Virtue Signaling Over Corpses 79


I was sent this lovely anecdote of Sean Connery today by a successful Hollywood screen writer. They said I could publish but did not want to be named.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was involved in a series of movie projects with Sean Connery. He was everything you’d like a Hollywood star to be in person: charismatic, gregarious, intelligent, very focused in meetings, a great raconteur. He’d often remind you of his Scottishness and in case you’re wondering, he was more attractive in real life than he was onscreen.

One day we were in a meeting in his office, discussing whatever was our latest venture. The phone on his desk kept ringing. He’d pick it up, put it back down to end the call, then the phone would start ringing again. Then his mobile phone started to ring and ring and ring. Annoyed, he buzzed the outer office on the intercom.

Sean: What’s going on? I’m in a meeting.
Office person: It’s Tony Blair.
Sean (exasperated sigh): I can’t talk to HIM right now.

Then he looked at us, shaking his head and said ‘Sorry about that.’ And we carried on with our meeting.

He will be missed but when Scotland is independent, he can be in your pantheon.

I have also been deluged with social media postings about Sean Connery’s reported views on slapping women.

Do we have to do this?

What he said is not defensible: but are there really people out there who have never in their life said or done anything wrong? The worst thing I ever did in my life (which was not at all criminal but was wrong) still gives me nightmares of remorse, quite literally. I wake up thinking about it. I hope and believe it is outweighed as a single incident in a life in which I generally tried to do good. But I would not want it dragged up for public gloating when I die.

Every single human has made mistakes. I don’t think there is any reason to believe that Sean Connery was a generally bad man like Jimmy Savile. His first marriage was unhappy but his second was very happy and lasted forty years. Connery was born the same year, into the same class and the same city, as my own father. Ten minutes walk between their homes. My father would have shared Connery’s views on women – some of my father’s views were very worrying. They were the views of a working class man brought up in Edinburgh in the 1930s and 1940s.

I am not a moral relativist. I think that Connery’s view was plain wrong, just as my father talking of people coming “off the banana boat” or “having a touch of the old tarbrush” was plain wrong. But I also know why my father did not understand it was wrong, and why by contrast I did know it was wrong. Part of the reason I knew it was wrong is that my father worked so hard to lift his family out of poverty and enable us to benefit from the great free educational opportunities the state then gave us – opportunities he never had, leaving school at 13. Who was I to sneer at him?

I recognise the vicious circle of destructive macho that led Connery to repeat the claims when challenged. I should say that pretty well all my father’s closest friends were black, he actively helped several refugees and there was an extraordinary gap between his extremely kind and completely colour-blind personal behaviour, and the horrible views he used to state. It was a peculiar kind of defiance or assertion of identity, not something real.

Even today, I wish I understood this better of my father. Likewise Connery: I suspect that by the time he was repeating in the 1980’s his obnoxious views of the 60’s, Connery was doing something similar. He was defending the remembered tropes of his class and community, no longer what he was actually living by. And did not know how to back down.

I like to think that in seventy years time, people will look back at today’s virtue signaling students who are swamping the internet with anti-Connery memes, and be horrified at the completely unacceptable views that today’s students hold in tolerating massive wealth inequality.

I repeat that I found Connery’s view on violence against women absolutely obnoxious. It is a good thing that such views are now beyond the pale. But that a ninety year old man expressed a single obnoxious view in 1969 and 1984 does not invalidate him as a human being. It is not the most important thing about him. We are mourning one of Scotland’s most talented sons, and perhaps the most famous. He did not have to be perfect; nobody does.

It is possible to bury the dead without virtue signaling over their still warm corpse.

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79 thoughts on “Virtue Signaling Over Corpses

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  • Ron Soak

    One of the, albeit general, themes of the discussion so far – impllicit rather than explicit – is the assumption that the kind of attitudes of what have been described as toxic masculinity of previous eras is no longer present or tolerated in today’s society.

    I remain unconvinced about this assumption.

    A perusal into the single sided non debate around gender and sex rights reveals a shocking level of toxic identitarian masculinity masquerading as “progressive” culture. A culture which is as intolerant of any debate and discussion as any five year old having a tantrum. On the plethora of available evidence such attitudes have merely evolved into another form over time.

    A form which has hijacked all discussion and debate. Claiming a monopoly over the complex issues. A monopoly which recognises no diversity of view even from those it claims to represent (where else have we seen that very same approach in recent times?) as it systematically goes about redefining 51% of the populace out of generations of hard fought rights using levels of abuse, bullying and intimidation which are far worse by many orders of magnitude than anything from the era in which Connery grew up with.

