colleges

College Students Adopt ISIS School of Art Criticism

The attempt to airbrush historical stuff from the present is the height of authoritarianism.

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Oxford Mail

If you thought only the whackjobs of ISIS were hellbent on obliterating statues that offend them, think again. Thousands of miles from the Islamic State, in what you would imagine to be the different moral galaxy of the Western academy, there are young hotheads who likewise want to remove from public view the monuments that have the temerity to upset them.

Last week it was revealed that a bunch of students at Oxford want a statue of Cecil Rhodes removed. Rhodes was a British imperialist, founder of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), architect of Apartheid, and all-around unpleasant guy. And according to Oxford students calling themselves the "Rhodes Must Fall" movement, his statue at Oriel College—his alma mater—is not only offensive but an act of violence.

"There's a violence to having to walk past the statue every day," one student told Sky News. The statue is "really problematic." 

Problematic is to the intolerant PC brigade what "haram" is to Islamists—it's used to brand things that are wicked, and which should ideally be No Platformed or Safe Spaced out of existence. The activists' casual conflation of speech with violence—or rather, of walking by a statue with feeling assaulted—speaks to the terrifying Orwellianism that has much of the Western student body in its grip.

The notion that expression is a form of violence—whether it's controversial books that are said to assault students' fragile minds or invited speakers whose words allegedly harm students—opens the door to the policing of speech as thoroughly as we police physical force. After all, if walking past a statue is like being punched in the face, or hearing a controversial idea is akin to being stabbed, then that statue must go and that idea must be extinguished, right? Equating thought with violence has been a key tactic of every tyrannical censor in history. 

Unlike ISIS, the Oxford students aren't wielding sledgehammers against the stone object of their fury (not yet, anyway). And where ISIS has mainly demolished statues it considers idolatrous, these students are more politically minded demolishers, keen to rid Oxford of the likeness of a racist. And yet, the similarities between these Western statue-fearers and the ISIS statue-destroyers are striking.

The "Rhodes Must Fall" guys talk of Rhodes' problematic "legacy" and how it has no place on a 21st-century campus. One says his statue is "a reminder… of the colonial project." ISIS, too, is also all about erasing legacies. Its English-language magazine Dabiq justified the destruction of artifacts at Mosul Museum in Iraq as a means of "erasing the legacy of a ruined nation." It boasts of having "laid to waste the … legacy of a nation that had long passed from the face of the Earth."

What ISIS and the Oxford lot share in common is a Year Zero attitude, a desire to rewrite history. It's a deeply authoritarian instinct: not merely to discuss the past, and challenge its events and ideas, but to cleanse all remnants of it from the present. It's cultural cleansing, disguised as an Islamic duty by ISIS and as radical anti-racism by Oxford students.

Oxford students aren't the only ones aping the ISIS approach to yesteryear's monuments. They were inspired by students at the University of Cape Town, who protested against and threw shit at a statue of Rhodes until it was taken down last April. In the U.S., students at the University of Texas at Austin (UTA) are agitating for the removal of a statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. A UTA student leader says the statue is "not in line with… the ideals of a diverse and all-inclusive university." Imagine that—a historical monument that fails to conform to the values of today.

Earlier this year, St Louis University took down a statue of the Jesuit Missionary priest Father Pierre-Jean De Smet holding a crucifix over Native Americans. The statue has been there for decades, but it was recently judged "culturally insensitive." Students at the University of Maryland are demanding the renaming of their football stadium, currently named for H.C. Byrd, a segregationist.

In the wake of Charleston church massacre, the Guardian actually set up a page to track all outdated or racist symbols and monuments in the U.S. Seriously. It's like a sex offenders' registery for statues.

If every old thing, whether it's the works of Mark Twain, which are strewn with racial epithets offensive to modern ears, or those libraries named after slave-owner Thomas Jefferson, were to be judged by how well it sits with modern-day mores, we'd have to tear down everything. News Flash: people in the past had different values to ours.

The attempt to airbrush historical stuff from the present is the height of authoritarianism. It's an attempt not merely to control what people can think and say today, but to project contemporary conformism back in time. Yet being surrounded by statues of flawed historical figures and dead eccentric writers is part of living in a complex, colorful society. They're reminders of history's ups and downs, and its changes. 

