Monday, 26 April 2021

Sorry, not sorry.

Wearing a yellow star at a protest, according to Twitter, is strictly off limits. No debate allowed.

I would agree that it's in very poor taste but groupthinkers will always declare contentious assertions to be in poor taste and off limits rather than engage with the substance. It's a highly effective way of discouraging people from airing contrary opinions. Whenever I'm at the centre of a Twitter storm, which is at least every three months, it's usually because the blue tickers of polite society have declared something I've said is far beyond the pale. I'm not just wrong... I'm evil.

I'm of the view, though, that if your protest isn't prickling the sensibilities of polite society then you might as well go home. Protests are meant to spark debate. It's not for blue tick luvvies to dictate what is and isn't offensive or off limits.

I suppose though, that if you are going to invoke the Holocaust, as the protesters did, they can expect a rough ride of it. Invoking one of the worst human rights atrocities of all time over what could be described as "first world problems" is crass.

But then as free thinking adults we are able to park our revulsion and interrogate the assertion made. The protesters clearly think there are parallels, and it is for us to judge  if they have a point. Of course the polite society mob is highly selective. As illustrated above, liberal progressives feel able to recruit the Holocaust in service of their anti-Brexit cause. 

In their minds, though, I can see why they think what they do. At the time we were negotiating a new legal status for EU citizens against a backdrop of rising "recorded hate incidents" (for whatever that's worth), and quasi-fascist propaganda from Arron Banks's Leave.EU. There are parallels with 1930's Germany but only if you rob the circumstances of any context or nuance, so they have to stretch a point to absurdity in order to make it.

The more pedestrian truth is that a spike in recoded "hate incidents" is statistically meaningless and nobody in charge of delivering Brexit had any intention of formally discriminating against EU citizens beyond that which is commensurate with leaving the EU citizenship framework. Remainers then invoked Windrush as evidence of a racist agenda, but that's largely the dead hand of bureaucracy at the Home Office as it attempts to meet impossible targets on immigration.

But this is hardly the first invocation of the Holocaust in reference to Brexit. Remainers repeatedly assert that our departure from the EU is the leading edge of a wave of right wing populism consuming the country, where even Theresa "field of wheat" May is cast as a fascist demon. Remainers have whipped themselves up into a frenzy of paranoia, and built up a web of ever more outlandish conspiracy theories ranging from Russian bots and shadowy computer algorithms through to outright vote rigging.

This peddling of conspiracy theories in polite society raises no eyebrows, nor does anybody take responsibility for whipping up sweet little old dears who take to the streets wearing yellow stars. In fact, it's considered award winning journalism.

But then I don't get prickly about the use of yellow stars. I'm hardly one to condemn for making a point in poor taste. It's a highly effective to make a point, hence the runaway success of South Park. And if we really do mean "never again" we always have to evaluate the slippery slopes in our politics to ensure we don't repeat mistakes of the past - and the Holocaust is certainly a relevant benchmark.

In this the anti-lockdowners see their own parallels in events. And they're not conspiracy theories. What started out as a series of public precautions has mutated into an incoherent bidding war between politicians to see who can be the most draconian, contributing to a climate of fear and paranoia. What we're now seeing is aggressive demands for absolute conformity with the most absurd whims of these politicians. That's where the very frightening parallel is.

There is nothing quite so casually brutal and dangerous as a mob imbued with the idea they are acting in the greater good when they take vigilante action against individuals. I've seen that zeal up close and it cannot be reasoned with. It is exactly the same fanaticism of the SS. Leaving aside the politics and the historical context, the behaviours on display are absolutely identical.

Most Covid measures seem to make sense on paper but you can't help but notice that in real life, outside of the cities, it's just risible, indefensible bollocks. London imposes its stupid rules on the country yet the further from London you are, the less necessary they are. But Britain being what it is, the further north you go, the stricter the implementation and enforcement. So Easingwold is enforcing covid rules best confined to London and city public transport while London flouts the rules it sets. It's ridiculous.

I'm fine with wearing a mask in our tiny low ceiling village co-op, but in a deserted Boroughbridge Morrisons at 10am on a Wednesday morning you can't help but notice that Covid controls strictly enforced by staff are just daffy. You'd like to think that people would use their common sense but it's actually not that common. Little Hitlers lurk behind every supermarket aisle, and with your average plod being thick as mince you defy your own good judgement just for an easy life.

And that's the danger. Nobody wants to risk a confrontation with a paranoid lunatic or end up on a police cell for talking back to a plod, so we comply. Nobody wants an argument so if a vaccine passport is demand, even by those who have no right to make such demands, we will simply show them our papers. Anyone who then doesn't have the right paperwork is a legal other, and a threat.

We all want to take sensible precautions but the British jobsworth mentality simply cannot be trusted with more powers. It enjoys being petty, and the most unhinged and paranoid among us are the enablers of it. If they can't allow themselves agency, they'll ensure nobody has it.

I don't know where the off ramp for all this is, but I'm pretty sure we have to get off it now before it goes any further simply because it can and will deteriorate the long people are drip fed with a steady diet of scare stories even though we are not longer at the epicentre of the pandemic. It's summer, we have a vaccine, hospitals are now adept at treating Covid, and with it now being endemic, like it or not we now have to manage the risks. We can go into lockdowns to save granny but while we're saving granny, we're killing aunties, brothers and nephews waiting for cancer treatments, while we steal the best years from young people who should be living. 

If then we have to take to the streets and trample on the sensibilities of polite society and Twitter's blue tick luvvies then so be it. As it happens I am not anti-masks or anti-lockdown but we constant have to reassess and re-evaluate measures that were right at the time and ensure we are not building a prison for ourselves, losing liberties we will have to fight to reclaim. A lot of this stuff; masks, social distancing, the lockdowns felt on balance the right path, but that doesn't mean it feels at all necessary now and those saying so seem unable to assess and reassess a fluid situation.

As the use of yellow stars by anti-lockdown protesters is condemned on Twitter, there is an attempt to misframe the argument as though it's just people whining about marginal inconveniences - and comparing it to genocide is simply unacceptable. This is an attempt to shut down the debate. There were Germans after WW2 who confessed to being able to see what was happening. It didn't happen overnight. It was done by small increments over time.

At any point people could have spoken out but chose not to. Like anyone, they kept their mouths shut for a quiet life. Where the parallel falls apart, is that the consequences for speaking out are not quite the same. Speaking out against the Nazis and the persecution of the Jews would see you rounded up as one of them. Speaking out was too dangerous.

Thank goodness, we are nowhere near that and for the most part we still have freedom of speech, but this is a country where making a quip on Twitter can see PCSOs knocking on your door, and you can be heavily fined for the crime of being "grossly offensive". We are drifting into a culture of censorship where by social media companies can and will shut you down for expressing an opinion counter to the groupthink, and forces on the left are working to ensure there are irrecoverable consequences for falling foul of their ever mutating framework of what is permissible to say in polite society.

The convergence of this culture of censorship with growing demands for absolute conformity with the whims of politicians in their ham-fisted attempts to control Covid ought to alarm any lover of freedom. In respect of that, the Holocaust as a historical benchmark of tyranny cannot be off limits to public discourse - on this or any other matter. Every re-examining of the Holocaust not only informs our present day debate but also keeps those memories alive. As is our obligation to do so. 

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