The obvious question is whether this is encouraging or depressing: does this brain-explodingly absurd story mean that The Great Stupid has finally passed over the U.S. and is reaching its ridiculous peak across the Atlantic, or is the insanity moving in the other direction?
In what may be the best examples yet of the principle “if you can hear the dog whistle, you’re the dog”—except that it involves monkeys, not dogs—the University of York removed the iconic image of the “Wise Monkeys, better known perhaps as “See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil,” from its website because somebody decided the image was racist and nobody had the courage and common sense to tell them that the theory was crackers and made the whole institution look like monkeys. The image had been used to promote an upcoming art history conference, and the organizers issued an apology rich in scholarly gibberish, saying-–don’t giggle now, these are intellectuals—
“Upon reflection, we strongly believe that our first poster is not appropriate as its iconology promulgates a longstanding visual legacy of oppression and exploits racist stereotypes.We bring this to your attention, so that we may be held accountable for our actions and, in our privileges, do and be better.”
Translation: We always think of black people when we see monkeys, and assume you do too, but if you didn’t, we think you should, and then rebuke yourself for it.”
Some astute tweets in response from across the pond:
- “If monkeys remind those that made this decision of black people then they should probably remove themselves.”
- “It’s a travesty that common sense has flown out of the window in under a year, replaced by wild paranoia and finger-pointing sloganism. With the self-proclaimed ‘academic’ elite leading the charge over a cliff into dimfinity.”
- “The only thing anti black around here is you comparing our people to apes.”
The university’s decision is an endorsement of ignorance. The “Three Wise Monkeys” is an ancient Japanese image, reflecting an ancient proverb. The monkeys even have names: Mizaru, who sees no evil, covering his eyes, Kikazaru, who hears no evil, covering his ears and Iwazaru, who speaks no evil, covering his mouth. For some reason. Kikazaru keeps jumping to the head of the line: many images of the “Three Wise Monkeys” have “Speak no evil” first. The original monkeys in the image are supposed to be Japanese macaques.
There is nothing racist about the image, of course. (As Freud might have said, sometimes a monkey is just a monkey.) The source is a 17th-century carving over a door of the famous Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō, Japan, and scholars—real ones, not the pandering dummies at York—believe it was intended to reflect Confucius’s Code of Conduct, using the macaques to depict man’s life cycle. The three wise monkeys picture comes from the second panel of eight.
The shrine at Nikko is a Shinto shrine, and the monkey is important in the Shinto religion, believed to be a messenger of wisdom. Major Shinto festivals are celebrated during the Year of the Monkey, which occurs every twelve years. Who suspected that those diabolical Japanese had planned all this time to plant the seeds of racism against Western blacks under the guise of a religious tradition even before any Japanese had seen any blacks? Boy, the Japanese really do take the long view….
These hysterical and paranoid attacks on the rich and varied elements of world culture and the resulting virtue-signalling taboos only diminish intellectual capital, making everyone dumber and taking the variety and interest out of life. If the Three Wise Monkeys had been declared racist a few decades ago, for example, we would have lost one of the best political quips of the 20th Century, when Senator Bob Dole described a meeting of former Presidents Carter, Ford and Nixon as “See no evil, hear no evil and evil.”