First, let’s Reclaim the Word “Violence”…

I think, in Britain, real, racist violence, actual bodily harm, is rare, these days. Acts of deliberate racist cruelty and persecution are less so but are still unusual and unrepresentative of popular opinion. Both are voluntary acts of personal choice and not of state policy, either, even when perpetrated by servants of the state, such as police officers. 

When they do occur, they seem driven by a desire for thrills and power. Targets are chosen on tribal lines, those identified as “other”, allowing for a “group-think” environment of mutual encouragement and shared responsibility. Fear and disdain are also being directed towards them. These are emotional rather than rational motives. People don’t come to the reasoned and sober decision that it is their civic duty to shank some black kid outside a nightclub on a Friday night. Disinhibiting factors like alcohol (and, possibly, testosterone) often seem to be involved, as well. 

Emotions are personal drivers. Overt racism is an excuse to achieve the personal goals of power and consequence – it might as well be homophobia or misogyny, or transphobia. It isn’t necessary for the rationale, or the excuse, to be passionately believed in for someone to become a target. All that matters is that there is a way to single them out. Persecution can be a much more off-hand and unimportant thing for the perpetrators than for the victims, who may feel the impact of it for the rest of their lives. That’s part of its injustice. Someone who punches you in the face for being Asian may not feel race is an important issue in their lives or societies. 

Racist Violence: a Preliminary Thought

I’ve complained, many times, about how our dependence on our phones and on the internet has relocated us into a world of abstractions. We no longer live in the tangible realm of the sensual body, people and things that are immediately present, here and now. These days, we are all drifting through a misty void of words, statistics, metaphors, symbols, semiotics, concepts, half-thought-out ideas, unsubstantiated claims, and unprovable theories.

In this environment, aggrieved activists use the word “violence” as a metaphor to denote anything that anybody else has said that has upset them. It is a deeply inappropriate misuse. Violence is real, not a metaphor. Violence is an irreducible, untranslatable fact. Wordless and visceral, it is the ultimate, unanswerable response to our self-congratulatory social science debates, our clamour for the insubstantial hypotheticals of social justice, inalienable human rights, and egalitarian societies: an argument-ending reminder that we are still, at root, physical, biological creatures, and despite all our clever talk, we can be easily silenced.

This misuse reveals the danger of taking the theory of “Micro-aggressions” too far and too seriously. Small insensitivities may form part of a culture of prejudice, but they might also just be coincidental. Everyone’s verbally and socially clumsy, at times. People are annoying. They say the wrong thing. 

It’s no doubt deeply irritating to have to tolerate white kids’ twittery and the silly assumptions they impose on you, but to describe the experience as “violence” is to reveal quite how entitled and complacent Social Justice activists have become. It belittles and insults the survivors of real, actual racist violence, and their experience of such terrible powerlessness. To equate your experiences to that of the victims of true oppression is to undermine the struggle and allow us all to be dismissed as overly-sensitive solipsists.

Is The Great Replacement Theory Replacing Down-Home Xenophobia?

British nationalists traditionally regard themselves as citizens of the world’s top nation and often fear the lawless and uncivilised behaviour of uncultured foreigners who they believe are flooding the country. I remember hearing two middle-aged women in my local supermarket, discussing the alarming number of fatal accidents on local roads. One of them said, “It’s these foreign lorry drivers, you see. They don’t adhere to the same standards as we do.” As far as I am aware, there is no evidence that accidents are caused disproportionately by foreign drivers, or that their driving regulations are of a lower standard. In fact, the British right has always been in favour of cutting legislation (itself seen as a foreign intrusion) to ease trade and promote freedom. Brexit was sold to us not just because it would block immigration, but because we could remove EU “red tape”, which really means abolishing the laws that protect workers and consumers from exploitation. British coastal waters are far more polluted than those of Europe, due to lack of regulation.

