Will Discrimination on the Basis of Intelligence Be Banned Next?

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by Laura Dodsworth, Daily Sceptic:

Lionel Shriver is the bestselling author of 15 novels, including the Orange Prize-winner We Need to Talk About Kevin, and a prolific journalist currently with a fortnightly column in Britain’s the Spectator. Her work has been translated into 35 languages.

Her new novel MANIA is published April 11th 2024 (Harper Collins).


First of all, I must say I thought MANIA was phenomenal. It’s darkly funny and uncomfortably accurate about the appetite our society seems to have for ideas we would have firmly rejected just a couple of decades ago, such as the idea that women can be men and men can be women. In the ‘ALT’ (alternative) world of MANIA this destructive derangement takes the form of the ‘Mental Parity Movement’ where discrimination based on intelligence is illegal.

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The books contains allusions and similarities to manias that people will recognise such as transgender theory, lockdowns, vaccine mandates, critical race theory, the climate catastrophe cult, affirmative action etc. Which of those specifically inspired you to write MANIA? When did you start tracking them and why?

A social mania is so all-encompassing that I hardly needed to ‘keep track’ as one followed the other. All that’s required is to take a step back and recognise: everyone has gone nuts. Everyone is reciting exactly the same thing over and over again. Everyone thinks exactly the same thing and is consumed by exactly the same thing.  Any dissent turns people into crazed animals. The media, academia and Government are all disturbingly in accord. Oh, I see. It must be another social mania. One can take some comfort in ‘this too shall pass’, but it will only pass, apparently, to make way for another mania.

I set the novel starting in an alternative 2011, because it was in 2012 when I identified the first of the recent hysterias took off — the rage for transgenderism — and I wanted to get behind them and fashion my own mania. If anything, the mania I invented most resembles our sudden obsession with pretending to change sex, because virtually overnight it becomes holy writ that you mustn’t ever impugn anyone else’s intelligence, much as virtually overnight transgenderism also became ‘the last great civil rights fight’, and to emit a single discouraging word about ‘trans’ would be guaranteed to destroy your career and reputation. But I am passing larger comment on the lot of them: #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, DEI and Covid, which was itself a mania — the infection fatality rate of the disease especially for anyone but the very old did not merit our draconian response — and which gave birth to sub-manias (the love of lockdowns, the cult of the vaccine, the hysterical faith in masks). The climate ’emergency’ or ‘collapse’ or ‘global boiling’ or whatever we’re calling it now shows every sign of being another one.

We like to think we are ‘modern’, as every population in the present has always fancied themselves, and we like to think we’re too rational and scientific to subscribe to lunacies like phrenology or bloodletting with leeches. But we’re the same as we’ve always been, just as vulnerable to getting seized en masse by goofball ideas as we ever were. ‘Some people are born in the wrong body’ is right in there. One of the passages in MANIA I’m most attached to is the one in which the narrator explains that she used to be confounded by mass atrocities of the past, but now they all made sense: Nazi concentration camps, Pol Pot’s killing fields, Stalin’s show trials, Mao’s cultural revolution. That’s what I concluded after Covid, when in the land of the Magna Carta literally overnight people abdicated every civil right that they had the very day before imagined to be their birthright: free speech, freedom of assembly, a free press, free movement, even the right to leave your own home. Obviously people will believe anything, and for something like National Socialism to triumph in the U.K. it would take Adolf Hitler at the most about three weeks.

You quoted Jung at the beginning of the book. As someone who went on the record saying that the U.K. was suffering from a psychic epidemic during lockdown ‘mania’, I revelled in the book’s biting references to the lockdowns, vaccine mandates and money-printing instigated by “the morons in control of the country”. Do you think society is in the grip of a psychic epidemic?

We’re continually in the grip of one psychic epidemic or another — remember the ‘recovered memory’ scandal of the 1990s (which wasn’t perceived as a scandal until much later), or that same decade’s consuming obsession with pedophilia? What’s changed is the rapidity with which people suddenly embrace one prescribed view, and also the ease with which these mind viruses now spread internationally. So you had South Koreans marching down their streets chanting ‘Black Lives Matter!’ when the country basically doesn’t have any black people. Pre-internet, it would have been less likely that Britain would adopt woke ideologies from America wholesale. Now the infection spreads instantaneously. I am trying to call attention to the dangers of our credulity — or, to get fancy, our susceptibility to mass formation psychosis — as well as to examine what it is about some people that makes them immune. The most heartening aspect of the last 15 years for me has been the emergence of a cadre of independent thinkers who have been willing to risk their careers to say the suddenly unsayable. They give me hope for the future. You’re one of them, Laura.

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