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Who do the high priests of cancel culture most resemble? The witch hunters of Salem

We are living through a time in which unproven accusations are once again enough to see a person damned.

Charges of ‘racism’, ‘homophobia’, ‘transphobia’ and even ‘fascism’ are commonplace and no evidence is required to secure a ‘cancellation’. People have had their careers destroyed and personal relationships ruined simply for expressing unfashionable opinions.

It will be oddly familiar to anyone who has seen Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible. In the 1953 dramatisation of the 17th Century Salem witch trials, our tragic hero John Proctor cries out: ‘Is the accuser always holy now?’

The trials of Salem, a Puritan community in Massachusetts, lasted a little over a year, from February 1692 to May 1693. In that time, more than 200 people were accused, 19 hanged, five others had perished in jail and one, farmer Giles Corey, had been pressed to death with boulders for refusing to enter a guilty/not-guilty plea.

And their tormentors? A group of children who had stumbled upon the means to become the most powerful members of the community. Their histrionic accusations could see fellow citizens executed on the basis of ‘spectral evidence’ alone – what we might today refer to as ‘lived experience’, the phrase used by the likes of Meghan and Harry.

Thousands of people take part in a London Trans+ Pride march from the Wellington Arch to Soho on 9th July 2022 in London, UK. We are living through a time in which unproven accusations are once again enough to see a person damned.

Thousands of people take part in a London Trans+ Pride march from the Wellington Arch to Soho on 9th July 2022 in London, UK. We are living through a time in which unproven accusations are once again enough to see a person damned.

Harry Potter author J K Rowling (pictued). Woke activists will bully people in the name of compassion, promote division and call it progressive, and rehabilitate a new form of racism under the guise of tolerance

Harry Potter author J K Rowling (pictued). Woke activists will bully people in the name of compassion, promote division and call it progressive, and rehabilitate a new form of racism under the guise of tolerance

And today, just like in Salem, those who attempt to apply reason and logic, who dare to stand up for the accused, make themselves vulnerable by doing so.

As Miller’s anti-hero says, ‘the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom’ safe in the knowledge that those who cross them are the next to be condemned.

For those of us who have found ourselves caught in the culture wars of the present – and I have often been vilified for having created a satirical character, Titania McGrath, the ‘radical intersectionalist poet and Twitter activist’ – the parallels are obvious.

Such patterns recur wherever reason is abandoned and fear prevails, be that during the 1950s McCarthyism that inspired Miller, or the ideological capture of today’s institutions and the trickle-down orthodoxies that followed.

THE new religion of ‘wokeness’ now dominates all of our major cultural, educational, political and corporate bodies.

Its high priests make grand claims of moral purity and brook no dissent, a mindset which has led to the development of today’s ‘cancel culture’.

They seek to control public discourse by deeming certain terms ‘problematic’ or supporting legislation against ‘hate speech’. They require no concrete evidence of sin in order to detect and denounce the sinners in our midst.

Phrases such as ‘social justice’, ‘anti-racism’ and ‘equity’ mislead people into believing that those who utter them are on the right side of history. What we are witnessing is the march of online zealots destroying people’s livelihoods and reputations, all the while proclaiming their own virtue, using hashtags such as #BeKind.

Like the Salem Trials, they inflict their punishments while claiming to be on the side of the angels.

Although today’s ‘heretics’ are unlikely to be burned at the stake, their inquisitors are convinced they must convert for their own good. It is the legitimisation of bullying on a grand scale.

Significantly, many are troubled by the rise of the movement – a recent import from the US – that would see us deny the biological reality of sex differences, confess to ‘white privilege’, or to perpetuating ‘systemic oppression’.

They are rightly concerned about the relentless attacks on free speech and how anyone who dares question the new orthodoxy is mercilessly subdued.

These culture war revolutionaries, whose existence is often denied by its chief antagonists, must be challenged. For they are determined to dismantle Western ideals, to return us to a pre-Enlightenment state of ignorance.

Theirs is a world in which private feelings are allowed to trump evidence and reason. A world in which right and wrong are reduced to a battle of wills. This is a battle that, ultimately, the mob will win unless we stand up and resist it.

The book cover of classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The new religion of ¿wokeness¿ now dominates all of our major cultural, educational, political and corporate bodies.

The book cover of classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The new religion of ‘wokeness’ now dominates all of our major cultural, educational, political and corporate bodies.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood book cover. Shool libraries have removed Harper Lee¿s To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) and Margaret Atwood¿s The Handmaid¿s Tale (1985), following complaints about ¿racist, homophobic or misogynistic language and themes¿.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood book cover. Shool libraries have removed Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), following complaints about ‘racist, homophobic or misogynistic language and themes’.

The impact is felt in all walks of life. For instance, after the seismic events of the summer of 2020 following the killing by a white policeman of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, an actor friend of mine was contacted by her agency because she had not posted anything on social media in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. She was told she must do so immediately if she wanted casting directors to consider her for roles.

I have heard many such anecdotes, but invariably they are communicated privately. There is a strong general feeling that to publicly object to the prevailing dogma is to jeopardise one’s career and social standing.

I have lost count of the number of emails from academics, artists and media figures who have contacted me to express solidarity for my criticism of this new ideology, but admit they could never endorse my sentiments in public for fear of being targeted. It is a circular problem that can only be resolved if sufficient numbers speak out.

A portrait of an angry witch tied for incineration. Although today¿s ¿heretics¿ are unlikely to be burned at the stake, their inquisitors are convinced they must convert for their own good. It is the legitimisation of bullying on a grand scale

A portrait of an angry witch tied for incineration. Although today’s ‘heretics’ are unlikely to be burned at the stake, their inquisitors are convinced they must convert for their own good. It is the legitimisation of bullying on a grand scale

This is the sad reality of most present-day working environments, where to utter a forbidden opinion, to misspeak, or even to fail to show due fealty to received wisdom can be an impediment to future prospects.

