Friends and Relation
This has been an especially great day because our eldest daughter Clare walked with us all morning. Made up for the incessant rain.
We lunched with Colonel Paul Davis who used to be the Secretary General of the services charity Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League and a great friend of ZANE and ours. Also, Richard Warren who loyally drove for the last two of our walks. Despite getting to know us really well he has become a great friend.
My thoughts turned to Commonwealth, Empire and war…
The History of Man
I read in Rob Still’s Global Private Equity Fund report that the statue of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town was torn down because it represented “racial supremacy” and was a symbol of “colonialism”.
How ridiculous is that? Why do we continually apologise whenever the subject of the British Empire is raised? Why are we so slow to defend our past, especially when people are just parading their prejudices and talking nonsense? All too often, critics judge events that occurred 150 years ago in the context of the hugely changed world of today. They simply don’t understand that the past is a foreign country and “they do things differently there” – and not always badly either.
Facing the Facts
Will southern Africa degenerate to the level of Zimbabwe? On present showing, the answer, sadly, has to be yes. Of course, anyone who declaims the harsh truth loudly enough will inevitably be accused of “raaaaacism,” a routine knee-jerk reaction – but I think we should fearlessly state the facts.
Mankind probably emerged from Africa, likely emigrating from and then returning in multiple waves. Mankind shares the same DNA; we are of one species and created equally in the sight of God. In other words, it is racist to deem people as sub-human in the way that – for example – the Germans condemned the Jews in the middle of the last century. But it is not racist to point out essential historical facts, as stated below.
For all sorts of reasons, the various branches of man developed unevenly and great empires have risen and fallen with metronomic regularity. At some point, the Assyrians, Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks, Romans, Huns and Mongols all dominated world society. Attempts have been made to explain the factors that dictated the unevenness of the development of human societies. Ian Morris’s excellent book Why the West Rules… for Now attempts to measure this development over the millennia.
Survival of the Fittest
The simple fact is that, as Churchill argued, “The history of man is the history of war.” Throughout history, life was tough, brutish and short…especially for the losers. Vanquished and weaker societies were conquered, absorbed, enslaved or simply obliterated.
Ian Morris’s latest book, War! What is it Good For?, illustrates how inter-societal war over the millennia facilitated the advance of mankind by liquidating the weak and unsuccessful, and by creating the “rule of might” under whose protection mankind carried out trade and innovation to progress the species. The worst position to be in was to belong to a weaker society or tribe in any such clash or conflict. As history illustrates, such societies were always virtually annihilated.
Relatively speaking, when the southern African people clashed with the arriving European settlers, as a society of Iron Age pastoralists they were vulnerable. History shows that the indigenous southern Africans were in fact generously and – relatively speaking – fairly treated. And they have much to be grateful for to the early Dutch/Afrikaner settlers and later on to the “British Empire.”
The Fruits of Colonialism
For the last 600 years, there has been a vigorous development and expansion of the European peoples. There are all sorts of reasons: the growth of venture capital, competitive structures of society, shared information, printing, the Industrial Revolution and the harnessing of fossil energy. European society blossomed and exploded in an orgy of discovery, technical advancement and progress. The continent of Europe brought project power across the globe. The Spanish Empire in South America, and the rise of the United States, Canada, Australasia, the steppes of Russia and Siberia all bear testament to the rise of the European nations. But please note this: whenever there was a clash between the vibrant new European peoples and less advanced societies, the results have always been ugly for the latter.
Note that the native North Americans, the Aboriginal people in Australia, and the Aztecs and the Incas were all effectively obliterated. There are many reasons why the southern African indigenous people were spared this carnage. First, the early Dutch/Huguenot “settlers” became assimilated into Africa as an “African tribe”. Next, the Afrikaners failed to attract follow-up mass immigration as happened across the new world; and last, southern Africa came latterly under the relatively benign and progressive flag of the British Empire.
The fact is that the indigenous Africans who found themselves at the bottom on the development heap were in deep trouble. They needed to catch up fast – without being swamped and obliterated by clashes with more advanced societies; and the fact is they were deeply fortunate to be colonised by the Afrikaners and the British Empire.
