. Few lesser mortals will dare to stand in their way. The contagious like demonstrations. This is a proclivity of the intellectual Left, which has little faith in people making up their own minds: they are too easily misled by the Sun, Daily Mail or demagogues like Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson. ‘Safe spaces’ and ‘no-platforming’ are enforced on campus, and the puritanical censorship is carried over to social media and to the public square.

To label people as sick for being socially conscious will be taken as an insult. Yet the younger generation describe themselves as vulnerable and unstable. The putative mental health crisis is not an explosion of the genuine cases (of which there are sadly too many), but the contrived, narcissistic demand for special attention, often deploying the tactics of identity politics. The #MeToo meme of misogynistic harassment is a sign of our times: a celebrity’s disclosure is piggybacked for personal use. To criticise this as hysterical would generate hysteria, just as accusing fundamentalist Islam of violence would incur a wrath of violence.

This is just a brief introduction to our thesis of a cultural virus. Shortly after publication, there was an acute outbreak of moralitis in the reaction to Boris Johnson’s comments on the burqa. The mistake made by conservatives is to attempt rational dialogue with people who interpret situations from an emotionalized morality.

You cannot reason with the mad.

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By Robert Oulds and Dr. Niall McCrae.

by Robert Oulds

Robert Oulds, MA FRSA, Director of the Bruges Group, is the the co-author of Moralitis: A Cultural Virus. Robert regularly appears on television and radio.

London