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Clickbait protestors are conservatives in disguise Activists are now governed by spectacle

Pro-Palestine protesters slash a portrait of Balfour

Pro-Palestine protesters slash a portrait of Balfour


March 14, 2024   6 mins

In 1958, the French philosopher Guy Debord organised a “raid” on a Belgian conference of art critics. His group, The Situationist International, phoned attendees and read out their manifesto. They scattered it in the street. They posted it to the press. The document denounced the event as little more than “confused and empty chatter about a decomposed culture”. The conventional critics’ days were over, they warned the assembled delegates: “We will reduce you to starvation.”

Did they triumph? Certainly, such politicised “raids” on cherished artistic artefacts and spaces seem evermore common today, from statue topplings to Old Masters splattered with soup. Last weekend was no exception: at Trinity College, Cambridge, an activist protesting the Israel-Palestine conflict destroyed a 1914 Philip de Laszlo oil painting of Lord Balfour using red spray paint and a box cutter.

Much has been written about how this represents an attack on the West’s values and legacy. But surely, if this were what we believed, the response to this vandalism would be swift and punitive. And yet no such response was forthcoming: Trinity College managed little more than a limp expression of “regret” and an offer of counselling to anyone affected. At the time of writing, no arrests have been made. A cloud of official forgetting seems already to have settled over the event.

This is less bewildering, though, when you understand the “intervention” by Palestine Action not as an attack on our artistic heritage, but as a profoundly conservative expression of that heritage: in particular, of the modern legacy of permanent revolution, inaugurated by 20th-century radicals such as the Situationists.

For this group, the 1958 art critics’ conference was just one more deplorable iteration of the “society of the spectacle”, a pervasive form of capitalist tyranny propagated by mass media and consumerism. Here, image-making takes precedence over material reality, while obedience is ensured by dissolving organic social relations. Needs are replaced with commodified desires, consumers become purely passive, and capitalism becomes inescapable.

The Situationists set out to break down this regime by challenging “the spectacle of a false encounter”. They developed disruptive forms of performance, participation and collective authorship. Cultivating randomness, they sought everywhere to re-invigorate the masses by disturbing the manufactured consumer spectacle.

Did it work? Well, yes and no. The Situationists were certainly influential. And their legacy has spread well beyond the art world: the climate activist group Extinction Rebellion, for example, were explicitly inspired by the Situationist International. Was it radical, though? Again, yes and no.

In one 1966 manifesto, the Situationists decried “the bygone excellence of bourgeois culture” — a legacy they believed had already given way to ugly managerialism governed by “the rhythm of the production line”. In this context, “the university is becoming”, they argued, “the honest broker of technocracy and its spectacle”. Within this flattened, hollowed-out infrastructure, the Situationists argued that “the banality of everyday life is not incidental, but the central mechanism and product of modern capitalism”. And, they argued, to resist it “nothing less is needed than all-out revolution”.

This would, they imagined, free the entire accumulated legacy of the now-defunct bourgeois order for revolutionary purposes, enabling radicals to “destroy the spectacle itself, the whole apparatus of commodity society”. This “liberation of history” would spell the end of all repression, in favour of “revolutionary celebration” and “untrammelled desire”.

Or so they hoped. The manifesto heavily influenced the Paris ’68 riots: Situationist slogans were distributed by the “Occupation Committee of the People’s Free Sorbonne University”. Half a century on, though, re-reading the Situationists’ declarations evokes a sense of both admiration and tragedy. Admiration, for how prophetic they were; tragedy, for how partial their revolution turned out not to be.

Given now-common complaints about universities enabling the spread of technocratic managerialism, it’s hard not to see the Situationists’ critique as prescient. And in this context, taking a box-cutter to a 1914 oil painting might make sense — for the world that painting depicts has already been emptied of meaning, and there’s no legacy to protect.

Except there is: the legacy of the ‘68ers themselves. Today, just over half a century on from the riots, it’s the inheritors of the Situationists and ‘68ers that command the heights (such as they are) of contemporary culture. Radical critique is the default mode of the modern academy; you’ll struggle to get funding for research that doesn’t set out to problematise, deconstruct, decolonise, queer or otherwise liquidate the last moribund fragments of the bourgeois culture Debord was already pronouncing dead in 1966.

The art world, meanwhile, has comprehensively re-institutionalised the once-revolutionary style of Situationist intervention, via an often publicly-funded infrastructure whose default stance is also — within certain limits that artists violate at their peril — radical critique. And across academia, the arts and the rest of the progressive consensus, untrammelled desire is so unchallengeable a good that those trying to restrain their own masturbatory habits are traduced in the press as fascists. Meanwhile, respectable academia and publishing knocks ever louder on once-forbidden sexual doors, such as bestiality or paedophilia, while government-funded quangos dole out hundreds of thousands in grants for hardcore sex films masquerading as “art”.

In other words: everything the Situationists called for is now institutionalised. And the final tragic irony of this partial triumph is the way Situationist-style interventions, staged for the camera, critique “spectacle” through spectacle itself.

For Debord never anticipated the internet. His critique of “spectacle” targeted mid-century mass media: cinema, radio, and television. These forms had one thing in common: they were one-to-many. The effect of such image-making was to impose the synthetic, consumerist fantasy-world of the ‘spectacle’, in a tyrannically top-down way. In response to the autocratic stranglehold this exerted over the public imagination, the aim of Situationist praxis was to jolt the masses from mediated passivity into active, decentralised re-engagement with the world’s strangeness — and its revolutionary possibilities.

What happens, though, when the media is no longer one-to-many, as it was in the Sixties, but many-to-many, as is the case with social media? Back in the Noughties, when social media first exploded, the leftist arty circles I frequented at the time responded to this new decentralisation of image-making with a revived interest in Situationism. Creative collectives sprang up; performance art and street protest merged; it seemed for a moment that internet-enabled image-making and subversive organising might offer a way out of the deadening passivity of mass consumerism.

How naïve that all seems in hindsight. For these supposedly liberatory new forms were almost instantaneously colonised by the spectacle they sought to disrupt. The interval between the first spontaneous, playful flash mobs and the adoption of this format by marketers was vanishingly brief. And a decade or so on, such content is the bread-and-butter for a new, still more total, economy of spectacle — in which all of us, all the time, are called to be both content and consumer.

“The interval between the first spontaneous, playful flash mobs and the adoption of this format by marketers was vanishingly brief.”

Clickbait creators skip from discourse to discourse, spreading discordant viral material; even brutality and horror have currency less for the reality they represent than as the spark for online discourse. Street fights; stabbings; cannibalism; servants falling out of windows: it’s all fodder for the dispassionate-seeming phone camera, and for those farming chaos for engagement. In this economy, too, street protests exist only to the extent they’re represented in the digital spectacle: every such gathering attracts the same complaints of mainstream press cover-up. Smaller-scale protests, meanwhile, increasingly explicitly orient themselves toward the virtual, prioritising not political change but pure virality, whether via soup-based interventions, vandalism, or bodily fluids.

