Fantastic Trumps and Where to Find Them: on Fantasy Tropes and Political Narrative

Fantastic Trumps and Where to Find Them: on Fantasy Tropes and Political Narrative

The exhibition currently showing at the Christ Church Picture Gallery, Fabulous Beasts and Beautiful Creatures, documents the human fascination with the animal kingdom. Combining depictions of real-world creatures with those of myth and dream, the collection stands in marked contrast with much of the rest of the pictures on display at Christ Church. A horse, reduced to barely a few lines on paper, feels as though it moves before your eyes; a sketch of a lion hunt overwhelms in a cacophony of colliding bodies and spears. The beasts on display are alive: many are depicted in scenes of epic battle where confusion of lines prevails but the spirit is captured. The immediacy and mess of these pieces (primarily pen, pencil or chalk on paper) could not be further apart in some respects to the stylised intricacy of the canvas paintings on display elsewhere in the gallery.

A special in-focus display case gives information on the seminal British animal artist Francis Barlow. Subtly exaggerating the key aspects of the animals portrayed, his work lies on the border between naturalism and caricature. A trio of treetop squirrels is lovingly sketched as they call to each other, with special attention (naturally) given to their tufty ears and bushy tails. As with the rest of the exhibition, the emphasis is on the movement and vivacity of the natural world – the innate beauty and strangeness of the creatures around us.

The timing of the exhibition, naturally, comes as no coincidence. It doesn’t take a sleuth to suppose that the topic of the display (running from 18 February to 29 May 2017) was chosen to coincide with the latest film from J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In many ways, the collection of pieces has most in common with the original 2001 book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the inspiration for the development of the recent film. Taking its name from a textbook mentioned in passing in the original Harry Potter book series, Rowling’s spin-off tome took the form of a catalogue of information and drawings of faux-fauna from the realm of Harry Potter – detailing both those mentioned in the series (such as Hippogriffs, Flobberworms and Kappas), and also newer inventions such as Chizpurfles and Lethifolds.

The newer film finessed the original material by adding a backstory (including a mandatory love-interest) to the writing of the book by the renowned magizoologist Newt Scamander. Yet the emphasis on the wonder and quirkiness of Rowling’s world was retained – a welcome relief from Harry Potter films that all-too-often seemed to sand down the magic and charm of the books into something ultimately far too boring and serious. (Where is Peeves, the parodying poltergeist? Why do we never get to see the Weasleys battling with their garden gnomes? What happened to SPEW, Hermione’s Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare?)

Rowling’s creatures in the film are often wonderful works of the imagination in their own right, and frequently feature her trademark intertextuality. The Thunderbird, a huge North American relative of the phoenix that generates maelstroms merely through flapping its wings, has its originsin the folklores of North American indigenous peoples such as the Algonquians, the Menominee and the Ojibwe. Meanwhile, the Occamy, a winged serpent that has the ability to grow or shrink to fit the available space, has clear roots in the dragons of East Asia that can shrink to the size of a silkworm. In a Chinese legend about the Zen Buddhist sage Huineng, a fierce and destructive dragon is tricked into shrinking small enough to fit into his rice bowl[1]  – a scene that has an uncanny echo in Rowling’s film.

An extraordinary world, populated by creatures that stretch the bounds of reasonable belief, is fundamental to the definition of fantasy – a nearly facile observation when you consider that ‘fantasy’ shares its etymology with ‘fantastic’. Key to the definition of the genre is an inherent escapism – in the best fantasy works, the plot itself is often incidental; the author draws you in through the sheer intricacy and originality of their imagined world. (By the by, in my opinion this is probably why fantasy and science fiction are often undervalued by traditional literary critics.)

Yet, walking out of my first viewing of Fantastic Beasts, the creature that struck me most was neither the Thunderbird nor the Occamy, but the amorphous Obscurus. The writhing clouds of dark smoke, that Newt describes as an ‘unstable, uncontrollable dark force’, represent the latest manifestation of another key fantasy trope: the inherent, unexplainable evil.

