Posts Tagged ‘Middle Ages’

The Long Johns on the Pointed Lesson of the South Sea Bubble

January 30, 2023

Here’s another razor-sharp piece of satire from the Long Johns, the late John Bird and John Fortune, though it’s set very firmly in the past. It’s from Raveemismail’s channel on YouTube, and has them performing their dialogue in period costume as an ordinary investor caught out by a predatory broker selling shares in the South Sea Bubble of 1720. This was a notorious financial scandal when shares were being sold in the South Sea Company. Very handsome profits were promised, the shares skyrocketed in value but there was absolutely nothing backing them up. The whole affair collapsed ruining people. The dialogue also mentions a similar scandal of 90 years previously, the tulipomania that hit the Netherlands where members of the respectable Dutch middle class bankrupted themselves buying tulips. This is obviously acutely relevant to similar crashes far more recently, like the subprime mortgages and the bankers’ crash. From the comments to the video it seems that it was also relevant to the way bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies were being pushed. It just shows that how relevant some incidents from the past still are in the 21st first century.

This is so much the case that one American investment house used to require its employees to read the book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, written in the 19th century. The book discussed a series of historical and contemporary fads, from alchemy and the witch craze in the Middle Ages to the craze for people saying ‘Quoz’ in England at the time. And one of these was the South Sea Bubble. It’s a pity nobody took that piece of history more seriously, or we might have avoided the bankers’ crash, austerity, and nigh on 15 years of austerity and poverty inflicted on the poor and ordinary working people in order to keep the banks afloat and give more money to the already bloated rich.

Friar Roger Bacon’s Technological Prediction

December 29, 2022

Roger Bacon was a 13th century English friar and early scientist. He was an Aristotelian, but believed in experiment rather than just relying on observation and the acceptance of received opinion. He also predicted some of the inventions of the 19th and 20th centuries, such as self-driving ships, cars and flying machines. He made these startling predictions in a letter to a William of Paris in a letter, the Epistola de Secretis Operibus of 1260. This stated

‘Now an instrument for sailing without oarsmen can be produced such that the larger ships, both riverboats and seagoing vessels, can be moved under the direction of a single man at a greater velocity than if they were filled with men. A chariot can be made that moves at unimaginable speed without horses; such we think to have been the scythe-bearing chariots with which men fought in antiquity. And an instrument for flying can be made, such that a man sits in the middle of it, turning some sort of device by which artificially constructed wings beat the air in the way a flying bird does’.

(Trans. Michael S. Mahoney, quoted in Mike Ashley, Yesterday’s Tomorrows: The Story of Classic British Science Fiction in 100 Books (London: British Library 2020) 56.

As you can see, he doesn’t know how such devices could be constructed, and his description of how an aircraft would work is wrong, although people have constructed such ornithopters. But nevertheless he was right in that science and technological has led to the invention of these kinds of machines. It also struck me that there’s material in there for SF and Fantasy writers to imagine the kind of Middle Ages that would have arisen had Bacon or his contemporaries invented such devices, or what the ancient world would have been like had Bacon been right about the technology he believed they possessed.

Sketch of American Astronomer, Space Scientist and Activist Carl Sagan

December 3, 2022

I’ve put up this sketch of Carl Sagan began he was one of the major figures in space research as well as a committed Humanist and political activist. He was also a major populariser of astronomy and science, most notably through his blockbusting TV series and its accompanying book, Cosmos. This was also notable for its soundtrack, composed by Vangelis, who also composed the music for Chariots of Fire, Blade Runner and 1492: The Conquest of Paradise. According to the blurb on Cosmos’ back cover, Sagan was

‘(t)he director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies and David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Studies at Cornell University. He played a leading role in the Mariner, Viking and Voyager expeditions to the planets, for which he received the NASA medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and for Distinguished Public Service, and the international astronautics prize, the Prix Galabert. He has served as Chairman of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, as chairman of the astronomy section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as a President of the Planetology Section of the American Geophysical Union. For twelve years, he was Editor-in-Chief of Icarus, the leading professional journal devoted to planetary research. In addition to 400 published scientific and popular articles, Dr. Sagan (was) the author, co-author or editor of more than a dozen books, including Intelligent Life in the Universe, The Cosmic Connection, The Dragons of Eden, Murmurs of Earth and Broca’s Brain. In 1975 he received the Joseph Priestly Award “for distinguished contributions to the welfare of mankind,” and in 1978 the Pulitzer Prize for literature.’

It was Sagan who suggested that Black Holes could be used as interstellar subways so that spaceships from one part of the universe could use them to travel faster than light to another part of the cosmos connected by the wormhole passing between the Black Hole and its White Hole. He also suggested that Venus could be terraformed into a living, habitable world through the introduction of genetically engineered bacteria that would consume its toxic carbon dioxide atmosphere and replace it with breathable oxygen. He also noted that Mars had a large instability in its rotation, and that this could have resulted in its current, millions-year long period of lifelessness. But it was possible that in time its rotation would return to a more hospitable position and the planet would once more bloom into life. He was also a staunch advocate of the view that the universe was inhabited by intelligent alien civilisations and that one day we would contact them. He also wrote a later book, Pale Blue Dot, after the view of the Earth from space.

He was also a fierce opponent of what he considered to be superstition. He was one of the founders of CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal along with the stage magician James Randi. They were formed in response to the publication of Gauqelin’s research suggesting there really was a link between the star sign under which people were born and their later careers. He was alarmed by the rise of Creationism and the New Age, and expressed his fears about them in his book, The Demon Haunted World. He was afraid that this would lead to a new Dark Age in which people would wake up every morning to anxiously look through their horoscopes.

He was also greatly concerned with the environment and global warming and the threat of nuclear war. In the 1980s he also proposed the idea of nuclear winter. This was the idea that a nuclear war would send millions of tons of dust into the atmosphere, blocking out the sunlight and causing temperatures to plunge. This has since been rejected by scientists, but I have seen it suggested as one of the causes for the extinction of the dinosaurs. In this case it was the dust thrown up by the asteroid’s impact 65 million years ago that blocked out the sun’s light, after the initial holocaust caused by its impact.

