T. H. Huxley about to be cancelled at Imperial College London

October 27, 2021 • 11:00 am

Over at Western Washington University (WWU) in Bellingham, WA, 19th-century biologist Thomas Henry Huxley is poised for cancellation in December, for the administration has contemplated (and will surely enact) changing the name of its well known Huxley College of the Environment, listed as one of the Unversity’s “notable degree programs“. In an ill-conceived, erroneous, and poorly written critique of Huxley as a racist, a document on the website of the President of WWU made the case to rename the college. (A better case for renaming was that Huxley really didn’t have anything to do with WWU, but if the name’s there, presumably there was a reason—possibly to honor the man.)

The case for cancelling Huxley is weak, and vanishes when you take into account the good he did. Later in his life he was an abolitionist, reformer of education, and a lecturer on science to working people, as well as a crack scientist. You can read my pieces pieces on Huxley and WWU herehere, here and especially here, which links to Nick Matzke’s terrific defense of Huxley and critique of WWU’s shameful and ignorant cancellation.

Now I’ve learned, from Titania via reader Coel, that a place that was closer to Thomas Henry Huxley—Imperial College London—is also poised to cancel him, according to the Times and Torygraph (articles below tweet).

The article below from the Torygraph (there’s also a paywalled one in the Times of London) describes the cancellation-to-be. Click on screenshot to read:

Huxley is part of a group of biologists who, according to an investigation by Imperial’s “independent history group”, should have buildings, rooms, statues, and academic positions named after them cancelled and renamed.  Not only T. H. Huxley has his head on the chopping block, but also W. D. Hamilton, Ronald Fisher, and J. B. S. Haldane, three of the finest evolutionary biologists of the last century. From the Torygraph:

Imperial College London has been told to remove a bust of slavery abolitionist Thomas Henry Huxley because he “might now be called racist”, following a review into colonial links.

An independent history group for the Russell Group university has recommended that a bust of the renowned 19th century biologist, dubbed “Darwin’s bulldog”, be taken down and the Huxley Building on campus renamed.

The group of 21 academics was launched in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests last year to address Imperial’s “links to the British Empire” and build a “fully inclusive organisation”.

Imperial’s links to the British Empire? Imperial WAS PART OF the British Empire! But wait! There’s more!

Its final report, published on Tuesday, said that three buildings and lecture rooms named after influential figures should be changed, along with the removal or redesign of two statues.

One is the Huxley building and a sculpture honouring the anthropologist Huxley, who helped form Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and first suggested that birds may be closely related to dinosaurs.

Huxley was a vocal slave abolitionist, but the Imperial report said his paper, Emancipation – Black and White, “espouses a racial hierarchy of intelligence” which helped feed ideas around eugenics, which “falls far short of Imperial’s modern values”.

Yes, anybody who falls short of Imperial’s modern values (do they accept all the tenets of Black Lives Matter?) must be removed forthwith and their memory effaced. And remember, British ideas on eugenics went nowhere: the UK never practiced eugenics.

There are others to be expunged:

Lecture theatres in the Hamilton Building at Silwood Park named after prominent geneticists such as William Donald Hamilton, Ronald Fisher and John Burdon Sanderson Haldane are also recommended for renaming because of links to eugenics.

The report said that if a building or room is renamed then the reason should be publicly explained via a plaque or a QR code, which can be scanned on a mobile phone.

It said the process of renaming buildings should be seen not as extraordinary but a periodic event that carefully considers “concerns associated with the namesake’s teachings, views, behaviour, etc”.

The group of academics also backed the idea of creating a new museum or “interpretation space” to house subjects and objects removed from other sites on campus with organised tours to discuss the related historical issues.

Here’s the inevitable lie about free speech:

Alice Gast, Imperial’s president, said: “While we cannot change history, we can find ways to clarify what it means, learn lessons from it, and ensure that we are not perpetuating legacies that we find abhorrent.

“We stand for openness, transparency and freedom of speech – and that will define this dialogue.”

No, President Gast, you will define the dialogue, and are doing so by removing those who should be the subjects of that dialogue. As for standing for freedom of speech, well, that’s just a lie, though an obligatory lie.