    Conservatives or those on the right of the political spectrum know they would never get away with such an approach and it is the left which is going down this dead end of intersectionalism. Trapped in a classic spiral of purity which finds the left and progressive politics now dominated by reality denying student level post modernists at war with the concept of rationality and evidence based approaches.

    • Ian

      You’re right about it being still very present, but wrong in your convoluted attempt at forcing it on to today’s political movements. It is in fact rampant on the alt right, the home of all recidivists and revanchists, full of men who desperately want to turn the clock back and have become a caricature of masculinity. Look no further than Trump, Farage, Johnson, Bannon, Robinson etc. Look at the ridiculous ‘patriots’, all camouflage and guns, with their Rambo fantasies. The funny thing about identitarian politics is that the people most obsessed about identity are those same people, as are the brexiteers who have so damaged politics in the UK.

      • Ron Soak

        This attitude and approach from the alt-right is easily identifiable simply as a result of it being very upfront and explicit.

        However, this does not preclude or invalidate the presence of such attitudes and approaches from those for whom “left” or “progressive” represents yet another identity they wear like merely another badge – as they do with all identities – including “working class.’

        One of the problems with the strain of neo-Liberal-Left politics which has been imported into UK culture from the USA is an arrogance which underestimates the right. Which is why its likely to be a safe bet that the kind of problems identified above are the result of the right sucking the gullible identitarian left into the current purity spiral into which they have now trapped both themselves and the rest of us.

        I’d put my money on an alt-right medium such as 4-chan or 8-chan being the ultimate source of this purity spiral.

    • Anthony

      I am all for condemnation of hate speech and violence against women. I don’t want a public culture that considers either to be okay. However some of our most ostentatious condemners are very obviously far from sincere.

      Consider the conspicuous lack of outrage by the Guardian, for example, at revelations that black Labour MPs were subjected to racist hostility by the party’s rightwing bureaucracy. Compare that to the bedlam it’s raised over other issues in the Labour party. Or consider the total silence of the #MeToo / BelieveHer movement on women like Tara Reade or Juanita Broaddrick. These are organisations that signal great virtue but no vulnerable group should regard them as staunch allies.

      • arby

        Totally agree, flags of convenience. I think the gentle reader does well not to judge the message by its emotion load.

    • Giyane

      Ron Soak

      I suppose one can’t say that in gender fluidity there is an opportunity for men to copy female defence strategies, most people have a mum to learn from. Or women who amply the animus of learned , male aggression, women with balls.

      Similarly we are going through a momentary phase of Rishi Sunak spreading the socialist lerv through furlough and other state benefits. Or Sir Kier Strapon exercising traditional Tory law and order sound bites to try to win the centre ground.

      I think it was Simon Jenkins that pointed out that there is no new politics here, just using existing concepts of male/female left/right to confuse, divide and roool.

      • Anthony

        Simon’s the last person who’d seek to confuse and divide in order to sustain the status quo.

  • Steve Trevethan

    Might all our attitudes, feelings, thoughts and behaviours be the result of the personal and the situational?
    Can anyone be totally unaffected by their situations in time, place and their social contexts?
    Might it be more generally beneficial for us to reflect upon situations and personal responsibilities, plus possible ways to make the present more compassionate, before joining any herd criticism?

    Thanks for your reflections Mr. Murray!

  • N_

    Compare Luis Bunuel, “son of Aragon”, who was asked to make a film for the fascist Spanish regime under General Franco, with Sean Connery, “son of Scotland”, who was asked to make films for Hollywood and for MI6, the secret service of the monarchist regime in Britain. Bunuel said “yeah sure”, returned to Spain, made a film that basically amounted to a hard kick in Franco’s b***s, and then hotfooted it back out of the country before the fascist police could get hold of him. Bunuel showed real commitment to fighting oppression, and real bravery. Sean Connery was a sleazebag, advocate of violence against women, and moneygrabbing creep who lined his pockets helping the British secret service portray itself as glamorous. Bunuel is to be admired. And when I come to think of it, Connery was more of an impersonator in the mould of Michael Caine than a good actor. Would anyone say he had range?

    • Carolyn Zaremba

      Putting down the acting of Sean Connery (and Michael Caine) exposes you as a complete philistine and ignoramus. Have you ever been an actor? Ever had to make your living as one? Do you know anything about acting at all? It seems not. I, on the other hand, do. Keep your nonsense to yourself.