To what extent does any of this transgress anything? Well, some kinds of subversive intervention in the image-making space still incur real-world punishment. Even a regime supposedly ordered to permanent revolution retains some taboos. But the list of genuinely forbidden opinions and acts doesn’t seem to include vandalising paintings of dead politicians. On the contrary: damaging a surviving fragment of bourgeois culture reads less as revolutionary today than as an act of slavish devotion to orthodoxy.

And the only way to make it even more completely orthodox is to stage it for the camera. Today the Situationists’ subversive energy has been re-absorbed by a new orthodoxy — one even more completely governed by commodified “spectacle” than that of Debord’s time.

No wonder, then, that the Trinity vandal is clearly a dutiful young consumer, transporting her vandalism kit in a Mulberry Cara backpack: a limited-edition designer accessory that retailed for £995 when released, and still sells for hundreds second-hand. In the new order she represents, vandalising the crumbling remains of bourgeois culture is less radical than routine: only a slightly more pronounced version of the “queering” and “decolonising” that every generation of progressives has been engaged in since ‘68. And the calculated staging of this act in turn signals the total recapture of Situationist disruption, as merely another form of digital spectacle.

The Trinity event reveals today’s crop of young pseudo-activists as they are: suffocatingly conservative, iPhone-wielding foot-soldiers for the reigning dogma of permanent revolution. Designer backpacks on their shoulders, they dance on the weed-choked tomb of a civilisation their grandparents destroyed: “confused and empty chatter about a decomposed culture” is all they have.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
2 months ago

How do you know you are wallowing in luxury beliefs? Wear a $1,000 backpack while defacing a work of art for your cause du jour.

Aidan Twomey
Aidan Twomey
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

And all the time combining them with traditional upper class luxury beliefs: Jew-hatred and a disdain for culture. Literally a Philistine.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago
Reply to  Aidan Twomey

Since when has disdain for culture been a traditional upper class luxury belief? Elsewhere you’ll be calling them the cultural elite.

Robbie K
Robbie K
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Seems one has to be on benefits and have a ÂŁ30 backpack from Sports Direct to be a ‘legitimate’ protester.

Hugh Marcus
Hugh Marcus
2 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

I think that misses the point. What people are pointing out is the absurdity of young people from well off backgrounds seemingly angry at injustice while enjoying the trappings of their comfortable lifestyle.
Truth is they’re probably more angry (subconsciously) at their parents than they are at the world.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Marcus

> would vote Trump

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

They need Pres. Trump to appear relevant. Can’t live with him, can’t live without him!

tintin lechien
tintin lechien
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Enlighten us in plain English – what does that punctuation mark > mean?

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
2 months ago
Reply to  tintin lechien

It’s a greater than symbol. There’s nothing to the left of it though, so presumably it means that nothing is greater than voting for Trump.
Not a position that I particularly agree with, but if that’s UnHerd Reader’s opinion, then so be it.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
2 months ago
Reply to  tintin lechien

the opposite of <

JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
2 months ago
Reply to  tintin lechien

Commonplace. it means “greater than”

Jae
Jae
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Marcus

Don’t respond to Unherd Reader, has a severe case of Trump Derangement. Has to bring Trump into every conversation. Plus they make every article about them, you’ll see Unherd Reader posting on everything so long as they can bring up Trump. It’s sad really, they need help.

Norfolk Sceptic
Norfolk Sceptic
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Marcus

They are probably angry that they studied Politics or some absurd subject, thinking that it would open the door to well rewarded occupations, in power as well as financially. But they find that they still don’t understand why windmills and solar farms are disliked by those that will only survive if they pursue jobs that create products, that customers want.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

Whoa you got me! Oh how I wish I had studied homosocial widget-shifting instead of spending all my time in lectures where >60% of students were girls.
I don’t see that it’s fair to accuse me of Trump derangement syndrome when you’ve managed to find a way to shoehorn in windmills and solar farms.
But all I know of you are those 2 sentences and from them have no reason to expect anything logical. Perhaps you should have studied something like politics and you might be able to produce some semi-cogent text. Or you might at least be able to see why I brought up Trump!

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Trump is a big investor in windmills and solar farms

Robbie K
Robbie K
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Marcus

I refer you to my previous comment. You are suggesting wealthy people cannot protest legitimately, merely on the grounds of their wealth. That is of course ridiculous, however misplaced their opinions are.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Of course, they can protest legitimacy. They can also have the slightest degree of self-awareness.

tintin lechien
tintin lechien
2 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

That is not what he said and I support him. The point is, most protesters (more the eco ones and perhaps less so the Palestinian ones, except for the non Muslims. The latter are defo middle class.) are not on benefits. That criminal (property damage plus plus) at Cambridge is clearly well off. Mulberry handbag / backpack aside, unless it is fake, she is an angry student (perhaps not) showing off her virtue. Someone funded her, hence the cameraman, and the posturing online and the gloating thereafter
.

El Uro
El Uro
2 months ago
Reply to  tintin lechien

Well-fed sh.t in 2 words

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Marcus

He is a black belt at missing the point.

tintin lechien
tintin lechien
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Marcus

I am amused you have 41 likes (including me) but only 1 dislike, yet below we read a lot of nonsensical comments. Someone calls you a black belt?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
2 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Ugh. I never said anything of the sort. The implication of my comment is that her political views were likely informed by the privileged group of people she associates with. And more importantly, that she is insulated from any consequences if she is wrong about her beliefs. It’s fine to oppose Israel’s actions in Gaza, but if Hamas and Israel’s enemies are strengthened by a ceasefire and resume attacks, or whatever she wants, it’s of no consequence to her personally. And since she’s not a Jew, no-go zones in central London do not affect her either. I’m not even saying she is right or wrong. I’m just saying she has no skin in the game – that she will resume her wealth and privilege regardless of the outcome for those affected.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Okay so we shouldn’t listen to (1) people whose opinions are influenced by their peers and (2) anyone who doesn’t have a direct interest in the relevant matter.
Well there goes the argument for democracy. I suppose Veenbaas is a Jewish surname is it? Or perhaps you’re a descendant of Balfour?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Not at all. I have no problem with wealthy people with opinions. But when I see someone like backpack girl destroying artwork, it raises a red flag, because I know she is likely insulated from her opinions. And that her actions are likely a performative virtue signal to her peers.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Sorry, I neglected to mention that backpack girl won’t likely be impacted by any restitution she is ordered to pay for destroying the artwork.

Robbie K
Robbie K
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

You are tying yourself in knots here. What she did is dispicable, but there really isn’t a case to sneer at her freedom to protest just because she’s wealthy. It’s akin to saying poor people have no right to vote.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

More like a rich person burning hundred dollar notes in front of people too poor to buy food. Not exactly illegal, but distasteful nonetheless.

