The Even More Woke Press: 2. The Guardian

Now we all know that the Guardian is even woker than the New York Times or Washington Post, but when I used to read it when I lived in London and Edinburgh, it was my go-to source of news from a Leftist viewpoint. All too often now, they waste good trees on stories like the following (click on screenshot). Reader Martin Stubbs brought this article to my attention with a note (I use his name and his words with permission).

I wanted to bring an article in The Guardian to your attention as I know you are rightly exasperated by similar stories in the New York Times etc. I laughed when I read this because it seems almost indistinguishable from the kind of article you might read in The Onion. I’m a republican, i.e., anti-monarchist) and no fan of the British honours system, but the rise of Woke Dogmatism is dismaying in a whole different way.

Well, read this for yourself and see if it does exemplify Woke dogmatism:

 

According to the story, this is the Order of St. Michael and St. George, a high honor (the sixth in the pantheon of British honors) “traditionally awarded to ambassadors and diplomats and senior Foreign Office officials who have served abroad” (it has three ranks).

The offense? Well, people differ, but all objection are that it’s racist, although it’s supposed to be Satan, at least according to Wikipedia:

The Order’s motto is Auspicium melioris ævi (Latin for “Token of a better age”). Its patron saints, as the name suggests, are St. Michael the Archangel, and St. George, patron saint of England. One of its primary symbols is that of St Michael trampling over and subduing Satan in battle.

One group says that it’s not Satan, however, but a black man, even though I see wings and a tail (and no chains). And they also object to the domineering pose with St. Michael’s foot on Satan’s head, conjuring up the murder of George Floyd (to be sure, George Floyd had a knee on his neck.)  Note that they are demanding an apology, but who should apologize, since the designer is long dead?

The Order’s motto is Auspicium melioris ævi (Latin for “Token of a better age”). Its patron saints, as the name suggests, are St. Michael the Archangel, and St. George, patron saint of England. One of its primary symbols is that of St Michael trampling over and subduing Satan in battle.

The imagery on the award’s badge portrays St Michael trampling on Satan, but campaigners say the image is reminiscent of the killing of George Floyd by white police officers in the US that led to worldwide protests.

A petition calling for the medal to be redesigned has attracted more than 2,000 signatures on change.org. The petition, started by Tracy Reeve, says: “This is a highly offensive image, it is also reminiscent of the recent murder of George Floyd by the white policeman in the same manner presented here in this medal. We the undersigned are calling for this medal to completely redesigned in a more appropriate way and for an official apology to be given for the offence it has given.”

Bumi Thomas, a Nigerian British singer, activist and specialist in visual communications, said the imagery on the badge was clear. “It is not a demon; it is a black man in chains with a white, blue-eyed figure standing on his neck. It is literally what happened to George Floyd and what has been happening to black people for centuries under the guise of diplomatic missions: active, subliminal messaging that reinforces the conquest, subjugation and dehumanisation of people of colour.

“It is a depiction on a supposed honour of the subjugation of the black and brown people of the world and the superiority of the white, a construct born in the 16th century. It is the definition of institutional racism that this image is not only permitted but celebrated on one of the country’s highest honours. Whilst statues are being pulled down and relocated, emblems and symbols of this nature also need to be redesigned to reflect a more progressive, holistic relationship between Britain and the Commonwealth nations.”

Another faction says, well, yes, it’s Satan, but it still conjures up racist images:

Sir Simon Woolley, the director and one of the founders of Operation Black Vote, which campaigns for greater representation of ethnic minorities in politics and public life, said he was appalled by the badge.

“The original image may have been of St Michael slaying Satan, but the figure has no horns or tail and is clearly a black man. It is a shocking depiction, and it is even more shocking that that image could be presented to ambassadors representing this country abroad,” he said.

“This is the past that informs the present, and that’s why it symbolises everything that Black Lives Matter are campaigning for. It provides a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is to acknowledge it and own it, but the opportunity is to put it right. It is easy to get rid of an image, but I would like root-and-branch restructuring, because most of the institutions created by the empire are still there.

“For most black and brown people, there is nothing good about the empire. Most people will see this as an image of George Floyd on a global scale and a symbol of white supremacy.”

