Posts Tagged ‘Ancient Rome’

A Slavery Document from Nuzi of the Ancient Near East

September 23, 2022

I’ve got the impression that many of the people talking about the various issues connected with the British enslavement of Africans and its continuing legacy don’t actually realise that slavery existed long before the rise of Black transatlantic slavery in the European conquest and colonisation of the Americas. But the supporters of slavery were very much aware of it and used it as part of their polemic against the abolitionists. Slavery had existed in the ancient world, not just in ancient Rome, but also in Egypt, Persia and the other ancient civilisations. It also formed part of the social systems of present-day non-Western societies like the Ottoman Empire. This formed part of their argument that slavery was somehow natural, and that it was unfair for Britain to ban it when other nations and peoples all over the world still kept people in bondage.

As an example of just how ancient slavery was, there’s this document from ancient Nuzi, one of the city states of ancient Iraq. Twenty thousand clay tablets illustrating everyday life in the city c. 1500 BC were excavated by the University of Pennsylvania, the American Schools of Oriental Research, the Harvard Semitic Museum and the Iraq Museum from 1925-1931. This was when Nuzi was under the control of the Hurrians. The tablets themselves were written in Akkadian, the language of the Assyrian empire.

Tablet JEN 845 documents the sale of a female slave by Ziliya, Sukriya, Tehip-sarri, and Silahi, the sons of Silwa-Tesup to Hut-arraphe son of Tisam-musini in return for movable goods that they’ve received.

See Ernest R. Lachman and Maynard P. Maidman, Studies on the Civilization and Culture of Nuzi adn the Hurrians, vol *: Join Expedition with the Iraqi Museum of Nuzi VII, Miscellaneous Texts (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns 1989) 40, 268. This needs to be taken into account in any discussion of western slavery to counter the tendency to present it as something that only Whites did to Blacks. It also needs to be included in order to gain a proper appreciation of the difficulties the abolitionists had combating a system that was both global and ancient.

Scientific American Rejects Real Science for Queer Theory Ideology

September 4, 2022

Going through YouTube this past week I found a couple of videos tearing into Scientific American for publishing a piece of pseudo-science to support the trans ideology. Scientific American has been going for over a century now, and has been one of the major magazines popularising science and explaining scientific discoveries and speculation to the mass of ordinary folks. I used to read it, on and off, along with New Scientist until I went off both c. 2007. That was when Dawkins wretched book, The God Delusion was published, and the New Atheists appeared to try and convince the public that religion was incompatible and fundamentally opposed to science. Real historians of science rejected it long ago, although they recognise that there have been periods of tension. The view that science and religion are opposed comes from the works of three men, one an academic at Harvard in the late 19th century. Against them are all the scientific discoveries made by people of faith down the centuries. For Christianity, I suggest James Hannam’s excellent book on medieval science, God’s Philosophers. As for mathematics, I’ve got a collection of early mathematical texts which I picked up from a secondhand bookshop. These texts go from the ancient Egyptians through Babylonia, ancient Greece, Rome, Judaism, China, Japan and India, as well as some of the great Muslim mathematicians. Many of them begin with a dedication by their authors to their God or gods. Unfortunately, the editors at New Scientist and Scientific American don’t share this view, and the editorial line became very atheist. So I simply stopped reading them. Unfortunately Scientific American’s scepticism hasn’t prevented it from publishing what I believe can only be described as pseudo-science in the name of promoting trans rights.

Brett Weinstein and his wife, Heather, biologists who oppose the postmodern pseudery now being promoted throughout academia and society, put up a video in which they tear to pieces an article published by the magazine which declared that western civilisation only believed in a single sex, the male, until about 1880. I think Matt Walsh has also made a video about it. It’s clearly nonsense, as the Weinstein’s show simply by stating the number of times men and women both appear in the Bible as evidence that people that long ago knew full well about the gender binary. The Weinsteins also point out that something can exist in nature long before it’s recognised by science. For example, the coatimundi was long considered to be two different species. There were the coatis, who were solitary animals, and the mundis, who were social and surrounded by their infants. Then biologists came to realise that the two species were actually just the two sexes of the same creature. The solitary animals were the males, while the social creatures with infants were the females. Brett Weinstein also points out that at one time people thought that the two sexes of the elephant seal were different species, simply because they looked so different from each other.

I think I know where the nonsense that western science didn’t recognise the gender binary until the late 19th century comes from. Postmodernism rejects empiricism and scientific examination and research in favour of discourse, examining what others have said about a particular issue. In the case of Critical Race Theory, Queer Theory, Postcolonial Theory and so on, this is done through the ideological lens of Marcel Foucault, in which ideology and discourse are functions of power relationships. For Queer Theorists, or at least those supporting trans rights, the scientific view that there are two biological sexes is a western, patriarchal construct intended to exclude trans people and so support White, heterosexual male dominance.

It seems to me, and I confess that I haven’t read the article, that the author has done this by basing their view on Aristotle. Aristotle, or at least the ancient Greeks, believed that the female body was merely an imperfect form of the male. This has rightly and understandably annoyed feminists ever since. But Aristotle and the other philosophers never denied that their were two sexes, male and female. And I am absolutely sure that the Renaissance anatomist, Andrea Fallopi, who discovered the fallopian tubes and the clitoris, and who named the vagina, knew what a woman was and that women and men were physiologically different.

I think the purpose behind the article has been to provide a scientific justification for transpeople being true members of the sex with which they identify or have transitioned. If the sexes are not distinct, then someone who believes themselves to be a member of the opposite sex, contrary to their biology, can still be seen scientifically as a member of the opposite sex.

Now I don’t deny that there are people, who believe that they are in the wrong body, and wish to conform as far as possible to the opposite sex. I also believe that such people deserve appropriate medical care and should have the same respect and freedom from abuse and discrimination as everyone else. But the sexes are still distinct biologically, and the denial that this is so is ideology, not science.

As for the Postmodernists denying the historical existence of something simply because it wasn’t recognised historically, a prime example of such thinking is in the Sokal and Bricmont book, Intellectual Impostures. This is a case in 1974 or -5 when French Egyptologists and doctors unwrapped the mummy of an Egyptian pharaoh. Examining his remains, they concluded that the man had died from tuberculosis. The Postmodernists, however, disagreed, because no such disease was known to the ancient Egyptians. Of course the fact that a disease wasn’t recognise, doesn’t not mean it didn’t exist. It only means that the people of the time didn’t know what it was.

I find it worrying that this article claiming that biological sex differences are only a recent invention has been published. There have been too many occasions in the past when ideology has been allowed to corrupt science. Examples include the racial, ‘Aryan’ science of the Nazis, and Lysenkoism in the USSR, based on the ideas of Stalin’s favourite scientist, Lysenko. Other examples of bad science include lobotomy operations to treat mental illness and monkey glands to rejuvenate men. This last involved implanting slices of monkey testicles into those of human men in order to make them become younger and more virile. In fact it resulted in the men taking this treatment developing syphilis, as the disease is endemic in the type of monkey from whom they took the bits of implanted gonad.

I am afraid that articles like this, and the pseudoscience they promote, will cause great harm, albeit with the best of intentions. There are at the moment a number of detransitioners suing the doctors who treated them and who recommended transition. They believe that they were deceived by them. I’ve no doubt that for some people suffering from the condition, surgical intervention may well be appropriate and necessary. But this must be proper physical and psychological tests.

The publication of such ideologically based pseudoscience threaten the proper treatment of those who suffer from the very condition such articles aim to help. And so they must be strenuously rejected.

Here’s the Weinsteins’ YouTube video:

Explaining Simon Webb: History, Race and the Manipulation of History

August 12, 2022

Several of the great commenters on this blog have questioned why I have put up so many pieces about Simon Webb. Gillyflowerblog in particular asked how anyone, who called himself a socialist, could follow Webb in some of his assertions. It’s a fair question, and deserves an answer. Webb is a Torygraph-reading man of the right. He is staunchly opposed to immigration and multiculturalism, which he regards as destroying traditional British culture. He believes that racial differences in IQ are real and based in genetics, citing scientific papers showing that Black people have more of the genetic markers for schizophrenia than Whites. I’ve no doubt that this is true, but schizophrenia is not intelligence. Furthermore, a greater biological inclination to schizophrenia does not necessarily rule out environmental factors. A mentally vulnerable person may remain psychologically well in the absence of emotional stresses that could drive them over the edge. If there are more Black people needing treatment for psychological problems, it may be because of the particular stresses faced by the Black community, such as poverty, greater unemployment, lower educational and career prospects, racism and the destruction of the Black family and the violent drug gangs operating in many Black communities.