"He who controls the past controls the future," said Orwell. Yes, that's it. The intolerant students and others seeking to smash past images and ideas really have their eye on establishing their future authority to determine what all of us may think and say.

NEXT: Dodd-Frank at 5: How Financial Reform Led to Bloodshed in the Congo

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  1. Somebody should tell those little idiots that they can take down the statue when there is a post-colonial govenrment in Africa that is measurably better than that over which Rhodes presided for a whole decade.

    In the meanwhile, sit down and shut the f*ck up, the adults are talking.

    1. Five and a half years, actually.

      1. Sorry, sloppy grammer. I ment that I want to see a post-colonial government that can be worthwhile for ten whole yeasr before I listen to so,e young fools run down the colonial giants.

        Nobody wants to admit it, but all through the last, almost universally condemned, Apartheid era, South Africa had a ongoing problem with Black Africans crossing the border …. To get IN.

        Doesn’t excuse the racism. Does say volumes about the tribalism elsewhere.

  2. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?

  3. I think our old buddy Pol Pot had this same notion: Destroy everything and start all over.

    That ended quite nicely.

  4. Keep in mind these students are attending an elite university, Oxford. This is what our betters are teaching and have been teaching feature would-be leaders. Weep for the youth, but more importantly, protect yourself from them because they will seek to intern you in a camp eventually. Your insistence on your first and second amendment rights will make you intolerable to them.

    1. they will seek to intern you in a camp eventually

      Ironic, given the British use of those camps in South Africa…

      1. Yeah, but those camps were mainly for Afrikaaners, so no one cares.

    2. I’d worry a lot more if they didn’t openly despise the military, and treat it badly.

  5. Well I think the market should dictate this. The institution in question should set a deadline and a starting amount that needs to be raised to remove and replace. Then the activists on both sides have to raise the money to either get rid of or keep the landmark for a set amount of years (say 20 years as to avoid the tyranny of past generations that Jefferson warned of). If the anti landmark activist raise the most and exceed the amount to remove and replace, they get to remove the landmark and the institution keeps the remaining funds. If the pro landmark crowd wins the school keeps the money and the landmark stays. This will let people put their money where their mouth is and determine if it is truly important to them. Most importantly I will have paid zero dollars because I could care less one way or another.

    1. Nah, just better to beat the shit out of the hippie punks like in the old days.

      1. Don’t conflate these freaks with hippies. . . we have a LOT more sense.

        Besides. . . this old “hippie punk” used to (and still does, truth be told) enjoy pinning dipshits like you to a wall by the throat and explaining why trying to beat me up is a bad idea.

        In other words. . . you might try beating the shit out of a hippie and get your ass handed to you with a quickness. Because it’s FUN.

        1. One spring day in 1968 four teenage rednecks thought it would be fun to beat up a couple of hippie college students. Between my friend’s elementary judo and my basic karate, we broke two arms, one nose and a bunch of ribs. Snap, crackle and pop.

  6. Wasn’t former prime ministers of South Africa Daniel Fran?ois Malan and Hendrik Verwoerd who was the “architects” of apartheid?

  7. I believe Robert Heinlein once said something like, “A generation that ignores history has no past –
    and no future”.

    No doubt these Brave New Thinkers truly believe in their cause. But in refusing to see anything but their own blinkered viewpoint they cripple themselves.

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  9. “There’s a violence to having to walk past the statue every day,”

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    1. Wait a bit. Violence will mean what they tell you it means. A dirty look, a dismissive gesture, a reminder that differing opinions exist-all violence towards one’s psyche or whatever the fuck they want to call it. Orwell was right, let the other side redefine the language at your own peril.

      1. And imagine their shock when they move to finally surpress their lessers and find out what REAL violence is like.

        Idjits.

        1. Yessssss,

          The little defectives absolutely HATE violence, unless of course it is per their request.

          Of course, we can always hope that they experience real violence early enough to get them out of the gene pool before they breed.

          You can’t fix stupid.

