Title: The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity
Author: Douglas Murray
Douglas Murray’s book The Madness of Crowds is a much-needed social commentary in this time of great unreason. Bearing the subtitle ‘gender, race, and identity’ his book undertakes some very heavy lifting, addressing topics which scare many of us into silence. The thought of social backlash by a vocal minority is enough to seal the mouths of most lesser men and women. But remaining quiet is something which Murray stubbornly refuses to do. Instead, by segmenting this book into four main chapters – Gay, Women, Race, and Trans – Murray exposes the reader to the many contradictions which permeate the political landscape.
More importantly, though, we see Murray go against the grain as he emphasises the need for more dialogue on complex and taboo subjects. And if his mere plea for more conversation is not enough, he makes sure to demonstrate the negative outcomes which arise from having unquestionable narratives, and from creating an atmosphere where people feel they have to self-censor. At times, his repetitive allusions to woke culture can become tiresome, but the intractable questions that Murray raises will ensure your intellectual appetite is not left wanting.
To provide some background, Murray is the author of the previous bestseller The Strange Death of Europe wherein he discusses Europe’s struggles with immigration, cultural identity, and Islam. Alongside that, he is also the associate editor for The Spectator, where you can find much of his published work. Given the content of his writing, Murray is a frequent target of labels such as racist, sexist, or the most recent addition, transphobe. Although given his pastime of copulating with other men, he would not seem to be the most fitting person to be branded as a homophobe. But alas, times have changed. As Murray explains, being gay has become more about the politics you hold rather than the phenotypes you exude. Meaning that Murray, despite enjoying sex with other men, is the rightful target of such a logic-defying epithet.
In the first chapter of this book – ‘Gay’ – Murray covers a lot of ground. This is a rather confronting chapter, opening as it does with Murray’s experience at the premier screening for a documentary about gay conversion therapy. He does not feel particularly threatened by the insulting views of those around him. This is primarily due to the progressive trend that society has adopted, with little risk of returning to less tolerant times. Instead, he is able to observe the opinions on offer and to raise an interesting question: are we handicapping ourselves by swapping one scientifically ungrounded bigotry of the past (that being gay is purely a matter of choice) with a more humanistic, but still scientifically ungrounded dogma of the present (that being gay is completely innate)?
In noting this potential misstep, he stumbles across another interesting observation; There seems to be some strange one-way street in place around sexuality. That is, when a person comes out as gay, they are revered for ‘arriving at their natural end-point’. However, in stark contrast, anybody who was once gay and later decides they are straight is viewed with suspicion and often derision. One must not mistake Murray’s attempt here to investigate this potential over-correction as a malicious act – as he points out, homosexuals are rightfully grieved considering that many western nations considered their sexual proclivity to be a psychological disorder until as late as 1973. Instead, one should view his inquisitiveness as an honest attempt to understand the current politically correct ethos, and to find out whether many of our social initiatives truly benefit the communities they claim to be helping.
In light of the recent and well-needed events occurring in the Me-Too era, Murray now shifts to his chapter entitled ‘Women’. While expressing his reverence towards those women who fought to attain the equality which was rightfully theirs, he quivers at the modern embodiment of ‘St George in retirement’ syndrome. That is, once a dragon (i.e. real mistreatment and subjugation of women) has been slain in many parts of the world, the knight – who is lost without his dragon – begins to swing at smaller and smaller issues, until finally he can be seen exuding all his might in the face of thin air. As Murray puts it: “just as things appeared better than ever before, the rhetoric began to suggest that things had never been worse”.
This analysis is followed by a look towards the future, as Murray wonders how society will adapt to the cohabitation of men and women in all lines of work. He does not ignore the long shadow cast by the occupational oppression of women and is quick to acknowledge the usefulness of having competent people positioned wherever their skills are most suited – regardless of their sexual hardware. But he is just as quick to make clear his disdain for Hollywood, which visibly reeks of sexual misconduct and cover-ups, and who is now trying to position itself as a righteous institution leading the progressive march for equality. Murray, unlike some of his celebrity counterparts, does not pretend to know the solution which will solve all the complications of multi-sex cohabitation. Instead, he can only emphasize the sheer complexity and nuance inherent in the tango between the sexes, and what’s more, highlight the importance of rational and open conversation for improving workplace relations.
Males and females will fall in love, Murray states bluntly. And given that much of our society is work-obsessed, these relationships will often arise from interactions in the workplace. But we are then left trying to reconcile the recent proposal that all unwanted sexual interactions in the workplace are potential harassment cases with the fact that much of our romance originates from within this very space. This dissonance highlights the lack of clearly defined boundaries around workplace interactions and suggests that this may be a perennial issue. But rather than avoiding this topic, we must encourage conversation to smooth the road ahead and to avoid incentivising maladaptive behaviours.
Without pausing to draw breath, we now find ourselves embroiled in a chapter which touches on one of the most important topics in recent decades. That is, the discussion of race and its status in modern society. Our attention is first directed at the U-turn manoeuvre being performed by those who claim to represent the progressive side of politics. To paraphrase Murray, the same people who once touted the need for equal treatment blind to inborn characteristics, seemingly burying the problem of race, now want to unearth those characteristics and position them at the centre of the table. This action is evidenced by a discussion of the Evergreen Debacle, which follows professors Brett and Heather Weinstein as they stand up to an irate mob of rather privileged students. This all unfolds as the historic ‘day of absence’ – wherein people of colour absent themselves from the college – is transformed into a request that white people (including professors) remove themselves from campus for a day.
