April 26, 2007
I recently pointed out how the Guardian’s deputy comment editor, Joseph Harker, has realised that if the meaning of certain words doesn’t support his argument or broad political stance then he can simply change what those words mean until they do support that argument, at least in dim light. Thus, Mr Harker can argue that “all white people are racist” while claiming that he can’t be a racist for saying so, on the basis that racism is, apparently, an exclusively Caucasian vice. Clearly, if one can redefine words to suit an existing argument, rather than rethink one’s argument to fit the meaning of words - or indeed reality – then this affords enormous opportunity, at least rhetorically.
It’s pretty clear from this unilateral definition that Harker isn’t against racism per se. Attentive readers will notice he’s not arguing for a reciprocal moral principle – i.e. that people shouldn’t be prejudged on the basis of their colour or country of origin. Instead, what we see is an expression of PC bigotry and contorted righteousness. It’s not too difficult to see how this linguistic contortion fits with certain kinds of role-play – pretentious victimhood on the one hand and narcissistic guilt fantasies on the other. Perpetuating this outlook might be politically useful to some leftist ideologues and opportunist pressure groups, but it isn’t clear how believing “all white people are racist” helps anyone see further than the colour of a person’s skin.
Harker isn’t alone in trying to present a human vice as an exclusively Caucasian one. His argument, such as it is, belongs to a line of postmodern thinking, whereby basic reciprocation and individual responsibility are sidelined in favour of Designated Oppressor Groups and Designated Victim Groups. Thus, virtue and vice depend not on what a particular person actually does, but on which group that person, or their distant ancestors, can be said to belong to.
On a website page named ‘Facts’, the International Coalition for British Reparations claims, somewhat improbably: “Any student of world history will tell you that if he had to pick a single nation to pin all the world's troubles on, Britain is far and away the obvious choice.” The Coalition does, however, concede that, “Britain isn't behind all of the world's problems — at least not directly,” while maintaining, “all roads of human suffering, particularly in the 20th century, lead back to Britain.” This contention is supported by, among other things, a list of “bad inventions” - including “machine guns, slums, prisons, child labour, bad hygiene, the Black Plague, concentration camps, you name it.” The Coalition concludes, “If it hurts people, the British probably came up with it.” This righteous, if unreliable, endeavour is the creation of Steven A. Grasse, a “cultural studies analyst and media communications expert”, and the author of Evil Empire:101 Ways That Britain Ruined the World. Mr Grasse can be seen sharing his wisdom in the photo to the left.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share some comments by Tom Paine. He’s talking about the naval officers who were held hostage in Iran, but the point Paine makes – about “cultural cringe” - applies much more broadly. Not least, I think, to Mr Grasse, to certain deputy editors at the Guardian, and to quite a few of its readers:
“I am sure they know all about Britain’s ‘wicked’ imperial past. They will know everything of her role in the slave trade, save for abolishing it within her empire and then using her navy to suppress it elsewhere. They will not know that the Anti-Slavery Squadron of the navy in which they now serve liberated 160,000 slaves between 1811 and 1867 off the coast of Africa. They probably don't know the history of people abducted into slavery by Muslim rulers from British ships and English coastal towns. They will know, however, of every time their country has fallen short of the high standards set by Ghana, Nigeria or the Islamic world. They will also know, in their guts, that ‘Islamophobia’ is a terrible thing, though they will not be able to explain why.”
By all means share your thoughts.