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  • Writer's pictureTony Herbert

Manias - why now?

Updated: May 10

I’m a big fan of the novelist and journalist Lionel Shriver, who has been writing recently about what she refers to as the “manias” we have been confronted with in the last few years. Manias such as, frankly, the alarms about climate change and the appalling things done to young children in the name of gender theories.


The novel “Mania


She has just written a dystopian novel called Mania. It’s based on an imaginary mania that takes us all over, in which no one can suggest that anyone is clever, or rather cleverer than anyone else. We are all equally intelligent. Exams are abolished. You can’t call anyone

stupid. You don’t need a qualification to be a doctor. “Smart” phones have to be rebranded!


Interview at the FSU


I went along to a meeting hosted by Toby Young and his Free Speech Union, at which he interviewed Lionel. I want to say a bit about what was said - and to add a few thoughts of mine, mainly trying to touch on the big question WHY? How is it that we have been subjected to these manias? Is it ever going to stop?


I am an admirer of both Toby and Lionel. (Please forgive me for using first names: I’ve never got used to using surnames, particularly for women. It’s always Jane Austen for me, not Austen. But I don’t want to imply that either Toby or Lionel are close personal friends!) As I say, I am an admirer of both, partly as they bravely stuck their heads above the parapet early on in the Covid panic, he founding the newsletter Lockdown Sceptics (later The Daily Sceptic) and she writing articles about it. They both got mercilessly criticised for their efforts, even though most of what they were saying has now been proved right.


Various manias


Lionel started the conversation by rattling off some of the manias. I may have missed some: lockdowns with their related absurdities, climate scares and Net Zero, trans activism, BLM and even MeToo (about which I’m not an expert). I think she also mentioned LGBQT+ and the mania for rainbows.


She described her surprise, horror and dismay that, in the face of Covid, liberal democracies around the world were willing to ditch both liberalism and democracy over night. It showed how fragile the basic principles of our societies really are. What will happen with the next really serious mania?


Official attitudes


In the face of the lockdown mania, and indeed subsequent manias, scientists and doctors mostly fled for cover. It has taken an official report by Dr Hilary Cass, as Lionel pointed out, to decide that castrating children is, unsurprisingly, not very good for them.


Another aspect of the pusillanimous response of the scientific and medical communities, as well as much of the media, has been the lack of apologies, now that the errors and dire consequences are becoming apparent. “Oh I was never really behind it” - that type of attitude. They both also discussed the loss of friends, noting their experience that it’s always those on the “left” that ditch their friends.


Net Zero and the movie


They discussed when the Net Zero mania will end, concluding that the costs will eventually kill it, but only after it has done irreparable damage. They implied that rationality is never enough. On this, Toby was keen to recommend the film Climate: the Movie. I have now seen it (available on YouTube) and very much endorse his recommendation. Actually, it does address all the issues rationally, carefully explaining the science, with contributions from some of the most eminent climate scientists in the world. Will it be influential? Who knows?




I asked a question at the session, which brings me onto the point I really want to explore - WHY? Why is it that we seem to be faced nowadays with these manias, that is to say, more than we were, say, 50 years ago. Lionel hesitated to blame the social media, but then did suggest that the rapid spread of panics and hysteria around the world via the internet must be part of it. Toby had another thought, namely that we have in fact had manias in the past, even more toxic than the current versions - Nazism and Stalinism for example. Frankly, I see differences, but wasn’t able to articulate them, even in my own mind.


Wanting to do good


As part of later discussions, I thought that they got closer to what I perceive to be the real

answer. The activists, one must remember, think that they are doing good. Human beings strive to find ways to do good. And often this gets mixed up with feelings that others, particularly previous generations, have got it all wrong.


Feeling guilty


This gets linked to what to me is the curious pressure to feel guilty, particularly about things we have had nothing to do with. In the context of the BLM mania, Lionel mentioned the parades in South Korea - where, she pointed out, they have no black people! I think of it in the context of slavery. No one in this country has owned a slave for a few hundred years. But many people seem to have a need to feel guilty - forgetting that it was we, the Brits, who led the world in abolishing it. The Christian religion certainly stresses guilt: as we say in the communion service “we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table”. It is part of our culture. It must also - I’m now thinking of the Koreans - be part of human nature.


The danger that we see now is that this leads people to do things, and take up causes, that look good and, crucially, cause the activists to feel good, but which actually do terrible

damage. For evidence of the latter point, the damage, watch Climate: the Movie.


Why now? St George and the dragon . . .


But why now? Why do we see more and more manias now?


I’m reminded of a theory proposed by an Australian political philosopher the late Kenneth Minogue in his book The Liberal Mind. He called it the “St George in Retirement syndrome”. St George has killed the dragon: what does he do now? I am now going to quote what Minogue said, as he put it well:


 “The story of liberalism, as liberals tell it, is rather like the legend of St. George and the dragon. After many centuries of hopelessness and superstition, St. George, in the guise of Rationality, appeared in the world somewhere about the sixteenth century. The first dragons upon whom he turned his lance were those of despotic kingship and religious intolerance. These battles won, he rested for a time, until such questions as slavery, or prison conditions, or the state of the poor, began to command his attention. During the nineteenth century, his lance was never still, prodding this way and that against the inert scaliness of privilege, vested interest, or patrician insolence. But, unlike St. George, he did not know when to retire. The more he succeeded, the more he became bewitched with the thought of a world free of dragons, and the less capable he became of ever returning to private life. He needed his dragons. He could only live by fighting for causes—the people, the poor, the exploited, the colonially oppressed, the underprivileged and the underdeveloped. As an ageing warrior, he grew breathless in his pursuit of smaller and smaller dragons—for the big dragons were now harder to come by”.


Forgive me for such a long quote, but he makes an interesting point that seems to link into what I was saying about people’s need to feel good about themselves. They need dragons and those they can find are getting smaller and smaller. What is now more worrying is that they are also getting more absurd and the consequences more damaging: for examples of the damage, look no further than the Cass report. But on Net Zero, no less a figure than Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT says in the movie, what he has often said in the past, that the policies are “absurd”.


Do we need a religion?


There is another point, also linking into people’s need to feel good about themselves. The Christian religion certainly helped to satisfy this need. We may be sinful, but help and redemption is at hand. The trouble about this is that fewer and fewer people in the West now rely on the comforts offered. They need new religions, which are perhaps better described as quasi-religions.


In many ways the new manias seem to supply this need. Is this why we see all these manias now? We are guilty of destroying the planet. We are racist. We are abusing the rights of trans-gender people. We must act to redeem ourselves of our guilt.


The trouble is that facts get in the way. But people, when obsessed by a mania, prefer to look the other way.


G K Chesterton had an interesting comment many years ago: “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing; they become capable of believing in anything”.



Tony Herbert

29 April 2024




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Apr 30

Thanks, Tony. As ever : interesting! Would pursuing the authorship of the the works of William Shakespeare be regarded as a Mania? Peter.

Tony Herbert
Tony Herbert
May 11
Replying to

Haha, Peter, As I mentioned when we met, I saw your comment and hesitated to reply! But you encouraged me to do so. As to manias - No, I don’t think either side of the debate is particularly manic. However, I have often thought of similarities with the manias I describe, namely a reluctance to look too closely at facts. I have often tried to explain my heretical views on the authorship question, to be met - when my patient listener starts to realise how flimsy the Stratford story is - by the response “Oh I hear you, Tony, but I prefer just to concentrate on the plays”. Quite! Don’t allow mere facts to disturb comforting myths. Which I understand…

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