»  VDARE.com Monthly Diary

  March 2023

Gilley on colonialism.     Thirty-some years ago I was in a lunch-table conversation with some colleagues at my place of work. One of them was a young lady quite fiercely left-wing in her opinions.

The subject of Zimbabwe came up; there had been an election there. Zimbabwe was at this point into its second decade of black government under Robert Mugabe. The nation's economy was sinking fast and there was much discontent and tribal bickering.

My young female colleague said that for all the problems there, black Zimbabweans had at least thrown off the shackles of white colonial rule and attained self-government.

I scandalized the lady — drove her into a raised-voice, table-thumping rage, in fact — by stating my belief that some large number of black Zimbabweans, before going to bed at night, got down on their knees and prayed to God for the white colonialists to return and take charge again.

Although I knew nothing about Zimbabwe other than what I had read in the newspapers, I did have some direct acquaintance with white colonialism from having lived in the British colony of Hong Kong twenty years before.

A good number of the Hong Kong Chinese I had gotten to know were refugees from Communist China. Some had fled from the great Mao famine of 1959-61, others from the disorders and persecutions of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s. One of that second group, a cheerful young fellow in my night-school English class, had swum four or five miles across open sea from the mainland, braving sharks and trigger-happy ChiCom coastguard boats to get to the colony.

It was natural for a thoughtful young person of vaguely leftist opinions — i.e. me in 1971 — to wonder why, if white colonialism was so awful and nonwhite self-government such a blessing, so many people would risk life and limb to escape to the former from the latter.

My opinion of colonialism began evolving just about there. Twenty years later, when I scandalized that colleague with my remark about Zimbabwe, I knew that anti-colonialism dogma was a pack of lies promoted by ideologues for their own psychic satisfaction, geopolitical advantage, or in some cases cash profit.

I thought of that lunch-table confrontation the other day when I read this:

What might have become a prosperous and humane Macau or Goa of Africa is today a cesspool of human suffering. Western and African anti-colonial scholars continue to extol Cabral's "national liberation" ideas. But actually existing Guineans may be asking: when are the Portuguese coming back?

The author is writing in 2018 about Guinea-Bissau, a small nation out on the western-most bulge of Africa.

Guinea-Bissau was a Portuguese colony until 1973, when it attained independence after a ten-year guerilla war under the leadership of Amílcar Cabral, a Marxist revolutionary. (He was assassinated by a party rival shortly before independence; his half-brother became the country's first president.) Guinea-Bissau's subsequent history has indeed been a miserable catalog of civil war, coups, assassinations, mutinies, and of course utter economic failure.

I took that quote from a long article in the Summer 2018 issue of Academic Questions, quarterly journal of the National Association of Scholars. The article is titled "The Case for Colonialism" and it has an interesting history of its own, described by the Academic Questions editor in a preface.

The author of the article is Bruce Gilley, a professor of political science at Portland State University. I dimly recall the fuss caused by "The Case for Colonialism" when it first appeared in 2017.

Then in October last year our own Paul Nachman lifted an apt quote from Helen Andrews' review of Gilley's 2021 book The Last Imperialist: Sir Alan Burns's Epic Defense of the British Empire.

Those fleeting acquaintances aside, I had never fully engaged with Prof. Gilley's work until early March when a friend gifted me a copy of that same book, The Last Imperialist. I read it in two sittings and came away a keen Bruce Gilley fan; so much so, I need another segment here.


Reason and authority.     Sir Alan Burns, star of The Last Imperialist, was a British colonial administrator through the years 1905-65, serving mainly in the Caribbean (where he was born in 1887) and Africa. He was a British pro-consul in the fine old tradition, now pretty much extinct: empirical, fearless, fair-minded, firm when necessary but never cruel, without any race or class prejudice, thoughtful and curious but impatient with airy abstractions.

"Ratio et auctoritas, duo clarissima mundi lumina" observed a great English jurist four hundred years ago: Reason and authority are the two brightest lights of the world. Sir Alan Burns embodied that spirit.

To Americans, however, with our tendency to lofty moralizing and our national mythology of colonial oppression — by the Brits! — Sir Alan was a space alien.

He did his best to cultivate Anglo-American understanding but the gap was too wide. Governing Britain's Gold Coast colony — today's Ghana — during WW2, small talk with visiting American officers was, Prof. Gilley tells us:

 … an opportunity to educate American top brass in the realities of colonial rule. "I can remember the surprise of an American general when he heard that I was going on tour in the interior of the Gold Coast in 1943 with no escort and only a single orderly," Alan recalled, noting that American governors in Puerto Rico travelled under armed guard.

Matters got worse after the war as the loathsome "United Nations" racket rose to ascendancy in all its gassy fake humanitarianism.

Hundreds of millions of lives lay in the balance as ideology replaced empiricism … Above all, there was the United States where [quoting Sir Alan] "traditional hostility to British colonialism so often blinds the American to the facts of life."

