Donald Trump, American class act

What happened to dress for success?

Any social anthropologist can have a field day with the US president. And any non-American social anthropologist is likely to be perplexed.

An Englishman in particular would have a hard time squeezing Trump into the confines of a particular social class.

After all, the president grew up in a family with two generations of wealth behind him. He was educated privately and expensively, eventually getting his degree from Wharton, one of the world’s best business schools.

An Englishman of a similar background, one educated at, say, Eton and the LSE, may still be daft and uncultured. But he could be confidently expected to speak, write and dress in ways that would distinguish him from hoi-polloi.

He might say stupid things, but he’d say them in a refined accent (an Englishman of Trump’s age, that is – his son might talk differently and his grandson almost certainly would). He might write gibberish, but it would be grammatical and at times even elegant gibberish. He might dress down, but in a way that would suggest he’d be more comfortable dressed up.

By contrast, Trump talks like a man with a high school diploma at best (and not a good high school at that), writes illiterate tweets, dresses like a lout wearing his ‘will the defendant please rise’ suit accessorised with baseball caps and ties a foot too long – and in general acts in ways that belie his background.

An outsider may conclude that Trump simply puts that persona on for political gain, to come across as a man of the people. Yet no one is that good an actor.

It’s not that he cunningly pretends to be what he isn’t. It’s that he sees no reason to conceal what he is.

In that, the president acts as someone who absorbed with his mother’s milk a certain ethos peculiar to his country. He doesn’t pretend to be a transplanted Englishman. He’s a stereotypical American and proud of it.

As someone who rejects any kind of determinism, I don’t believe that national character is shared by everyone in the nation. Individual will remains free, and it can shed the shackles of any collective proclivity.

Hence, though many Frenchmen pretend to be more cultured than they are, I know some who don’t. Some Dutchmen don’t consume mountains of mediocre cheese. Some Germans have a sense of humour. Some Englishmen dislike milky tea. Some Spaniards find bull fights barbaric. Some Italians don’t pinch women’s bottoms on public transport.

However, that some people refuse to act out their national stereotypes doesn’t mean such stereotypes aren’t true to life. By and large they are, which is why they are stereotypes.

Most Americans too tend to act in ways specific to them, those they’ve been breathing in from ambient cultural air all their lives. One such has to do with class, something Americans will rarely discuss, and outlanders will often misunderstand.

Many Europeans believe that Americans are separated not dynastically and socially but only fiscally, and someone at the bottom of the social mountain can rise to the peak by getting rich. Well, yes and no.

Money by itself indeed determines an American’s social class – but only in the first generation. Once great-grandpa made his pile, each subsequent generation may acquire more of the same traits that characterise upper classes in Europe.

However, if European aristocracy typically traces its roots back to martial valour, American aristocracy does have strictly middle-class origins. And, just like a tree’s foliage that doesn’t look like its roots but is fed by them, the link between middle-class origins and upper-class status will never be severed in America.

Boston Brahmins, along with descendants of the Dutchmen who settled New Amsterdam or of the original passengers of the Mayflower may hide in their estates, speak some mid-Atlantic patois, order their wine from Bordeaux and their clothes from within 500 yards of Piccadilly.

But they’ll still function within the American ethos, if only in subtle, barely perceptible ways.

Most other Americans, including Trump, are affected by that ethos more directly, powerfully and visibly. Because of that they fall victim to a dialectical paradox springing from America’s founding ideology.

This was formed by the Protestant fundamentalism of the original settlers (coupled with hatred of apostolic confessions and the old continent where they were practised) and the Enlightenment humanism of their descendants.

The former explicitly called for the repudiation of any spiritual authority, along with any hierarchical cultural patterns deemed to be European. It promoted egalitarianism with a religious dimension.

When overlaid with the social egalitarianism of the Enlightenment, the religious dimension gradually fell off, to be relegated to the status of personal idiosyncrasy – so much is obvious. Some other developments are less so.

The newly blended egalitarianism, boosted by the Protestant work ethic, demanded an elevation of the common man to a status rarely attainable in Europe at the time. Naturally, any society seriously committed to such a goal (as opposed to merely proclaiming it) will end up governed by market transactions above all else.

