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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 13-06-2020 10:30

The great Anglo-Saxon meltdown

It is hardly surprising that the prolonged lockdowns are changing people’s behaviour. Perhaps this is why the US, and to a slightly lesser extent, the UK, are now experiencing bouts of collective madness.

It is hardly surprising that the prolonged lockdowns – with many millions of men, women and children ordered to stay at home for months on end, the loss of a huge number of jobs, the shrinking of most incomes and the promise of a future characterised by “social distancing” in which we are told that getting with a couple of yards of anyone else could mean a death sentence – are changing people’s behaviour. Perhaps this is why the United States, which already suffered from a great many social and political ailments, and to a slightly lesser extent, the United Kingdom, are now experiencing bouts of collective madness. On both sides of the Atlantic, single-minded minorities of latter-day Puritans have risen up against the sinful old order and are doing their vigorous best to tear it down. 

Here in Argentina, “liberated zones” are districts in which criminals (or, in dictatorial times, government death squads), can go about their business unimpeded because the police have been ordered to let them get on with it. For many in the US, the UK and other parts of the world, the idea is so attractive that they want their entire country to be declared a “liberated zone.” With this in mind, in Minneapolis, city council members agreed that the local police department should be dismantled and replaced by what presumably would be a band of politically correct “community” vigilantes.

Elsewhere in the US, there is much talk about “defunding” the police or simply doing away with them. Though most people think it would be utter lunacy, cowed politicians of all stripes, not just Democrats but also some Republicans, seem more than willing to pander to the mob and say that they too believe a drastic purge of the police is urgently needed.

As everybody knows, all this started with the death of a black man, George Floyd, after he had been held down for about nine minutes by a white cop, Derek Chauvin, who had his knee on his neck. Chauvin was quickly charged with second-degree murder and no doubt will spend many years behind bars. By now, the chances of him getting anything approaching a fair trial must be close to zero. His lawyers may argue that chokeholds, while extremely unpleasant for those subjected to them, are often used by the police and very rarely cause permanent injuries, let alone deaths, and that Chauvin was unaware that Floyd was in bad health and that he had good reason to consider him dangerous, but none of this would help their client. The current consensus, shared by Donald Trump downwards (or upwards, for those who abhor him), is that by killing a black man Chauvin committed a crime so “heinous,” “horrific” or whatever adjective you consider suitably damning, that he should be put away for decades to come.

As for Floyd, he has already been beatified which, when you think about it, is a remarkable fate for a man with a long record of not so petty crime, such as assault and robbery, drug offences and the like, for which he spent years in jail. What we are seeing brings to mind Tom Wolfe’s novel The Bonfire of the Vanities in which a white bond trader is accused, wrongly as it happens, of accidentally hitting a black youth with his car and then fleeing from the scene, all of which brings down on him the wrath of fiery black preachers and the instantly recognisable smarmy politicians who want their support. The comatose youth is made out to have been an “honour student” of almost unlimited potential, though, unlike Floyd, he was not destined to become the figure of world-historical importance even Trump seems to think he was.

Encouraged by the willingness of senior politicians to bow before them and swear, hand on heart, that they share their “pain,” activists who want to see the English-speaking countries given a thoroughgoing overhaul are on a roll. As well as trying to get rid of the police, they are toppling statues of alleged villains such as Christopher Columbus and defacing others of equally despicable individuals, among them Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Queen Victoria and Mahatma Gandhi. Streets are being renamed.

They also have their eyes on films they think show black people in an unflattering light: Gone with the Wind has just been scrubbed from HBO’s offerings. Books are next on the list of things that must go: zealots are ordering their followers to “decolonise” their personal libraries. For firms dealing in e-books, making readers comply should be easy; a righteous employee of the company distributing them need only press a button and, hey presto, the offending article will be removed in a twinkling from all its customers’ devices, which is bad news for writers who hope their works will have a secure afterlife.

The new rule is straightforward: like the Taliban, those who are proud to be “woke” (a once slang term which now means being belligerently keen to make everybody toe your particular faction’s line) should erase the unenlightened past. As many have pointed out, those who think and behave this way have much in common not just with the Taliban but also with the Maoist Red Guards whose war on everything old and therefore outdated had such a ruinous affect on China before her rulers came to their senses soon after the demise of the “great helmsman.” As far as the woke are concerned, having lived long ago when attitudes were different is no defence. If a dead white male, or female for that matter, harboured the wrong thoughts, he or she fully deserves to be consigned to oblivion.

All this may seem a bit ridiculous, but in the US, the UK and their cultural satellites, people rash enough to profess an unfashionable view are losing their jobs. Saying you have doubts about the benefits of “white privilege” can get you summarily fired, as can tweeting a racially charged phrase like “all lives matter.” The editorial director of The New York Times had to resign for allowing the publication of a column by a Republican senator who said the military should help keep order in cities that were getting overrun by violent mobs. A footballer who played for the Los Angeles Galaxy club was booted out for something unkind his wife said, in Serbian, on social media about the looters then running amok. He kneeled and begged for mercy, but by then it was too late.

So if you work for a big image-conscience company you had better join the chorus denouncing anything that could possibly be interpreted as racism. Keeping your mouth shut is not enough; activists warn us that in these troubled times “silence is violence.” All one can do is lie low, sporadically mouth the approved slogans and hope to go unnoticed until not just the virus but also the mental storm it helped set off has finally run its course, if it ever does.


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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).


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