What Do People Stand For?

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

It is often said that the victors write history, but today history is being rewritten by people with niche agendas, and this is usually divisive and therefore ” a bad thing”.

In the USA and post-Soviet states, passions are running high about old civic statues of long-dead people – and some people are trying to bring this notion to Britain.

Afua Hirsch has asked for a revisionist review of Nelson and Churchill from a racist viewpoint. Why? What good would come of this?

It is true that modern eyes look upon the “olden days” with amazement – back then people freely took drugs, drank alcohol all day, smoked and were sexist, racist, bigoted with poor hygiene and no chance to vote.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.

It is also true that some people were all for votes, equality for women, against smoking and the rest. This is because it is how things go – it is frankly silly to suggest that 100% of everyone was (for example) racist or pro-slave trade; there is always a natural spread of opinions that may well, in the end, give sway to a majority statistic in favour of racism, meaning that there will always be some percentage in opposition.

Afua Hirsch and others fail to realise that Nelson and Churchill can be “of that time” and that just because she has found some other people with different opinions doesn’t detract from that;  it is fair to say that the majority in the past did – openly and happily – have a tendency to white supremacy, however unpalatable that may be to us all today. Deal with it.

To help deal with it, I found it helpful to know that discovered and explored lands were tested against a tick box list to discover if the people were civilised or barbarian. The Indians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians and Chinese were found to be civilised, among others, and paid due respect, whereas many African tribes that failed the test were declared “barbarian” – which had an internationally agreed understanding – that these uncivilised/ uncivilisable creatures were equal to animals, and so could be owned and traded in the same manner as livestock. They simply were not considered “human”.

So let’s look again at Nelson and Churchill – yes, they were with the majority of the time, and yes there were some contemporary dissenters. But it’s not about judging them in any of the lights, now or then; it is not about excusing them nor apologising for them either.

Rather it is to know that whether these men held those opinions is unimportant because they did not become who they became in consideration of such views.

In other words, their views on racism make no difference to what they mean to us culturally; it just is not in the equation.

It is all to do with separating the man from what he represents, what he stands for. Both Nelson and Churchill represent victory, the triumph of good over evil, freedom over enslavement, the continuum of Britain as Britain.

It doesn’t matter if the man is gay, red-haired, short of stature, has a stutter, walks with a limp, has debts or is racist. Yet people don’t see that these days.

Today, increasingly, what matters is everything but the heroic, the inspirational, the Thing Represented.

That’s a shame.

Knowing Rock Hudson was gay didn’t matter a lot to me, but it did to others. I like the music of Richard Wagner – he may have been a Nazi sympathiser, but that is not what he – nor his music – represents. I may agree or disagree with Picasso’s political stance but still love his work.

People like Afua want to destroy what people represent, leaving nothing but a bad taste.

I am happy to remember the good and charitable work done over many years by Jimmy Savile. Savile – it seems – was a bad person in his private life, but he wasn’t representing that, he wasn’t advocating that view. He stood for charity, raising money and awareness, and as such was a force for good. People are complex, and it may well be that the allegations of sexual misconduct are true, but his good work was not done in that name.

You have to ask yourself what any historical figure represents – because that is greater and more inspirational than any fallible mortal man. In truth, there is no such thing as a real hero, so to have a hero, we must allow the bad stuff to be ignored/ forgotten. Most of the stuff we call bad today was less bad back in the day, and our hero has to fit in.

If we dig too deep, if we invade celebrity privacy if we snoop, if we use paparazzi – we learn too much, and if we know too much, then all that is good, all that may be inspirational and positive is destroyed.

Kevin Spacey is a great actor – but now he’s being erased from existence.

I am not asking for despots and murderers to be forgiven nor encouraged, merely that we are allowed to revere in ignorance, to allow ourselves to be inspired by people from the past – and not to have to think about the strange racist world they inhabited.


One Response to “What Do People Stand For?”

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