As a result, vindicating the First Law of Thermodynamics, the traditional European hierarchy didn’t disappear. It merely transformed. Society remained as stratified as anywhere else, but, because it was ideologically committed to using the common man as its iconic role model, its stratification had a different basis.

That’s where the paradox came in. The use of economic activity as a social hoist required drive, hard work, entrepreneurial spirit – all highly individualistic qualities. Yet a society built around the common man demanded conformity to his cultural, intellectual and social properties.

That created both the most individualistic and the most conformist society of all. But its individualism and conformism are displayed in different spheres of life.

American economic individualism needs no illustration; it’s widely seen as the nation’s defining feature. But its stultifying conformism is as pervasive if less obvious.

For example, American speech is much more idiomatic than British. But, being common property, set expressions and stock phrases are conformist by definition. If Europeans often try to make their language more individual, Americans tend to go the opposite way.

Thus on a sweltering summer day thousands of New Yorkers will ask casual acquaintances and even strangers the same rhetorical question “Hot enough for you?”, only to get the same stock reply “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”.

Mandatory demotic folksiness is expected even from highly educated people, and they usually comply.

I recall that even William F. Buckley, the late pundit who possessed by far the richest vocabulary I’ve ever observed in the public arena, occasionally felt compelled to force unnecessary prole colloquialisms into his prose, sometimes to a jarring effect.

The same conformism can be seen in the way Americans dress, furnish their houses, eat and drink. (Paul Fussell covered this subject brilliantly in his book Class, written 35 years ago but still current.)

Recession to the mean occurs in every society, but only in America is it aided by an irresistible gravitational pull exerted by the country’s founding ideology and her entire history.

Donald Trump is an American in every pore of his body. Hence he grew up sensing that there’s no social price to pay for crude lexicon, bad grammar and proletarian clothes. On the contrary, there just may be a social premium to collect.

By now this isn’t his second nature; it’s his first and only, and he doesn’t have to pretend that’s the case – it is. He isn’t like Tony Blair, who comically dropped his aitches and used the glottal stop, only sometimes forgetting to do so and reverting to the speech of his class.

Trump is as close to being American upper-class as it’s possible to get without being one of the Lowells, who, as the popular ditty goes, speak only to Cabots (“and Cabots speak only to God”).

But that’s not at all like being upper class in Britain. With the compulsory ‘not every…’ disclaimer, Americans do walk a different walk and talk a different talk. Contrary to Churchill’s quip, it’s not just the common language that divides them from the British.

Parliamentary prayer for our time

Prayer is for those who don’t have a clue about progress

At least some Tory MPs understand what true conservatism is all about.

Acting on that insight, Crispin Blunt has proposed that parliamentary proceedings should no longer start with a prayer.

Parliamentary prayers, he explained, are “not compatible with a society which respects the principle of freedom of and from religion”.

As a lifelong champion of progress and secularism, I couldn’t agree more. Alas, some, mercifully few, unrepentant reactionaries agree quite a bit less. In fact, they don’t agree at all.

Their turgid arguments don’t deserve to be repeated, but I’ll mention them anyway, just to show how grossly they misunderstand the essence of today’s conservatism.

Thus they claim it would take a major constitutional shift to free Britain from the overbearing yoke of religion. They even dare to remind us that, unlike some other Anglophone countries one could mention, Britain has a state religion.

In fact, and I’m ashamed even to think of this, our reigning head of state promised on her ascent to maintain “the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel”.

Those fossils should look at the calendar. It’s 2019 now, and that oath was taken in 1953. This means that those alive at the time are now either dead or at least in possession of bus passes.

In other words, these wrinkly reactionaries are the same scoundrels who tried to derail the train of progress by voting to leave that most progressive of all political arrangements, the EU. Off to the knacker’s yard with them – or the euthanasia clinic if you’d rather.

The rest of us must march on to the beat of modernity because the dial of civilisation is reset in every new generation. In one era, out the other, that’s what I say.

Today’s vibrant, progressive generation needs no God, no Queen (we do need many queens, but that’s a separate subject) and – between you and me – no Britain, oh so self-righteous about her precious sovereignty.

Another specious argument is that parliamentary prayer has been around since 1558. But that’s precisely the reason to bin it now.

