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A History of Hypocrisy

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A wise young man by the name of Johann Hari once wrote; ‘it seems extraordinary to argue that polite British historians with TV series on Channel Four are apologists for mass murder, as ugly as the Russians who would have us believe Stalin’s crimes were inevitable or justified by the advances in industrialization he wrought. But the evidence shows that it is true.’

Polite British historians such as Niall Ferguson; an internationally respected historian who has achieved much in his academic career yet believes that Empire is ultimately a good thing. His career has been built upon an ability to persuasively argue from an Anglocentric perspective, in that he tends to downplay the crimes against humanity that the British Empire committed during its time as a world power. It is the exportation of European institutions and economic ideology that this man prefers to elaborate on. But what of them?

Like all Empires before it, Britain used brute force and manipulation to conquer and rule. Justification for British dominion over its colonial possessions was founded upon a freakish misinterpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution, this misinterpretation is known amongst academics as ‘social Darwinism’ and was used to justify the horrors of breaking and entering into societies that inhabited foreign lands. As a British citizen Ferguson tells a story about Britain to Britain that is very similar in nature to those stories told by Victorian anthropologists in the 19th Century, these stories largely concerned themselves with Victorian ideas of progress rather than the idea of non-directional, multilineal cultural development proposed by later anthropologists.

And yet, the Victorian idea of progress was nothing more than commodity fetishism; Ferguson’s idea that ‘Britain created the modern world’ is Newspeak for ‘Britain destroyed other economic and governmental systems and replaced them with another’. Notice that this isn’t progress in the sense that Ferguson suggests, merely the supplanting of one non-directional, multilineal cultural practice with one that better served British economic interests.

The Brits invented ‘Gunboat Diplomacy’. It stands for a truly selfish and arrogant practice whereby the militarily dominant side in an international dispute sends an impressive collection of sea-cannons to their opponent’s shores. The British (who considered themselves enlightened and progressive; shedding light unto the dark corners of the Earth) put its naval power to good and regular use against all those who dared oppose its desire for economic and political hegemon in the 19th and 20th centuries. This archaic practice takes on an even darker shade of audacity when we consider the fact that it is being practiced even today, as I write this blog entry (albeit under the revamped brand name: ‘Shock and Awe’). Examples are countless to the point of being a cliché within the blogging community; type the words ‘American imperialism’ into the Google search bar and you will, as of 11th May 2007, be presented with no less than 1,380,000 results.

Yes friends, the similarities between this archaic monstrosity and the present day bastion of liberty and progress that is US Foreign policy scare me.

“The British are special. The world knows it, we know it. This is the greatest nation on earth” proclaimed Blair during his resignation speech yesterday (“sure, we messed up in the Desert but we invented the train, fools”). It is called Anglocentrism, and was a seemingly unconscious ideal that found itself being shipped out over the Atlantic amongst the more overt Lawful and Orderly ones. It manifests as follows: when under political fire and in doubt, a political figure head will refer his listeners to the flag of his nation and order a commencement of imagined remembrance. The only difference between this practice over here in the UK and over there in the US is one of name. Nowadays it is known as American exceptionalism.

“I sent American troops to Iraq to make its people free, not to make them American.” exclaimed Bush in late May, 2004. The irony present within the context of this statement is plainly obvious, it could very well be mistaken as a direct quote from Orwell’s 1984. When weapons of mass distraction (pun intended) were no longer deemed a viable excuse for breaking the sovereignty of a foreign nation, ‘freedom’ became the name of the game. Which, from the perspective of an American foreign policy advocate, must take on quite an exceptional definition; “Stop blowing up our troops; they’re only pointing guns at you until you decide to choose freedom and democracy…”. The irony of this very real senario is, however, that the more GIs sent into Iraq in order to suppress the freedom haters, the more freedom they actually supress themselves, which only grants the original freedom haters more lovers.

Americans themselves do not enjoy freedom. They are merely granted ‘freedom from’, as in ‘Freedom from tyranny’, freedom from Geneva (“the rules only count when they suit our oil interests”), etc. In this sense they do not enjoy ‘true’ freedom nor should they expect to deliver what Bush suggests they are able to in the Middle East. What the Administration is capable of delivering, however, are puppet governments and client states that are better able to serve American economic interests. Failing that, the Prez may opt to bounce some rubble with expensive explosives, destroy crops and induce famine, and basically chuck bombs, bullets and the lives of its own ‘free’ citizens at the opposing regime until… well, who knows where the goal posts are these days? Ask Uncle Sam for an update on the rules.

