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The Woke Chokehold

One of the most astonishing things about the woke is their high boredom threshold. They seem to have the same thoughts about the same subjects, expressed in the same language, all their waking lives. They never tire or let their vigilance down. They look at Raphael or Botticelli and see only social injustice. They are terrible bores.

The explanation of their persistence, which resembles that of flies on a corpse, is that truth, which holds no interest for them, is not their object, but power, the cynosure of every ambitious mediocrity’s eyes. To change the metaphor slightly, the lunatics have taken over the asylum or, in the case of the museums, the philistines.

The latest victim of woke philistinism is an exhibition called Medicine Man at the Wellcome Institute in London, which has closed permanently for reasons I am sure the reader can supply for himself—sexism, racism, ableism, erasure of the marginalized, blah, blah, blah. Sir Henry Wellcome is reprehended for having been a rich and powerful white man in an age of colonialism: reprehended despite the fact that he began one of the largest foundations of medical research in the world and also the largest library of medical history in the world.

Medicine Man was an eclectic selection of Sir Henry’s vast collection of objects from around the world that had a connection with the practice of medicine. Sometimes this connection was rather tenuous: for example Napoleon’s toothbrush, which presumably kept his dental caries at bay. There were apothecaries’ jars; old skull-trephining drills of great elegance and beauty, though one trembles to imagine what a trephination must have been like in the 17th century; portraits (for example of the half-mad Welsh doctor, druid, and pioneer of cremation, Dr. William Price); and artificial limbs.

Let us take the accusation, made as part of the reason for closing it, that the exhibition was ableist because it displayed artificial limbs of a previous age. The curator, apparently, saw nothing in these artifacts but the deliberate humiliation or exclusion of amputees, but I saw quite the reverse, namely ingenious artifacts, crafted with enormous care and attention to detail, that were humane efforts to improve the lives of those unfortunate enough to need them (whether they were successful is another question). In other words, those in charge of the exhibition had what would once have been called dirty minds, which is to say minds that look at the world through a filthy lens. For them, the worst possible interpretation of all previous efforts must be the true one, since everybody until our own enlightened and altruistic generation was actuated by the worst possible motives.

That Sir Henry Wellcome was a very rich man cannot be denied, but it also happens that he was a self-made one. He was not the scion of immemorial privilege; he started from nothing and used his great accumulated wealth to create something that was of immense value not only to this country, but to the world and, dare I say it, civilization. There have been many very rich people, but there is only one Wellcome Library (which is not to deny that very rich people have founded other invaluable institutions).

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