You wouldn’t drive a 1958 car, would you? No ABS, no automatic transmission, no seat belts, no GPS – who needs that piece of antiquated rubbish? Why then would you want to keep an antediluvian practice that’s 400 years older than that?

However, my good friend Crispin and I may be progressive Tories, but Tories we are. That’s why we think twice before wantonly abandoning anything.

Hence, rather than dumping parliamentary prayer out of hand, we ought to make a good fist of bringing it up to date in accordance with the progressive standards of our time.

Crispin and I have been trying to do just that, but it’s still work in progress. So we’d welcome any suggestions from our fellow progressive Tories, and proponents of other progressive beliefs too, come to think of it.

Meanwhile, this is where we’ve got so far, editing this outdated document word by word.

“Lord, the God of righteousness and truth…” It should be instantly obvious that the word ‘God’, unless implied in the acronym OMG, has no place in a modern legislature.

‘Lord’, however, can stay, provided we specify which lord we have in mind. Mandelson? Adonis? Or, if we’re after blind allegiance, Blunkett? We’re still debating that, but you catch the drift.

“… grant to our Queen and her government, to Members of Parliament and all in positions of responsibility, the guidance of your Spirit.” OMG, one doesn’t know where to begin.

But Crispin and I are sufficiently adept to turn this passage into something meaningful with just a few minor tweaks. Our current thinking is in favour of this wording: “…grant our queens in government and Parliament the guidance of the Maastricht spirit…”.

Short, to the point and no silly superstition in sight, that’s a bit of all right, as Crispin likes to say.

“May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals…” Now this is silly, not just obsolete.

Our parliamentarians wouldn’t have stood for their seats if they didn’t love power. They have, goes the new phrase around Westminster, “the convictions of their power”. Rather than the other way around, get it?

So it stands to reason that, if our MPs didn’t love power, we wouldn’t have any MPs at all, and the whole discussion would be pointless.

As to the other two phrases, Crispin and I both feel they undermine democracy. At a pinch, your representatives may have no ideals at all – in fact, as real Tories we’d prefer it. But, by definition, they can’t have unworthy ideals because, if they did, you wouldn’t have voted for them.

And what, pray tell, is wrong with the desire to please? If they don’t please you, you’ll vote them out, and they won’t be able to exercise their power.

All in all, our preferred wording is: “May they use their power to please enough voters to stay in power.” There, that’s much better.

“… but laying aside all private interests and prejudices…” Excuse me?

The whole idea of democracy is tossing all private interests into a giant cauldron and boiling them together to produce a tasty, homogeneous stew.

That delivers public good even if those private interests are stupid and subversive. A negative times a negative equals a positive, that mathematical law has never been repealed.

So our MPs’ private interests, rather than being laid aside, should take pride of place. As should their prejudices, provided they don’t include faith in the bearded chap up in the clouds, whose nonexistence has been decisively proved by Darwin, Dawkins et al.

“…keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind…” This we like, but the brief is too broad:  ‘of all EU’ makes more sense, and it also encourages us to remain, as all true Tories wish.

“… so may your kingdom come and your name be hallowed.” Whichever lord we decide to worship, be it Mandelson or any other, we certainly don’t want him to become king even if he’s already a queen.

Nor do we want his name to be hallowed, whatever that means. Hence we propose to omit this meaningless and redundant phrase altogether.

There, our parliamentary prayer is finally taking shape. It’s brave, it’s new, it’s worldly – and so, so us.

Europe’s energy policy is a gas

“You mean if I shut this valve Europe will freeze in the dark?”

No one doubts that energy supply has a significant political component. But some countries pretend not to realise it.

Like a patient who doesn’t really care who his kidney donor is, Westerners tend to overlook not only the internal ghastliness of some suppliers but even the strategic risk they present.

Thus it wouldn’t be stretching the limits of credulity to suggest that, say, America’s close alliance with Saudi Arabia isn’t really a case of two soul mates united in their sense of values and common pursuit of goodness.

Neither is it a secret that Russia has been using hydrocarbons as a geopolitical weapon for decades. The strategy has been two-fold.

First, the Russians encourage Europe to develop addiction to Russian gas mainlined into the veins of European economies. Second, they do all they can to prevent the West from becoming self-sufficient.