The classic example here is Tolkien. Sauron is evil, because… well, because. In such an extraordinarily long and detailed saga, you’d think there would be some time to probe this a little. But that would be missing the point. The beauty of the fantastic escapism is a fundamental simplicity to the conflict at hand. There’s no need to probe such pressing questions as whether orcs have rights (or quite why the tyranny of the kings of Gondor is better than the tyranny of Sauron) simply because the story is better without fussing over all that. The conceit of the inherent evil is so successful because, well, shades of grey make our heads hurt – it’s a conceit that the reader is fully willing to engage with.

The Obscurus – shapeless and unreadable – is a particularly elegant employment of this trope. The trope works best when the Inherent Evil has as few human attributes as possible: whereas humans have motivations, reasons and purposes, the Inherent Evil by contrast is unexplainable, unreasonable and purposeless. It is the Unknown, the Other. The Evil that has no meaning behind it, and sins for sin’s own sake.

Hence the prevalence of masked and mutilated villains. Star Wars’s Darth Vader is effectively faceless; his ‘humanity’ is only restored to him after he finally returns to the good side of the force at the end of Return of the Jedi. At this point, his life-support unit is symbolically removed, revealing a human face beneath. G. R. R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice and Fire is a series that seems to specialise in shades of grey and set out to pour scorn on this trope. Yet even Martin cannot avoid the allure of the unknown horror: his White Walkers (who are at times even referred to as ‘Others’) are described as having ‘flesh pale as milk’; ‘faceless, silent’, they have eyes that are ‘blue, deeper and bluer than any human eyes, a blue that burned like ice’[2] .

The Inherent Evil frequently works through human counterparts: unseen and working from afar, yet manipulating the whole of Middle Earth through his servant Saruman, Sauron is far more terrifying. Sometimes the dynamic is inverted. Voldemort, Rowling’s villain in her original series, was never entirely successful simply because he was ultimately far too human. The Dementors, however, who eventually become his servants, are truly terrifying: faceless, voiceless and cloaked, they feed on fear; in a similar way, Fantastic Beasts has both a motiveless Inherent Evil (the Obscurus) and a human antagonist with a purpose (Graves/Grindelwald). In Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, the villain is ostensibly the robber Capricorn. Far more frightening, however, is his slave The Shadow:


Sometimes he was red as fire, sometimes as grey as the ashes into which fire turns all that it devours. He leaped from the ground like flame flickering up from wood. His touch and even his breath brought death. He rose up at his master’s feet, soundless and faceless, scenting the air like a dog on the trail, waiting to be shown his victim[3].

And yet – I wonder if problems don’t arise when these tropes are applied to real life.

Fantastic Beasts – with its frequent allusions to Grindelwald’s dreams of ethnic cleansing, and with the populist political propaganda that is in the background throughout – carries clear reference to the fascist movements of the 1930s (the period in which it is set). And the Second World War is frequently depicted in just the same way as a fantasy conflict plays out: a clear-cut battle between Good and Evil. The below poster – an anti-Japanese US poster – is representative of the way the fantasy narrative of an inhuman, intrinsic evil was employed in propaganda at the time. Even now, the Second World War is often remembered as the last ‘simple’ conflict – when you knew who was in the right and who was in the wrong. I’m not questioning the horror of the Nazi atrocities or trying to be an apologist for the Axis regimes in any way – but it’s worth remembering that most soldiers in the War were, at the end of the day, just fighting for their country, and atrocities were committed on both sides[4] .

It’s hard to talk about the 1930s nowadays without discussing the current political climate, and to an extent this tendency is fair enough. The parallels between the two periods are clear: far-right parties are on the rise across Europe; the US have recently voted in a nativist, isolationist president; and supranational unions such as the EU seem increasingly fragile. Fantastic Beasts, whether it was intended or not, can’t help but seem as though it is making reference to current regimes in Hungary, Poland, and the US.

