DOMINIC SANDBROOK: Meghan the ‘only child’ – and the triumph of feeling over fact
One day in the mid-18th century, one of the greatest of all Englishmen, the writer Dr. Samuel Johnson, with his friend James Boswell over a graveyard.
As they walked, they discussed a fashionable theory of the time that held that there was no such thing as objective, material reality. Instead, there were only the subjective perceptions of individual people, which meant you could never be quite sure whether something existed or not.
The theory was clearly not true, Boswell said, because we all know that other things exist. But, he added, it was “impossible to disprove it.”
Johnson then withdrew his foot and kicked it “with great force” against a large stone nearby. “That’s how I refute it,” he said gruffly.
Most of us, I think, know exactly what Johnson meant. If you’ve kicked a rock, you know it’s there. Reality exists, facts are facts and there is such a thing as concrete, objective truth. Two plus two is four, not five, and only a fool would deny that.
Meghan Markle is being sued for libel by her own half-sister Samantha after the Duchess of Sussex claimed in an interview she ‘grew up as an only child’
Only a fool. . . or Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Because in a curious new twist in the laughable soap that is the Meghan And Harry Show, the former Hollywood TV actress has filed documents in a Florida court arguing that there is no such thing as objective truth after all.
In case you’ve lost track of the latest developments, Meghan is being sued for defamation by her own half-sister Samantha, who was outraged by the Duchess’ claim in her Oprah Winfrey interview that she “grew up as an only child.”
According to Samantha, this is simply not true. And like Dr. Johnson kicking the stone, she points to her own existence as proof. Strangely enough, Meghan’s lawyers maintain that this is not a simple matter of objective truth. The fact that she clearly has a sister, they claim, doesn’t matter.
Instead, they say, her claim was a “textbook example of a subjective statement about how someone feels about her childhood.” It doesn’t matter that it was objectively false, because it’s about her ‘personal and subjective feeling’ about her ‘own childhood’.
According to Samantha Markle, the claim that Meghan grew up as an only child is simply not true
Samantha Markle is pictured with her half-sister Meghan Markle during her graduation in 2008
For most of us, including the late Dr. Johnson, this may sound like utter gibberish. You are either an only child or you are not, whatever your “subjective feelings” may tell you.
Unfortunately, Meghan’s relationship with reality sometimes seems very different from Dr. Johnson.
You may remember her telling Oprah Winfrey that she and Prince Harry were actually married three days before their spectacular wedding, in a back room of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
This turned out to be total nonsense. Her suggestion also included her son Archie being cruelly denied a royal title after a relative allegedly asked how dark his skin might be. (Actually, he was never entitled to it anyway.)
If I were to be harsh, I could say that such events have shown that the Duchess of Sussex is one who boldly says what she thinks in order to become famous and arouse sympathy, and who is perfectly happy to have both her own family and the her husband’s family in her obsessive pursuit of her own interests.
But let’s be nice, as she and Harry always instruct us. Maybe the Duchess just has a more avant-garde attitude to objective reality than the rest of us?
For example, during that gruesome Winfrey interview, “Meghan’s truth” was talked about a lot, as if the truth itself was just a subjective concept. And that, of course, is exactly how she and her fellow progressive enthusiasts often talk about truth and falsehood.
Meghan Markle has denied lying about ‘growing up an only child’ during her amazing interview with Oprah Winfrey as the Duchess of Sussex faces a defamation lawsuit filed by her estranged half-sister Samantha
For people who find themselves ‘awake’, objective reality is much less important than subjective opinion. There are no such things as facts; there are only feelings. And even if you come to a debate armed with a wide range of official statistics, none of them can compete with the “lived experience” of a self-described victim.
By the way, this is not just a phenomenon that is limited to the left. Donald Trump’s press secretary once defended his blatant lies, such as his claim about the supposedly unprecedented size of his inauguration crowd, as “alternative facts,” as if nothing is really true and every report, no matter how wrong, is equally valid.
But among awake activists you will find the most blatant indifference to objective reality and the most ardent obsession with subjective feelings.
For example, when the eminent black educator Tony Sewell chaired a committee investigating racial and ethnic inequalities in Britain, his conclusion — that Britain is not institutionally racist — drew a torrent of insults from left-wing commentators.
Time and again, Sewell’s critics argued that his pages of tables, charts, statistics, and—yes—facts meant nothing more than their “lived experience.”
In charities, universities and public sector organizations, this obsession with ‘lived experience’ – especially an experience of supposed victimization – has reached insane proportions.
Rachel Dolezal claimed to be of black and Native American descent and became head of her local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
On the other side of the Atlantic, some academics have taken this to truly extraordinary extremes. You may remember the bizarre story of Rachel Dolezal, an art teacher who rose to become head of her local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the most prestigious black rights organization in the US.
Dolezal claimed to be of black and Native American descent. In fact, she was white, as her parents were of German and Czech descent. But when exposed as an impostor, she insisted the biological facts of her birth and parentage were irrelevant. Her “essential essence,” she said, was black. In other words, this was her ‘truth’.
Then there is the very tricky question of what a woman is. You and I might think that basic biological reality is all that matters; but try telling that to the transgender militants who insist that being a woman is a matter of ‘feeling’ rather than fact.
Even our political parties are infested with this madness and have thrown scientific facts overboard for the latest ideological fads. For example, Labor’s Keir Starmer argues that it is “incorrect” to say that only women have a cervix – a ridiculous denial of basic biological reality – and flatly refuses to define what a woman is.
Labor’s Keir Starmer, claims it’s ‘incorrect’ to say only women have a cervix
Would there no longer be men and women, men and women in Sir Keir’s Britain? Or wouldn’t biological sex be more real than the blackness of Rachel Dolezal’s skin, or the Duchess of Sussex’s past as an only child?
All this may sound like infantile gibberish. But it matters.
A world where Meghan or – more precisely – Meghan’s lawyers can pretend to be an only child is a world where reality itself becomes an endangered commodity.
If truth doesn’t exist – only my truth, your truth and the truth of the Duchess of Sussex, all equally valid – how can we stop lies and falsehoods from blooming?
If everything is subjective, how can we convince people that the Holocaust really happened or that Vladimir Putin’s war crimes are verifiable? And how can we prevent conspiracy theories from taking root and eroding our democracy, if nothing is real and facts will always be trumped by feelings?
But as so often, I suspect the answer to all of these things is just a refreshing dose of common sense. A stone is a stone. We all know what a woman is. An only child has no sister.
And as for Meghan, Duchess of Sussex – well, I better keep my ‘personal and subjective feelings’ to myself.