Disclaimer: references to Zarathustra in the following are an allusion to the eponymous protagonist of Friedrich Nietzche’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and not to the Iranian religious reformer and prophet, traditionally regarded as the founder of Zoroastrianism.
After several months and years in the solitude of his cave, waiting like a sower who hath scattered his seed, Zarathustra’s soul became impatient and full of longing for those whom he loved; his wisdom meanwhile increased, and caused him pain by its abundance. Then one morning, he awoke ere the rosy dawn, and in his meditation he realised that in his absence his enemies had grown powerful and those whom he loved looked to him to provide leadership. He resolved immediately to return to the world to renew his ministry.
Thus it was that he went down to the village below and was greeted by curious crowds asking: “Is this Zarathustra come again among us to promote his teachings?” And Zarathustra looked out at them and could see that he had been missed, or at least his teachings had, for the people spoke harshly one unto another and seemed to have little understanding of what constituted inappropriate or offensive behaviour or speech. And Zarathustra realised that of a surety they had feasted excessively on freedom of thought and free expression and so he asked the people what regulations and independent tribunals they had set up through which sanctions could be laid against perpetrators engaging in inappropriate and offensive acts.
“Why, we have the police force and the law courts to protect us,” the villagers replied. “Oh foolish people! Do you not know that the police and the law courts are the provenance of the privileged classes and serve to protect their interests?” “How can that be?” the people retorted. “We are all simple villagers here and no one has any privileges, except perhaps Zarathustra who is afforded a free lunch when he comes to preach?” But Zarathustra much piqued by this remark again railed against them: “Don’t you know there is no such thing as a free lunch? And has no person here ever heard of false consciousness? You are all smitten by it if you cannot see the privilege dripping out of your neighbours’ every orifice.” At this several in the crowd pulled out handkerchiefs, which encouraged the prophet thinking they were experiencing remorse for the error of their ways. But it turned out they were only doing so to wipe their noses, concerned that “privilege” was dribbling therefrom unbeknownst to them.
The prophet resolved to try again the next day. On this occasion he climbed upon a soap box, the better to assert his authority. “When you support worthy causes like Rhodes Must Fall or Unite against Fascism,” he began, “do not be like the Christians who commit their time and offer their donations anonymously that only their God might see their works. Rather signal your virtue by all means at your disposal through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram so as to shame those who skulk in the shadows, persisting in their apathy and bigoted opinions. You must be a beacon unto them. Then fellow progressives who see what you evince publicly will commend you for the soundness of your views and praise your name. Great will be the reward in cyberspace and manifold will be the “likes” for those who thus profess their righteousness to the fullest extent.
“And do not waste your time either ministering unto the homeless and the needy, other than to apportion blame to the privileged classes. The poor will not be with you for long; only until the imminent day when poverty will be swept away by the decree of a new revolutionary government. Therefore I say unto you, store up your treasures not in the currency of this world order but in the advancement of the revolutionary cause, wherein no salami-slicing bankers and brokers can whittle away at your accumulated human capital or thieves break in and steal. And take no thought for the morrow; the coming revolution shall take thought for the things of itself.”
“Do not be hasty either to forgive those who express reactionary views. For if ye show tolerance and forgiveness unto them, others will be encouraged to do likewise and the unrighteous among you will be emboldened and confirmed in their bigoted views. Be quick rather to judge such offenders and denounce them as the xenophobes, fascists and Tory scum that they are so that even their friends and family will be reluctant to associate with them and their power and influence will be diminished, while yours will increase. Despised are the meek; for they shall be dispossessed of their influence, yea even unto their livelihood. Remember always that your progressive opinions are the fount of your righteousness and must shine out to the world, so that the whole world might be saved through your agency.”
At this an enthusiastic man in the front row piped up: “I have for some time now followed diligently these admonishments of the prophet and unfriended every bigot, reactionary apologist and purveyor of inadvertently homophobic comments in my ken. But now that I have no friends left other than my old mother who is deaf and dumb so incapable of mis-speaking, how can my righteousness shine forth to the world?” “Did you not attain great satisfaction from these acts of unfriending?” was the prophet’s response, after a moment’s thought. “I did,” came back the reply. “Then you have had your reward,” concluded the prophet as he descended hastily from his soap box, deciding that now was a good time to end today’s discourse.
After a few days among the people, Zarathustra began to see that the village was a tight-knit community where everyone took an interest in what others were doing and readily offered help when it was needed. But as a consequence of this getting along, they had all come to think and behave similarly and there was little of diversity to be seen. So that day he addressed them thus: “O my people, don’t you know that diversity is the salt of the earth. As it is written, you may talk in the tongues of men and angels but if you have not diversity, the sound you make is no more than the drone of a bagpipe or the fart of a dog which has gorged itself on raw meat, whereas with diversity the sounds combine to make a symphony. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” At this the people looked confused for they were unaware of the narrowness that encompassed their minds and hearts, but one small boy in the crowd piped up: “Yes, I know what you mean,” he enthused. “I have dog like that too.” “Well,” retorted the prophet grudgingly, “if people do not have ears to hear and eyes to see, at least they have noses to smell.” And with that he dusted off his feet and went on to the next village, where again a crowd quickly gathered because, it seemed, the preacher’s reputation had gone before him.
But not all in this village were as well-disposed towards the prophet and some there were who would conspire against him. This worried the prophet little since one will always be opposed by those concerned to defend their privilege, not least those who believe themselves not to be in possession of any. “What is truth?” asked a heckler. “There is no such thing as truth,” replied Zarathustra. “If there had been I would have told you so.” “How then can we believe you,” retorted the heckler. At this the crowd rose up against the heckler and with one voice declaimed him: “Cast out the unbeliever! He has no place in our midst.” But Zarathustra chastised them for their precipitousness: “Why do you speak so hastily to this person, making use of a male third person pronoun, when you have not yet ascertained if he is transgender? Let zhe who is without gender cast the first stone.” And the crowd murmured to themselves but could not answer him. So the heckler, emboldened, persisted in his challenge to Zarathustra.
“I have a question.” he said. “Is it true that a behaviour which is perceived to be racist becomes racist by that token, whatever the intent of the speaker?” “You know that is true,” replied Zarathustra, “as surely as you know there is no such thing as truth.” The heckler, encouraged, continued: “So when a Labour Party activist causes offence to Jews by condemning Zionism as a racist ideology, arguing that this is her perception, which is the racist?” “Clearly both are,” came the immediate reply.
But the heckler was a subtil fellow and had laid a trap, since he knew there were both Labour Party activists and members of the Jewish community in the crowd, who immediately set upon one another with indignant outbursts of “How dare you suggest that I am a racist.” So the heckler slipped away, which caused some relief to Zarathustra because, although there is no such thing as truth, the heckler had come quite close to exposing one on that occasion.