White British identity politics has tended to be territorial rather than racist by systematic principle or theory. British nationalists often “humbly” accept that the superiority they take for granted is the result of unearned advantages conferred by what they assume are better education and civic institutions. They are protecting their own privilege. Only a very few neo-Nazis used to claim a biological racial superiority, and they seemed driven more by a punkish desire to shock than by sincere belief, which suggests the general population believed in equality.

So, ironically, both the patriots and the antagonistic neo-Nazis accepted that egalitarianism is (supposed to be) a central “British Value” – a horrible, jingoistic phrase! They believed Britain was a very welcoming country and saw no reason why they should be resented by immigrants of colour. In fact, ingratitude is one of the accusations still levelled at Social Justice activists.

As a result, in the past, Brits have felt comparatively unthreatened by revolutionary racial violence. Few felt they faced an organised and intentional racial coup. 

Unfortunately, the US right seems far more prone to that paranoid delusion. Are theories of racial superiority more widespread in the United States? Certainly, it would help to excuse their history. Theories such as “The Great Replacement” and “White Genocide”, even if they originate elsewhere[1] have found their most fertile ground in the United States, and are now espoused by (formerly) mainstream Republicans. Tucker Carlson has, apparently, mentioned this idea on his Fox News show over 400 times. (see “A deadly ideology: how the great replacement theory went mainstream” in The Guardian, 08/06/22.)

Inevitably, these phrases and ideas are now creeping into the fringes of British political discourse, although it’s only the mad conspiracists who hold them, at the moment. Who has infected us with this sickness? The internet, of course, the great organ of American Cultural Imperialism.

[1] The Great Replacement theory was apparently given its modern form and title by the French author Renaud Camus, in books published in 2010 and 2011, according to Wikipedia.

Home-Grown, Organic, British Racism

Having helped their businessmen develop the trade, the British government made slavery illegal, ensuring that there was never a slave population in Britain, as there was in America. They exported the racial friction, resentment and paranoia that ought to have been the country’s legacy and punishment for the slavers’ crimes. It’s yet another glaring injustice of the whole business. 

Most British people didn’t have to deal with the consequences of colonialism until the British government started to invite immigration from former dependencies to ease labour shortages. Even now, people of colour still make up a much smaller proportion of the total population in the UK, compared to the USA. The 2020 American census has the “non-Latino” white population at 57.8%, and the Black population at 12.1. In the UK, the 2019 estimates were that the white people amounted to around 84.8% of the population, whereas Black people made up 3.5%, according to the Government website GOV.UK.

In the US, emancipation led to around 4 million virtually destitute ex-slaves making up a large proportion of the population, especially in the south, where most had been employed, usually in agriculture. The savage and immediate memory of enslavement led to suspicion, prejudice and discrimination, division and violence as black people remembered all too well the cruelty with which they had been treated, and their paranoid former masters feared the righteous anger of such a large number of people. Ironically, this fear of black violence has led to most acts of racial violence being committed by white people against people of colour (I believe). White people are much more of a threat to Black people than vice versa.

British mistreatment of people of colour has always had a different character to that of The United States. Often, it has been manifest as racist outrages and offences by particular racist individuals, a response to the perceived threats of immigration, and has been driven by xenophobic suspicion, bigotry, and nationalist arrogance. In other words, it has tended to be the result of personal prejudice and antipathy (although that is culturally incubated) and has never been so explicitly and systematically encoded in British institutions, laws and procedures. 

Instead, a whole set of related factors has led to inequality of opportunity and of social outcome in our society. This has been far more likely to disadvantage people from ethnic minority immigrant demographics. This may foster certain expectations about people from those groups, but the great irony and injustice of the situation is that a society such as ours can be racially unfair without any individual person holding any racist beliefs at all.

The source of racial injustice is our shoulder-shrugging, “What-Can-You-Do?”, “I’m-alright-Jack” acceptance of the principle that inequality is natural and inevitable. Deal with that, create a truly egalitarian society, and you start to deal with British racism.  

