Jumping on the Bandwagon

Protest puts intense pressure on other people to do something.

We used to say, “I blame the government” but the cult of individualism fostered by the internet has led, increasingly, to single souls, rather than institutions, being blamed and those attacks being very personal: condemnations of someone’s whole character and worth as a human being, suggestions that they kill themselves, even threats to murder them. The constant, 24-hour accessibility that the internet affords makes The Blamed terribly vulnerable and they can be horribly persecuted. They can be cut out from their support group, isolated and hunted down. And, of course, the lower down the organisational or social hierarchy the victims are, the more vulnerable they are likely to be. 

In the past, we’d have thought it deeply tactless to try and co-opt other people’s grief to fuel our own grievances. Nowadays, MeToo culture informs us it is all part of the same structural, hegemonic prejudice. “Micro-aggressions” reinforce a culture that enables the most monstrous of crimes. So activists can, without blushing, join demands for reform by the bereaved of Grenfell , or vigils for the brutally raped and murdered Sarah Evarard because they get patronised at work. 

And, actually, that works. Convincing people that someone else’s grievance is none of our business helps to divide and rule, I guess. 

So banding together to fuel each other’s anger and to persecute our perceived enemies is highly effective in forcing action towards change. It spurs people and organisations on to make decisions and declarations beyond their usual murmured good intentions. However, I’d make the distinction between that and actual and effective social change. For example, the inevitable first sign of a targeted institution buckling to the pressure is for some scapegoat to be thrown to the wolves, losing their job, income, standing in the community, peace of mind, friends. But blame and human sacrifice is rarely going to solve the underlying problem.

Campaigners don’t seem concerned with that. They have demonstrated their power. They don’t need to come up with workable, targeted solutions to problems. In fact, Social Justice warriors like to use individual tragedies and crimes as the springboard for their demands for vague nationwide changes: the awful fire in Grenfell Towers became a campaign against inequality and racism in general terms (somehow); the murder of Sarah Everard became a chance to promote (and condemn) the dubious and divisive concept of “Femicide”. These are terrible injustices, but are far too vast to be addressed by the people dealing with these individual cases, and can draw attention and energy away from more effective solutions to more localised problems: how and why such dangerous cladding had been commissioned for Grenfell; on what, how and why had the local government decided to spend the limited budgets allowed by central government, given the intense pressure across all parts of the civil infrastructure to budget and cut; the recruiting and vetting and supervision of Met police officers, and so on. (Some of these issues are being addressed, now.)

Those tasked, often reluctantly, with finding solutions have to work out what, specifically, they are being asked to do, and what, practically, they can do. They must confront the details, the difficulties, the nuances, the other stakeholders whose rights will need to be maintained, the cost. If they are only paying lip-service to the cause for fear of the mob, their solutions may well be lack-lustre and superficial. Skilled and experienced operators often resign, some have probably already been sacked, while those who secretly oppose the project may use these difficulties to undermine, indefinitely postpone, or fatally water down any proposed changes at all.

And, of course, pressure often leads to ill-thought-out responses that simply make things worse. History is littered with these, from prohibition, which simply delivered the whole drinking population of the USA into the hands of Mafia suppliers, who became immensely rich, to the rise of tower blocks to solve housing problems but only made urban deprivation worse, to the Oxycontin scandal, when the new slow-release opiate pain-killers turned out to be stronger and more addictive than their predecessors and so were summarily banned, leaving thousands of now addicted users to turn to illegal dealers.

The most scandalous of recent examples in Britain is probably when various British police forces, shamed by their truly woeful conviction rates on sexual crimes, and the revelations of Jimmy Saville’s immunity, instructed investigating officers to assume allegations of sexual abuse were true. Rather than learning the true lesson of their past errors, which was that they should listen with sympathy and without bias. Instead, they decided they should remain biased, only now in the other direction: they should assume the accused’s guilt until they were proven innocent. Presumably Police bosses were flustered by the pressure. 

This encouraged respectable police detectives to entertain mad conspiracy theories and allowed a fantasist, Carl Beech, to invent an elaborate and impossible paedophile and murder ring centred around parliament and the British establishment[1]. Investigating this fiction took years of police time and millions of pounds that could have been spent on trying to increase the conviction rates for real sex crimes. 

The Social Justice Warriors take no responsibility for this. They can just prowl social media, waiting, to accuse, condemn and persecute if they don’t get what they want. 

It’s not really very helpful, guys!

[1] “Carl Beech, VIP paedophile ring accuser jailed for 18 years”, The Guardian, 26/07/2019; The Unbelievable Story of Carl Beech (Documentary) BBC 2, 12/09/2020; “The ‘Westminster paedophile ring’ is a lesson in how not to carry out a police investigation”, The Spectator, 29/02/2020, etc.

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