To look at a lot of political rhetoric at the moment, the fantasy narrative of Good vs. Evil also seems as though it is being employed in just the same way as it was in the 1930s.  Trump has become an image of Evil Incarnate for many, with Democratic activists – despite their political impotence in Congress and state legislatures – determined to obstruct and resist at every turn. A Poor Print article in November spoke of the need to ‘fight against the darkness and coldness that people like Trump and Pence bring’. To an extent, I agree.

Yet the issue is that the great works of high fantasy usually climax with an epic battle, such as the culminating scene in The Lord of the Rings; or the great battle against the forces of the White Witch at the close of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

This is where the metaphor can no longer be applied to reality. Bernie Sanders, the hero of so many left-wing students, is no Aslan. Neither he nor any other Democratic politician is ever going to lead a cavalry charge against the Trumpists of the US.

As politics grows ever-more divisive, liberals (and I use the term in the loosest sense of the word) increasingly appear to be fighting arguments on the basis that to disagree with the liberal point of view is already a moral sin. Too many liberals no longer appear to  try to persuade those of differing opinions. Political campaigns are focusing more and more on increasing voter turnout by railing against the Other Side rather than attempting to convince naysayers; more and more activists appear to be complaining that they’re ‘tired of making the same arguments time and time again’. The implication is that when those who disagree are just wrong… why should we have to engage?

That’s no way to win this war. Political battles are won in a different manner to those of folklore and fable. Far from annihilating a horde of alt-righters, instead the end goal must be to change the minds of the horde. To rewrite the Tolkien narrative, the orcs of Mordor have to be persuaded to vote for Aragorn (…or whatever 2020 Democratic challenger comes closest). Shouting at Trumpists will only get us so far. Calling those of differing opinions a ‘basket of deplorables’ will never persuade them to your way of seeing things. The righteous indignation of a political minority is utterly useless.

It’s easier said than done. Changing minds is hard – Confirmation Bias is strong, meaning people will always more easily agree with something that chimes with existing beliefs than with something that fundamentally change their outlook. Social science research shows that reasoned argument generally has no effect on people’s outlook when it comes to polarised issues – and indeed, it often causes a ‘backfire’ effect that causes people to dig in deeper into their preconceptions.

But people’s opinions can, and do, change – even on polarised issues. The steady increase in support for same-sex marriage in the US – from 31% in 2004 to 55% in 2015-16 – is testament to that. The rapid change in attitudes on this issue – both in the US and across much of the West – is incredible.

The roots of the liberal success on the same-sex marriage argument are complex, but nonetheless contain lessons for political campaigns on other issues. Key to the increase in support was a steadily increasing number of people coming out as LGBTQ to their family and friends – causing the issue to become normalised; causing people to learn more about the issue; and creating a multiplier effect by encouraging others also to come out. In a similar way, some advocacy groups have reported that open, non-confrontational discussions with people on doorsteps have far more persuasive potential than conversations where activists actively try to change views. The idea is that these generate less hostility and may be more successful in normalising arguments. (Thorough research on this is currently inconclusive.)

Many will find the takeaway here slightly depressing. Though I’m not endorsing fake news, facts are somewhat useless when it comes to changing minds on divisive issues, since our moral reasoning[5] is rarely based on evidence in these situations. Rather, it is more usually dependent on the opinions we perceive to be acceptable among our personal social group. The crucial year in the same-sex marriage debate in the US was in 2009, when for the first time support for same-sex marriage started rising among Republicans at the same rate as among Democrats.