Cultural Wars, Assimilation & Appropriation: why Britain is different

Of course, we’ve been heading towards complete cultural assimilation ever since America became the dominant power in the world: at least since the 1920s and the rise of cinema, and consumer capitalism. Now, however, we are not just being sold attractive material products and aspirational living. Social Justice theories and movements, Critical Race theory, Black Lives Matter, grew out of the unique stresses and injustices of American society, history and cultural. Similar issues already exist in the UK, but are significantly different. 

All British school children learn how British slavers had established a lucrative triangular trade between Britain, West Africa and the US and Caribbean, that saw manufactured goods transported and sold in Africa in return for slaves, then slaves sold in America in exchange for sugar, tobacco, and other valuable raw materials.

The UK undoubtedly benefitted from any profits made from this trade. Rich men spent their money in Britain and endowed institutions of which they approved. I’m not sure how much the nation’s prosperity relied on these moneys, though. No doubt, there were port duties and other customs levies to be extracted on slave-tainted cargoes, but I don’t know when systematic taxation on business revenues was introduced. Income tax was an invention of the late 1700s/ early 1800s.

It is very unclear how much advantage ordinary British citizens ever derived from the trade. For centuries, governments levied taxes to pay for specific state enterprises like paying for the army and navy through a specific conflict. The idea that governments should have responsibility for the welfare of its citizens and should collect tax money to plough back into this obligation, is very new, probably post-dating the abolition of slavery in 1833.

British society has always been notoriously unequal, so the majority of Britain’s population are likely to have gained relatively little. It seems unfair to blame the exploited sailors on slave ships for the trade. They were paid a minimal wage, took whatever work they could get to avoid starvation, were worked until their bodies were broken and then cast off without any means of support. How much can you blame African foremen of slave teams?

British nations may have been able to capitalise, in more recent times, on a general prosperity that may have been established at the time of slaving. The government may have been able to fund infrastructure and institutions that benefit the general population: roads, hospitals, but it is extremely difficult to trace slave money into these projects, and, in any case, this would make absolutely all who used them equally complicit, including Brits of Afro-Caribbean heritage and the most vociferous Social Justice activists.

Maybe we should all refuse to use the roads.

Critical Race Theory is American Cultural Imperialism

British activists have gained great impetus and power by adopting America’s Social Justice movements. They have gained endorsement and support from these enormous expressions of solidarity and common purpose: millions of voices whose sheer force of numbers, and resulting volume of protest, makes them incredibly powerful. 

They have also gained influential theorists and spokespeople: skilful and persuasive speakers and writers who have established convincing ideologies to justify their positions in academic papers and newspaper articles, presenting statistics and facts in support of their claims. They have gained innovative new tactics and approaches to forward their aims. They have acquired New World glamour and chutzpah. 

But it is a Faustian pact, and there is a price to pay. For, to gain all this, we must claim that British and American society and culture, and our experience of them, are identical. We must adopt an American mind-set, accepting, entirely, America’s perspectives and assumptions on all socio-political matters. In other words, we must surrender, finally, completely, to American Cultural Imperialism. We must give up our unique differences, our souls. 

Back to My Old Complaints: Racial Blame is a Ponzi scheme.

Condemning the government’s heartless visa restrictions on Ukrainian refugees, a couple of months ago, Nick Cohen pointed out, “If we were not so in thrall to American notions that racism solely consists of white supremacy, we would recognise the lethal prejudice for what it is.” (The Guardian, “Russian Spies? No wonder we recoil from this demonisation of refugees” 10/04/22)

“White Supremacy”, “White privilege”: new labels and separate definitions rather than nuanced and qualified descriptions are necessary in the binary-code world of algorithms. Tick boxes. This fosters the absolutes of the internet warriors: “It can’t be racism if it’s prejudice against white people.”