Genetic Basis for Racial IQ Differences Questionable, If Not Disproven

He also believes, almost needless to say, in the bell-curve nonsense, in which Blacks are genetically less intelligent than White, who are genetically not as bright as Asians. In fact Thomas Sowell, who talks favourably about the book, has demolished some of its arguments. There’s no difference in average intelligence between Whites and Asians. The tests that showed it used out of date and biased IQ tests, which skewed the results. However, Asians peoples like the Chinese and Japanese do perform above the level of Whites with the same IQ score. As for Blacks, the average Black IQ is 85, but this is the same or actually better than many White groups when they started IQ testing. Jews, who are now judged one of the most intelligent sections of society, also had the same IQ level, as did various peoples from southern and south-eastern Europe. Their IQs have risen, and so the unspoken implication is that there is no reason why Black IQs shouldn’t. Individual Blacks may score extremely highly. One example is a nine year old Black girl, who had an IQ of 160-80 on one set of tests, and something very close or above 200 on another. Black children raised with White families, such as the mixed race children of German civilians and Black American troopers in the army of occupation after the First World War, had the same IQs as Whites. There are cultural and environmental factors behind the lagging Black IQ, it seems, rather than genes. Although even if there is genetic cause, Black educational performance can still be raised simply by improving teaching methods.

Causes of Economic and Political Crises in African Countries after Independence

Webb has also published videos looking back to a year in the 60s when he claims everybody was talking about repatriation and discussing the decline of South Africa after the abolition of apartheid, and the collapse of Zimbabwe in starvation and dictatorship under Black majority rule. To be fair, this is part of a general trend in African nations after they gain independence. Sowell talks about this in Conquests and Cultures, showing that in all too many cases the economies of the newly independent colonies declines, sometimes catastrophically. This is because the indigenous Africans who take over don’t have the cultural capital and technical skill to run these countries. Sowell has also argued in various videos that the collapse of democracy in many of these nations and their descent into dictatorships is because they haven’t had time during the period of White rule to absorb properly the conqueror’s democratic institutions and traditions. This is probably true, but I’m not sure how much democracy there was in practice when these nations were under the rule of colonial governors. And Webb’s videos on South Africa and Zimbabwe look like nostalgia for White rule and the social order in these countries when Blacks were inferior and knew their place.

He appears also to be a small government Conservative, who says he wouldn’t vote for either Labour or the Conservatives, and laments their supposedly high-spending policies. He is sceptical of the rise of mental illness and the number of people claiming disability for it, presumably feeling, like so many of the right do, that these people should just pull themselves together. Until, of course, it happens to them or the people in their class. Then it’s different.

Webb and Black History

But Webb’s specific focus is on history and debunking what he considers to be historical falsehoods. These are, almost totally, those of Black history. But I do wonder if Webb wasn’t at one time an idealistic anti-racist. I think he’s said that at one time he may have had a Black girlfriend, and among his friends are a number of Black ladies, whom he’s helping home school their children. He’s put up pictures of himself surround by Black children, so I don’t believe he’s racist in his personal relationships. He’s also no anti-Semite, and has posted a number of videos attacking anti-Semitic conspiracy theories such as the lie that the Jews are responsible for mass non-White immigration in order to destroy the White race. One of his most recent videos examines the origins of anti-Semitism. He also defends Israel and its claim to Palestine. He is also not an opponent of Islam as a religion. Another video he posted has as its title the description of Christianity and Islam as two aspects of a single jewel. He states that when he was home schooling his daughter, he took her to various places of worship, including a mosque. All this drives the Nazis and anti-Semites who comment on his videos right up the wall as they call for him to join Patriotic Alternative. Or suggest that he must be Jewish himself, or promoting their propaganda.

As to whatever made him like he is now, I wonder if it was simply the pressure of living in one of the deprived, Black majority areas of London. He seems to know places like Haringey extremely well, talking about how murders were extremely common there at one time as well as the problems caused when one of the local police forces declared they weren’t going to arrest people for cannabis possession. This, he states, resulted in drug dealers running up to people’s cars and banging on the roofs to get attention. If this did happen, along with the other problems of crime and violence, then perhaps seeing the very worst aspects of parts of the Black community eroded all the youthful idealism and anti-racism.

He has published videos denying that some of the great African cultures should properly be regarded as civilisations, because they had no written language, philosophy or science. They are not monuments to Black achievement in his eyes, because very many of them were based on the culture of Arab colonists. And the various histories of Black inventions are riddled with lies and appropriate the scientific achievements of Whites.

Genuinely Great and Forgotten Figures of British Black History

He wasn’t always quite so focused on race. An early video simply discusses the reasons the British shelled their cities during the Second World War. Another video asks whether the Victorians really were all that racist, citing as an example an Indian rajah who became a Tory MP. This could easily be a legitimate part of the Black history activists wish to be taught in schools. Much of this is about rediscovering and reclaiming lost Black historical figures. The classic example is the nurse Mary Seacole, but others include the son of a British planter and a Caribbean slave, who had a glittering political career and ended up as the Lord Lieutenant of one of the Welsh counties. This gentleman was the subject of a BBC Radio 4 programme a few years ago, though I’m afraid I’ve since forgotten his name. But those interested might be able to find him by Googling.

The Great Civilisations of Black Africa

As for Black African civilisations, it’s true that many were culturally influenced from elsewhere. The ancient Sudanese, for example, took over much of ancient Egyptian culture, including the use of hieroglyphs. These people invaded the Land of the Nile several times to claim the throne as pharaohs, before eventually being overthrown in their turn and expelled. They built pyramid monuments for their dead, and were a literate culture. Unfortunately their language was not related to any that have survived today, and there is no Rosetta Stone giving their ancient texts in their language and those which are known, thus allowing the language to deciphered. Scholars are therefore in the frustrating situation of being able to read their inscriptions, but have no idea what they say. We’re faced with a similar situation regarding the ancient civilisation of Meroe, also in that part of Africa.

Many of the great civilisations of Africa were part of the Islamic world. These included Mali in West Africa, and the Swahili in what is now Tanzania. I think their written language was Arabic, in the same way that medieval European civilisations used Latin as the language of religion, government, philosophy, history and science. But that doesn’t detract from their achievements or the sophistication of these cultures. Medieval books from the library of Timbuktu’s madrassa shows that the scholars there were copying and studying scientific texts from the wider Muslim world. One Black historian presenting a programme on Black African civilisation showed such a book. This had a diagram, which she was told showed that Muslims in the region knew that the Earth went round the sun. That’s entirely possible. One of the ancient Greek scholars presented an alternative to the geocentric universe of Ptolemy, in which the Earth did revolve around the sun. But all the other planets still revolved around the Earth. In east Africa, the Amharic, Tigrinya and Tigre languages in Ethiopia are based on the south Arabian language introduced by settlers from that part of Arabia. But even if that part of modern Ethiopian culture isn’t indigenous to the continent, it still doesn’t detract from the achievements of Ethiopian civilisation.

All Civilisations Advance by Borrowing from Each Other

Back again to Thomas Sowell, who states very clearly that cultures across the world borrow from each other. Europeans, for example, adopted gunpowder and paper from China and the numbers system, wrongly called Arabic, from India. Europe was able to rise because of its geography. The east-west nature of the Eurasian landmass meant that inventions in one part of it, such as China or the Middle East, could easily pass to other parts. Thus Europe was able to benefit by adopting and improving on inventions produced by other peoples. Africa lagged behind because it was cut off from the rest of the world by oceans on three sides and the Sahara desert on the north. There were few navigable rivers, so that trade and communication was difficult, unlike in western Europe, where there were many so trade, and hence industrialisation and economic development was easier, along with the passage of ideas and culture. Africa also suffered from highly variable rainfall, which can make agriculture and sailing on the navigable rivers difficult. In some places the soil is unsuited to agriculture, thus making it suitable only as pasturage for nomadic peoples, who are able to move on to better, more fertile land after it becomes exhausted. And the disease environment makes it unsuitable for pack and draught animals, unlike Europe. Goods therefore have to be carried by porters, which is much more expensive than horse or river transport. This also limits the value of goods that may be transported. Because these high costs, only very valuable goods could thus be transported across land. Which probably explains why Africa’s exports tended to be gold, ivory and slaves. Africa was held back, not by any lack of intelligence by its people, but simply because of the isolation created by its physical environment, just as nations and countries elsewhere were similarly aided or held back in their social and economic development by the same geographical factors, even if they were on other continents.

