My personal and political memoir Guardian Angel was published a few weeks ago. To whet your appetite, here’s an extract.
When I started writing about the baleful effects of family breakdown, I was accosted angrily by someone I had previously thought of as a friend. “How can you possibly say that family breakdown hurts children?” he spat out at me. “The worst damage to a child is always done by the traditional nuclear family!”
I could only gaze at him, defeated by the sheer impossibility of conveying the stupendous shallowness of such an attitude. I, of all people, knew firsthand what damage and anguish could be inflicted within an apparently model family. But I also knew that much of what I had experienced or witnessed derived from the absence of a properly involved father.
I had personal knowledge of the lifelong harm inflicted on a child who is forced to become, in effect, the parent to her own parent. I knew intimately what harm can be done to a child’s psyche from a dyadic relationship with one parent, unmediated and unmitigated by the other. I knew from experience how the absence of proper fathering could screw up a child for life. How then could my erstwhile friend or anyone else possibly be sanguine about the explosion of lone parenting, female-headed households, and mass fatherlessness?
On issues such as education and family, I believed I was doing no more than stating the obvious. To my amazement, however, I found that I was now branded an extremist for doing so. Astoundingly, truth, evidence and reason had become right-wing concepts. I was now deemed to have become “the right” and even “the extreme right.” And when I started writing about family breakdown, I was also called an “Old Testament fundamentalist.”
At the time, I shrugged this aside as merely a gratuitous bit of bigotry. Much later, however, I came to realize that it was actually a rather precise insult. My assailants had immediately understood something I did not myself at the time understand: that the destruction of the traditional family had as its real target the destruction of Biblical morality. I thought I was merely standing up for evidence, duty and the protection of the vulnerable. But they understood that the banner behind which I was actually marching was the Biblical moral law which put chains on people’s appetites.
The result was a kind of social ostracism. Gradually I noticed that I was no longer being invited to join colleagues for lunch, no longer receiving invitations to parties at their houses, no longer getting the flow of gossipy messages and office banter that had once made me feel as if I was back in an Oxford junior common room. Now, at lunchtimes, I found the office emptying around me. Few ever tried to engage me in argument. I simply became more and more isolated.
Something similar was happening outside the office too. Gradually, my more politically minded friends drifted away. From snatches of their conversation, I deduced that what had finally got to them above all was my position on family breakdown. I realized that they took it personally, those who themselves had walked out on their families or were cheating on their spouses. Some of them said to me they felt I was disapproving of what they had done.
But much of the time, I had no idea at all what they had done. And in any event, I was not judging individuals (except where I knew someone really had behaved badly). Of course there were divorced or lone parents who behaved in a responsible and caring manner. I was merely writing about general patterns of relative harm, the only way one could write about public policy. Why couldn’t they understand this?
I had not yet realized that the left’s aggression towards any dissent or challenge is essentially defensive. They are either guilty about what they are doing because they know it is wrong, or else at some level at least they know that their intellectual position is built on sand. What matters to them above all is that they are seen to be virtuous and intelligent. They care about being seen to be compassionate. They simply cannot deal with the possibility that they might not be. They deal with any such suggestion not by facing up to any harm they may be doing but by shutting down the argument altogether. That’s because the banner behind which they march is not altruism. It is narcissism. But it took me a very long time fully to grasp this.
And in due course, what I saw so clearly in the areas of education or family, which was in essence the displacement of truth by ideology, I would come to realize was part of a much bigger picture. But it took me a long time to put it all together and arrive at that conclusion. And that was because I was unwilling to accept the great breach to which my own logic would inexorably lead me.