“Decolonisation” Has Nothing to Do With Justice and Everything to Do With Power.
In Orson Scott Card’s excellent novel, Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, scientists develop a technology that enables them to look back into the past. One day, to their shock, they realise that the communication is two-way. Which leads to the ethical question: can they change the past – and should they? In particular, Pastwatch focuses on the catastrophic collision of Europe and the Americas. Is there any way for them to influence past events so that millions don’t die?
Like Dune’s Paul Atreides with his prescient visions of future jihad, the scientists and anthropologists of Pastwatch gloomily conclude that there is nothing they can do. The two cultures are just so mutually incompatible that conflict, with winners and losers, is unavoidable. Pastwatch avoids the bien pensant left trap of blaming it all on wicked Whitey. As Card points out, Mesoamerican culture in particular was brutal and bloodthirsty: gods like Tlaloc actually liked blood and pain. Historian Geoffrey Blainey likewise notes the incompatibility of British and Aboriginal culture. Possibly no two cultures – one had just invented the steam engine; the other lacked the means to even boil water – could have been such worlds apart, he says.
Pastwatch was not the first science fiction novel to tackle imperialism. At the dawn of the genre, The War of the Worlds invited British readers to ponder what it must have felt like to have an alien, technologically far superior, race suddenly appear, bent on claiming the world for their own. Both are important and challenging questions, but the one asked by Pastwatch is by far the most important for today:
Just what, exactly, would woke moderns have had Europeans do with the New World they had discovered? This is not a foolish question: the left are furiously prosecuting a crusade (perhaps, given their distaste for “crusades”, jihad would be a better word) of toppling the monuments to and erasing everyone from Columbus to Cecil Rhodes. Like the Royalists exhuming and posthumously “executing” Cromwell, the modern left are clearly bent on punishing long-dead white men for their sins against modern morality.
So, what, then, would the “progressives” passing judgement from their towering, 21st century moral throne, have preferred happen?
It was inevitable that, sooner or later, the Old and New Worlds were going to collide. The progress of technology, especially ocean travel, would see to that. But, while the Europeans were the first to cross the Oceans and hemispheres in numbers, there is no reason to think that violence and conquest would not have happened if the roles were reversed.
The indigenous inhabitants of the Americas were no slouches at conquering and enslaving. William Buckley’s memoirs, and the archaeological record, make clear that pre-European Australia was the site of near-constant territorial squabbles that were often more deadly, in relation to the populations involved, than most modern wars. Given the capability then, the left’s sainted “People of Colour” would almost certainly have done much the same as Europeans did.
To assume that European powers even had the option of sailing away again and leaving the New Worlds to their own devices is to ignore political reality. Colonies shifted the political balance of powers in Europe: as Germany (or, to take a non-white example, Japan) came to complain, nations without colonies were second-class powers.
More importantly, the population movements of colonisation were just as often beyond state control. European traders and trappers were often already established in the Americas before the first official colonies were established. In Australia, sealers and whalers often preceded official colonisation. Even where colonies were under government jurisdiction, the tyranny of distance often blunted official power. British officialdom in Australia operated under – and were often determined to prosecute – orders to treat the native inhabitants with respect and fairness. But ambitious individuals were inclined – because they knew they could get away with it – to simply ignore official restrictions.
But the leftist mindset admits no such nuanced thinking. Post-modern thinking is dedicated to one, simple axiom: the battle between oppressor and oppressed. The delineation is as unforgiving as it is binary. “Oppressors” are ineluctably wicked; “oppressed” virtual saints, incapable of wrongdoing.
The bloodthirsty slave societies of Mesoamerica, the regular massacres by Native Americans or Aboriginal Australians of colonists or each other, are completely ignored. Nothing is ever admitted about opportunism, friendship, even love, on both sides. That colonists like Batman attempted to buy rather than simply steal Aboriginal land is dismissed as wicked white duplicity. While the American left rips its collective bodice over black slavery, it hysterically denies the well-established fact that the vast majority of whites in Colonial America arrived as literal economic slaves themselves, in conditions every bit as appalling as the trans-Atlantic passage.
But, the simple fact remains that history is just that. Short of a science fiction deus ex machina as in Pastwatch, there is no changing what happened. So, what purpose does the relentless demonisation of all those dead white males really serve?
The reality is that the leftist mania for “decolonisation” is really just the odious spectre of Cancel Culture writ large and across time. As is the way with Cancel Culture, its targets can never be judged as anything but the worse they ever possibly were. What good they may have done – even if it far exceeded the bad – can never serve as redemption. Having lumped the democractic, capitalist West in the “oppressor” basket, nothing remains, per Marxist dicta, but for it to be traduced, reviled and torn down.
The left are determined, in other words, to force the past to serve the Marxist ambitions of the present. This is nothing to do with “justice” and everything to do with power.