A wander around the web will reveal many examples of the so-called “cancellation” of historical figures for transgressions against the moral standards and Overton Window of 2021.
As with much of what passes for grown up conversations these days, it’s usually virtue signalling bollocks with no tangible benefit to society, but plenty of Wokémon Points for the complainant.
This one for example, calling for the retraction of an obituary written before the birth of nearly everyone currently alive today. That nobody on the editorial team at Nature Magazine thought to suggest to Danita Brandt that she might find better targets for her energy, is remarkable. After all, we’ve clearly solved all the major issues of the planet if one of the major scientific publications feels it’s time to go back and clean up a bad opinion from 1923.
However, and this may be an unpopular opinion with my regular readership, not all of these calls are without merit.
Here’s an example: Ben Boyd.
He has a road named after him in Cremorne, Sydney, a town in the south of the state of New South Wales, a tower and an entire national park.
What did he accomplish in his life to receive such an ongoing legacy from the people of New South Wales?
Let’s see, there was the slavery* of 119 Pacific Islanders whom he brought to Australia, the fraudulent use of the deposits in his Royal Bank of Australia, and his attempt to be kingmaker for a Pacific island empire.
Everyone makes a few mistakes in life, but nobody is completely without redeeming qualities. With that in mind, what acts of altruism and selflessness can we find to justify the continuation of the name of the Ben Boyd National Park?
Maybe the evidence of his public service or charitable donations exists but it’s failed to make itself visible to me after a reasonably extensive search.
History is political. There’s never been a moment in human existence where truly objective retrospective analysis was possible, everything we look back on is through the filter of today’s reality.
Note, for example, I haven’t condemned Boyd for his extensive whaling activities. This was fully-accepted at the time and, until the invention of the clean-burning kerosene lamp in 1857, was an industry vital to human society.
His other activities listed above were well outside the accepted norms of his time, not just today’s. Slavery as a concept had long been unacceptable to the British public, his blurring of the definition and the use of contracts with the Pacific Islanders was seen for what it was by the local magistrates at the time.
His fraudulent banking scams were as unacceptable then as now, even if we’ve still not eradicated them in Australia.
As much as I find most of the so-called “cancel culture” ridiculous, this seems like a simple one to form an opinion on. There’s no need to tear down a statue or burn a book, just rename the park to something else we can show a little more pride in.
Parky McParkFace, would be fine.
* this was in 1847, 40 years after the British government abolished slavery. What he attempted was called “Blackbirding” which is a euphemism for indentured servitude. There’s little to no chance the islanders had any idea what it was they were signing up to. Quite how that differed from slavery was probably a very convenient technical point.