Tuesday, October 13, 2015
The slave trade was not my fault
We can’t apologise for crimes we didn’t commit – or celebrate victories we didn't achieve
Should you apologise for the crimes of your ancestors? And should the state make financial reparations to atone for such crimes?
These two questions have arisen after Jamaica’s National Reparations Commission called upon the British prime minister, David Cameron, to ‘apologise personally’ because ‘his forefathers were slave owners’. Jamaica’s president, Portia Simpson Miller, has also raised the issue of Britain paying financial reparations to Jamaica, as recompense for Britain’s role in the slave trade.
The two answers here are – obviously – no, and no. First of all, you can’t apologise for something you didn’t do. It’s an effortless and insincere gesture, serving only to make any ersatz penitent appear virtuous – saying sorry for a bad thing you have actually done takes real courage.
On the second matter: what of the material wealth accrued by Britain through the slave trade, passed down through the generations, in the form of our cities, infrastructure and state apparatus? Don’t we still feel the benefits of the slave trade?
Yet recourse to reparations is a step riddled with practical difficulties and contradictions. What of the descendants of those who fought to abolish the slave trade? What of British people today whose grandparents came to Britain from Jamaica in the 1950s and 1960s? Should they foot the bill for reparations? And what of the descendants of those African kings who sold their own people into slavery?
Children should never have to apologise for the sins of their fathers. But we do need consistency here. Just as you cannot be ashamed of historical crimes you didn’t commit, neither can you take pride in past glories not of your making. What with the current bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, and the ongoing commemorations of the First World War, there has recently been much revelling in Britain’s past achievements. Yet neither you nor I played any part whatsoever in beating Napoleon or the outcome of the Great War. Still, Irish republicans will no doubt use such vicarious, first-person language for the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising next year, and I imagine the Corbynities are stirring themselves likewise for the centenary of the Russian Revolution the year after.
We may allow ourselves to be grateful to our ancestors for their various struggles, but you can’t take pride in something you did not do. ‘We’ didn’t ‘win the war’, any more than ‘we’ won the World Cup in 1966. It’s like your Arsenal-supporting colleague coming into the office on a Monday morning, cretinously lording it over his workmate with the silly boast, ‘We beat you 3-0!’.
No you didn’t. Vicarious, second-hand pride is as vacuous as hand-me-down, ersatz shame.
There’s no such thing as modern slavery
Britain's Modern Slavery Act is immigration control by the backdoor
To much political fanfare, key provisions of the UK’s Modern Slavery Act came into force last week. Home secretary Theresa May described the Modern Slavery Act as a ‘landmark’ in the fight against slavery in the UK.
In truth, the campaign against modern slavery and human trafficking is a spectacular act of political hoodwinking. While most historians will tell you that the abolition of slavery in the British Empire came in 1833, some 26 years after the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, the British government and an assortment of advocacy groups are convinced that the UK still has a slavery problem. Campaign websites point out that there were 1,746 reported cases of slavery in the UK in 2013-14, with 155 convictions for human-trafficking offences – an increase from 99 convictions in 2012-13.
The kind of slavery that was abolished over a hundred years ago amounted to the use of human beings as property. So what exactly is modern slavery? Well, the law is not entirely clear. It suggests that in order for someone to be a slave, they need effectively to be owned by another person. But the current law does not recognise the ownership of people. The slave trade was so barbaric precisely because the rights of slave owners were recognised in law and could be enforced by the machinery of the state. Today, given that the law does not recognise ownership of human beings, to what extent can someone own slaves?
In the legislation, ownership is defined as exercising a significant degree of control over another person. But merely controlling someone, even to a great extent, is not the same as legally owning them. The offence of modern slavery is very broad in its possible application. Guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) indicates that whether someone thinks of himself or herself as a victim of slavery is immaterial. In fact, under Section 1 (5) of the act, even if someone consents to being held in slavery or servitude this would not preclude the prosecution of a slavery offence. So, in effect, you can agree to be a slave. Go figure.
The act also criminalises human trafficking, which amounts to arranging travel for a person into the UK in order to ‘exploit’ that person. Section 3 of the act gives a list of circumstances in which someone can be said to have been ‘exploited’. It is here, in the detail of the act, that the breadth of its reach becomes clear. The definition of ‘exploitation’ includes those who have had their services procured by ‘deception’ – that is, anyone who has been brought to the UK and misled by his or her employer could potentially be seen as a victim of trafficking. The act gives enormous powers to the police and prosecutors to decide what kind of behaviour constitutes ‘slavery’, ‘servitude’ and ‘trafficking’, and provides a mechanism for intervening in a wide range of situations.
The act also gives magistrates the power to issue ‘slavery and trafficking prevention orders’. These orders can be granted where there is a risk that a slavery offence will be committed, and can prohibit any behaviour that may lead to such an offence. So not only is the definition of slavery and trafficking extremely broad, but the powers the act grants to the courts are extremely wide-reaching and draconian.
