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Our humanitarian calling
"I told you so" may not be such a great thing to say
I hope you will excuse me returning to the context of Oxford University, having only recently written on the subject. I attended a reunion dinner on Friday, and it’s my lived reality, so I don’t apologise for it. The college is essentially a very pretty conference centre, and once you strip away all the pretence, it’s an ordinary human institution with people facing ordinary human problems.
Five of the eight mathematics alumni from my year were present; one of the three not in attendance became extremely wealthy and funded an extension of the college. The new quad is named after him. I turned up with my old tutorial partner in my battered 20 year old diesel car (turbo not included), so am living a rather different lifestyle. There are probably admin and catering staff who make more money than I do.
Most of us right now are struggling to deal with dual realities: of being ‘awake’, and having a consciousness that let us perceive how others are in an induced trance and so are ‘asleep’. The black magic spell doesn’t work on everyone, and somehow a portion of us are innately resistant. We cannot claim personal merit for our gift to shy away from collectivist mantras and communist methods. This divide was very visible among the alumni present.
The specific reason I am returning to this institution is that my own life history is anchored there. I first met my tutorial partner, one one of my friends of longest standing (and a very awake Christian), as a 17 year old at the entrance interviews. The people I was sitting around are were barely adults when we first met, and are now in our early 50s. Some of us struggled back then, as the quality of the teaching was highly variable, and our formal subject turned out not to be our real calling in life.
Rather than seeing privileged members of the intellectual elite, I see vulnerable middle aged men and women who are doing their best to make sense of life and get along. By mid-life we have accumulated and lost a number of partners, spawned children and seen them move away, and had health and financial ups and downs. More than one person expressed an ambivalence about their connection to the place and the brand it projects, since it puts an unhelpful expectation on the unique individual.
It is easy to make sweeping comments about the failure of the establishment in the context of a war of infiltration and subversion. It is different when you see people you know nervously comparing notes on how many genocidal jabs they have had, to reassure each other it’s not the problem they deep down suspect it is. As joint longstanding members of the “Order of the Oddities”, I found it easier to relate to their personal loss, and harder to condemn them for being duped.
It was also easier to see the patchwork of wise and foolish in each person, which no doubt I share. Regenerative agriculture seems like a great idea; “climate change” is a tax scam and power play. The same person can pursue both with vigour. A friend reminded me not to condemn others as “numpties”, but to soften it to “each of us has blind spots, and some are larger than others”. Being with real humans, and seeing their perception problem, makes it easier to let go of the stridency.
For better or worse my cohort is exceptionally “white British”, and it was noteworthy as I stood in the main quad looking over the crowd. As someone who has spent many years living in London, it’s a bit of an oddity. I have only had one comparable experience recently, up in the North East at a christening party. One cannot but wonder how well these people are connected into the wider reality of our society. It isn’t just about wealth and privilege, but also visibility of some of the grubbier parts of life.
The person sat opposite me is an alumnus of my own college, as well as the head of another college. She is someone of great standing in our society. Her husband is the headmaster of a posh school. She was proudly telling me of the achievement of the staff and students during Covid and lockdowns; there was no thought to the possibility it was a fraud with terrible consequences. She did say that many students had become totally withdrawn, and hardly left their rooms. They felt “hyper-responsible” for not infecting and killing others.
What struck me listening to her and to others was that each of those who was duped into participating in the greatest hoax of all time now faces an agonising “awakening”. They were deceived and betrayed, and conned in turn into abusing the legitimate power they had acquired at great cost to themselves. Being people I could relate to over such a long period of time, it was no so easy to dismiss them as “morons with attitude”. Having invested everything to climb to the apex of academic and professional excellence, they face humiliation for lacking street smarts. It’s not something I relish watching, and find no pleasure in their downfall.
The “fundamental attribution error” tells us that we should look at context and systems, not persons and motives. The intellectual establishment revolves around published papers and peer review. This notoriously reinforces groupthink and consensus, and suppressed radical ideas and paradigm change. A lawyer also talked of how in law “facts” are things the parties agree on, and that’s not the same as objective reality. A judge can choose, lawfully, to change “facts” under some circumstances. The rejection of dissidence and objective reality is hard wired into the fabric of our society.
When the nature of a “fact” is made collectivist and subjective, it is no wonder that people struggle to relate to a world that includes powerful adversaries with weapons of mass deception. The pursuit of knowledge is not synonymous with the pursuit of truth; the art of unlearning is deprecated. A false morality has taken hold that puts "progressive" agendas ahead of tried and tested wisdom. A unidimensional (intellectual) fight against ignorance ignores the orthogonal (spiritual) battle against delusion.
It is easy to condemn those who ignored our warnings, and mocked our apostasy from the Cult of Covid — and its sacrament of the “poison poke”. The horrific tragedy of sterilised children and adults with cancer means we should not reverse roles and become condescending and conceited in return. Being with those who I saw through the lens of a life journey, not a transient group affiliation or political stance, helped me to re-centre myself on their humanity, our fallibility, and everyone’s suffering.
My brief experience of being back in Oxford taught me to to reignite my compassion. At least I learned one thing from having attended, however belated! (It also taught me that when the person next to you in the seating plan doesn’t turn up, you get to eat his dinner too, and very nice it was.) Each person who was deceived faces a personal sorrow. For them it is their whole world that has spontaneously deconstructed itself. While we should not mollycoddle them — that would cost us respect and there are consequences to folly — we should offer solace and support.
Every institution now faces a phase of collapse, reconfiguration, and renewal as the Great Awakening unfolds. In that sense my college is absolutely nothing special — it has common mission, values, and leadership issues with the local fire station, or a national supermarket chain. The “rude awakening” of hard disclosure is going to be painful for all, and is especially agonising for those whose identity is wrapped up in elitist ideology. It serves us all to put out humanitarian comfort mission first, and leave our “told you sos” until later.