The psychology of antisocial attention-seeking.
Guest Post by Harrison Koehli of Political Ponerology Substack.
You’ve seen them in the news. Young, often crusty-looking climate activists defacing priceless works of art, gluing their hands to museum walls, and screeching. Their stated motivation isn’t important. But the reason they give is “because oil.”
The first such stunt to catch my attention was this one, back in October:
Thankfully the people who run museums are not stupid or careless, and glass coverings protect the paintings. Only the frame was slightly damaged in this case, and the two miscreants—members of the UK activist group “Just Stop Oil”—were arrested.
This wasn’t JSO’s first such stunt. In June, a pair of them glued their hands to another van Gogh. In July, to a John Constable and a copy of Leonardo’s Last Supper. After the Sunflowers, they did the same to Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring. A like-minded German group decided a Claude Monet needed a smattering of mashed potatoes before gluing themselves to the wall.
Last week another such group, “Last Generation,” doused Gustav Klimt’s Death and Life with black liquid in Vienna, and another, “Last Reform,” performed similar acts in Paris. These groups also enjoy gluing themselves to the pavement and causing traffic jams that block emergency vehicles.
Why did I say their stated motivations aren’t important? Because these groups aren’t interested in changing anyone’s mind. These kinds of public tantrums only have the effect of discrediting their own cause—which I think is the point. Making people late for work does not endear them to you or your cause. You just piss them off. Defacing beloved works of art—the symbols of the achievements of our civilization—offends regular people.
If anything, these acts of antisociality will not only fail at bringing them any popular support; they will make people even more hostile to them and their message.