Among the rallying cries and slogans for the so-called “Brexit” of the United Kingdom from the European Union this past week was a familiar motto: “Take our country back.” We all know this as a Trumpian shout, and the similarities between the campaign of the American “presumptive” Republican nominee and that of the British side calling for “leave” from the EU are a bit concerning, particularly in light of its surprising victory. Moreover, the predominant leave supporters appear to be of the same demographic cohort as those who have elevated our narcissistic bigot to political prominence—older, White, lower-educated, lower or unemployed and non-metropolitan and nostalgic for a time of romanticized national “greatness, the same crap that tyrants and autocrats have employed to great effect throughout history.
Never mind most of the other stuff about being ruled by Brussels bureaucrats and such, this Brixit referendum was about those “fuzzy-wuzzies.” Yah, that’s what they used to call those dark-skinned, nappy-haired denizens of the lands in many parts of the “empire on which the sun never set.” These are the folks, many of whom would like to come and settle in England these days, not take jobs away from he casts of those social class parlor dramas that Masterpiece Theatre exports to adoring American public television Anglophiles, but just to get away from their home countries that the Brutish Empire fucked up.
Here is how I described colonialism in an earlier essay how we got to this point.
Pretty much since the 16th Century the Northern Hemisphere has outpaced the Southern in what we would call “development.” It has been the North, however, that has come up with most of the intellectual, social, and economic development in the past five centuries. Now hold your guns, I’m not suggesting here that the (mostly) Whities of the North are in some way superior to the more pigmented Southerners. In fact there are a number of ways I find them to be “inferior” (although I am not a folk romanticist). But almost all the great inventors, intellectuals, explorers, scientists, and even artists, came from above the equator. I’m not going to get too much into hypothesizing why, as I am concerned for the present with what happened and a result, and how this bears upon the mass movements of populations.
But part of the “why” is that it has been the North that has been able, by virtue of its technological advantages, to dominate the South. It is the South that has contained the areas of colonization of the imperial states of the north. Owing to their advanced weaponry, social organization, and communication, almost all the nation states of the North and especially the Dutch, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Germans, Italians and French, have conquered and exploited the continents of Africa and South America and dozens of other countries in the Middle East, the Indian Sub-continent, Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Southeastern Pacific.
Part of the problem of the South was that it had a lot of goodies that the Northerners coveted: precious metals like gold, copper and silver, precious stones like diamonds, sapphires and rubies, wheat (remember that Egypt was the breadbasket of Rome), spices, timber, and (how could I forget), crude oil. It was also a good place top pick a few slaves to, you know, do the chores. The North had expended a lot of its “stuff” already, through its development, but also its wars and wastrel ways. So from the time that we northerners call the great age of “exploration” and the southerners (more appropriately) call the great age of “exploitation” the northern hemisphere was having a fine imperial time of it getting places re-named The Belgian Congo, and Dutch New Guinea and French Indochina, New England, and that vast geography acquired by disease, arquebus and rape by those champion brutes of imperialism, the Spanish and Portuguese.
Now maybe I’m being a bit harsh with those well-intentioned buccaneers. So they had to engage in a little pacification to clear away those indigenous leaders who weren’t interested in having their land appropriated, their gold, silver and gems shipped off to replenish the royal treasuries of Europe, and their women raped and subjects hauled off as slaves. Africans had to dig for diamonds, Indians to serve the Raj as servants and soldiers, Chinese to cough up silver and suck down opium forced on them by those great drug pushers of the Orient, the British. They got to subordinate themselves to the new viceroys, conquistadors, and greedy traders.
Sure, they got to learn new languages, and things have worked out where that is an advantage, particularly if you like being up late at night in Bangalore giving tech support in English. They got brand new gods to replace those old ones that didn’t rise from the dead and let you eat their flesh and drink their blood. And they did get some new beneficial medicines and medical practices, but the price was often some nice epidemics of small pox, syphilis, and assorted viruses that wiped out most of your society.
For a variety of reasons, but mostly due to the expense involved in maintaining these “colonies” many have been jettisoned since the great age of acquisition in the 18th and 19th centuries. Sometimes, as in the case of the French in Vietnam and Algeria, they had to thrown out on their asses. But often, as with much of the erstwhile British Empire, the upkeep proved to be negative at the bottom line, and Britannia pretty much sailed away on the waves they also claimed to have once owned. And so ensued a new phase for many of these sates, now armed with “democracy” and Christianity, in which their ability for choosing their political leaders was, well . . . it must be said, as bad worse that America’s ability over the past forty years. Too many to be mentioned went through and still are going through dictatorships, coups, insurrections and civil wars, often in artificial “nation states” that were created for the convenience and edification of their erstwhile imperial overlords. Meanwhile the northerners cluck about the slaughter, wondering whether their former subjects have reverted to their barbaric ways. (“After all, those fuzzy-wuzzies, kafirs, wogs and chinks were racially inferior, weren’t they, Clive?”) Not that this process is at an end by any means. The good ole US of A, a former colony itself, and a rather obstreperous one at that, has decided that neo-imperialism in the 21st century is a good thing for its Halliburtons, defense contractors, and Hummer drivers. We’re not so much interested in the slaves these days (although a plantation economy suits Wall Street just fine)—anyway we’ve been there, done that–as we are the oil. (“Christ simply does not want infidels to have that oil; it’s as simple as that.”)
So now, a lot of these people that the Empire exploited want to come north. They would like a little bit of the economic action, maybe in industries and economic activities that were partly funded by resources from their own countries and, in the case of the American Southwest, maybe even work on some of the land that was taken from their ancestors. These people want to immigrate, they want jobs, often the jobs that the descendants of the colonizers don’t want to do anyway.
That’s where we are at present, in the third phase of imperialism. The chickens are coming home and want to roost: North Africans in France, West Indians and Pakistanis in England, Ethiopes in Italy, Turks in Germany, Indonesians in the Netherlands, Mexicans to the good ole Us of A. And now we hear the hypocritical chorus of concern about the “adulteration of our culture,” the loss of jobs, the social costs of education and health care, the building of fences, walls and legal barriers. For the southerners it’s payback time; for the northerners it’s pushback time? But the imperial boomerang will be hard to stop. Humans have been migrating to where the opportunity was relatively better since they left Africa a million years ago.
We know that the Brits are obsessed with social class, but this exclusiveness is a bit uglier, it’s racism wrapped in notions of cultural purity.
© James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 6.26.2016)
For other Dragon City Journal essays on immigration put any of the following into the search field: 31.8; 64.5; 65.5; 76.1; 81.2;81.3; 81.5.; 81.6; 85.8; 90.2