I can’t help but think that this is hyper-offense: people sniffing out things that can be deemed, however dimly, to be racist. Changing the image will not change society in any positive way. Now you might say that Satan is dark because dark skin was seen as a sign of a demon, which would be a racist stereotype, but sometimes Satan is red, and other times he’s white or ivory colored. And if it’s the position that’s offensive, then we’re going to have to sniff out those classical images that show subjugation in this way. If the medal were designed to celebrate the subjugation of Britain’s colonies, well, that’s another story, and might merit reconsideration. But we need evidence for that, not merely a sense of offense arising in some people who see this.

At present, this seems to me to be an unjustifiable byproduct of the meritorious movement to rid society of racism. But you can’t do that by censoring everything that could possibly remind you of racism, especially if it doesn’t instantiate or symbolize racism itself. Showing Satan being vanquished is not racism. But I don’t really have a dog in this fight. It just seems bizarre to me that people are squabbling over stuff like this, which reminds me of the Great Kimono Kerfuffle at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Do you think the medal should be redesigned, followed by an official apology?

73 thoughts on “The Even More Woke Press: 2. The Guardian

  1. The figure might not have horns, but it does have a rather prominent green scaly tail and wings. Are folk suggesting that this reminds them of George Floyd? If so, then we have (even) bigger problems to worry about than protests–someone has finally managed to slip LSD into the water supply

    1. The figure does have horns and a forked beard, they’re just really hard to see. Also notices the flames all around.

      Sometimes I think people are saying this stupid stuff just to get likes on their comment. Other times I dispair for humanity since these people might really be that stupid.

      1. The figure also has green wings and a long green tail. The population of the UK is around 80 million right now. I say that when 40 million plus have signed up to protest this question should be considered. Until then why should anybody care what the house organ of MI6/SIS has to say about anything?

    2. Well, that would explain another recent Guardian story: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/us-clean-water-crisis-2020-guardian-us-editor

      More seriously, when The Guardian sticks to proper news reporting it is invaluable. Less so when it strays into “right-on/woke” territory.

      Could those seeing a black man instead of a rather more obvious demon with scaly green wings and tail themselves be guilty of some kind of racial bias? Or is that suggestion itself verboten?

  2. They are imaginary beings of course but, yeah, that image is suggestive of racism to me because St. Michael is so white and Satan is so dark. Recolor Satan. Red might be a problem too, though perhaps not in the UK. Blue maybe?

    1. Satan’s dominion is the fiery pits of hell. A sulfurous, smoke-filled place.
      People who work in such places tended to be covered with soot.

    2. Krishna is always blue.
      Krishna major deity in Hinduism. He is worshipped as the eighth avatar of the god Vishnu and also as the supreme God in his own right

  3. “Do you think the medal should be redesigned, followed by an official apology?”

    No, b*****ks to them!

  4. No apology, no changes to the image thank you. Plus a polite reply using polite language that boils down to “Don’t be daft. Get over it.”

    1. Yes, if the Foreign Office gives in, that will just embolden the Offense Brigade! If they sense weakness, they’ll come back in greater numbers with even more trivial complaints.

  5. My own group, the Stop The Words Coalition, is protesting the use of the colonialist terms “black hole”, “dark matter”, and “dark energy” in Cosmology and related disciplines. We demand that (1) these terms by withdrawn from all literature in the fields of Astronomy and Astrophysics, whether in print, on-line, or in-the-head; and (2) that all academic departments in these fields issue an apology, and keep apologizing until our organization grants them absolution.

    1. You’re joking, but I would not be the least bit surprised if someone actually makes those demands in the next few months! I remember the big fracas over the phrase “quantum computing” a few years back.

      I think the woke people are suffering from some of apophenia that causes them to see sinister meanings in random unrelated events.

        1. I think you might mean: quantum supremecay

          And even without the woke connotation, which is silly, it is a dumb descriptor for the pseudo-accomplishment from Google.

          1. Quantum supremacy isn’t “a dumb descriptor for the pseudo-accomplishment from Google.” but the point at which quantum calculation beats the normal kind. Not an earth-shattering moment, I’ll grant you, but not defined by Google.

        2. It was “quantum supremacy” which was said to be uncomfortably redolent of “white supremacy”. I don’t think “quantum computing” has offended people yet (unless we count Gil Kalai :).

          1. You’re overlooking the Quantum of Solace and the misogynistic tropes of the James Bond franchise it’s associated with…!

      1. I don’t think that they are confused or fragile.

        Rather, they show how powerful they are by feigning vulnerability. A slave can have no weakness, but his master can have him tortured to death when he feels slighted.