During the inquiry following the Challenger disaster, Sagan claimed that it had occurred because the Shuttle was poorly designed, the result of a compromise between NASA and the military. The Shuttle was originally intended to be fully reusable and smaller. However, the armed forces insisted on it becoming larger so that it could carry military satellites into space. The result was that it was larger, and only partially reusable as it required an external tank to carry the extra fuel it needed to reach orbit. This was jettisoned after its fuel was consumed to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

He also wrote the SF novel, Contact, later filmed with Jodie Foster playing the lead. This was about a female astronomer, who makes contact radio contact with aliens, a method Sagan himself strongly advocated. Following their instructions, she constructs an artificial wormhole portal that transports her across space so she can finally meet them. I remember coming across the book in the Cheltenham branch of Waterstones in the 1980s and was rather put off by its blurb. This boasted about it challenging and refuting racism, sexism and so on. All good stuff, of course, but a bit too PC for me.

Many of these themes appear in Cosmos. This was his personal view of the history of science, and while I loved it at the time, I have serious issues with some of the claims now. One of the problems is that he accepts what we were all told at school, that the Greek philosophers were scientists. He believed that if Greek science had progressed, we would have had space travel by now. The ancient Greeks were certainly responsible for laying the foundations of western science, but they were not quite scientists in the modern sense. They used deduction rather than the scientific method of induction. Deduction meant that they observed a phenomenon and then invented an explanation. In induction, devised by Francis Bacon in the 16th/17th century, the scientist observes a phenomenon, comes up with an explanation, and then devises an experiment to disprove it. If the explanation passes the test, it is tentatively accepted as true until a later observation or experiment disproves it. The ancient Greeks didn’t do much practical experimentation.

Sagan also followed the popular explanation of the evolution of the brain, in which there is a lower, animal brain with the higher faculties evolving later, so there’s a primitive reptile brain and a more advanced mammal brain. But Victorian scientists found that both types of brain structure were present in the earliest, most primitive animals. He also followed the standard, accepted narrative that the Roman Catholic church had suppressed scientific knowledge and experimentation during the Middle Ages. This has since been rejected by historians of science. To many such historians now, the Middle Ages after the 8/9th centuries were an age of innovation and discovery. Jean Gimpel’s book proposing the idea was called The Medieval Machine, after the invention of the clock, to symbolise the period’s belief in a universe governed by law, discoverable by human reason under the light of the divine. And rather than the revival of classical learning in the Renaissance leading to a new enlightened, rational order, it had the potential to do the opposite. The medieval philosophers and theologians were Aristotelians but were very aware of the flaws in Aristotelian science and had modified it over the centuries in order to conform more closely to observed reality. But the Renaissance Humanists would have dumped all this, and so we would have been back to square one with no further scientific advances than what was permitted through a rigid adherence to Aristotle’s thought.

There’s also an anti-Christian element in Cosmos too. He describes how Hypatia, the late Neoplatonist female philosopher was murdered by a group of Christian monks in the 4th century. Hypatia has symbolised for a long time to radical atheists the fundamentally anti-science, and to feminists, the misogyny in Christianity. But by this time Neoplatonism was a mixture of science and mystical speculation, forming what has been called ‘the mind’s road to God’. The real motives for her murder weren’t that she was some kind of pagan threat, but more from a power struggle between the authorities in that part of the Roman world.

Sagan is also critical of western imperialism and describes the horrors the Conquistadors inflicted on the Aztecs and other peoples of the New World. He’s right and this section is clearly a product of its time, with the rise of anti-colonial movements among the world’s indigenous peoples, the Black Civil Rights movement in the US and the horrors of the Vietnam War, as well as Reagan’s new Cold War and the threat of nuclear holocaust. But looking at this 40 years later, it’s also one-sided. Europe wasn’t the only expansionist, brutal, imperialist culture. Islam was also militaristic and expansionist, and at the time the Spaniards conquered South America, the Turkish empire was expanding and subjugating parts of Europe, while Muslim pirates were raiding the continent as far as Iceland for slaves.

It’s also dated from an archaeological standpoint. At one point Sagan discusses the Bronze Age collapse of the societies of the Ancient Near East, showing how it was characterised by a series of crises, similar to the process of the fall of other, later civilisations into Dark Ages, but that these aren’t causes in themselves. It’s Systems Analysis, which was popular at the time, but which I think has also become subsequently passe.

All that said, Sagan was right about global warming, whose devastating effects he illustrated with the example of the planet Venus. This has also suffered catastrophic heating due to its greater nearness to the Sun. This released massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, creating a runaway greenhouse effect so that it is now a hell planet of burning temperatures and sulphuric acid rain. He also wasn’t wrong about the threat of renewed militarism and nuclear war and was a welcome voice against Reagan’s strident belligerence.

As a science populariser, his influence has also been immense. Cosmos was a bestseller, and I think it prepared the way for other bestselling works by astronomers and scientists like Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. And I certainly was not surprised when Brian Cox, the scientist, not the actor, said in an interview in the Radio Times that he was a massive admirer of Sagan. That came across to me very strongly from his numerous TV series about space and the planets.

Why Did British Public Opinion Turn Against the Empire?

August 10, 2022

The British empire and its history is once again the topic of intense controversy with claims that its responsible for racism, the continuing poverty and lack of development of Commonwealth nations and calls for the decolonisation of British museums and the educational curriculum. On the internet news page just this morning is a report that Tom Daley has claimed that homophobia is a legacy of the British empire. He has a point, as when the British government was reforming the Jamaican legal code in the late 19th century, one of the clauses they inserted criminalised homosexuality.,

In fact this is just the latest wave of controversy and debate over the empire and its legacy. There were similar debates in the ’90s and in the early years of this century. And the right regularly laments popular hostility to British imperialism. For right-wing commenters like Niall Ferguson and the Black American Conservative economist Thomas Sowell, British imperialism also had positive benefits in spreading democracy, property rights, properly administered law and modern technology and industrial organisation around the world. These are fair points, and it must be said that neither of these two writers ignore the fact that terrible atrocities were committed under British imperialism either. Sowell states that the enforced labour imposed on indigenous Africans was bitterly resented and that casualties among African porters could be extremely high.

But I got the impression that at the level of the Heil, there’s a nostalgia for the empire as something deeply integral to British identity and that hostility or indifference to it counts as a serious lack of patriotism.