    2. It’s a metaphor. Like calling you a mind-rapist for doing violence to their creative vocabulary.

    3. I would like to oblige them with real violence. Then let them compare and contrast. Students need to do lots of comparing and contrasting.

    4. I think it speaks volumes that the students have led such easy lives that they can confuse having to walk by a statue with actual violence.

  10. Here in the Twin Cities there is an active movement to rename Lake Calhoun. I’m sure we’ll be seeing a movement to rename everything Sibley in the near future, too.

    1. Now comrade, doesn’t ‘Lake Obama’ have a much nicer ring to it?

      1. Only if it’s really shallow.

        1. Amd feckless. Can a body of water be feckless?

  11. “The attempt to airbrush historical stuff from the present is the height of authoritarianism. It’s an attempt not merely to control what people can think and say today, but to project contemporary conformism back in time. Yet being surrounded by statues of flawed historical figures and dead eccentric writers is part of living in a complex, colorful society. They’re reminders of history’s ups and downs, and its changes.”

    If we do it in the guise of libertarianism and public property does it become less authoritarian?

  12. Lord help us if these students start reading books. They’ll realize pretty well any venerated historical figure by today’s standards were terribly insensitive and even, uh,uh,uh, “violent” (if we’re going to continue changing the definitions of words based on Twitter usage.)

  13. These students are being overly sensitive, and claims of “violence” are just plain wrong and stupid.

    Having said that, I don’t have a problem in principle with members of a community wanting that community to reflect their values. If the offending item in question is on private property, the property owner decides what to do, full stop. If someone doesn’t like it, tough. But if it is on government-owned property, the democratic process is the right avenue to go through. I may disagree with the desire to take down historical monuments but if they are on government-owned land I think that option should be available. A much better option would be for the offended people to use the monument as a tool for education, but again, government owned property should ultimately be under the control of the people.

    1. “Having said that, I don’t have a problem in principle with members of a community wanting that community to reflect their values.”

      To the degree that I’m a thin libertarian, I don’t have a problem with it either. To the degree that I’m a philosophical liberal–meaning that I believe we should confront and attempt to learn from unpleasant historical realities rather than sweeping them under the rug–it offends me personally, in the same way that obnoxious fundamentalists offend me. Libertarianism is just about limiting the damage we do to one another, but presumably there are other moral or social principles we apply to how we approach the world other than “don’t steal from people or hurt them.”

      “A much better option would be for the offended people to use the monument as a tool for education, but again, government owned property should ultimately be under the control of the people.”

      What if some of the people want it and some don’t? The people are never of a singular mind, which means that minorities will regularly be trampled by majorities. Which is democracy and the Problem of Public Property in a nutshell.

      1. This applies to Craig@USA’s comment, too…

        I absolutely agree about the dangers of majorities. Minorities, or more generally, all people, should have their rights protected against majority tyranny. But so long as government does things besides just protecting fundamental rights, there are going to be times when it is perfectly justifiable to use the democratic process and to allow majority will to override the minority.

        That’s why I draw a monumental difference between something being on private vs government owned property. No one has a right to have their favorite statue put up on government land. No one has a right to unilaterally demand that their least favorite statue be taken down, either.

        Another way to think about it is to cast the government in the role of a corporate owner of the land. Corporations, not being actual individual people, tend to decide how to act in accordance with the majority wishes of their shareholders, or indirectly through an elected board, as their own internal rules dictate. Which is really not that different from government, in this particular respect.

        1. Well put LynchPin. Libertarians should defend these students’ right to opine and agitate for change, regardless of how much we think they are barking up the wrong tree.

          1. If their right to agitate for change was under threat that would indeed be the right priority. Since they are under no such threat we can focus on the idiocy of their hypersensitivity.

            1. Fair point rudehost. I was too focused on O’Neill comparing the students to ISIS and claiming that they are “aping the ISIS approach” to separate the issues.

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    2. I agree with most of what you wrote. However:

      “But if it is on government-owned property, the democratic process is the right avenue to go through.”

      Difficult not to make a jaded reply here, but I recognize you’ve got a good point.

    3. These little defectives do not OWN these properties (the universities for example), or in fact much of anything since they, for the most part, are useless drones. They rather wish to demand that the actual owners of the properties do as the little defectives demand in their childish snit fits.

