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A clash of rights: Part five



Is it really best to go through life asleep, unaware of what is happening around us? This question reminds me of a quotation (I don’t know the origin, but it’s painted on the wall above the bar in my regular pub). “Quiet minds are not frightened or perplexed, but in fortune or misfortune go on at their own private pace, like a clock in a thunderstorm.” I’m very suspicious of that quotation, because I have always aspired to be something more than a clock (useful though they are), and I believe we should be perturbed when horrible things are happening in the world. “Woke” and “Cancel culture” are words used largely by the right-wing media and social networks to decry people who are aware of the damage done to human dignity by right-wing forces, racists, sexists, xenophobes and the like. “Woke” is closely related to another neologism, “snowflake”, which carries the same idea: that those who object, for example, to racism, are too weak (a snowflake easily melts) to put up with the world as it is. Some months ago my mobile phone and laptop were stolen from the communal house in which I was living. The very helpful policewoman who interviewed me explained that there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest the suspect (who had disappeared but was already being sought by the police in relation to previous offences), as I hadn’t seen the stolen goods in his hands and there was no CCTV footage. A housemate complained to me: “nowadays the police aren’t interested in crimes like theft. They’re only interested in woke rubbish like so-called hate speech.” As far as I can see the police are interested in both and so they should be. British newspapers have been addressing the issue of “woke” and “anti-woke”, arguing that conflict and animosity are being stirred up by politicians, sections of the media and, of course, social networks, rather than reflecting the true beliefs of the population at large. This is made all the easier by the coining of a dumb and nasty term such as “woke.” An example. I guess my readers are aware that in the English football team, white and black players all take the knee at the start of each of their matches out of respect for the Black Lives Matter movement. This has earned them insults (spearheaded by cries of “woke”) in the right-wing press and social media, and, at matches, abuse and the hurling of objects on to the pitch from racists amongst supporters of the opposing team (the players of most opposing teams stare at the English players taking the knee and shake their heads sadly at the eccentricity of the English). I’m sure the bulk of the British public are baffled by it all and eager for the match to begin, but vaguely feel the English footballers are doing something decent. To return, finally to “cancel culture”, I don’t know whether there are examples in Southern Africa of student unions and other bodies demanding that invitations to speak are withdrawn from those who have a track record of expressing abhorrent views. I do remember that back in the 1970s students at the NUL effectively blocked a lecture to be given by the novelist and public intellectual, Es’kia Mphahlele, due to his collaboration with the Education Department of the apartheid regime. Many years later the novelist A.S. Mopeli-Paulus withdrew from a booking I had organised for him, as he was nervous he might be given the same treatment. I mentioned earlier that in the UK Boris Johnson’s government is trying to introduce legislation to outlaw what it refers to as “cancel culture.” Kate Green, the shadow Education Secretary of the opposition Labour Party commented: “These wholly unnecessary plans are wasting time on creating legal protections for people whose only aim is to cause division and spread hate.” I rest my case. But I still have enough space for the latest daft joke to come my way. A priest comes up to a farmer and says to him “if you had two hundred dollars would you give one hundred to the church?” “Of course I would.” “If you had two cows, would you give one to the church?” “Sure I would!” “If you had two pigs, would you give one to the church?” “That’s not fair! You know I’ve got two pigs.” Chris Dunton

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