      • glenn_uk

        You’ll have to forgive “N”. He has a compulsion to waffle and condescend, and likes to bore others with what he imagines to be his superiority in all matters. I bet he’s genuinely baffled as to why he lacks a congratulatory following here.

        Don’t expect any answer to your questions, either – he’s one of a select few here that considers themselves entirely above reproach. The assumption being, anyone who dares to criticise them is ipso facto unworthy of a reply.

        • Giyane

          Glenn_uk

          The joy of Sean Connery’s Bond was a total awareness of the criminality of the MI6 spy. His Bond was totally different from others because of that.

          Our N_ has a literary talent for telling it how it is, which is sweet sour at the same time. When an actor or a writer is so self-critical they have included criticism in their delivery. Nobody could ever say that Connery’s raised eyebrows are agreeing with the MI6 job specification.

          If anybody wants to criticise this kind of incongruity genius, it means that they have missed the built-in irony of the performance.

          Having to explain one’s use of irony is worse than trying to explain a joke. The more you try , the less funny the joke eventually seems.

          Sean Connery’s comments on whacking women may have been loaded with irony.
          In fact , these rookies knocking him obviously don’t get irony at all. Too dry. Too subtle. Too close to the bone.
          Or bones.

  • 6033624

    I have to agree. We must allow for people to grow and change within their lives. We cannot forever be tied to the thoughts and actions we once had when younger. We ‘grow up’ and we change, we learn.

    Even in the relatively recent times I’ve seen a shift in behaviour and thinking. Men committing domestic violence against women was already socially unacceptable but it would be commonplace enough, on an evening out, to see a woman strike a man – a slap, perhaps. In these circumstances we would wonder why she’d ‘had to’ slap him. What had he done? HE was the bad guy who’d had to be slapped. Women were incapable of assaulting men, they were too weak! And yet now this is NOT commonplace. We accept that women can assault men and that they can be strong enough, physically, to assault a male. We are at that point in time for women where men of Connery’s era were perhaps in the late 60s or early 70s. Of course this is an entirely different conversation and that the fact women were considered ‘too weak’ to be accountable was in fact part of the same problem that meant they could be ‘disciplined’ by husbands in decades gone by.

  • Fleischgeist

    “Virtue signaling” is one of the most intellectually dishonest and lazy phrases in the modern lexicon.

    It’s a shame that it is so prominently attached to this otherwise very worthy piece.

    Use of the phrase “virtue signaling” carries its own signal. The implication of the phrase is to deny that the person doing the original “signaling” could have any internal motive for what they did that is based on a sense of justness or morals. It casts them as a hollow shell which performs only to manipulate others into viewing them more favourably. In using it, you send at least two signals about yourself. Firstly, “I can’t imagine anyone doing anything that I wouldn’t do, and therefore if they are doing it, they are only doing it to get attention.” Secondly, “I am comfortable using stealthily dehumanising language about people whom I dislike.”

    Until recently, it’s a phrase which I saw in use almost solely by people with evident right-wing beliefs, who often seemed to see it as a kind of magic bullet that they could use to disregard any opposing position that they didn’t want to have to seriously consider.

    It does have its occasions of applicability. But it should be regarded with great suspicion and caution. The rest of this blog post is an excellent example of why it’s rarely needed.

    • glenn_uk

      Very well put. I made a similar statement to a right-whinger that used to infest this blog some while back, who was fond of denouncing any expressing of empathy towards the less fortunate as “virtue signalling”. Clearly, this individual had no conception of doing other than kicking down, so projected nobody else could be honest if they proposed a different mindset.

      However, you have put it much better than I managed at the time.

    • C-stiltskin

      Virtue signallers get called out, and rightly so. Judge people by their actions, empty words in the public realm don’t put food on the table or heal wounds.
      In short, put up or shut up.

    • Carolyn Zaremba

      Yes. I am greatly saddened by the sudden death of Robert Fisk. I met him once at a talk he gave in San Francisco. I learned a great deal from him over the years about the Middle East and I read his two most famous books. His stated watchword was “Watch out!” It is still good advice. (I got his autograph, too.) The world can ill afford to lose people of his calibre.

  • Ort

    Well stated, Craig. It prompts a complementary anecdotal reminiscence, if only to illustrate that persons living in distant continents can have remarkably similar experiences:

    I’m in the US, age 65, now living just outside Philadelphia, PA, where I was born and raised in an Italian-American family. My father also “dropped out” of high school, c. 1930, when the Great Depression arrived, in order to help support his mother and numerous siblings. He found a job with the Supplee-Wills-Jones Milk Company, later “Sealtest”, as a milkman driving a horse and wagon; he stayed with them for the next forty years, except when he was drafted during World War II into the US Army.

