Richard Dawkins recently noted the giants of the past are being sanctimoniously judged by nonentities of the present whose only qualification is still being alive to do so. How will the future judge our own time when we are not around? Peter Franklin from Unherd examines whether the woke can cancel Darwin.
Cancellation has never been easier. You dig up some old quote, kick up a fuss on social media, and complain to some useful idiot in the relevant institution. Sackings and silencings follow — or, if the target is dead, de-commemoration. That’s how it worked with David Hume and Edinburgh University. The Hume Tower? Not anymore it isn’t.
It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. But that’s just the trouble. While it isn’t difficult and makes a satisfying splash, you soon run out of fish.
The woke have worked their way through thousands of contemporary figures — and have even returned to a few choice favourites. JK Rowling’s getting cancelled every other week now — which may suggest she’s not cancellable at all, of course. There’s always Tory politicians and their ilk, but those guys are born cancelled, so they don’t really count. The whole point of a cancellation is that you take someone from a position of honour (or blissful anonymity, in the case of a private citizen) and subject them to public disgrace. It’s the shift from one state to the other then generates the energy.
In theory, there’s an abundant supply of dead white guys with the requisite dead white guy opinions, but who’s heard of half of them these days? I know they’re meant to be important philosophers, scientists or whatever, but if most people don’t know much about them, no one will pay much heed if they get cancelled. Why even bother ‘decolonising’ the curriculum, if the kids aren’t being taught about their past anyway. I mean, David Hume? David Whom, more like.
So cancel culture needs dead white males who are still famous. Pulling down their statues is like extracting a tooth with a living nerve — very noticeable. Winston Churchill is the go-to option, but he just won’t budge. Furthermore, his defenders are forewarned and thus forearmed. A smarter strategy, therefore, would be a raid on a prominent, but unanticipated, target.
Which bring us to Charles Darwin. There’s no doubting his continued fame. If anything, he’s got more famous in recent years. 2009 was the 200th anniversary of his birth: there were festivals, exhibitions and a film. The Bank of England put him on the £10 note and Christ’s College, Cambridge put up a statue of him as a young man.
The anniversary came at a key cultural moment. It was the decade when ‘New Atheism’ was at its most fashionable. A generalised hostility towards religion was a way for secular liberals to process the trauma of 9/11 without singling out Islam. The so-called ‘Four Horsemen’ — Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett — propelled the movement forward with best-selling books. But as well as fire-breathing preachers, evangelical atheism required plaster saints — and who better than Charles Darwin, who did so much to challenge that old-time religion? Read the rest of the article here.