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Optimism

Kirkhill

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KONSTANTIN KISIN: Alexander Solzhenitsyn once said the strength or weakness of a society depends more on the level of its spiritual life than its level of industrialization. If a nation's spiritual energies have been exhausted, it will not be saved from collapse by the most perfect government structure or by any industrial development. A tree with a rotten core can not stand.

When he was allowed to leave the USSR, Solzhenitsyn went to the U.S., where he was given a hero's welcome. But he quickly realized that American society was far from perfect. He started lecturing Americans about the problems he saw. Americans don't like that. Like Solzhenitsyn, I come from the Soviet Union. But I have no intention of repeating his mistake. That's why I've come to Britain, where you love being told what's wrong with you by foreigners.

But I do have to be honest, six months ago when Jordan asked me to speak at ARC about the importance of audacity, adventure, and a positive vision for our civilization, I was honored and delighted. But as I stand here today, after watching crowds openly celebrate mass murder on the streets of our cities, after watching the police spend more time debating Islamic theology on Twitter than enforcing the law, I'm starting to lose faith. I don't know how long our civilization will survive.

For years now, many of us have been warned that the barbarians are at the gates. We were wrong. They're inside. I'm not going to be all doom and gloom, there are positives as well. Say what you want about Hamas, at least they know what a woman is. But joking aside, I have to be honest, I've been in a dark place these past couple of weeks. So I did what I always do when I don't know what to do: I talk to my wife. It's not the only time I talk to her, but you get the point.

And she said, "You just need to clear your mind, take a few days off, let's go on holiday." And I know it is a weird thing to say, but I don't like going on holiday because I love working and I hate spending money. Protestant work ethic in a Jewish man's body. My wife is exactly the other way around, unfortunately. But she was right, she's always right, that's her best and most annoying quality. So we went to Barcelona, a beautiful city.

As we were walking down the main tourist street, La Rambla, many of you will know when you get to the bottom, you hit the Christopher Columbus monument, and it looks like a giant column with a pillar of Columbus on top, pointing towards the New World. This reminded me of my son, he's 18 months old, and this is what he does. He sits on my hip and points in the direction he wants to go. He treats me like a horse, basically.

And if I don't act quickly enough, or I don't comply, he does what all toddlers do: he throws a tantrum and starts screaming. "How dare you! You have stolen my dreams with your empty words!"

And when he does, we read him a story, and put him to bed, We don't give him a standing ovation in front of the U.N.

Anyway, trigger warning, I am going to talk positively about Christopher Columbus. I know he committed some pretty sizeable microaggressions, but he also changed the world. Do you know why he changed the world? Yeah, he tried to reach India, and by accident discovered America. But why go West to India? Europeans had been training with India for centuries, via the Silk Road. Why risk your life to go out on a limb?

There are many reasons of course, but the main one was the decision to try to reach Asia by going West was not made out of choice. Europe was desperate. Only a few decades prior, in 1453, the Ottomans sacked Constantinople and cut Europe off from the Silk Road. The West was facing a huge challenge and a new threat, no smaller than the one we're facing today. And like us, what they needed was another way.

But when Columbus took his idea to go West to India to the kings and queens of medieval Europe, they laughed at him. They didn't laugh at him because he was some misunderstood genius, he wasn't Galileo. They laughed at him because he was wrong. If you go out on the street and ask a random person why Columbus discovered America, they'll tell you he worked out that the Earth was round. Not true. By the time Columbus set off on his voyage in 1492, people had known the Earth was round for two thousand years. There are probably more Flat Earthers today than there were in the 15th century. God bless the internet!

The reason Columbus discovered America is not that he'd worked out the world was round, the reason is he'd massively underestimated the size of the planet. They were right to laugh at him, he was wrong. But he took that wrongness, he persuaded 90 other men to get into three boats smaller than the size of this stage and sail into the unknown. And he persuaded Queen Isabella of Castille and King Ferdinand of Aragon to fund his voyage. The moral of the story is, it doesn't matter how wrong you are, as long as you've got rich friends. (That's not the moral of the story).

