I wrote this piece in March 2020, when Boris Johnson was in hospital, on a ventilator, with Covid-19. Let me tell you why I think it’s not only ok, but indeed important, to hope that Boris Johnson and men like him, don’t recover.
My post with the hashtags #prayforboris #todie sparked outrage from some people who follow me on Facebook, and other platforms. I’m surprised they were shocked at my position because I hope I do a good job of vehemently opposing all forms of neoliberalism, of which pacifism and moral superiority seem to be hallmarks.
My reasons for wishing the death of he who has actively and intentionally used his power to kill, starve and destroy people like me, my friends and the various communities I know and love, obviously bears repeating. This is not an apologetics for wishing Boris dead, it is instead an attempt to explain to those of you who may not understand the power of my feelings on this subject why they are so strong, and an encouragement for this event – the pandemic, the death of our leaders, the confrontation with our own mortality and that of those we love – to become the thing that radicalises you. It is an invitation to wake up to the reality we live in, with the hope that you too may, rather than sitting at home wringing your hands about the state of my soul and those like me, actually start showing up for the most vulnerable and oppressed. Because Boris Johnson and the men like him do not need your furious defence. The poor, the disabled, the marginalised and the oppressed do. Because Boris Johnson and the men like him have consistently and purposefully lead a campaign of terror designed to eradicate us for as long as they have been alive. And let me assure you, they don’t give a shit about you.
First I want to speak to some of the reasons some of you may feel ‘instinctively’ that wishing for the death of the other is morally wrong. The answer to this, like so much misplaced positivity, or rather rejecting ‘negativity’ is because you and I have been born into a complex system of intersecting oppressions. Chief amongst these is the current economic system of Capitalism. At the core, Capitalism creates surplus through the exploitation of labour. This surplus is monetised, making the owners of the surplus rich, directly and uncomplicatedly through the labour of the workers who produced it. We are seeing this reality laid bare right in this very moment; as the majority of the workforce of capitalist-developed countries are unable to contribute their labour, meaning that within the week the financial markets have plummeted. That labour = surplus = profit for the owners of that surplus is not hard to see. So how does this link back to BoJo, lying in a private hospital room, no doubt hooked up to one of the very few remaining ventilators? In a variety of ways.
Johnson, like his American counterpart, is a vocal and ferment capitalist. Both men born into incredible privilege and wealth, the same wealth generated from the exploited labour of generations of the poor and enslaved.
But Johnson doesn’t deserve to die because he is a Capitalist, at least, not just because he is a Capitalist. The reason so many feel that wishing the death of a man like Johnson, indeed ‘anyone!’ as people like to cry, is because you and I have been born into Capitalism – it has been the structure of power for at least as long as there has been agricultural lands, and before that, there was feudalism, where each of us serfs were owned by the likes of Johnson and his family. Both these economic and political structures – and make no mistake, both are political systems as much as they are anything else – have as their foundational stone, the only unquestionable and ultimate authority; God. Your ‘instinctive’ repulsion at anyone wishing the death of an oppressor is because whether you know it or not, and whether you consciously agree with it or not, you and I and indeed literally 99% of the global population, are fundamentally indoctrinated into a moral and ethical framework that comes from an Abrahamic religion. For those of us in the US and UK, this looks like Christianity, where one of the most important tenets of the religion that governs all social and cultural norms, is that sacrifice = salvation, and that God’s Word is Good.
Since it was rolled out as the religion of the Roman Empire in the early 3rd century, Christianity was and remains the religion of the wealthy and powerful. That most Christians today are the poorest people on the globe is not evidence to the contrary, it is instead evidence of the success that Colonialism, Capitalism and Christianity have had and continue to have, in producing and maintaining a system of structural oppression that self-replicates and endlessly sustains. To put it very simply: If you enslave people, indoctrinate their children to believe that slavery is how they escape the same by promising a wonderous afterlife where all injustices in this world (created by you) will be righted, and that the only way to achieve such a freedom is by remaining compliant and ‘good’ while they are alive, you have a docile and self-regulating population of workers. If you also make overthrowing the oppressor ‘evil’, self-sacrifice and defence of the oppressor ‘holy’, you have tightened up any remaining loopholes.
