Trusting The Ties That Bind

It’s your right to protest, to bring your grievances to the attention of others, the world. That the world might not care about your grievances, or at least not care as much as, or in the way that, you might be a good line beyond which you shouldn’t go. But that’s such an old school notion, quaint and archaic.

You see, if you believe it’s important, it is important. If others fail to grasp its importance (fools), then they must be made to understand that it is the most important thing ever and must become the center of their universe because, you, a smart and passionate person, believe it to be so. After all, your opinion is entitled to respect. Everybody says so. And if people won’t respect your opinion, they must be forced to do so. And by respect, they mean you make it the center of your universe just as they have. Anything less would be heresy, and you know what happens to heresy.

This means blocking highways, not to mention the thousands of people on them with places to go and issues of their own to address, is fine. This means gluing yourself to the counter at Starbucks because they charge extra for soy milk. This means destroying priceless works of art because the world is going to end.

On Monday eco-protesters glued themselves to the frame of Constable’s painting The Hay Wain and covered it with an altered version of their own, doing minor damage in the process. On Saturday, eco-protesters rushed onto the track at Silverstone. Last Friday, eco-protesters glued themselves to a Turner painting in Manchester. Earlier in June, eco-protesters…  you get the idea.

Isn’t climate change important? Isn’t it more important than some painting?

For all that people mourn the decline of social capital and cohesion in Britain, there is still a great deal of trust baked into the way the country runs. It’s easy to take this for granted, because under most circumstances we simply don’t notice it. Why wouldn’t we be able to walk into an art gallery with minimal security, and stand feet away from a priceless work of art? Why wouldn’t a museum confine its protective efforts to a polite sign asking us not to touch the exhibits? And of course we can sit happily in the stands at a racecourse, with only a handful of fluorescent jacketed marshals between us and the track.

For generations, norms have arisen that have constrained our worst impulses. We could rush at and damage a famous painting in a museum, because there it is, within reach, with no plexiglass wall between our sticky fingers and Van Gogh’s genius, and it was unthinkable that anyone would cross a velvet rope. Or shoot bullets into a crowd or a classroom. Or reinvent all of society to accommodate our most infantile whim. Norms prevented us from enjoying our most outlandish and harmful desires, and also enabled society to function for “everyone.”

But these things, wonderful as they are, are fragile. What is so deeply infuriating about the latest batch of eco-protests is the way that they directly attack social trust. We can have nice galleries which are minimally intrusive because we trust people to treat them with respect, and that trust is repaid. When attention-seeking protesters use this trust to behave in damaging ways, that trust is broken: institutions are forced to introduce security checks, barriers, and other ways to distance people from the art. A small minority ruins a beautiful thing for everyone else.

It’s one thing for an eco-activist to bomb a pipeline they believe to be an environmental disaster, even though the idea of engaging in such violence would strike most people as a terrible and destructive thing to do. Savior or terrorist? This is the way people who indulge their whims see it, that they are doing something sufficiently important and valuable because they personally believe that to be true. It’s their “truth,” and isn’t their “truth” the only truth that matters, even if that means their truth renders your truth a nullity because their truth demands destruction of things that everyone shares?

And it’s not as if these destructive protests are over silly matters, childish mattes, like the price of soy milk at Starbucks. They’re about the environment, global warming, an existential crisis. What good are wonderful paintings if we’re all about to burn up on this fireball of boomers’ creation? It’s the end of the world and so there is no extreme that limits what must be done.

Whether we’ve become inured to cries of existential crises, because everyone seems to be screaming about one or another constantly, and so we’re disinclined to let it seize the entirety of our existence or we simply don’t think it’s quite as bad as someone else thinks, the fact remains that others feel sufficiently passionate that they believe they’re entitled to break social trust, to ignore all norms to the contrary, and to act upon their beliefs to the detriment of society. What’s a masters’ painting compared to the end of life?

Or everything isn’t the end of the world, even if you believe that it is very important. Perhaps it is very important, even if it’s not an existential crisis. There are important things that won’t spell the end of human existence. What if you believe it is, but others do not? But you’re right and they’re wrong? A lot of people have grown to believe this is more than sufficient reason to act upon one’s idiosyncratic belief system. Sure, some might be right, but the vast majority will be wrong. Some will be dangerously, horribly wrong.

Something very silly and pointless was put in issue at a recent G7 conference, where the heads of state appeared in a photo without ties. Ties are silly, pointless things, that somehow became the accepted norm in serious business attire. The idea that heads of state would be photographed like this without ties would have been unthinkable a few years ago, and yet here they are, tieless, and bold in their refusal to adhere to norms. Even silly norms.

It’s hardly the same thing as gluing oneself to a painting or blocking a busy highway, but then if norms no longer matter, and even heads of state can’t be trusted to honor them, why should someone who passionately believes their feelings are the most important thing in the world? After all, they’re trying to save us from the end of the world.

36 thoughts on “Trusting The Ties That Bind

    1. SHG Post author

      Among the many things that make me lose faith in the future of humanity is the intellectual laziness reflected in a comment like this. Vapid snark has become a fully acceptable substitute for either actual thought or argument. “Lol”? Are you three years old?