But what did turn popular British opinion against the empire, after generations when official attitudes, education and the popular media held it up as something of which Britons should be immensely proud, as extolled in music hall songs, holidays like Empire Day and books like The Baby Patriot’s ABC, looked through a few years ago by one of the Dimblebys on a history programme a few years ago.

T.O. Lloyd in his academic history book, Empire to Welfare State, connects it to a general feeling of self hatred in the early 1970s, directed not just against the empire, but also against businessmen and politicians:

”Further to the left, opinion was even less tolerant; when Heath in 1973 referred to some exploits of adroit businessmen in avoiding tax as ‘the unacceptable face of capitalism’, the phase was taken up and repeated as though he had intended it to apply to the whole of capitalism, which was certainly not what he meant.

‘Perhaps it was surprising that his remark attracted so much attention, for it was not a period in which politicians received much respect. Allowing for the demands of caricature, a good deal of the public mood was caught by the cartoons of Gerald Scarfe, who drew in a style of brilliant distortion which made it impossible to speak well of anyone. The hatred of all men holding authority that was to be seen in his work enabled him to hold up a mirror to his times, and the current of self hatred that ran so close to the surface also matched an important part of his readers’ feelings. Politicians were blamed for not bringing peace, prosperity, and happiness, even though they probably had at this time less power – because of the weakness of the British economy and the relative decline in Britain’s international position – to bring peace and prosperity than they had had earlier in the century; blaming them for this did no good, and made people happier only in the shortest of short runs.

‘A civil was in Nigeria illustrated a good many features of British life, including a hostility to the British Empire which might have made sense while the struggle for colonial freedom was going on but, after decolonization had taken place so quickly and so amicably, felt rather as though people needed something to hate.’ (pp. 420-1).

The Conservative academic historian, Jeremy Black, laments that the positive aspects of British imperialism has been lost in his book The British Empire: A History and a Debate (Farnham: Ashgate 2015):

‘Thus, the multi-faceted nature of the British imperial past and its impact has been largely lost. This was a multi-faceted nature that contributed to the pluralistic character of the empire. Instead, a politics of rejection ensures that the imperial past serves for themes and images as part of an empowerment through real, remembered, or, sometimes, constructed grievance. This approach provides not only the recovery of terrible episodes, but also ready reflexes of anger and newsworthy copy, as with the harsh treatment of rebels, rebel sympathisers , and innocent bystanders in the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, an issue that took on new energy as demands for compensation were fuelled by revelations of harsh British policy from 2011’. (p. 235).

He also states that there’s a feeling in Britain that the empire, and now the Commonwealth, are largely irrelevant:

‘Similarly, there has been a significant change in tone and content in the discussion of the imperial past in Britain. A sense of irrelevance was captured in the Al Stewart song ‘On the Border’ (1976).

‘On my wall the colours of the map are running

From Africa the winds they talk of changes of coming

In the islands where I grew up

Noting seems the same

It’s just the patterns that remain

An empty shell.’

For most of the public, the Commonwealth has followed the empire into irrelevance. the patriotic glow that accompanied and followed the Falklands War in 1982, a war fought to regain a part of the empire inhabited by settlers of British descent, was essentially nationalistic, not imperial. This glow was not matched for the most recent, and very different, conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. These have led to a marked disinclination for further expeditionary warfare’. (pp. 421-2).

In fact the whole of the last chapter of Black’s book is about changing attitudes to the empire and the imperial past, which Black feels has been distorted. The British empire is seen through the lens of atrocities, although its rule was less harsh than the Germans or Italians. In India the view is coloured by the Amritsar massacre and ignores the long periods of peace imposed by British rule in India. He also notes that the cultural and international dominance of America has also affected British ideas of exceptionalism, distinctiveness and pride, and that interest in America has superseded interest in the other countries of the former empire.

Attitudes to the empire have also changed as Britain has become more multicultural., and states that ‘increasingly multicultural Britain sees myriad tensions and alliance in which place, ethnicity, religion, class and other factors both class and coexist. This is not an easy background for a positive depiction of the imperial past’ (p. 239). He also mentions the Parekh Report of the Commission on the Future Multi-Ethnic Britain, which ‘pressed for a sense of heritage adapted to the views of recent immigrants. This aspect of the report’ he writes, ‘very much attracted comment. At times, the consequences were somewhat fanciful and there was disproportionate emphasis both on a multi-ethnic legacy and on a positive account of it’. (p. 239). Hence the concern to rename monuments and streets connected with the imperial past, as well as making museums and other parts of the heritage sector more accessible to Black and Asians visitors and representative of their experience.

I wonder how far this lack of interest in the Commonwealth goes, at least in the immediate present following the Commonwealth games. There’s talk on the Beeb and elsewhere that it has inspired a new interest and optimism about it. And my guess is that much of popular hostility to the empire probably comes from the sympathy from parts of the British public for the various independence movements and horror at the brutality with which the government attempted to suppress some of them,, like the Mau Mau in Kenya. But it also seems to me that a powerful influence has also been the psychological link between its dissolution and general British decline, and its replacement in British popular consciousness by America. And Black and Asian immigration has also played a role. I’ve a very strong impression that some anti-imperial sentiment comes from the battles against real racism in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the Fascist organisations that founded the National Front in the 1960s was the League of Empire Loyalists.

This popular critique on British imperialism was a part of the ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strip in 2000AD. This was about a future in which Earth had become the centre of a brutally racist, genocidal galactic empire ruled by a quasi-religious order, the Terminators. They, and their leader, Torquemada, were based on the writer’s own experience as a pupil of an abusive teacher at a Roman Catholic school. The Terminators wore armour, and the title of their leader, grand master, recalls the crusading orders like the Knights Templars in the Middle Ages. One of the stories mentions a book, published by the Terminators to justify their cleansing of the galaxy’s aliens, Our Empire Story. Which is the title of a real book that glamorised the British empire. Elsewhere the strip described Torquemada as ‘the supreme Fascist’ and there were explicit comparisons and links between him, Hitler, extreme right-wing Tory politicos like Enoch Powell, and US generals responsible for the atrocities against the Amerindians. It’s a good question whether strips like ‘Nemesis’ shape public opinion or simply follow it. I think they may well do a bit of both.

But it seems to me that, rather than being a recent phenomenon, a popular hostility to the British empire has been around since the 1970s and that recent, radical attacks on imperial history and its legacy are in many cases simply an extension of this, rather than anything completely new.

