Anarchy! Anarchy! An Orgy of Statue-Toppling!

In the Colston case, it is fine. I’m just pointing out how lucky we are. I don’t think there have been any further outbreaks of anti-statuary violence since Colston met his ignominious end. But that is because most British citizens have continued to observe the rule of law, at least by default, because we couldn’t be arsed to break the rules, because some of us have work in the morning. (Activists are often people with time on their hands.) And, in a very small, unthinking way, that is still a decision made. 

But it seems increasingly dangerous, in the age of Brexit, Trumpism and QAnon, to rely on “The People” acting with common sense as our sole defence against anarchy or the autocracy that inevitably follows it. 

I think in the Colston case some sort of collective response was necessary, not just to the act of destruction itself, but to the acquittal and its implications, even if it was simply to carry on as normal. These events have a subtle, subconscious effect. They start a tiny shiver in the pit of the stomach, of delight, or dread, or both, at the realisation that life, when stripped down, is lawless. Beneath the institutions and the expectations, the taboos and the conventions, people can, and will, do whatever the fuck they feel like. And feel self-righteous in the doing of it. 

With enough support or power, no-one needs to pay heed to your reservations or objections because neither democracy nor human rights have any independent substance in the world. They are not a necessary part of human existence; they are vague abstractions, unenforceable truces and treaties: promises to treat others well, if they promise to treat you well. And these promises can be broken whenever anybody feels like it. 

So justice will not prevail, eventually; it won’t be alright in the end or on the night. All is not for the best in this best possible world. There is no way out. 

No one is coming to rescue you.

Those infamous photographs of American lynch mobs from the ‘20s and ‘30s display groups of people who have taken the law into their own hands and felt self-righteous in the doing of it. There are photographs of Emmett Till’s murderers, celebrating their acquittal, looking just as jubilant as the Colston four. 

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