Also A Critique of Douglas Murray`s The “Madness” of Crowds with examples.
Political commentary is based upon reductive concepts and crass stereotypes. This kind of writing is also an inhumane enterprise in contrast to literature. Literature is a mode of expression which allows us to gain an insight into the lives of people who are described so crudely by writers like Douglas Murray.
In contrast Marge Piercy`s visionary 1976 novel “Woman On The Edge Of Time” details the torrid life of Connie, who is a middle-aged Hispanic woman living in Spanish Harlem. She is committed to the State Hospital after a violent altercation. It soon becomes clear that this isn`t the first time she has been sent to the “bughouse” or psychiatric hospital. However she is constantly aware that she and her fellow patients are just numbers rather than human beings.
Connie`s florid delusions fill the pages of the book. However they contain something truthful and hopeful. She imagines a better world free from the social constraints which underpin people due to race, class, sexual orientation and gender identity. It is a world dramatically different to the life that she leads on the “outside”. The reality of Connie`s life could not be starker. She is poor and vulnerable. She has experienced abuse and as a consequence of her chaotic life has a daughter in care. In her imaginary world there is no judgement cast upon her.
Piercy was ahead of her time in portraying a character and setting which speaks to us in a more pertinent way today. We are more conscious of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and economic status. Commentators like Douglas Murray have little time or interest for what is disparagingly called “Identity Politics”. However I would like to rename it “Humanity Politics” to give it a more positive connotation. Every human being has an “identity”, without our identity we are simply ghosts, but despite our disparate identities we still have a shared humanity.
Literature has always allowed us to delve into the inner lives of others. It helps to generate a genuine sense of empathy. The novels of Charles Dickens highlighted the social problems of Victorian London. The books revealed the plight of orphans and the destitute of that city. Most of us still remember the characters like Oliver Twist and Tiny Tim. However very few of us recall the dominant political voices of the 19th century and the dry tomes that emerged out of that era, like “Principles of Political Economy” by Thomas Malthus.
Douglas Murray is strangely indifferent to oppression in all of its forms. He is also strikingly un-empathetic and crucially does not seem to care that even the title of his latest book is egregiously offensive. No-one really uses the word “madness” anymore, not even in a figurative sense. This is a more enlightened age where we show our compassion towards those who have mental health problems. Like Malthusian philosophies I doubt whether his work will be read as enthusiastically as Roxane Gay for example.
Roxane Gay is a writer who has spoken out against those who wield the term “identity politics” like a weapon. She believes that it represents a stance which is deeply un-empathetic. Her latest book of short stories includes vivid characters like a woman made entirely of glass. This character represents the fragility and vulnerability of women. However Murray is simply dismissive of gender politics in general, and only writes to be deliberately provocative. His career will likely dry up just as soon as another attention seeker develops a more obnoxious outrage machine bigger than his.
Douglas Murray, like other “contrarians” and “provocateurs” have very limited talents. Fiction writers have a much more important cultural and political role within our society and need to be read and listened to, and Murray and his ilk only deserve to be ignored.