This explains the febrile campaign against nuclear power the Soviets instigated, financed and more or less ran, partly through their fronts, such as the CND. Nuclear mushrooms adorned Soviet and some Western newspapers every time another nuclear power station opened.

Characteristically, it was only the West that was supposed to be at risk of such a physically impossible calamity (the uranium grade used in power stations can’t produce an explosion).

Thus, while the communist state in East Germany was densely covering the country with nuclear plants, its offshoot, the Communist Party of West Germany, was organising massive rallies against a similar development west of the border.

The purpose was transparent: to increase Europe’s dependence on Russia and its client states. In other words, the Soviets were adding oil to the fire of the Cold War.

The global campaign against nuclear power invariably reached hysterical pitch whenever a nuclear accident occurred, and Western media, not always hostile to Soviet interests, were always ready to add a helping hand.

To this day the accidents at America’s Three Mile Island and Japan’s Fukushima are described as ‘nuclear disasters’, leaving one to wonder what word would be used to describe accidents in which people actually died.

So far the only murderous nuclear disasters have occurred at Soviet power stations, proving that nuclear power is only unsafe in the hands of technologically backward, morally irresponsible regimes that have scant regard for human lives.

But in our impressionable world perception is reality and, though nuclear energy is by far the safest of all that can actually provide our energy needs, it’s being phased out. Those bogus mushrooms have had a cumulative effect.

Britain and France, which derives 75 per cent of its energy from atomic plants, are rolling back, while Germany has proudly announced that all its nuclear power stations will be shut by 2022.

Moreover, Angie Merkel, deeply sensitive to planetary concerns, is also getting rid of all the coal-powered stations, which makes inquisitive minds ask where in that case energy is going to come from. (Britain, incidentally, plans to follow suit.)

One possible answer is shale gas, of which the world in general, and the US in particular, has practically unlimited supplies. Shale gas has already turned America into a net exporter of energy, and it’s expected to keep US and Canada warm and light for another century at least.

Problem solved? Not quite. Here we’d be well-advised to dust off that old anti-nuke LP, put it on and listen to the same familiar tune.

You see, extracting shale gas involves a technique called hydraulic fracturing, fracking for short.

This technique is supposed to offend some planetary sensibilities, even though its potential for causing earthquakes and other ecological nastiness is somewhat hypothetical. What’s real is that fracking makes it possible to generate electricity at half the CO2 emissions of coal.

But when it comes to energy sources that can make the West self-sufficient, no balance sheets of pluses and minuses are kept. Such sources are held down to zero-risk standards and, since these are unattainable by definition, anti-fracking hysteria is deafening.

Instead the West is expected to reverse half a millennium of technological progress and revert to producing energy by wind, sun and water. Should we then also ditch antibiotics, while we’re at it? They too have side effects.

The old song that’s being played all over Europe brings back the anti-nuke campaigns of yesteryear, with ‘fracking’ replacing ‘nuclear’ in the refrain. And the inspiration is exactly the same: to make the West dependent on evil regimes, ideally Russia or her allies.

Russia is the world’s biggest supplier of natural gas, accounting for 35 per cent of Europe’s consumption. Yet the distribution is uneven among various EU members.

Gazprom supplies 100 per cent of Finland’s and the Baltics’ gas, 83 per cent of Hungary’s, 62 per cent of Austria’s, 57 per cent of Poland’s, 45 per cent of Germany’s and so on.

What is already a dangerous dependency will become a toxic addiction when the next two lines of the pipeline Nord Stream-2 come on stream. The immediate consequence will be an inordinate growth of Russia’s power in Europe, especially its eastern part.

That worries all Scandinavian countries, Sweden in particular, and Eastern Europe, with the possible exception of Oban’s Hungary. But it doesn’t worry Angie Merkel, making one wonder if her relationship with Putin would withstand the same scrutiny as that to which Trump is subjected.

Speaking at this year’s Davos forum, Merkel explained that, since “natural gas will play an ever-increasing role for another several decades… we’ll continue to get it from Russia… because energy must be affordable.”

Alas, affordable energy may be dear at the price. And the price in this case will be Putin’s growing power to blackmail Europe into doing his bidding – as he’s already blackmailing the Ukraine and its neighbours.

Merkel’s statement was tantamount to admitting that she doesn’t mind such a development in the least. That puts another weapon into the hands of Europe’s most wicked regime, and this weapon may well prove scarier than nuclear missiles.