Critical Race Theory, White Privilege and the Rhetoric of Ethnic Cleansing

August 2, 2022

As readers will have probably noticed, I have very strong objections to Critical Race Theory and particularly its concept of White privilege. Critical Race Theory is a postmodern revision of Marxism, dreamt up in the 1970s by Kimberle Crenshaw and a group of Black Marxist legal scholars in the 1970s. It replaces class as the instrument of oppression with race. ‘Whiteness’ is a bourgeois quality possessed by all Whites which guarantees them social, economic and political superiority to Blacks and other people of colour. Even if the individual White person is not racist. Racism, it also holds, has not declined, but is just better hidden. Whites must be made to know Black oppression and feel guilty about it. Much of the literature of Critical Race Theory and its activism is about deliberately humiliating Whites. For example, several years ago there were student riots at Evergreen College in Oregon. The college was very liberal, and there had been for decades since the 1970s an annual withdrawal of Black students during the summer months to mark the absence of Blacks during a critical phase in the civil rights struggle or so. By the middle of the last decade, this had changed into demands for the White students to absent themselves in favour of Blacks, in order to appreciate Black marginalisation. This was succeeded by a series of aggressive student demonstration in which Blacks and their White allies insisted on forcing Whites into inferior positions. At meetings, for example, Whites were required to sit at the back and not speak. Brett Weinstein, an evolutionary biologist with liberal views, describes it as ‘Black supremacy’. Not all Blacks supported this aggressive demonstration of racial vindictiveness, and one of Weinstein’s students, a young Black woman, shouted at the mob that she wasn’t oppressed. Students of whatever colour, who didn’t conform, were chased by the mob. Peter Boghossian, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay also demonstrated the irrationality and vicious prejudice of this woke pseudo-scholarship in the spoof papers they sent to various woke, postmodern journals, which were eventually collected up and published as Grievance Studies. In one paper, they argued that White male students should be forced to sit on the floor in order to teach them about marginalisation and persecution. They believed this would be too much for the academic journal to which they had submitted it. Alas, no; it was accepted with a reply complaining that they didn’t go far enough: the young men shouldn’t just be forced to sit on the floor, but should be chained up as well.

Part of what worries me about the concept of ‘White privilege’ is that privilege is something usually said of rich minority groups, who haven’t worked for their position, such as the aristocracy. Or the half of the British business elite that has inherited the ownership of their companies, rather than having worked their way up. It also recalls the legal privileges that accompanied the European class system, particularly under feudalism, and the legal restriction placed on Blacks in Jim Crow America and in the White-ruled colonies, like Rhodesia, Malawi and South Africa, until the beginning of Black majority rule. For example, until the establishment of democracy in the 1920s in Britain, women were barred from voting and there was a property qualification on the franchise, so that the majority of working class men did not have the vote either. I also believe that there was a property qualification on serving on juries, which was only abolished by Woy, sorry, Roy Jenkins in his socially liberal reforms of the 1960s. Much of the ire directed at Jenkins from the right comes from his decriminalisation of homosexuality and his relaxation of the divorce laws. One splenetic right-winger- from the Daily Heil perhaps? – once described him as a destroyer of British society comparable to Stalin or some other totalitarian monster. Really? Just Jenkins on his own? With his ‘good claret expression’, to use the words of caricaturist Gerald Scarfe. The last time I looked, Britain’s buildings were all standing rather than reduced to rubble by the rampaging hordes, and Jenkins and the Labour party following him had sent a precise number of zero people to concentration camps or re-education centres. But a certain type of high Tory does want all this back. The Financial Times reviewed one such book, which looked forward to the return of the property qualification for juries so they would protect property rights, and the restoration of the old order before anti-discrimination legislation.

In fact there are very strong arguments against White privilege. For a start, east Asian such as the Chinese and Japanese, perform much better educationally and economically than Whites in America and Britain. In Britain the proportion of Asians in management positions, for example, is identical to Whites. In America, they earn more and occupy superior jobs. And while Blacks are sacked before Whites, Whites are sacked before east Asians. This isn’t because east Asians are superior in IQ. It’s because they seem to work harder and have a particular set of cultural skills that allow them to succeed. And in many instances, they earned their position through very hard work against prejudice and discrimination. One social study found that the Japanese in Canada were the most ‘privileged’ ethnic group. But Japanese Canadians had had a long struggle against punitive discrimination which was worse than that experienced by people of Japanese descent in the US. And immigrants to the US from the British Caribbean earn more on average not just to native Black Americans, but also to Whites. For Black conservatives like Thomas Sowell, Blacks are held back not by racial discrimination in the wider society, though he doesn’t deny this exists, but because the majority Black culture hasn’t acquired the necessary social and economic skills to uplift themselves And he is fiercely critical of multiculturalism because he believes it isolates and ossifies different ethnic groups into separate enclaves and cultural preserves, thus preventing from learning from and acquiring the skills of other, more successful groups. As for White privilege, it is hard to see what privilege a homeless White man possesses compared to tenured and respected Black academics and radicals like Crenshaw.

To me, Critical Race Theory and White privilege tackle the problem of Black poverty and marginalisation from the wrong end. Instead of seeing Black poverty as the anomaly which must be tackled, it sees White success as the anomaly, which must be destroyed if Blacks and people of colour are to take their rightful place in society. Thus White people must be brought down and Whiteness abolished. The Guardian, which promotes Critical Race Theory, as claimed that this doesn’t mean White people but Whiteness as the social quality that gives them their exalted place. But one of the writers anthologised in the collection of papers, Critical Race Theory, states that there is no difference between Whiteness and White people. And one of the fears of CRT’s critics is that after attacking Whiteness, the radicals will indeed move on to attacking Whites.