The moral of the story is the history of our civilization was not made by people who always got everything right. It was made by people who made mistakes too. It was made by people who dared to believe they could solve the problems they faced. The story of the West is a story of audacity.

The big debates of the last decade, the "Culture Wars" and the polarization, are about one thing and one thing only: the future. There are people like us in this room who believe our future is to be prosperous and powerful and influential. We are the majority.

But there are also some people whose brains have been broken by an excess of education, who believe that our history is evil and we do not deserve to be great. We do not deserve to be powerful. That we must be punished for the sins of our ancestors. To them, our past is abominable, our present must be spent apologizing, and our future is managed decline. My message to those people is simple: "How dare you!" You will not steal my son's dreams with your empty words.

But Jordan is right, we need a positive message too. So here it is: From the dawn of time, human beings have had to work to make the world a better place. We captured the mystery of fire, we invented the wheel, and today we build buildings that would shock and awe almost every human being who has ever lived. We split the atom, we spliced the genome, and we connected the world through microcomputers that fit in our pockets, that allow us to do amazing things. This morning, I destroyed someone on Twitter with facts and logic from the toilet. It's magic.

Remember your grandparents? If I could go back in time and transport the grandparents of your grandparents into this room, just four generations ago, they would think they'd been abducted by aliens. That's the progress we've made. We haven't made that progress by whining and acting like victims. We've made that progress by unleashing the creativity and talent of people like us here in this room.

But I do think we've forgotten what adventure is. Being adventurous is not ordering extra spicy chicken at Nando's. Wrong reference for this room, let me try again. Being adventurous is not ordering extra spicy chicken from your personal chef.

When Columbus and his men got on those boats and took a journey into the unknown, they sailed to certain death. Do you know why? It's not because they were braver than you and I, it's because they knew something we've forgotten. All death is certain. And so I say to our friends in the world of business, you've made your fortunes by maximizing your returns on your investments. We are in the fight of our lives. There is no greater return on your investment than to protect and preserve our civilization.

And so I invite you to follow in the footsteps of Elon Musk, Paul Marshall, and Ben Delo, many of you are here, who are using your fortunes for the betterment of humanity.

I say to our friends in the media, that truth matters. We are in the fight of our lives. There is more to life than clicks and downloads. Let's move beyond the culture war where all we do is bat away the litany of slanderous accusations about our history. Let's set the agenda. Let's remind our fellow citizens why we are where we are. Let's remind them that we are the most tolerant, open, and welcoming societies in the history of the world. We're not embarrassed about our past, we're proud of it.

And to my colleagues in New Media especially, I say this. The legacy media is dying for a reason, they can not be saved or reformed. Let's stop complaining about them and start building the media empires of the future ourselves. We have everything we need, we even have rich friends now.

I say to our friends in education and academia, I understand that many of you feel like the French resistance or Soviet partisans. Stuck behind enemy lines, undermanned and outgunned. And you're right, we are in the fight of our lives. So keep fighting for every young mind you can, it will be worth it.

And finally, I say to our friends in politics, many of you here are conservatives. I'm not. I look terrible in tweed. That's why I identify as politically nonbinary. But I can tell you conservatives something, you will never get young people to want to "conserve" a society and an economy that is not working for them. We will not overcome woke nihilism as long as young people are locked out of the housing market, unable to pair up, unable to have kids, and unable to plan for the future.

I know it is difficult, and I know that whoever solves the housing crisis may well pay the price at the ballot box. This is true of many pressing issues too, or at least you think it is. But you did not get into politics to get re-elected, you got into politics to make a difference.

We are in the fight of our lives, and if courage means anything, it means doing the right thing and being willing to take the punishment if you have to. Let me say it again, all death is certain. We do not get to choose whether we live or die, we only get to choose if we live before we die.
 
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