They are coming for Jane -“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” – Austin.
Not content trying to get JK Rowling cancelled because she wants to use biology to determine gender instead of the creative imagination that allows men to haunt adolescent girls’ changing rooms and displace women from athletic teams, the woke are going for poor Jane.
I think that if you had told me ten years ago that a political movement would take off that could persuade people not to read JK Rowling and publishers not to publish her, and then move on to put Jane Austin, in the cross hairs, I would not have believed it would ever be possible.
Cancel culture is to our society what concrete cancer is to twentieth century buildings. It undermines them from within and brings them to the point of collapse.
Complicating the movement is that it is obviously driven by people who are essentially well meaning. They just want a better world. More than anything, they want justice. Justice for anyone who has been a victim of someone else’s power.
But there are too many flaws in this new idealism.
The first is that it looks at everyone and everything through the lens of power relations. What power tinted spectacles do is filter out all other aspects of how human beings relate to one another. Sex and romance become an offshoot of who has power over who.
Love evaporates in the face of the suspicion it’s about who has greater leverage.
Compassion, pity, humour, selflessness, generosity, creativity, all dissolve into insignificance because all that matters is who had more power.
No question is even asked about the motivations of the those we think had more power. Even the outcomes are of no interest. It’s a new kind of fundamentalism, only much more dangerous than any of the religious kinds of fundamentalism. Politics is the new religion. And it takes fundamentalism to new depths of simplistic rigidity.
One of the many worrying things about hate crime is the ambition to look inside someone’s head to examine their thinking, to check it hasn’t become hateful. If that wasn’t ambitious enough, you don’t even need to bother looking inside their head any more because that terrifying crime guilt by association means that you become guilty because you got too close.
Poor Jane Austin is due to be cancelled or at least become seriously suspect because she drank tea with two sugars and wore summer dresses.
In her case, her tea drinking made her complicit in the evils of the British Empire’s foray into India. Taking two lumps of sugar made her an exploiter of the slaves who sweated in the sugar plantations. Worse than that, her dad was a trustee of the Antigua plantation. Where did cotton come from if not from cotton plantations. Guilty three times over. Steeped in oppression. This means her books are as tainted as her imagination. And if you read her, you too become an exploiter and a corrupt imperialist sucking your pleasures out of the pool of misery of the exploited.
The trouble is that woke culture is very picky about its victims and its list of the would-be guilty.
No one gets out of their car and refuses to drive further down a long straight road, which was built on top of a road the Romans made using slave labour.
No one gives their iphone back to Apple because the people who mine the minerals as well as the people who assemble them in Chinese factories are being ruthlessly exploited.
Few of the most vocal in our new culture wars seem to have any problem with a drug taking culture where recreational drugs make their way through a corrupt system of desperate exploitation that leaves the most vulnerable crushed by gang warfare and murderous cartels. The only too real abuses of power the drug culture inflicts without criticism or sanction are let off the hook. Is it because they aren’t white?
Iphone, coke, crack and historic roads all get a free and inconsistent pass.
But if any of the woke critics of Austen bothered to look into her personal motivation rather than pillory her for drinking tea, they would have discovered that in fact Jane Austin detested the slave trade.
Her brother, whom she was very close to, a naval captain with responsibilities for closing down the slave trade by policing British shipping, wrote letters full of disgust for slavery. Jane Austin writes about her love for the prominent abolitionist Thomas Clarkson. Her favourite poet was the passionate abolitionist and hymn writer William Cowper.
No art, music, literature, dance, painting, sculpture, acting, opera, can survive making moral judgements about the artist. And the problem choosing racism and the abuse of power is that the new moral puritans are not nearly ambitious enough. If they want to improve the human condition by examining peoples’ moral character to cancel anything associated with them, they leave out hatred, rage, jealousy, fear, corruption, mean-heartedness, narrow mindedness, unforgiveness, selfishness, violence, and pride.
There was a religion that set out to improve human nature once. It used the catch-all term for human flaws of ‘sin’. It went for the strategy of a revolution of the heart. It produced a few saints lots of hospices and hospitals, all the schools and led the campaign to abolish the slave trade. It set out to forgive instead of cancelling people. It might be worth comparing the two.