Book Review: The Madness of Crowds

There is something poetically thrilling about Douglas Murray. His way of explaining a situation with its caveats and nuance is brilliant and he draws the reader along explaining the messages and concepts that he is tackling clearly as he hits them one at a time. I can only imagine the amount of reading, thought and preparation that Mr Murray would have had to put in to be as clear, concise and thorough as he is within this book. It is honestly staggering.

I have never thought much about the topics contained within these pages, which could very well be why I found them so interesting. Having grown up within a Christian world where I was told that ‘…all are one in Christ’ Galatians 3:28, you can see why the topics ‘Gay, Women, Race & Trans’ never took centre stage within my life. Sure, I have seen these things come up in the media and I have read a news article or two, but other than that I don’t engage in this stuff and until now I knew very little.

I never stopped to ask the question ‘should these things define someone?’, I mean I didn’t think they should when I was a Christian – Christ defined me, and everyone else. Should I know more about them to begin to answer that question with any grain of intellectual honesty after leaving the Christian fold behind? Yep, you bet ya.

I won’t be offering lots of personal thoughts on the four major topics held within this book, mainly because within each chapter I was exposed a lot of the socio-political elements for the first time, along with the horror stories of those who had slipped up or misjudged their audience before when commenting on these topics.

Most of these slip-ups seem to have taken place on social media with passing comments, or on the internet more broadly, within online news services or journals as they talk about the current socio-political climate.

I love social media – I get most of my news and world updates from it, adding in podcasts (I use Pocket Casts) and YouTube I manage to learn and a rate that would have blown my mind 10 years ago, so much has changed and the rate of consumption that is now possible is staggering. Social media allows me to capture the highlights of the content that I care about, so I pick certain people to follow, and I get notified, follow and engage with their content. I form ideas, opinions and perspectives which I in turn share, and those that follow me interact with my content at their personally preferred level.

See what I am doing here? I create an echo chamber and engage within other echo chambers – it really is fascinating. It’s good and bad.

In 2020, when I am writing this, social media forms the backbone of how we interact on the world stage. We form echo chambers, people with things we prefer or want to hear about, and we likewise attract others who are like us into these echo chambers. Within these echo chambers, social media can make people into nuanced celebrities, but it can also break people – and it often does it at 280 characters or less.

Throughout this book, Mr Murray makes sure that his readers know that many lives have been ruined because of a simple tweet or article that was written and then shared within the wrong echo chamber. Reflecting upon this, it became very apparent that just because you don’t reside within a certain echo chamber, it doesn’t mean that someone you have a connection with isn’t within an echo chamber that will devour you for the opinions you share without thinking as you go about your life online.

There seems to be a direct contradiction between those who think their opinion is valid and those with the most ferocious voices online. We all have thoughts that if shared within the wrong context would cripple us simply due to the response and backlash that we would be inflicted with. Not that we shouldn’t share these views, but we need to learn how, when and where these things are put out.

A fair few times Mr Murray talks about ‘freedom of speech and thought’ because we have all been told that we possess these things. But then we are shown that if you are not operating within the current trend of socially acceptable opinions within the four major topics of this book, you run the risk of being labelled as a bigot, fascist or oppressor. For this mistake, unless you can afford to pay to be bailed out – you will pay for it quite possibly with your current and future career.

Now don’t get me wrong, Mr Murray makes it very clear that not everyone within these self-identifying communities of individuals is out for blood. But he does make it clear that if someone from outside of these communities has said, done and knows someone who has said or done anything that might be construed as offensive, within their lifetime, then they could be exposed.

I mention above that we must learn how, when and where these things are put out. But what happens if someone in your family, decades ago, said something that today would be construed as completely inappropriate. I don’t think that I should be judged by what someone else said, in a different part of history, but that doesn’t mean the current socio-political climate agrees with me. I will let you read the book to uncover some fascinating examples.

Within the book, Mr Murray refers to the people scouring Twitter posts – now years old, as ‘offence archaeologists searching for treasures’, I couldn’t help but fear what I might have said today – in this post even, that will be viewed as intolerant and abhorrent tomorrow when the current views and trends have moved on and their focus has shifted.

There seems to be a trend associated with University’s, that then instils itself into the world. Through business, media, and stories – our courses are changed, and we look around us confused and unable to ask questions to better understand how and why we are here in this current state of affairs.

I fit within a certain set of categories. My age, sex, race and upbringing all influence me on a personal level, but now they also influence what I can or cannot say or do. I worry that I will offend by mistake as I try to navigate this world, witnessing events taking place within the current social focus groups presented within this book. How do I react to these events? What am I allowed to say?

Do I, as Martin Luther King Jr fought for us all, have the freedom to not be judged by the colour of my skin, but by the content of my character? Am I to hold my hands up and claim a negative privilege due to the unchangeable reality that I was born a certain way?