Shakespeare on the barricades of class war

Whofore art thou, Will?

Writing about the controversy surrounding the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, the actor Mark Rylance comments:

“You have to ask, if the man from Stratford wrote the plays, how did he manage to leave not one trace during his lifetime that he was a writer or even attended school? Why has the evidence disappeared for the years he might have attended grammar school? Did the author of the Shakespeare works really never write or receive a letter? He has been subjected to the greatest literary inquiry of any author’s life, but there is nothing but the attribution of the First Folio to prove that he could write at all.”

These are all perfectly legitimate questions, and they’ve been asked even by Shakespeare’s contemporaries. In fact, I’ve read a small library of books arguing (rather convincingly) that Will Shakespeare of Stratford didn’t write the plays attributed to him and insisting on alternative candidates (somewhat less so).

Now Shakespeare is the only great writer of his time who gives rise to such speculation. Sydney, Bacon, Jonson, Marlowe, Webster – we know almost as much about them as we know about our own contemporaries.

And even if some biographical details may be uncertain, no one has ever disputed the authorship of their works. With Shakespeare, such doubts simply refuse to go away.

The reason, as the above passage shows, is that what we know about Shakespeare the man doesn’t really tally with what we know about Shakespeare the writer. The disharmony is so pronounced that researchers are compelled to delve deeper and longer into the minutiae of Shakespeare’s life and work.

Rylance, incidentally, has co-authored a book on this very subject that uses computerised textological analysis as a tool. I haven’t read the book yet, but apparently it shows strong indications of, as a minimum, collaboration between Shakespeare and Bacon, among others.

I don’t feel qualified to pass judgement on the substance of this thorny issue or especially to come down decisively on either side of the debate.

Nor can I vouch for the reliability of textological analysis in general. I do know of cases where it worked and of some others where it didn’t.

One way or another, some arguments against Shakespeare’s authorship strike me as persuasive, some less so, but all are sufficiently interesting to encourage further study.

Now regular readers of this space are familiar with my frequent lament about the all-pervasive politicisation of every aspect of life, including those that ostensibly have nothing to do with politics.

One would have hoped that a forensic effort aimed at establishing definitively the identity of probably history’s greatest playwright, and arguably its greatest writer tout court, would be spared political fisticuffs. Yet such a hope would be forlorn.

For Will Shakespeare, or whoever hid behind that pseudonym, has been recruited to man the barricades of class war. You see, the Stratfordian was a man of a rather modest social background, a glover’s son in a provincial town.

Hence, whenever anybody dares argue against his authorship, that reckless individual is instantly accused of class snobbery, a refusal to accept that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary achievement.

Such a vice shoves a stick into the wheel spokes of egalitarianism, which makes it impossible to assess the saboteur’s data and arguments on merit.

It doesn’t matter whether his case is made well or badly. What draws spittle-sputtering opprobrium is that the case should be made at all.

The old you-can’t-say-this ethos kicks in, albeit in the guise of reverential respect for an iconic personage of literary and theatrical history. The air gets thick with flying accusations of conspiracy theories, elitism, snobbery and what have you.

Such is the level of debate one observes in the academe and the press, where politicised invective and general ad hominems have become commissioned as weapons of mass instruction.

Considering the ideological bias in our universities, one isn’t particularly surprised. After all, attacking the opponent’s person rather than his ideas is a time-proven trick liberally employed by those whose own ideas can’t withstand scrutiny.

Now some 20 per cent of our faculties in the humanities self-identify as Marxists, and the likelihood is strong that another 70 per cent are so close to that end as to make no difference.

Hence, since most people professionally engaged in the humanities base their intellectual being on ideas as unsound as they are immoral, one shouldn’t be surprised that even such an innocuous subject veers into the morass of ideological nonsense.

So I’m not surprised. But I’m saddened. I suspect that Will Shakespeare, whoever he was, would be too.

After all: “Make the doors upon a woman’s wit, and it will out at the casement; shut that, and ‘twill out at the keyhole; stop that, ‘twill fly with smoke out at the chimney”. And in this case woman embraces man.

Good riddance to INF

Well done, Mr President (shame about the dress sense)

I don’t know how to explain to Trump’s critics something that shouldn’t need explaining.