Why were they fortunate? Well, take for example the fact that when Gandhi was openly defying the British Raj in India, Hitler advised Chamberlain thus: “Shoot him… people will soon forget!” But of course the Raj couldn’t do that, for they knew such an action would breach the law of the land. What other dominant power would have been so tolerant and decent, or wedded to the rule of law?
In the brilliant book Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, economic historian Neil Fergusson illustrates the many positive contributions of British colonialism. He makes the vital point that under the British flag, more capital was transferred from the developed to the undeveloped world than at any time before or since in history, and that the risk premium for such transfers was artificially and derisorily low. Thus Anglo-American risk transfers and skills helped build southern Africa into the economic powerhouse of Africa with associated institutions, infrastructure and technology.
Southern Africa has much to thank Cecil Rhodes and the British Empire for. Of course, there were gross excesses and no one can be proud of the miseries and injustices of Apartheid. However, when you take into account the building of cities and their vast necessary infrastructure, the rule of law, and democratic and civic institutions, it’s quite an inheritance. In the round, all you have to do is look around and see – with unprejudiced eyes – what has been achieved and passed on to future generations.
The good news is that, as a whole, today’s world society has become wealthier, healthier, happier, kinder, cleaner and better educated. People live more peaceful, more equal and longer lives that at any time since Adam. The bad news is that weak-strong societal conflicts are now much subtler than in the past: the battleground is about surviving in the global world economy. There is no escaping the iron rule that to survive you must innovate, but not all boats will rise in the rising tide of global progress and prosperity.
On present showing, I suspect that as indigenous southern Africans fall back in the economic race, they – as has been the case in Zimbabwe – will react increasingly aggressively towards the heritage and history of the white minority. As the aggression rises in tempo, decision boundaries by multi-national companies will be wound back to the shorter term, capital will be invested elsewhere, and emigration forms will be filled in by the most talented. The universities will start to lose gifted teachers as well as the hugely beneficial annual influx of US students, and the alumni will file their long-term endowment plans in the bin. All this will be to the great cost of the departments of engineering, science, mathematics, commerce and law: all vital disciplines if southern Africa is to compete in world markets.
The real problems that face southern Africa have nothing to do with old colonial history; rather they are that: (1) Education performance is now amongst the lowest in the world and as a result, the “born free” of the “Beloved Country” generation are being condemned to servitude and unemployment; (2) Pervasive corruption is smeared across all aspects of southern African life; and (3) There is chronic mismanagement by crucial state-owned enterprises.
The House of Tomorrow
Our children are all doing – well to us, anyway! – interesting things. Milly is a training consultant, a role she has created with her own effort, flair and energy. Thomas is starting his curacy outside Bath, Oliver starts his curacy in the centre of Cambridge, and Clare has just been appointed chaplain of Christ Church Oxford. Our children – and our 10 grandchildren – are our pride and joy, as children usually are to parents the world over and have been since time began.
It’s satisfying to watch our children’s careers and families unfold. They are pleased to be involved in jobs that are love affairs, and for our part, we are as proud as punch. But it’s dangerous for us to try and get too close. We should try and perfect the art of selfless love. Good old St Paul claimed selfless love was like a “drink offering”: a good metaphor, because liquid poured from a glass is a one-way trip. In my view, this is as good a description of selfless love as you can get. Of course, parental love can be a volatile force. It can overwhelm us like a tsunami, but we all have to be careful of living vicariously through children because a parent’s love is like a ball: it gets passed onto each generation. But the ball only goes one way, that is from parent to child and onto that child’s children in turn – and you cannot expect the ball to be passed back to you from your own children. Yes, of course, we love our parents, however old we get – we always need them, and when they die, it’s a loss to be mourned. But it’s a different kind of a love from that which you give a child. And, as parents, our job is to pass the ball forwards and not back. We are our children’s custodians: they are not our possessions.
As the poet Khalil Gibran wrote:
“You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls live in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit.”
Nor can we expect any/much thanks from our children for what we may have done for them – any more than we thanked our parents for what they did for us (which in my case, was not a lot.)
What goes round comes round in the perfect symmetry of life.