The real mystery, however, is why so many mainstream political candidates still struggle to grasp this. Remainers can cry foul at the conduct of the Brexit referendum all they like, but the truth is that the argument had been lost long before the referendum campaign even started. Whereas tabloid newspapers and UKIP had unfailingly screamed at Europe for decades, pro-Europe politicians had been notably timid. No debunking of false facts on Brexiteer buses was ever going to make up for the years of silence, or the failure to create a convincing Europhilic emotional narrative. The fantasy narratives have one thing right – much as G. R. R. Martin’s ‘Battle for the Dawn’ is repeated every few millennia, the battle of ideas is never truly won. Political success is rarely permanent; liberal arguments must be repeated again, and again, and again.

So rather than shouting at the alt-right and bemoaning the end of the world, the lessons for liberals are clear. Don’t give up the argument. Don’t be disheartened where you fail to persuade – we have to be in this for the long run. However much you hate their opinions, try to restrain your gag reflex when dealing with those with whom you disagree. And an emotional narrative is crucial. Facts are important – but don’t rely on them to make your case.


Fabulous Beasts and Beautiful Creatures’ is showing at the Christ Church Picture Gallery until 29 May, 2017, and free of charge to students at Oxford.

‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ is no longer showing in cinemas, but can be bought on DVD from Amazon for £10.

The Trump presidency has a forecast expiration date of 20 January, 2021.


Footnotes

[1] American Museum of Natural History (2016), Mythic Creatures and the Impossibly Real Animals Who Inspired Them. Sterling Signature, New York. Adapted from an exhibition curated by Laruel Kendall & Mark A. Norell, with Richard Ellis and the American Museum of Natural History Department. See an abbreviated version of the book’s contents online here.
[2] G. R. R. Martin (1996), A Game of Thrones (prologue). Great Britain: Voyager.
[3] Cornelia Funke (2003), Inkheart (Chapter 40), trans. Anthea Bell (original title: Tintenhertz). Chicken House publishers.
[4] Incidentally, Tolkien always denied that The Lord of the Rings was intended as a metaphor for the War, arguing that ‘if it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dûr would not have been destroyed but occupied’. [J. R. R. Tolkien (1954), The Lord of the Rings (Introduction). George Allen & Unwin publishers.] As a Professor of Anglo-Saxon, it seems far more likely that his Dark Lord was inspired by monsters in ancient myths such as Beowulf, an epic which has innumerable echoes in The Lord of the Rings.
[5] Jonathan Haidt, 2012, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.


Originally published by The Poor Print on 28/04/17.

Putting Rhodes in His Place

Putting Rhodes in His Place

A report on Oriel College’s January 14 meeting on how to contextualise their statue of renowned imperialist Cecil Rhodes.

‘Buccaneer, loose cannon, privateer – see Walter Raleigh.’[1] So goes one account of Cecil Rhodes – but one perhaps uncomforting for Oriel College. Controversy around Rhodes’s achievements has simmered since his death (The Guardian’s 1902 obituary lambasted him as a ‘dragon efficient in tooth and claw’) – yet still there is little consensus on how to approach his legacy.

On Saturday, 14 January 2017, Oriel held a meeting on how to contextualise the College’s statue of Rhodes, around which debate has raged since May 2015. Teresa Morgan, Classics Professor at Oriel, opened the meeting by defining its parameters: the purpose was neither to discuss the presence of the statue or the King Edward Street plaque (both of which had been decided on), nor to attempt to come to a single ‘Oriel view’ of Rhodes. Rather, the aim was to explore ways of recognising the complexity of Rhodes’s legacy – adding nuance to a symbol that, for many, appears to indicate unqualified endorsement.

The meeting, therefore, was hardly a concession to RMFO’s demands. (RMFO has yet to respond to repeated attempts by The Poor Print to contact them.) All four guest speakers present could be classed as ‘pro-contextualisation’, and the event was exclusively for Oriel members. The resultant demographic of the room was uncomfortable: a nearly entirely white audience. Few members of the JCR chose to attend – perhaps oddly so, given the furious arguments that raged around RMFO in Open Meetings only a year prior.

