All great truths begin as blasphemies

Brendan O’Neill introduces his new spiked book, A Heretic’s Manifesto.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Books Covid-19 Free Speech Identity Politics Politics UK

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‘We shall soon be in a world’, wrote GK Chesterton, ‘in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure’. We’re in that world now. Witness the fury of the genderqueer mob that confronted Kathleen Stock at Oxford University last week. Stock is a she-devil in their eyes, an utterer of lethal blasphemies. Her heresy? She calls a man a man. She says human beings with XY chromosomes and penises are male. It is for this – the biological equivalent of saying a triangle is a three-sided thing – that the woke witchfinders demand her banishment from public life.

And it isn’t only naive 19-year-olds who rage against the blasphemy of biology. Across the Western world, establishments are rechristening truth as heresy. Refer to certain men as ‘he’ and you’ll be accused of the sin of ‘misgendering’. You might even find yourself exiled for life from social media, our era’s public square. Say only women have cervixes – as Labour MP Rosie Duffield did – and you will be shamed as a witch. Speak the truth about a person’s past – that Caitlyn Jenner was once Bruce, a runner; that Elliot Page was once Ellen, an actress – and you’ll be denounced as a ‘deadnamer’, the unholiest of heretics.

The elites are at the very front of this mob that despises fact as heresy. ‘It is something that shouldn’t be said’, said Keir Starmer of the statement ‘Only women have cervixes’. Kamala Harris wrote a gushing letter to Dylan Mulvaney to congratulate him on ‘living authentically’ as a girl – a delirious untruth that would have appalled every generation before ours. CNN makes great play of challenging ‘post-truth’ Donald Trump. Who can forget its ad showing an apple with the words: ‘This is an apple. Some people might try and tell you that it’s a banana… But it’s not. This is an apple.’ Yet it then scolds JK Rowling for saying men are not women. ‘It’s important [that we recognise] very clearly that transwomen are women’, CNN said. And maybe that apple identified as a banana?

We are living through an extraordinary moment. One in which the powers-that-be punish not only the expression of certain beliefs and ideas, but also the expression of fact itself. Once upon a time they collared Communists or the distributors of obscene literature. Now they go after people who say the cervix is a female organ. ‘Where you are in your thinking is very much needing a lot of enlightenment and reading’, said a British police officer last year to a woman whose speechcrime was to put stickers on her front door questioning the idea that transwomen are women. We need to talk about this. We need to talk about how we arrived at a situation where the armed wing of the state lectures and rebukes people for giving voice to proveable, measurable truth.

In my new book, A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable, I take on this new cultural authoritarianism. I argue that we are living under a ruling class that aspires to the purest form of tyranny: the right to define reality itself. This post-truth elite insists that we doubt the evidence of our own eyes, and the light of our own reason, and instead accept its truth as the truth. It’s an elite that has the gall to denounce the ‘disinformation’ in the campaign for Brexit while spouting the lie that men can get pregnant. ‘What we say is real is real’, say these cultural tyrants. An apple is always an apple, but a man is not always a man, and woe betide anyone who demurs.

We are being gaslit morning, noon and night. We see a man and they tell us it’s a woman – literally, legally a woman. We see a dude with a beard and they say it’s a lesbian. ‘Let her associate with other lesbians’, they say, every word a lie. We see a pregnant woman on the front of this month’s Glamour magazine and they say it is a ‘pregnant man’. The truth – that only women get pregnant; that no man has ever been pregnant or ever will be – is cruelly overridden. It is burnt at the stake of ideology. The delusions of the elites carry more weight than truth itself – that is how arrogant the new authoritarianism has become; how determined our rulers are to remake reality in the image of their own fevered opinion.

Gaslighting is everywhere. We see an industrial society that has extended life expectancy, reduced poverty and afforded us ever-greater protections against nature’s violent whims; they tell us it is a ‘climate catastrophe’, the harbinger of the death of billions. We see, and love, the vast improvements in racial equality gifted to us by the 20th century; they tell us white supremacy is as rife as ever. We see, and worry about, acts of Islamist violence; they say it’s ‘faith-claimed terrorism’, as if these are nameless horrors, belonging to no one, signifying nothing. Say ‘Islamist’ and you’ll be branded phobic, a heretic.

The new heresy-hunters deploy numerous tactics of demonisation. That accusation of ‘phobia’ is one. Deviate from their truths that say Islam is a perfect religion, that sex is changeable, that same-sex marriage is morally equal to opposite-sex marriage, and you’ll be damned as an Islamophobe, a transphobe, a homophobe. ‘Denier’ is another sign hung round the necks of modern heretics. Question climate-change alarmism and you’re a climate-change denier. Those who bristled against lockdown were called ‘Covid deniers’. One observer even likened lockdown sceptics to devils from hell. ‘Like Dante’s inferno, Covid denialism is structured in concentric circles’, he said. The British Medical Journal denounced the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration as ‘merchants of doubt’, as if doubt were a bad thing; as if doubt is not in fact the foundation stone of Enlightenment. ‘If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things’, said Descartes. Descartes the denier.

Then this morning, in a newspaper report on a new landmark study from Johns Hopkins University, we see the headline: ‘Lockdown benefits “a drop in the bucket compared to the costs”.’ This was clear to many of us back in 2020, but we were demonised for saying so. This is censorship’s grimmest offence – in shaming and silencing dissent, it delays our discovery of real, new truths, in this case the truth that shutting down society, education, civil liberties and global trade was always likely to have devastating consequences. We need to start speaking up and speaking out. To start saying the things we know to be true. We’ll be damned as blasphemers, but that’s okay. As George Bernard Shaw said: ‘All great truths begin as blasphemies.’ That’s enough gaslighting, enough thoughtpolicing, enough punishment of truth-speaking. Heretics, assemble.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy


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Topics Books Covid-19 Free Speech Identity Politics Politics UK


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