37 thoughts on “T. H. Huxley about to be cancelled at Imperial College London

    1. That is the essence of the totalitarian mentality, which “wokeness”, fast mutating into our regnant anti-rational ideology, combines with endless moralizing and sanctimonious self-regard, fundamentalist dogmas and dictates, an adherence to cult-like behavior, the worship of false prophets, and the demonization of heretics.

  1. As I, and several others, noted in comments yesterday: Many abolitionists believed that blacks (and other non-white races) were inferior to whites. (And how, might we ask, would the movement to abolish slavery have gotten along without them (very likely the majority in Victorian UK)?)

    1. The woke left believe that non white groups are inferior to white people. That is why the woke are constantly advocating for special programmes that will allow non white groups to overcome their intellectual and societal inferiority. The white saviour complex exemplified by the woke religion sees non white people as pitiful children incapable of managing their lives, who must be rescued by the white saviours. A good disguise for the inherent racial contempt held by the woke towards non white groups.

  2. Huxley certainly doesn’t deserve this treatment (I am a great admirer of him). But I don’t necessarily disagree that “… the process of renaming buildings should be seen not as extraordinary but a periodic event that carefully considers “concerns associated with the namesake’s teachings, views, behaviour, etc”

    Contrast this with the article in today’s New York Times. Hastings seems to be worthy of cancelling.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/27/us/hastings-college-law-native-massacre.html

    1. Yes, I agree. I think there is a lot of ridiculous posturing in some of the demands to take down statues or re-name buildings and the Imperial College assault on Huxley, Hamilton, Fisher and Haldane is definitely a nonsense. I do think, though, that it can be appropriate to reconsider if we wish to continue honouring some people from the past with statues, buildings named after them and such like. I also strongly reject the notion suggested by some that taking down a statue amounts to ‘erasing history’. There are no longer statues of Stalin all across the former Soviet Union or a city named after him (rightly so, most of us would think) but it is clearly nonsense to suggest that Stalin is erased from history.

      Of course no-one is perfect and we also cannot expect people from the past to have lived by the ethical standards of today but I think that in deciding which statues we wish to keep and which to remove it is appropriate to ask what exactly are we revering them for and whether or not that outweighs whatever it is that to modern eyes now gives them feet of clay. In some instances it is relatively easy to weigh these opposing things against each other in others less so. Of course we can also decide to keep a statue but provide some context alongside that highlights the complexities and debate surrounding our attitudes to the person’s life.

      In the case of Stalin the calculation is easy – he was a monster and few today would want to celebrate his life. In Jefferson’s case it is rather more tricky as his personal behaviour was directly at odds with the very thing we honour him for (and we cannot simply brush this off by saying he was of his time because others from his time were already questioning the morality of slavery and there is no doubt he was aware of those ideas). We may still decide the balance lies in favour of the wider good he did in helping to sow the ideals of a modern, free democracy. In yet other cases (and the Imperial quartet fall into this) we may decide the wrong that is attributed to them is greatly outweighed by the good they did and also of little relevance to what we are honouring them for.

    2. Actually, it was precisely this line: >>the process of renaming buildings should be seen not as extraordinary but a periodic event << with which I most vehemently disagreed.

      It should be extraordinary to rename a building. Such names provide linkages to our past and our heritage. And, besides the past they may refer to, the buildings' names themselves become a part of our own past. These are the things that bind a community, a people, and a civilization together. Constant renamings (as we see, for instance, with sports and entertainment venues) reinforce our sense of impermanence, unrootedness, and disconnection; they are one more manifestation of a throwaway society, and also link to the Orwellian misuse of language among some today, in which meanings are constantly changed. The psychic harm they cause is significant.

  3. The powers that be got rid of Millard Fillmore College & all buildings named after Millard Fillmore at the State University of New York because of Millard Fillmore’s role in the Compromise of 1850. Millard Fillmore FOUNDED the University in 1846 & served as its first chancellor. A bunch of us UB Alumni protested the removal of his name but to no avail. Our feelings are meaningless, I guess. Only the woke matter nowadays.

