Douglas Murray

Don’t tell me what I can read

Don’t tell me what I can read
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At least none of us will have to pretend that we read Woody Allen’s memoirs. This week the publishers Hachette took that little responsibility away from us. After a staged walkout by staff in New York and Boston it was announced that the book (titled Apropos of Nothing) would be pulped rather than published next month. Allen has been accused of historic sexual abuse and the subject of allegations from his daughter and glassy-eyed son Ronan Farrow. No charges have ever been brought.

Hachette’s announcement followed a number of other choices that have similarly been taken from us. The UK public did not get to choose whether to see Roman Polanski’s latest movie. British distributors decided not to screen An Officer and a Spy (about the Dreyfus affair) because of the sex crime Polanski has confessed to back in the 1970s. It was the same for students at Oxford University this past week who had a lesser question (‘Should I or should I not attend a lecture by Amber Rudd?’) decided for them. The verdict was anti-Amber. Also in recent days was the matter of whether or not we should be allowed to read the words of Suzanne Moore in the Guardian.

At this point it is easy to get the wood and trees muddled. For there can be few pleasures in life equal to that of watching the Guardian-reading left eating itself. I’m told the arrival of one’s first-born is comparable, but I don’t know. Nevertheless the bigger picture deserves attention.

The Guardian recently gave Moore space in its opinion pages to publish a column which failed to fit into today’s precise leftist orthodoxies on trans. You might have thought that when it came to the question of whether or not our society should drug some children, then give them a mastectomy for their 18th birthday, there might still be room for discussion. Well, not at the Guardian. Any journalist — especially an old-school feminist like Moore — who quibbles before the mastectomy enthusiasts must henceforth be regarded as a bigot who needs silencing.

Within days of Moore’s mild and rather obvious column being published, hundreds of employees of the Guardian — including fellow journalists — signed a petition condemning the paper’s editor Katharine Viner for allowing this content. According to the signatories, ‘the pattern of publishing transphobic content has interfered with our work and cemented our reputation as a publication hostile to trans rights and trans employees’. Clearly the signatories form that same portion of the population who think the BBC is the Tory’s propaganda wing and Trevor Phillips is a racist who has no place in the modern world.

In typical neo-Stasi fashion, the petition was ‘leaked’ to a left-wing clickbait site whose otherwise unemployable ‘LGBT editor’ then did his bit to whip the storm along. Another former editor at the same site — now rather remarkably at the FT — whipped it along still further. ‘Spinning out into a bigger, wider employment problem,’ Mark Di Stefano wrote slaveringly, as though the prospect of a fifth of Guardian employees signing a petition was as awesome a force as any in nature to behold.

As it happens, I have always enjoyed petitions signed by Guardian employees. Traditionally they have been not merely pointless but had the added benefit of briefly stopping the signatories from doing anything more harmful with their time. But such petitions are no longer the loser-lists they used to be. Today they can have an effect. As Hachette and Oxford just found out. And you don’t even need a mob to get the effect of one.

Today’s publishing industry is rife with stories of the stranglehold that even lone soldiers of the wokerati now have. All that is needed is for one person who identifies as ‘genderqueer’, or whatever they’ve made up this month, to say that they feel ‘unsafe’ because a book by a person with the incorrect views on, say, feminism is on the list. And bang — off the list the book goes.

Which is why I should like to encourage a completely contrary attitude from the top echelons of the publishing industry as in every other part of our country. What we would all benefit from is a return of some good old-fashioned vices including studied indifference and high-handed dismissal. If somebody at a junior level says they feel unsafe because something will be published with which they disagree, the CEO should say: ‘Well I think our company is unsafe with someone so dim in our employ. Your veto does not work here. Bog off.’

If the adults in the room do not assert themselves in such ways, one can predict where this will lead. Look at the ease with which all those employees at Hachette just jettisoned the principle of presumption of innocence. They will believe they know best right up until the point when they have to learn the hard way why that particular presumption was precious to us. It’s the same with those people who say ‘Believe all women’ and all the other fatuous, simplistic commandments of our day. Might it be the same for certain left-wing journalists who are happy to condemn heretics right up to the point that they are declared this week’s witch? Who knows.

What we do know is that these are habits of mind. And people can learn how to get out of them just as surely as they were taught their way into them. After all, plenty of us do manage to remain unbothered or even amused by views that differ from our own. When I disagree with something said by a fellow Spectator writer, I do not emit denunciations or gather signatories to destroy them with me. If I did, then Dear Mary would have had it by now. She’d be cancelled. Toast.

To all the people who think they know what we can or cannot hear, see or read, I say that some of us still like to form our own opinion, and think that the best way of doing so comes, among other things, from having access to opinions and ideas we do not currently hold and might be surprised by. It’s an idea worth holding on to. And passing on. To anyone who will listen.