Manchester University students deface mural containing Kipling poem on grounds that he was a colonialist and racist

July 21, 2018 • 10:45 am

According to several sources, including the BBC, the Manchester Evening News and The National, students at Manchester University, which is where Matthew Cobb teaches (he IS NOT TO BLAME) decided to paint over a mural that displayed a poem by Rudyard Kipling, replacing it with a poem by Maya Angelou.

The defacing was done by leaders of the student union, who apparently didn’t consult either the University or their own constituents. The BBC reports:

The protest was an attempt to reclaim history by those who have been “oppressed by the likes of Kipling for so many centuries, and continue to be to this day,” according to Sara Khan, the liberation and access officer at the student union.

In a Facebook post, the student official said Kipling’s works “sought to legitimate the British Empire’s presence in India and dehumanise people of colour”.

And here’s a statement by one of the miscreants, (a “liberation and access officer” of the student union!), explaining why they had to exercise this censorship:

Sara Khan, a liberation and access officer at the union, said students defaced Kipling’s poem as he ‘stands for the opposite of liberation, empowerment and human rights’.

“A failure to consult students during the process of adding art to the newly renovated SU building resulted in Rudyard Kipling’s work being painted on the first floor last week,” she said in a post on her Facebook profile.

“We, as an exec team, believe that Kipling stands for the opposite of liberation, empowerment, and human rights – the things that we, as an SU, stand for.

“Well-known as author of the racist poem “The White Man’s Burden”, and a plethora of other work that sought to legitimate the British Empire’s presence in India and de-humanise people of colour, it is deeply inappropriate to promote the work of Kipling in our SU, which is named after prominent South African anti-Apartheid activist, Steve Biko.

“As a statement on the reclamation of history by those who have been oppressed by the likes of Kipling for so many centuries, and continue to be to this day, we replaced his words with those of the legendary Maya Angelou, a black female poet and civil rights activist.”

A proud student showing the poster before (right) and after (left). Note the cat-ate-the-canary expression on the her face. To me it says, “Look how virtuous I am!”

Now everything is wrong about this: the tactics, the motivation, and the poem they chose to censor. Tactically, they needed permission from both the University and the Student Union members to do this. They didn’t get either, but acted on their own. The motivation is that a bunch of spoiled and entitled brats decided that any work by a long-dead person who was in favor of colonialism, and saw whites as superior (I don’t know how much of the latter is true of Kipling), deserved to have every one of his works despoiled and effaced. 

Now one would be hard pressed to find a nineteenth-century Brit who didn’t harbor some strains of colonialism and/or racism. The moral improvement of society that attenuated these beliefs started later. The same oppressive attitudes were by men towards women, and by nearly everyone toward gays. To find an author of that period who can be seen as morally pure by the lights of the Regressive Left would be nearly impossible.

Further, there was simply no debate whether artists holding views considered inappropriate today deserved to have all of their work censored and painted over. After all, the poem was not a racist one (I put it below): it’s clear it was simply posted as a kind of inspiration for students. There might have been more justification for painting over Kipling’s 1899 poem, “The White Man’s Burden“—a call for the U.S. to dominate the Philippines—but few people in their right minds would post that poem today as any form of public approbation. (It could justifiably be taught as a historical relic.)

At any rate, the poem the students painted over was “If”, and it might be familiar:

“If” by Rudyard Kipling (1895)

(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

We should call out these students, and this behavior, for what they are: the actions of benighted social justice warriors who think that they have not only the key to the truth, but the absolute right to rewrite history. Shades of Soviet Russia! And what should be censored next: the “Just So Stories” of Kipling, the Declaration of Independence (drafted by a slaveholder), and all the speeches of Winston Churchill (a colonialist)? The view that we should write out of history anyone in the past who expressed views that we find repugnant today is one of the most odious and censorious strains of Control Leftism.

But there are those who agree with the censors; here’s one of them, Titania McGrath, who identifies herself as “Activist. Healer. Radical intersectionist poet.” (It has not escaped my notice that she might be a troll. But satire and social-justice warriorism are hard to tell apart.)

134 thoughts on “Manchester University students deface mural containing Kipling poem on grounds that he was a colonialist and racist

      1. Elfwick — who was not the original person behind Elfwick who pwned BBC, but rather a friend who’d taken over the Elfwick persona — was banned for allegedly attacking identity groups.

        And yes, Titania is a poe.