Winston Schwarz
Winston Schwarz
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

C’mon man! No need for that bro.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

For those of us who can only run to a ÂŁ20 back pack from Sports Direct the answer is yes.
To see people who take far more than we do whether from the economy or the environment protesting about these issues, when the unmentioned consequences of their demands would make those at the bottom (but not them) poorer, is actually offensive.
As to Gaza, why is what is happening there really any concern of any one in this country. I did not see any of these protesters on the streets protesting against the ethnic cleansing of Christian Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh. So their protests are performative.

Sensible Citizen
Sensible Citizen
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

In the 1960’s and ’70s, it was bougie chic to denigrate the work of the great masters in favor of the ugliest modern abstract art imaginable.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

We are talking here of a professed disdain or contempt for Western “colonialist” “white supremacist” culture. This needn’t be remotely sincere – although the psychological consistency – or not – of people’s “beliefs” is an interesting discussion.

But crucially, they must be expressed, again and again and again, at every opportunity.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

*clicks thumbs up from $1,000 phone/computer/tablet*

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Was he demolishing artworks too?

Russ W
Russ W
2 months ago

Fascinating approach, accuse the leftists of being what they claim to abhor: conservatives.

Seems Mary is beginning to see what we not indoctrinated via “elite” education have long known: the social constructionist, post-modern, neo-Marxists are mass marketing a cultural death cult.

Good luck to us all if they succeed. They’ve marched through western institutions, funded by radical nation state islamists and communists. There have been big assists by the new czarists and my favorite – the super rich western narcissists here to save the world by destroying er
 “resetting it..”

What’s left to say? Here’s to hoping enough people learn the essential lesson from the Gulag: evil wins when good people, in our case, lulled by a lifetime of western ease, stay silent. Fear not man but God, or face the consequences.

The ancients knew, Hell can exist on earth. Ugaurded strengths can become fatal weaknesses. Witness the apparent fall of the West.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
2 months ago
Reply to  Russ W

You were doing okay-ish until your brought your god into the conversation.

El Uro
El Uro
2 months ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

I’m not a believer, but the people I hate the most are militant atheists.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

Yes, they have a god-complex.

El Uro
El Uro
2 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

You have hit the mark

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

As myself an atheist, I agree.

Richard Russell
Richard Russell
2 months ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

I don’t think he was talking about an old man with a long beard who lives on a cloud…

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago

Er, no, because no adult has ever believed that was an image of God. It was for small children…..

I’m not a “militant” atheist – I’m just an atheist. The arguments against a benevolent all powerful God existing are just overwhelming. It might (arguably) however be better if we all believed – though it didn’t seem to prevent Christians endlessly fighting each other – but that genie has long escaped.

The modern religion is “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion” etc and has great similarities in fanaticism, ritual, iconoclasm, incredible beliefs (cf the Virgin Birth) that 3rd and 4th century Christians exhibited as they took over the Roman Empire. Christianity perhaps without God, but certainly not without “gods”.

Sensible Citizen
Sensible Citizen
2 months ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

If you have no belief in a transcendent entity of any kind, then you haven’t thought about it long enough. Young atheists confuse transcendence, the world’s great religious texts, and organized religion. They are all different things.
Transcendence is metaphysical, and so far, unknowable, although the evidence is everywhere. The texts are based on archetypes, which have been durable for thousands of years. And religion is an organized power structure built around beliefs.
You can abhor the power structure and dogma of organized religion without discounting transcendence, or the lessons found in ancient archetypes. Or you can think atheism is cool and live a shallower existence.
Confusing transcendence with religion is typically an error of the young, but hopefully you’ll grow out of it.

Richard Russell
Richard Russell
2 months ago

Excellent, concise, explanation. Let’s hope it reaches those who could benefit from it.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago

Except there was no explanation provided. It amazes me that so many people say something along the lines of “yes, well there isn’t a God in the Christian sense, but there IS some transcendent power in the Universe, which is always very vaguely – and inconsistently – described.

Why not go the whole hog if you are religiously inclined, not this wishy washy almost meaningless guff!

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago

If you can’t define “transcendence” and the concept is “unknowable” then I’m sceptical to say the least. What “evidence”? Our brains are complex, there are emergent properties, which I suppose might be “transcendent”.

I feel an almost spiritual uplifting when I walk in nature, happy to use those terms, but I don’t fool myself that I am.a worshipper of nature gods.

Russ W
Russ W
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Please see my reply to sensible citizen below. And thank you for participating in this thread.

Neiltoo .
Neiltoo .
2 months ago

Or? 
..I like your reply but surely another possibility is that atheists are correct? I hope they are not but by suggesting ‘you can think atheism is cool and live a shallower existence’ you’re tending towards an arrogance that might get you dismissed more often than you would wish.

Sensible Citizen
Sensible Citizen
2 months ago
Reply to  Russ W

You make a good point. I’d argue that the politics of what we call “the far left” are only a variation on the most insidious politics of the far right. For example, the far right agree that whites have privilege, that the local police should be abolished (no one on the left calls for the FBI or CIA to be abolished), and that corporations cooperating with government to censor speech are all virtuous (fascist). I don’t see daylight between the two positions.

Russ W
Russ W
2 months ago

I not sure who the far-right are in your reply. However the way you think about transcendence resonates.

“You can abhor the power structure and dogma of organized religion without discounting transcendence, or the lessons found in ancient archetypes.” — exactly!

I believe that we humans can’t fully conceive of God. The ancients told stories, sometimes fantastical, that presented the archetypes and made them understandable. The archetypical stories encapsulate millennia of human experience of what works and what doesn’t. This is what God wants. The characters in the stories vary as needed by the culture discovering and remembering them.

To Andrew, consider that a sustainable, ever maturing understanding of objective Truth (via scientific reasoning) and the self-evident transcendent moral framework represented by the texts (where not damaged by corrupted religious power structures) is what belief in God really is.

That belief is and has for eons enabled humanity to survive and achieve so much. Those who respect this wisdom – whether they profess to “believe” or not – together support a sustainable path for our societies. Those who do not can, have, and will again bring hell to earth.

I am about to be baptized to join what I believe to be a healthy religious community. One that respects science but understands that science cannot define a moral framework. Only in service of that moral framework can science be noble.

This community understands that power corrupts and silence in the face of evil is self-destructive to our societies. To “fear God” is to commit to, and place that moral framework above any human institution, even if it leads to great personal sacrifice. Why? Because if enough of us do not, then we are all damned to live “without God” ie, outside of that framework in what literally becomes a hell on earth.

We’ve now come so far so fast that our culture has become unmoored once more from these fundamental moral truths those texts (mostly from the same lineage, and where not typically sharing the same themes) and thus history is repeating.

