For all those thinking they are doing the right thing today, the next generation will find it wrong

No matter how pure we are, the ideologies and actions of 2020 will look wincingly regressive to future generations

The statue of Robert Baden-Powell is going to be placed in "safe storage" following concerns about his racial views 
By trying to protect whole generations from the trauma of history and diverging opinions, we only made things worse, writes Celia Walden Credit: Finnbarr Webster/ Getty Images Europe

If you missed the little news piece on Friday in which “trigger warnings” were themselves revealed to be triggering, do look it up. Once you’ve read the study findings proving such warnings – which are attached to potentially upsetting pieces of literature and art – “serve only to make people more anxious”, and once you’ve dried the tears of laughter, consider these three words: we were wrong.

By trying to protect whole generations from the traumas of history and diverging opinions (the enlightened call this “classism”, “racism” and “sexism”), we only made things worse. By trying to hide from the past, instead of acknowledging our mistakes and learning from them, we only fuelled the very evils we were trying to stamp out.

Anyone spotting parallels here with the “triggering” statues and landmarks activists are hell-bent on tearing down in a bid to wipe clean the past?

On Saturday, new health guidance appeared that pointed out another mistake that we, in all our infinite and superior wisdom, had made – though, of course, without acknowledging it as such. After years of regressive, “hate-filled” voices – mine included – pointing out the dangers of the NHS offering children as young as 11 hormone-blocking drugs and “fast-tracking” young people into changing gender, our health service has quietly done a U-turn.

It turns out that the treatments used by NHS gender clinics to halt the puberty of supposedly transgender children “could have long-term consequences for youngsters’ brains, bones and mental health”. They are not, as parents were assured, either 100% “safe” or “fully reversible.” What’s that? I didn’t quite catch it. Oh: we were wrong.

Cut forward to Sunday, and a larger story – a whole front page, in fact – in which leaked Government plans itemised a series of grievous mistakes made around gender and personal safety. Due to be published next month as part of No 10’s official response to a public consultation on the Gender Recognition Act, which has been in the long grass since 2018, these plans will prevent people from being allowed to change their legal identities simply by “self-identifying” as a different sex, without any medical diagnosis.

After years of people pointing out the dangers of “quack” doctors, there will also be a crackdown to ensure that only reputable medics are able to give approvals. And there’s more: safeguards will henceforth be put in place to protect “safe spaces” for women. That’s after, and not before, female inmates and prison officers were raped and assaulted by fellow inmates claiming to be trans. Who had allowed these perpetrators into our “safe spaces”? Those who knew better: the enlightened, the progressives, the righteous.

Meanwhile, new national guidelines on “lavatory provision” are also to be introduced, we’re told, ending the “free-for-all” in which councils and schools have (again, for years) been allowed to set their own rules and forced vulnerable girls and women to share lavatories with “people in possession of penises” (since the word “woman” has now been replaced in the vernacular with the phrase “people who menstruate”, I’m assuming this is a viable description). All together now: we were wrong.

In all the recent acknowledgements of our past wrong-doings, we’ve never stopped to question our present mistakes – let alone how wincingly regressive some of the ideologies, thoughts and actions of 2020 will look to future generations.

Although some of the steps we’re taking to right past wrongs, such as the systemic racism that resulted in the death of George Floyd, are crucial and long overdue, I doubt our decision to allow children and adults to spend hours a day inhaling the toxic fumes of social media will look very enlightened to our great-grandchildren. They will likely look upon that with the same appalled disbelief as we now do the legal use of opium.

They will gawp, too, at the notion that fat women were once “shamed” for wanting losing weight, and shake their heads in astonishment when they read about how, as Britain tried to recover from a global pandemic, the re-opening of high-street clothing shops was deemed more pressing than the re-opening of schools.

In our breathtaking arrogance, we have cocooned ourselves in our own convictions. Because every time we “cancel” a historical statue or figure who might be too complex to fit into our 280-characters-or-fewer world view, every time we ban a “racist” Simpsons cartoon character, an episode of Fawlty Towers, a joke, a phrase, a word like “manhole” – having a sewer access named after women is true progress – or a wolf whistle, we are wiping clean the world to make it worthy of us.

Whether we are worthy of it depends on our ability to admit that we too can get things wrong.

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