      But more importantly, you’ve completely missed the point, simpleton that you are. The ties are irrelevant, silly, pointless things of no consequence in themselves. What they reflect is the acceptance of norms even when they aren’t important to “you” personally or you deem them pointless or silly. And beyond your insipid comment is your failure to grasp that your sensibilities aren’t the center of the universe.

      1. Grum

        Guess Mike doesn’t realise that norms are contextual, not absolute. In my professional life I am an absolute old hippy – jeans, no tie, long hair. There, it is quite the expected thing.
        Invite me to your wedding, I’ll be there in suit, tie, polished shoes, neatly groomed.
        It’s about respecting the occasion and the expectations thereof, so the people taking part are respectful of, and considerate towards it, not some nihilistic urge to demonstrate that you are more important than it.
        And, BTW, when did mistreating public art demonstrate anything that might change anyone’s mind about your cause, other than that you are an attention seeking arsehole?
        I could go on, but our host will probably delete…

        1. SHG Post author

          I cut my hair when I went to law school. It was sad, but my days as a rock drummer were over.

          1. Grum

            For what it’s worth, these days Carl Palmer could easily pass for a (very) successful lawyer.
            Friend of my wife’s, who is an inveterate name-dropper, told us of the time he went to see Palmer do a gig in a pub near the south coast of England in the company of Arthur Brown (yes, that one) and Roger Dean (of Yes album cover fame).
            Ok, totally off topic. Trash this one if you like!

          2. Drew Conlin

            Not do fast. It’s never too late. Pete LaRoca aka Pete Sims was a well established drummer went to law school practiced law and then went back to drumming after decades of law practice…. Just sayin

      2. Mike

        norms change over time. you’re still yelling “get off my lawn” old man.

        Yes I understand that this comment section is actually your lawn. My comment was lighthearted and off the cuff. clearly not welcome here. I appreciate your intellectual vigor. I will continue to read and occasionally contribute asinine comments.

        1. SHG Post author

          Norms, by definition, change organically, not because a handful of narcissistic children demand change or else. And I hate to tell you this, but sometimes old men know shit about the world that arrogant children have yet to learn, or if they never grow up, never learn.

          1. Mike

            I think we are still talking about the ties. The leaders of the free world are definitely narcissistic children.

            1. SHG Post author

              The leaders of the free world are trying to be hip to appeal to the narcisstic children, but I’m talking about the scope and pervasiveness of young people engaged in destructive conduct.

        2. Ron

          Mike, do you ever wonder why almost everyone under 40 suffers from some form of mental illness?

          Maybe they’re not doing great and could use some help?

          1. Mike

            I don’t understand your questions. I’m 42 BTW. I think there are plenty of millennials that grow up well-adjusted without mental illness, primarily as a result of loving parents nurturing them to be good people. There are also plenty of horror stories of shit parents and the years of therapy needed to fix their broken children. Are you saying I should try to help them somehow? I’m doing my best for my kids. Or is yelling get off my lawn the help you think they need?

            1. Ron

              You keep repeating the “get off my lawn” line as if that means something. Do you think people with far greater life experience than you are all senile idiots? Does it not occur to you that they may actually know something, and maybe even more than you? Of course you don’t, because that’s what being a narcissist is all about.

              As for your being 42, it’s a shame you still haven’t overcome your adolescence.

  1. Guitardave

    Repeating the “Apocalypse Next Week” story so often has gotten to the point that….sigh.

  2. Elpey P.

    Ties = Men (especially by reemergent contemporary standards).
    No ties = heroic neoliberal statement of allyship with women.
    Saving the world one yard sign at a time.

  3. Paleo

    Doing things that piss people off like blocking roads or gluing/chaining yourself to something isn’t protest. It’s throwing a fit. Nobody ever said “that person is an idiot but I find their cause compelling”.

    MLK was probably the most accomplished protester in history. The things he had to overcome and the magnitude of what he won makes today’s causes seem minor in comparison. But he understood the moral high
    ground and how important it was to stay on it. It would seem that movements that wanted to succeed would copy the tactics of the GOAT. But, nope, much more satisfying to simply throw a fit.

    1. Jeff

      I appreciate this comment, I’ve been toying with similar concepts for a few years now.

      The subtleties have been lost on a generation that doesn’t understand subtlety. The same generation that has been coddled and never challenged, who never outgrew the temper tantrum stage because it always worked.

      These are the same people that have decided whatever they hold to be of importance is to be treated with importance to everyone, or else. So they “protest” when in reality they’re doing the equivalent of holding their breath until they turn blue, and we still keep capitulating. Because the adults who could have put their singular foot down and said “No” have missed that window, and now they’re irrelevant because “ok, boomer”.

      It’s fine. This generation isn’t selfless enough to breed, so in a hundred years or so the problem will simply work itself out.

  4. Hunting Guy

    Maybe if the “children” had to suffer real consequences for their actions things would change.