Yet the discussion was nonetheless valuable. Oriel’s Dr Ian Forrest (Fellow in History) began by exploring Rhodes’s biography; his connection to Oriel; and the lack of awareness around Britain’s colonial legacy. Dr Gus Casely-Hayford, a cultural historian and broadcaster, spoke on the conflict between heritage and diversity: how can we celebrate the achievements of the past while at the same time looking at it critically?

Anna Eavis, Curatorial Director of English Heritage, spoke intriguingly on two cases with parallels to Oriel: Richmond Castle, Yorkshire; and Marble Hill, Twickenham, an eighteenth-century villa. In both cases, the heritage process is riddled with controversy. Richmond Castle, dating from the Norman Conquest, has cells in which the walls are scrawled with pencil graffiti: relics of conscientious objectors imprisoned there during the First World War. A recently-built commemorative garden for the objectors proved controversial with locals due to Richmond’s military history. Meanwhile, Marble Hill has vital importance to archaeological history as one of the earliest structural uses of mahogany. Yet English Heritage faces the challenge of preserving this site of immense beauty, while at the same time allowing space for the narrative of the Belizean slaves who it is thought must have harvested the villa’s mahogany under appalling conditions.

The last speaker on the panel was Judy Ling Wong CBE, President of the Black Environment Network, who spoke on how to effect a change in narrative. Arguing that you must ‘bring a wholeness of yourself to truly bring about a multicultural society’, Wong reminded the room of the ‘enormous opportunity’ that the College has. As a world-renowned institution, Oriel has a responsibility to lead the way.

Views in the room varied wildly as to how best to contextualise the statue. Many maintained that Oriel – as an academic establishment – could not appear to be imposing a single view of Rhodes; some argued that any form of contextualisation was inappropriate, being more suited to heritage sites. Others swung as far in the other direction, arguing that, in order to achieve neutrality, any response by Oriel would have to be as large, solid and permanent as the statue. Some warned against ‘over-privileging’ the name of Rhodes in Oriel’s history, as ultimately counterproductive to any contextualisation.

In practical terms, an array of suggestions was proposed: a clarifying plaque (perhaps supplemented online); a series of lectures/exhibitions; or indeed an artistic installation to visually compete with the statue, either on the High Street or in Third Quad. All are being considered by Oriel’s Rhodes Working Group; the Governing Body will likely adopt some combination of the above.

The Poor Print’s view is that a supposedly neutral consideration of Rhodes (whether on a plaque or online) would be wholly insufficient. While it is true that Oriel has a responsibility to encourage nuanced discourse, the college can neither be pigeonholed as a centre of academia nor as a heritage site. It is also, for many, a community and a home, and so any response must adequately address the fact that the statue has become a symbol of violent oppression to some in Oriel. Oriel has a duty to support those who study here – and if it fails to be a welcoming environment, it may find that the diversity of applicants falls off a cliff. The contextualisation of the statue must be as antiseptic to a wound: antiseptic is never neutral.


References and further reading

[1] Quoted by Dr Ian Forrest during the meeting.

The Guardian‘s 1902 obituary of Cecil Rhodes.

English Heritage sites on:

Dr Laurence Brown, ‘The Slavery Connections of Marble Hill House‘, a 2008 report commissioned by Historic England.


Originally published on 28/04/17 by The Poor Print.

The Myth of Rhodes: a Poor Print Special Report

The Myth of Rhodes: a <i>Poor Print</i> Special Report

‘The Myth of Rhodes’ was a Poor Print special report on Cecil Rhodes, Rhodes Must Fall, and the statue at Oriel College. The report was conceived, commissioned and edited by Alex Waygood, who also wrote one of the articles and carried out a large amount of additional research and fact-checking. The report was originally published on Friday, 28 April 2017, as part of Issue #18 (themed around ‘Myth’), which was also designed in its entirety by Alex Waygood.