Of course, there is not widespread slavery in the UK – one need only look into the bizarre reporting of slavery statistics to see this is the case. The National Crime Agency reported that 2,744 people were ‘potential victims of trafficking for exploitation in 2013’. Potential victims? I am a potential victim of murder, given that I am a living human being. Discussion of ‘potential’ victims merely highlights how little we know about the existence of real ones. Labour MP Frank Field estimated that there were 10,000 slaves currently in the UK, following a recent evidence-based review. The problem with the review was that there was no evidence. Instead, Field claimed that establishing the extent of slavery in the UK is impossible because it all happens ‘behind closed doors’.
The political and intellectual dishonesty of modern anti-slavery campaigners is staggering. The narrative of anti-slavery has given the government the perfect moral gloss to apply laws that are regularly used to target economic migrants. The last two significant investigations into trafficking led to the arrests of hundreds of foreigners. These arrests resulted in just 15 prosecutions for human trafficking. Seventy-three of those arrested were prosecuted for immigration offences and deported. This is because immigrants are more likely to work for free in exchange for accommodation or food while they try to establish themselves in the UK. The College of Policing’s guidance on the Modern Slavery Act even anticipates that criminal investigations could become immigration or employment investigations once they get underway.
But even to talk about ‘criminality’ in relation to this act is a misnomer. Today, the myth of modern slavery is used to give a moral gloss to anti-immigrant legislation. Those campaigning to ‘end slavery’ in the UK do not seem to realise that they are doing a great job of promoting the Home Office’s own anti-immigrant agenda. There are parts of the world where forced labour remains a problem. But this act is not about eradicating the scourge of slavery from the UK; it is about giving the authorities a moral basis to intervene almost arbitrarily in the lives of economic migrants.
Europe Begins Massive Deportation Of 400,000 Illegal Immigrants
The European Union has moved forward on deporting rejected asylum seekers to ease the pressure from the Syrian migration crisis.
The interior ministers of the E.U. met to discuss a 10-point plan Thursday and agreed to new regulations that will speed up the process of removing more than 400,000 illegal immigrants. The ultimate goal is to deter others coming in the future by sending a clear message that they won’t be able to stay if they are rejected asylum.
“We need to be better and more effective, not just at helping people and offering refuge, but also at returning those who have no right to stay,” E.U. Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said at a press conference Friday. “That is why a credible and effective return policy is also an essential component of our efforts.”
The return program will be funded by the $3.5 billion Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, with a significant portion now set aside for the next five years.
Refugees fleeing war — in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Eritrea — tend to get asylum while economic refugees from Africa and Asia often get rejected. The E.U. has faced problems with deporting the rejected asylum seekers and less than 40 percent were successfully removed in 2014, according to BBC.
A lot of people are also taking advantage of the Syrian refugee stream by attempting to slip through the cracks when the Frontex border agency fails to keep track of the situation. Libyan authorities successfully arrested a group of 300 African migrants Friday as they were about to board boats taking them across the Mediterranean Sea.
A relocation program to spread out the number of refugees across Europe proportionally was also set in motion Friday with planes filled with asylum seekers departing Italy.
After Oregon: we need to talk about narcissism
Don’t blame guns for the rise in mass shootings
In the aftermath of last week’s mass shooting at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon, hands were once again wrung, and familiar, emotive pleas issued. Tighten up gun controls. Better still, ban the sale of guns full stop. After all, as unstable, as volatile as 26-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer was, if he couldn’t get his hands on the guns – he used six in total – then he wouldn’t have murdered those nine unfortunates. ‘It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun’, said US President Barack Obama.
To the converted, Obama’s preaching makes perfect sense. America has a problem with guns. Having enshrined the right to bear arms in law over 200 years ago, it worships them, fetishises them, sublimates them. As a result, a gun culture has flourished, drawing on the ‘allure of the settler-frontiersman and rugged individualism, [and] the profits of the gun lobby’. And now, tragically, this gun culture is turning ever-more lethal, as yet another gun-wielding nihilist – Oregon was the forty-fifth school shooting this year – fires his way to fleeting infamy. ‘Gun violence is a public-health epidemic and menace that must be met at peril to our moral as well as physical survival’, said Senator Richard Blumenthal on Friday. ‘We cannot allow another tragedy to pass with only words of grief and regret.’
Blumenthal is right. We cannot allow another tragedy such as Oregon or Charleston or Sandy Hook or Virginia Tech to pass with only words of grief and regret. We need to look the horror of these mass shootings in the face. We need to be honest with ourselves and each other. And we need to grasp what on earth is going on.
But to do that, to confront the nature of the mass shooting, we need to stop blaming guns. It’s easy to do that. Get rid of the tool, and people won’t be able to use it. It’s obvious, right? Simple. The kind of reasoning that ought to refute the Second Amendment, confound those who ‘cling to guns and religion’, and make America a safer, more sensible, more progressive place? Yes, it is obvious, and it is simple. But it is also spurious.