Why not, then, coin a new term? Because we don’t want to do all the spade work, spend all the time and energy it would take to make the new term accepted and commonly used. Instead, we want to harness the traction and power of an already established word. In the case of racist/racism, while it was never a complimentary term, the civil rights and emancipation movements sacrificed lives and lifetimes, sweated, and shed blood to establish the true horror of these words, and to embed that in the minds of our language communities. 

Now Social Justice activists have stolen and repurposed them. It’s all very modern: instant gratification; the ironic appropriation of past fashions, little effort…

I remember in 2016, four years before the death of George Floyd, when Black Lives Matters was in its infancy, and some other unfortunate’s death in police custody had sparked a wave of protests in America. A small group of people had chained themselves together on the runway of London City Airport, blocking it. They were protesting under the BLM banner.

The Black Lives Matter campaign in America is absolutely necessary and right. I honour and support it wholeheartedly, as I did then. However, I was confused to see American slogans on a British runway. The disadvantages and discrimination experienced by British people of colour seem markedly different from the literally murderous hostility encountered by Americans and comes from a substantially different history and culture. (“Black Lives Matters” always struck me as a pretty restrained and modest reminder to the authorities in the US, given what the black community has suffered.)  

I wondered if these British activists were blocking flights from the U.S., unlikely on such a small airport with such a short runway. I thought they were being embarrassingly hypocritical and xenophobic by criticising America when we had enough racial inequality and even outright racism in our own country. Why, I wondered, did they not join (or found) a British organisation?

I felt the same about the presence of the same groups at the Grenfell Towers protests. Why were anti-racist groups trying to muscle in on a tragedy and injustice of the poor, by calling it racist? How could they justify stealing somebody else’s trauma to fuel their own movements and further their own agendas? 

MeToo seemed plagued by the same pretention. How could women who had felt a bit uncomfortable at work, due to the heavy-handed flirting of sexist male colleagues, compare themselves with the victims of rape or sexual abuse and slavery?

Of course, I can now see that this is all about solidarity – forming alliances, about recruitment to mass-movements whose size allows them enormous leverage to influence government policies and social thinking. 

Protest movements must, inevitably, foreground grievance over celebration. If your response to, let’s say, prejudice against West Indian immigrants is to celebrate Caribbean culture, you will give the impression that all is well with your society. But dwelling on grievances, leads to a hierarchy of suffering, where the value of an individual is measured in their resilience in the face of adversity and privilege is a sign of weakness and worthlessness, so it became necessary to establish your own misfortunes to prove your worth.

The concept of “micro-aggressions” has been immensely useful in cementing a sense of robust unity between people with vastly different experiences. Campaigners emphasise the fact that all discriminatory acts, no matter how slight, lie on a spectrum of increasing severity and that even the merely irritating help to reinforce a culture that enables monstruous acts of oppression. This allows women who have had their hair annoyingly touched to stand next to the victims of sex trafficking to build vast and powerful movements. 

So, the merely annoyed and pestered can prove their value by demonstrating their kinship with those who suffered and survived. They can also virtue-signal their way out of accusations of privilege by demonstrating their solidarity with the outraged, which they do by expressing your own outrage, aimed at the un-enlightened. It is a vast Ponzi (or pyramid) scheme of blame, as I’ve said before. 

This way of campaigning is thus an intelligent and resourceful response to the modern age of connectivity. It is also deeply coercive, ideological, Machiavellian, and hypocritical. It is coercive because it accuses people of being racist or privileged unless they agree in totality with your position and join you. It is ideological, because it relies on, and assumes the truth of, the internet’s statistical abstractions of Racism by Spreadsheet: you are racist because you fit into a category with lower numbers of disadvantaged members on the spreadsheets, no matter what your own personal situation and experience is. It is Machiavellian and hypocritical because it employs division, prejudice and discrimination in the service of ending division, prejudice and discrimination, using the excuse that it works. Presumably the end justifies the means.

