On 2nd October, the Daily Mail reported on a violent confrontation that had taken place the previous day at Calais’s notorious Jungle camp, where thousands of migrants await admittance into a Britain that doesn’t want them, but lacks the courage or decency to say so. For three hours, long-suffering French police faced off against a ragged alliance of migrants and “no borders” activists, some of whom had travelled from Britain specially for the riotous occasion.
Footage shows the gritty texture of this latest skirmish - graffitied concrete walls, parched scrub, busy flyovers and grim shacks - tense flics longing to be unleashed against air-punching activists calling them names and “expressing solidarity” through stone-throwing (ten officers were injured, one seriously). Cry-bullies strut across the unlovely arena with passive-aggressive paraphernalia - camera-phones, drums, guitars, masks, misspelled placards. Several bescarved individuals are also seen brandishing Union Jacks at probably puzzled gendarmes - unexpected appearance of an emblem more commonly associated with Nelson’s rumbustious Jack Tars, or modern football hooligans, groups generally not in favour of opening Britain’s borders.
We cannot know who the flag-wavers were, but it was thought-provoking imagery in any case. Clearly they were not ironists, because ironists would not expose themselves to the ministrations of even post-modern riot police. Were they would-be incomers hinting at future good-citizenship, like “Khalid, 22”, who said “We love England – it is our future, and all we are asking is that we are allowed to travel there as quickly as possible”? Or could they have been something even less likely - British ultra-Leftists finding weird validation by wrapping themselves in a bellicose national identity they deny to themselves and others, but really only pretend to hate? This vexing vexillology was just one of the contradictions in the footage, and the wider picture.
The Jungle is due to be closed down next week, its sans-papiers sojourners scattered around a France that doesn’t want them any more than Britain does. But it has long been for a certain coterie a flashpoint and symbol of Everything That Is Wrong - shorthand for inequality, distance, distinctions, the global poor contained by the privileged few, the weak oppressed by the strong, the generous by the mean, the vital by the vitiated, the authentic by the fake. There is a body of thought-sentiment that feels barriers, borders, walls, glass ceilings or social conservatism, or any other demarcations between nations, ethnic groups, faiths, the sexes or even individuals are not just wrong, but actually evil. Marks of difference, it is believed, are inculcated by Western civilisation rather than inherent in humanity - and so that entire entity must be cast down, to be replaced by… Something. Seen from this perspective, the Jungle is a barrier to civilisation, just as deep forests symbolised incomprehensible evil to medieval minds.
Reasoners of this stripe would once have joined religious sects. There are clear correlations between certain aspects of New Testament Christianity and radical politics - which is why numerous Roman emperors tried to suppress the nascent faith, why Celsus wrote against it, why Blake saw angels at Peckham Rye, why trade unions are divided into “chapels”, and why cliché-mongers refer to “bleeding-heart liberals”. As Stephen Tomkins noted in 2010, “The whole history of the British labour movement is intertwined with Christianity.” Even when Leftists lose their religion, some retain non-conformist habits, and not always the best ones. Some on the Left (like some on the Right) are natural-born cultists - forgetting the good works, idealism, kindness, and social practicality of low churches and chapels, but retaining the apophenia, bile, censoriousness, gullibility, judgmentalism, sentimentality, and shockability. A great deal of mental energy that would once have been directed skywards has lower horizons now - secular politicking aimed at achieving an uncircumscribed utopia, a borderless Erewhon whose anthem could be Imagine (for older believers) or perhaps, for the presently hip, The Only Good Fascist is a Very Dead Fascist. (I link to the latter, because it seems unlikely ever to trouble Billboard.)
Alas for advanced thinkers, the world is not yet ready for incontinent idealism. Taken as a whole, humanity remains stubbornly worldly, tangled up in metaphorical jungles - confusing, dangerous shrubberies where sun cannot always penetrate, places full of strange noises and alarms, eyes and teeth in the night, fiercely-held traditions, and sudden violence, where vistas are short and motives easily misunderstood. Today, ‘rational’ qualities like anti-sexism, consensus, equality, human rights, internationalism, liberalism, and tolerance are officially valued over once-prevalent ideas like assertiveness, decisiveness, hierarchy, masculinity, patriotism, self-reliance and social order. But often dark counter-tendencies hide inside noble bromides, just as Uriah Heep hid boundless ambition under humility. When are fine feelings really felt - and when are they false flags, as improperly used as the Union Jacks at the Jungle? How often are they carried into practical effect by those who invoke them loudest? When do they become an excuse for inaction - or even a rationale for violence? Are the protestors, in truth, “protesting too much”?
