Wednesday, April 11

That's Funny. In My Day, Those Who Couldn't Teach Taught Gym.

Dennis Prager, "Britain Was Once Great Britain," Townhall, April 10.
It is painful to see the decline of Great Britain.

Greatness in individuals is rare; in countries it is almost unique. And Great Britain was great.

I'm sorry. There's a lot more like this. If you'd like to take a moment to get some Dramamine™ now would be a good time.

I had a long illustration of this, but let's begin by accepting just for the sake of argument that one constant in the forty years of the modern American "Conservative" Movement is a complete disregard of History, at least as a matter where established fact and its interpretation are something engaged in as an ongoing attempt to hone the truth as much as humanly possible, in favor of molding the whole business into Simple Moral Tales for Simple Moral Children. We have seen quite clearly now how this plays out when these people have hold of the reins: facts don't last two minutes around 'em. People, dedicated, idealistic people, worked long hours for little money so that you could be educated, Mr. Prager. What a bunch of maroons they were.

Let's just throw this out before we go any farther, because Prager has no interest in the real British Empire: Dynastic Egypt lasted three thousand five hundred years, though it wasn't challenged much until near the end. China--is it still Red China in his balliwick?--has had a central government and recognizable cultural identity for twenty-five hundred years and counting. India is about half a millennium behind. Ups and downs, no doubt, even some instances of foreign domination, but still, undeniably, there. Both are still going strong, and are undoubtedly Great Civilizations, despite never feeling the need to conquer the World.

This "almost unique" Great British Empire, meanwhile, hung in for about three hundred years of maritime subjugation and institutionalized racism, and near-constant, eventually bankrupting land wars on four continents. And left in their wake, we might add, the very mess in the Middle East which gives Denny such delicious frisson. Great.
It used to be said that "The sun never sets on the British empire." That is how vast Britain's influence was. And that influence, on balance, was far more positive than negative. Ask the Indians -- or the Americans, for that matter.

Ask 'em what, exactly? Why they were willing to die by the thousands just to throw the buggers out?
The British colonies learned about individual rights, parliamentary government, civil service and courts of justice, to name of few of the benefits that the British brought with them.

Wait a minute...you do realize that a scant two weeks ago we were all Spartans, right? I mean, shit. This is mere sycophancy. The entire Subcontinent--to name just one beneficiary of British imperial largesse--was devoid of culture, government, or any notion of jurisprudence or liberty before the benevolent Anglo-Saxons showed up, passed out some democratic institutions, and went back to minding their own business?

And I would like to take a moment to point out that "individual rights, parliamentary government, civil service and courts of justice" are not exactly on the top of the Townhall Most Admired Political Concepts List, except for the part about the individual's right not to pay taxes to support parliamentary government, civil service and courts of justice.
Were it not for British involvement, India might still have sati (burning wives on the funeral pyre of their husband),

Well, they do still practice the pre-historic barbarism of capital punishment. Oh, wait.

Anyway, you gotta love the Mondo Cane view of history. It'd be better still with some pics of topless native girls, jet black hair plastered against their faces as they struggle helplessly against their tight bonds, their eyes speaking the horrors facing all brides of Qkakitl, the Volcano God...
...would have no unifying language, and probably no parliamentary democracy or other institutions and values that have made that country a democratic giant, now on its way to becoming an economic one as well. But today, the sun not only literally sets on an extinct British empire; it is figuratively setting on Britain itself.

In fairness, those "I gave India the Basis of Democratic Society and the Foundation of Its 21st Century Economic Miracle, and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt" tees are pretty sweet.
Two recent examples provide evidence:

Wait, wait. Can I try to guess the first one?
One is the way Britain handled the recent act of war against it by Iran. Everything about the British reaction revealed a civilization in decline.

Y'know, the big problem with Democracy--and I'm sure India will back me up on this--is that when masses of witlings start talking about bullshit like "reverse discrimination" or "Vince Foster murders" you cannot simply open their heads and pour out the worthless goo, and before you know it you've got "wars on Terrors" and "Guantanamos". Whatever the truth of the little matter of who was in whose territorial waters, seizing fifteen British military personnel and their little dinghies, without harming any of them, is not an "act of war", unless the US seizing Cat Stevens was, too. This is one of the cherished lessons I learned from a beloved seventh-grade English teacher: your argument isn't made any stronger by being a Fucking Liar.

Bear in mind--and this is what made me read Prager in the first place--he's talking about our closest ally in the fucking universe. Maybe our only one. Without Lapradoole Tony where would Townhall's pet war be, exactly? What's the next step below Total Fuckup?