Also, some of the cultures that did not have a written literature could nevertheless be extremely sophisticated. I read somewhere that in one of the African city states, members of it aristocracy would engage in a ceremony in which they would perform a ritual dance accompanied by music. At various intervals they were expected to stop, and point to one of the city’s 17 shrines. If they didn’t point accurately, it would bring disgrace. But Webb is right in that Europeans took some time before they recognised some of the states as civilisations, not just from cultural prejudice but because of the differences between African and European ideas of civilisation. For example, several of the cities Europeans believed were the capitals of these kingdoms weren’t centres of government in the European sense. They were religious centres, which might be abandoned for most of the year.

Falsehoods and Mythmaking in Black History

But if some of his history is wrong or questionable, I think he has a point with others. There are problems with the accuracy of part of Black history writing. This can be seen at some of its most extreme in Afrocentric literature. This can range from claims that are controversial, but which can nevertheless be defended, to racist fabrications. At its heart, Afrocentrism holds that ancient Egypt was a Black civilisation and that it laid the basis for subsequent western culture. It’s a fair question whether the Egyptians were Black. They certainly depicted the men as reddish brown in colour and the women as yellow, in contrast to Europeans, who were painted pink. Herodotus describes them as Black. As for their influence on European culture, Basil Davidson in one his books states that he took the view because this is what the Greeks and Romans believed. On the other hand, the ancient Egyptians also show Caucasian heritage and the Greeks seem to have taken much of their mathematical and scientific knowledge from the ancient near east, and particularly Phrygia in what is now Turkey. However, some Afrocentrists have gone on to argue that ancient Egypt also conquered the rest of Black Africa, where they were responsible for all its peoples’ cultural achievements, and that the original peoples of Britain, China and just about everywhere else were also Black, based on long discredited 19th century White writers.

And there are severe questions about other Black history writing. Webb put up a video last week criticising the claim that the phrase ‘the real McCoy’ was based on a 19th century Black engineer, citing Brewer’s History of Phrase and Fable. I’ve come across the same assertion in a book Black Pioneers of Science and Invention. This also claimed that the refrigerator was also a Black invention and that open heart surgery was invented by a Black doctor over here during the Second World War. This man performed an emergency operation on a man injured during the Blitz. Webb denies that he invented the operation, but states that he was the first to perform it in Britain. Which is still a proud achievement. Not as spectacular as inventing it, but still very impressive.

Mary Seacole – No Nurse, But Pioneering Black Female Entrepreneur

And then there’s the matter of Mary Seacole. For many Blacks, she was a pioneer of modern nursing equal to Florence Nightingale. To her detractors, she was a businesswoman who went to the Crimea to open a hotel for the British officers. She may have done a bit of nursing on the side, but that wasn’t the real purpose of her time there. Webb sides with the latter view, citing her autobiography. And again, I think he’s right. But that doesn’t mean that Seacole should be written off as a lost Black historical heroine. Even if she wasn’t a nurse, she’s still important as an entrepreneur. For Black Conservatives like Sowell, what Blacks need is not state handouts, but to develop the entrepreneurial skills to enable them to allow them to rise economically and socially, as other ethnic groups like the Jews, Chinese, and Japanese have also done. You don’t have to be a Conservative opponent of state aid and the welfare state to adopt such a view. The motion put before Bristol city council the other year by the Labour deputy mayor Asher Craig and Green party councillor Cleo Lake for the payment of reparations for slavery wanted such monies to be given to Black organisations to develop self-reliant and sustainable prosperous Black communities. Which entails encouraging and supporting Black entrepreneurs in those communities.

Invented and Exaggerated History A Response to Continued Racism and Exclusion

In many ways I’m not surprised that various Black writers have made exaggerated claims for Black civilisations and Black inventiveness. They aren’t alone in appropriating great figures from other ethnic groups. Mussolini, for example, claimed that Shakespeare was Italian. Well, some of the Bard’s plays, like Two Gentlemen of Verona and Romeo and Juliet are set in Italy, but I think this may partly reflect the dominance of Italian renaissance culture. Some of the claims about historic Black communities in Britain, which present them as far larger and more numerous than they probably were, seem to me to be an attempt to assert their right to live in this country in the face of still being regarded as somehow foreign and not really belonging. I’ve met Black people, who do feel like that. They were ordinary people with White friends, and not angry radicals. And the promotion of Black cultures and civilisations as sophisticated and advanced seems to me to be partly a reaction to the previous generations of historians and academics, who dismissed them completely. It makes depressing reading going through the book Colour and Colour Prejudice by the last governor of Ghana and seeing one scholar after another make this assertion.

Black Commenters also Against Memorialisation of Violent Thugs as Victims

I also think Webb has a very serious point when he questions some of the assertions and memorialisation of Black persecution. For example, David Olasuga and Reni Edo Lodge were present at a ceremony a few years ago, where a memorial was laid at the docks in memory of Philip Wootton, who was a victim of lynching in the 1919 race riots. Except it seems from contemporary newspaper accounts that Wootton was a violent thug involved in fighting between a group of West Indian, Swedish and Russian sailors. During this a policeman was stabbed several times and there was an attempt to garrotte him. The West Indian gang shot several times at the police after fleeing back to their lodgings. Wootton attempted to escape out the backdoor, but was spotted and pursued by an angry mob towards the docks, where he slipped and fell in. This is very different from the victims of other lynchings, like young men who were killed for having a White girlfriend, or who spoke insolently to a White man.

For some Blacks, violent thugs like Wootton should definitely not be defended or promoted by the Black community. One of the Black American YouTubers got very angry and tearful about the BLM protests last week against the shooting of Tekle Sundberg. Sundberg had had some kind of episode and started shooting through his apartment wall, trying to kill a young mother and her two children. Fortunately the woman and kids were able to flee. The cops turned up and after a six hour stand-off, shot him dead. His adoptive White mother tearfully claimed that it was a racist shooting, as White perps would have had longer to comply. Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter turned up and started a protest to the justifiable fury of Sundberg’s intended victim. The Black YouTuber commenting on this angrily denounced BLM for celebrating criminals like Sundberg. This, he believed, was why everyone else looked down on Blacks.

Checking Reni Edo Lodge about Medical Experimentation on Blacks

As for Reni Edo Lodge, Webb stated that in one of her books she claims that Blacks in Britain were experimented upon and denied medical treatment. This is a serious claim and deserves to be investigated. It did happen in America. I’ve seen YouTube posts about the horrendous experimentation on pregnant Black women by a particular 19th century surgeon. In the ’90s there was outrage when government files released under the Freedom of Information Act showed that the American state had been conducting nuclear experiments on the poor and people of colour with neither their knowledge or consent. In the same decade, the American conspiracy journal, Steamshovel Press, carried an article by one man, who stated that he found Black Americans more likely to believe that AIDS was a germ warfare experiment escaped from Fort Dettrick because of the Tuskegee experiment. This was a nasty medical experiment in which a group of Black sharecroppers were infected with syphilis and denied treatment in order to investigate the disease’s spread. In return their funerals were paid for and their families looked after.

I am not aware that any similar experiments were done over here, apart from the nuclear tests on British servicemen, which wasn’t, I believe, racial. If such experiments didn’t happen, then Lodge is writing fake history. Dangerous fake history – it’s addressed to an audience that already keenly feels that British Blacks have been victimised and persecuted, and such claims only exacerbate such feelings. As if the terrible conditions in many Black communities aren’t bad enough already without inventing even more abuse and discrimination. That’s why I wrote to Lodge’s agent last week requesting Lodge to state where she got these claims from. If she can support them with government documents or properly researched secondary literature, well and good. I’ll support her claims. But if she can’t, then she’s manufacturing false history and in doing so actually making race relations worse.

