In what could be considered a sign of the times, but also a signal to the mentally lazy that there is a difference between preference and prejudice, respected writer, comedian, and actor John Cleese has offered intelligent swats at the SJW gnats who would try to paint as “racist” anyone who does not agree with their political agendas.
The scenario began on May 29, when Mr. Cleese reiterated and expanded on observations he made in 2011. Back then, just prior to the city hosting the Olympics, Cleese noted that London did not seem like an English city any more.
Some years ago, I opined that London was not really an English city any more. Since then, virtually all my friends from abroad have confirmed my observation. So there must be some truth in it… I note also that London was the UK city that voted most strongly to remain in the EU.
As a guy who’s visited London more times than I can count, who flew to England to watch the return of Doctor Who and the return of Red Dwarf to British TV, whose first book was published by a British publishing company, I love England. I love London. And I can say that every well-written, properly punctuated, facet of Mr. Cleese’s observation rings true to me. And that doesn’t necessarily make London bad, or make Mr. Cleese racist or “non-inclusive”.
But heroically “woke” UK comedian Dom Joly evidently decided Cleese’s public observation was an opportunity to take a big step forward in the “Social Justice” ranks and -- like a number of others who seemingly have to harp on any preference that doesn’t fit their degree of “inclusivity” precisely to the mark – swung a few verbal ham-fists Cleese’s way.
As noted by The Telegraph, Joly offered:
He’s clearly a really smart funny man but it is basically a very racist tweet. Secondly, it’s a racist tweet by a man who lives on a Caribbean island – the irony of that is insane. Even the language is insane, who uses the word opine?
So much for punctuation and a sense of rhetorical style.
But, beyond Joly’s grammar-challenged approach, there’s the fact that Cleese recently moved to the Caribbean, a place with a dominant culture and racial makeup quite different from his own, and he has said that he enjoys the people, that, as he noted in 2018 on the British TV show Newsnight, “The relationship between the races is absolutely superb. The people there are really kind.”
Now, it’s possible that Mr. Joly’s criticism of Mr. Cleese could contain a nugget of validity if one were to imagine that Mr. Cleese’s move to another cultural locale is inconsistent with his discomfort seeing London become an immigrant citadel (last count, 41 percent of London residents were born outside the UK). Perhaps one could accuse him of wanting to be accepted in the Caribbean, but not allowing for others to be accepted in London.
But to do so misses two important points.
First, Cleese is not praising the Caribbean for changing its culture, but is, in fact, praising its culture and enjoying his choice to join it.
His observation about London is that the city is losing its old character.
Again, some might praise that. After all, being open to cultural exchange is what free trade is all about. Marco Polo’s efforts to open the trade routes to China, Persia, and India helped usher in all kinds of wondrous mixes in cultural advances.
Again, this is not something to which Mr. Cleese is opposed, and he amplified his comments of the 29th by slapping down those who would think that openness to cultural exchange must mean openness to every aspect of cultural differentiation, including those that embrace violence or ignorance of natural rights. So, after seeing the criticism leveled at him on the 29th, Cleese adroitly noted on Twitter:
I think it’s legitimate to prefer one culture to another. For example, I prefer cultures that do not tolerate female genital mutilation. (…) This will be considered racist by those who hover, eagerly hoping that someone will offend them – on someone else’s behalf, naturally.
One does not have to be racist, or an anti-immigrant bigot to note that one might prefer one culture over another. I prefer modern American culture over, say, Aztec sacrificial culture, or North Korean culture. And that’s not to say that apart from some of the unlikeable dominant characteristics of those other cultures there are not amazing, valuable things to observe or learn.
But, like Cleese, can’t we as humans admit that we have preferences without being labeled racist or bigoted, or attacked by virtue-signaling loudmouths who seem entitled to throw labels onto others at any time?
When I helped write the pilot for a TV series about a free-market city that had no taxation and no traditional “state” type government, my co-writer and I had to develop a way that people interested in living in the city could be vetted while people who wanted to trade or visit could move freely and feel safe. In fact, it was easier to create a system of admission and safety in a privately-run city than in a publicly, tax-funded one, because the owner of the city could set the rules and people could agree to them or go elsewhere.
London is a great cosmopolitan city. It is wonderfully diverse. But, as a government-run city, political forces are at each other’s throats over how diverse it will be.
John Cleese has noted that at a certain point, the cultural changes made it unrecognizable as the London he used to know.
Perhaps some agree and dislike the change. Perhaps some agree and like it. But to call Mr. Cleese racist for observing a preference reflects towering ignorance of the difference between preferences and prejudice.
Let’s hope that most of the folks in the UK still know the difference.
(Cover Photo: RaphaelMoran)