The circumstances have changed but the themes of cultural degradation and rot have occurred over and over again. The difference is, we now can actually destroy ourselves. So, “profession of faith” is not a requirement of the God I believe in – though studying and reaching and sacrificing for the transcendent is.

Peace.

Russ W
Russ W
2 months ago
Reply to  Russ W

Apologies for the poor grammar of this paragraph from above (emphasis added):
“We’ve now come so far so fast that our culture has become unmoored once more from these fundamental moral truths those texts (mostly from the same lineage, and where not typically sharing the same themes) and thus history is repeating.”
It should read:
“We’ve come so far so fast that our culture has become unmoored from the fundamental moral truths of those texts and thus history is repeating, again.”

Gaby N
Gaby N
2 months ago
Reply to  Russ W

Thank you for sharing, Russ. Out of curiosity, may I ask which religious community you are joining? I mean no harm. No worries if you’d prefer not to answer.

0 0
0 0
2 months ago
Reply to  Russ W

Islamists and communists did not cause them to do this, it was just simple wishful thinking and self indulgence, back by good old-fashioned selflessness. It’s what happens when a society becomes too prosperous and secure, wishful thinking and self indulgence float to the surface to leading decadence and from that self-destruction.

Russ W
Russ W
2 months ago
Reply to  0 0

Agree. They did not cause, they abetted and financed that which served their interests.

T Bone
T Bone
2 months ago

It’s an interesting connection.  She’s probably on to something.  She’s such a talented thinker.  It’s funny that Mary has such an Anti-Capitalist streak because her success in the private sector is completely meritocratic.

Capitalism is about supply/demand.  Mary is a world-renowned writer because the Capitalist system has amplified her message globally due to interest/demand.  She may not be a billionaire but she’s reached the top of her niche field of writing. Some areas just pay more…again due to Supply/Demand and she’s not writing for everyone. 

In an Anti-Capitalist system, her message would likely be suppressed.  It couldn’t be amplified because it critiques the status quo.  It’s only because of the Free Market that she has this significant platform. You can not critique the status quo in an Anti-Capitalist system.  Capitalism and Democracy are united because they imply cognitive freedom.  Every Anti-Capitalist screams about “Democracy” as pure projection. They know they aren’t Democratic.  They won’t tolerate not getting their way.  

It sounds like to me she actually just advocates for a more authentic, meritocratic Capitalism.  And hey she’s helping to lead the charge! Go Mary!

Mark V
Mark V
2 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

She’s taken ‘capitalism’ to mean something like ‘extreme individualist self interest’ rather than the pedestrian dictionary definition along the lines of ‘private ownership of productive assets’.
Thing is ‘capitalism’ was always a socialist/marxist pejorative term, intended to attack free enterprise and natural rights.
It’s not an ism to own stuff. It’s not ideological. It’s ideological to oppose it.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark V

I would agree to the point that capitalism need not be ideological and can be ideological to oppose.
But “owning stuff” could also be called possession or property rights, which can exist–to some major extent–in a monarchy or mercantile dictatorship, for example. And there is an extreme version of capitalism that is an ism, in which nearly all human endeavors are quantified or commodified and the free market is held to be an utterly self-regulating, inherent good.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 months ago

Activists are not conservative. They are terminally boring. and about as much fun as the terrorist groups they love to defend.

Paul T
Paul T
2 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

I think she meant the cartoonish conservative always-monsters the progressives routinely invoke.

Norfolk Sceptic
Norfolk Sceptic
2 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

They are two year old’s temper tantrums, performed by those whose vocabulary is too large for them to manage.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
2 months ago

Wouldn’t say conservative here: destroying cultural, historical or artistic work comes from the modern Islamist tradition and the Maoist sense of Cultural Revolution.
In these two currents we have the construction of the modern Left. I would go as far as to remove the term left-liberal from the context now. The context is straight authoritarian, historically closer to 1970s Marxist-Leninist terrorism than progressive liberal politics. The liberals have been left behind with their DEI culture, more effective in Hollywood studios and American corporations than in European civil society.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 months ago

The bit that caught my eye was the emphasis on the performative, the ‘recording’ on mobile phones, as if meaning is predicated on being viewed by many. Not for this generation the silent acts of true individual revolt: unobserved puncturing the tyres of the bosses limo, or peeing in the restaurant kitchen into the coffee served up to that rowdy party of hooray henries who hurled casual insults at you while you attended on them.

But this type of ‘existence as performance’ is not sustainable in the age of AI generated media – what will the consumers do if they cannot tell if that clip of someone destroying a piece of heritage art is real or not? And if the multiple and contridactory reports coming from seemingly reputable media organisations, some confirming that the clip is real while others claim it is spoofed, cannot be told apart as true or false because many of them are generated by AI too?

Treat all of it as a Netflix show, I guess.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
2 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Not a good idea. Before you know it, this woman will be running a quango demanding an end to all your freedoms.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Exactly, she should be treated in the traditional manner eg: stripped, smeared in tar, placed in a barrel and incinerated*.

(*As per Dornoch, Scotland, 1723.)

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Pretty sure acts of secret malevolence and petty revenge won’t be rendered obsolete any time soon. Harder to get away with, yes. That’s already happening, as the ubiquitous smartphone camera makes many would-be performers curtail their antics–or wish they had.
I wonder if you think there’s a way to be open-eyed about A.I., et al., without resorting to radical skepticism, let alone outright cynicism.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

There is a way, but it’s not nice, and not necessarily open to absolutely everyone – become sufficiently au fait with the AI tech-stacks, such that you can participate in the arms race, rather than becoming a victim of it. At this point you are still on the back foot because the leviathans and first movers have a lot more money and they will typically possess the frontier AIs, but if you are in the ecosystem you can always try to innovate so you can do what they can or better but on a shoestring. A bit like the cheap drones costing a few thousands downing machinery costing millions.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Hmm. A lot to consider from my outsider’s, moderate-skeptic POV. Your prospective strategy brings to mind both the saying “fighting fire with fire”, and a kind of sequel to the Terminator movies where humans flat-out use benevolently-steered machines (or disembodied intelligence(s)) against their malevolent counterparts.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 months ago

I did try to get on board with the thoughts in this article. I did.
But all I can see is some spoiled, bored, dim-witted – and fundamentally lazy – kids dying for a brief buzz to jazz up their lives and get some clicks, views and likes on social media. It’s nothing more intellectual than that.
I say lazy because trashing a painting is so much easier than actually understanding the complexities of history and thinking up a solution to the problems that our ancestors hand down to us. It’s as if the young lady thought that by destroying the image of Balfour, it would somehow solve the intractable mess of Israel and Palestine by obliterating the root.
If we could go back to 1917 when the Balfour Declaration was signed – what would we whisper in the ears of the powerful? Maybe don’t whack Germany THAT hard in the post WWI settlement? Maybe don’t partition Ireland because it’s going to cause a whole century of headaches?
These are interesting thoughts but no more than a distraction, because you can’t change anything about these things now and pontificating on them too long simply underlines how overwhelmed you are with the realities that you are now confronted with.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I suppose the point is that the destruction of the painting was not an attack on the Establishment by a radical outsider. It was the exercise of power by an Establishment footsoldier over the remnants of a now marginal oppositional viewpoint. In the unlikely event of the young lady in question appearing in court for this, she will likely be congratulated by the judge for her passion, and leave without a stain on her reputation, a higher social media profile, and enhanced employability within the Establishment.

