A reader has asked me to comment on the widespread phenomenon of “shruggers.” The term refers to that majority of people who downplay the significance of our situation: the suspension of the world’s economy for what is, in dispassionate terms, a run of the mill novel virus, a shut-down presaging what may be the deepest recession in historic memory; and riots which openly seek to overturn the entire basis of western civilization and its history, which leaders in politics, communication, business and even the church seem to encourage. The worst future shruggers anticipate is expressed in their mumbling about a “reboot” of society that may well, they say, turn out to be more just and compassionate.
These people shrug their shoulders at current events with the comment that there have been crises before, and it always turns out OK in the end. It’s the equivalent of the millions of Britons who, at the start of both world wars, were sure it would all be over by Christmas. And they say it for the same reason – that people want to assume the world will go on more or less as it always has, when they have not been willing or able to read the signs of the times.
But the world doesn’t always continue in the same way, barring a few adjustments to minority rights or fossil-fuel usage. History has many instances of total economic collapse, mass starvation and totalitarian empires. There have been dark ages where even literacy was lost, such as the collapse of the Mediterranean civilizations at the end of the bronze age, around 1000BC. Things may turn out OK eventually, but sometimes only after seventy years of Communist oppression, or after centuries of barbarian chaos.
Unlike this one, previous crises of recent memory were not the culmination of forty years of careful ideological infiltration of the institutions of global society in a “long march” to restore world communism. And in any case, to hope for a better society to follow from disruption brought about by deception, violence and class hatred is, shall we say, less than realistic. A bad tree, Jesus said, cannot bear good fruit.
In the New Testament Peter reminds us of the folly of such a complacent attitude, which may be particularly relevant to Christians tempted to be “shruggers” in the present, perhaps eschatologically significant, times:
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (1 Peter 2:3-7).
But speaking of the bronze age collapse, one writer from soon after that time shows that shirking the risk of getting involved existed back then, and was just as culpable as it is now. The poet Homer wrote around 700BC, about the “golden age” just before the collapse, when the world was better and, at least in some cases, more heroic. In the Odyssey, Mentor (the original and literal mentor of Odysseus’s son Telemachus) berates the assembly of worthies the latter has called, for their unwillingness to curb the riotous behaviour of the suitors for the hand of Odysseus’s wife Penelope, from their number:
“Mind you, I pick no quarrel with these unruly Suitors for the crimes they commit in the wickedness of their hearts. It is their own skins they are risking when they wreck Odysseus’ estate in the belief that he is gone forever. No, it is the rest of you sitting there in abject silence that stir my indignation. They are a paltry few and you are many. Yet not a word have they had from you in condemnation or restraint!”
J. S. Mill said, in 1867: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” But one might also reflect that for good men to look on and do nothing makes them bad men themselves. Nobody praises the German Church for averting its eyes from the Holocaust.
I was introduced to real Christianity, in my schooldays, as a counter-cultural message. And indeed, when I accepted it, I immediately found myself somewhat marginalised by my family and by my peers, so I realised sticking out like a sore thumb came with the territory. They condemned Jesus for his words, after all. But the first time I found myself seriously maligned in public for daring to speak out was in the early 1980s (and I don’t think I’ve really looked back since!).
At that time I wrote a song in cheerful pop idiom, called Dryclean, counting the costs of breaking one’s safe silence to bring bad things into the light: the sad warnings from colleagues, the unexpected loss of friends, the surprise of being rejected simply for telling the truth, loneliness of exclusion from the club. All of that seems hugely relevant to the evil cancel culture that has proved itself the “new normal,” so I’ve re-mixed my original recording of the song and included it below.
I post it here as an audio file, lacking sufficient ideas for a video, to be honest. But maybe you can supply your own mental images of those who have tried to tell truth recently, and been “depersoned” for it by a few zealots, and a lot of shruggers too timid to stand out from the crowd. There’s a rapidly lengthening list: Roger Scruton, J. K. Rowling, David Starkey, and Lawrence Fox spring to mind from Britain alone, but there are by now countless unsung souls who’ve suffered the same fate: comedians, vicars, doctors, nurses, social media workers, intelligence officers, parents, school kids, the odd journalist…
But the interesting part, which is deliberately not really addressed in my song (one idea at a time, guys) is how many of these people, having lost jobs, “friends”, reputations and often their public voice, consider it a small price to pay for grasping that sweet white blossom, that rare bird of paradise – the truth.