      2. Tony, the original creator of Godfrey Elfwick gave up the persona in 2015. Lisa Graves (@leeceyjay for the moment) took over the persona and jointly published Tweets with Tony until mid-2017 when she took over the role herself. It was Lisa that got a Godfrey Elfwick tweet published in The Guardian.
        The Godfrey Elfwick account was collateral damage in an apparent vendetta by Aaron Gilles (@TechnicallyRon). He had Lisa’s account suspended for use of a curse word. The Godfrey Elfwick account was automatically suspended as it came from the same IP address as Lisa’s account.

  1. The best punishment modern social crusaders could earn would be to live long enough to see future social crusaders call them out for being insufficiently progressive and therefore complicit with evil. They will meekly protest that they thought they went above and beyond the standards of their time, only to be told “not good enough by ours.”

    1. They should be made to learn it by heart and on being able to recite it – if ever – be sacked from uni on the spot.

  2. So proud, but couldn’t be bothered to use primer and a couple extra coats of paint. So, a sloppy, lazy, vandal.

    1. Agreed. I couldn’t read some of the words of the Maya poem. Any tagger would be embarrassed to do such a sloppy job.


  3. Mowgli is brown, a native, educated by wolves and a hero.

    So many children have adored the Jungle Books and perhaps been reinforced in a love of reading by Kipling. What’s not to like, love.

    Many lines of “IF” are well worth attention.

    These cultural vigilantes are shallow,
    narrow-minded,blindly certain – and tetched in the head.

  4. The only thing I can say in their favour is their hearts are in the right place. However, they demonstrate the fact that their heads are not – their brains still have a few years of growing to do.

    And I really wish, if they’re going to do stuff like this, that these SJWs would judge books like the Bible and Qur’an the same way they do Kipling et al. They’d find a good deal more to criticize there, and with a lot more justification.

    Why are so many people so effing self-righteous? Perhaps they’re just not old enough to have been embarrassed often enough when they’re proven wrong yet. They come from school where they’re smarter than most of their classmates and they’re used to being right. Now they’re in an atmosphere where everyone is smart, but many have a lot more knowledge and experience than they do. It would do them good to take this particular poem of Kipling’s to heart.

    1. Their hearts may be in the right place, but their heads are so far up their asses they have to fart to get a breath of fresh air.

      1. Oh good lord! I’m laughing at this! I’m going to appropriate this and use it…heads so far up their asses they have to fart to get a breath of fresh air…Next time I get the opportunity to say something like this, I will.

    2. “… they’re smarter than most of their classmates …”

      Objection, Your Honor, assumes facts not in evidence.

      1. Given that almost half of young people in the UK now go to “uni”, most of their classmates are there with them.

    3. I question whether their hearts are in the right place, as I question it with any person who lives in a constant state of outrage and one-upsmanship in the activism game. Their hearts may be in the right place, but all of this might also be a matter of gaining status and standing in their own group. After all, acts like this have become one of the most important tools in the social games among far-left groups, just as trolling and BS “stings” have become the same in the alt-right social sphere. Some do these things because they think they’re striking a blow against the X-archy, and others do it for power and/or status and/or satisfaction.

      Then again, I am a deeply cynical person who can’t help but model all reasoning behind actions, good or bad.

    1. Not unlike Huck Finn’s acceptance of an eternity in Hell as an acceptable trade for Jim’s friendship – and equally impenetrable to the mind of the self appointed censor.

  5. Given up calling them the control left and now prefer the fascist left, it’s far more wounding and unfortunately accurate.

  6. A proud student showing the poster before (right) and after (left). Note the cat-ate-the-canary expression on the her face. To me it says, “Look how virtuous I am!”

    Ironic that this smug ‘liberation’ by white students on behalf of PoCs took place in a building named for Steven Biko who, according to his wiki page,

    “believed that even when well-intentioned, white liberals failed to comprehend the black experience and often acted in a paternalistic manner.”

  7. I don’t know history well enough to cite examples, but surely there have been past “reboots” of society that sought to erase history seen as “immoral” in order to replace it with the “correct” art, literature and music?

    These new self-appointed morality warriors don’t see how chilling the similarity is I suppose.

    1. I sure miss all those swastikas that used to be all over Germany from 1933 to 1945. The many statues of Hitler were inspiring. Who had the gall of removing Hitler from German stamps? How dare the post-war government in Germany for engaging in a program of de-nazification. Those SJWs should be condemned for attempting to erase history.