Conclusion

This is why I’m interested in some of Webb’s videos. History is important, which is why there is so much interest now in Black history. It’s an attempt to recover forgotten Black politicians, nobles, writers and inventors in order to provide role models for contemporary Blacks, in the hope that this will inspire them to do better at school, and in the outside world.

But this has to be good, truthful history, whoever writes it. Otherwise, even if it’s being written with the best of intentions, it’s just propaganda. And that’s wrong, whether done by Whites, Blacks or whoever.

The Privatisation of Channel 4 Is Another Assault on Journalistic Independence

April 5, 2022

I gather from today’s headlines that the Tories are going ahead with their wretched plan to privatise Channel 4. Well, they’ve wanted to do it for a long time, ever since Maggie Thatcher set it up in the 1980s. It was meant to be an alternative to BBC 2, and so was naturally going to have low ratings. But it also had some excellent programming and did much to offer the British public genuine alternatives to the mainstream medial

It’s director-general in that decade, Jeremy Isaacs, believed that people had latent tastes they didn’t know they had, and it was the channel’s task to offer material that they otherwise wouldn’t know they liked. He talked in his autobiography about giving the public a range of minority interests like miners’ oral history. Reviewing it, Private Eye got very huffy, accusing Isaacs of thinking that he knew better than the rest of us. But Isaacs was quite right. For example, Quentin Letts, former Daily Mail and now Times parliamentary sketch writer, who is very definitely a man of the right, praised Isaacs’ Channel 4 in one of his books because it opened up opera to a mass audience. Absolutely correct – my family’s working class, but Dad used to put Channel 4’s opera on occasionally. I remember coming back from seeing the western Silverado at the flicks to find Dad had on the box a big opera event being broadcast across Europe. And there were obviously a sizable number of ordinary, working people like Dad across the country, years before Pavarotti caused a storm at the World Cup.

But the channel also offered a range of other content, often of a multicultural flavour. There was an adaptation of the Indian epic, the Mahabharata, a season of films by the great Indian director, Satyajit Ray, as well as more popular Indian cinema with ‘All India Goldies’. It also gave a platform to the new, emerging alternative comedy scene with The Comic Strip, starring Rik Mayall, French and Saunders, Alexei Sayle and so on, and the group of Black comics, the Family. They had a series set in a Black barbershop. I only saw bits and pieces of it, but it was genuinely funny. In one episode, one of the characters finds out that he is the governor of a Caribbean island nation right at the same time they’re having revolution. He phones up his government on the island just in time to hear gunfire and one them report that ‘Such-and-such island has fallen’. Wearing his ceremonial uniform, the man then stands in a wastepaper bin and tears off his epaulettes. More seriously, the channel also presented a history of the world intended to challenge the Eurocentric bias of traditional history programmes. There was also news and documentary series about Africa, with Black presenters and a history of the continent presented by the White afrocentrist, Basil Davidson. I’ve been criticised here for describing Davidson as an afrocentrist in a previous post. But that is how Davidson, a respected historian, described himself in one of his books. Davidson is an afrocentrist in the sense that he believes that ancient Egypt is the ultimate source of western science and culture. He states that he has this view, because it’s what the ancient Romans and Greeks believed. While this is a very controversial view, he’s very far from the bizarre fantasies and pseudo-history of many on the Afrocentric fringe, like the notion that the ancient Egyptians somehow had quantum mechanics and advanced physics long before the 20th century.

To balance this, the channel also had more popular entertainment like Tell the Truth, a panel show that was ‘Would I Lie to You’ in all but name, the pop music programme, The Tube and the computer generated vid-jockey Max Headroom as well as the soap, Brookside. It also upset right-wing sentiments with sexually explicit movies and programmes, to the point where the Heil branded Michael Grade, the channel’s next director-general, ‘Britain’s pornographer in chief’. This was just when the channel had announced it was launching a season of gay and lesbian programmes and films. The best response to this came from the Archdeacon of York. The Mail’s journos had been contacting various people to ask what they thought about this latest assault on traditional British morality. The good clergyman replied, ‘Do you think anybody’s going to watch it if there’s Clint Eastwood on the other’. A common sense reaction against the Mail’s hysterical fearmongering.

The Tories seem to have hated all of this at the time, even if its programming was applauded by the critics. As I remember, they were particularly impressed by the Mahabharata, the Tube and the Family. Channel 4 was also set up to specialise in high quality news coverage. And it’s this which I think really annoyed the Tories. Channel 4 News had a reputation for being particularly good, and the channel also broadcast the current affairs documentary series Dispatches and The Bandung Files. The last I believe uncovered some of the dirty dealing by western politicos and multinationals in the Developing World. The channel became much more mainstream in the 90s under Bazalguette, who got rid of much of the alternative material. It still managed to annoy the Tories though with ‘yoof’ shows like The Word and The Girlie Show, both of which had reputation for being spectacularly bad in terms of content and taste.

But I think it’s the persistent, in depth coverage and incisive questioning of government policies by the news programmes that has particularly brought down Tory spite. Channel 4 News has done too good a job of holding the government to account. When anchorman John Snow announced he was retiring a few months ago, the Lotus Eaters put up a video celebrating it and calling him a ‘snowflake’. Hardly. Snow was just determined not to take BS from officialdom. During the bombardment of Gaza he called Israeli ambassador Mark Regev a liar to his face when Regev tried telling the British people that if they sent their aid packages to Israel, the Israelis would pass it on to Gaza’s besieged people. It was a complete lie, and Snow did his job as a decent journalist and didn’t put up with it.

The Tories loathe anyone questioning them. They hated Paxo on Newsnight when he regularly tore Tory politicos like Michaels Heseltine and Howard into raw, bloody chunks. Hence all the rubbish about the Beeb’s left-wing bias and the campaign to end the license fee. And they clearly also hate Channel 4 with a passion for the same reason. And so they’re determined to privatise it.

The hope is clearly that without state support, both the Beeb and Channel 4 will dwindle into insignificance. Genuine public service broadcasting, with the duty to be impartial, will die out to be replaced by a Murdoch-owned right-wing propaganda outlet, like Fox or GB News.

I’ve no doubt that this is all being presented as saving the taxpayer money for broadcasting material nobody watches – which was one of the arguments the Tories made against the channel back in the 80s when they part privatised it the first time. There’s almost certainly going to be talk about how it’s ‘woke’ bias is unrepresentative of British views, just like they ranted about it being ‘pc’ in 80s and 90s. But the real reason is that they despise its journalistic independence.

The privatisation of Channel 4 is yet another despicable assault on genuine, quality journalism in favour of right-wing propaganda pumped out by Murdoch. They want to destroy any journalistic independence so that right across the news media, only the right will be heard.

A History of White Slavery in North Africa and Condemnation of Black American Slavery

February 27, 2022

Charles Sumner, illustrated by E.R. Billings, White Slavery in the Barbary States (N.D.: Amazon).

I just finished reading this short history of White enslavement this week. It’s only about 81 pages, so not a detailed history of its subject. But it’s still very good. The Barbary pirates were a group of Arab Moslem raiders, who seized control of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripolitania in the mid-17th century. They then began raiding Mediterranean shipping and Europe from France, Spain and Italy to Britain and as far afield as Iceland. The captives were held to ransom. Some were given jobs to do. These included domestic servants and keeping taverns, or labouring in the fields. Otherwise were condemned to the infamous galleys. Europeans responded with a series of counterattacks intended to free the slaves and impose treaties on the rulers forbidding them from continuing the slave raiding. These held for only a few years until a new round of slaving began. They finally stopped in the early 19th century after counterattacks by the British and Americans and the French invasion of Algiers in the 1830s.