Jungle agitators, if asked, would lay claim to charitableness, egalitarianism, humanity, liberalism and tolerance, and probably in all sincerity. Some probably evince these qualities in their daily lives - although idealists notoriously often fall short of their own expectations, like Rousseau, advocate of advanced education and family life, who abandoned his children. Almost every day of almost every week priests transgress, high-toned politicians cheat, and advocates of advanced ideas are outed as secret retrogrades. Charitableness, egalitarianism, humanity, liberalism and tolerance are not obviously consistent with injuring policemen, but then individuals contain so many multitudes - id and ego, ever-changing public and private selves, absurdities, biases, doubts, fears, hypocrisies, inconsistencies, obsessions, resentments, unconfessed desires and vanities, to accompany all the finer feelings we prefer to think about. Ideologies and outlooks flow all the time into each other, masters become servants and servants masters, the kidnapped become dependent on their captors, refined people seek rough trade, and love tips over into hate and back again. So few motives are completely pure, and good and evil can be found on all sides of all conflicts.
Is it straying into pop-psychology to infer that the inner contradictions we all possess may be more pronounced in ultra-left men - who externally suppress their sexual, national and cultural identities, but remain “Old Adams” within? One can easily imagine that some especially buttoned-up individuals might unbutton themselves in highly-charged situations, especially when faced with Western police, whom they know will never retaliate with serious force. (Would Jungle activists throw stones at, say, Russian police? Would they have stood still at Tiananmen Square? Perhaps…) Western police, jobsworth guardians of a weak-spirited order, are fair game not only because they symbolise a hated “System” - but also because they are easy targets, plastic shields and water-cannon notwithstanding. The physically stronger side is simultaneously the psychologically weaker one, the better-armed the least-prepared. What, after all, are the police defending? It sometimes seems there are only differences of degree between such rioters and the sort of people who pay the police. Faced with a shuffling line of reluctant cops, enraptured by a simplistic Good v. Evil narrative, pumped-up (as in the case of Calais) by fuller-blooded male migrants’ testosterone, all education, fairness and proportion could so easily be forgotten in the atavistic thrill of fighting “The Man” - and their own demons.
There are other dubious aspects to this emotional field of battle, it appears from a slew of swiftly expunged social media exchanges noticed by the Mail. Details are few and fugitive, but it seems at least some charity-workers have been comforting migrants beyond the call of charitable duty. Some male volunteers - who would probably identify as ‘feminists’ - have apparently been combining virtue-signalling with venereal pleasures, receiving sexual gratification in return for food and moral support. Ultra-Leftists have, after all, been known to fall short of publicly-expressed high-mindedness. Some liberally-educated girls may simultaneously have been seeking psychological-physiological thrills, seeking ‘authenticity’ in unreconstructed migrant maleness, absolution in exotic arms (stronger arms than those of ‘pale, stale’ Englishmen), and delighting in sudden Shades of Grey style submission to others’ wills. Even feminist guru Simone de Beauvoir sought to be Sartre’s “little Arab wife” and Sylvia Plath complained, "every woman adores a fascist". Maybe some of today’s individualist, relativist females paradoxically adore tradition-minded, tall, dark strangers, despite apparent divergence - just as white Christian girls who marry Muslim men so often assume the hijab, with what looks almost like gratitude.
The Jungle will soon be felled, but like its present denizens, the many things it represents are merely being transplanted. Its rhizomes will emerge elsewhere, and there will be new flashpoints, new symbols, new holy warriors and ideological opportunists, new 'martyrs' and sacrifices, and ever more luxuriantly complicated growths while the contradictions accumulate, and Western politicians defer making difficult decisions yet again. Unless or until they do, jungles will keep coming back, will always be out there on the borders of our reason, partly because they are also rooted deep inside ourselves.
…........................................................................................- Derek Turner has appeared in a number of top-notch news outlets, including Taki's, Chronicles and the Times. And if this makes you suddenly want to hang out in the Calais Jungle? You're out of luck, because his last book will drag you through the funnier aspects of his native Dublin.
Follow him on Twitter: Follow @DerekTurner1964 or e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out some other articles from Derek Turner:FLIGHTS OF FANCY
A HIGH VOLTAGE VOTE
BREXIT - AND BREXISTENCE