29/10/2018
John Black
Opinion
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A Conservative Defence of Halloween

Halloween is not big with the conservatively minded. It is seen as a primer in paganism, an anti-Christian gateway drug, leading to an adulthood of excessive mascara application, dressing in black, and taking Aleister Crowley seriously. Others becry its American confection, viewing it as an overly commercialised import to these islands in the same class as Hip Hop, Starbucks, or caring about Kim Kardashian.

Yet, with a little effort, much can be found in this festival to please the conservative soul.

For starters the patrimony of Halloween is not American at all but Irish. Modern candy and costume Halloween is the bastard child of the Catholic All Saints Eve and the pagan festival of Samhain, brought to the US by Paddy migrants. The ancient Celts marked the end of summer good times with bonfires and feasts, steeling themselves for the long nights of winter misery ahead. Guinness was latter invented to serve a similar purpose. So, if you are an O'Rourke or a Regan or descended from one (around 600,00 kiwis are), observing Halloween is keeping an honourable ancestral tradition alive. Although we should be wary of emulating these particular contributors to our collective genetic code too closely – they were also rather keen on human sacrifice.

Where the liberal mind (such as it is) departs from the conservative one is in its estimation of human nature. Following Rousseau, and most evident in today’s Green movement, is the conception of humanity as naturally innocent, uncorrupted, and untainted with sin, until it became civilized and the rot set in.

The cure for this type of thinking should of course be an afternoon spent with a tribe of Papua New Guinean head hunters. The difficulty of arranging such visits means the persistence of the bizarre myth that people are essentially good.

Those of a conservative bent and indeed anyone who has ever opened a history book knows this to be untrue. People can become good – but it’s a long process involving moral instruction, social sanctions, and lots of mothers wielding wooden spoons.

So, to Halloween. In an age of safe spaces, trigger warnings, and de-platforming (90% of UK universities now restrict free speech in some form) the left seem desperate to cosset the young from the dangerous, the difficult and the dark. The list of "banned" Halloween costumes in the US this year (by social shaming; not legal means… yet) includes Harvey Weinstein (pot plant included), Bill Crosby (complete with bottle of pills), and anything involving Mexicans. Offensive certainly, but isn’t that the point? Having one night of the year where we can slip the reigns of our tight-arse, hectoring SJW controllers and blow off a little societal steam.

I’m not suggesting you send out little Lucas or Olivia to knock on strangers' doors dressed as well-known sex criminals. I'm just suggesting that Halloween could be good for the kids of today. A foreshadowing of the less sunny side of life that they will one day have to face. The "trick" in trick-or-treating relays an important message most parents would wish their children to imbibe – there are nasty surprises in life that can’t always be prepared for. More often than not they come from other people. The gradual introduction of such hard facts of life in a safe yearly ritual is no bad thing.

In the latest reboot of the Halloween franchise currently tearing up box office records, the stalked baby sitter of the original film, Jamie Lee Curtis, is a grandmother. She is shown desperately trying to warn her family about the continuing danger posed by the malevolent force of Michael Myers. In one scene she pleads with her heedless daughter that "there is horror in the world" and they must prepare for it. In another, her daughter hides with her own daughter in a specially built room – a "safe space" under the floor – trembling, while above their heads the mad killer Myers continues to wreak havoc. It is only when they leave their safe space (with guns, of course) and join their battling (grand)mother to confront the terror, that he is vanquished. A suggestion perhaps that modern parents are erring too much on the protective side, that they are disregarding what previous generations knew: to coddle your children is to leave them weak and vulnerable in a hostile world.

On the last day of October then, think of children dressed as zombies and witches as a necessary antidote for the Ardernian Pollyananrism that currently seeks to engulf us all. A societal reminder of that black spot upon the human heart that has to be acknowledged if it is ever to be fought.