      By the way, would you join me in starting a movement to restore all those statues of King George III that the American revolutionaries had the temerity to tear down? Once again here we have an example of early regressives attempting to erase history. Speaking of statues, we should be encouraging Iraqis to replace all those statues of Saddam Hussein that were torn down.

      As seems quite common, those who rail most about erasing history know very little about how to study it and learn from it. Those who want to erase history, i.e, distort it and have the power to do so go far beyond removing public monuments that are dedicated to honoring people or events, not to teach history. You should start worrying when history books are rewritten to distort history. Such was the case with American history textbooks and even so-called scholarly books that for almost a century depicted slavery as a benign institution that was actually salutary because it had the effect of Christianizing the savage African. Curiously, those who are so vexed by the removal of Confederate statues say nothing or know nothing about the unending campaign of neo-Confederates to truly erase history. I am proud that most historians of American history, for the past fifty years, are doing their best demolish the myth of the “Lost Cause.” It is an uphill battle, though, because of the neo-Confederate propaganda machine, aided by right-wing politicians, who cry crocodile tears for the “attack” on southern heritage, which really means white domination. In so many areas of life, people prefer their delusions to reality.

      1. Britain is a land where history runs deep. where Protestants and Catholics still sing about the Battle of the Boyne (1690) and still hate each other as a result.

        Those who rage against the tyranny of people born 163 years ago, are doomed to be forever victims of a history they cannot conquer, as the people they want to attack are long dead.

          1. I certainly am. I’m outraged at the way those bastard Normans treated my Anglo-Saxon ancestors. I still feel oppressed about it.

            (Tragically, I’m probably descended in equal part from those same oppressive Normans. So half of me is consumed with guilt for what my Norman ancestors did to my Anglo-Saxon ones. I’m a wreck, crushed by 1000 years of history).


        1. “where Protestants and Catholics still sing about the Battle of the Boyne (1690) and still hate each other as a result.”

          Only in some parts of Northern Ireland. Which – as an Englishman – I will insist is no more typical of the rest of Britain than, say, Gibraltar is. In all the areas of England that I’m familiar with, you would be hard pressed to find a Protestant or a Catholic who would express more than mild derision for their opposite number. (On current numbers, you’d find a lot more people who would express mild derision for both).


        2. Not throughout most of the country. Outside of Northern Ireland (and perhaps Glasgow) you’d be hard pressed to find a British person who knows anything about the Battle of the Boyne at all, never mind its significance for British history.

      2. But I accept your point that any group of people can deface any work of public art that they don’t approve of and replace it with any work of art that they deem more politically correct.

      3. So you favor the effacement of Kipling’s poem by these students, I take it? And ISIL’s destruction of “pagan” shrines that offend Islam. And you favor erasing (slave-owner) Jefferson’s image from US currency, and a recasting of his legacy in history books?

        You call yourself “historian” and yet you assume this disturbingly supercilious and one-sided view of history instead of admitting that deciding how to treat historical figures is a difficult and ongoing discussion, often with reasonable voices on both sides.

      4. Regarding your final paragraph, Historian, I am reminded of the opening hour of Ken Burns’ ‘Civil War’ documentary, with Shelby Foote (everybody’s wise Southern uncle) sets the historical/moral tone for the series. What caused the war, Mr. Foote? ‘We’ failed to compromise. Americans had been good at compromise up to 1860, he said, but somehow ‘we’ lost that gift and the Civil War began.

        Here were the major compromises of the 19th century. 1) Missouri Compromise (1824), which admitted new states as slave states south of the southern border of Missouri, free north of there. 2. Compromise of 1850, which forced the North to swallow the Fugitive Slave Law, which forced northerners to abet the return of runaway slaves and even allowed southern slave catchers to do their renditions from northern soil. This was galling to many northerners but nevertheless became the law of the land–in the spirit of compromise with the slave South, to ‘preserve the Union.’

        Should have been enough ‘compromise,’ no? No. With the repeal of the Missouri compromise in 1854, led by Illinois Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas–who was shamelessly kissing the South’s collective ass in hopes of becoming president, suddenly ALL new western U. S. territory was legally open to the formation of slave states.

        It was the sustained political bullying of the slaveocracy that, at least in good part, led to the dissolution of the Whig party and the birth of the Republicans in 1854. And eventually to the election of Abraham Lincoln. Although the Republican platform pledged to honor slavery where it existed, and Lincoln said time and again that he would remain true to that pledge, the South seceded and formed its ‘Confederacy.’