The report consisted of six features (one of which was only online), plus a Complete Bibliography, a list of suggested Further Reading and copies of Facebook posts cited in the report. The report can be read online in its entirety here; or alternatively, for links to the individual articles, see below:

A pdf of the entire print issue can be downloaded here.

Judge not, lest ye be judged

Judge not, lest ye be judged

The government’s response to the media backlash against the ruling was inadequate.

The press quickly came to grips with the gravity of the situation. ‘Enemies of the people,’ screamed The Daily Mail’. ‘Who do you think EU are?’ demanded The Sun. The Daily Express was the most forthright of all, calling its readership to arms with the headline: ‘Now your country really does need you…’.

I’m glad that’s been cleared up. I hadn’t quite realised that a court ruling delaying Brexit was comparable to the horror of the Great War of 1914. Some might call that insensitive so close to Remembrance Day. But, there you go.

So what exactly is this dire peril? On 3rd November, three judges ruled that British constitutional law does not allow for the Government to begin the process of leaving the European Union without first passing a law through Parliament. The reason? That ‘the most fundamental rule of the UK’s constitution is that Parliament is sovereign’ – meaning that no law passed by Parliament can be overridden by the Government without passing new legislation through Parliament. The UK joined the EU in 1973 by passing the European Communities Act in 1972 – and so in order to leave, Parliament must now pass a new law to repeal this legislation. The European Union Referendum Act, passed in 2015, does not give the Government sufficient powers to start the process of leaving the EU without first consulting Parliament, since that legislation explicitly specified that the referendum was to be advisory rather than legally binding.

It sounds boring and technical – and, really, that’s because it is. It’s the job of the British judiciary to consult legal precedent and rule on the interpretation of Britain’s strange, amorphous constitution. Has Brexit been blocked? No; it will probably take Theresa May a little longer to begin the process of leaving the EU, but it still seems highly unlikely that a majority of MPs would choose to vote against the will of the people as expressed in the referendum. Moreover, parliamentary scrutiny is far from a bad thing, even for those who favoured Brexit. Despite the unsavoury nature of a few MPs, as a group the House of Commons has considerable collective expertise. They will now be able to use this to ensure that Theresa May really does get the ‘right Brexit deal for the UK’.

So this isn’t a ‘power grab’ by ‘activist judges’ that ‘undermines democracy’. Far from it. Newspapers and politicians lambasting the judges should take care: the separation of powers between the Government, Parliament and the Judiciary is in fact one of the fundamental pillars on which our democracy is founded. The independence of Britain’s courts provides protection for the Judiciary, ensuring that judges cannot be fired should they choose to rule against the government. But it also provides important checks and balances on the Government’s power that protect the rights of us all. Crucially, these do not place limits on Parliament’s sovereignty, which remains supreme – our Supreme Court does not have the power to ‘strike down’ legislation. But the courts do have the power to call into question important procedural errors committed by the government, which is what has happened here.

The government has, belatedly, defended the independence of the judiciary – which, incidentally, is meant to be one of the primary roles of the Lord Chancellor. Yet the words of Liz Truss and Theresa May – the latter only qualifying her support by saying that she also values ‘the freedom of our press’ – have been half-hearted and weak.

That is unacceptable. It is entirely possible to call into question the decision of the courts without calling into question the legitimacy of the judicial decision – which would have been the responsible line for the pro-Brexit press to take. Equally, it is entirely possible to attack the words of a newspaper while defending the newspaper’s right to publish them. Freedom of the press is irrelevant, and a cowardly excuse on the Government’s part; this Government should and must vigorously attack the tabloids for seeking to undermine our judicial process. The legal right to express an opinion does not absolve you from responsibility for that opinion, and neither does it disallow others from arguing against you.

