Flat White

21st century vandals

9 June 2022

8:00 AM

9 June 2022

8:00 AM

The nihilism of the times is displayed by the fact that protesters increasingly see fit to attack artworks or statues while significantly impeding people’s lives.

During the French Open semi-final between Marin Cilic and Casper Ruud on June 3, a young female climate activist wearing a t-shirt saying ‘We have 1,028 days left!’ and a flinty expression, interrupted the game by attaching herself to the net on Court Philippe Chatrier. What will come around after the 1,028-day deadline remains unknown. One can only assume an apocalypse of some sort…

A few days prior, another climate activist, a 36-year-old man dressed up as a woman in a wheelchair, replete with lipstick and wig, attacked Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, arguably the most recognisable painting in the world. One witness at the Louvre Museum said that he tried to smash the bulletproof glass before smearing cake all over it. 

‘There are people who are destroying the Earth. Think about it. Artists tell you: think of the Earth. That’s why I did this!’ shouted the man, who didn’t explain how this justified his attempted destruction of a 16th century painting. It was lucky that he targeted the Mona Lisa and not one of the myriad of other irreplaceable treasures that are not enclosed by glass. 

Over recent years, statues have also been open targets. The apotheosis of this in the UK was perhaps when a statue of Winston Churchill in London’s Whitehall was humiliatingly boxed-up in 2020 to prevent it from being defaced during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests. Again in 2020, in Portland, US, a statue of President Lincoln, who abolished slavery by ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, was torn down by BLM rioters.

These behaviours are sadly typical of the self-aggrandising and self-important solipsism of modern-day protesters.

For years, the Insulate Britain group has been gluing themselves to roads and buildings, endangering themselves and retarding people’s lives. In April this year, protesters glued themselves to courtroom furniture as they appeared before magistrates over charges relating to the disruption of traffic. Their actions turned the court into a farce. Ironically, the glue that some of these protesters used includes ones that are highly toxic to the environment

While the apparent aim of these people is some sort of cosmic justice, what their behaviour shows is a tremendous barrenness. To attack the Mona Lisa, a symbol of the Renaissance, and to attempt to profane the memories of Churchill, Lincoln, as well as many others, whose herculean efforts have ensured that the world had not gone down much darker paths, demonstrates how little these sullen activists know or care about humanity and its achievements. If history teaches us lessons, they have learned nothing. 

Their acts are ones that break what Edmund Burke famously wrote as the partnership between the dead, the living, and those yet to be born. It is a pact that makes up the foundation of a civilisation. 

Albert Camus remarked in his book The Rebel that, ‘If we believe in nothing, if nothing has any meaning and if we can affirm no values whatsoever, then everything is possible and nothing has any importance.’

These protesters seem to reflect this nihilism. For them, fanned by the zealotry equal to any absolutist religious movement, it is nothing to destroy the beautiful and the venerable. Consumed by their own perceived importance and self-righteousness, other people’s lives and struggles are equally negligible. 

Ironically, in many cases, these protesters seem not to know what they are protesting about. For instance, how many of the catastrophising environmentalists would know that in the past 30 odd years, new tree cover has exceeded deforestation by 2.24 million square kilometers, which is more than that of the areas of France and Germany combined and doubled? Not many I’ll wager. Regarding racism in the US, we know that a vast proportion of Americans, especially on the left, overestimate the number of unarmed Black men killed by police by several magnitudes. A study found that 44 per cent of liberals and 20 per cent of conservatives believe 1,000 or more unarmed black men were killed by police in the US in 2019, whereas the real figure is less than 30. 

In the 21st century, with 24-hour news and the world’s repository of knowledge in everyone’s hip pockets, you might expect people to be more wised-up. But in reality, many have become merely more cynical, whereas their scepticism is dulled, and their thinking is surrendered to media and education systems captured by ideology. 

This eternal weakness of the human species is what Thucydides noted in his History of the Peloponnesian Wars, where he wrote that, ‘Most people, in fact, will not take the trouble of finding out the truth, but are much more inclined to accept the first thing they hear.’

As a society, we must exculpate ourselves from this flaw, and take responsibility of our minds once more. And the way to do this is through civilised discourse, not barbaric iconoclasm.

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