  6. It feels like we are in the middle of a moral panic. If so, how do we get past it? Does societal change have to occur or do these things just run their course?

    1. Peter Turchin ( http://peterturchin.com/cliodynamica/ )argues that:

      all large-scale, state-level
      historical societies experience multicentennial waves of political instability—secular cycles. In many cases, there is an additional cycle of roughly 50 years in period superimposed on the longer secular cycles.

      He says that his Structural-Demographic Theory explains the political unrest of the late 60s early 70s and therefore we are due for a period of political unrest just about now.

      Maybe yes, maybe no. It’s tough being at the peak of a moral crisis… but if it is part of a 50 year cycle then perhaps we can be more hopeful of better times ahead.

      1. Hm, not sure about this. He seems to have invented a metric he calls the ‘Political Stress Indicator’, and found that it has increased over the time period he has chosen to look at. Well well. A bit more peer review needed, I think.

      2. I haven’t read anything by Mr Turchin so can’t comment on the veracity of his claims, and 50 years prior to the unrest in 1960s would be about the time of WWI, so that fits. But there was some rather large and ultimately horrific political instabilities in the world between the 1910s and the 1960s.

        I agree (I think) that there are what appears to by cycles in these movements, suggesting a definable regularity in both timing and motives. But from up here in the cheap seats (no historian here) they appear to me to not be cyclical at all but episodic. They often have vastly different motives and their timing seems the result of contingency rather more than cyclicity. We humans like to see patterns and to the extent that there are to this kind of social phenomena, many times (ISTM) that regular cyclical patterns are true only if we squint real hard and take pains to carefully define them in such a way that it is true.

        1. I think a far simpler explanation is that every generation seeks things to protest, and sometimes, as in this case, some people just look too hard for a novel offense to feel superior about.

  7. Until this post, I never noticed that particularly depiction of St. George that way. I guess now that I am told the devil surely looks black to me now. So, before today it was not racist, now that it’s been pointed out, it appear racist to me.

    I think this is quick route to purging our entire world of things that could be reasonably interpreted as offensive. Maybe people should just start taking picture and molds of all the great paintings and sculptures…because they might all be at risk of falling.

    1. On the Sistine Chapel ceiling, God is depicted as an old white man, not a person of color. Therefore: #CancelGod

      1. If he created us in his image, it’s not the painter’s fault, especially if he received divine inspiration! Joking aside, I recall the BBC got a lot of grief for broadcasting a program(me) depicting Jesus as a short, dark-skinned Middle-eastern-looking dude. I guess we’ll need to send Bill and Ted to find out the truth. As a bonus, we’d find out the son of god’s take on modern day San Dimas!

        1. Showing my age here; but I remember seeing Dennis Potter’s ‘Son of Man’ on the Beeb in 1969. As I recall it, Colin Blakely played Jesus as a short, stroppy, scruffy, bearded agitator: not at all the beatific figure we had all been brainwashed into believing in.

          Looking back, this might have been one of the little stones that created the avalanche that blew away my belief.

        1. Even more so for black moslems.

          To be fair to Xians, they did play a leading role in the abolition of slavery.

  8. I’m much more sympathetic to the renaming of honours which include the (non-existent!) British Empire in their nomenclature. The names of these honours and the colonialist baggage that they evoke lead some worthy would-be recipients, many of them from the very minority groups that have previously been under-recognised by the honours system, to decline them.

  9. The metaphor of white representing moral light and black representing moral darkness is, literally, as old as the human perception of the difference between day and night. You can see in the light, you can’t in the dark. Bad deeds are hidden by darkness, but revealed by light. Darkness is cold and comfortless, but light is warm and reassuring. And so on, and on. This cluster of metaphors is universal to human cultures, in Africa as much as anywhere else, because the experience of the daily cycle of day and night is universal to human cultures.

    1. How unfortunate for black people. On the other hand, red means “stop” but we continue to wear red clothes without a second thought. Time for society to grow up?

      1. Well, only by metaphor is light and dark mapped onto white and black, and only by extension with a very generous amount of leeway is white and black mapped onto pinkish and brownish human pigmentation. People in Africa have shown themselves perfectly capable of separating the metaphor from their own range of skin colours, or feeling that the one has any necessary implications for the other. The point is that the imagery (such as this medal), expressing the metaphor, has no necessary connection to feelings about “race”.