It seems to me that the Critical Race Theory and White privilege are essentially a continuation of the mindset that Whites enjoy their superior social position through mechanisms of power long after those legal mechanisms had been officially abolished and the ideology on which they were based was discredited. It’s an attempted to explain why, after the victories of the Civil Rights movement, the majority of Blacks are still poor. And the rhetoric of decolonisation over here seems to be a direct transference of the bitterness felt by indigenous Africans to privileged White settlers to mainstream British, White society. And that worries me, because of the brutality of the ethnic cleansing of the White farmers in Zimbabwe by Mugabe’s thugs at the beginning of the century. I also have to say that I’m worried about the trends in Afrocentric and other Black pseudohistory that claims that Blacks are the original inhabitants of the British isles. Simon Webb of History Debunked yesterday put up a post about the claims in a book on African and Afro-Caribbean communities in the UK, that there are folktales of Africans invading Britain before the Romans. Webb has his own racial biases and some the historical claims he makes are also false. But if he’s right about this, then the author of the book, Hakim Adi, a professor at Chichester university, is talking pure tosh. I am aware of no such folktales, not even when I was a member of the Society for Contemporary Legend Research back in the 1990s. The closest I’ve come to it was in the long-running and sadly missed Celtic warrior strip, Slaine, in the zarjaz SF comic 2000AD. This included a race of Black Atlanteans, the Rmoahals, described as giant aboriginals. The strip’s writer, Pat Mills, based them on a legend that the standing stones of the isle of Callanish in the Hebrides were built by Black-skinned giants who dressed in feathers. Aside from that, the only other source for this curious assertion may be a garbled memory of one of the waves of colonisation that swept over Britain and the continent during prehistory. The Neolithic reached Britain from the fertile crescent over two routes. One was directly across Europe itself, the other was across North Africa and then up from Morocco through Spain. But this occurred so long ago that it was lost to memory for millennia. Archaeologists have only now been able to reconstruct it by using genetic data. Has Adi heard a garbled version of this from within the Black community, from people who mistakenly thought this was a Black African invasion? It also reminds me of the claim made a few years ago that the ancient Egyptians settled in Birmingham before the Roman conquest. This appeared in the Independent, but has, I understand, since been discredited. It also seems to me to have a certain kinship to another piece of Black myth-making, that sailors from Mali discovered America before Columbus, but didn’t enslave the Amerindians. If this happened, it would be truly remarkable, as I’ve seen claims that the Malians didn’t have any ocean-going ships. And the Malinka were a powerful slaving nation, so if they did discover the Amerindians, there would have been nothing preventing them from enslaving them as well.

My fear is that this rhetoric and pseudohistory will cause Blacks, or a minority of Blacks, to see themselves as the oppressed, true inhabitants of Britain and attack the White British as colonialist oppressors. Even if, at present, they claim otherwise. When the Black Lives Matter movement broke out, its Bristol branch stuck up posters claiming that ‘We’ve always been here’ – which is hi8storically very debatable, although some Blacks have been present in Britain at various periods from the Middle Ages onwards. Claims of Black presence further back, such as the supposed Black skin colour of Cheddar man, are more conjectural. Webb has claimed that this reconstruction was based on a false interpretation and has since been retracted, but I have not seen him cite his source for this.

Marx himself held some extremely unpleasant racial views. He’s most infamous for his anti-Semitism, as shown by him sneering at his German rival, Ferdinand Lassalles, as ‘the Jewish ni++er.’ But he also had strong prejudices against European ethnic groups. He held that the Celts, Basques and the Slavs were backward peoples who had no intrinsic right to exist and national independence. When the 1848 Revolutions broke out, he was afraid that their bids for independence would stop the class revolution he wished to promote. In a chilling passage, he looked forward to the class war becoming a race war. This recalls the horrific ethnic cleansing and deportations Stalin inflicted on the national minorities in the USSR, including the Holodomor, the artificial famine in Ukraine which killed 7 million people.

Thomas Sowell in his book Conquests and Cultures talks about the ethnic cleansing by Muslim mobs of the Ibo people by Muslims in Nigeria and the horrific bloodbath of the Biafran war. The Ibos had previously been a minor, poor tribe but had seized the opportunities presented by western, Christian missionary education, which the northern Muslims had rejected as against their faith. As a result, Ibos were better educated and held better jobs and positions of responsibility even in the Muslim north. This was naturally resented, and the resentment grew into violence. Sowell notes that these tensions were heightened by the language each side used against the other. He writes

‘The problem was not simply that there were differences of opinion, but that there were not established and mutually respected traditions for airing those differences with restraint and accommodation. Vitriolic polemic in the press and in the political arena became the norm. Epithets like “fascist” and “imperialist stooge” became commo currency, along with unbridled expressions of tribal chauvinism.’ (p. 127). In the West there are respected means of airing such differences, but the insults sound very much like the language used by the woke, radical intersectional left against its opponents.

And there is anti-White racism and violence. Two decades ago the number of Whites killed in racist attacks was nearly the same as members of Blacks and other ethnic minorities. There have been armed attacks by Blacks on Whites in the past few weeks and months. One was when a man opened fire on the passengers on a subway. Another was when a Black man deliberately drove his car into a parade in a White community. He left behind a manifesto which made it very clear that this was an act of anti-White terrorism. But this was not treated as such by the Biden administration.

I am very pessimistic about the success of affirmative actions schemes in creating a sustainable Black middle class. As I understand it, this was originally intended to be only a temporary measure. Once Blacks had gained entry into education, the sciences, politics and business on a level comparable with Whites, these schemes were to be dismantled as they would no longer be needed. But forty years after the Runnymede Commission recommended ‘positive discrimination’ in which Blacks are to be favoured by offering places with lower grades to universities and colleges, and preferential job offers if they have lower qualifications, the mass of Black Britain still remains poor and marginalised. I don’t, however, know how bad the situation would otherwise be if these policies had not been implemented. It could be they would have been much worse.

Nevertheless I do fear that these policies will continue to fail and that, in their anger and desperation, some Blacks will begin pogroms against Whites, encouraged by the rhetoric and arguments of Critical Race Theory.