Bruce Fleming
Bruce Fleming
2 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Judicial indulgence extends considerably further back than the recent exculpations of JSO and the Colston statue.
Let’s recall the Randle and Pottle case, 1991. The defendants, up before the Beak for springing George Blake and defending themselves, harangued the jury for several hours about their own moral infallibility.
The jury caved in.

Thomas Wagner
Thomas Wagner
2 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Meanwhile Balfour is still dead and his biography won’t be mentioning having his portrait slashed.

jane baker
jane baker
2 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Because the judge will very.likely be.her.uncle.

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

How not partitioning Ireland would prevent conflicts between Catholics and Protestants?
Protestants would never accept being 2nd class citizens in DeValera state.
Britain was no longer willing to subdue Ireland by military means.
So partition was perfectly sensible solution.
Do you believe that modern Ireland really wants all the Protestants?
For a start Ireland hasn’t got money to replace English subsidy to Nothern Ireland.
I am not sure that harsh post war settlement was main reason why Nazis gained power.
What about global depression after 1929 financial crash?

tintin lechien
tintin lechien
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I thought your word ‘dying’ was ‘dyeing’ for a brief moment, because most of these misguided (can’t use a stronger word because of the censorship robots) youths do dye their hair blue or pink, and most have a nose ring! ‍♂‍♂‍♂

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

A lot of Mary’s recent work has leaned into the philosophical, taking some small event or minor trend and extrapolating into grandiose conclusions about society as a whole. There’s a certain inherent danger in doing that. In telecommunications, we speak of separating the signal from the noise, the signal being the message we are trying to transmit and the noise being interference from other signals or from naturally occurring radio waves. In this case, what Mary is doing is trying to extrapolate some meaningful pattern out of these events, discerning a cause, finding a signal. The problem is as you say, whether this particular event is a part of the pattern we’re supposed to be seeing or some random event with its own simpler, more mundane causes.
I tend to agree with you. This seems like just a case of making the proverbial mountain out of a molehill. Young people do all kinds of stupid things for stupid reasons. Always have always will. There’s a good reason one can’t drive until age 16-18, drink until 21, or rent a car until 25. Young people are inexperienced and easier to manipulate and con into whatever nonsense some corporation or government is selling. They haven’t learned as much or experienced as much of the world. Mercifully, most of them don’t remain in this state. They moderate as they gain experience and wisdom. Most of us aren’t proud of the person we were at age sixteen and regret many of the things we did. There’s an even chance this painting destroyer will one day come to regret his actions as an impulsive and foolish act of acting out his anger towards an issue that he barely understood.
Mary’s assertion about permanent revolution is more interesting, but has a similarly simple explanation. If there’s a greater pattern in all this noise, this is it. The idea of permanent revolution was first promulgated by, guess who, Karl Marx. Since climate alarmism, anti-racism, anti-colonialism, and pretty much the entirety of the woke agenda are simply rehashed socialism, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising to find the idea of permanent revolution carried into these new movements. Further, since socialism has, in nearly every case, deteriorated into the form of an intellectual party establishment dictating nearly every aspect of human life in a particular country, we shouldn’t be at all surprised that today’s establishment is using some of the same language and techniques to promote their own version of intellectual elitism and rule by ‘expert’.
I suppose I’m not as pessimistic as Mary, though I consider myself first and foremost a pragmatic thinker. We can take some solace in the fact that communism failed in nearly every way possible. It promised harmony and delivered strife. It promised abundance and delivered scarcity. It promised equality and delivered tyranny. It promised freedom and delivered slavery. Humanity hasn’t crossed some magical threshold since 1991 that changes any of that. Further, as you say, the comfort of western life makes all this possible. If/when that comfort is taken away, people will be angry. The problem with socialism is that altruism, while it exists in humans, generally isn’t reliable enough to run a society. People won’t sacrifice nearly as much for ‘the common good’ or ‘the environment’ or ‘diversity’ or ‘inclusiveness’ as would be required to sustain a global society based on these things. People compete for resources, wealth, and power individually and collectively. Always have, always will. As more and more westerners feel they are losing, they’ll get angrier and more difficult to manipulate. Lo and behold we have populist movements fundamentally opposed to the various forms of neosocialism gaining strength basically everywhere. People aren’t going to be willingly led into slavery and poverty without a fight, and from what I can see, the aristocrat class is neither competent nor smart enough to win an actual violent conflict. The power of today’s aristocrat class comes from the system of banks, money, corporations, etc. If it ever gets bad enough that system breaks down, they will have no idea what to do. This is why I doubt they’ll ever succeed in the way Mary seems to fear.

Erik Hildinger
Erik Hildinger
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

You make a number of very good points.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

You are talking about entirely different rational language from these protestors, who however, as the article explains well, are now a almost completely routine unthinking part of (modern) western progressive culture. The only “explanation” ever undertaken is a routine indoctrination in “anti colonial” beliefs.

The trashing of a not particularly well known oil painting to save Gaza or something is an act of utter performance and irrationality.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 months ago

Bread and circuses – except that in today’s world you have to provide your own circuses.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

O for the heady days of the “immensa Romanae pacis maiestas”*, as Mr Pliny so perfectly put it some time ago now.

(*The immeasurable majesty of the Roman Peace.)

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago

Nostalgia’s not as good as it used to be. Perhaps it never was.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 months ago

You could argue that the Marxists, or activists, have marched through the institutions and are now at the front of those institutions.
They are finding that despite their high minded leadership potholes still need to be filled, electricity still has to be generated, and food put on the table.
This is difficult so the new leaders distract themselves with endless squabbles about who is the most high minded and who should be excluded from their pinnacle of correctness.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

You are talking more about leaders of self-important fantasies than actual leaders of major institutions.
Or perhaps you can give examples of Marxist-activist new leaders who fit the characterization of those who “distract themselves with endless squabbles about who is the most high minded and who should be excluded from their pinnacle of correctness”. I do think there’s truth to that in relation to some professors and more DEI employees.
But though members of that crowd may be in a leadership role, they don’t seem have special influence over public roads or community economic decisions.
Today’s inept, highminded and endlessly squabbling Congress notwithstanding, those who control the money are rarely activists or idle radicals of the type you paint.