So repeat after me: a bilateral treaty is only as good as bilateral compliance.

And if one side cheats, it’s to blame for the collapse of the treaty, not the other side that refuses to go on under such circumstances. Still not clear?

Fine, an analogy then. Suppose you’re playing poker against a chap who deals himself four aces from the bottom of the pack. If you then call him a cheat and walk away from the table, who’s to blame for it, you or him? Good. Glad we’ve sorted that out.

Extrapolating from there, one ought to praise President Trump for putting an end to the INF treaty banning the deployment of land-based intermediate-range missiles in Europe.

He and his Foreign Secretary Pompeo correctly point out that Russia is cheating because it has deployed just such a missile system. As a result, the US no longer considers itself bound by the terms of the INF treaty.

Unfortunate but unavoidable, I’d say. Nor can there be any conceivable doubt as to who’s to blame, right?

Well, if you think so, it means only two things. First, you have a logical mind. Second, you haven’t read the international outburst of attacks on Trump, ranging from hysterical to perfidious.

Skipping the first category, let’s focus on the second, as exemplified by Mark Almond, a regular and sympathetic guest on RT.

Writing in today’s Mail, he rues Trump’s decision that creates a situation “far scarier” than the Cold War. That’s regrettable, considering “the Kremlin’s relatively small number of mobile medium-range missiles”.

Relative to what? To the zero number of such missiles deployed by Nato? And how many of those systems does it take to wipe out every European capital, should the spirit move Putin? Well, exactly the same number Putin has already primed: relatively small.

“And in such uncertain times,” continues Dr Almond, “the proliferation of medium-range [the actual term is ‘intermediate-range’, the ‘I’ in INF, but who am I to point this out to the expert] nuclear missiles brings the risk of nuclear war that much closer…”

That’s cleverly done. Who in his right mind can possibly argue with the observation above? No one. Nor can anyone dispute the fact that the US has pulled out of INF.

But when the two statements appear side by side, they implant into the reader’s mind that it’s Trump who’s to blame for this situation. The fault lies with the player who catches the cardsharp by the hand, not with the cardsharp.

Incidentally, why is the present situation “far scarier” than the Cold War? Well, you see, “The Cold War was a neat divide between Washington and Moscow. Now there are other players in the game.”

Indeed there are, and that’s one of the truths that are so useful to throw a smokescreen over a lie. The impression one gets – is designed to get – is that the US amply justified action will encourage a free-for-all for the “other players”, such as China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and those are just the ones we know about.

But, since none of those countries is a signatory to the treaty, they are in no way constrained by its terms. Quite the opposite, by responding to Russia’s double dealing, Trump clearly hopes to replace the treaty Russia has abused with a multilateral arrangement that includes strict verification provisions.

This morning Russia made a song and dance of leaving INF too, in response to American war-mongering. However, Russia de facto left the treaty years ago by cheating – as it has cheated on every arms-limitation treaty before, SALT 1, SALT 2, you name it.

Until yesterday’s announcement, the US (and hence Nato) was the only country whose defence capability was limited by the treaty. Surely the president should be praised for trying to change that iniquity and, one hopes, make the world safer as a result?

Instead Dr Almond repeats, practically word for word, Putin’s mendacious response to the American action. But then he must have learned that language on RT.

Of apes and men

Should animal rights extend to voting? Prof. Singer probably thinks so.

The other day I fortuitously stumbled on a YouTube lecture by the neuroscientist Jordan Peterson and was sufficiently impressed to order a couple of his books.

Prof. Peterson has devoted his life to the study of the most impenetrable subject of all: human behaviour and factors affecting it. From what I’ve seen so far, he makes more sense – and displays more courage – than most of his colleagues.

So much more jarring it was to hear him make frequent references to Darwin, especially when using primates as a key to some aspects of human life.

There are two problems with such references: they are redundant in that they explain nothing that can’t be explained otherwise; and they are based on a defunct theory that would have been discarded at least a century ago if it weren’t so politically charged.

Prof. Peterson delivered a well-reasoned attack on tribalism that divides the world into two distinct and usually adversarial groups: us and them.

History indeed provides uncountable examples of an exaggerated sense of tribal affiliation causing no end of trouble. Clearly, mankind hasn’t heeded St Paul’s lesson on “neither Jew nor Greek”.

