Thursday, October 21, 2004

Four Cheers For The Colonialized 

In Two Cheers For Colonialism, Dinesh D'souza, the American author (I shudder to say, of Indian origin) argues the case for colonialism, dismissing post-colonial studies, and aquitting colonialism (as unintentional gift by the colonial masters), all in on breath. I must say, I admire his courage, his passion, and his sheer (selective) honesty -- however misplaced they all might be.

Why did he choose to defend the colonial case, is anybody's guess -- probably he was hurt that his cherished western civilization is under attack from the rest of the wretched third-world -- which in the absence of any real bargaining power is maligning the west. For someone who was raised (I presume) on the romances of Western civilization, it's understandable that his blood boils by the accusations that all those post-colonial and subaltern scholars are hurling at the greatest example of the western civilization. We, from the wretched thirld world, must understand this behaviour of those lucky ones who never had an umelical chord connecting them with these wretched (even though much improved now, post the colonial rules -- the longer, the better) regions of earth. So, my third-rateworldly friends, you must be sympathetic to him. And please don't call him those old-fashioned names like a traitor or gaddar. You see, he's being more than loyal to his country and his culture. So let's not be emotional, and let's try to adhere to the modernity -- let's be logical.

For instance, he says:
The assault against colonialism and its legacy has many dimensions, but at its core it is a theory of oppression that relies on three premises: First, colonialism and imperialism are distinctively Western evils that were inflicted on the non-Western world. Second, as a consequence of colonialism, the West became rich and the colonies became impoverished; in short, the West succeeded at the expense of the colonies. Third, the descendants of colonialism are worse off than they would be had colonialism never occurred.
Of course, you and me won't use the world assault for the post-colonial reactions! But that's being emotional. From a perspective of global citizen, it's an assualt, mind you. Also, no one is seriously arguing that colonialism is essentially a western concept, but that's okay again. If you apply a little bit of deconstructionism (a western, and global, technique), you'd see that the fact that DD picks up as an important premise shows that in his worldview, West has to be at the center of the things. It's very very natural, I tell you. So if no one is seriously saying that colonialism is a distinctly western evil, you gotta assume that that's what they are doing. After all, how could anyone think that west is not at the center of something? So we'll let that pass.
By suggesting that the West became dominant because it is oppressive, they provide an explanation for Western global dominance without encouraging white racial arrogance. They relieve the third world of blame for its wretchedness.
Well, as a representatives of those wrethed third-worlds, sir, I accept that the blame is totally ours. We let others rule us, we fought among ourselves, and generally never realized that you gotta learn from your history. Hell, most of us don't realized even today that they gotta learn from their history! So on that point, I'm with you, sir.
I was raised to believe in such things (the three premises, I presume -- e.d), and among most third-world intellectuals they are articles of faith. The only problem is that they are not true.
And here, the smart ones can go home. For the dummies, there are explanations coming.
Colonialism has gotten a bad name in recent decades
LOL! I'm deeply sorry sir. Colonialism shouldn't have got a bad name. My wretched brothers don't understand.
Anticolonialism was one of the dominant political currents of the 20th century, as dozens of European colonies in Asia and Africa became free. Today we are still living with the aftermath of colonialism. Apologists for terrorism, including Osama bin Laden, argue that terrorist acts are an understandable attempt on the part of subjugated non-Western peoples to lash out against their longtime Western oppressors. Activists at last year's World Conference on Racism, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, have called on the West to pay reparations for slavery and colonialism to minorities and natives of the third world.
Again sir, I genuinely regret the misunderstanding of my fellow third-ratersworlders. If I were at that conference, sir, I'd have ulta (a third-world-word for reverse) asked the third-worlders to give some of their GDP to the west for all the unintended gifts that they gave us, in their stay here. I mean, gift is a gift is a gift! Intention notwithstanding. I've just one complaint, sir, did you have to bring in OBL in this? I mean, your own western theories would postulate that this might amount to guilt-by-association, a very unhealthy thing to do, by civilized people. But then I forget, you have the wretched blood running in your veins! Damn, how I wish you could have got rid of that, and become an exemplary modern citizen. But I'll let that pass too.
These justifications of violence, and calls for monetary compensation, rely on a large body of scholarship that has been produced in the Western academy.
Sir, again, me thinks, you're doing that same guilt-by-association thingy. I advise you to act more civilized/westernized sir. You're showing your origins by behaving like that!
The West did not become rich and powerful through colonial oppression. Moreover, the West could not have reached its current stage of wealth and influence by stealing from other cultures, for the simple reason that there wasn't very much to take.
Right! Like, India's 20% share of the world trade -- that must be based on selling the philosophy of maya. I mean, what else was there in India pre-british? Again, friends you should not be overly critical of Mr. DD. He was never taught the history of the wretched third-world and the colonies. Hell, most of us were never taught it either, living in the same wretched thirld-world.
"Oh yes there was," the retort often comes. "The Europeans stole the raw material to build their civilization. They took rubber from Malaya, cocoa from West Africa, and tea from India." But as the economic historian P.T. Bauer points out, before British rule, there were no rubber trees in Malaya, no cocoa trees in West Africa, no tea in India.
Like, I said, pure maya. After all, (more later) people who never knew how to distinguish between science and cow, cannot possibly have much wealth! That talk about strong textile industry, and all must be a pure bull! (What else do you expect from cow-worshippers?)
The reason the West became so affluent and dominant in the modern era is that it invented three institutions: science, democracy, and capitalism. All those institutions are based on universal impulses and aspirations, but those aspirations were given a unique expression in Western civilization.
