Whenever you’re in the moment – as distinct from what? outside of it? – it’s often difficult – no, make that impossible – to see it for what, if anything, it really means. But a moment takes its meaning from the series of moments in which it’s embedded. That’s why there’s something to be said for the wisdom of those old enough to be acquainted with the series. And so there’s something to be said more particularly for the wisdom of what I have to say here. So pay attention, because there’s going to be a test.
I was born in (what is now) the Portuguese Azores, on February 3rd, 1363. So last February I celebrated my 659th birthday, though ‘celebrated’ might be the wrong word. Old age is a gift, certainly, but also a curse. Why? Because everything gets old when one’s seen it all before.
Still, better to be bored than dead, though of course how would I know? Which is not to say I have any delusions about being immortal. After I reached puberty, I aged about a year for every 9 years thereafter. And so now, at 659, I feel pretty much what anyone would were he in his early 70s. So if I don’t die in the next, say, 200 years or so, I suspect I’m going to wish I had.
People don’t take kindly to someone who looks a decade younger than he is, and increasingly less kindly as one decade becomes two, two three, and so on. So needless to say I had to keep moving to where no one knew my real age. Not great for long-term relationships, but a good incentive for seeing the world. And so yes, I’ve been to a lot of places. Many of these places not just once. And some of these places centuries apart.
I mention all this, not to crow, nor to complain, but simply to explain why I know a thing or two that most people don’t. Historians can only speculate about the wider context in which what happened happened. I don’t. And context is everything. Accordingly I could write a whole library about where historians have it wrong, but today I just want to focus on the truth about colonialism.
So let me begin, where critics of European colonialism seldom do, with the way things were just before the so-called Age of Discovery. I say ‘so-called’ because it was nothing of the sort. We knew about Africa since before the time of the Romans, and of the Far East long before Marco Polo. The so-called New World – well, new to us – was anything but new to the Vikings. And even back then, word got around.
Anyhow, prior to the so-called Age of Discovery, the quality of life for the average European was not a whole lot better than that of the average African or Asian or Aztec or Incan. Childbirth was equally dangerous, and the odd plague aside, life expectancy was pretty much a wash right across the globe.
So what changed? Well, though we didn’t know it at the time, it was the scientific revolution. Why in Europe rather than – or at least before it spread – elsewhere? The same thing that accounts for why an Italian ‘discovered’ Hispaniola rather than a M’ikmaq discovering Cornwall.
The first to colonise sub-Saharan Africa – apart from other sub-Saharan Africans themselves – were not Portuguese. They were Arabs. The Normans colonised the Saxons long before (what became) the English colonised anyone else. Portuguese colonialism was followed in Africa, in the Americas, in Asia, in the Antipodes – and in Europe itself! – by the Spanish, the English, the French, the Dutch, the Italians, the Russians, the Germans, and – once such a thing came into being – the Belgians. But there’d already been Egyptian and Persian and Greek and Roman colonialism throughout the Mediterranean, Ottoman colonialism in the Balkans, Mongol colonialism in the lion’s share of Asia … So colonialism wasn’t anything new. It’s what civilisations do.
More particularly it’s what civilisations that are more civilised do to civilisations that are less civilised. And for good reason. What I mean by civilisation – the measure of a civilisation – is the political sophistication that makes possible the military sophistication that makes possible the colonisation of less politically, and so less militarily, sophisticated civilisations. Which is not to say the coloniser was superior to the colonised in any other way. The Romans appropriated the superior philosophical skills of the Greeks, as did the Brits the superior culinary acumen of the Indians, and so on.
And in fact what followed – and it invariably does – was the Great Exchange. The coloniser can’t impose his superior technology on the colonised without at the same time sharing it with him. The Old World gave the New World flush toilets and smallpox. The New gave the Old tobacco, potatoes, tomatoes, and syphilis. A fair trade? I don’t know, except to say that we’ve eradicated smallpox but syphilis remains alive and well.
But who came out ahead? Well, smallpox and syphilis aside, they both did. And given that they both did, we could argue about who came out more ahead than the other, but to what avail? Imagine Virginia without flush toilets. Imagine pizza without tomato sauce. So I think we should just call it a wash!
Every episode of colonisation, conquest, occupation, enslavement – they’re all of a piece – produces winners and losers. Come to think of it, can’t the same be said of climate change or this Covid pandemic? Some people today try to take the moral high ground by counting the winners and losers. But in that case both slavery and genocide in America will turn out to have been bargains. Besides, sometimes the descendants of losers become winners. How many 21st Century African Americans would accept free passage back to Africa? Sometimes the descendants of winners become losers. Most of the opioid overdoses are white. And sometimes, because we’re all colonisers and colonised at one and the same time, it’s hard to know who’s a descendant of whom? Apart from recent immigrants, are there any pureblood black Americans? Are there any pureblood indigenous Canadians? So all this current palaver of decolonising is really just the facts “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools.” But I digress.