Many of us over on the European side of the Pond ask our cynical selves (to borrow a question from Douglas Milburn) ‘is it an Empire yet?’ In my mind, yes. The American Empire is for real, and it measures up in every way against the very high standards set by those indomitable, intrepid culture-crushers from Britania that it fought so successfully to rid itself of a century or two ago.

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About Graham McKnight

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    The title is indeed apt. There’s a great deal of hypocrisy to be found in those who enjoy all the benefits which came of the march of progress which included the era of the British Empire and subsequently all of the progress carried forward by America, yet resent the institutions and the civilization which made that progress possible.

    The ludicrousness of the hypocrisy is typefied by comments like:

    Notice that this isn’t progress in the sense that Ferguson suggests, merely the supplanting of one non-directional, multilineal cultural practice with one that better served British economic interests.

    As if the societies which the British Empire dominated had even a fragment of the mercantile, industrial and intellectual potential the empire offered. You’re effectively saying that people living grass huts eating their neighbors periodically should be considered on an equal footing with the the Empire which essentially created the modern world.

    As we’ve discussed before on other threads, the British Empire spread progress wherever it went, even if there were some costs associated with it. Those nations which were most advanced and most cooperative benefited to the largest extent – especially its own colonies – but every place where there was British domination is better off today than equivalent places which did not come under the sway of the British Empire.

    Boo hoo. Progress has a price. If you, living today as a beneficiary of that price without having paid it personally, want to whine about it, that’s incrediblky self-indulgent and naive.

    Dave

  • STM

    Yeah. I think it’s interesting that some of the South and central American republics settled by the Spanish are in cosntant turmoil, and forever blaming outside interests for their own lack of success. Look at Argentina, the great hope of South America early to mid last century, and it’s military juntas, populist dictatorships, rampant inflation and seemingly unassailable economic woes.

    Now contrast that to places like America, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Malaysia, the new South Africa, Hong Kong Singapore, many of the Caribbean islands, the Bahamass, even India and most of developed Pakistan.

    You can see that those places have been able to use the institutions of law and government inherited from Britain (Yes, even the US) to rise above whatever other problems they’ve had, and make a go of it.

    For all their faults, the British have largely been a force for good in a world that was always going to go global anyway. Better them than some of the other mongrels, like Napoloeon, Hitler, Tojo and Stalin, who’ve all had a go at less-then-benevolent world domination.

    Despite not being British, I never want to see the Union Jack go from our flag for that reason – because it tells the story of who and what we are, warts and all.

    The fall back position that Britain and its empire and commonwealth, and thus America, are wrong by default because they are two different parts of the one “empire” intent on world domination is absolute bollocks. What we have inherited is above all good, and has given us prosperity and stability, and real freedoms that others don’t enjoy.

  • MBD

    “Progress has a price.”

    But what is the price of no progress?

    On his second day in Iraq, Cheney spoke to U.S. soldiers at a base near Tikrit about the difficulties they face each day. “We are here, above all, because the terrorists who have declared war on America and other free nations have made Iraq the central front in that war…”

    And I thought bin Laden has been in Afghanistan for the past 5 years.

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    MBD, no progress obviously has a far worse price than progress does, at least in the long run.

    Which has nothing to do with your lame little dig about bin Laden – who by all accounts has been in all sorts of places including Pakistan and Iran, not just in Afghanistan.

    And BTW, bin Laden isn’t the only terrorist in the world. Do you think that if we take him out terrorism will stop? Are you really that naive? He’ll just be a martyr to inspire even more terror.

    dave

  • Dr Dreadful

    It rather depends on whether you espouse the concept of cultural relativism or not. Dave obviously doesn’t, or he’d see that the terms “progress”, “advanced” and “better off” change significance depending on your point of view. In a nutshell, he assumes that the industrialization of the world was a good thing.

    I hardly think that those peoples who were driven off their lands and had their cultures destroyed in the name of “progress” considered themselves to be “better off” as a result.

  • MBD

    Dave, you ignore the fact that Uncle Dick misleads our troops when he speaks about “ the terrorists who have declared war on America” and does not mention bin Laden.

    Who gives a shit about your speculations as to whether bin Laden is in all sorts of places including Pakistan and Iran, not just in Afghanistan?

    Those who “declared war on America” over five years ago are not in Iraq. The war on America was declared long before Iraq was invaded.

    You say, “bin Laden isn’t the only terrorist in the world” Did anyone claim that? And, “Do you think that if we take him out terrorism will stop?” Did anyone say that? Why do you tilt at the smoke you create?

    Does anyone not think that if bin Laden was the focus in 2001 and if 140,000 troops had been sent to Afghanistan instead of Iraq, there would be less terrorism?