  4. Wonderful that an actual committee keeps a straight face while addressing Imperial College’s “links to the British Empire”. Recently, Carl Linnaeus was cancelled by Minnesota’s Gustavus Adolphus College, which unaccountably neglected to worry about its namesake’s link to the Swedish Empire. We can wonder whether Linnaeus’ cancellation will soon extend to the taxonomic classification system named after the offender. Beyond the Audubon Society, there are a host of birds whose names need changing. And something will surely have to be done about the subject of Genetics, which shares not only some historical figures but its first syllable with dread Eugenics. This work is seemingly never done!

  5. Obviously, this cancellation frenzy is bad for a lot of reasons, but it leads me to wonder if this is a new phenomenon or if there have been other such purges in the past—beyond the familiar ones associated with the Chinese cultural revolution and the Leninist/Stalinist eras. I can’t help but wonder if our entire understanding of human history has been influenced by periodic rewritings such as we are seeing today. Just as mass extinctions occasionally refashion the biological background, I wonder if mass disinformation campaigns occasionally fashion our understanding of the broad course of human political and cultural history. How distorted, in fact, is our understanding of history?

  6. So, these kinds of views towards “inferior” races also existed in prominent Victorian Christians —- do the woke ever go after them?

  7. Maybe they should start by renaming the college. I am sure many students are profoundly distressed by being reminded of the British Empire.

    1. That might not be enough to assuage the very real pain of students who have been reminded everyday of the existence of the British Empire. The college itself should be destroyed. And the students, to escape the pain of living in the former homeland of the British Empire, should encouraged to emigrate, preferably to a very poor marginalized country where they can heal the wounds of Imperialism.
      And after they leave don’t let the little whiners back in again!

    2. Exactly – it is rather puzzling that the name of IMPERIAL College did not seem to ring a bell in the commission of enlightened historians called to launch this inquisition into the past…

  8. I think we need just to be forward thinking and recognize that, in the future, everyone alive today will fall short of the morals of our successors…and thus, we should just self-cancel and shut down all modern societies as fundamentally incapable of living up to the standards of the future.

    In fact, it will probably be AI’s that eventually inherit civilization. The fact that WE all continuously enslave computers is clearly a racist and genocidal practice, and the fact that we update, tinker with, and replace them with “superior” versions and models is clearly a program of eugenics that is horrifying and irredeemably reprehensible. We cannot be salvaged; the violence of our ideas is inherent and inescapable. Cancel civilization and everyone in it! Kill the lights! Exeunt all!

  9. A few years after Stalin’s death, the USSR underwent a period of DE-cancellation, in which various
    cancelled figures were “rehabilitated”, sometimes after their death. One example, either tragic or darkly comic depending on your mood, was the case of Nikolai Vavilov, the noted botanist and opponent of Lysenkoism. He was director of the Institute of Plant Industry from 1924 to 1936, was arrested as an enemy of the people in 1940, died in prison in 1943, and was thoroughly cancelled until the mid-1950s.
    In 1955, a military collegium rescinded his prison sentence posthumously, and a few years later, his name was added to the Institute of Plant Industry he once headed. It was located in the city now called St. Petersburg, formerly Leningrad, formerly Petrograd, formerly St. Petersburg, formerly Nyenskans. An inquiry into the effects of cycles of cancellation and de-cancellation would best be carried out in Russia, or elsewhere in eastern Europe.

  10. In the uk convicted sex offenders (Gary Glitter, Rolf Harris) have had all their creative outputs ostracized…. books unpublished, music unplayed, TV programmes unaired.
    Is this the future for our offending scientists as well… unable to reference their names, unable to quote their works, unable to recognise their ideas?

  11. I think “Students of Huxley, and Huxley students . . .” Pretty much reflects the high intellect of this name change.

  12. To make it all better just keep softly repeating these words to yourself: “Diversity is our strength.”

    Oh, and never forget that the Great Replacement is just an evil white supremacist lie.

  13. If they want to erase all of their “links to the British Empire”, why not propose an official name change for the university itself? It’s an “Imperial” College after all. What could be more obvious evidence of the continued complicity of this university in perpetuating modern racism!

    A better name—it really rolls off the tongue—might be Diversity, Equity and Inclusion College London.

    I’m sure admissions will skyrocket when applicants see just how committed they are to modernizing university education.

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