    I have to admit, I got a lot of guilty pleasure watching the video of the French police removing climate protesters from a road they were blocking.

    The idiots had superglued their hands to the road. The police didn’t care. They grabbed them and yanked their asses up, leaving a lot of skin behind.

    Forgive me, but it was satisfying to see the idiots screaming and rolling around in pain.

    As far as ties go, the world started going to hell in a hand basket when people stopped dressing up for church.

    Losing the ties is just the latest manifestation of the downward spiral of civilization.

    1. Guitardave

      At least they now possess a more literal understanding of the phrase, “Having skin in the game”.

  5. schorsch

    Those activists are not trying to save us from the end of the world. They are trying to punish us for our responsibility, for our guilt in the unavoidably coming end. So it’s only consequent to attack our norms, to destroy our values, to annihilate our cultural heritage – to glue themselves to the most precious pieces of bourgeois arts.

    It’s their job.

  6. Rengit

    This past weekend, for example, I learned via Twitter that norms against elected government officials posting videos of themselves twerking in a Brazil-cut bikini are not, in fact, standards of decency and decorum, but instead arbitrary and oppressive structures that repress the expressiveness of minorities.

    You have to wonder how JFK and his brothers would have behaved in public were they alive today instead of 60 years ago.

  7. L. Phillips

    “. . . if norms no longer matter, and even heads of state can’t be trusted to honor them, why should someone who passionately believes their feelings are the most important thing in the world?”

    My New Years resolution for this mess of a year is to finally really read the Old Testament front to back. Just starting Chronicles. My short take is that there really isn’t anything new under the sun. In the historical narrative 2 Kings has the kingdom of Judah about where we are now in many respects. Don’t know if there is an Assyria or Babylon in our immediate future but if there is the chances are near one hundred percent that “feelings (that) are the most important thing in the world” about global cooling/warming/change will run straight up against some very hard realities.

    1. David

      We said this when the little shits were in college, “just wait until they get into the real world.” How’s that working out?

  8. Anonymous Coward

    The escalation from protest to destruction is because we aren’t paying attention to them so it’s our fault. No different than a toddler going from minor tantrum to full meltdown.
    This belief that your feelings trump everyone else’s rights and social norms are something to be destroyed as obstacles rather than respected as limits has brought us to a place where gluing oneself to a counter because Starbucks charges extra for soy milk seems like a good idea.

  9. Curtis

    The Golden Rule was part of society from the ancient Egyptians through most modern religions but has died due our modern ethics or lack thereof.

    1. David

      It’s still there. Just reimagined: People should treat me the way I want to be treated.

  10. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit

    Kind of a paraphrase from what Mr. Goldwater once said: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” We’ll just sub in “my feelz” for “liberty.”

    While norms come and go (I, for one, do not miss wearing a peruke to court) for reasons good and bad, what’s really going to hit and hurt is when you’ve got groups with decidedly opposing norms sharing the same political entity, and the fights for control that inevitably come with it. Because if the Other cannot be reasoned into sense, then it must be beaten into submission.

  11. Fubar

    What if you believe it is, but others do not? But you’re right and they’re wrong? A lot of people have grown to believe this is more than sufficient reason to act upon one’s idiosyncratic belief system.

    This is real. This is not déjà vu.
    In fifty years, madness can brew
    Into politics plain.
    What we’re seeing again:
    Lazlo Toth, Nineteen Seventy Two!

  12. Drew Conlin

    This makes me think of the infamous exchange between Joseph N. Welch and Senator Joseph McCarthy… “ Have you no decency sir? Have we, as a society, stopped shaming shameful behavior?
    Completely unrelated but fun is Welch played Judge Joseph Weaver in “ Anatomy of a murder” filmed in my home state, Michigan.

  13. MarkHu

    – For generations, norms have arisen that have constrained our worst impulses. We could rush at and damage a famous painting in a museum, because there it is, within reach, with no plexiglass wall between our sticky fingers and Van Gogh’s genius, and it was unthinkable that anyone would cross a velvet rope. Or shoot bullets into a crowd or a classroom. Or reinvent all of society to accommodate our most infantile whim. Norms prevented us from enjoying our most outlandish and harmful desires, and also enabled society to function for “everyone.” –

    I love you writing (while often very opposed to your point of view) but this is just nonsense.
    1. Throughout the the 20th century art has been vandalized countless times to further some political
    agenda. (a google search showed me a bunch but i remembered at least 2 examples in my lifetime)
    2. There have always been people that turn to violence to advance their cause. The KKK is a prime
    example, but also una bomber and anti abortion violence
    3. And new generations always pushed the bounderies of the norms and morals of their time and previous generations always reacted with anger and distrust. Be it voting for women, having sex for fun or simply having long hair as it was for me.

    Now take of those rose tinted glasses and step back into the real world

    1. David

      There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who understand the meaning of the word “norms” and those like you.

      1. Markhu

        My post is in no way a celebration of current events. Only an observation that this is not a new phenomenon.
        And if you dont think that the sexual revolution or womens suffrage was about norms, i respectfully say you are extremely wrong.

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