Others such as Sam Harris, Jordan B Peterson or Ben Shapiro (to name but a few), along with Douglas Murray offer me the ability to hear about these subjects and glean a critical response and honest discourse. I don’t want to jump onto bandwagons because something is currently the correct way to speak and/or behave. I want to have intelligent reasons to hold the views I have, and that cuts both ways.

I am scared. I don’t want my life, or the life of my children to be ruined due to something I say which is honest in intellect but betrays someone’s standards who I have never engaged within any fruitful way before. There seem to be echo chambers out there that I have no part of, but who will look at my output and weigh up my worth based on their values. So, should I just stay silent? It seems many have taken this option.

I think we need more books like this, not just because it expresses a message that I am in agreement with. But because it allows humans to take a snapshot of a moment within our society, critically examine it and then put it back. One day, as we all do with family photo books (physically or online), will we look back at the snapshot and stand proud of how far we have come? Or will shake our heads at how much we lost in conversations that are so obsessed with individual rights that they can say whatever they like about anyone as long as it sits within the right framework?

I don’t have any answers – but it’s defiantly very interesting to think about, and I will continue to do just that. This book opened my eyes to parts of the socio-political climate that as a Christian I never had a need to expose myself to before. For that and for the fact that this book is brilliantly written, I thank you, Douglas Murray.

I usually give out a few quotes to help you see what a certain book is like and what it contains. I feel for this book, everyone should just read it and then you will have all the quotes yourself anyway.

_End of Blog Blurb_

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. It has taken me a few years to get to a place where I am able to share my loss of faith and to start writing about the journey that I am still on for you all. I hope you find it useful.

Support: The podcast and blog will always be advertisement-free, and your generous support on Patreon will enable us to continue doing this effectively and to a higher standard over the years to come. Please consider supporting the work we do.

Alternatively, you can support this work with a one-off gift via PayPal.

Podcast: If you like what you read then you could always check out the podcast ‘When Belief Dies’, it is available on all major podcasting platforms or you can listen/watch via YouTube. I upload and publish via Anchor FM each Wednesday at 7 am. For early access, support me on Patreon.

Grammar, spelling, capitalisation and punctuation: I am massively dyslexic. It has taken me years to get to the level I am currently at with writing and I have done this mainly through reading. I want to be better and ask you, reader, to please forgive any errors in my writing. I hope you notice improvement upon improvement over the coming years.

Time Frame: This blog is roughly twenty-four months behind where I currently am at in my journey out of religion. It’s important to remember that when reading and commenting.

If you want to get every post straight to your inbox then you can do that by either following directly via WordPress or with your email address, whichever you prefer. The links for that and social media are to the right if you’re on a computer, or at the very bottom if you’re on a phone or tablet.

I’ll see you back here at the same time next week 🙂

-Sam

When Belief Dies #53 – 'Contours of Hope' with Jim Thring When Belief Dies

In this conversation, Sam sits back down with Jim Thring to work through his 'why' in recommitting himself to a belief in Christ. The video version of this conversation can be found here on our YouTube channel 12 hours after the audio version goes live. It isn't needed, but listening to our first conversation will give you a  bit more context as to Jim's story so far: you can listen here, or search for episode #34 'There and Back Again…' We hope you enjoy our show. When Belief Dies aims to honestly reflect on faith, religion and life. Your support via Patreon enables us to cover the costs of running this show and look to the future to make things even better as we build upon what we already have in the works. Please take a look and consider giving. Alternatively, you can support the show with a one-off gift via PayPal. Use the following link to navigate to the website, to find us on social media and anywhere else we might be present online. #Podcast #Deconstruction #God #Agnostic #Christian #Atheism #Apologetics #Audio #Question #Exvangelical #Deconversion #SecularGrace #Exchristian
  1. When Belief Dies #53 – 'Contours of Hope' with Jim Thring
  2. When Belief Dies #52 – 'An Old Perspective' with John Goldingay
  3. When Belief Dies #51 – 'Manuscripts and Ancient History' with Bart D. Ehrman
  4. When Belief Dies #Bonus – 'An Inquisition' with Daniel Kelly & David Ames
  5. When Belief Dies #50 – 'Magnifying Glasses & Big Pictures' with Esther O'Reilly

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Madness of Crowds

  1. Yes, it was fascinating. I’ve seen a fair bit of comment on this sort of thing, mainly from Christian groups campaigning to be able to speak freely – against the prevailing argument that any disagreement is ‘hate speech’ which it clearly isn’t. It’s helpful that he is highlighting that these issues don’t all run side by side, and that the contradictions between them may blow the whole thing open (for another example, see Keir Starmer’s apology this week).

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s