It has been too long coming. While conscientious and decent liberals have tried to explain why, to their horror, millions of people in Europe and the USA have embraced populist causes in recent years, none has really got near the nub of the issue, dug down to the very core. For example, I have long been of the opinion that the Brexit vote, along with the 2016 election of Donald Trump and the continued popularity of right-wing governments in Poland and Hungary, are almost entirely the consequences of the malign influence of fungi. I have attempted to advance this argument in political debates but am never taken seriously. Now at last I have some support.
Next week at Loughborough University Dr Lenka Vrablikova will be delivering a guest lecture entitled: ‘Othering Mushrooms: Migratism and its Racist Entanglements in the Brexit Campaign.’ It is Dr Vrablikova’s contention that ‘research on how forests, mushrooms and their foragers have figured in the formation of white hetero-patriarchy is vital (my italics) for contesting the re-emergence of the right-wing populism that, in Europe, is exemplified by events such as Brexit’.
Vital, actually, to my mind, is a gross understatement. Dr Vrablikova lectures at Leeds University, and focuses on ‘the study of visual ethnomycology’. She is also the co-founder of the Feminist Readings Network, which, I am told, ‘provides a trans-lingual and trans-national space to explore reading with feminist, queer, and anti-racist thought, art and pedagogy’. I could hardly have hoped to have a more learned supporter for my theories and, with this in mind, have written to Dr Vrablikova at her Leeds University address enquiring which particular species of mushroom is most seriously implicated in the foisting of fascism upon so many people, and what we should do if we come across one of them.
In the meantime, I have made my own guesses. So, I have always had grave suspicions about the stinkhorn fungus: white, phallic and foul-smelling, just like Trump. If you see one of these mushrooms growing along the wayside, root it out and burn it, shouting ‘Die, Tory scum’ as you do so. Dr Vrablikova has not yet replied to my email — it will be interesting to see if her findings tally with mine.
We should attempt to examine all competing theories with dispassionate fairness, of course. One of these is that, rather than mushrooms, it is the existence of academics such as Dr Vrablikova which has persuaded vast swaths of the electorate across three continents to vote for people like Viktor Orbán and Donald Trump. Had I invented her and her various exciting projects, you would have considered it heavy-handed satire and too ludicrous to make whatever point I was trying to make. But Idid not make her up, any more than I made up Dr Alyosxa Tudor from the School of Oriental and African Studies, who has suggested that colonialism and racism were responsible for the gender constructs ‘men and women’: a theory which many historians would contest, I think.
Or the thousands of other similar courses and lectures taking place right now up and down the western world’s benighted campuses. The outpourings of unmitigated bilge from hundreds and hundreds of intellectually third-division chancers, mired in one or another imagined victimhood, all cordially loathing the government, economic system and culture of a society which has, ridiculously, afforded them academic tenure for these manifest idiocies, and who will surely pop up on BBC Radio 4 or Newsnight at some point sticking it to whitey and the straights.
And so the question becomes: are mushrooms responsible for loads of the population voting for Farage and Trump and Johnson? Or is it, instead, that every time someone like Dr Vrablikova scrabbles towards the warmth and light of publicity, a whole bunch of people think: we are being overrun by the clinically insane, by people who really should be strapped down in a booby hatch, and this has got to stop?
They feel the same, I think, when they learn through the media that almost every-thing in the known universe — everyone who has ever existed as well as everything not human — is racist. In the US over the past few years, it has been suggested that the following items are racist or redolent of white supremacy (i.e. racist): cauliflowers, mathematics, bees, milk, farmers, dogs. And if you are about to take on a three-year course in Resentment Studies at one of our universities, bear in mind that the number of things not assigned a transgressive status diminishes by the second. I don’t think anyone has yet got around to leaves, moorhens or muons. But get in quick, because they surely will.
This competing theory, then, posits that the more absurd woke overreach becomes, the bigger the kickback at the polls. If, for a moment, we leave fungi out of the equation, it seems to me that Boris Johnson’s remarkable triumph at the polls a year ago (how long it seems!) benefited enormously from the reaction to this supposed ‘culture war’. It was not an election simply about Brexit, although that was in there. Nor was it simply a rejection of the hopeless Jeremy Corbyn, nor simply a combination of the two. A rejection of the elite’s hyper-liberalism, as John Gray calls it, was crucial to victory, especially away from the south-east and among older voters. Johnson has shown that he kind of recognizes this, with the appointments to various bodies of social conservatives (such as David Goodhart at the Equality and Human Rights Commission). The British PM will cop it, however, if, after sacking the two most able people from his team, he reverts to the flaccid liberalism of his predecessors. But then, who knows what goes on in Boris’s mind. Maybe he buys the mushroom theory.