With a rapidity and power that many on both sides are finding hard to believe, the world is being consumed by a social uprising around the question of race, culture and the relations and form of everyday life.
Like any good revolution, the fact that it has had multiple preludes does not disguise the fact that, as an event, it has arisen all at once, its power coming from its unitary, near-simultaneous emergence across the world, changing not only present and future, but the past as well.
Witness the speed and absoluteness with which a categorical change has occurred in the nature of institutions and how they exist. In the US, where the police have been growing in power for decades, the question is now asked as to whether the police should exist in their current form at all.
Actual departments have been stood down and reconstructed. No doubt it is full of spin, but the very fact that such responses are being made so hurriedly and absolutely are indicative of a historical shift.
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There is absurdity, too. IBM is ceasing work on facial recognition software, not because the technology is sinister and totalitarian in its own right, but because the company cannot remove racial bias from the software. It’s concerned that, in penning us all in like cattle behind a cyberfence, it might inadvertently be racist. The horror.
This is what a real uprising and challenge feels like, a rebuke to what preceded it, much of which was a petitioning of given power that only served to magnify that power.
This was often couched in individualistic psychological terms. Thus the campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oxford University was initially couched in terms of how it made many non-white students feel, etc etc. One could see both the strategic logic of it, and the inevitably that resistance would be thus expressed in the current age.
But how much better it is to see these statues simply being thrown into the sea! Given James Cook’s love for the Pacific Ocean that he did so much to define on maps, surely it is high time that he be returned to it in stone effigy? Some of these statues are more or less hollow, so he may complete the planned (and abandoned) circumnavigation of Australia simply on the tides.
Yes, there is going to be silliness and excess in some of these acts. It would be better to remove the statues somewhere, as part of the archive, though very few of them are of substantial artistic merit. Though, man, it looks really great to see them go into the sea.
For HBO to not have Gone With the Wind in its available library is just silly, and points to the real totalitarian danger, the dematerialisation of our control, and centralised control of the digital archive. But it’s not as if it’s unavailable.
It’s obvious why people object to, and now will not tolerate, these statues where they are. It’s for the same reason that their defenders want them to stay, rather than be preserved in a “Garden of Bastards” exhibit somewhere (amazing what a liberation it was to remove all those Lenin statues in a trice in 1989-90, but murderous slavemasters have to stay).
The public statue has occult power; statues began, as Julian Jaynes tells us, as entities that people imagined to be literally speaking to them (Jaynes argues that our internal voice — the “I” talking to “me” – only emerges sometime after the development of religions, cities and art. Before that we hear it as the voice of Gods, the world yakking at us).
The right’s defenders of statues want to preserve that occult power. They need it all the more as a last ditch defence of Anglo-Celtic cultural power and legitimacy — a legitimacy abolished by the multiculturalisation of the west. But it was the right that enthusiastically backed decades of high immigration, as a way of flooding the labour market — and then pioneered multiculturalism as a state discursive technology to refashion societies away from monoculturalism.
If you wanted those statues to be unquestioned, shoulda kept us as a nation of 10 million Anglos, half a million Indigenous, subsisting on roast lamb and sweet tea, with a handful of Italians to make the coffee. John Howard was the last prime minister who could have changed that policy, and he widened it. When that rope pulls James Cook to the ground, Howard will have been the one who gave it the first tug. Funny old new world.
The right will presumably regroup in some way, eventually, to offer a counter-revolution to this. But for the moment they are scattered and bewildered at every level. In the Anglosphere, their twin triumphs — Trump and Brexit — haven’t delivered the utterly undeliverable ecstatic transcendence they sought.
The energy has run out of both moments, as the elite reassume the public positions of power they never really abandoned. Their cosplay carpark revolutions were always imaginary, and faded instantly when something real came along, as a small child happily playing armies will suddenly become aware of their own childness should they encounter an actual soldier.
Scomo’s comments about there being “no slavery in Australia” are worse than offensive; they’re bleatingly pathetic. It’s the sort of stuff you can only get away with if the country still hasn’t changed its curriculum to cover the fact that we did, and if you don’t have a huge number of other brown people in your population who know exactly how white colonialism worked. This is the right on the run.
Sooner rather than later the uprising will come for something I feel like standing in front of to save, metaphorically and literally. But for the moment, how great is it to see the language of the fact reassert itself, toppling the language of petition and trauma which has held this back for years! You love to see it. Let justice be done, though their heavens fall, and with them, the stone and metal monuments to tyranny that held it up all these decades and centuries!