There’s no biographical information about Sumner, and the book’s blurb states only that it was first published in the 1853. It is clear from its content, however, that Sumner was ardent opponent of all slavery including that of Blacks in his own country, America. He begins by comparing the Barbary states and their slave economy with America’s, right down to both slave territories existing at roughly the same latitude. He then proceeds with a short history of slavery in the ancient world from the Old Testament through the ancient Greeks and Romans and Christian Europe, noting that the word ‘slave’ comes from the Slavonic ‘Slava’, ‘glory’, the Slavs’ own name for themselves, because they were the main source of slaves in Europe. He then states that it is thus quite natural that the Moslems followed their predecessors in practising slavery. The book describes the repeated raids on American and European shipping, the various campaigns of reprisals, chiefly by the French and Spanish, as well as resistance by the victims themselves. There were revolts of the White slaves in the various north African towns and mutinies by enslaved sailors, some of whom managed to escape back to Europe after overpowering their captors. at the same time, communities in Europe and America came together to prey for the deliverance of their loved ones from enslavement and raise money to pay the ransoms. These were not cheap. Sumner includes a schedule of the ransom demanded for various grades of sailor. The ransom for a captain was about $3,000 +. Quite often these payments ran into tens of thousands of dollars.

The raids also had an effect on European literature and culture. Cervantes based his description of north African slavery on his own experience as a slave there. And apart from Don Quixote, he wrote a series of plays intended to raise awareness of the plight of the slaves. And there were others producing plays and poetry, including Aphra Behn, the English female playwright, in her Oroonoko. Sumner celebrates these condemnations of slavery, including that of Bartolome de las Casas, the Spanish friar who protested against the enslavement of the Indigenous American peoples. He rightly describes them as abolitionists, though laments the one-sidedness in so many of their denunciations. They were all too often directly only against the enslavement of fellow Whites while remaining silent about that of Blacks and others races. He points out that Black American slavery was harsher and more brutal than that endured by the White slaves in the Barbary states. Some of these found themselves so well treated and became so prosperous at the jobs they were given, such as keeping taverns and shops, that they didn’t want to return home.

The book still condemns White enslavement in harsh terms, but also condemns the more brutal treatment of Blacks, whose enslavement the author also passionately argues against.

Andrew Laurence Mocks Brighton and Hove for Introducing Racial Guilt for White Pupils in Schools

January 30, 2022

Andrew Laurence is a right-wing YouTuber, whom I normally wouldn’t bother with. He posts videos satirising the Left in the character of an extremely ‘woke’ academic. I largely don’t find them either funny or witty. They’re mostly just the usual trite Tory talking points about the loony Left, Corbyn and so on. But this time he has a point. His rant, in the guise of the woke professor Dr Gideon Micropenis, attacks Brighton and Hove council for having introduced Critical Race Theory into its schools. This seems to be based on an article in today’s Telegraph, which reports that children are being taught that if they’re White, they’re at the top of a racial hierarchy, and at the bottom if they’re Black. The council’s currently governed by the Greens, who seem responsible for this material. Laurence slams it as teaching White kids to feel guilty about the slave trade, for which they personally aren’t responsible and have absolutely nothing to do with. Here’s the video

The Torygraph article by Ewan Somerville, on which his rant is based, ‘Children aged seven to be taught that they are not ‘racially innocent”, begins

‘Children as young as seven are to be told they are not “racially innocent” because they view “white at the top of the hierarchy” as part of diversity training for teachers.

Brighton and Hove City Council has been accused of “indoctrinating” children through its five-year plan for an anti-racist education system, which endorses critical race theory and white privilege – contentious ideologies that have sparked protests.

The council states that all teachers require the training, which will inform “specific racial literacy-focused lessons” for pupils. The Green-controlled authority is in a row with parents opposed to the classes and one has launched a petition to have the training scrapped, which has attracted 4,000 signatures.

Kemi Badenoch, the equalities minister, has previously told the Commons that schools teaching white privilege as an uncontested fact are breaking the law.

The Telegraph has obtained recordings, PowerPoint slides and reading lists that form the “Racial Literacy 101” sessions. Teachers began the training in the autumn term, and 300 have undertaken it so far. 

Brighton is the first British authority to roll out such training, and the hour-long session covers the history of the slave trade and racism in contemporary society.’

The article also reports that a petition against it has been started by a man, Adrian Hart, whose son is at sixth form college in the town, with the campaign group Don’t Divide Us.

While I really don’t have much time for Laurence and his right-wing humour, this time I think he’s absolutely right. Critical Race Theory is a nasty postmodern doctrine that rejects class as the instrument of social oppression and replaces it with race. All Whites are held to be privileged, while Blacks are held to be oppressed. It also rejects claims that racism has improved, holding instead that it has simply become better hidden. Furthermore, its adherents bitterly oppose the civil rights legislation introduced following the heroic protests and demonstrations by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X because these have had the effect of incorporating Black people into bourgeois society. Critical Race Theory began as a radical movement within American Marxist lawyers, and it believes that the only way a true anti-racist society can be created is through revolution. It aims to increase racial consciousness and agitation to that end, rather than bring people together. See the relevant chapter on CRT in James Lindsay’s and Helen Pluckrose’s Cynical Theories (London: Swift 2021). And it is indeed venomously anti-White. There are clips on the web of a young Black woman, Angela Shackleford, telling a class room of Whites that they were not born into a humanity and are devils to her. It does absolutely nothing to solve the problem of racism, bring Whites and Blacks together or really improve conditions for Blacks. It just seems to me that it merely increases racial resentment on the one hand and racial guilt on the other.

As for the Greens, in Bristol Cleo Lake, the Green councillor for Cotham, introduced a motion in the local council last year, that reparations for slavery should be paid to ‘all Afrikans’ in the city. This would actually take the form of increased grants and funding to Black organisations to create prosperous, self-sustaining Black communities. It was seconded by Asher Craig, the head of Equalities at the council and the deputy mayor, and passed by all the parties except the Conservatives. And unfortunately, I think this time the Tories were right.

I don’t have a problem with increased funding for Bristol’s Black communities, as there are problems with unemployment, drugs, and crime, along with feelings of marginalisation. But it shouldn’t be connected to the slave trade, at least, not for all ‘Afrikans’. It makes Britain assume responsibility for African peoples we didn’t enslaves, and who themselves actively participated in the trade as well as practised it within their own states. It also does what CRT does, and divide people into virtuous, enslaved Blacks and evil White oppressors.

It further looks to me from Lake’s statement about ‘all Afrikans’ that she’s an Afrocentrist. This is a pseudo-discipline that holds that the Egyptians were Black and created the roots of modern, western civilisation, which the Greeks and Romans stole. It also claims that they created a unified culture in Africa after colonising them. It claims that every achievement of African culture and civilisation is therefore due to the ancient Egyptians, and where this is mixed by practices viewed as barbaric, such as human sacrifice, it is due to racial degeneration. It further holds that there is a single African psychology and philosophy held by both western Blacks and Black Africans. Blacks are held to be less logical, but more emotional, intuitive and communal in organisation compared to Whites. Who are supposed to be competitive, aggressive and exploitative, among a number of other unpleasant features. Some Afrocentrist writers have described Whites as ‘albinistic mutants’. I don’t know if Lake holds these extreme views, but it seems very much to me that she holds at least some Afrocentric views. To me, this makes her entirely unsuitable for formulating a genuinely workable racial policy or for teaching an objective history of Africa and its relations with the outside world.

Critical Race Theory and Afrocentrism have nothing positive to say or add to real discussions of race and Black history and should be banned.

A Thorough Critique of Afrocentric Pseudo-History, Psychology, and Science

January 27, 2022

Stephen Howe, Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes (London: Verso 1998)

This is another excellent book I’ve been reading lately. I first came across in it an excellent review by the Black British writer, Caryl Phillips in the Financial Times at the time it was published, though it’s only now I’ve actually got round to ordering a copy and reading it. Afrocentrism is a set of inter-related, pseudo-academic disciplines based on the claim that the ancient Egyptians were Black and are the unacknowledged source of White western culture, which was stolen from them. Not only were the Egyptians themselves Black, but they may also have derived their culture and achievements in turn from the peoples further to the south, the Nubians and Ethiopians. Some Afrocentrists claim that Greece, Rome and Carthage were originally Black ancient Egyptian colonies and that the original peoples of the British isles were also Black. Some push this claim of Black African primacy even further, claiming that ancient Egyptians travelled to the Americas before Columbus, where they founded the Olmec culture. The ancient peoples of Asia too, the Indians, Thais, Chinese and Japanese were also Black. At the same time ancient Egypt expanded to colonise Africa, where it was also responsible for the major cultural, artistic and architectural achievements. Where these coexisted with alleged brutality and barbarism, as in West Africa, which had a highly sophisticated art alongside human sacrifice, this was due to biological degeneration from the original Egyptian herrenvolk.