        Who and what, then, comprised the ‘we’ that ‘failed to compromise’? Yes, this is a half-way rhetorical question. And why no compromise on the South’s part? Full-tilt rhetorical this time: slavery.

  8. You forgot a “wrong” in your list: using a Maya Angelou poem as replacement. Sorry if this offends anyone but I find her work barely a cut above Hallmark’s.

    1. Following your post I researched Hallmark (only vaguely familiar) and what do you know ? They really hired Angelou. Did you know it ?

    2. I’ve found her autobiographical prose, like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings engrossing, but never been a big fan of her poetry qua poetry.

  9. The best way to treat these folks may be to ignore them. I suspect that hurts the young and righteous more than anything. We have to LIKE them. I get enough blow back right here for making fun of the judgement folks on history.

  10. I spoke against ‘whiting out’ the ethnicities of non-white French soccer players, when racism in France is not at all dead, and “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” is still an aspirational utterance when it comes to those from the Dark Continent (and French Jews as well, however ‘integrated’ they might be into French society); and Britain still has a lot to answer for, but this is stupid. Indeed, Kipling represented the face of British colonialist imperialism in its heyday, and if the poem were “The White Man’s Burden,” I’d have no qualms about removing it (though I’m sure many would criticize me for expressing that sentiment); but this is ridiculous.

    My objection has to do with the poetry– I don’t much cotton to poetry that seeks to impart moral instruction, that’s my quibble with the Kipling, it’s moralistic and sentimental to me, and approaches doggerel, but not nearly enough of a poetic offense to remove it. Furthermore, to replace that (or any other) poem with Maya Angelou’s over-the-top moralistic, sentimental, logorrheic hoggerel is a special kind of abomination. I realize that many find her an inspirational figure and a fine poet, and my response is “de gustibus…”

    1. The question is whether a person’s banal writings memorialized on a wall should be allowed to remain while his or her overall philosophy is repugnant. If you say yes in the case of Kipling then there is no logical reason why you would oppose Hitler’s innocuous writings to remain on the walls of German institutions. My answer is that Kipling’s poem should have been removed, although not by the method that it was done. You may perhaps think differently based on the argument that Kipling’s “evil” philosophy was not so egregious as to warrant the poem to be removed or that it is all right to honor the “non-bad” writings of a person who in other arenas wrote or practiced evil. This is the conundrum that people must grapple with.

      1. And you must agree that Hitler was perfectly justified in removing all Jewish works of art because he personally thought Jews were evil.

        If somebody thinks something is evil, he is allowed to destroy all works of art produced by them.

        Those are the rules you want everybody to play by.

        1. Please refer to my comments below to “Historian.”

          And where do you get “If somebody thinks something is evil, he is allowed to destroy all works of art produced by them. Those are the rules you want everybody to play by.”? I’m not imposing rules on people. You’re the one imposing absolute dicta and attributing them to me.

          1. Jenny – mathstutorial was replying to Historian’s comment, and attributing that stuff to Historian, not to you.


        2. You are engaging in a philosophical debate about the nature of evil and morality – is it universal or contingent upon time and place? This question has been argued about for millennia and I am not going to discuss it here except to say that remarkable as it may seem, most people who believe in a universal morality find it practiced in the particular society they live it (or at least it once was).

          Yes, Hitler destroyed Jewish art. By today’s standards of morality, most people would consider this one of the many evil things Hitler did and condemn it. By the professed morality of Nazi Germany, this was a perfectly acceptable thing to. The acceptability of public works of art is subject to the morality of the particular society, even if other societies consider that morality perverted or not “real” morality. So, while I find it horrifying what Hitler did, my view and yours is irrelevant to the historical fact that societies honor or demean art as a means to assure public conformity to the current moral norm. That is why, based on today’s prevailing morality, Kipling should not be publicly honored, which does not mean his work should not be read, studied, and debated. If the day should ever arrive when colonialism is once again viewed as a great thing, Kipling’s reputation will be restored and he will be publicly honored anew

          1. If morality changes with time and place, the logical response to things we don’t like is to cover them up or store them out of sight. That way, we can bring them back out if and when they are morally acceptable.

