Anniversary Post: Great Fire of London

Great Fire of LondonOn this day in 1666, the Great Fire of London finally ended. It had started early in the morning of 2 September, so it went on for four days. It made 70,000 of the city’s 80,000 people homeless. There is some question as to how many people died as a direct result of the fire, but it appears to have been fairly low. But no one really knows, because no one creating official records really cared when poor people died.

The fire started in a bakery. But at the time, the people of London decided that it had been started by Mexicans immigrants. In that case, it was French and Dutch because England happened to be at war with them. So many people were beaten and lynched. It’s an interesting kind of mentality of us humans, “There’s a terrible fire going on! Let’s do something! Let’s kill innocent people based on rumor!” Clearly, even if the immigrants had been responsible, that was not the time to seek justice.

This is yet another reason why demagoguery is such a bad thing. It’s all fine for Donald Trump to go around saying that Mexican immigrants are rapists. But the moment there’s a crisis of some kind, who gets blamed? Who do the rest of society start attacking? This is the very worst of what we humans are — and it is in us all. This is why we need to create institutions and ways of thought to counteract this in us. And let’s be honest: we are better than we have been in the past. But we have a long way to go. And there are a lot of people who continue to push us in the other direction.

6 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Great Fire of London

  1. This is exactly right. It can’t be repeated enough. There may be good reasons for thinking America should get whackadoodle about banning migrant workers (I can’t think of any, but I’m no expert.) There’s no good reason to stir up rank hatred.

    Demonizing already struggling others as “the bad” is really, really dangerous, and anyone who’s serious has to take account of this. It’s one thing for Woody Allen or Mel Brooks or “Fiddler On The Roof” to poke fun at the cultural/religious insularity of a Jewish matchmaker in 1965. It’s another thing entirely to do that in 1935.

    The Trump stuff is insane. I didn’t realize white Americans resented Hispanics so much. I knew it was a big deal when I lived in Southern California, because nobody likes their slaves. It seems to resonate outside the Southwest, though.

    Maybe it’s repressed racism towards African-Americans, and repressed sexism. You can’t say, thank God, that you hate blacks for existing or women for having supervisory positions at your job. You can say you hate “illegals.”

    • And (sorry to rant) — we should be helping with the migrant crisis in Europe by admitting tons of people here. It’s unimaginable for us to do so, as it’s political poison for any European politician to suggest it. WTF. Anyone who’s “bravely” spent time and effort suggesting Muslims are maniacs is a direct contributor to this horrific humanitarian situation, which isn’t going to abate.

      But that demonization did predate the post-WTC bombing popularity of pissing on Islam, to be fair. It’s been going on since the oil embargo, and really ramped up after the fall of the Soviet Union. It’s just more chic now.

      • Great point. I’m generally really down on the Germans, but they are finally stepping up in a big way. Americans seem themselves as the kindest and most giving people, but it just ain’t true. And a lot of it in this situation is all about the fact that if one person gets in who commits a violent act, our media is going to turn it into the worst things in the world. Let millions of foreigners die rather than risk the life of one American and (more important) one political career.

        • It’s so much about how we depict people. The local paper last week had a searing story with images of crying parents and dead children on the front page. Well, you go with that angle all the time, you build understanding and sympathy. You could also interview refugees and get some angry quotes about “I hate the West for causing this war.” OMG, scary invaders who hate us!

          The way news and media work is a mess and I have no idea how to fix it. Obviously we want every perspective openly shared no matter how inane. And I have sympathy for any media worker who’s trying to keep their job, maybe by focusing on Scary Stories, maybe by using vivid photo imagery to hook clickers. (Even though vivid images of dead kids make refugees seem pathetic, not incredibly brave — and they are incredibly brave. As are the ones who stay behind, in a different way.)

          I suppose the best we can do is promote, all we can, any media which presents others in a more complex light, and criticize media which reduces people to cultural stereotypes. We’re losing that contest, though. For now.

          Interesting thing I found recently. It’s rather sad that part of what made the civil-rights movement successful, at least in its short-term goals, was support from whites appalled by footage of peaceful marchers being beaten up. Now that’s changed a little; it may actually be worse.

          One serious turning point (there were many over the years) was the 1988 Willie Horton ad. Know who designed that campaign? Lee Atwater and . . . Bush’s media director, Roger Ailes. Oh, well, I found that interesting, at least!

          • I used to work for a very small paper, and what I learned there was that reporters are lazy. Well, maybe lazy is the wrong word. You work a lot. You are not looking at the big picture and you are not concerned with all the details; you are concerned with filing your story and getting paid. That’s the interesting distinction between my FC work and my paid work. I don’t spend forever on the stuff here, but I do care about it. The paying stuff I care about way more than my bosses. They just want the content. So I give it to them as fast as I can. Some of the stuff touches on politics. I edited a piece on hyperinflation recently. And I took out the stuff that was deeply misleading. But I couldn’t rewrite it from the ground up, so it remains somewhat deceptive in making people think that hyperinflation is a thing that might happen to us — even though the actual information shows quite clearly that we have nothing to worry about.

            My point is that if you tell a reporter to go out and talk about the fear that immigrants will be terrorists, that’s what you’ll get. The better reporters will add caveats and nuance. But the main problem is the editors, owners, and above all, the profit system itself.

    • You might be onto something there. It has become such a taboo to be explicitly racist against African Americans, maybe people are moving onto Latinos under the guise of “illegal immigrant.” We see this also with Muslims, “It’s not racism because Muslims aren’t a race!” It’s all about treating individuals as representative of a group. The issue is bigotry not “racism.” That’s always been the case. But there really isn’t any difference because “race” is a social construct. The only thing that is special about “racism” compared to bigotry is the defining of these things called races. In the past it more about hating concrete groups like the Irish. So it is probably good that we are headed back in that direction. Just the same, nothing has changed. And bigots claiming they are okay because they aren’t “racists” are just going to look like fools in the future.

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