Barbarians at the gates

Somehow it feels this week like we are being stormed by barbarians.

First the news that US Border Guards have been caught beating up a mild-mannered SF author because he failed to follow an instruction to return to his car, instead asking why they were searching his vehicle. What can I say? I don’t know him (although he comes highly recommended) nor do I have experience with US border guards (Probably a good thing given this story), but I am clear that it is not acceptable to beat a man for asking a civil question just because you are wearing some state-issued clothing. If we can’t protect ourselves from the bad guys without becoming the bad guys then why waste the effort?

Meanwhile, before we get too smug about how the UK wouldn’t be so barbaric, consider the situation where the UK authorities denied access by Father Christmas to the children of asylum seekers.. Seriously – what is going on? Our government orders the detention of children of asylum seekers, most of whom are simply traumatised people trying to get themselves and their families away from disaster and terror; not only this, but we do so at greater cost to the tax payer than necessary by failing to follow practice based on actual research which shows such asylum seekers are extremely unlikely to abscond when they have children with them, and that by providing basic accommodation we can house them humanely, sensibly and cost-effectively. Also, we can prevent significant damage to mental health. It sounds like a no-brainer.

I wouldn’t want to be a border guard. But it is important that somebody does it. I would not want to work in an asylum detention centre (not sure it’s important someone does that at all…). But I do want those who take on the task of checking for the people with the explosives in the boot to be appropriately trained, and monitored, and deployed.

All of this was outraging me enough, and then I read an article in today’s paper about the role of the creative element of society (authors, artists etc), and the view that this has changed to being complicit in social philistinism contrary to earlier writers, from Juvenal to Greene, who saw it as their duty to be the awkward squad. I’ll quote the conclusion here:

In conclusion, the dreadful cultural cost of complicity is simply stated. If disloyalty encourages the writer to roam at will through human hearts and minds, and gives the novelist a fourth dimension of sympathy and intuition, then complicity just narrows the creative arteries. It propagates a me-too-ism in the community that works against originality and promotes a wannabe mentality that has nothing to do with Ezra Pound’s famous injunction to "make it new".
Such lowered standards extend to the media, too: journalists following other journalists, like sheep; reviewers schmoozed by PRs; the newspaper commentariat looking over its shoulder, as it did in the run-up to the Iraq war. The complicity of all artists makes them fearful of risk, vulnerable to propaganda, and the prisoners of conventional wisdom. Disloyalty liberates, complicity enslaves.

This is not enough for me. We can’t leave it up to a few authors and directors (or whatever). We must all be the grit, to the extent of our power. We all need to do what we can, when we can, from helping a neighbour speak up, to standing up ourselves in full view. Friends, speak truth to power. Otherwise the barbarians win.


Go on then, it's your turn

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