    You and Uncle Dick don’t want to admit that bin Laden and “the terrorists who have declared war on America are still at large. And what we have done in Iraq has only made the threat worse.

    Progress has a price. Lack of progress also has its price.

    Call Uncle Dick and let him know.

  • Graham McKnight

    The idea of ‘Progress’ deserves an article all of its own, and one that I intend to create in the near future based on the naiviety of the criticisms directed towards my article on the deeds of Empire.

    Consider the following: The bourgesoise, according to Marx, are the inventors of their own demise. The working class will use the very tools created by the bourgesoise in order to smash them. Destruction of the hegemony cannot happen in any other plausible way.

    Marx too heavy for you? Try this: The largest distributors of anti-war material during the Vietnam War were the big-labels of the music industry in corporate America (Warner Bros, etc). This is but one example among many, Dave, of those who oppose the hegemony using the so-called ‘benefits’ that Capitalism cultivated in order to significantly change or alter the dominant ideology.

    How else do you expect one to voice his/her discontents?

  • Alec

    Graham –

    An interesting post and I agree with some of its sentiments. But the problem is, as is always the case with stuff like this, is that it does little more than allow a reader or writer to stew in the impotent juices of his own empty superiority. Britain and the US have been hypocrites. So what? What have you got as an alternative? What are you going to do about it? And isn’t being even more hypocritical to live in the UK or the US, benefiting from this hypocrisy, and then pretend to condemn it?

    I agree with you and other posters that neither the UK nor the US simplistically brought progress to the world and more primitive peoples. People who write this clearly identify more with the boot that is kicking butt than with the sore behind on the receiving end.

    RE: Ferguson’s idea that ‘Britain created the modern world’ is Newspeak for ‘Britain destroyed other economic and governmental systems and replaced them with another’. Notice that this isn’t progress in the sense that Ferguson suggests, merely the supplanting of one non-directional, multilineal cultural practice with one that better served British economic interests.

    And so? The same can be said of what the Mughals did to India, or how Islam transformed the Middle East, or the Aztec conquest of earlier Mezo-Americn civilizations, or even what subsequent North American Native American tribes were able to do once they tamed the wild horses that escaped from the Spaniards.

    This is also, of course, what happened in Britain itself as successive waves of invading Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Vikings and ultimately Normans murdered and displaced native Britons, Gaels and Celts.

    The world has always been a nasty place, and any progress or comfort always has a bloody cost at its root.

    RE: Yes friends, the similarities between this archaic monstrosity and the present day bastion of liberty and progress that is US Foreign policy scare me.

    This gets to the heart of my frustration with your post. Progressives seem to think that there is something noble, special or noteworthy to be found in what scares them. While this perhaps argues that they possess an exquisite sensitivity, it is a poor substitute for wisdom, analysis, and action.

    RE: “I sent American troops to Iraq to make its people free, not to make them American.” exclaimed Bush in late May, 2004. The irony present within the context of this statement is plainly obvious, it could very well be mistaken as a direct quote from Orwell’s 1984. When weapons of mass distraction (pun intended) were no longer deemed a viable excuse for breaking the sovereignty of a foreign nation, ….

    This is just nonsense. While I agree that the US invasion of Iraq was monstrous and wrongheaded, it is no less Orwellian to neutrally describe Iraq as a sovereign nation, ignoring Saddam Hussein’s subjugation of his own people, or even the fact that Saddam and his predecessors came to the power through UK gunboat diplomacy and American intervention. You simply can’t have it both ways to decry the possible illegitimate means by which Iraq came into existence and then whine about the invasion of a legitimate sovereign nation.

    Similarly, North Vietnam, not the West or the US, finally put an end to the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Which is more important to you, that a genocide was halted or that a sovereign nation was invaded?

    RE: Many of us over on the European side of the Pond ask our cynical selves (to borrow a question from Douglas Milburn) ‘is it an Empire yet?’ In my mind, yes. The American Empire is for real …

    The US is an oddly feckless Empire, then. Wouldn’t it be simpler and far more imperial to do what the Brits, the French and other European powers previously did and simply crush an Iraqi resistance, and install another Saddam as a puppet ruler?

    The problem with both historians like Ferguson, and with your post, is that the simplistic paradigms of Empire really don’t get to the heart of contemporary international relations, nor is it really a particularly insightful analysis of the past.

  • Graham McKnight

    Alec, you are asking too much from this article.

    But to answer one of your questions; ‘Which is more important to you, that a genocide was halted or that a sovereign nation was invaded?’

    1) By invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan the US and UK can legitimately be held responsible for the deaths of many thousands, both civilian and combatant.

    2) By invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan the US and UK broke international laws and protols. The UN exists for a reason.