As a former teacher, I am still in contact with ex-colleagues who are troubled by the sudden revisions made to curriculums and pastoral policies. Many are being forced to undergo ‘unconscious bias’ training, even though there is overwhelming evidence such schemes are unreliable and ineffective.

To raise a complaint is taken as proof of the kind of prejudice that the tests seek to expose. After all, surely only a witch would deny the existence of witchcraft…

Sometimes the obsessions of these cultural revolutionaries are extreme. Last year, the body in charge of elementary and secondary schools in Ontario authorised the ritualistic burning of books for ‘educational purposes’.

In what they described as a ‘flame purification’ ceremony, almost 5,000 books were destroyed or recycled if they were judged to contain outdated racial stereotypes. In this new religion, some words are deemed harmful, even if written many years ago.

This is why the estate of Dr Seuss will no longer publish six of the author’s books that they now consider ‘hurtful and wrong’.

It’s why Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was republished with all the racial epithets removed, even though the book is explicitly critical of the slave trade.

It’s why school libraries have removed Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), following complaints about ‘racist, homophobic or misogynistic language and themes’.

The attack on The Handmaid’s Tale is especially odd, given that it is well known as a mainstay of contemporary feminist literature.

The novel depicts a dystopian future in which women are reduced to broodmares for the ruling class. They are forced to live according to the perverted ideology of those in power, and have no freedom to speak the truth.

It is no accident that it is set in New England – Atwood described The Handmaid’s Tale as her ‘take on American Puritanism’. But not even its feminist credentials have saved The Handmaid’s Tale from the all-consuming lunacy of this new purity culture. Atwood’s interest in the era comes from a family connection. Her novel is dedicated to Mary Webster, an ancestor who was hanged for being a witch in 1683 but survived the execution.

The New Puritans of today may not be hanging people who fail to conform, but they certainly embody the ideological fervour The Handmaid’s Tale explores.

The Puritans of the 17th Century sought to refashion society in accordance with their own beliefs, but they were deep thinkers who were aware of their fallibility.

By contrast, the New Puritans seem to go about their business with a narcissistic lack of self-doubt. They have simplistically divided the world into sinners and saints, and presumed they ought to be grouped among the latter.

Then, as now, bad ideas are propped up by elites. We are living through a frenzy of conformity, in which the opinions of a minority of activists are falsely presented by parts of the media, political and corporate classes as though they reflect an established consensus. Some politicians and academics may struggle to define the word ‘woman’, but who among us does not understand the differences between males and females?

Worse still, these modern witchhunts blind us to an obvious truth: that economic inequality is the most glaring social injustice.

This used to be a priority for those claiming to be on the Left, but the movement has become infected with identity politics. ‘Social justice’ is a game played by the affluent, just the latest way to maintain their power in society.

To uphold liberal values in this climate has become a risky endeavour, but it is only the silence of the majority that makes it so.

Even after his experiences in the Soviet gulags, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was able to reflect on the possibility that, had more people spoken out, the atrocities might have been avoided. ‘Every man always has handy a dozen glib little reasons why he is right not to sacrifice himself,’ he wrote.

This was also a key concern of Arthur Miller during the McCarthy years – that powerful people remained silent so as not to be themselves accused. When bad ideas spread unchecked, they take on an illusion of incontrovertibility, and when figures of authority are captured by dangerous ideologies, resistance becomes a feat of courage few attempt.

The first to be hanged at Salem was Bridget Bishop. As she stood in court, the girls accusing her writhed and screamed as if possessed, claiming Bishop ‘did oftentimes very grievously Pinch them, Choak them, Bite them, and Afflict them’.

One girl, Susanna Sheldon, insisted she had witnessed Bishop suckling a snake. Other villagers testified that she had urged them to sign the Devil’s book. Ridiculous claims, even to a God-fearing community like the Puritans of New England. Yet few dared to challenge them. The New Puritans are the clergy for the digital age – an elite class that claims to know what is best for unlettered plebians.

They scour social media for prey, such as the author J.K. Rowling.

And as the New Puritans gain momentum, and as their power increases, it has become apparent that to ignore them will allow their dominance. They will deny biological reality and threaten anyone who doesn’t acquiesce.

They will bully people in the name of compassion, promote division and call it progressive, and rehabilitate a new form of racism under the guise of tolerance. They will insist on fabricating realities that correspond with their own emotional states and couch their nebulous theories in obfuscation.

They will use inflammatory language to misrepresent others’ concerns, accuse them of ‘erasing’ people’s existence, or committing acts of ‘violence’ through speech.

They will claim there is no objective truth, but demand we all acknowledge the truth of their ‘lived experience’.

They will carry on feeding the far Right by elevating identity politics and claim to be opposing fascism through authoritarian methods. And if anyone suggests their demands should be subject to discussion or debate, they will not hesitate to brand them a bigot.

When this happens, it is our responsibility to restate the case for liberal values. It will be a long, uncomfortable, but necessary process, like setting a broken bone. Along the way, we should defend those targets of bullying, whether they are attacked for what they have said or what they refuse to say. We should never be intimidated.

The desire for a quiet life is understandable, but surely we have reached the point where the keys of the kingdom must be wrenched back.

© Andrew Doyle, 2022

l The New Puritans by Andrew Doyle is published by Constable on September 8, priced £20. To pre-order a copy for £18 visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937 before September 12. Free UK delivery on orders over £20.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11177031/Who-high-priests-cancel-culture-resemble-witch-hunters-Salem.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Who do the high priests of cancel culture most resemble? The witch hunters of Salem

Bradford Betz

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