Black Americans are held to be part of a single Black race and culture with Black Africans, and Afrocentric scholars are active trying to trace authentic African survivals in the speech, culture and psychology of Black America. There is supposed to be a single Black character and psychology and a distinct Black philosophy. At the same time, ,Afrocentric scholars believe that the Egyptians were masters of political theory and science, which can similarly be grotesquely exaggerated. Some of them claim that the ancient Egyptians knew about quantum physics and gravity and that the Tanzanians had semi-conductors. At the same time they are active researching and promoting various Blacks figures they believe were great scientists. Again, these figures, who could, like Benjamin Banneker, be genuinely impressive in their real lives, and their achievements are often wildly exaggerated.

Unsurprisingly there’s much racism mixed up with this. There’s a bitter hatred of Whites, as well as, Jews and Arabs. One Afrocentric writers claims the latter has been attempting to destroy African civilisation and enslave its peoples for 5,000 years. Which is quite incredible, considering that I think the Muslim Arabs only conquered north Africa in the 7th/8th century AD. There’s also a bitter hatred of homosexuality and strong rejection of feminism. In the early 1960s one Afrocentric group insisted that female members should show their submissiveness by crossing their arms and lowering their heads when one of the men passed them. There’s also an insistence on traditional family structures. At the same time, some believe that Blacks are intellectually and emotionally superior to Whites because of the greater amount of the melanin pigment in their brains.

At their heart, this is an attempt to compensate for the massive racial oppression and disparagement Blacks and their civilisations have suffered over the centuries, far more than any other ethnic group. Yet much Afrocentric scholarship is based on the severely dated writings of 19th and early 20th century European colonial officials and anthropologists, as well as other White writers, who definitely believed that Blacks were inferior. For example, Afrocentric scholars assert that, while Whites and Europeans are logical and rational, Blacks are emotional and intuitive. Which is very much like the old imperialist claim that Blacks were inferior because they weren’t rational and logical. The claim that ancient Egyptians were responsible for the colonisation of Africa and every advance made by the peoples of the continent also derives from 19th and early 20th century White sources. The only difference is that those writers believed that the Egyptians were part of a superior, ‘Hamitic’, White civilisation. And also mixed up with it are various occult, Masonic and New Age ideas. Some of these derive from Albert Churchward, a freemason, who believed that there was a war going on between freemasonry and socialism, and only the former could defend civilisation from the Red Menace. Other figures in the New Age part of the Afrocentric movement include Credo Mutwa, a genuine Zulu shaman, honest guv, and apologist for the South African apartheid state.

Howe’s book traces the history of these ideas, some of which have been around for longer than I thought. I was aware that the claim that the ancient Egyptians were Black and therefore equal to or superior to White civilisation began in the 19th century. I was surprised, however, to find that Black Americans, largely clergymen, were making the claims as early as the 1820s. He carefully distinguishes between those writers, like the Senegalese mathematician and nuclear physicist Cheikh Anta Diop, who, while wrong, nevertheless were diligent researchers and produced significant insights, and others who were far less impressive. Some of the latter can only be described as cranks, like the female Afrocentrist who claims that nearly everything, including Christmas trees, are representations of the Black male genitals. Some of the most virulently anti-White racist material comes from White writers, such as the assertion that Whites are inferior because we’re all descended from the Neanderthals, who are given a whole series of unpleasant traits. Some Afrocentrists seem to have set up their own Stalinist ‘cult of personality’. Molefi Asante, for example, has his own academic department and institute, who members and scholars always pay generous tribute to him for guiding them on their intellectual quest, and largely don’t say anything that wasn’t already said by the master. Quite a number give themselves impressive African names, meaning things like ‘Bearer of Enlightenment’, and a number have also claimed to have been African princes or holy men. Their real identities and backgrounds, however, tend to be much more prosaic. He also notes the connection and major differences with other major figures in Black scholarship and anti-racist campaigning, like Franz Fanon and W.E.B. DuBois, and the French Caribbean Negritude movement.

There are some significant difference between the scholars discussed here. Cheikh Anta Diop believed that ancient Egypt was the source of western culture and I think he wanted Greek and Latin replaced as languages by ancient Egyptian. But while his thinking was highly racialised, he wasn’t a racist. He wanted Blacks to join the global community of peoples as equals. He also believed that civilisation was cyclical, and that as Europeans supposedly took their ideas from Africa, so Africans should now learn from Europeans. Others were definitely racist, such as the speaker at the first Black History Month in 1986 who seemed to advocate shooting Whites, although he couldn’t tell his audience when, where and whom. In the case of Marcus Garvey’s son, this went into pure Black Nazism. When Jamaica celebrated Garvey’s birth in the 1970s, his son called for Garvey’s movement to become a Black National Socialism, because Africa also needs its lebensraum.

Among the researchers and writers examined and critiqued is Martin Bernal, the White author of Black Athena. This caused a major stir when it was published in the 1980s, possibly because, as Bernal himself suggested, he was White. Bernal was able to assemble a massive amount of information and was extensively criticised at the time. But he was also controversial because he believed that ancient Greece was also strongly influenced by the Semitic peoples, specifically the Phoenicians and the Jews. This was in fact based on contemporary Israeli scholarship, and was itself highly controversial. As a result, some of the criticisms of him and his work have a very nasty element of anti-Semitism.

The book is a thorough examination and demolition of Afrocentric scholarship with considerable sympathy for the genuine achievements of Black scholars, some of whom have made very trenchant criticisms. One Ghanaian or Nigerian philosopher lampooned the claim that there is a single, African philosophy based around a transcendent life force. In a spoof article he argued that the English, and therefore all westerners, venerated the mystic force ING, because English verbs often ended in ‘ing’, like ‘doing’ or ‘being’. In fact the claim that there is a single African philosophy comes from Tempels, a Belgian Roman Catholic priest, who only researched a single Bantu tribe, and the anthropologist Griaule and his Dogon informant, Ogotommeli. The latter two have become notorious because of their books’ claim that the Dogon had an advanced knowledge of astronomy. They knew that the planets circled the Sun in ellipses, and that Sirius had an invisible companion star. For R.K.G. Temple in the 1970s, it was because they’d been visited by aliens. For the Melanists, it was because they had intuitive knowledge of it through their pineal gland. Howe suggests that Ogotommeli probably knew about it from visiting colonial officials with an interest in the subject, and made the claim that all this was known to the Dogon as a way of pulling this arrogant colonial anthropologist’s leg.

The book also argues that Afrocentric views of Africa are themselves also damaging. They present the continent as a static, unfied culture, which has never suffered war and conflict between its peoples before the advent of Europeans. In fact it’s a continent of many different peoples and cultures. There’s no evidence that it was ever colonised by the ancient Egyptians. Only six ancient Egyptian artefacts have been found outside Egypt and Nubia. And rather than the ancient Egyptians introducing agriculture to the rest of Africa, there is evidence that it was independently discovered in six different places on the continent. As for the assertion that ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs are the source for various African writing systems, such as the Vai of Liberia, some of these are known to have been invented by specific individuals in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some African peoples are happy to promote the idea that they are descendants of the ancient Egyptians, while others very definitely are not. The problem here is that Afrocentrist claims of Egyptian primacy are obscuring the real achievements of Africa and its peoples.

As for the question of the racial origins of the ancient Egyptians, the book notes that this is a subject of near to Zero interest to professional, mainstream Egyptologists. A number of academics books and journals he surveys make no mention of it. When one does, it is simply to say that it is a distraction from the real issues Egyptologists want to examine. Genetic and craniological examination, however, suggest that the ancient Egyptians were racially identical to other peoples in that part of Africa. They show genetic links to the peoples of Neolithic Europe, the Middle East and India, and lesser genetic connections to the peoples further south. The Egyptian scholars themselves, however, see themselves as racially mixed and there was an argument at a conference in Cairo when the Black Americans insisted that they were Black. I also find some of the Afro-centrists’ concern to establish the racial identity of the Nubians rather odd. One Afrocentric writer hoped that one day science would be able to reconstruct the features of the Nubian pharaoh Taharqa from its skull fragments, and that these would show he was Black. I found this quite puzzling, as I’ve always assumed that the Nubians were Black. In fact I’ve never seen anything said to the contrary. When TV documentaries refer to Egypt’s Black pharaohs, they usually refer to the period when the country was conquered and ruled by Nubian kings. I honestly don’t know who these people are that assert that the Nubians were White, unless it’s some of the White writers the Afro-centrists have discovered in their search for suitable sources.

