Welcome to the age of total bunkum
16 September 2008
Mr Blobby of Crinkly Bottom has spoken. The best thing that could happen at the next election, he says, would be for no one to vote at all. Politicians have had their turn, now the people should have their say. If he were prime minister, he would ban all immigration and build bigger prisons. It is time, according to Blobby, otherwise known as the television presenter Noel Edmonds, to change our toxic culture, mend broken Britain and build a more caring society.
Meanwhile, at a conference in Liverpool, the education director of the oldest scientific organisation in the world, the Royal Society, was arguing that science lessons at British schools should find space for demonstrably unscientific claims about the way the world was created. That way, says the Reverend Professor Michael Reiss, children who come from families of fundamentalist religious faiths would not be excluded and alienated.
On all sides, seriousness – some might say sanity itself – is under attack. At no other time in modern history would the crass political opinions of a coiffed game-show presenter – whose greatest claim to fame was the creation of a character called Mr Blobby and a place called Crinkly Bottom – be seen as anything other than publicity-seeking silliness. Now his case against voting in elections, a view that would be cheerfully supported by dictators all over the world, is reported quite seriously. Even his announcement that his late parents follow him around in the form of melon-sized blobs of “positive energy” visible to digital cameras are not enough for his opinions to be dismissed with derisive laughter. There are doubtless people all over the country who think Mr Blobby would be more likely to mend broken Britain than Gordon Brown.
Professor Reiss’s marginally less peculiar case for being nice to the creationists is also earnestly discussed in high places. It seems that not even the Royal Society for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge can risk offending sections of society by dismissing the fairy tales which certain religions promote.
Who would be a politician, attempting to deal with real problems in a complex world, now that the whole culture seems to have lost the capacity to differentiate between the serious and fatuous, when those whose lives and work have been devoted to fact are ceding ground to the forces of fiction? In this maelstrom of unreason, nothing is certain any more, analysis and thought are discredited. Feeling is more valued, more valid, than knowledge.
The effect is dangerous. Commenting on the new power of rumour (specifically, the story that last week’s experiment in Cern would cause a black hole), the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, blamed the proliferation of disinformation on the internet. The web was “not just where I go to decide where to buy my shoes, which is the commercial incentive – it’s where I go to decide who I’m going to trust to vote,” he said. “It’s where I go maybe to decide what sort of religion I’m going to belong to or not; it’s where I go to decide what is actual scientific truth … and what is bunkum.”
The problem is that bunkum, whether it is from Crinkly Bottom, a religious faith or a plausible website, is almost always more comfortable to assimilate than reality in all its complexity. It is easier to feel something, than to attempt to resolve it. Unfortunately, nothing is likelier to make our culture more toxic, and Britain more broken, than the unchallenged progress of fashionable stupidity.