This article is taken from the May 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.
Slaves and Sources
Lisa Hilton (April) dates the “own voices” movement to 2015 but it is much older than that. In 1992 the director of the powerful Canada Council for the Arts threatened to withhold funding from any project that gave voice to a culture of which the applicant was not a member.
Some writers protested: “I reject the idea of cultural appropriation completely,” said the Trinidadian-Canadian novelist Neil Bissoondath. “Stop. Now!” Timothy Findley insisted. The Council retreated. But the offence of cultural appropriation is a corollary of the policy and philosophy of Multiculturalism; it rebounded and got Robert Lepage into hot water in 2018.
Cultural appropriation has been the order of the day since imagination and mimicry evolved. What has changed is selective cultural sensitivity and identity politics. Blackface was once condoned but — rightly — no longer; Caucasian actors playing American Indians in the old westerns are now discomfiting.
But whereas multiculturalism tries to make cultural power more equitable, it promotes discrete cultural properties (“diversity”), hence the loitering offence of cultural appropriation. Its success requires that common ground must shrink in a continuous subdividing of offendable categories of person. The framers of multiculturalism had certain broad categories in mind but those have proliferated. The reductio ad absurdum may be the dismissal of any fact or reality outside the perception of the category: my (and my followers’) truth, not yours.
John Wilson Foster
Dan Hitchens’ article on potential intergenerational conflict was most interesting, but missed a couple of important factors, that of lockdown and government debt.
It appears the generation most paranoid about Covid-19, and seemingly displaying most entitlement towards being shielded from it, are the middle aged and older. They’re insistent the younger generations pay the societal, financial, and psychological cost of lockdown, all to satisfy their irrational paranoia. Witness the destruction of over a year of education — and the social development that goes along with that — simply because of this fear.
The financing of lockdown spending has been through borrowing, and it’s certainly not boomers which will be asked to repay that in decades to come in a shattered economy which their paranoia had demanded. As yet, millenials (and younger) haven’t realised that their social and educational development has needlessly been put through the shredder simply to appease the older generations who’ve had their time in the sun, but when they do, the results won’t be pretty once they get organised and find themselves a leader to try to prevent being saddled with repaying even more government debt.
Richard W. Jones
Your last editorial was hard reading. An ethic of forgiveness is sorely needed, but for those on earth at least it must go hand in hand with an ethic of responsibility. Kevin Myers’s banishment may well have been disproportionate, but you would have a far stronger case if you didn’t seek to downplay his mistake.
The “admiring” stereotype of “sharp- elbowed” Jews is not a “distinctive species” of anti-semitism but of a piece with how it works generally (by “punching up”). Both he and his paper should have known this and it is interesting that they didn’t. Myers’s views about Israel (a country, not a people) are no defence. But perhaps The Critic knows better than this Jew.
Titania McGrath has excelled herself this month. In particular I admire her account of the admirable burning of inappropriate books by progressive young German students — nationalist and socialist — in the 1930s. It is good to know that so many thoughtful young British students are ready to follow their example today.
I sympathise with Titania’s failure to speak German. I was forbidden to learn German at school, by my Grandfather. He disliked Germans — which is I suppose forgivable. He was conscripted to fight in the British army in the 1940s after this country shamefully declared war on Germany in 1939. Being part of an aggressive war machine would poison anyone’s world view.
Looking back, we can only give thanks for the decision by Joseph Stalin’s progressive Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, to ally themselves with their National Socialist comrades.
It is appalling to realise that our children are taught in school that Germany was the aggressor, and that Uncle Joe’s armies fought alongside the so-called democratic nations. Time for a little book burning here, methinks.
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