Recently, novelist and Spectator columnist Lionel Shriver published her latest novel Mania. Her work features an alternate historical timeline, as explained by her protagonist Pearson Converse. Shriver’s best known fiction book to date is We Need to Talk About Kevin (2003), which was adopted into an eponymous movie that was released in 2011.

To avoid any misunderstanding about the story’s quality, it is true that esteemed publications like the New York Times and the Guardian both panned Ms. Shriver’s new book. Why? Because Mania skewers leftist shibboleths by presenting the cost of elitist imposition to our society, which unappreciated and sometimes ordinary (but intelligent) people have competently maintained up to and until the present day.

As a way of introduction, I must confess that my skills do not extend to literary criticism. I’ve read only a few novels for leisure, normally preferring non-fiction works instead. However in this case, an interview appearing on the British online program Spiked! is what prompted my intrigue. In her novel Mania, Ms. Shriver seeks to spotlight a human tendency for herd mentality that moves individuals to engage in heedless stampedes. These “psychic epidemics,” in Carl Jung’s parlance, end up trampling anyone in their path. Critical Race Theory has caused contemporary society to cast its wayward fixation upon disparities in human ability (as demonstrated by skill and interest) across various demographic categories, denouncing these conditions as tantamount to invidious discrimination.

This has resulted in an infestation of Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) principles into business and academic affairs. DEI ideology implies that capacity across almost all endeavors should be uniformly distributed among all categories of adults, and therefore that any group disparity in an esteemed occupation must result from intentional discrimination. The falsity of this broad assertion should be patently obvious to all but the woke ideologues. Yet its implementation has been so broadly adopted as to threaten anyone challenging this orthodoxy with career termination.

Mania, by extrapolation, satirically anticipates the next logical step: the banning of any recognition of cognitive differences in individuals. In the novel, this compulsory, yet popular, policy is called “Mental Parity” (or MP). It strips naked any distinction in knowledge or skill in order to avoid hurting the feelings of those who may have “alternate processing” skills – presumably resulting from lower intellect. To reach this desired state of nirvana, the lexicon must be purged of both disparaging terms such as idiot (including the title of Dostoevsky’s famous novel) and dumb (despite its reference to audio disability), but also favorable descriptions as well, such as the word smart.

Despite the implications of MP’s effects across western society, this first-person novel revolves around only a handful of characters, who mostly reside in the city of Voltaire, Pennsylvania. Besides the contrarian narrator Pearson Converse, the story includes the elegant conformist high-school companion and intermittent nemesis Emory Ruth, her precocious son Darwin and daughter Zanzibar (via a high-IQ sperm donor), the laconic romantic partner and sinewy arbor culturist (i.e., tree surgeon) Wade Haavik with whom she had an obstreperous daughter named Lucy. Pearson and Emery share a long and storied association, but quarrel frequently, and Mania revolves around these types of antagonistic acquaintances.

The first-person narrative view is used advantageously by the author to focus on the individual perceptions and localized perspective of the protagonist, who witnesses or directly experiences various consequences in the wake of an MP policy that is unleashed on society. Less common than the omniscient third-person style, first-person viewpoint helps to break down the fourth wall to reveal the protagonist behind the story. Familiar examples of this style include Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Brontë and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960).

The novel is divided into different timelines, beginning with 2011, then segueing into childhood before resuming at years 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017, and later jumping to 2023 and 2027. The childhood chapters describe how popular entertainment began shunning various fictional personalities with intellectual acumen, which results in the expunging of characters from the original Star Trek series (1966-69), along with others from such films as A Beautiful Mind (2001). Cancellation even strikes literature, with the demise of the novella Flowers for Algernon (1966) by Daniel Keyes.

Subsequently, the absence of differences in cognitive capacity among all students is insisted upon by the education system. Gradually, the western world begins to lose the ability to accomplish anything of value, when eventually only incompetent people are employed within the economy (such as was illustrated in the 2006 tragicomedy Idiocracy). In reality though, it is worth considering that an actual MP society might descend into something more akin to that which is described in William Golding’s dystopian novel Lord of the Flies (1954).

The topic of electoral politics is touched on sparingly in the novel. Mania’s alternate reality exposits that Barack Obama retired after serving only a single term due to the public’s unacceptability of his high intellect, who favored his more mediocre vice president, which was followed by two terms of Donald Trump—running as a Democrat—due to his lack of qualifications. Ms. Shriver highlights Obama’s cerebral persona, perhaps in order to placate a portion of her audience of Affluent White Female Urban Leftist (AWFUL) readers, who fawned over this quasi-Marxist dilettante.

Ironically, this diversion offers a reminder that in our own (non-alternate) reality, voter expectations have noticeably deteriorated for our presidential candidates. This is illustrated by that fact that while several historic former leaders authored serious literary works including The Naval War of 1812 (1882) by Theodore Roosevelt, Constitutional Government (1908) by Woodrow Wilson, Crusade in Europe (1948) by Dwight Eisenhower, and Why England Slept (1940) by John Kennedy, modern day ones did not.

Mania describes Pearson’s travails, and even within a relatively narrow window, the suffering caused by the equalization bandwagon extends far beyond her family. Unlike madness induced by ergot poisoning, MP in fiction, and DEI in fact, mandates uniform incompetence across all sectors of society– primarily to placate the mediocrities of those who crave undeserved respect and unearned accolades. This is something that has already been conceived of and implemented in the real world as illustrated by the California Department of Education's decision to prohibit the sorting of students into different math tracks based on natural ability, all done in the name of "equity."

In my own life and profession, I have had the privilege to work alongside individuals more technically knowledgeable and cognitively supple than myself. Sidelining competent persons from leadership and other important roles constitutes a criminal waste of their abilities. Moreover, substituting untrained and unqualified replacements for their roles, particularly for sensitive and vital tasks, jeopardizes the competent functioning and maintenance of society’s material infrastructure. Ms. Shriver’s novel amplifies these concerns by presenting an explicit—and slightly more absurd—context for succumbing to self-destructive imperatives. Hopefully with the benefit of a wide audience, Mania will serve merely as a warning, rather than a premonition.

Photo Credit- the Boston Globe