Welcome to Angus Take House – a weekly column in which I pit two of the wildest takes the world's great thinkers have rustled up against each other. This is your one-stop shop for the meatiest verdicts and saltiest angles on the world's happenings. Go and grab a napkin – these juicy hot takes are fresh from the griddle.
What's the story? An American missionary named John Allen Chau was killed by an isolated 30,000-year-old Indian tribe when he encroached on their island.
Reasonable Take: Silly sausage!
Bao Bun O’Neill: The Sentinelese people can sign up for a Spectator subscription and enjoy a free gift worth over £60.
I swore I was going to stop featuring Brendan O’Neill in this column. What’s the point? I asked myself. Whatever happens in the world he’s always going to have an odious take that circuitously links everything back to the Snowflake brigade's total lack of a sense of humour, or free speech, or something. I'm not going to rise to it, I said. I’m going to the bigger man. Then this happened.
"It would be better, eco-leftists and other luvvies insist, if we just left the Sentinelese people as they are. They’re probably happy. What, living brutish, backward lives? I think it is crueller to abandon the Sentinelese people to the fate written for them by the terrible quirks of geography and history than it is to try to contact and civilise them."
Here! We! Go! So, yes, last week the strange and tragic news broke that John Allen Chau, an American missionary, had bribed a pair of Indian fisherman to take him to the remote North Sentinel Island, where it's understood he was hoping to preach to the isolated tribe who live there. He didn’t make it very far before he was shot with arrows and killed. Now, while nobody likes a story about someone getting shot with arrows, plenty of people pointed to the poor decision making that led Chau to an island that anthropologists abandoned trying to establish contact with some 25-years ago. Many saw his doomed visit a classic case of Western hubris; a lesson in saviour complex backfiring. "Many", of course, being a category that doesn’t include B O'N.
Agent Provocateur begins his piece deceptively well, declaring that Chau "behaved immorally and recklessly", before clarifying: only as far as there was a danger he'd spread diseases from the mainstream population among the vulnerable tribe. As for his intention to spread God’s word, Brendan reckons there was "humanity in his error" – certainly more than in the warped responses to his death. Because actually: "'Civilise' is seen as a terribly judgemental word these days. It conjures up images of Victorian colonialists venturing into the 'heart of darkness' in Africa and elsewhere and subjugating unwilling peoples to Biblical writ and British rule. But the civilisation instinct needn’t be a forced one."
At this stage it’s hard to know what to say. How you can, with a straight face, publish a piece of writing in which you try to rebrand "civilising" tribal people is beyond me. The gist of what he’s saying seems to be that there is a classy and gentlemanly way of coaxing people towards "civilisation" that doesn’t require violence. That, actually, there’s a way of imposing a Western idea of modernity on people that isn’t forced. O’Neill ends his piece saying, "Our common humanity demands that we make contact with these peoples and patiently try to convince them to become civilised." Oh, OK! Just convince them. Win them over in the marketplace of ideas.
Imposed civilisation, not that it needs explaining, is a concept rotten to its core. In the sense that "to civilise" is to raise to a cultural standard, there isn’t a good version of civilising people anymore than there is invading them. The spread of medicine and technology are one thing, but that’s not what O’Neill means when he talks about “brutish, backward lives”. Worst of all, he manages to describe those who’ve criticised Chau as "luvvies", somehow pooling people who hold this view in with vegans and BAFTA-nominated actors. It’s archaic, Victorian, toxic stuff, and I look forward to wasting more emotional resources on his bilge next week!
What's the story? A vicar called Lynn appeared on Newsnight to defend Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
Reasonable Take: Lynn, you’re a woman of God, and for that you have my respect, but I’m going to have to disagree with you on May’s disastrous deal!
Remain Course: She is a hologram created by Arron Banks.
As our nation slides further into the bath of total mania – past the bubbles, warm soapy water filling our ears – it's important to step back and take stock. In the heat of the moment it's easy to jump to conclusions and soon find yourself 50 tweets deep in an argument about whether or not Rupert the Bear would have wanted to stay in the Single Market! Or trying to argue that the Corbyn can’t read! Or, I don’t know, that the vicar you’ve just seen on Newsnight was in fact an actor, placed by the BBC in an attempt to brainwash people into backing Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
Yes, my dudes, you read the set-up of the joke correctly: the last one is real. This week, Newsnight hosted a roundtable discussion to really put this whole Brexit thing to bed. One of the members of the public invited to ask questions was a vicar called Lynn, who made her support for Theresa May very clear, as you can see below:
Big move, that point. Have never seen someone point like that before on Newsnight, or any other political debate show for that matter.
Anyway, not everyone was taken with Lynn’s pointing, with some viewers recognising her as Lynn Marina Hayter, an actor who has appeared as an extra in some BBC programmes. It then emerged that Lynn’s vicar credentials were questionable as well: she was in fact a pastor of the "Seeds For Wealth Ministries" – a religious organisation she herself created. Oh, and she’s a big Trump fan.
For many, this was a sign that the BBC was pushing pro-Brexit agenda, literally hiring actors to defend Theresa May. At every level, from Andrew Adonis to dads with croissants, Remainers cried foul. The BBC must pay! They’re in on it! You can see some of the best examples in this thread.
What none of them asked was why the BBC had chosen to try to brainwash the population with an internet vicar who appeared as an uncredited "pub regular" in Sacha Baron Cohen's Grimsby. If they had, they might have come to the conclusion that, just maybe, this was a case of shoddy research and half-arsed background checks, rather than indoctrination via comedy vicars.
The issue, of course, is that self-declared Remainiacs can’t see the wood for the trees anymore. They’ve been shouting “bollocks to Brexit” for so long the oxygen has almost entirely drained from their bodies. They don’t trust anyone who doesn’t have #FBPE tattooed on their foreheads. They’re worried about Alastair Campbell. (He hasn’t been seen in weeks. Has anyone got his number? Have the fruitcakes got him?) In this process, they’ve become the very thing they set out to defeat: irrational, conspiratorial and completely emotional.
As is pointed out in this great New Statesman piece on the subject, as much as they’d like to think it was, the Brexit vote wasn’t won through brainwashing. Methods might have been unfair and illegal, but to suggest people were wholesale duped is a dangerous assumption. People believed in a lot more than Boris's bus.
PRIME CUT: Brendan "Heart of Darkness is a delightful page-turner about a holiday gone wrong" O'Neill. Again.