Bruce Gilley has recently widened his scope from just the British experience. Last summer he published a book whose very title must send anti-colonialists into spasms of shrieking hysteria: In Defense of German Colonialism. Emil Kirkegaard gives the book good coverage, with lengthy extracts, at his Substack account, adding some HBD spin at the end:

(Mainly Northwest/Germanic) Europeans are the least ethnocentric peoples on the planet, and the least corrupt, so if you had to choose a ruling class, it may be wise to choose them above some local corrupt incompetent tyrant and his thugs …

Another way to argue for this case is smart fraction theory. It turns out empirically that having relatively smart people in charge of the country is important, controlling for the average level of intelligence. The easiest way to create a large smart fraction for the people in the poorest part of the world is to install Western governments staffed mainly by Europeans and the local elites, modeled on the success case of Qingdao.

(Qingdao, formerly spelt Tsingtao, is a city on China's east coast held by Germany 1898-1914, during which time it developed fast into a peaceful, prosperous modern metropolis — a sort of German Hong Kong. One of the first things the Germans built there was of course a brewery: hence Tsingtao beer, still China's best.)

Notice how the word "empirical" and its derivatives keep turning up here. Was there ever an age when civilized nations were less well-disposed to empiricism than ours? If reason and authority are the two brightest lights of the world, surely ideology and the unprincipled lust for power are the two darkest shadows.

Theodore Dalrymple offered a more fatalistic view of British colonialism twenty years ago in a short memoir he posted at City Journal:

After several years in Africa, I concluded that the colonial enterprise had been fundamentally wrong and mistaken, even when, as was often the case in its final stages, it was benevolently intended. The good it did was ephemeral; the harm, lasting. The powerful can change the powerless, it is true; but not in any way they choose. The unpredictability of humans is the revenge of the powerless. What emerges politically from the colonial enterprise is often something worse, or at least more vicious because better equipped, than what existed before. Good intentions are certainly no guarantee of good results. ["After Empire," City Journal, Spring 2003.]

If you want to see Bruce Gilley argue his case in person, YouTube has a good recent one-hour interview of him by Douglas Murray.

And Bruce Gilley is not alone in pushing for a re-evaluation of colonialism, at least in the "Northwest/Germanic" European variety. My March 4th copy of The Economist carries a review of Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning by British theologian Nigel Biggar. Title of the review: Nigel Biggar tries — and fails — to rehabilitate the British Empire. Subtitle: "Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning relies on hoary arguments and selective evidence."

As you can tell, and as you'd expect from a leading organ of globalist orthodoxy, the review disapproves of Biggar's pro-colonialist approach. After a couple of paragraphs I made a bet with myself that I would soon be hearing about the 1919 Amritsar massacre. Sure enough, there it was in paragraph 11, right after a reference to the 1897 sack of Benin City.

The death tolls in those two events are not known with any certainty. At Amritsar it was either 379 or 1,000, depending on whether you believe the British estimate or the number put out by Indian nationalists. At Benin the total was probably higher, but was considerably augmented by the mass human sacrifices performed by the Benin potentate in hope that his gods, thus appeased, would vanquish the British. The number of dead in both events together was, even on the highest estimates, a bagatelle by comparison with the millions who perished in the wars, military coups, tyrannies, tribal massacres, and famines that followed decolonization.

"Selective evidence"? Uh-huh.

Added when going to press:  I just got the April 1st issue of The Economist. The "Letters" page leads off with a spirited push-back from Nigel Biggar.


Self-discipline fail.     My March 6th "From the Email Bag" post at VDARE.com included the following:

Other people react differently [to one-off experiences with opioids], I understand. I don't think it's a matter of strength or self-discipline, either. (Self-discipline? I'll have things to say in my March Diary.) It's just a personality variable.

There was of course a reason why matters of self-discipline were near the front of my mind when writing that. The reason was … candy.

Our daughter visits us from the other side of Long Island when she has the time. That isn't often: Nellie (a) has a part-time job, (b) is studying to be a nurse, and (c) is the responsible and attentive mother of our 14-month-old grandson Michael (whom she brings with her ).

She was here March 4th with the baby. Still concerned for my health following that medical emergency a month before, Nellie brought me a comfort gift: a box declaring its contents to be GREAT BRITISH TREATS: "a little taste of Britain."

The picture in that link shows only five of the treats, all of them Cadbury's chocolate bars in various styles. There were originally ten bars, but by the time I thought to take a photograph I had eaten five of them. There's the self-discipline problem right there.

Yes, I have a weakness for candy. It's a weakness, not an addiction. I keep it well under control, sometimes going a whole week without eating any candy at all. On this occasion, though, faced with a thoughtful gift from a loving daughter, restraint seemed inappropriate — unparental.