          2. “… societies honor or demean art as a means to assure public conformity to the current moral norm…” “…based on today’s prevailing morality…”

            Do we assume that you accept the vandalism of privileged children, or the pronouncements of self-appointed academic bloviators, as representative of the will of society? The core of this debate *is* the over-reaching of the under-wise on behalf of a society that is rapidly wearying of them.

        3. My suggestion is that every work of art aught to be judged and exhibited on it’s own merit. Because Kipling was ensconced in a colonialist era does not mean he did not produce good or even great poetry. Mahler was supposedly a Nazi, but produced respectable music. Why throw away fine art because of an artists philosophy? The poem removed did not, to me, belong in the trash bin.

      2. Your points are well worth consideration,and I’m mulling them over. My thoughts about such things are admittedly ever in flux, because, as you succinctly say, “This is the conundrum that people must grapple with.

      3. Kipling’s poem has nothing to do with the philosophy of which you speak. If there was a museum of dog paintings, I would have no problem with one of them being a dog painting done by Hitler. The painting does not reflect what we find repugnant about that man, just as this Kipling poem has nothing to do with his views on colonialism.

        1. I’ve become so confused that I can no longer tell who’s saying what to whom.

          So I conclude that you’re referring to some “philosophy of which [I] speak” (if so, what it it?), or are you addressing someone else in this thread? I’ve tried in vain to follow the little black square prefacing your remark up to the specific remark you’re addressing, but it’s located so far to the right margin that it doesn’t even fall spatially under my initial comment. I don’t know where it belongs, but maybe I’ve gone batty trying to align squares and dots and outlined circles and I’m missing the connection. But even when the indentation marking a comment is consistent in seriatim, it’s still sometimes difficult to know what relates to what.

          1. “it’s located so far to the right margin… ”
            I’m so confused that I can no longer tell right from left — obviously, I meant the left margin. Somehow, I feel like that statement is something that could easily slip from Trump’s lips. Right margin — fake news!

          2. Kipling was a booster of empire and imperialism. But that poem isn’t an example of it. This is Jerry’s point about must every work of an artist be erased?

          3. Jenny – re “I’ve become so confused that I can no longer tell who’s saying what to whom.”
            BJ’s comment that you just replied to: BJ was replying to Historian, not to you.

            You may need to adjust your browser settings so the indentations make sense.


      4. You’re right that this is a continual issue that has to be grappled with on a case-by-case basis. Because of that, I think it’s incorrect to say there’s no logical difference between effacing a work of Kipling’s and one of Hitler’s.

        I always think of Ronald Fisher when this topic comes up. He is undoubtedly responsible for founding the entire field of statistics, and most of the modern quantitative methods practicing scientists use were either developed by Fisher, or directly derived from his work. Yet, he had a truly repugnant philosophy on race and class. For his entire life, he promoted eugenics and attributed a civilization’s decline to its destruction of its upper class and racial mixing. These philosophies motivated much of his technical work by his own admission. By today’s standards, his philosophies and motivations were repulsive, much more so then Kipling’s.

        Yet I don’t think these should prevent us from honouring his scientific contributions, and they certainly shouldn’t prevent us from using those contributions.

        1. There are other scientists like Fisher: they made contributions to their fields but were personally repugnant. Such is the case of J. Marion Sims, who had a statue in New York City’s fabled Central Park. That statue was erected to honor him for his work in gynecological research. Unfortunately, much of this research was conducted by him performing operations on female slaves. There was a big ruckus about whether the statue should be removed. The New York Academy of Medicine supported its removal. Ultimately, the city moved the statue to a much less conspicuous place.

          In cases such as this I think we need to distinguish between recognizing achievement and honoring a person. This is not a semantical difference. Sims could be recognized and given credit for his achievements in the history of medical science. But, he need not be honored with a statue or at least have it located in one of the most noted areas in NYC. As another example, Erwin Rommel or other German generals could be recognized in military history as a great generals, but they need not be honored with statues.

    2. Regardless of his status in other writings as a cheerleader for white British colonialism, Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” has served me well in another area of life: teaching students of English from other countries and languages about if-clauses.

      The poem — a single sentence — contains thirteen of them, and I think its rhetoric and construction are both brilliant for this linguistic reason as well as for its ostensible purpose.

      But as long as people are defacing “If”, why aren’t they doing so for “you’ll be a Man, my son”?

      What a missed opportunity to flaunt self-righteousness in so-called service to another undoubtedly worthy cause.

      1. Yep, that last line struck me as an obvious PC offense. (Though I do find the whole poem a bit bombastic and hackneyed.)