If guns were the problem here, if rifles and pistols were fuelling the rise in mass shootings, why have these particular acts only started to increase in frequency over the past couple of decades? It’s not as if gun ownership, or indeed the right to bear arms, is a new phenomenon. As Brendan O’Neill has noted in relation specifically to mass school shootings, ‘between the 1760s and the late 1970s, with a few exceptions, most shootings in schools were just a continuation of criminal activity in general… It isn’t until the 1960s, and then much more notably in the 1980s and 1990s, that the phenomenon of mass school shootings emerges, where the aim is to kill as many young people as possible for no obvious, discernible or even old-fashioned criminal reason.’ Indeed, the increase in mass shootings generally is marked even over the past 15 years. Between 2000 and 2006, there were on average 6.4 mass shootings a year; between 2007 and 2013, there were 16.4.
More striking still, this increase in body-count-seeking massacres, this rise in mass shootings (in and out of schools) in which the objective is spectacular rather than criminal, bucks the prevailing trend in violent crime in the US. According to government statistics, the US homicide rate declined by 49 per cent, from 9.3 homicides per 100,000 US residents in 1992 to 4.7 in 2011 – its lowest level since 1963. And the use of guns in homicides also fell by 49 per cent between 1992 and 2011. As Patrick Egan, a political scientist at New York University, put it: ‘[W]e are a less violent nation now than we’ve been in over 40 years. In 2010, violent-crime rates hit a low not seen since 1972; murder rates sunk to levels last experienced during the Kennedy administration. Our perceptions of our own safety have shifted, as well. In the early 1980s, almost half of Americans told the General Social Survey (GSS) they were “afraid to walk alone at night” in their own neighbourhoods; now only one third feel this way.’ And, for all the attention given to America’s gun culture, it’s worth noting that firearm ownership is nearly at an all-time low. In the 1970s, about half of the nation owned a gun; today only about one third do.
If the problem here was guns, if the fuel driving the rise in mass attention-seeking shootings was manufactured by Smith & Wesson, why are these empty, murderous acts increasing in frequency at a time when the rate of other gun-related crime is at or near all-time lows? Surely if firearms were determinant, all gun-crime would be on the rise? If pistols were the driving force here, then surely, given the drop in gun ownership, we should be seeing a drop in mass shootings?
To look for the main reason behind the rise in the mass shooting in so-called gun culture is to look for it in the wrong place; it is to look for it in the technology rather than the social context in which that technology is used. The problem here is not the guns. It never was. Rather, what the rise of the mass shooting touches on is a cultural problem, a societal tendency to cultivate pathological forms of narcissism, fragile characters dependent on others for constant, self-aggrandising recognition, sensitive to the perceived slights of others, craving their affirmation, and raging when that affirmation is denied; characters who obsessively want to see themselves in the world, and who are childishly angered by the world’s refusal to yield to their demands.
The shooters’ own words almost always reveal this same narcissistic, affirmation-hungry character, the same infantile determination to place oneself at the centre of the world (indeed, the very act of leaving a ‘message to the world’ speak to an urge for self-glorification). Harper-Mercer, the Oregon shooter, is reported to have written admiringly of another mass shooter: ‘So many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows. A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.’
This narcissistic craving for affirmation echoes celebrity culture’s thirst for fame, but with a nihilistic twist; the sense that one is entitled to affirmation for simply being oneself – fame for fame’s sake – drives the shooter to destroy those who rejected him. Again, the same thwarted demand for affirmation is apparent in the recorded message of Elliot Rodger, the Santa Barbara shooter, who swore ‘revenge on all of the hedonistic scum who enjoyed lives of pleasure they don’t deserve. If I can’t have it, I will destroy it.’ Likewise, listen to the words of one of the two Columbine shooters: ‘I hate you people for leaving me out of so many fun things. And don’t fucking say “well that’s your fault” because it isn’t, you people had my phone number, and I asked and all, but no.’
So, no, the problem here isn’t about guns, or guns’ availability. It’s the problem of a culture in which the worst narcissistic personality traits are being nurtured, a culture in which children and young people are encouraged to believe their self-esteem is paramount, that they are entitled to affirmation and praise, and undeserving of criticism and rejection; a culture in which what matters above all else is one’s self-identity, and screw those who fail to affirm and respect it. This isn’t a problem confined to the US. In the UK, too, it’s possible to glimpse a mass-shooter mentality in the young narcissists flirting with the Islamic State, and al-Qaeda before it. Their knowledge of Islam may be shallow, but their craving for affirmation, and perception of slights, of offence, is profound.
To focus on gun culture is to miss the real the problem in our midst – the rise of the militant narcissist, the individual to whom the world must be a mirror, no matter what.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.