Perhaps the inherent suspicion of many Brexiteers that the country’s institutions are biased against them is reasonable. But – reading the judgement – I find it hard to disagree with any of the technical aspects of the decision. Perhaps this is why nearly all the accusations of political bias from pro-Brexit politicians seem to have come in the form of unqualified assertions. I have yet to hear a coherent legal argument as to why there is a special case in this instance wherein Royal Prerogative provides sufficient powers for the Government to override the 1972 European Communities Act without first consulting Parliament.

Originally published on November 20, 2016 by Cherwell.

Rhodes Must Fall & ‘safe spaces’

Rhodes Must Fall & ‘safe spaces’

Oriel College, Oxford, was once more in lock-down on March 9th. Outside in Oriel Square, members of Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford (RMFO) protested for the second time against the statue of Cecil Rhodes, a Victorian imperialist in South Africa, that stands in the centre of Oriel’s façade on the High Street. RMFO argues that there is a ‘violence‘ to students of African background in having to walk past the statue. Yet the campaign to remove the statue is part of a much wider student movement to transform universities into ‘safe spaces’ where all feel welcome.

Critics of safe spaces argue that the concept fundamentally conflicts with a culture of free speech in universities. They point to cases such as the Oxford University Student Union’s (OUSU’s) banning of No Offence, a new student magazine focusing on controversial (mainly right-wing) opinion, from the fresher’s fair in October. OUSU expressed concerns that the material would be offensive to a majority of students; when the editor of the magazine distributed copies outside the fresher’s fair anyway, OUSU called the police.

Lord Patten, the chancellor of Oxford University, has condemned the Rhodes protesters for similarly failing to ‘engage in free inquiry and debate’ and attempting to wipe out history. RMFO argue instead that, far from attempting to erase the past, they have brought the legacy of Rhodes into the spotlight and ‘inaugurated’ a university-wide debate surrounding iconography and other racial issues.

Yet concerns remain that modern students often appear intolerant to viewpoints other than their own. RMFO has consistently painted Oriel College as uncommitted to racial equality, ‘outrageous, dishonest, and cynical’. This comes in spite of statements by the college supporting their right to protest, and a range of proposed measures such as diversity training, a commitment to new scholarships for Africans and a series of lectures on race, equality and colonialism.

Other symptoms are evident of a growing antipathy among students  towards freedom of speech. Across Britain, so-called ‘no-platforming’, whereby students attempt to prevent those with unsavoury opinions from speaking, is on the rise. In September, Warwick University’s student union banned anti-sharia activist Maryam Namazie from speaking for fears that she could ‘incite hatred’. Even veteran campaigners once thought of as liberal crusaders have sometimes unexpectedly come under fire. At Cardiff University, 3,000 people signed a petition to prevent second-wave feminist Germaine Greer from giving a lecture due to her alleged intolerance towards transgender people. (The lecture was eventually held on November 18th with a considerable police presence after the university assured Greer that her safety would be protected.) After defending Greer’s right to speak, gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was also condemned. Fran Cowling, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) representative within the National Union of Students, refused to share a platform at a planned event with Tatchell, whom she decried as racist and ‘transphobic’.

The self-righteousness of the young is not only directed towards individuals perceived as stirring up hatred, but also to larger social groups. It can be seen in a recent rise in antisemitism among Britain’s youth: a result of the Israel/Palestine conflict and a common conflation of Israel and Judaism. In February, the co-chairman of Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) resigned, complaining in his resignation letter that a ‘large proportion of both OULC and the Student Left in Oxford more generally have some kind of a problem with Jews’.

Growing intolerance among students appears to challenge the widely-disseminated idea that Britain’s younger generation is its most liberal yet. Despite an acceptance of minorities such as the LGBT community or those of different ethnicities, there are still many attacked by the new consensus. Divergence from the mainstream viewpoint is quickly vilified; there is often little willingness to debate, and little openness towards differing opinions. The integration of previously persecuted groups into the mainstream does little to change the fact that those who were once so attacked by social conservatives have become the young social conservatives of today. Intolerance is not dead yet – the targets have simply changed.