Norfolk Sceptic
Norfolk Sceptic
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Anyone, especially leaders, employed in the Energy Industry, who advocates ‘NET Zero as the best policy’ is working to destroy the industry, whether they know it or not. Having an Oxbridge first In PPE, Politics or any variety of History is no excuse. 🙂

Ed Miliband
Lord Deben
Chris Skidmore
Greg Hands
Alok Sharma (with a degree in Applied Physics with Electronics!)
and most recent UK Secretaries of State for Energy, (because they don’t know what they are doing. )

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago

Ok. That granted: Do you think that is some unopposed stance–especially in practice–among those who lead relevant institutions? And I wouldn’t take public statements for an actual willingness to destroy the cash cow of fossil fuel on any near-term timeline.
Eventually a de facto compromise between the insistent head-in-the-sand deniers and hysterical head-on-fire alarmists will emerge. (I hope).

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

But where do the politicians, senior civil service, local authority bosses, and industry captains arise from? They graduate from Universities (well marched through), their careers rise through levels of DEI bafflegab, the largest corporations are working hand in glove with governments which cements a particular post-institutional-march worldview on what is acceptable.
Young activists who become successful turn out to be the defenders of the latest view of what should be the status quo.

2 plus 2 equals 4
2 plus 2 equals 4
2 months ago

I enjoy MH’s articles in Unherd, But this one is a very long way of saying that these protestors are entitled twats.
Art is at its very core humanity’s best attempt to record the story of what it is to be human. Both what’s good about us and what’s bad about us. People who purposely destroy art for political ends, whether that’s he Nazis, the Taliban, or spoilt student wadicals, all share the totalitarian impulse to erase the human stories they despise.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago

Sadly this ‘destruction’ is a recurring feature in ‘British’ history!
In 1536 England had 60 ‘great’ churches* (Cathedrals/Abbeys), today we have 27. As is to be expected Scotland did even worse, as a visit to St Andrews will prove.

(29,000 sq feet and over, and over 300 feet in length.)

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
2 months ago

I’m surprised you didn’t go back a lot further – look what the early Christians did to the ubiquitous Greek and Roman art in their time. And literature. Is it only one or is two of the three great Greek play-writes which have come down to us as single surviving volumes of manifold volume sets of their collected works (all titles in which start with a few adjacent letters)?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago

I would have done but who remembers the glories of Ancient Rome and Greece?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 months ago

I’m still angry about that.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
2 months ago

How about 6 months in prison or a fine dependent on the wealth of their parents . Plus the cost of restoring the painting or sculpture .

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 months ago
Reply to  Alan Osband

That would do for starters. I would add a week in the stocks or pillory, but in an area populated by people they would rather not meet.

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
2 months ago
Reply to  Alan Osband

Agreed I would just change your ‘or’ to an ‘and’

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
2 months ago

‘Capitalism’ is a straw man. People who fulminate against it are pretending to be something they’re not. What are all the 68’ers doing now? Whining that Brexit means they can only spend ninety days in their second home in Tuscany or Provence.

Norfolk Sceptic
Norfolk Sceptic
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Capitalism is the Marxist name for Business which, when successful, means Prosperity.

I remember when I first saw the first saw the finances behind an ITV programme, and thought they were large numbers: I hadn’t ever thought of it before, with all those, including suppliers, needed to be paid. After pondering on this for a while, I realised that the same stuff happened at the BBC, but it was concealed, unknown to licence payers, and creating the opportunity to cross finance different productions.

J.P Malaszek
J.P Malaszek
2 months ago

In the 90’s I was a visiting lecturer at an art school in Eastern England. The situationists and their
psychgeographic approaches was something I was quite keen on. This institution is now a University and when I visited a student exhibition there more recently a wall sized statement proclaimed that ‘ we encourage our students to transgress all boundaries….’ I wondered what would happen if I spattered the wall with paint. I doubt I’d be able to find any paint there these days…..

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
2 months ago
Reply to  J.P Malaszek

That “wall-sized statement” was almost certainly intended as a ‘work of art’ in its own right. The trend for proclaiming a usually very trite statement as artistic (thanks, Tracy and your 90s neon) is about as anti-artistic as can be imagined.

J.P Malaszek
J.P Malaszek
2 months ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Nope, it was a corporate statement from the university itself.

B Emery
B Emery
2 months ago

‘Last weekend was no exception: at Trinity College, Cambridge, an activist protesting the Israel-Palestine conflict destroyed a 1914 Philip de Laszlo oil painting of Lord Balfour using red spray paint and a box cutter.’

No excuses for this. It is the same as burning books, I take it there isn’t another one of these paintings either so it’s not like there’s even a copy or like it could be recreated. What she is doing is destroying a piece of history simply because she disagrees with it – what a little n*zi child. She should sell her expensive handbag to pay towards fixing the damage.

‘ Given now-common complaints about universities enabling the spread of technocratic managerialism, it’s hard not to see the Situationists’ critique as prescient. And in this context, taking a box-cutter to a 1914 oil painting might make sense — for the world that painting depicts has already been emptied of meaning, and there’s no legacy to protect. ‘

No it does not make sense in any context, it doesn’t matter if its been’ emptied of meaning’, it is a piece of history, if we start destroying antique artwork because we don’t like the legacy it represents where does that stop? Who gets to say there is no legacy to protect? Just because the protester has decided to destroy it doesn’t mean the next person wouldnt save it instead.

And what about the artist that painted it?

‘De LĂĄszlĂł became a British subject in August 1914, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. However, in spite of this, he was incarcerated at Brixton Prison in September 1917 for sending money to support his family in Hungary. Following a nervous breakdown he was released and put under house arrest. In June 1919 when his case was reviewed no evidence of disloyalty as found and he was formally released.’

https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/research/archive/collected-archives/correspondence-and-papers-of-philip-de-laszlo/learn-more-about-philip-de-laszlo

So what this woman has done is destroy a painting done by an ex convict that had a nervous breakdown and a pretty hard time for sending money to his family in the first world War, apparently he was pretty good at portraits and seems reasonably well known. This woman has desecrated part of this man’s legacy, destroyed a piece of art AND history so nobody else can appreciate it and in doing so has also destroyed a part of the historical record. Cambridge has some very serious problems.

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 months ago
Reply to  B Emery

Unless she is given long prison sentence (at least 5 years), we will have many more spoiled brats like her.
Nothing will happen to her, though.

B Emery
B Emery
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

A while spent in 1914 Brixton prison conditions, perhaps? Teach an appreciation of the hardships the artist endured? Perhaps shred something she has made in front of her?
Perhaps they should have a massive symbolic shredder at all universities, to shred the work of those students that think it’s OK to shred other peoples.

Dr E C
Dr E C
2 months ago
Reply to  B Emery

She should be deported to Gaza. She’s Palestinian-Iraqi. We don’t need such people attacking our culture. ‘They’ wouldn’t tolerate our attacking theirs: Al Aksa mosque anyone? Slightly scuff a Quran & there are serious consequences. Share a picture of Mohammed & you have to spend your life in hiding. The double standards are dazzling.