This pseudo-scholarship is spreading massively. The book notes the large number of university departments teaching it, as well as college and private schools and the torrent of books published, some of them also aimed at schools. It’s alarming that such pseudo-scholarship has become so widespread. And rather than liberating, as Afrocentric scholars believe, he makes the point that the subject is deeply racist, drawing on the same sources as White racists.

But rather than be angered by it, he finds it immensely sad.

Mars as Communist Utopia in Pre-Revolutionary Russian SF

June 7, 2018

I thought this might interest all the SF fans out there. One of the books I’ve started reading is Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet, edited by Mark Ashley (London: The British Library 2018). It’s a collection of SF stories written about the Red Planet from the 19th century to just before the Mariner and then Viking probes in the ’60s and ’70s showed that rather than being a living planet with canals, vegetation and civilised beings, it was a dead world more like the Moon. It’s a companion volume to another book of early SF stories from about the same period, Moonrise: The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures, also edited by Mike Ashley. The Martian book contains stories by H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury – from The Martian Chronicles, natch – Marion Zimmer Bradley, E.C. Tubb, Walter M. Miller, and the great novelist of dystopias and bug-eyed psychopaths, J.G. Ballard. It also contains pieces by now all but forgotten Victorian and early Twentieth writers of Scientific Romances, W.S. Lach-Szyrma, George C. Wallis, P. Schuyler Miller and Stanley G. Weinbaum.

Both books are also interesting, not just for the short stories collected in them, but also for Ashley’s introduction, where he traces the literary history of stories about these worlds. In the case of the Moon, this goes all the way back to the Roman satirist, Lucian of Samosata, and his Vera Historia. This is a fantasy about a group of Roman sailors, whose ship is flung into space by a massive waterspout, to find themselves captured by a squadron of Vulturemen soldiers from the Moon, who are planning an invasion of the Sun.

The history of literary speculation about Mars and Martian civilisation, is no less interesting, but somewhat shorter. It really only begins in the late 19th century, when telescopes had been developed capable of showing some details of the Martian surface, and in particular the canali, which the Italian astronomer Schiaparelli believed he had seen. The Italian word can mean ‘channels’ as well as ‘canal’, and Schiaparelli himself did not describe them as artificial. Nevertheless, other astronomers, like Percival Lowell of Flagstaff, Arizona, believed they were. Other astronomers were far more sceptical, but this set off the wave of novels and short stories set on an inhabited Mars, like Edgar Rice Burrough’s famous John Carter stories. I remember the Marvel adaptation of some these, or at least using the same character, which appeared as backing stories in Star Wars comic way back in the 1970s.

It’s also interesting, and to contemporary readers somewhat strange, that before H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, the vast majority of these stories about Mars assumed that the Martians would not only be far more scientifically and technologically advanced, but they would also be more socially and spiritually as well. Just like the Aetherius Society, a UFO new religious movement founded by George King in the 1950s, claims that Jesus was really as Venusian, and now lives on that world along with Aetherius, the being from whom they believe they receive telepathic messages, so there were a couple of short stories in which Christ was a Martian. These were Charles Cole’s Visitors From Mars, of 1901, and Wallace Dowding’s The Man From Mars of 1910.

Other utopias set on the Red Planet were more secular. In Unveiling a Parallel, by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant, of 1893, the Martians are handsome and intelligent, and their women totally liberated. Another feminist utopia was also depicted by the Australian writer Mary Moore-Bentley in her A Woman of Mars of 1901.

And in Russia, the writer Alexander Bogdanov made Mars a Communist utopia. Ashley writes

While the planetary romance theme was developing there were other explorations of Martian culture. The Red Planet became an obvious setting for a communist state in Krasnaia Zvesda (‘Red Star’, 1908) and its sequel Inzhener Menni (‘Engineer Menni’, 1912) by Alexander Bogdanov. Although reasonably well known in Russia, especially at the time of the revolution in 1917, and notoriously because of its reference to free love on Mars, it was not translated into English until 1984. Kim Stanley Robinson claimed it served as an influence for his own novel, Red Mars (1992), the first of his trilogy about terraforming the planet. Although the emphasis in Bodganov’s stories is on the benefits of socialism, he took trouble to make the science as realistic as possible. The egg-shaped rocket to Mars is powered by atomic energy. His Mars is Schiaparellian, with canals that have forests planted along their full length, explaining why they are visible from Earth. He also went to great lengths to explain how the topography of Mars, and the fact that it was twice as old as Earth, allowed social evolution to develop gradually and more effectively, with planet-wide communication and thus a single language. (Pp. 11-12).

So five years before the Revolution, Mars really was the ‘Red Planet’ in Russian literature. I’m not surprised it wasn’t translated into English until the 1980s. British publishers and censors probably disliked it as a piece of Communist propaganda, quite apart from Anglophone western Puritanism and the whole issue of free love. No naughtiness allowed on the side of the Iron Curtain, not even when it’s set on Mars. Russian cinema also produced one of the first SF films, also set on Mars. This was Aelita (1922), in which Russian cosmonauts travel to the Red Planet to start a revolution, though at the end it’s revealed that it’s all been a dream.

Meanwhile, Mars as a planet of mystery continues in the French SF series, Missions, shown at 10.00 Thursdays on BBC 4. This has French spationauts and their American rivals landing on the Red Planet, only to find a mysterious altar constructed from lost Atlantean materials described by the Romans, and Vladimir Komarov, a Soviet cosmonaut, who has been turned into something more than human with three strands of DNA. In reality, Komarov died when the parachutes on his spacecraft failed to open when it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Tragically, Komarov knew it was a deathtrap, but went anyway because Khrushchev wanted another Russian space achievement to show up the Americans, and Komarov did not want his friend, and first man in space, Yuri Gagarin to go. It’s a tragic, shameful waste of human life on what was a purely political stunt, and Komarov is, because of his desire to save his friend, one of the great heroes of the space age.

But Missions shows not only how much people really want us to travel to Mars – to explore and colonise – it also shows how the Red Planet still remains the source of wonder and speculation about alien civilisations, civilisations that may not be hostile monsters intent on invading the Earth ‘for no very good reason’, as Douglas Adams described the motives of those aliens, who wanted to take over the universie in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. One of the French spationauts, Jeanne, has dreamed of going to Mars since being shown it through a telescope by her father when she was a little girl. Electromagnetic scans of the area, when developed, give a picture of her face, and ‘Komarov’ tells her he has been waiting millions of years for her, and she is the true link between Mars and Earth.

Yes, it’s weird. But different. And it shows that Mars is continuing to inspire other forms of SF, where the Martians aren’t invaders – or at least, not so far-but benevolent guides waiting for us to come to them and make the next leap in our development. Just like Bogdanov in 1912 imagined that they would be ahead of us, and so have created a true Communist utopia.

Channel 4 Report into Italian Hipster Fascists

March 5, 2018

After the Fascistic policies and behaviour of the Israeli state and its advocates over here, there’s the return of Fascism proper to Europe. I found this Channel 4 report into the Italian Fascist party, CasaPound, on YouTube. CasaPound is a miniscule Fascist party, which takes its name from the American Modernist poet and Fascist, Ezra Pound. Casa is Italian for ‘house’, so I suppose you could translate the party’s name as ‘Pound House’ or ‘House of Pound’. They seem to have been founded by an extreme right-wing rock singer, shown growling out his wretched songs at one of his concerts. The party holds rallies, at which their squadristi respond with the Roman salute. And the iconography of Italian Fascism – the Fasces – the bundle of sticks with the axe projecting from it – and Mussolini’s ghastly fizzog are everywhere.

