Those who are familiar with the exploits of Zarathustra, postmodern-day prophet of renown will know that it is his wont to drive from time to time to the local village so that the inhabitants might benefit from his sermons on the subject of social justice and the role they, the villagers, played in obstructing it. On one occasion however he took the unusual step of inviting his good friend Ziggy along for the drive. In fact Ziggy was his only friend, it being difficult to fit two friends into his recently acquired Maserati.
“You remember that discussion we had last week about diversity?” began Ziggy. As usual, he had come well-prepared with an opening gambit to prevent his friend rehearsing his latest sermon on him. “There is perhaps more to the subject than we have realised.”
“Is that so?” The counter was dismissive, but Ziggy was by now used to this, and took it in his stride.
“Yes, I was on this Facebook group called ‘Societal Values’ and they were discussing diversity in the workplace.”
“Societal Values? Those guys are dinosaurs! What do they know of diversity? Most of them are pretty pale, male and stale.”
“Well, in fairness you are pretty pale and male yourself and your tastes in prog rock music arguably a bit stale.” This was a rather unfair accusation because Zara, as he was affectionately known by his friend, did also listen on occasions to Ed Sheeran (although he was generally unwilling to admit it). Nonetheless, he resisted the urge to respond to this provocation, instead courteously turning down the stereo which was issuing forth a recently re-mastered bootleg version of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, so allowing the dialogue to proceed more readily.
Ziggy needed no encouragement. “So it was suggested that the most important aspect of diversity was viewpoint diversity to stop people getting trapped in their prejudices.” A judicious pause was allowed here to let his friend pass comment if wished. As expected, his pejorative reference to “prejudices” had pre-empted any urge on Zara’s part to demur at this stage. “Nothing worse than people not getting called on their prejudices, is there?” Ziggy couldn’t resist digging the hole he was preparing just a little deeper. Still getting no apparent reaction, he cast a sideways glance and noted that Zara was lip-synching:
I need someone to show me
The things in life that I can’t find…
Well, he couldn’t have scripted it better! [Stop congratulating yourself and get on with the story – ed.]
In the absence of resistance he continued his narrative, elaborating on the dangers of Groupthink and of the suppression of dissenting views. Zara meanwhile continued with his lip-synch:
I can’t see the things that make true happiness
I must be blind.
As the track ended, Zara became aware of the silence and zoned back into the conversation: “Oh, you’ve finished making your point?” Responding as best he could to the last thing he recalled having taken in, he continued: “Yes, prejudice, I’m all for it… I mean against it.”
“Ah, so you agree with the guy on Societal Values? That’s interesting.” It may have seemed so to him, but not to Zara, who felt a sudden pang of dread, the sort you feel when you realise the button you just clicked actually said “Transfer Fnuds” and the web address is coming up as antiutopiya.co.ru. But what could he do at this point but wait to have the latent inconsistency in the position he had unwittingly just espoused pointed out to him?
Ziggy was in no hurry and had a couple of cards still in his hand, as well as one up his sleeve. “But what I was really wondering about was whether you would agree with the conclusion about the importance of freedom of speech?” Zara could feel the knot tightening around his neck and his metaphors mixing uncontrollably. “Oh, and the dangers of Cancel Culture in the avoidance of Groupthink and the overcoming of prejudices?”
Another pause ensued, exquisitely timed by Ziggy, who broke the silence with his final question, innocently intoned, but delivered with the skill of a practised executioner: “Oh, by the way, what was your sermon going to be on today?”
Well, in truth, Cancel Culture and the dangers of freedom of speech were only possible themes he had thought he might touch on amongst many other important topics arrayed under the banner of postmodern probity. But Zara was at heart, or at least in his mind, an easy-going fellow who was flexible about such matters as the content and timing of sermons. “You know, there’s a hostelry just a few miles up the road,” he ventured, “which does a very fine ploughman’s lunch this time of day. I don’t know about you but I’m feeling quite peckish.”
This was sweet music to Ziggy’s ears. The chances of them ever reaching the village they had been headed to were receding fast. “Sounds like a plan,” he replied amicably.
Disclaimer: references to Zarathustra in the above 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.