The Date of the End of Serfdom in Yugoslavia

August 2, 2022

One of the many problems I have with the debate over slavery is that with its concentration on Black transatlantic, and particularly American and Caribbean slavery, it ignores the fact that White Europeans were also subjected to various forms of unfreedom, from slavery to serfdom. In Britain, slavery had died out by the 12th century, hence Lord Mansfield was able to give his famous judgement on the Somerset case that slavery did not exist in English law. However, serfdom persisted until it finally withered away completely by the mid-17th century. A form of serfdom, or something very like it, continued in the Scots mining industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. Scottish miners were bondsmen, tied to working for their masters and were forced to wear neck rings bearing their names, just like Roman and medieval slaves. On the continent serfdom persisted until the Revolution in France, the early 19th century in Prussia, and the 1860s in Russia. This, however, was not the end of this form of unfreedom in the backward parts of Europe. Thomas Sowell, in the chapter on the Slavs in his book Conquests and Cultures, notes the geographical obstacles to development the Slavs and other eastern Europeans, such as the Hungarians, and Romanians, faced to their social, economic and technological development. These were a lack of navigable rivers, which tended to flow, in the case of Russia, into inland lakes or seas rather than the ocean, or else the flowed into the Baltic and were frozen and thus unusable for part of year. The result was that communication and the transport of goods was far more difficult and expensive than in the western part of the continent. In the Balkans these factors were exacerbated by high mountain ranges which cut communities off from each other. As a result of this and the long dominance of the Turkish empire, which cut the region off from western cultural advancements, the area remained very backward compared to the west. An example of this backwardness is the date when serfdom was abolished in Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina: 1919, a year after Yugoslavia had become an independent state. (p. 203).

I really do feel that the history of slavery and serfdom, and its long persistence in White European nations as well as in the rest of the world, should be better known in order to halt the grotesque distortion of history that appears to be held by some activists, which presents slavery as something White Europeans and Americans did to Black Africans.

Convict Transportation to America and Penal Slavery

June 6, 2022

When most people think of the transportation of convicts, they probably think of Australia. But before Britain started sending its convicts there, the destination in the 17th and 18th centuries was America. There’s a ballad lamenting the fate of such criminals, ‘The Lads of Virginia’, in Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England From 1588 to the Present Day (London: B.T. Batsford 1979), p. 67. The section discussing the policy on the previous page, 66, taken from A.G.L Shaw, Convicts and the Colonies, (Faber 1971) gives a short description of the history of the trade and the way the British government paid merchants to carry it out. It also suggests that once in America, the convicts were sold to the plantation masters. The extract runs

‘For most of the seventeenth century, merchants trading with the plantations were willing, and often anxious, to carry out the relatively few convicts who were sent; bu8t as time went on they found some, particularly women or bad characters, who were difficult to dispose of, and they became reluctant to take them… After the [Transportation] Act of 1718 the Treasury let regular contracts for the job, first for £3 a head from London and £5 from ‘other parts’ but after 1727, £5 for all; when added to the sale price this allowed a good profit, even taking into account losses through sickness or death on the voyage.

The ‘trade’ grew as the years went by. Between 1729 and 1745 the two contractors for London and the Home Counties sent out an average of 280 a year, which suggests that about 500 a year were sent from all England. In 1753 there were nearly 800. During the Seven Years’ War, 1756-63, fewer were transported, for many convicts were sent to the army, the navy and the dockyards… After 1763 transportation to America increased again, and between 1769 and 1776 about 960 convicts a year were sent out. The demand for convict labour in the plantations was so high that in 1772 the Treasury was able to stop paying its £5 subsidy, though contractors were for a time still able to persuade local authorities to pay…. Between 1719 and 1772, the years of the subsidy payments, 17,742 were sent from London and the Home Counties, and perhaps 30,000 from the whole of England. At least two-thirds went to Virginia and Maryland, and very probably more.

Was it an effective punishment? Sir John Fielding, magistrate and penal reformer, thought it was, though in 1766 Mr Justice Perrott declared that for common offenders it was no punishment at all….’

Those Monmouth rebels, who Judge Jefferies didn’t hang, were also transported to the new world and sold, though they were taken to the Caribbean colonies and sold to the planters for sacks of sugar. The transported convicts also included Irish rebels, and I’ve been told that you can still tell which of the slave cabins they occupied on the plantations by the shamrocks they painted on them.

I have to say that while I was aware of convict transportation, I wasn’t aware that once there they were sold, except in the case of the Monmouth rebels. This makes the practice look like penal slavery, which existed in ancient Rome and early medieval Europe. This punished certain types of criminals by selling them as slaves. I feel that the similarity between convict transportation and penal slavery also somewhat complicates the issue surrounding transatlantic African slavery, as it shows that certain punishments inflicted on Whites also approached a form of slavery or unfreedom. Back in Britain, the Scots miners at the time were also unfree. They were bondmen, who were effectively the property of the mine owners and even had to wear something like a slave collar around their necks. It also raises issues when it comes to the payment of reparations for slavery. If reparations are to be paid to the Black community for their abduction, exploitation and brutalisation during the era of the slave trade, it can also be argued that other groups, who suffered a similar fate like the transported criminals and rebels to America and the West Indies, and Scots mining communities in Britain for the enslavement of their ancestors.

A Black Woman Visits Qatar’s Museum of Slavery

April 3, 2022

Very interesting video posted by Angela B. on her channel on YouTube. It was posted five years ago for Black history month. The hostess is an English-speaking Black woman, who lives in the Middle East. One of her parents is African, while the other comes from the Virgin Islands, which gives her a personal connection to the history of slavery. The video is her visit to a museum of slave trade in Qatar. This covers the history of slavery from ancient Greece and the use of enslaved Ethiopians in the bath houses, which understandably chills Angela B on what they saw and what they were used for – through the Atlantic slave trade and then the Arabic slave trade. It has animated displays and the voices of the enslaved describing their capture, the forced march through the desert during which many were left to die where they fell before arriving in Zanzibar, Kilwa and other east African islands under Arab suzerainty. The museum describes the enslavement of boys as pearl fishers and the abolition of slavery in Qatar in 1951. It also goes on to discuss the persistence of slavery in the modern world. Angela B is personally chilled, as someone with ancestors from the Virgin Islands, by the sight of the slave manacles in the museum. Interestingly, the explanatory panels in the museum also talk about serfdom in medieval Europe, which she doesn’t comment on. Serfdom is one of the numerous forms of unfree labour that is now considered a form of slavery by the international authorities. It’s interesting to see it referenced in an Arabic museum to slavery, when it is largely excluded from the debate over slavery in the West, which largely centres around the transatlantic slave trade. The recorded speech and voiceovers in the Museum are in Arabic, but the written texts are bilingual in Arabic and English.