    2. I think that colorism also plays a role, and it is a human universal. Get over it.

      The lighter skin tone of women and children is associated with innocence and a kind of vulnerability that causes a desire to protect them. On the other hand, darker skin shows that someone is more aggressive and threatening. Pale boys are pansies, but pale girls are princesses.

      That being said, sub-Saharan Africans were obviously utterly insignificant in Medieval History. It turns out that the Sahara is difficult to cross. Blacks were seldom depicted in Christian iconography, but without having a distinctive personality profile. If anything, they would have been seen as potential converts to Christianity.

    3. Yet, white is the colour of grief in Chinese funerals – clothes, envelopes. It’s 50+ years since I read Moby Dick, but IIRC, Ishmael thought white a very ambiguous colour.

      1. Some Slavic countries also associate white with death. One suspects the color came to be associated with sickly and dying humans?

        A vigorous villain would not be white, but a craven villain perhaps. Kung Fu Panda 2 features a white peacock who makes up for his lack of fortitude by becoming a vicious warlord. Also, vampires are usually shown as pale, but also weak and in constant need of fresh blood.

  10. If we are going to go back in time and judge things by modern standards, and continue to do that into the future, allowing each identity group to make their own determination as to what needs to be blown up, human society will be completely destroyed by the end of the century, give or take. As Bill Maher says, “Time for New Rules!”

  11. Well, alrighty then. Add some horns and a tail — but make sure the tail is one with a kind of arrowhead on it. Make the skin color blue or greenish. The current color does not particularly match any human race, but lets’ be sure.
    Happy now?

  12. Interesting territory here. James Bond is, in full, Commander James Bond CMG RN. Now he might not be too impressed at the Guardian’s wokeness and he might put down his martini (shaken not stirred)…..

  13. Old statues and murals are being brought down everywhere. Everywhere, the names of buildings and streets that are named after old historical figures are being criticized, even though they were meant to honor old heroes – or at least heroes to some.
    One may counter that some or many of these reactions are wrong-headed, and that some sort of tradition or history is being expunged. Maybe so.
    But should it not also be exciting to then consider that those old historical figures were not so old to those who started these traditions? Why can’t we do the same with more modern figures who are known only for peacemaking or art? What statues and murals should be raised to replace those old warriors and colonists? I bet many could come up with candidates, and they would be far more diverse and would include more women as well.
    Spun that way, the other side of these efforts could become rather exciting. .

    1. Indeed, it could be. But what happens, Mark, when the perfidies and moral failings of these modern heroes are ferreted out? There are no saints.

      I do not believe those questions will be permitted, though. The new heroes, like the old, will not be questioned by those honoring them.

    2. To paraphrase a comment I read somewhere-
      Statues and monuments torn down are of lesser importance than the statues that will replace them, and what they might represent.

      I don’t think it is really about the objects themselves, even though they might be historically or artistically important. It is symbolic. One thing that used to be symbolic of our system of peaceful transfer of power, was that the portraits of elected officials would remain on the walls even after they were defeated or retired. We had a civil war, followed by reconciliation. Monuments to the actions and sacrifices of both sides stood sometimes literally side by side. Those are examples of a mindset of tolerance and civility.

      A people who can live in peace with monuments and portraits of members of previous parties and administrations are almost certainly not going to be the sort of people who desire to load their political opponents onto rail cars for the camps.

    3. I may have said this before, but it might be an idea to stipulate that all statues should be in place for a maximum of 50 years, unless there was a popular vote to keep them. Goodness knows, few of them are of any artistic merit whatsoever. There might have to be an exception for widely accepted national heroes such as Lincoln, Churchill or De Gaulle.

      That way, we might be able to get rid of statues of forgotten figures such as Havelock or Napier in Trafalgar Square, while leaving the onehandled adulterer up on his column.

      1. “few of them are of any artistic merit whatsoever”

        That is a personal opinion. “Forward”, by Jean Pond Miner was torn down yesterday. It was originally cast for the World Colombian Exposition, although the one torn down is a copy.

        Tearing down statues because you don’t know or care about the subject seems a poor argument. Havelock, as an example, is an interesting subject for military historians. He is prominently featured in accounts of the Afghan war.

  14. I don’t have a problem with the medal as it is, but frankly I don’t have any problem with the Brits changing it either.

    Aren’t there loads of depictions of St. George slaying a dragon from the same time period this medal comes from? Pick one, it’ll be just as good for “The Order of St Michael and St. George” as this one.