Adam M
Adam M
2 months ago

I listened to a few old Adam Curtis interviews the other day where he expresses similar thoughts about the fundamental conservatism of modern left-wing culture, to those expressed in this article. I think it’s an interesting and somewhat counterintuitive take, but there is something to it.
Maybe straightforward conservatism is the wrong way to thing about it. In said interview (to paraphrase) Curtis described the internet as a clever engineering solution that as many of us are aware, silos us all into echo chambers. These form a vast array of different online ‘communities’ that live in an unideologically challenged space. In this sense everyone becomes a kind of conservative without even knowing it. Even if one believes they are liberal, without any real exposure to dissenting beliefs, they become conservative in their liberal ideals.
To reinforce the conclusion of this article. This as Curtis identifies, is a very powerful form of control, as it prevents the presence of any real political action or movement that requires the collaboration of people from all strata of society. 

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Adam M

It’s a prissiness and censoriousness that is associated with conservativeness, but never been confined to it. Liberals and Conservatives of the sincere and non-fervent type should recognize that they have more in common with one another than with the illiberal, sometimes tyrannical movements at the far ends of the horseshoe-bent spectrum.

M Doors
M Doors
2 months ago

“Much has been written about how this represents an attack on the West’s values and legacy. But surely, if this were what we believed, the response to this vandalism would be swift and punitive. And yet no such response was forthcoming: Trinity College managed little more than a limp expression of “regret” and an offer of counselling to anyone affected. At the time of writing, no arrests have been made. A cloud of official forgetting seems already to have settled over the event.”
I think you have that a bit backwards … some people write about how this represents an attack on the West precisely because the people who are in power do, as you say, “little more than a limp expression of regret”. Many, many people in the country would love for the response to be swift and punitive, yet even IF some of these perpetrators are brought before a court they are let off lightly.

N Satori
N Satori
2 months ago

…not an attack on our artistic heritage, but a profoundly conservative expression of that heritage

Profoundly conservative? Pull the other leg!
But there’s more. Consider if you will this piece of Situationist piffle:

This “liberation of history” would spell the end of all repression, in favour of “revolutionary celebration” and “untrammelled desire”.

That pseudo-revolutionary rallying cry contains nothing but a justification for petty destruction – the kind of cultural revolution as entertainment peddled by the anti-capitalist kiddies of the sex-and-drugs-and-rock’n’roll era – an era that spawned such pop-revolution publications as OZ and International Times.

Ultimately, such revolutionary posturing has nothing to offer but arty subversion and destruction. It is driven by a negative impulse and thrives parasitically on the established society it affects to despise. Look in vain for constructive revolutionary plans to make the world a better place.

Meanwhile, back in the grown-up world: it was revealed last week that Iran (remember, the country that had a real revolution in 1979) now has enough weapons grade Uranium to make 13 nuclear weapons in short order. Send in the Situationists! That should terrify the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

William Amos
William Amos
2 months ago

Too many graduates, too few positions in the Manageriate. It strikes me that much of the angst and factiousness of our time stems from that simple material fact. Stunts of this sort are a sort of jostling for position amongst a nascent clerisy consumed by status anxiety.
How does an upper-middle-class English girl with an Oxford degree get on in a world where those attributes are no longer automatic CV enhancers? Performative radicalism.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  William Amos

Too much truth in that. Why has secondary school become preliminary school? Why is high school now a ground-scraping bar of achievement?
Much more education and preparation needs to occur during the twelve pre-university years we have them at a desk. Not a groundbreaking notion, but I wish it would catch fire.

Mint Julip
Mint Julip
2 months ago
Reply to  William Amos

She’s white too, so now will find herself excluded by DEI considerations. I wonder what she thinks of that?

Dr E C
Dr E C
2 months ago
Reply to  Mint Julip

She’s Palestinian-Iraqi so she’ll be feted everywhere she goes

jane baker
jane baker
2 months ago
Reply to  Dr E C

I haven’t heard a further thing about her.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
2 months ago

I’m a graduate of Trinity College and so I expect that the funds to restore or replace the portrait will come directly or indirectly out of the pockets of people like me. But I was heartened to read the Master, Dame Sally Davies, stating

I condemn this act of vandalism. We are cooperating with the police to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 months ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

If you are an alumni donor, I would suggest withholding any donations or bequests unless the college makes significant efforts to bring this individual and her accomplices before the courts. They may of course be acquitted, I suppose. My own alma mater has committed so many egregious acts of cowardice in failing to deal with such behaviour that they will never see a penny from me.

JOHN B
JOHN B
2 months ago

This excerpt from Rieff is perfect

“It was in order to combat just such talented hostility to culture that Freud emphasized coercion and the renunciation of instinct as indispensable elements in all culture. Freud was neither an eroticist nor a democrat. His theory of culture depended upon a crossing between his idea of moral authority and an elitist inclination. “It is just as impossible,” he writes, “to do without control of the mass by a minority as it is to dispense with coercion in the work of civilization.” By “mass” Freud means not merely the “lazy and unintelligent,” but, more importantly, those who “have no love for instinctual renunciation” and who cannot be “convinced by argument of its inevitability.” That such large numbers of the cultivated and intelligent have identified themselves deliberately with those who are supposed to have no love for instinctual renunciation, suggests to me the most elaborate act of suicide that Western intellectuals have ever staged—those intellectuals, whether of the left or right, whose historic function it has been to assert the authority of a culture organized in terms of communal purpose, through the agency of congregations of the faithful”

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 months ago

Conservatives seek to conserve traditions and institutions that have proven to work and are civilizational goods. The vandals are not “suffocatingly conservative” no matter how you try to spin it.
They are nauseatingly imitative, unoriginal, and brainless. They do what they do for peer approval. Even the old people sitting in the road blocking traffic, or screaming “monster” at a congressman who lost both his legs in Afghanistan, are pathetic attention-seekers who never grew up.
The girl who destroyed the Balfour portrait should, like all of her ilk, be made to pay for her crime, as should all who inflict their narcissism on civilization.

Jae
Jae
2 months ago

The young woman with her designer backpack is really no different than Al qu’aida or the Taliban. Authoritarian Jew hating destroyers who never build but always destroy and tear down. Same mindset.

Chiara de Cabarrus
Chiara de Cabarrus
2 months ago

What to do with such a brat? Vandalism comes easily to those unfamiliar with the true cost of labour. Tempting though it would be to send the pampered pigtails to dig a canal somewhere chilly , the idea that an anti- social individual can be reformed through a spell of hard physical labour has been discredited for obvious reasons. Even under a nominally democratic regime, there is no guarantee that such a correctional facility wouldn’t eventually descend into the familiar hell of pointless sadism, injustice and waste.