    3) The US nad UK ought not to crown themselves the ‘makers’ and ‘breakers’ of nations, nor should the US have funded and supplied Saddam’s war against the Iranians or failed to punish him sufficiently when he began to commit genocide against the indigenous Kurdish population to the north of Iraq.

    4) Why Iraq in the first place? Considering the above history between the US and Saddam, and that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, why did Bush choose to act on Iraq in 2003 when he knew of Saddam’s genocidal practices against the Kurds since before Gulf War 1?

    I could go on here, for instance you say that: ‘And so? The same can be said of what the Mughals did to India, or how Islam transformed the Middle East, or the Aztec conquest of earlier Mezo-Americn civilizations…’ and in this instance I can only agree with you, and simulataneously thank you for agreeing with the notion that Empire is generally a bad thing. It just so happens that the focus of my article was British and American Empire… but as I have said, you ask to much of the article.

  • MBD

    Capitalism doesn’t create hegemony. imperialism or aggression. And a gun doesn’t commit murder. Someone has to be involved.

    WWI was supposed to be the war to end all wars. WWII was followed by the United Nations Charter which was supposed to provide a new start — no more wars, no more aggression, no more colonialism, no more land grabs.

    The United Nations is supposed to enforce the UN Charter and put an end to war.

    But it hasn’t happened.

    It hasn’t happened because of a combination of things that men in power do. It’s in the nature of most politicians to be guilty of greed, arrogance, incompetence, outright lies, duplicity, self-promotion, etc. Nothing galvanizes a population to support their leaders more than an external threat, real or conjured.

    Over 2,000 years ago, Julius Caesar warned about political leaders who can all too easily send the citizenry marching eagerly off to war by manufacturing crises that purportedly threaten national security and making popular appeals to patriotism.

    In 1799, George Washington admonished Americans about the pitfalls of foreign wars…

    “Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with [other countries], entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of …[other‘s] ambition, rivalries, interest, humor or caprice?

    “Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all… It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and…great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous… example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. ..

    “In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments or others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings…towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.

    “Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld.

    “And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

    “As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils. Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

    “Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it.

    “Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

    “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith.

    “Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course… Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of other countries, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of their ambition, rivalries, interest, humor or caprice?

    “Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences… but forcing nothing…

    “In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischief of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.

    “The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without anything more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.

    More recently, it was the Nazis who perfected propaganda to incite their population to fight a war of aggression.

    “Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.”

    — Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

    Now in the 21st Century, George Bush and his neocon coterie, having ignored the advice of Julius Caesar, Herman Goering and even that of GEORGE WASHINGTON, are at it again…

  • MCH

    “Do you think that if we take him out terrorism will stop? Are you really that naive? He’ll just be a martyr to inspire even more terror.”
    – Dave Nalle

    Kind of like our invasion of Iraq did…?

  • Zedd

    Graham,

    I should have read this article before reading the one on progress. It seems that I stated what you have already mentioned.

    “sure, we messed up in the Desert but we invented the train, fools”

    Beautiful! This says it all. How disjointed…. as if trains were a necessity.

    Endeavor comes with being human. Impressing multitudes with your endeavor is just that. It holds no mystical universal significance. If those multitudes decide to utilize the results of your endeavor, it is just that and only that. We however have attached a spiritual component to invention. Because good can be performed with lets say the expediency of trains, it doesn’t mean that trains are a sign of righteousness, goodness or superiority. Good was performed regularly, with the same self sacrifice by individuals, prior to the existence of the train.

    Thank you for your thoughtful contribution.

  • Zedd

    Alec

    Britain and the US have been hypocrites. So what?

    There is no person called US who is THE hypocrite. Its you. If its YOU then you can do something about it.

    For generations we have been indoctrinated that we are inherently good, even as we practiced jim crowe.

    Even after the end of such an evil policy, we still look back on our history as that of THE GOOD, even though we bought and sold humans and killed millions of Native Americans while forging the Constitution.

    Sobering is a good thing. The past assessment that we had of ourselves was a lie (nothing less). We were in a haze of a distorted reality. I wouldn’t say “so what” to that. We cant be great, if we really aren’t great. We will reach our goal to be a great nation if we pursue it.

  • Graham McKnight

    Zedd,

    Your comment that ‘Endeavor comes with being human. Impressing multitudes with your endeavor is just that. It holds no mystical universal significance. If those multitudes decide to utilize the results of your endeavor, it is just that and only that. We however have attached a spiritual component to invention. Because good can be performed with lets say the expediency of trains, it doesn’t mean that trains are a sign of righteousness, goodness or superiority.’

    Is beautiful. You are a wordsmith of the highest caliber, friend.