For the moment.

Roe v Wade: Summation & final thoughts

Abortion is not the killing of a human being. It is only in the most simplistic and fanciful fairy-tale of human life and fully formed pre-existing souls that such a view is tenable. The harm that might be done by an abortion is to the pregnant woman. This can only be made worse by hatred and condemnation. 

An article in The Observer (08/05/22) reported a scientist, Giandomenico Iannetti, claiming anti-abortion lawyers had misused his research in claiming that a cerebral cortex isn’t necessary to feel pain. In any case, it is very unclear how, who or what could be “feeling pain” without a cerebral cortex to register it or to apply it to a personality. As the Observer article states, “John Wood, professor of neurobiology at UCL, said, ‘all serious scientists’ agreed a foetus cannot feel pain until 24 weeks, ‘and perhaps not even then.’” 

It is extremely worrying (and dangerous) that a majority of Supreme court justices, women and men who are supposed to have dedicated their lives to reasoned thought and making wise and studied judicial choices, should be incapable of rising above such sentimentality. Are these the best and wisest legal minds that the whole, great American nation, all 330 million of them, could come up with?

But, of course, they aren’t, because supreme court justices are appointed by the president. So, if a popularist candidate, pedalling the simplest, emotive narratives of us and them, good and evil, appealing to the lowest common denominators of voter motivation, becomes president (God forbid!), he is able to appoint supreme court justices in his own image. They will be equally prejudiced, irrationally emotional, thoughtless and intolerant, while far greater legal minds languish lower down the hierarchy, having their far wiser decisions over-ruled by these angry bigots. 

For this reason, the judiciary must, must, remain independent from the legislature. This is the case in Britain, but the conservative party, and its right-wing media attack dogs, have been threatening it. We must stand firm.

The “pro-life” movement is pioneered by the religious right, and religion’s great appeal is ability to reduce the distressing complexity of life, both scientifically and philosophically, to nice, simple narratives. In this case, the problem is explaining how what appears to be disgusting, insensate human effluvia: spunk and menstrual matter, could combine to produce the miracle of human sentience. Christianity’s answer? Humans must pre-exist, lined up in heaven by God’s angels, in neat rows, like cherubic paratroopers, waiting for the signal to be injected into a fertilized egg. 

Possibly, this is no more plausible than the agnostic scientist’s belief that life is incredibly complex, whether or not there is a god, and is beyond the paltry human’s brain, so that parts of its procedures extend far beyond the limits of our comprehension, into the apparently incomprehensible and inexplicable, the miraculous and transcendent. 

Of course, a fertilised egg, a zygote, even a young foetus, are not yet human, as we would understand it, although they have the capacity to be, because they are not yet conscious or sentient. As Jon Ronson explores in his excellent BBC Radio 4 series Things Fell Apart, most Christian fundamentalists saw no problem with abortion until the 1970s, anyway, seeing it as a Roman Catholic issue, until an influential pair of Christian documentaries kick-started the movement. 

So Christian anti-abortion thought is a fashion. What has given it such a boost in recent times? So we arrive back at the same question I am always asking: what has made the Far-right so resurgent? 

Roe v Wade III: “Mummy, where do Pro-Lifers come from?”

The question that must be answered, next, is, “does abortion cause suffering, and, if so, to whom?” Even a new-born baby still has much of its neurological development to do. There is no evidence that new-borns are capable of thought in any meaningful sense, let alone a sense of self or a recognition of feelings, concepts, or the existence of any of the world’s, or their own brains’, phenomena. How much less must this be the case for the primitive electrical impulses and automatic sense-reactions of a zygote or early-stage foetus? In the absence of any identity or sentience, any node or thought-engine to recognise pain, the simple firing of some under-developed sensory cells cannot be considered in the same way as suffering.