        Also, in several places it has commas where it should’ve had semi-colons.

        In the way of subordinate clauses, have you ever contemplated the last verse of Bette Midler’s song ‘The Rose’? The entire verse is just one sentence, and so far as I can tell, perfectly grammatical (if you insert an implied colon after ‘remember’)


    3. I have no weight of authority behind my opinions here, but most poetry is a bit hyperbolic and all the other stuff that you say. The goal is to impart strong feelings over a few lines.

  11. What’s next? Well, they could dig up Kipling’s corpse and burn it at the stake. By god, that would show ol’ Rudyard a thing or two. Wait. Wouldn’t! I meant to say “wouldn’t.”

    1. Horrors! Not another Cadaver Synod. It’d make for a great musical satire, though, à la Monty Python.

    2. Kipling is buried in Westminster Abbey, so don’t give them any ideas, or they’ll be tearing up Poets’ Corner. Longfellow was guilty of cultural appropriation with “The Song of Hiawatha,” so smash his bust! And those First World War poets … surely they’re guilty of something, I mean they were all white males after all. Dulce et Decorum est, to be an SJW on a self-righteous vandalism rampage.

  12. I would never think to speak critically and judge the group who met in Philadelphia 230 years ago to improve our condition here. 18th century culture and society was nearly coming to an end in this enlightened period. What is much easier to judge and be critical of is why others in the 200 years since have done almost nothing to improve the original document for our time. That is the luxury of hindsight and the reason for our poor condition today. Lincoln had the guts to try but not much has been done since.

  13. Is that it? They drew over a poem? I don’t agree with their approach, I think they should have been put on a final warning, but it’s the kind of silly ‘student revolutionary’ bullshit that was being made fun of by ‘The Young Ones’ back in the eighties. It’s not the dawn of a fascist left-wing dictatorship.

    And in the meantime president Trump is arguing over whether his lawyer should have been allowed to tape him confessing to bribing his Playboy model mistress, and Brexiteer hard-right creep Jacob Rees-Mogg is calling for Britain to drop entirely out of any agreement with our closest neighbours even if it consigns us to the economic scrapheap.
    And the right-wing media sink to new depths every passing day; the barely noticeable reaction to Trump siding with a foreign dictator over his own country was over within an hour or two and now they’re turning the full force of their moral caprice on James Gunn, someone who could do with a robust defense from anyone with an interest in free speech.

    It’s interesting that the right are coming after liberal figures using the exact same tactics the illiberal left have been using – so we see Gunn, an extremely talented(and apparently likeable) writer-director getting sacked from his job in charge of one of the most enjoyable and funny mainstream movie franchises in existence because of some jokes he made a decade ago; jokes that are exactly the kind of jokes someone who wrote the kind of material he wrote back then would be expected to come up with.

    In the alternate universe where Ricky Gervais writes a Marvel movie or Jimmy Carr or Doug Stanhope writes a Star Wars script are they going to spend a couple of years with the sword of damocles hovering over their head before some repulsive right-wing hypocrite comes along and gets them fired too?

      1. Maybe. Then again, sometimes whataboutery is valid, like when something is being blown out of proportion all while a vastly more dangerous phenomenon is being normalised or ignored.

        As a salutary case take Quilette; purportedly established to be a genuinely freethinking, liberal website. It now does almost nothing but publish anti-PC, anti-SJW articles. The exceptions are those articles that are about tech or other politically neutral topics. That is not the make-up of a freethinking liberal website, not when the phenomenon of Trump and the alt-right is barely mentioned, unless it’s in the context of how liberal-leftism precipitated it, etc..

        I also dislike this focus on the stupidity and obnoxiousness of the left because it feels to me(and I’m not pointing fingers, I mean that _I_ feel this way, and I don’t like it about myself) akin to what Daily Mail readers do when they read about immigrants or gypsies: it’s an opportunity to get outraged and self-righteous about stupid lefties, and feel better for not being them. I feel that little jolt of outraged self-righteousness when I read about the latest idiotic student protest or silly social justice tweet. It’s pleasurable. And once I start craving that little jolt, that’s when I think to myself that it’s gone beyond genuine concern about the state of the liberal-left and into the realm of self-gratification.