Like the trade-protectionism, like high-taxes on manufactured goods from colonies, like trasfer of wealth (the land-tax), like breakdown of traditional schooling system, like out-licenecing the native enterpreuners.... You see, in it's initial stages, democray and capitalism for a few has to come at the expense of foreign rule and import barriers for outsiders. It's a tricky thing, democracy. You want buffers, you know! What if it fails? The west was responsible for the experiment! And you need civilized people for democracy. So naturally, the thirld-world had to be excluded. Capitalism also is sooo fragile, that it needs import protection. I mean, you don't just let outsiders, and inferior, wretched ones at that, to do free trade inside your country! Not to mention the very civilized divide and rule tactics. Very very civilized look away for a while while famines are happening (because of your policies). You see, there is a science of ruling! And who else could have invented that?
Now we can understand better why the West was able, between the 16th and 19th centuries, to subdue the rest of the world and bend it to its will. Indian elephants and Zulu spears were no match for British rifles and cannonballs.
Righto! Now we know! Dummies, even you can go home now. Only metally challenged should stay.
Colonialism and imperialism are not the cause of the West's success; they are the result of that success.
I'm staying sir, I'm quite stupid. But can I just ask one question, I mean such a civilized bunch this, those who invented institutions like Democracy and all (never heard of before anywhere in the world!), why couldn't they ummmm control their urges? You know, not of that kind...
Colonial possessions added to the prestige, and to a much lesser degree the wealth, of Europe.
Right. If you say so, sir!
The descendants of colonialism are better off than they would be if colonialism had never happened: I would like to illustrate this point through a personal example. While I was a young boy, growing up in India, I noticed that my grandfather, who had lived under British colonialism, was instinctively and habitually antiwhite... I realized that I did not share his antiwhite animus. That puzzled me: Why did he and I feel so differently? ... Only years later, after a great deal of reflection and a fair amount of study, did the answer finally hit me. The reason for our difference of perception was that colonialism had been pretty bad for him, but pretty good for me. Another way to put it was that colonialism had injured those who lived under it, but paradoxically it proved beneficial to their descendants.
But why was it bad for him? After all, wasn't India wretched even before Brits came? I mean, why wasn't he greatful to the Brits for all those railways and buildings and all? I see, sir, your grandfather didn't have your balanced perspective. Possibly because he never got good western (I know it's redundancy, but my fellow-countrymen wouldn't know, you know) education sir? And why are you suddenly saying it injured people who lived under it? Didn't they get the benefits too? Those ungreatful swines? I mean, here they were living in absolute pathetic state, there comes the white man and gives them trains, and what not, and education (unheard of before that, I'm sure). And still they crib! It must be in their blood...
Much as it chagrins me to admit it -- and much as it will outrage many third-world intellectuals for me to say it -- my life would have been much worse had the British never ruled India.
Ignore them sir. As it is, third-world intellectuals is an oxymoron. You're talking about non-existing people. The third-world idiots like me accept your insigt. Of course, your life is better off. One stupid stupid question -- is that why you're defending colonialism?
I am a writer, and I write in English. My ability to do this, and to reach a broad market, is entirely thanks to the British.
You mean, the British taught you to write, wow! They've done a great job!
My understanding of technology, which allows me, like so many Indians, to function successfully in the modern world, was largely the product of a Western education that came to India as a result of the British. So also my beliefs in freedom of expression, in self-government, in equality of rights under the law, and in the universal principle of human dignity -- they are all the products of Western civilization.
Again, a stupid stupid question sir. How much money do you get for this?
I am not suggesting that it was the intention of the colonialists to give all those wonderful gifts to the Indians.
Not too much, I see.
Then they realized that they needed courts of law to adjudicate disputes that went beyond local systems of dispensing justice. And so the British legal system was introduced, with all its procedural novelties, like "innocent until proven guilty." The British also had to educate the Indians, in order to communicate with them and to train them to be civil servants in the empire. Thus Indian children were exposed to Shakespeare, Dickens, Hobbes, and Locke. In that way the Indians began to encounter words and ideas that were unmentioned in their ancestral culture: "liberty," "sovereignty," "rights," and so on.
One more stupid stupid question sir -- why did civil servents need to know Shakespeare?
But my broader point is that the champions of Indian independence acquired the principles, the language, and even the strategies of liberation from the civilization of their oppressors.
Like Ahimsa? Sir? I always had a doubt! I mean, why else would a freedom fighter say don't kill the opressors?
It is doubtful that non-Western countries would have acquired those good things by themselves. It was the British who, applying a universal notion of human rights, in the early 19th century abolished the ancient Indian institution of suttee -- the custom of tossing widows on their husbands' funeral pyres. There is no reason to believe that the Indians, who had practiced suttee for centuries, would have reached such a conclusion on their own.
Of course not sir! Only civilized people like the Brits could on their own outlaw practices like witch-burning. And who else could have branded those wretched tribes as criminal tribes? I mean, you need absolute faith in oneself to brand tribes of people as criminal.
None of this is to say that colonialism by itself was a good thing, only that bad institutions sometimes produce good results. Colonialism, I freely acknowledge, was a harsh regime for those who lived under it. My grandfather would have a hard time giving even one cheer for colonialism. As for me, I cannot manage three, but I am quite willing to grant two. So here they are: two cheers for colonialism!
I wish you had read Ramayana, a third-rateworld epic. In that, there is this crooked character called Valya KoLi -- he used to loot and kill people. Not very good thing, I know. But it produced good results for his family! If it weren't for him, his family would never have afforded the kind of living they could. Will you join me when I grant two cheers to Valya? I'd have said three but he later abondoned this route and made his family suffer, while he sat and wrote the stupid epic called Ramayana, which kept Indians backword for the next thousands of years!. Thank god, your grandmother never told you that story, Sir.

Interesting blog. Enjoyed reading it.


Joseph Smith Jr.
the truth about mormons
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