During the Napoleonic wars – by then I’d become a Russian; who was to know the difference? – the Spanish colonies in South America were left to govern themselves, and shortly thereafter won their independence. And in the wake of the two so-called World Wars – which, not unlike the World Series, were nothing of the sort – the European colonial powers so enfeebled themselves that they could no longer afford their colonies. But they’d become so dependent on their cheap colonial labour – and even more so on the culinary superiority of their erstwhile possessions – that they began to import the spice-stained hands needed to staff their restaurants. And, of course, the same happened in America. And because humans, like any other organism, naturally migrate to where the grass is greener, this was just as well. Until …
Until this rapid ‘browning’ of their continents became a problem for white Europeans and Americans. In fact assuming I survive another two centuries, by the time I die whites will have long-since become a minority on both continents. So what to do?
Truth be told, there’s nothing that can be done. Apartheid is as old as homo sapiens themselves. But it never works. Never mind rape. Men and women find each other fetching, skin colour notwithstanding. It was true in the Azores when I was a kid. Just look at Brazil. It was equally true in Nazi Germany and South Africa, which is why both regimes tried in vain to stop it. Chalk it up, if you must, to Richard Dawkins’ selfish gene hypothesis. But interbreeding is as ineluctable as the law of gravity.
I didn’t much like Russia under Stalin, so I became a German. I didn’t much like Germany under Hitler, so after the war I became a Chilean. And after ’73 I didn’t much like Chile under Augusto Pinochet, so I moved to Canada.
What’s happening now in Canada would be comically reminiscent of Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany were it not that it is reminiscent of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. By this I do not mean I’m worried about physically surviving Woke-ism. Or even about my personal liberties being in any serious wise diminished. On the contrary, in coming to Canada I’ve landed on my feet, in much the way Apollo XIII didn’t land on the moon. Rather what I mean, and all that I mean, is that the mechanism by which the shift in power from white privilege to white fragility is being orchestrated is precisely the mechanism by which the erstwhile intelligentsia was replaced in Russia and Germany during the Interbellum.
Don’t get me wrong, which of course you will. This is not a complaint. As I say, I’ve seen it all before. I’ve been around long enough to know that what goes around comes around, just as assuredly as the sun goes around the earth. In the 1950’s it was the right doing it to the left. Look at the oath to eschew communism faculty members at Berkeley were required to take to keep their jobs. Today it’s the Woke doing it to the… well, I guess they’re the Unwoke. Just look at the mandatory diversity statements applicants are required to include in their application for an academic job. This is precisely how it was done under Stalin and Hitler. The only difference is that the anti-Woke are allowed to fade into obscurity rather than face a firing squad. But in terms of creating a new ideological hegemony, the means and the outcome are precisely the same.
And indeed all this bleating about academic freedom is more than a tad myopic. Most universities started out as formation schools for the clergy. In Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia they were tasked with training political commissars for public service and the military. After the war some universities morphed into centres of enquiry. But that has been short-lived. And rightly so. One way or the other the taxpayer is footing the bill. So why shouldn’t he who pays the piper call the tune?
The counterargument – and it’s as old as the defenders of Galileo – is that the taxpayer himself fares better if he leaves the enquirer to enquire. But how far can any polity afford to take that? Next thing you know they’ll be teaching that the earth revolves around the sun, or that homosexuality is not an abomination in the eyes of God, or that some women have penises. Would they be wrong to teach this kind of nonsense, any more than we were wrong to teach the opposite? What’s taught is not a question of right or wrong. It’s what’s come around. ’Twas always thus and always will be.
Be that as it may, some people think the world becomes a better place to live in in direct proportion to our believing what’s true rather than what’s popular. That’s sometimes true, but sometimes not. And it’s the ‘sometimes not’ that sometimes wins the day, and rightfully so. For example, cosmetic diversity retards research excellence, and everyone knows it, just as we always did. But their fragility – a.k.a. fear of being ostracised, or worse – prevents whites from saying so. Why didn’t people speak out against the Nazis or Stalin people wonder? Wonder no more.
Hegel was right. Every ideology sows the seeds of its own destruction. I saw it with Catholic theocracy, then Protestant theocracy, then liberalism, then fascism, then neo-liberalism, then neo-fascism, then … And the like can be said of colonialism. One people colonises another, the colonised in turn colonise a third, the third a fourth, and so on. In the end it’s all as God intended. For having sent us to the four corners of the earth after Babel, He realised that was a mistake, and He’s been calling us all back together ever since.
Why not in peace, you ask? Because that’s not the nature of the beast He created. You might have preferred we were beasts with a different nature. But then you’d be complaining about sex being too vanilla. In the end this is, as Leibniz claimed, the best of all possible worlds, and our design, as Descartes claimed, is the best that could be devised for living in it. How do I know? Because I’ve had six and half centuries to be disabused of attempts at doing better.