        1. Hey! I could not agree more. Which actually leaves me in a great quandary. And I find it difficult to frame any argument. Hopefully I may become wise one day. That little jolt of pleaure when one convinces oneself they are completely correct is a dead giveaway and is both what the students are engaging in and some of the folks here. Our minds are amazingly fertile and can come up with just about any hypothesis about what’s right , what’s wrong-who should have done what etc etc etc. They are all hypotheses and what we actually do influences what happens next.. I find a sense of humour valuable. Clears the air. CCL as a wise person said. We have no choice but to learn and see further and open up and dive into confusion and uncertainty. We have an even more complex future ahead of us.

        2. This is well argued. And to also add to what Cicely has said, it is important to be able to express opinions and to disagree while still keeping channels open rather than merely shutting down the other side. The latter of course is the main failing of some on the SJW side.

        3. I agree with your characterization of Quillette. Most of their articles reflect a conservative/libertarian viewpoint.

    1. I didn’t think Gunn should be fired, but apparently he disagrees with me. This is what he tweeted a couple months ago:

      I wish some of these so-called defenders of liberty would start to understand what freedom of speech is AND isn’t. Roseanne is allowed to say whatever she wants. It doesn’t mean @ABCNetwork needs to continue funding her TV show if her words are considered abhorrent.

      By the way, Disney (who fired Gunn) owns ABC.

      1. But they hired Gunn for Guradians of the Galaxy not long after he made those jokes and apologized for them. They should have known Gunn made those jokes.

      2. The difference is that Roseanne’s views were genuinely racist. It was a racist joke, not a joke about racism that parodied moronic tropes, and it came from a woman who had seriously flirted with racism for a long time before then. Point out the irony or double-meaning in what she said and I’ll give you a shiny button.

        No-one with a brain watches Jimmy Carr, Jim Jefferies, Bill Burr, Ricky Gervais, Frankie Boyle and comes away with the impression that all these guys approve of rape because they make rape jokes, or approve of child murder because they make some dark jokes about it. That’s because they’ve never given anyone any reason to think that in anything they’ve done in their private lives or in anything they’ve said offstage. Ditto James Gunn.

        OTOH, if Chris Langham or Roy Moore or Jimmy Savile had made jokes about little children there’d be a good reason not to extend them the same courtesy, just like Roseanne Barr wasn’t extended the same courtesy.

        You know perfectly well there’s a difference between what Roseanne Barr said and what James Gunn said. Everyone with a brain does, otherwise they’d be calling for Gunn to be locked up for the safety of women, children, which is the only response if you take those jokes seriously.

  14. “Shades of Soviet Russia!”

    I’m reminded more of the students of the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution in China. They were driven by their unshakable belief in their own ideological purity, and committed acts of vandalism against anything they regarded as ideologically suspect.

  15. I think one should mentally erase the identity of the artist in judging any piece of art, and then evaluate its merits. Doing this, I would say that “If” was one of Kipling’s best bad poems.

  16. Is there a reason you are using “Control Left[ism]” rather than “Ctrl-Left[ism]” which completes the symmetry with “Alt-Right” & keyboard metaphors?

    For my part, I subscribe to:

    Ctrl-Alt-Deletism (c)

  17. It’s just worth pointing out that the Kipling poem was installed in the Students’ Union without anyone in the SU being consulted. Whatever you or I might think about Kipling (and he is a much more subtle and nuanced writer than these kids think), it should surely have been an elementary courtesy to ask the students, or their representatives, whose work they wanted on their walls.

    1. I didn’t know that. That adds something to their argument I think, although it’s still flimsy and harebrained to think that we judge all artists by the standards of the modern age.
      These students seem to have no concept of basic fallacies like reductio ad absurdum. They don’t seem to be bothered about internal consistency or anything like that. The standard of though seems to have rotted due to decades in which their ideology was so cosseted on campus that it never had to argue for its own validity.

    2. I very much get the impression that these students believe the reason they are attending university is so that they can instruct the faculty, and society in general.
      This is Maoism. Down with the Four Olds!

      And yes, it will be satisfying when these kids are older, and will be humored (or mocked) by their grandchildren for their old fashioned and obsolete views. They are just so sure of their moral purity.

  18. As usual, my thoughts flit all over.

    First, I object to this one group of students arbitrarily (or not) determining by painting over the poem what everyone else on campus can see, read or think. Leave the poem. Talk about the history, the man, the poem. More mileage to be gained that way.

    Another thought, however, is: Humankind has written/painted on walls forever and other humans have seen fit to erase, comment or amend. Lots of neat graffiti from the distant past. Who knows what humorous, nasty or erudite comments have been rubbed out or bowdlerized that we may be missing?