The painful irony of the exclamations of horror and shock some of you have expressed to me for not wanting Johnson to survive this illness – an illness, by the way, so especially devastating to the people of this country in huge part due to Johnson’s own policy of ‘herd immunity – is that it is so painfully and embarrassingly inconsistent.
If you chose to believe the confusing, complex, and self-undermining Christian edict that death is Bad (unless you’re oppressed then it’s your only way out of oppression), and that we must all ‘pray’ for the lives of those who oppress, murder and despise us, like Johnson, then surely you also have a moral responsibility to protect the lives of the most vulnerable. The theologian Deitrich Bonhoffer, as full of cognitive dissonance as his theology was, at least grasped this.
The government that Johnson leads, and the party that he is a member of, are responsible for more deaths in this country than any other political party, or system of government for over 100 years. In 2015, 5 years ago now, (so you can safely five times this number) a report from Oxford University, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and two borough councils, revealed that in that year there were 30,000 ‘excess deaths’ in England and Wales, the greatest rise in mortality for 50 years. The report examined possible explanations and, having rejected environmental collapse, natural disaster and war, concluded that “the evidence points to a major failure of the health system, possibly exacerbated by failings in social care”, adding for clarity: “The impact of cuts resulting from the imposition of austerity on the NHS has been profound.”
Why are we still defending the right to life of a man who not only symbolizes everyone who wants us dead but has actually killed hundreds of thousands of us? Because deep down, every one of us is still battling the most foundational belief to the replication of oppression, of all beliefs – that the life of an oppressor is more valuable than that of the oppressed.
For some of you, this internalised oppression is cemented by the pernicious, mindless, and ultimately fascist, ‘love and light’ rhetoric of the New Age. This rhetoric offers you a moral high ground, where you can absent yourself from the scrapping for survival that those of us on the front line, knee-deep in the reality of White-Supremacist-Capitalist-Patriarchy can not. There are many forms of privilege in this world, being White, having enough money to feed yourself, and having enough of an education to know how to read are three of the most powerful that the vast majority of people in this world do not possess. It is bad enough to keep those privileges to yourself by bowing out of this conversation, claiming you are ‘not into politics’, refusing to educate yourself on the lived reality of those less privileged than you. But it is inexcusable to use those privileges against those of us brave enough to stand up and fight back for the right of you, our sisters, brothers, partners, friends and lovers to live.
I find so much of contemporary spirituality deeply nauseating. The ways in which pernicious racism, misogyny, ableism and homophobia seep through apparently neutral platitudes like ‘love conquers all’ or even ‘I wish harm on no one!’ is deeply depressing. If your response to me hoping that one of the most oppressive men on this planet, responsible for the deaths of more disabled, poor and mentally ill people in this country than anyone for the last 50 years, a vocal and explicit racist, misogynist and homophobe, is to attempt to shame me or imply I am less morally sound than you, in all seriousness, you need to have a long hard look at yourself.
Now is the time to do it too, because despite what Johnson and the other leaders of the world tell you, we are going to be in lockdown confronted with The Self for many more months to come. The book of Job, one of the most wildly explicit narratives supporting oppression, tells us to “Yield now and be at peace with Him; Thereby good will come to you”. (Job 22:21). I would suggest that the only person you have any hope of reconciling with throughout this entire process is yourself, and the day we ‘yield’ to the God of the oppressor is the day all-purpose and meaning in life is lost.
1. Johnson has indeed publically endorsed slave trade industries https://www.theredroar.com/2018/08/boris-johnson-praised-banks-role-in-financing-slave-trade-industries/
2. If you want an example of this argument, look to Bonhoffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. It’s like watching an exercise in mental gymnastics as he attempts to maintain his adherence to the Christian edict ‘tho shalt not kill’ while still trying, desperately, to combat oppression. He ultimately fails because the edict thou shalt not kill IS oppression. But if you’re going to throw moral superiority at me at least do the reading.