I think I know how the militant trans campaign is going to end. In a couple of years’ time, a considerable number of those who opted for irreversible mutilation and sterilisation at a point in their lives when they were confused and anxious about sexuality (as is very common around puberty), will be appalled at the life-changing interventions they accepted on the advice of those they regarded as experts.
In the United States, which is the pace-setter in these things, they will go public with their outrage and – in the great American legal tradition – they will bring a class action which will be joined by thousands of others who feel similarly aggrieved, against the clinicians and professional advisors who carried out these procedures.
Their stories and the accounts of how they became convinced that this course of action would bring them personal fulfilment will have tumultuous implications in American medical history. Millions, if not billions, of dollars in damages will be paid out to those deemed to be victims of this extraordinary movement. Many medical careers will be destroyed and no clinician in his right mind will consider venturing into the accursed field again. And that will be the end of the extreme trans lobby.
In the analysis of this bizarre phenomenon it will then be very important not to confine the discussion to the very specific matter of sexual identity. That will be a temptation because it is so very strange that the most basic fact of the human condition – the biological difference between men and women – should have become contestable, and that so many seemingly rational people could have accepted such drastic violations of healthy bodies.
But there is a wider question here to do with the nature and force of campaigning. What has enabled tiny groups of specialist lobbyists to capture such disproportionate influence on public discourse that the expression of the majority view (which would once have been regarded as unquestionable) can be hounded into silence – not just in particular limited circles, but in official institutions and national life at large?
This is a political programme which has a recognisable history. The techniques of infiltration and subversion of accepted truth are not new. In my Marxist youth I was very familiar with the process of joining established organisations – political parties, trade unions, local associations – and making use of that affiliation to persuade (subtly) and indoctrinate (unsubtly) its members in the belief system that tried to expose the real evil that was their enemy.
Indeed, the hardcore Left excelled at explaining any source of discontent as being based in exploitation by the forces of capitalism. Whatever your problem – alienation from your family, incompatibility with your peers, dissatisfaction with your job – it could be understood as a form of social injustice embedded in an evil system. And the organising ideologues who promoted this interpretation were relentless talent scouts, expert at spotting precisely those susceptible individuals whose (various but often legitimate) sources of discontent could be reinterpreted in the terms of class war.
Every industrial conflict, every student protest, every neighbourhood action group was an opportunity for recruitment to that much larger theory which had a ready explanation for all unfairness and discontent. Make no mistake, Marxism – with its captivating account of the seductions of bourgeois culture – can seem like a breathtaking revelation, especially to those who, for any reason, feel disenchanted with their society.
In its later Herbert Marcuse form, the New Left offered a brand of Marxism that went beyond pure economics and offered what was effectively an account of the whole of the human psycho-social dynamic. It swept through the 1960s and 1970s like an intellectual tidal wave. The conversions and later recantations of those who were recruited and then became disillusioned was a notable phenomenon over subsequent decades.
But there was a serious difficulty with this overt recruitment to revolutionary socialism. During the Cold War, if you signed up openly for the cause, you were officially working for the Other Side. You were not just proposing an alternative view of how government should operate, but declaring yourself to be working for the enemy. Your actions and your affiliations were part of a contest for world domination that threatened the extinction of democracy and personal freedom – and possibly of the entire human population. You were part of what the accepted anti-Communist consensus in America called “the enemy within”.
In order to circumvent this very considerable liability, the Left ingeniously created front groups – organisations with apparently benign purposes (some of them book clubs or children’s activity groups) which could operate with apparently innocent intentions in “liberal” social circles.
The need for that came to an end when the Berlin Wall came down and the citizens of East Germany walked out from under Communist rule, bringing the whole Soviet bloc down with them. As it happens, we may have jumped too quickly to the conclusion that the collapse of state communism meant the end of the life-or-death contest with the East, but whatever it is that is going on now between Putin’s Russia and the West, it is not an ideological contest. Russia is fully engaged in corrupt cowboy capitalism, and China is not a communist country in any sense that Marx would recognise: it is a fiercely competitive contender in world markets, having invented its own version of totalitarian capitalism.
So the era of the great global argument is over, but the techniques that it fostered remain available. The whole encyclopedia of infiltration, subversion and manipulation of public opinion is now open to any disaffected minority who wants to permeate institutional life – with none of the obvious risks which its inventors had to face. Indeed, the use of such techniques are now career assets for a new post-Cold War generation who are probably unaware of their origins. Whole management structures have been invented to accommodate these skills and embed them in bodies for which they are absurdly ill-suited. Marxism may not be the enemy any longer but its sinister mind-bending ability lives on.