    Historically, one period of history has chronically been modified or wiped out by the next. One example is the whitewashing or painting over of religious scenes in former Catholic churches in the reign of Queen Elizabeth and Anglicanism.

    Who are these students that are railing against the ancient colonialism of Great Britain? Are they citizens of Great Britain? Or, are they from the former colonies of G.B. taking advantage of the benefits offered in G.B.? If they are from the colonies, why are they not at home improving conditions there instead of taking up university spots in G.B. while abusing their hosts by pointing out what A.H.s they’ve been in the distant past?

  19. I wonder if that female student would have the same happy face if she was married in traditional India and her husbands funeral was underway.

  20. Meanwhile, the science and technology students are getting on with their work so as to be able to maintain and improve the incredible standards of living we all enjoy.

  21. I always found ‘If’ rather hackneyed and over-used. I’m surprised the objectors didn’t also squawk about it’s gender-centric last line.

    I’m also a little – relieved? – to see that the defaced mural was more in the nature of a poster than a permanent artwork.

    I don’t think I would have chosen it for that location. That said, the students who painted over it are the usual smugly arrogant morons.

    I have no doubt at all the censorious juvenile lefties could find offence in Keats, Browning (didn’t he make machine guns?), Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shakespeare at the drop of a hat, if they wanted to.

    My favourite line from Kipling (from ‘Secret of the Machines’:
    But remember, please, the LAW by which we live
    We are not built to comprehend a lie
    We neither err, nor pity, nor forgive
    If you make a slip in handling us, you die!


    1. I don’t like ‘If’ not just because it’s treacly and hackneyed as you say, but also because it’s one of those cultural artifacts that encourages people to live in ways that are completely unnatural, bound to make us unhappy, and are impossible in practice anyway.

      “if you can be x, while also being not-x, and if you can love y, while also feeling completely dispassionate about y at the same time, and if you can row a boat up Everest, all while climbing The Nile, and remembering to yourself that those fuzzy wuzzies with their spears and shields are people too, sort of, although obviously not really, and if you can accomplish all these incredible feats, and never mention them to a soul, even though doing so would mean you live in a state of incredible resentment and bitterness for the rest of your life…then, you’ll be just about worthy of being called a man my son.”

      “Fuck off dad, I’m going to the pub.”

  22. You may recall that around a year ago, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson visited Myanmar and started to recite Kipling’s poem “Mandalay” in a Buddhist temple. The British ambassador managed to stop him before he got to the lines about a “Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud/Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd”. Cultural sensitivity is not one of Boris Johnson’s strong points.

    1. As a matter of interest, what are his strong points? The only one I can see is his ability to wriggle out of tight holes through ‘bumble-power’.

  23. The modern equivalent of book-burning. Wikipedia has an article on book burning which shows that the leaders of the Student Union emulate seriously unpleasant people. Almost all of them Authoritarian.

    1. Is it really though? They’re not trying to extirpate every single copy of If in existence. It’s best not to exaggerate things like this. These are silly little young people who’ve been allowed to run riot in a subsection of some universities because of the fact that they are now customers rather than students. They aren’t Nazis – they’re not even on the verge of being Nazis.

      The modern equivalent of the people who burn books really exist, and they’re not a bunch of sanctimonious left-wing students; they’re actual Nazis and fascists, and their reach and numbers are growing all the time. This incident is irritating and even worrying from a cultural viewpoint, but it’s worth keeping perspective.

  24. We had a similar case in Germany 2017/2018. The poem “Avenidas” from the Bolivian-Swiss poet Eugen Gomringer was considered “sexist” by the AStA (students’ union executive committee) of the “Alice Salomon University of Applied Sciences Berlin”.

    In May 2018 the poem was inaugurated on a house wall in Gomringer’s home town Rehau.

  25. ” […] “sought to legitimate the British Empire’s presence in India and dehumanise people of colour”. ”

    The first part – British Imperialism –

    wouldn’t the strongest choice for the substitute poem be from a writer who was both British and anti-British … Imperialism (?)..? There must be some writers of that category?

    The reason for this would be to show how not every British subject at the time was all-in with their Queen.

  26. I have a problem with the preemptive nature of the students’ action. Only in extreme cases if their concerns are ignored or inappropriately handled would I support vandalism. I see no evidence that this is the case, alas.

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