    When the Master Sergeant returned to civilian life, milk trucks (“floats” in the UK) had replaced the horse-drawn wagons. He was assigned a route in West Philadelphia, not far from where he was raised; in the interim, the neighborhood had become predominantly black. My father had no qualms or reservations about servicing black customers– I suppose “customers of color” is the preferred euphemism nowadays. In fact, in later years he would reminisce with relish that many customers affectionately called him “Brother Supplee” since he drove a Supplee milk truck.

    Dad was not only tolerant, he quarreled with his brothers over their habit of casually using the word “n—-r”. One day, when I was about eight years old, I heard (or noticed) the word for the first time when a playmate furiously yelled “You n—-r!” to another kid who’d punched him. Ironically, we were all white. But the word caught my ear as a potent epithet.

    Soon afterwards, at dinner my older brother surreptitiously threw a pea at me when our parents weren’t looking. My chance had come! I snapped “You n—-r!” at my brother, and was alarmed and terrified when my father suddenly rose up in anger and said, “What did you just say?” He came round the table towards me with his arm upraised. Fortunately, my mother correctly intuited the truth of the matter. I still remember her exclaiming “Augie! Augie! He doesn’t know what it means!” and standing up to block him. Dad lowered his hand and returned to his seat.

    Once the Wrath of God was held in abeyance, my parents asked me where I’d picked up that word. I explained, then meekly asked, “Er… what does it mean?” Still glowering, my father said firmly, “It’s an insult to Negroes, and that’s the last time I want to hear it in this house!” He didn’t have to tell me twice.

    And yet he would also facetiously make comparably racist remarks. When a black baseball player named Bill White joined the Philadelphia Phillies, often when he came to bat my father would say with a chuckle, “Bill ‘White’– black as the Ace of Spades!” Once we were sitting on our front landing on a summer’s evening and a group of black boys came riding past on what we admiringly called “English racer” bicycles– my father glanced over his newspaper and remarked, “There they go– probably looking for more bikes to steal!”

    Years later, Dad was befriended by a new neighbor who used the word “darky”. Incongruously (or hypocritically) enough, Dad found this term amusing and even used it briefly himself until my mother put an end to it– a confrontation that was identical in kind, though not degree, to Dad’s dinner-table response. Dad was clearly of two minds, or conflicted, on the subject of racial differences.

    Sorry to be so prolix, but I trust you agree that there is a notable common denominator to our experiences.

  • Carolyn Zaremba

    I think that the entire concept of “toxic masculinity” is stupid. There are people whose behavior is toxic, or violent, or otherwise hurtful to other human beings, but it has nothing to do with masculinity per se. Only man-haters jump on this bandwagon, like the MeToo opportunists and other bourgeois fools. Years ago, my then-boyfriend slapped me and I punched him in the nose. Evens.

  • Anne

    As my gran (RiP) always said: “The man who doesn’t make any mishtakes doesn’t make anything” 😉

  • Lorna Campbell

    I have to agree with you, Craig Murray. Working-class Scottish men were not a very nice lot back in the 40s, 50, 60, 70 and even into the 80s, when it came to women. The odd slap would not have been out of place in many homes of those eras. That certainly does not make it right. It is the one thing about Sean Connery that always made me cringe, but it did not outweigh all the others things he had done in his life. Sometimes, we have to forgive and forget and remember that we were living in very different times. As a female, I have sometimes wanted to punch someone’s lights out when they annoyed me, so it can work both ways. Sean Connery’s Bond, although the best of the crop in his closeness to the book character, was a terrible misogynist and user and abuser of women. The other thing about those years was that, as a young female in the 70s and 80s, it was quite common to hear men talk about women in an objectified and very misogynistic fashion, as if we are nothing but a pair of breasts and a vagina. It was very unpleasant. I imagine it still is for young women. Many men simply do not think with their heads. Connery had clay feet. So do the rest of us.

  • Mishko

    Bending words and weaving poetry to affirm the late Connery’s position on his pedestal.
    Mr. Connery did the boo-boo, did he? And say the bad boo-boo, and even repeated it when asked about the bad boo-boo? Oh my.
    He is my favorite Bond character, lending a bit of charm and humanity to what represents the perfidy of Albion. And will remain so.

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