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Intolerance is turning our museums into McDonald’s

Nothing too spicy, thanks. We’re curators. Wellcome Collection

I was sorry to hear that the Wellcome Collection is, in its own words, “racist, sexist and ableist”, says James Marriott in The Times. “I’d been vaguely meaning to go.” I now know my plans to liven up a damp afternoon by inspecting “Napoleon’s toothbrush and Florence Nightingale’s moccasins” concealed a darker subconscious motive – to, as the curators put it, “collude in the exclusion, marginalisation and exoticisation of indigenous peoples”. To anyone unfamiliar with the “censorious jargon” of modern academia, this must seem either “incomprehensible or bleakly hilarious”. But it’s a “characteristic tragedy of the modern age” – something a lot of people quite like has been killed by a small number who passionately hate it. It’s the same reason bad restaurants like McDonald’s are so successful. In any group deciding where to eat, there will be one or two with strong opinions – can’t have spicy food, won’t eat fish – so what we end up with is “bland compromise”.

It might be tempting to write this off as an isolated example, says Douglas Murray in The Spectator, but this “self-destructive, iconoclastic mania” is actually encouraged everywhere. The Museums Association, which represents more than 1,800 UK institutions, advises its members on how to “decolonise” their collections. They warn that there may be “negative press or feedback”, but that “pushing through” is essential in order to stamp out the “overwhelming whiteness” of our cultural institutions. It’s funny, though. On my own travels I can’t help detecting “an overwhelming blackness” in museums in Sub-Saharan Africa, an “overwhelming Chineseness” in museums in China and an “overwhelming Egyptianness” in museums in Egypt. For some reason, only we in the West are so appalled by our own past that we feel the need to destroy it.

🧠👮🏻‍♂️ In her excellent Reith Lecture for Radio 4, the award-winning Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie decried the “epidemic of self-censorship” among young people. She’s exactly right, says Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph. Ordinary folk are so terrified of the online mobs of “virtual vigilantes”, they daren’t say what they really think about contentious issues. “For the sake of a quiet life, therefore, they keep their mouths shut – or pretend to agree with the fashionable herd.” We now each have “our own inner Stasi agent”, closely monitoring our every thought, and reminding us what might happen if we are foolish enough to express the wrong one.