Richard Russell
Richard Russell
2 months ago

A good analysis, but terribly sad in its implications, which is that Western culture is all used up. The institutionalizesd outrage beast has eaten everything remotely culturally nutritious, and is just biting its mangy tail.
For a sensory experience to have any value to a human, it must have dynamic range, preferably the wider the better. When everything is just turned up to 10, all the time, there’s nowhere to go–the 11 setting doesn’t actually exist, and what would it accomplish if it did? All meaning just suffocates in the noise.

mike otter
mike otter
2 months ago

Even more concerning: we now see performative police, medical staff and teachers etc who are basically actors and seek to gain celebrity status!! – look at the grandstanding cops when some poor unfortunate, 85% of the time a woman, is pulled out of canal etc. If i need a medical operation i’d want a surgeon NOT a celebrity – i think the jobs are mutually exclusive!

David Brown
David Brown
2 months ago
Reply to  mike otter

Your last sentence reminds me of the liver-transplant surgeon who was recently prosecuted for ‘signing’ in situ the replacement livers of some of his patients

Sensible Citizen
Sensible Citizen
2 months ago

For the enlightened, art transcends political opinion. Surrounding ourselves with beautiful art and architecture is the highest expression of our humanity, regardless of our many human shortcomings. Attacking public art for political reasons is a regression into darkness by the ignorant.
There should be zero tolerance for this because there is no way to replace an original piece of art. Trinity College leadership are cowards.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
2 months ago

Whilst i agree with your main point about art and our humanity, i can’t agree that this piece in question is anything like great art, or even beautiful. At best, it’s a third rate portrait but something i’d just tend to walk past (if in a gallery) to look at something more interesting.
That doesn’t make an attack upon it any less ignorant, of course.

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
2 months ago

.

Kathleen Burnett
Kathleen Burnett
2 months ago

For the picture destroyers to do what Mary supposes would require them to understand what The Situationists were on about, or have unwittingly walked into it by good fortune. Either way, I’m not buying Mary’s thesis. The activists are just political teenagers who don’t have a clue about how a stable society emerges and is sustained. Far from being unknowingly conservative, they are just the products of adults who’ve retreated and given over to the cult of youth. Where are the Greeks when you need them?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 months ago

I completely agree. I blame the current educational pedagogy which claims that children are scarred for life if ever a harsh word is spoken against them. I exaggerate, of course, but not by much.
When children are set no boundaries, they will keep pushing and pushing until someone bigger and stronger tells them no.

Peter Lee
Peter Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Not so much so when the mother’s son is her ‘buddy’.

Sean G
Sean G
2 months ago

I know Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle well. Its analysis continues to ring true, so I’m glad to read its spectre being raised again here. However, I’m not convinced by the part of this article that pivots on “In other words…” I think one would be hard pressed to define Situationism as dominantly nihilistic. The parts of the article that suggest a Situationist critique of the the spectacular focus of some activism are, on the other hand, valid. Of wokeism in general, it is in the mode of corporate PR, presents human life as a commodity, and from what I have seen has no gripe with capitalism at all.

Pete Marsh
Pete Marsh
2 months ago

Incredible that someone can destroy a painting that must be worth tens of thousands of ÂŁ without any repercussions. Not criminal damage then Trinity? Is it open season on all your heritage, as long as you utter magic words like Palestine, BLM or Climate Crisis?
An oik in the street who caused a few hundred ÂŁ damage by vandalising a bus shelter would get a fine and a criminal record.

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago

The art world, meanwhile, has comprehensively re-institutionalised the once-revolutionary style of Situationist intervention

With some strange and ironic results.

I picked up an art magazine at an exhibition in Barcelona which features articles on “the movement” and “resistance” along with ads for Cartier watches, high end fashion and even expensive hotels where you can view the latest in transgressive art, alongside spa services etc etc. The whole magazine is almost an ironic artwork in itself.

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago

transporting her vandalism kit in a Mulberry Cara backpack: a limited-edition designer accessory that retailed for ÂŁ995 when released

This has thrown me into a kind of vertigo over where the artwork ends. Is the artwork the picture that was damaged, is it the destruction of the picture, or does it encompass the girl doing the destroying in her posh bag. It is this latter which seems the richer artwork. Laden with layers of irony. If art is meant to tell us something, then that is the real piece of art.

Are we sure the whole thing wasn’t staged by Banksy?

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
2 months ago

Ms. Harrington- I see what your doing so subtly- godspeed!

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
2 months ago

Our civilized society cannot punish this person to the extent she deserves as it would debase the civilized among us (i.e. not her)
. This pathetic attention craving little loser deserves to be severely punished like it was the Middle Ages but at the very least must see the inside of a low security jail. Loser!

0 0
0 0
2 months ago

Intersectionality is he narcissist wet dream, it allows them to find fault with pretty much everything because the basis of such a belief is it everything in society is somehow corrupt to do to its impressive nature. The result is that they can discard society’s rules because they can regard as illegitimate, and they can delegitimize anything.

JB87
JB87
2 months ago

A very dense essay to be sure. That last paragraph is a beautiful summary — makes one want to weep for the loss of hope.

glyn harries
glyn harries
2 months ago

This is a good article but misses the point somewhat. The people who actually run the economy and political realm are not ex-Situationists, and they are, as always, inplacably opposed to the politics of Situationism, but they have cleverly recuperated, co-opted and allowed Situationism to flourish in the impotent ‘arts’ and ‘culture’, and in doing so indeed have created a new Spectacle.
Those who have always run the world, the landowners and aristocracy, the Royal Family, the capitalist elite and their lackeys in the MSM are the same as they always were, bar a few promotions and relegations. They have simply use Situationism to keep control.

Arthur King
Arthur King
2 months ago

It’s performative attention seeking.

jane baker
jane baker
2 months ago

Is she “Sage”, or “Indigo” or “Mabel”?

David Brown
David Brown
2 months ago
Reply to  jane baker

or possibly now ‘Shamima’

leonard o'reilly
leonard o'reilly
2 months ago

So the line from the Situationists through the ‘68ers to the defacement of the Balfour painting was not just your garden variety rejection of our ( the West’s? ) art and heritage, and a burn-it-all-down nihilism. It is, moreover, a profoundly conservative expression of that heritage: the modern legacy of permanent revolution.
What does any of that even mean? What does the ‘spectacle’ of ‘ untrammelled desire’, the pseudo-activist, the degeneracy of art, our heritage’s supine and grovelling caretakers, the ‘commodification’ of whatever and the radical critiquing of dead horses – what does any of that jumble have to do with conservatism?
I think there are a lot of Mary Harrington fans in these precincts. I am finding it a hard slog to be one of them. [ Gratuitous sentence deleted. I think I like Mary Harrington. Too many things are conflated in this essay to understand at first reading.]
On a more general line of criticism: the last thing social and cultural analysis needs is ‘artiness’. As an example of the best of the genre I would recommend Irving Kristol’s essay ‘Countercultures’ in Commentary magazine 1994. Marvel at the clarity of expression. Compare.