Saturday 11 March 2023

Decolonising the small boats

There has for the past 30 years, or more been a steady rise in what used to be called political correctness and is now called woke. But it massively accelerated in 2020 with the death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Suddenly topics that had previously been at best peripheral such as colonisation and decolonisation and the wickedness of the British Empire, became in certain schools and universities not so much the main topic as the only topic.

But the topic of decolonising the curriculum is only ever presented in terms of Europeans colonising and migrating to other places. No one else ever migrated anywhere. There are no colonisers apart from white people. So, if large numbers of people from Africa or the Middle East attempt to come to Britain we are wicked if we attempt to stop them. They after all cannot be colonisers and they cannot be migrating.

But human migration and empire are as ancient as humanity. In the Declaration of Arbroath, we are told how the Scots came from somewhere in Central Asia and migrated first to Ireland and then to Scotland. But what is this if not colonisation? Whoever lived in Ireland before the Scots was either killed or absorbed and whoever lived in Scotland, i.e., the Picts was also either killed or absorbed. But whoever lived in Scotland before the Picts. A people of whom we know almost nothing apart from the archaeology they left behind, was likewise either absorbed or killed. But I don’t think any schools or universities in Scotland will be telling us this story.

But there are no goodies and baddies in this sort of story. Europe at some point probably spoke a pre-Indo-European language, that might have been similar to Basque. We know little about this, because every speaker was either absorbed or killed by the Indo-Europeans who migrated like the Scots from the steppes of Central Asia or the area around the Black Sea.

There is no point blaming our ancestors for the waves of migration that created modern Britain, because without them we wouldn’t speak the language that we do, English and we wouldn’t be the people that we are.

But it is not only we that are the result of migration. Everyone else is too. The original peoples of North and South America migrated there across the Bering Strait. People from Africa were the original human beings and migrated everywhere else. The Russians migrated from a small medieval set of kingdoms all the way to Vladivostok. Muslims spread from Mecca and Medina and colonised all the way from Spain to Indonesia. Polynesians colonised New Zealand and were then colonised by British people.

It is folly to regret for instance that the USA was colonised. What is the alternative? Let’s say that everyone in Europe made an agreement in 1492 to not return to North America. Would the people living there really be better off if we had left them alone? The USA today is an advanced society making great contributions in science, medicine. Would the original inhabitants prefer to be living like they were in 1492 without the wheel?

The same goes for Australia. Captain Cook could have left Australia alone, but the idea that a continent with people who had developed minimal technology and only primitive weaponry could have survived without conquest for ever is preposterous.

The reason Europeans were able to form empires and colonise much of the world is that they had better weapons and military than the people they were fighting. But if Europeans had refrained from using our technological advantage, someone else would have. It could have been the Chinese, or the Indonesians or the Japanese that conquered Australia, but someone was going to eventually.

The focus is all on the wickedness of empire and colonisation and how dreadful it is that in parts of the world there were slaves. But every place that was colonised is what it is today because it was colonised. Every descendant of every slave taken to North America exists because his ancestor was taken into slavery. If this had not happened the descendant of that slave would be living in Africa today and the person in North America would not exist at all. We are all the result of the chance circumstances of our ancestry including where they lived. My grandmother would never have met my grandfather if they had lived on different continents.

So, while the British Empire might have been wicked it also created modern day India, USA and Australia. They would not exist in their present form and their people and level of knowledge and language might be vastly different. To condemn the British Empire is therefore the equivalent of condemning the waves of migration of Celts, Anglo Saxons and Normans that formed Britain. By all means condemn, but what’s the point?

Everywhere that was colonised would not be what it is today if it had not been colonised and if it had not been colonised by Europeans it would have been colonised by someone else, who might have treated it worse.

Every slave that ended up in North America, might instead have been enslaved by Arabs in which case the slave would have been castrated and would have had no descendants. So put the history of slavery into context. Everyone in Britain is the descendant both of a slave (a serf) and an owner of slaves (a lord). But none of us go on about it because it is just who we are and a matter of ancient history. The so-called winners of the light skin lottery too owe their existence both to their slave ancestors and to slave owners. Without the latter they would not exist.

People migrating to Europe today have just the same right to migrate as all the other human beings throughout history. But let us be clear that in the course of the past 70 years the demographics of the United Kingdom have changed more than during the first 70 years of either the Anglo-Saxon migrations, the Roman migrations or the Norman migrations. But the cumulative result of these migrations was that Britain ceased to be a Celtic speaking island and the Celts were pushed westwards into Wales and the outer Hebrides.

Mass migration eventually leads to the near extinction of the original inhabitants. This is what happened in North America, Australia and New Zealand. There are few people living in these places who speak the languages of their ancestors.

It may not be possible to stop mass migration. It is a feature of human history. It starts off slowly with the Pilgrim fathers making friends with the locals, but a few decades later there are no more locals. The Mayflower was a small boat bringing colonisers, they seemed friendly at first, but they brought with them disease and destruction. The locals should have fought the Pilgrims and sunk their boats, but this would only have delayed their destruction. We have the technology to defend our island, but we lack the will to do so.