09 May 2006

some answers

  • how do you measure a coast? by doing a fab BBC documentary series on it, which Sam and I just watched most of. coasts are crazy, wild places that do things you wouldn't expect. and, the bonus? our good friend Map Man is the host! Our hero (Map Man, for those of you not following along here) led us through the borderlands of Scotland (and other places), tracing the paths of 17th and 18th century maps to find out about the history, politics, economics, and of course geography of the UK. how much does the television fee rock? Map Man Much.

  • did the Brits build infrastructure in India? yes. but only after about a century, and then only really in the service of their own economic gain, and the disservice of much of the subcontinent. While India was under the rule of the East India Company (from 1763 to 1858), they mostly avoided putting any infrastructure into the region, aside from fortified buildings to guard their stuff. is this good imperialism? yes. is it a benefit of imperialism? probably. is it a reason to call imperialism 'good'? not really, at least not for me. negatives far outweigh the positives.

  • and a question (and it's definitely worth it to read the entire post linked there to get a context for this):
    So, for instance, if a man raped a girl, he was prosecuted for hubris (that which he committed against the girl’s father).
    if hubris often operates through the event of rape, and we use it to understand our hubristic violent act in Iraq, then who is the father that we have committed hubris against? surely Iraq is the girl? who is 'responsible' for Iraq in this relation? and it is fascinating to me (and I think important) that this connection exists between rape and hubris, especially as rape is often the metaphor used for colonial conquest/penetration of 'deepest darkest Africa'. it means there's something even more sinister about the whole thing.

sorry to end on such a downer. read the post below for some giggles.


tenaciousmcd said...

To clarify my comments in the linked post, I don't believe I ever called imperialism per se "good." I said it wasn't "all bad."

What I find invigorating about a "tragic" conception of history is that it allows us to make dicreet moral judgments without needing to pronounce, with ideological zeal, that an enterprise is either all good or all bad. I have little sympathy for either the militarists of the right who see all exertions of American power as inherently righteous, or for the pacifists and anti-colonialists of the left who see all the world's evil as the result of insidious American (and corporate) influence. So, neither Kristol nor Chomsky. Although imperialism typically exploits and often creates backlash, and although it may result in a great hubristic flame out by the imperialist himself, it is also frequently a "civilizing" force that produces short and long-term benefits for the peoples colonized. How those benefits weigh against the very real deficits of such a policy is another question, but one I think best answered case by case rather than with a blanket celebration or condemnation. I don't know that this contradicts your point about India--you probably know the details better than I do. But I think we may be using different models of judgment.

Rebecca said...

Yes--I completely agree that judgements about whether certain global phenomena like imperialism/colonialism/globalization are all good or all bad is unwise. It's always more complicated than that, and groups/individuals on all sides tend to have vastly varied experiences of these phenomena. So I suppose my post was a 'knee-jerk' reaction to those kinds of statements like: 'hey, Hitler made the trains run on time' (which I know you weren't saying). It's just that I find it tough to validate and valorize British colonialism.

I also have a problem with the notion of 'civilizing'--I like 'developing' and 'modernizing' it assumes a certain backwardness on the part of the region/culture that it's being done to (and it's generally spoken in this gerundic, passive-voice sense). I'm not saying (as many nationalists and independence fighters said in order to valorize India and fend off this civilizing argument) that we should go whole-hog the opposite way and claim India as some pure, better-than-us spiritual haven, but the argument that it needed to be civilized/modernized/developed and that the Brits/West were the ones to do it--that's the fundamental problem for me.

Back during the colonial era it was used as a cover for the colonizers' economic gain (but we're civilizing, not extracting all wealth from this country), now it's used often without acknowledging that the economic asymmetry between the 'developing world' and the 'developed' world depends on this very history of colonialism.

I don't like the term evil so much, so I don't really see the world's evil as being a result of one country or another.

Perhaps as a colonial scholar and an historian I see the current mess that the world is in (and I think it's probably in a constant mess, it's not that I'm looking for some cleanliness) as a result of colonial history a bit too much. But then, the mess were in kinda is a result of this stuff. Yes. Different models of judgement.

tenaciousmcd said...

OK, that response works for me, even though I'm surely still somewhat more sympathetic toward the benefits of hegemonic power than you are (or, I'd at least say that "it is what it is," and better our or Brit hegemony than someone else's who is worse). And you're right that "developing" or "modernizing" are better words than "civilizing," which I adopted only for lack of precision and/or eloquence.