Who needs censors when we are all silencing ourselves?
It’s often tempting to speak about wokery as if it is an active and organised movement, with leaders and advocates. Of course, it has many propagandists in academia, publishing and journalism. But to my mind it is less an ideology consciously imposed upon us, and more an impersonal force that has spread insidiously and been ingested passively, with its ultimate symptoms being fear and self-imposed silence.
Consider an interview for The Sunday Times at the weekend, in which Nigel Rees, the creator and presenter of Radio 4’s Quote… Unquote, talked about how the BBC changed during his 46 years of working on the show. He said that towards the end of its long run there had been pressure ‘on the programme to reflect… diversity and disability in our choice of guests’. He added: ‘I didn’t agree with it all but I went along with it… There wasn’t a diktat.’
In other words, Rees wasn’t censored or fired. He went along with the ideology for a quiet life. Or consider the example of Sir Patrick Stewart, who was criticised last week for avoiding some of Shakespeare’s politically incorrect sonnets during an online recital. Again, here’s someone presumably acting in accordance with woke protocol not because he was told to do so, but as a precaution.
Similarly, while no one can presume to enter the minds of the jury that acquitted four people of toppling the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol, had you been one of them would you have said what you believed, knowing the judgement you would then face from your peers, neighbours, and the world, from people who might find out where you live? Most of us would opt for the quiet life. Most of us would have also passively ‘gone along with it’.
Columnists have always received correspondence to the effect of ‘thank you for saying something that I wouldn’t dare say in public’. But self-censorship was less common in the past, when there was more privacy. In our age of total transparency, total recall and social media, self-censorship is more the universal norm. Who has not hesitated before hitting the send button on a tweet, or not sent it at all? Self-censorship is a tactic we use to avoid active censorship and the prospect of being cancelled.