Brett Weinstein, an evolutionary biologist, responds that although the initial action (People of colour voluntarily absenting themselves from campus) cripples the logic of oppression, the later request (that white people absent themselves) is itself an act of oppression. Weinstein, therefore, refused to comply with the demand and instead arrived on campus to fulfil his professorial duty to his students. Weinstein’s response aroused protests that went on for days. These protests concluded with the encirclement of the president of the College by a group of students. Once the position of power was surrendered to this supposedly victimised mob, who just happen to look, dress, and speak like some of the most privileged people anywhere on the globe, the kowtowing found no end. Instead, a series of infantilizing demands were made, to the extent that the president was restricted from using the bathroom to relieve himself. Following this, further restrictions were made on the presidents’ use of hand gestures when speaking, with one student purposefully circling the floor to prevent these movements and ‘decolonise the space’. By willingly prostrating himself, the principal had handed over control to the self-righteous students.
Although the story of Evergreen State College spans many pages, Murray finds room to raise other interesting points. Some of which have by now become recurring themes in the book. We move to the cases of Kanye West, Candace Owens, and Clarence Thomas. Who all seemingly display the same level of skin pigmentation as other African Americans. But as we come to learn, this is a mere illusion. These individuals are in no way shape or form members of the black community. Although they are subject to the same treatment as other members, and would presumably have a similar genetic heritage, they now harbour the wrong beliefs and opinions – according to vocal advocates who are the apparent gatekeepers of the group. Murray points out that when someone such as Kanye West adopts a political position which is unorthodox for someone of his appearance, such as embracing Donald Trump (who is after all, his president), they are now outcast from the community.
In contrast, when a white lady takes up the political grievances of the black community, people like Whoopi Goldberg declare that “If she wants to be black, let her be black”. This, therefore, transforms the central requirement for admittance into the black community. The old requirement of black skin and/or recent ancestral heritage from places such as Africa is exchanged for the more modern condition that you need only support certain causes. This type of thinking leads to many ironies – one such example is found in the review of a book by Thomas Sowell. The review was published by the LSE Review of Books and contains a comical note of deletion. The publication had retracted the line which read: “easy for a rich white man to say”. The comical thing about this is that Thomas Sowell, who is a very old but well-respected economist, happens to be black. Due to a lack of due diligence, the author assumed that such an unorthodox position against affirmative action and the widespread welfare state could not possibly have been penned by someone who has black skin. The only conclusion available here was that Thomas Sowell must be white. How utterly mistaken they were.
Before closing out the book, Murray perseveres in treading over one last landmine-riddled field – ‘Trans’. Spanning 46 pages, this final chapter provides us with the historic context of transsexual and intersex issues and walks us through their recent culmination into the modern idea of transgenderism. By focussing on the memoirs of several people who have undergone sex changes, we are left with a sense of empathy and compassion for anyone experiencing an incongruity in their physical and mental identity. But while telling their stories, Murray draws our attention to the hardware/software debate, and it becomes clear that any mention of ‘transgenderism’ as a software issue is irrefutable and beyond the pale. This is demonstrated by a discussion of autogynephilia, which is “the arousal that comes from imagining yourself in the role of the opposite sex”. Although there are many people who resonate with this description – in that the idea of presenting as the opposite sex is associated with a pleasurable erotic experience – it creates problems for those who advocate for transgenderism. If the condition is framed as at least partially sexual in nature, trans advocates will struggle to gather the determinist oomph needed to convince others to change their beliefs and behaviours. This is because people will conflate the two conditions, resulting in the line between hardware (it’s biologically innate) and software (it’s a psychological proclivity) being obscured. If this is the case, then people will be less willing to comply with the growing list of gender pronouns and identities, and will be less supportive of people such as trans-athletes.
To overcome this problem of scepticism, a radical (but not completely baseless) line of argument has emerged. It asserts that any reservations about the current transgenderism movement are ‘denying the existence of trans people’ and ‘increasing the likelihood of suicide’. Of course, the experience of trans individuals can and often does involve severe negative, emotional, and long-term struggles, but as Murray points out, this experiential fact offers up no evidence for what solution would best alleviate these problems. But as a result of these radical claims (e.g. “you’re endangering trans lives”), medical practitioners and scientists most apt to understand and improve the lives of those experiencing these feelings are cowed into silence, because their processes and treatments do not always involve ‘confirming’ whatever the individual is saying. Consequently, many of the current assessment and treatment procedures seem to be emotionally driven, which is unlikely to result in the best outcome for those involved.
Nonetheless, the idea of carrying out irreversible transitions for people (some as young as 12) if they are ‘persistent, consistent, and insistent’ in their claims is becoming ingrained. And we are now beginning to hear horrific stories from those who have detransitioned, or who have changed their mind at the last minute before transitioning. Many such patients talk about the echo-chamber within which these medical procedures or hormonal treatments are carried out. Often there is no dissenting view, no screening for other psychological problems, but only the confirmation and encouragement that transitioning is the correct path to go down. Although this may be true for some people, Murray is shocked at how normalised and unchallenged this process is – especially since the desire to transition often diminishes as people leave their teen years, with many individuals turning out to be homosexual.
In the final pages of this book, we see Murray reinforce his core argument – that the solutions to these problems will not be simple, but that strengthens the need for an open and honest dialectic. Of utmost importance here is the principle that no solution should be beyond scrutiny, no matter how emotionally pleasing it may be. If we can stand by that, then we will put ourselves in the best position to improve the living standards for everyone, but most crucially, for those most in need.
To conclude, for those of you who do not resonate with the reasoning and assumptions made by prominent media figures, and whose intuitions diverge from the simple solutions and answers that are offered up, you will find comfort in reading The Madness of Crowds. Hopefully, you will not agree with everything Murray says, and you will be sure to find points of contention. But his willingness to raise questions that many people have but lack the courage or appropriate credentials (i.e. marginalised characteristics) to ask, will help you to form opinions on these difficult matters. And to do so in search of what’s true, free from the shackles of political correctness.