The reporter is shown round their headquarters by a woman. On one wall, when you go in, are the names of various prominent Fascists, written in different colours and sizes. The reporter’s guide tells him that they have this put there, as their counterpart to the Roman household gods that guarded their homes. One of the names on the wall is that of the notorious British Fascist, Oswald Mosley. The building also acts as a hostel, putting up the homeless – but only if you’re Italian. By which, presumably, they mean ‘White Italian’. The party also runs food banks and provides free medical care, such as health check-ups and electro-cardiograms. Again, only for Whites. As the woman explains in the video, only full Whites can be members of the organisation. A White person married to an immigrant cannot be a member, each of whom pays a subscription to the organisation. Along with the names of prominent, infamous Fascists, there’s also their flags and insignia, including that of the infamous Golden Dawn, responsible for the beatings and murder of immigrants and leftists in Greece.

The reporter comments that the place is very military, like a barracks. And it almost goes without saying that Casapound is viciously anti-immigrant. There’s a clip of a rally at which one of their speakers states he wants two ships in the Mediterranean to intercept the migrant vessels and send them back to Libya. The reporter also makes the point that they are trying to exploit the death of a young girl for their political gain. It’s not certain whether the girl died of a drug overdose, or was murdered, but three immigrants were arrested in connection with her death after her dismembered body was found deposited in two suitcases. The next day, a man with very extreme right-wing views opened fire and killed six migrants. The stormtroopers of CasaPound state very clearly that they don’t want immigrants coming to Italy bringing drugs and crime, and that if they had been in power, the girl would still be alive.

At the moment, CasaPound are politically negligible. They need to get three per cent of the vote before they get anywhere the Italian parliament, and there are many other Fascist parties. But the video does show the return of the blatantly Fascist right into Italian politics, even though it’s currently at the fringes.

The video’s important, not just for showing the re-emergence of proper Fascism in Italy, but because it also shows and confirms some of the observations the American radical journalist, Chris Hedges, has made about the way Fascism returns after the liberal elite abandon the working class. Hedges stated that the new Fascism in America took the form of complete little worlds, in which a person could become completely immersed. He was talking about the religious right, and the megachurches, which provide a more-or-less complete environment separate from the secular world outside. CasaPound offers much the same. It’s a lifestyle, as much as a political party.

As well as watching the emergence of Fascism in America, Hedges himself saw it appear during the civil war in Yugoslavia. He states that when the liberal elite abandon the working class to pursue neoliberal policies, which benefit only the business elite, the working class not only turn against them, but against the liberal values of multiculturalism, anti-racism, feminism, gay rights and so on. And again, you can see that here. The welfare services provided by CasaPound for the racially pure show this clearly. Healthcare has been cut, so that many Italians cannot get a doctor. So CasaPound provides one. The party’s squadristi state that the Communist party used to do this, but they don’t appear in the communities any longer. And so their place has been filled instead by CasaPound. Again, the organisation is providing a total social environment, including welfare support, that the state and the supposed parties of the Left have retreated from under the assault of neoliberal free trade dogma. This also affected the Communist Party in Italy, which in the 1980s began to explore other paths to power rather than the methods dictated by Russian experience. In doing so, they became much less radical, despite their Marxist ideology. I can remember the Financial Times in the 1990s stating that they were no more left-wing than the SDP in Britain, the right-wing Labour splinter group that amalgamated with the Liberals to form the Lib Dems.

I don’t know how much of a threat Fascism actually poses in Italy. It’s certainly there, at the margins. But CasaPound are nowhere near as powerful as the Alternative fuer Deutschland, who are also real Nazis with a bitter hatred of Jews and immigrants, and which have just managed to get themselves into the Bundestag. At the moment the major populist force in Italy seems to be Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Party. But this does indicate the way the country could move, if something is not done to bring down the rise in xenophobia and anti-immigrant hostility on one hand, and destroy the neoliberalism that is impoverishing people across the world, and creating such anxieties on the other.

Trump Brings Armageddon Closer by Moving American Embassy to Jerusalem

December 8, 2017

And this is exactly what Christian Zionist millennialists like Tim Lahaie want.

Yesterday, Trump announced that he was going to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is what the Israelis have been demanding for years, but previous administrations have not given into them, because they were very much aware that this would set off a powder keg of rage and hostility across the Middle East. Jerusalem was taken from the Palestinians, and still contains a sizable Arab population. The Israeli nationalist right would love it to be the capital of their nation, but it is also claimed by the Palestinians.

There have been mass protests and riots against Trump’s decision all over the Middle East. RT yesterday put up this footage of Israeli squaddies or the police trying to put down protesters or rioters in Bethlehem yesterday.

And politicians from across the political spectrum have condemned Trump’s decision, from Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon to Theresa May and Boris Johnson.

May’s condemnation is far less full than one would wish. As you can see, she doesn’t condemn it because it’s a rubbish decision. She only condemns it because it hasn’t been made according to the proper decision making process. As for Boris, he optimistically says that it’s good that the Americans are committed to the two-state solution. In fact, the Palestinians aren’t happy with the two state solution, for the simple reason that the Israelis will keep stringing them and the rest of the world along with it, while taking whatever remains of Palestinian land. The aim now is to demand an end to Israeli apartheid and the full rights of Palestinians as equal Israeli citizens. But as this would threaten Israel’s existence as a racial ethno-state, there’s going to be profound opposition to this.

The Young Turks have also weighed in on this issue. In the video below, Cenk Uygur and John Iadarola explain just why it’s a bad idea. They point out that it’s been mooted before, and there were a series of resolutions passed in both houses of Congress in the 1990s. But then somebody pointed out what would happen if they did. They state that it’s an incendiary situation, because Jerusalem is a holy city to Christians, Jews and Muslims, and that many of them will not want to see all of the city and its shrines placed under Israeli rule. Uygur also points out that for some Christian Zionists, an apocalyptic war is exactly what they want. They believe that there will be a final battle between the forces of good and evil when one of the mosques in Jerusalem is destroyed. This will lead to a nuclear holocaust, following which Christ will return.

Uygur follows this with an atheist rant, which I don’t agree with. But he states that even though he doesn’t believe in the prophecy, it has to be taken seriously because others do, and they are willing to fight and kill for it. He concludes by making the point that it’s just Islam that’s the problem. It’s also Christian fundamentalism. To which Iadarola adds that ‘Fundamentalism is the problem’.

I know a number of people, who hold a very literal view of the Creation story in Genesis, and who could be fairly described as ‘Fundamentalist’. They’re good people. But Uygur is absolutely right about the dangerous, apocalyptic views of the Christian Zionist right. Christian Zionism began in the 19th century, because it was believed that if ancient Israel was restored, Our Lord would return to Earth to usher in the Millennium. In the 1980s this morphed into a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. Now it’s become a war between Israel and Christendom versus Islam.

One of the leaders of American Christian Zionism is Tim LaHaie. LaHaie is one of the authors of the Left Behind series of novels, in which the Rapture has occurred and all the righteous have been taken to heaven in preparation for the rise of the Antichrist and the Tribulation, before Christ’s return and the overthrow of Satan. The novels were a massive hit amongst the American Christian readership, and were turned into a film/TV series.

But not only are these views extremely dangerous, they’re also abysmally bad theology. The Church Fathers in the Early Church were acutely aware of the temptation of some Christians to try to force events, and were very much against it. Furthermore, the Millennialists predictions depend on a very specific reading of the Book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation is not easy to interpret as very much of it is in symbolism and imagery that was probably well-known to Mediterranean Jewish Christians, but has been lost to us over time. The mainstream view is that the book is part prophecy, part commentary on contemporary events. The ‘Beast 666’ is believed to have been Nero, the Greek version of whose name, Neron, has that value in the Gematria numerological system. Not only did Nero persecute Christians, as a young man he also used to dress up as a beast and go around with his fellow aristocratic yahoos attacking ordinary Roman citizens. So this is partly a commentary on the contemporary persecution of the Church in ancient Rome under Nero. However, the Book is also prophetic, in that it looks forward to the general resurrection of the dead at Christ’s return. But this will happen without there being a tribulation or apocalyptic battle beforehand.

If you’re a Christian, and wish to read more, then I heartily recommend you go over to Tekton Apologetics and look at J.P. Holding’s writings on this issue. Holiding’s a theologically Conservative, Protestant Christian with a literal view of Genesis. I don’t know what his political views are. For all I know, he might be a man of the right. But this doesn’t matter, because he has written very detailed, informed critiques of this dangerous, Millennialist nonsense, and is a very, very fierce critic of the Left Behind books, and the way they have dumbed down American Christianity.