But no, the Brits, who've hung in this far with the military genius that is the Bush administration despite the unleashing of home-grown terror attacks in response, get some New York curb service from Prager who, sadly, missed his opportunity for an all-expenses paid vacation at the Hanoi Hilton somehow.
Whether the British sailors and marines should have put up more resistance -- i.e., any resistance -- to the unprovoked Iranian military attack is something for military and other experts to decide. Whether the captured sailors and marines offered more information and more cooperation, and more smiles than was necessary to the leader of their kidnappers, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will also be determined in ongoing investigations. Whether the British government engaged in appeasement of Iran or ineffective diplomacy will also have to be judged.

By whom? The Townhall Battalion of the Way Way Inside the Homeland Defense Force? Too bad the thing didn't go on another week--maybe we could have worked out an exchange.
The other current example of Great Britain's decline is the widely reported (in the UK) decision of schools in various parts of that country to stop teaching about the Holocaust in history classes. The reason?

As reported by the BBC, "Some schools avoid teaching the Holocaust and other controversial history subjects as they do not want to cause offence, research has claimed. Teachers fear meeting anti-Semitic sentiment, particularly from Muslim pupils, the government-funded study by the Historical Association said."

No comment necessary.

Nor any study, apparently. Prager has just quoted the headline and subhead of the online Beeb story. This is not a case of investigative reporting; it's coverage of the release of a commissioned report by the Historical Association on "the Challenges and Opportunities for Teaching Emotive History." It's not a survey of the state of Holocaust instruction in the British Isles. There is precisely one, that's one, or "1", if you prefer, anecdotal report of a history department (not a "school") "avoid[ing] selecting the Holocaust as a topic for GCSE coursework for fear of confronting anti-Semitic sentiment and Holocaust denial among some Muslim pupils." So let's be clear about this. In one instance, that's "1", a history department chose not to make the Holocaust a special course of study because the department "feared" confronting anti-Semitic sentiment. Perhaps there are more instances, but two things are clear: one, this is not a governmental decision, and, two, it's not something done because every Muslim in Britain is a Holocaust denier. This is, in fact, a case where the British are studying the problem of how political and cultural pressures affect what's taught in the classroom. It's a mark of facing the issue, in other words. Compare the United States, where 19th Century science is still held hostage to religious mania. I'd urge Mr. Prager to pick up a history text from his local high school--it matters not which one; they've all been sanitized--and examine how the subject of slavery is approached, say, or the re-institutionalization of racism in the 1920s, how Columbus is portrayed, or Helen Keller, and how much space the Ludlow Massacre or the Klan are accorded. Then again, I'm guessing he doesn't really have any idea what to look for.
But a word of caution: If Great Britain can cease to be great in so short a time span, any country can. All you need is an elite that no longer believes in their country, that manipulates history texts to make students feel good about themselves, that prefers multiculturalism to its own culture, and that has abandoned its religious underpinnings. Sound familiar, America?

Yeah, it sounds precisely like your weekly laundry list of supposed grievances. What it doesn't sound like is any matter which contributed to the decline of the British or any other Empire.

3 comments:

Rugosa said...

"ineffective diplomacy" that resulted in the return of the sailors without bloodshed or an escalation of tension. I suppose "effective diplomacy" would have been Blair calling for Bush to nuke Iran.

D. Sidhe said...

"No unifying language". Yes, generally when two or more peoples live next to each other but are, and this is the key, separate peoples with their own customs and hereditary lines and sense of identity, they don't share a single unifying language. And drawing a line around them all on a map and pretending they're all one country now may cause them to eventually come up with a single unifying language, if only so they can communicate to each other how much they hate each other, but on the other hand, why even try? Is there a shortage of country names out there that we can't let them become nations on their own?

KathyR said...

Prager's an L.A. radio idiot. Sorry. I think we gave you Dr. Laura, too. I can't tell you how sorry I am about that.

I don't listen to talk radio. Of any stripe. I hate Air America almost as much as righty talk radio. That Randi person? Ick. Hate her. Shrill. Awful.

All versions of "political" talk radio feature calls from brainless one-note doofuses (doofi?) who make me embarrassed or, frankly, doubtful that I am a member of the same species. That goes for sports talk radio, too. And cooking shows. And the veterinary hour. And any shopping channels. That car show is funny sometimes.

OK, I really just don't like my fellow humans and don't want to hear their annoying stupid grammar-free commentary. Sue me. This is probably why I've never seen any of those so-called reality shows, either.

At least we also launched Keith Olbermann from here. He didn't start here, but he went national from here. So, phew, our record only mostly sucks!