The machinery of the universe is incredibly complicated. Biology blends into chemistry, which blends into physics, quantum mechanics, metaphysics, thought, conceptual meaning itself. Like any other living creature, our small brains have developed just enough to allow us to grapple with immediate obstacles to our continued existence. We simply do not have the mental capacity to see the full picture, any more than a sea-cucumber can understand marine ecosystems. The bright but narrow torch beam of our cognition swings wildly through the pitch-blackness and picks out individual cogs and pipes and pistons but the rest of the machine, its purpose, is lost in darkness. 

We will never know, fully, what the hell is going on. 

One such mystery is how human consciousness can be created out of nothing. It is extremely difficult to accept that such a profound and apparently transcendent, thing could pop into being from an unconscious egg cell and an unconscious sperm cell, so where has this sentient creature come from? How is it possible that human thought, the soul itself could be a product and a function of biology? Yet so it seems.

Some things simply happen. Some things simply exist. The conditions of the universe demand it. The godly often ridicule this as an admission of defeat, yet their belief that all things must have a creator regresses, inevitably, back to a God, a prime cause, that simply exists. 

Being able to accept that things just are may be a much greater example of piety and commitment than the messy, sentimentality of most religious creation stories. Science is an austere and inhospitable creed. Its truths demand strength. 

Gods and their myths of pre-existent souls make a much more satisfying and humane narrative. I suspect this is reinforced by a natural evolutionary drive to cuddle and protect things that resemble our own young. (You become much more sentimental when you’ve had children of your own.) This adds up to a powerful motive for anti-abortion campaigns. 

Roe v Wade II: what do you call a creator of damned and tormented souls? Pro-life

I have worked with teenagers for years and the most profoundly disturbed are those who have been unwanted and rejected by their birth parents. Even children who are successfully fostered and adopted are permanently marked, deeply troubled and insecure because they know they were born unloved and unwanted. At too early an age they learn that being loveable and cared about is not an inherent human characteristic. Being valued is dependent on luck and the goodness of other people.

They also harbour a profound sense of shame on behalf of their birth parents for being so inadequate. will they inherit this flaw? Unsurprising thoughts, when kids from secure, loving birth families are often upset if they just discover they were unplanned, because that means their mothers were unsure they wanted them. All children are deeply impressionable, probably because their brains need to be highly receptive to learn their world as quickly as possible. 

Attachment disorder is often the result of such rejection, a condition, in its severe form, that denies its sufferers the ability to feel empathy with other human beings, to form meaningful relationships or even to act in socially appropriate ways and thus to stay on the right side of the law. A prison psychologist working in British women’s prisons told me that they are full of women with attachment disorder. 

My own experience of the condition is that sufferers are so completely cut off from other minds, so lacking in empathy, that they struggle just to be likeable. They are cruel, uncaring, disloyal, selfish. In other words, they have been denied the basic right to choose to be a nice person. The profound, possibly life-long aloneness that confronts them is perhaps the most severe long-term punishment a human can endure without dying. We are social animals. Spending time with others who accept us is one of the most fulfilling existential experiences we can have.

I accept that many, many unwanted pregnancies do not end up this way. Many women come to terms with their pregnancy, many are flooded with hormonally boosted love for their new-born (assuming the courts don’t order the child removed at birth.) However, each time a court forces a woman through this process they are gambling, taking enormously high stakes risks, on the life of a future human being. 

The woman wanting the abortion is not responsible for these risks because she does not want that possibility to become a reality. Of course, a miserable existence is preferrable to oblivion, but the choice between an unhappy life and murder is not the choice being made by an abortion. The bundle of cells and tissues that forms in the earlier stages of pregnancy is an adjunct to the woman creating it, despite visual similarities to a developed human being. It is not, and has never been, a human soul. Making the choice not to pursue that possibility, among the infinite possibilities that the future holds, is exactly the same as deciding not to have sex. It should be no more condemned than should abstinence. The responsibility lies with those insisting, for their own satisfaction, on creating a tormented life.