The toxic tribalism of the pro-Palestine marches
The war in Gaza has become a prop for signalling one’s superiority.
As we enter a new year, normal service has resumed – at least when it comes to the weekly marches in London in supposed solidarity with Gaza. These marches were a regular feature of life in the capital every Saturday from last October until the end of 2023. This weekend, protesters clashed with police in St James’s Park and staged a sit-in outside parliament. Another protest is scheduled for this coming Saturday.
The protests have not been to everyone’s liking. They have caused much resentment, not merely among people unsympathetic to the protesters’ cause or those who are offended by that odious chant, ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’. According to many news reports and social-media posts, many London residents have also taken umbrage at the blithe disregard the protesters have displayed towards normal people trying to go about their business.
This seemed especially the case when hundreds of pro-Palestine protesters descended on Oxford Street on Saturday 23 December, the busiest day of the year for central London’s main shopping street. This caused great disruption and forced some shops to close. Letting off coloured smoke, the marchers chanted: ‘While you’re shopping, bombs are dropping.’ Their glee, self-righteousness and self-satisfaction were palpable.
This kind of haughty arrogance and smug disregard for ordinary people should not surprise us. The pro-Palestine marches have become more about displaying one’s allegiance to a certain selected tribe than they are about changing the world. They also bring to mind the anti-Iraq War protests in 2003, in which participants bore placards with the legend ‘Not in my name’. Then, as now, protests are as much about projecting the self, and positioning one’s extended self in the multitude, as the actual cause itself.
As Columbia professor Mark Lilla wrote in an influential essay for the New York Times in 2016, entitled ‘The End of Identity Liberalism’, identity politics today has become ‘expressive not persuasive’. It’s no longer about changing minds, but declaring who one is. You could add that politics in real life now resembles politics as performed on social media: its main purpose is to express and confirm allegiance to the others in one’s own echo-chamber, rather than to engage in debate. This is identity politics at its most narcissistic and insular.
That’s why it has been no surprise to see videos in recent months of pro-Palestine protesters around the world struggling to name what ‘river’ and what ‘sea’ they are chanting about. Ignorance is no barrier to self-righteous self-pity. This toxic combination permits an unlimited amount of arrogant posturing and bluster, especially against the evil, honorary ‘white’ – code for ‘bad’ – Jews.
These protesters believe they are on the side of good, and they want us to know it. As is always the case, people who place themselves on the side of good and righteousness will behave exactly how they please, with no regard to others.
Fad diets: fit for our age of extremes
Many of you will have embarked on a diet this January, the dismal month in which so many so foolishly subject themselves to general self-denial. Many of you may have opted for a new, quick-fire ‘fad diet’ in the hope of creating a ‘new you’. If you have, the advice from the British Dietetic Association (BDA) is to stop it.
The BDA has warned that a whole host of novel eating patterns promoted on social media could be potentially harmful and could lead to medical problems and eating disorders. It has cast a cautious eye on such trends as carbohydrate avoidance, weight-loss gummies, juice diets, the ‘raw cleansing diet’ and the ‘carnivore diet’, as promoted by Jordan Peterson. Jennifer Low, a spokeswoman for the BDA, has warned that many fad diets don’t come from a healthy place. Speaking to The Times, she revealed: ‘Many of my clients, in fact, cite a fad diet as the beginning of their eating disorder.’
Fad diets, sadly, are a sign of the times. They represent the demise of deferred gratification. It’s as if we no longer recognise that realising objectives takes time, effort and patience. They also represent the power of social media, in which so much information can be disseminated without authority and verification. Above all, fad diets embody a society that is obsessed with purity and is in thrall to extremes.
You can see this trend in politics, too. Today, nobody wants to inhabit the boring, doubting middle ground. So many instead seek to pursue extremes, cleansing themselves of ambiguity and uncertainty. Hence, the rise of the extreme trans movement, Just Stop Oil absolutism, Black Lives Matter racial determinism, Islamism, veganism, the sharp fissure seen in American politics in general, and so on.
It’s no wonder we are exhorted to respect and be ‘body positive’ about oversize people, while simultaneously seeking to lose as much weight as possible, as soon as possible. Some seek to be skinny. Some are proud to be fat. We hear nothing of those happy to be average.
What is needed is a return to the sane middle ground: a sensible, balanced diet, and also a more thoughtful, less dogmatic politics.
The joy of Wetherspoons
The knighthood bestowed on Tim Martin, the founder and chairman of Wetherspoons, is well deserved and overdue.
I say overdue because his pub chain has been the unwarranted target of derision for far too long. In the 2010s, the author Will Self wrote that Martin’s pubs were ‘shit, brown dollops of establishments smeared incontinently across our cities’. Jokes about Wetherspoons started supplanting quips about the Daily Mail on panel shows like Mock the Week as a means for enlightened liberals to flaunt their distaste for the unsophisticated masses. You can still read this bilious condescension on X / Twitter, where ‘people who habituate Wetherspoons’ has become a more acceptable way of saying ‘chav’ – that unlovely epithet that was everywhere some 20 years ago.
The problem with jokes about Wetherspoons is that you always suspect those making them have never lowered themselves to actually go into one. I have. I’ve been taking my coffee breaks in them for a decade. And most of them are ornate, clean places. Often they are refurbished churches, like the plush Samuel Peto in Folkestone, or places that pay homage to local characters, such as the Sir Norman Wisdom in Deal, also in Kent, named after that town’s most famous son.
These places aren’t full of moronic scumbags, but ordinary folk, families and elderly men finding much-needed company. Yes, they’re unsophisticated. But a neurotic obsession with social status, or a preoccupation with being sophisticated, are not the concerns of those who enjoy a pint at their local boozer.
Patrick West is a spiked columnist. His latest book, Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche For Our Times, is published by Societas.
Picture by: Getty.
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