    1. Depictions of St. George slaying a dragon are very unfair to dragons. Moreover, they demonstrate speciesism, reify militarism, and, since the slain dragon could be used for a barbecue, they are offensive to vegans.

  15. This goes in the category that also has Ann Coulter’s suggestion that we rename Yale. She is trolling, of course. But it does indicate that feasibility is a genuine consideration in the renaming business. It actually would be quite difficult to rename Yale.

    I think redesigning this would be difficult too, unless it was sufficient to have a new one going forward, but all the existing ones remain in place. Then we would have to wait around for one to be awarded.

  16. That’s so BONKERS!
    BUt you know leftist movements can and do spin out of control like that.
    Recall how under the Khmer Rouge anybody speaking a foreign language (particularly French) or wearing glasses was immediately suspect and In Trouble.
    “In Trouble” is not where you wanted to be when it came to the KR.

    The “religion” of anti-racism has become almost Maoist.
    “Strange days indeed” J.L.
    D.A., J.D., NYC

  17. I wholly agree about the fuss over this medallion, but there was another article in the Guardian, which may have been overlooked, about murals in the Foreign Office showing Britannia receiving thankful submission from various non-white races, including, oddly, the Japanese (represented by a few Madame Butterflies), who had the good fortune never to be part of the British Empire. She (Britannia) is backed up by a cheer-leading row of semi-naked, muscled and unmistakably and heroically white public (i.e. private) schoolboys, possibly from Eton like our present, wholly incompetent Prime Minister who could happily write about ‘piccaninnies with watermelon smiles’ – a phrase that alluded, almost certainly intentionally, to the ‘grinning piccaninnies’ in Enoch Powell’s famously racist ‘rivers of blood’ speech of 1968. He has never apologised for this, or for any other of his racist remarks.

    The mural is appalling in both its obvious message and its art – a sort of homo-erotic dream about the virtues of Empire that reminds one of Nazi posters showing young, properly Aryan young Germans ready to defend Germany from its enemies, both within & without its borders. I hardly think it is being ‘woke’ to say that the murals are an embarrassment in every way, as were the statues of Leopold II of Belgium, author of the horrors in the Congo, that have been removed, rightly in my view.

    Someone has tried to compare ‘woke’ people to the Khmer Rouge above – the Khmer Rouge were able to seize power as a result of the incredible destruction and mass killing wrought upon the Cambodian nation by American bombing. Neither the USA or the UK are in the situation that Cambodia was reduced to. There is a far greater threat to the American polity from the right and not from the left, but this seems not to be fully recognised.

    Someone else came out on another thread and said that ‘Black Lives Matter’ is racist, both, I suppose, as a slogan and as a movement. And the happy and ignorant slogan ‘All lives matter’ has been trotted out – but of course ‘Black lives matter’ does deny that ‘all lives matter’ – it is saying that black people’s lives matter as much as anyone else’s. Is this really so difficult to understand?

    And is it so difficult to understand that, to quote the great Judith Shklar (who escaped with her family from her native Latvia in 1941 and went, via Japan, to the US and to Canada, and became the first woman to be given a tenured position in Harvard’s Department of Government), ‘Nothing is more soul-destroying than rage. If we cause rage by arousing a sense of injustice, we cannot measure the harm we do by simply taking the tangible deprivation into account. We must also add the psychological harm we inflict and especially the lasting anger that we inspire. One need only consider the injuries of racial discrimination to recognise that it is not only unjust to deprive people of their social rights but it is also unjust to make them feel the fury and resentment of being humiliated. Nor should we ignore the political costs of organised rage.’ (‘The Faces of Injustice’, Yale University Press,1990)

    She speaks also of ‘passive injustice’, and quotes from Justice Brennan’s dissent from the appalling DeShaney decision: “Inaction can be every bit as abusive of power as action, oppression can result when a State undertakes a vital duty and then ignores it”‘The idea of ‘passive injustice’ applies as well of course to those individuals who ignore or make light of injustice or they to claim that it is really not objectively so bad as the victims make out.

  18. Final paragraph should read ‘try to claim’ not ‘they to claim’; there are one or two other minor mis-typings, but I think that what is meant can be readily understood,

  19. Sorry but the following:

    “but of course ‘Black lives matter’ does deny that ‘all lives matter’”

    should read:

    “but of course ‘Black lives matter’ does NOT deny that ‘all lives matter’”

Comments are closed.