The video’s also interesting in what the museum and Angela B include and comment on, and what they omit. There’s a bias towards Black slavery, though how much of this is the museum and how much Angela B obviously attracted to the part of the slave trade that affected people of her own race is debatable. Slavery was widespread as an unremarkable part of life in the Ancient Near East long before ancient Greece. There exist the lists of slaves working on the great estates from ancient Egypt, some of whom had definite Jewish names like Menachem. Slavery also existed among the Hittites in what is now Turkey, Babylonia and Assyria, but this isn’t mentioned in the video. If the museum doesn’t mention this, it might be from diplomatic reasons to avoid upsetting other, neighbouring middle eastern states. Or it could be for religious reasons. Islam regards the period before Mohammed as the ‘Jaihiliyya’, or ‘Age of Darkness’, and discourages interest in it. This is perhaps why it was significant a few years ago that the Saudi monarchy permitted the exhibition in the country’s museums of ancient Arabian pre-Islamic gods, except for those idols which were depicted nude. If the museum did include that era, then Angela B may have skipped over it because her video is concentrating and Black slaves. At the same time, the video doesn’t show the enslavement of White Europeans by the Barbary pirates and other Muslims. This may also be due to the same reason. The ancient Greeks used slaves in a variety of roles, including as craftsmen and agricultural labourers. Some of the pottery shows female sex slaves being used in orgies. There’s also a piece of pottery in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in the shape of a sleeping Ethiopian boy curled up around a wine pot. I wonder if the piece about enslaved Ethiopians serving as bath attendants was selected for inclusion in the museum because it was similar to forms of slavery they would have been familiar with.

The video’s fascinating because it, like another video about the Arab slave trade I posted and commented on a few days ago, it shows how the issue of slavery and Black civil rights has penetrated the Arab world. The other video included not only discussion of Libya’s wretched slave markets, but also covered modern Afro-Iraqis and their demand for civil rights and political representation. These are issues we really don’t hear about in the west, unless you’re an academic at one of the universities or watch al-Jazeera. But there’s also an issue with the museum. While it naturally condemns historic slavery, Qatar and the other Gulf Arab states effectively enslave and exploit the foreign migrant workers that come to the country. This has provoked protests and criticism at the country hosting the World Cup and one of the Grand Prix’.

No! The Pakistani Grooming Gangs Have Nothing to Do with Traditional Islamic Sex-Slavery

March 26, 2022

Okay, I’ll admit it. One of the reasons I bought Jonathan A.C. Brown’s Slavery & Islam was to see if there was any truth in the allegation by Tommy Robinson, the EDL and related anti-Islam groups that the Pakistani grooming gangs based their abuse in Islamic sex slavery. And reading his book, it seems very strongly that the answer it ‘no’.

Part of their argument comes from the revival of slave-concubinage by ISIS in the sale of the Yezidi women and girls in Iraq as sex slaves. But this also shocked the Muslim world. Islamic abolitionism began in the 19th century. It was prompted by the abolitionist movement in Christian Europe and America, but was no less sincere for that. Muslim abolitionists have demanded the abolition of slaves for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it was simple political expediency, for others it was a genuine revulsion at forced servitude. For these Muslims took their cue from the sharia’s assumption that slavery is humanity’s default state, as Adam and Eve were both free. Again, similar views were held by Christians in Europe, such as the Lollards in the 15th century. ‘When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?’, for example. While the Quran and the sharia permits slavery, it is heavily regulated. Muslim abolitionists and anti-slavery activists see this as looking forward to final extinction of slavery and the condition when everyone shall be free. ISIS caused widespread outrage amongst nearly all Muslims because it was particularly extreme. It went much further in its reactionary attitudes than al-Qaeda. Which doesn’t mean that there weren’t already Salafists interested in enslaving infidel women. During the war in Bosnia a number of foreign Muslims wishing to fight to the defend the Muslims there inquired of a Saudi salafist preacher if they could enslave Serb women for concubines. He told them ‘no’, for the simple reason that it would make Islam look bad. This is feeble and nasty, but it’s something, I suppose. It shows that the Salafists wanted to revive sex slavery before ISIS, but they were very much a minority.

Brown states that slave-concubinage was very common in Islam. The mothers of the sultans and rulers of many Islamic states were slave concubines, and these could wield great power. Some of these women were highly educated and powerful, endowing grand mosques and other civic buildings. During the 17th century the Turkish empire entered a period of decadence, called by Turkish historians the ‘Sultanate of Women’ as the various slave-concubines vied with each other to promote their sons and rule through them.

Brown admits that the status and treatment of slave concubines could vary enormously. Some were beloved partners, mourned bitterly on their deaths by their husbands. Some could be highly educated in the arts and sciences, and the slave-concubines of the elite often felt that they had the same rights as free wives. There were also laws protecting them. A slave-concubine who became pregnant with her master’s child could not be sold, the child was free under Islamic law and the slave-concubine was manumitted after her master’s death. Other slave-concubines were treated much worse, but it does seem that they could invoke the law to protect them. Brown cites one case where slave-woman prosecuted her master because he had forced her to have sex with him and his brother. She had become pregnant and they had beaten her to abort the child. The qadi ruled in her favour. This is like the grooming gangs and they way they exploited their White female victims, including getting them pregnant and forcing them to have abortions. Rather than rooted in Islam, however, it just seems a product of ordinary, banal human evil, of a type that many Muslims, even in the Middle Ages, found abhorrent.

Brown also mentions a case from 13th century Damascus when a singing-girl sued her master for trying to force her into prostitution. Again the judge ruled in her favour, and demanded that she be sold. I realise that these are individual cases, and we don’t know how many other cases there were where women were successfully exploited, especially over such a wide cultural area. But it does show that at least in certain times and places slave women could invoke legal protection against such exploitation.

As for the grooming gangs themselves, they started their predation before the emergence of ISIS and were not practicing Muslims. They didn’t attend their local mosques, and I don’t think they prayed or read the Quran. This was recognised by one of the intellectuals in the EDL, who recommended instead that anti-Muslim activists should look instead to explanations in the ‘islamicate’, the underlying systems of attitudes, customs and values that guide everyday Muslim life but aren’t a formal part of the religion.