      They are not a “community” that can “reflect their values”, they are parasites that seek to kill the host. Where do we get a societal medication that will kill off these parasites?

  14. Their comrade, Joe Stalin, would be proud. Now ship them off to China for further indoctrination by Central Committee.

  15. A friend of mine has a girlfriend who borders on this type of mentality. Still hasn’t figured out that I’m making fun of her when I say that things like applause are microaggressions. Hands striking each other?? Not in my world!

    1. I hope she’s hot, and worth it.

  16. The violence of walking past a statue is a hint as to where this is heading. If all this is violence it is reasonable to respond with violence to someone who disagrees with you.

    If an idea is the same as a physical assault, then when you hear the idea spoken, or even hinted at, and it is reasonable to attack back physically.

  17. “There’s a violence to having to walk past the statue every day,” one student told Sky News. The statue is “really problematic.”

    Said some guy in his Che Guevara t-shirt on his way to his irony 101 class.

    1. Don’t be silly. They’ve never visited the auditoriums to take Irony 101.

      They wouldn’t know irony if Alanis Morissette showed up and beat them to death with her gold record.

  18. They’ve also defaced the Denton County Confederate Soldier Memorial: http://www.dentonrc.com/local-…..alized.ece

  19. I have little regard for the terminally offended students, but Mr. O’Neill Is going way too far when he conflates agitating for change with destruction of others’ property.

    1. P.J. O’Rourke identifies a perfect term for the general “people type”: Perpetually Indignant.

  20. They’re call Iconoclasts…image breakers…been around for centuries from different cultures but the ideology is the same:

    We don’t like it…you can’t see it.

    1. That’s a great point! These people are nothing new. They’re just better organized at the moment.

  21. Speaking of comrades, what about the removal of Lenin statues from Eastern Europe? Were they undeserving of protection as impositions by an occupier? But that argument would justify iconoclasm by South Africa’s post-colonial majority.

  22. More and more like the Taliban and for ref: Buddhas of Bamiyan.

  23. Need to start hanging out around the colleges that produce these types of squids so I can beat the crap out of them. As they clearly have not been beaten enough

    1. No, the little dears have never been beaten, spanked, or even spoken to harshly. Their parents didn’t want to damage the little dears psyche. They are accustomed to getting whatever they want by throwing a teenage tantrum.

      I can clearly remember an ex-wife’s mother who was not getting her way, standing in my kitchen stamping her feet. Her husband and daughter were getting ready to give her what she desired and it all stopped when I just started laughing, followed by “what the hell, are you five years old?”

      It was clearly manipulation because she stopped the fit, just looked at me for a minute, then dropped her silly demands.

      “We” have raised an entire generation of these spoiled manipulative brats.

  24. To really test their commitment have them petition Oxford to shut down the Rhodes Trust, including the Mandela/Rhodes Scholarship, and donate the money to the University of Zimbabwe.

  25. Meh. I rejoiced every time a statue of Lenin or Stalin was toppled. Rhodes was a giant douche. His statue hasn’t been around long enough to be a historical artifact. I wouldn’t condone destroying the thing. But there’s no reason to leave his likeness there anymore than the confederate battle flag should fly over the South Carolina State House.

    1. In the Yel’tsin years, some statues of monsters were moved to a lot next to a Moscow art museum.

  26. There’s a lot of talk about either sandblasting the faces off the giant Civil War carving on Stone Mountain by Atlanta, or adding new people to it (including some asking half-seriously for Big Boi and Andre3000 of Outkast to be added).

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  28. This is an idiotic article. Unless they’re wielding sledgehammers, they’re not at ISIS level. Sometimes Reason resembles Salon in its hysteria, and like many Salon writers, Ms. O’Neill should clean the sand out of her vagina and have a good cry.

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  30. “It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of ’em was one kinda sombitch or another.”

    – Malcolm Reynolds

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  32. }}} H.C. Byrd, a segregationist.

    And LIFELONG DEMOCRAT.

    Let’s NOT conveniently forget that fact.

    The MEDIA is damned sure happy to do so.

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