People seek group identification because few of us are sufficiently comfortable in our own spiritual skin. This applies to many variously pernicious groups, from the Nazis to supporters of Chelsea FC.

Prof. Peterson is amply qualified to elucidate this tendency, expressing it in the terms of his profession and drawing on reams of statistical analysis in support.

So why on earth does he need to draw a parallel between human and simian tribalism? He cites the research of the eminent primatologist Jane Goodall, who indeed provided many illuminating insights into apes and their instincts.

I have utmost respect for her work, but not when it’s used to seek insights into human behaviour. For, following St Augustine, I believe that the ape is but a ghastly caricature of a human being. (He described Satan as ‘the ape of God’.)

It’s a reminder of what will happen to us if we abuse our God-given humanity to live by nothing but instincts, however shameful, and appetites, however reprehensible. The ape, in other words, isn’t our past, but it may well be our future.

The difference on this subject between Prof. Peterson and me isn’t that I’m more intelligent (I don’t think I am) or better-educated in such matters (I know I’m not). It’s that I use a different cognitive methodology from his, and I’m prepared to argue that mine is more likely to make the world more intelligible.

In this case, he cites Jane Goodall’s finding on primate tribalism. Apparently, chimpanzees divide themselves into tribes and, should an intrepid outsider come anywhere near, they tear it to pieces.

I don’t remember Prof. Peterson’s exact words, but he used that interesting but, to me, irrelevant fact to comment on human tribalism, presumably as manifested by the Nazis and supporters of Chelsea FC (or some typological equivalent of the latter from his native Canada).

That misses the vital point. A chimpanzee’s behaviour is entirely predetermined by its biological makeup, while a man’s behaviour isn’t. A man is endowed with free will, enabling him to choose between good and evil, vice and virtue, beauty and ugliness.

In that sense a chimpanzee is closer to a plant, which too has no choice but to live out its life according to biological diktats. A man, however, may indeed choose to tear an outsider to pieces, but he may also welcome the outsider, offering him food, shelter and solace.

Yet if we accept that man is nothing but a confluence of molecules coming together over a long time as a result of some initial biochemical accident, then the parallel with chimps makes perfect sense.

It can be demonstrated that chimpanzees are microbiologically close to humans. The two share 99 per cent of their active genetic material, and the genetic distance between them is a mere 0.386.

If that were all there is to it, then chimps would be practically human, even though their intelligence demonstrably falls into the low end of the human range, the one inhabited by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, Richard Dawkins and most supporters of Chelsea FC.

All I can say to such arguments is that it’s obviously the remaining one per cent that makes all the difference. It’s that one per cent that makes a man close to God and a chimp close to a fern.

That towering difference reduces all biological similarities between humans and apes to the level of petty atavisms of interest mainly to recondite specialists and trivia buffs.

One hopes Prof. Peterson will eventually ditch Darwin’s half-baked, long since discredited theory and its derivatives as an illustration of human behaviour. He has enough deep insights of his own not to need to venture outside Homo sapiens to explain the behaviour of Homo sapiens.

Such excursions are not only redundant and ill-advised, but they can also be harmful if politicised. And what isn’t politicised these days?

Thus we routinely talk about animal rights, forgetting the dialectical relationship between rights and duties. Since animals have no duties, they can have no rights by definition.

However, believing that man is but a more sophisticated animal makes all sorts of absurdities possible. Thus back in 1993 Princeton professor of ‘bioethics’ Peter Singer founded the GAP project, campaigning for apes to receive full human rights.

That project is still going strong, with the Spanish parliament having already acted on Singer’s prescriptions.

He himself displays the sexual power of his convictions by allowing that humans and animals can have “mutually satisfying” sexual relations because “we are animals, indeed more specifically, we are great apes.” Therefore such sex “ceases to be an offence to our status and dignity as human beings.”

This proves yet again, if any further proof is necessary, that it’s possible to build a seemingly logical structure on a false premise. There can be no valid objection to Singer’s little predilection unless we reject his presupposition of the animal nature of man.

Much as it’s probably based on a frank self-assessment, this presupposition is wrong. That’s why I’m upset when real scientists like Prof. Peterson come so dangerously close to it.