Hamlet puts it well when he says he is wondering: “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer/ The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/ Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,/ And by opposing end them?”
A critic I read years ago said that Shakespeare referred to the image of a foreign invasion by sea in which slings and arrows were being fired from the invading armadas. Hence, he characterises these as a “sea of troubles”.
Gentle reader, I was not convinced. I always thought of these slings and arrows as metaphors for the insults, injuries, blows of fate and personal disasters everyone encounters, just be being alive. And the sea of troubles? Not invading ships, perhaps but just a word for vastness?
What the boy is asking himself is should he endure these S and As or should he fight against such opposition or adversity. We’ve all, I will bet my bottom dollar (I didn’t know you had any dollars; and in what way are they connected to your bottom? -- Ed. Sirji, please sharminda muth keejiyeh -- fd), experienced this Hamletian dilemma.
One faces it in all sorts of ways from childhood onwards. Let me, for the sake of the argument that follows, concentrate on the slings and arrows I faced when I came to Britain. I was regarded in the prevalent, nasty vocabulary of the time as a “wog” and a “Paki”, both derogatory terms I heard fairly often. Blacks and Asians, through the 1960s and 1970s, the era I am talking about, were often or occasionally subjected to racism in the form of not being served in pubs, not being accepted as tenants in the rooming houses of the cities, being randomly assaulted by bums in the streets -- and of course there was deep-seated institutional racism in other ways. Slings, arrows, or sticks and stones and I decided, I suppose, to take arm against that sea of troubles. Not nobler, just a reaction.
My “taking arms” took the form of joining organisations which were actively opposed to these particular S and A and ideologically dedicated to the progress of Britain to an egalitarian society. I must say here, gentle reader, that my perception and that of my comrades in these organisations -- and there were thousands -- was that there was a rock-solid decency in the vast majority of the British population who understood and welcomed the change in the global demographic, though some institutions, mostly class-based, needed radical undermining.
And when I say we took arms, it meant working for these organisations 24/7, as the jargon goes. We picketed, demonstrated, wrote, rabble-roused, went to jail, got burnt out of our houses through firebombs thrown into them by racists (yes, I was a victim of one such assault but jumped out of the second floor of the flaming building) and did what “activists” do.
So, it’s with some disappointment rather than alarm or a sense of betrayal that I now witness in Britain a shift in that “taking of arms”. Let a small and large example illustrate my point -- it being that the radical activity against that particular ocean of wrongs has turned into linguistic posturing.
The linguistic revolutionaries target words and opinions. British university students have taken to “no platforming” people with whom they disagree. They ban them from expressing their opinions on university platforms. In some instances, this censorship is simply ludicrous, as when the Oxford University students’ union instituted a consultancy of “sensitivity readers” who will scrutinise all articles in the Oxford University student newspapers to weed out anything they feel might offend someone. The editors of century-old university magazines such as Cherwell in Oxford will not be in charge. The sensitivity censor will be. And this is in Britain, not North Korea.
Another ludicrous incident needs mention. A geography teacher in a South London school, discoursing on Africa, told his class about the river Niger. He said, with commendable cautionary intent, that the river was spelt with one “g” and they must be careful to not spell it with two because that would spell the objectionable and insulting “N” word. He pronounced the word in order to warn pupils against using it. One black pupil walked out of his class.
The pupil’s parents demanded that the school suspend the geography teacher. They went to the national press which wrote their reports without providing the context or the very proper warning instincts and intentions of the teacher.
Yes, offence is in the mind of the victim of it. The Oxonian sensitivity censorship makes one wonder. They are protecting the readers of these publications -- fellow students – from being offended, but do these readers only read Oxford University student publications?
Surely, they read other things and will soon leave the shelter of Oxford and wander in the real world, where “taking arms” will mean more than using ear plugs?