I think the motives behind the grooming gangs were racist as well as sexual, and they certainly have parallels to slavery, but it’s the exploitation of enslaved Black women by their master on the plantations in North and South America, rather than the Islamic world. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, when she was still worth reading, wrote a report for the Committee for Racial Equality in the 990s noting that a bitter anti-White racism existed in some parts of the Black and Asian communities. She was also appalled at the way Asians looked down on White women and the sexual freedom they enjoyed as immoral. She was not alone. One of the sketches on the Asian comedy show, Goodness Gracious Me, was a skit of the Country and Western song, ’30 Ways to Leave Your Lover’. This was about the stifling relationship Asian men could have with their mothers, titled ’30 Ways to Leave Your Mother’. Sung by Sanjeev Bhaskar, one of the lines was ‘She says that White girl’s just a whore’. Similar attitudes to western White women were recorded in the chapter on a Moroccan immigrant worker in the Netherlands in the book Struggle and Survival in the Middle East. The victims of the Pakistani grooming gangs were racially as well as sexually abused, and it looks like it came from a racist attitude towards the gora, a derogatory Asian terms for Whites, rather than anything in formal Islam.

And the parallels with the sexual exploitation of Black women in plantation slavery are very strong. The planters exploited their slaves because they were in their power, and could do as they liked. Western paedophiles have also exploited children in care homes, because they’re particularly vulnerable, sometimes sending them out to service their friends or political connections. But this was also opposite to the sexual restraint and high standards of chastity and purity required in relationships with respectable White women. While I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, I found a fascinating book on Brazilian slavery and racial attitudes by a Brazilian anthropologist. He noted that in traditional White Portuguese Brazilian culture sexual attitudes were extremely puritanical. Sex was supposed to be between husband and wife and solely for procreation. And you definitely weren’t supposed to enjoy it. There was a type of counterpane that was supposed to be placed between husband and wife, with a hole in it to allow them to do the deed, but not get any pleasure from it. Faced with these restrictions, the planters turned instead to exploiting their slaves for sex.

I got the impression that sexual attitudes amongst the Asian community in Britain are similarly puritanical. Sex is supposed to occur solely in marriage, which is frequently arranged. There have been honour killing of women for defying their families’ demands regarding marriage partners or for pursuing western-style relationships with people outside their religion. Like Whites or Hindus. In this situation, it does not seem remotely surprising to me that some Asians see White girls and women as suitable targets for sexual abuse and exploitation. After all, White women are all whores anyway and they deserve it. The same attitudes that motivated White planter to abuse enslaved Black women, because Blacks are racially inferior and highly sexed.

The grooming gangs therefore aren’t a product of Islam, except perhaps in the most general way as the product of Pakistani sexual puritanism and anti-White racism. But what annoys me about the scandal is not only that it was known about and covered up for 20 years or more, but that the authorities and the left are still trying to deny that anti-White racism played a part. This seems partly a fear of provoking anti-Asian racism among Whites in turn. Simon Webb of History Debunked put up a video about a report on the grooming gangs, which didn’t once mention what race or ethnicity they belonged to. This is wrong. All racism has to be seen as equally poisonous, whether it’s White, Black, Asian or whatever.

If White silence against anti-Black racism is violence, then so is silence when it comes to the racist abuse of Whites. And the left should be tackling that as well, rather than leave it to be exploited by the likes of Tommy Robinson.

Bonded Miners, Indentured Servants and the Victorian Labour Laws

March 17, 2022

I’ve been reading Jonathan A.C. Brown’s Slavery & Islam (London: Oneworld Academic 2019), and it is fascinating. Brown’s a White American convert to Islam, and he ties in the debate about slavery in Islam to the contemporary American debate about slavery and its legacy in American and western society. He also begins the book with the question of definition and the problem presented in forming a universal and transhistorical definition of slavery that applies in all circumstances. This is because under different types of slavery, the slave could have more power and respect that nominally free people. For example, the viziers of the Ottoman Empire were slaves, but they ran the Ottoman Empire, had bodyguards, who were also slaves, often married the sultan’s daughter and were clearly men of immense power and respect. At the same time, slavery existed in Chinese society but wasn’t defined as such, for the simple reason that there was no such thing as a ‘thing’ in Chinese law.

But he also discusses certain types of servitude and unfreedom in British and American history. This includes the indentured servants who were used to populate the British colonies in North America. He states that it’s difficult distinguishing them from slaves. He writes

‘The division between slavery and indentured service can similarly b e hard to pin down. Indentured servants from Britain, who made up two-thirds of the immigrants in British North America before 1776, could be sold, worked to exhaustion and beaten for misbehavior. They could not marry and, in Virginia at least, could be mutilated if they tried to escape. In Maryland the punishment was death. Slavery in colonial America was worse, but only in that it was permanent.’ (p.49).

He also notes that the bonded miners in Scotland had to wear a ring on their necks with their master’s name on,, and he includes the ‘master/servant’ relationship on a list of various forms of servitude. He writes of this form of service

‘when serfdom disappeared from Western Europe, it was replaced by the relationship between the laborer and the landowner/employer. Unlike our modern notion of a worker’s contract, however, failing to live up to this contract was a criminal offense. Only in the British colonies in North America did a notion of free labor eventually appear in the 1700s, and this did not make its way back to Britain until 1875.'(p.,48.) Earlier, Brown gives the example of a shop worker in 1860. If he didn’t turn up for work, he was guilty of theft under British law, and could be imprisoned. (p.30).

The current debate over slavery and its legacy doesn’t include those aspects of British or western society that also approached slavery as they affected Whites, although there is now a debate about the ‘Irish slave trade’ – the trade in indentured servants from Ireland. The similarity between White indentured servitude and slavery is closer when you consider that originally the Dutch limited the period of slavery to 25 years. This was more than three times the length of the usual contract for indentured service, and slavery soon became permanent. But it also explains how indentured servants also frequently took part in slave uprisings and even intermarried with slaves.

I knew that the Scots miners were also unfree, bonded to their masters. I think it was one of the reasons Scots working people had great sympathy with Black slaves, to the extent that the slaves’ masters grumbled about them helping them to escape. The neck ring is the classic thrall ring, also used in the middle ages and Roman Empire to mark slaves out as property.

I wasn’t aware, however, that the Victorian labour laws could have you imprisoned for not turning up for work. It’s not quite slavery, but does come close.

And given the current lot of exploiters in government, it wouldn’t surprise me if there were people in the Conservatives who’d dearly like to bring it back.