Eating candy is dumb and unhealthy, I know. It has recently been even more unhealthy than usual, according to my favorite physicist:

In February last year the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control narrowly prevented a global outbreak of food poisoning from contaminated chocolate … In all, 455 people were poisoned in 17 countries, including some in the United States and Canada. Most of the affected people were children under the age of ten. They all survived. [Sabine Hossenfelder's YouTube channel, March 1st 2023.]

Okay, but for British kids of my generation (late Silent) and class (lower-lower-middle) candy — "sweets" to us — was a major food group. The milestone date here was February 5th 1953, when I was 7½. That was when sweets came "off the ration."

Sweets, along with most other foodstuffs, had been rationed in WW2. To buy them you had to present a coupon from a ration book you were issued with monthly. (My ration book went from green to blue after my fifth birthday. I can still remember the feeling of triumph at having left infancy behind.) You were strictly limited to the amount on the coupon — for sweets, four ounces a week.

But then, after that glorious February 5th, sweet purchases were limited only by how much pocket money you could squeeze out of your parents. I didn't get much; but it was enough to make me a regular customer at Mr Tyrell's sweet shop on the northeast corner of Towcester Road and Euston Road, a hundred yards from my elementary school in Far Cotton. I felt very grand, swaggering in there to buy — with my own money! — a tube of Rowntree's Fruit Gums.

I didn't limit myself to Fruit Gums, of course. There were Polo Mints, Smarties, Jelly Babies, Mars Bars (sorry, Mick), humbugs and gobstoppers, Kali Fish, liquorice wood(!), Wagon Wheels, … So that's how I got where I am.

Look: it's a weakness, not an addiction. As nutritional sins go, this is a small one. I walk two miles a day, work out three times a week in the home gym, dine heavy on protein but light on carbs, take a glass of wine (or two) with my dinner and a glass of bourbon (or two) when socializing, smoke only the occasional cigar, and engage with opioids strictly for medical purposes.

My BMI — I just checked — is 25.3, the merest shade of a sliver of a smidgeon over the line from "healthy weight" to "overweight" and nowhere near the "obese" range, which starts at 30. For a geezer, I count myself pretty fit.

I'll pay for my sins without complaining. For this small sin, the price is well within what I can afford: some missing teeth, perhaps some minor metabolic consequences — just possibly even that exploding gall bladder. Small pains — and, with a nod to Frau Hossenfelder, very tiny risks — as a price for small pleasures? I'll pay.


Philip Howard on unions.

Unionized educational support workers such as bus drivers and teachers' assistants in Los Angeles Unified School District have walked off the job, unhappy with an offer of a mere 23 percent pay increase. The district's teachers unions, in solidarity with the strikers, have also told their members to walk out. ["LA's school unions are COVIDing children all over again"; Washington Examiner editorial, March 22nd 2023.]

I've been ranting for years about the evil of public-sector unions. See me rant here, here, here, and I'm sure in many other places.

At the second of those links I opined that:

The very idea of a public-sector union is one of the worst that the 20th century came up with.

At the third I objected to these outfits calling themselves "unions":

Public-sector workers' organizations are not unions, and shouldn't be allowed to call themselves unions. A union bargains for better wages and conditions from an employer; and when the union wins something, it comes out of the employer's profits and shareholder dividends. That's a union.

Public-sector workers' organizations are really lobbies, using political pressure to extract money from the public fisc. If we stopped calling them "unions" and started calling them "lobbies," it would clarify our thinking.

I'm glad to have found a kindred spirit in Philip Howard, Chairman of the government-simplification lobby Common Good. Howard has a new book out: NOT Accountable: Rethinking the Constitutionality of Public Unions.

Howard makes the points I have made and adds many more. He covers all the issues you'd want covered: for example, the extravagant benefits extracted by these lobbies under threat, implicit or explicit, of harm to the public good. Extravagant protections, too:

California, with 300,000 teachers, is able to terminate two or three per year for poor performance.

And yes, it actually argues that these public-sector employees lobbies are unconstitutional.

The disempowerment of democratically elected officials, and the conflict of interest by public employees mobilizing against the public good, undermine core principles of the Constitution.

You can see Howard discussing his book on YouTube in a 47-minute interview with Robert Doar of the American Enterprise Institute.

A surprise from the book: Among the strong opponents of public-sector collective-bargaining rights was … FDR:

Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the government … The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. [Letter on the Resolution of Federation of Federal Employees Against Strikes in Federal Service; August 16th 1937.]

A disappointment from the book: Philip Howard does not mention an earlier, more forthright assertion of executive authority against organized public employees — this one at the local, not federal level:

There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.

That was of course the great Calvin Coolidge, then Governor of Massachusetts, on September 14th 1919, in a telegram to labor leader Samuel Gompers concerning the Boston police strike.

Ah, dear old Cal! His picture should be on money. Yes, indeed: Ratio et auctoritas. Where now can we find a president of that caliber? Nowhere: that species went extinct.

(Footnote to all that: While putting this Diary to bed I happened upon Richard Hanania's March 20th essay arguing against real labor unions as well as the public-employee-lobby fake ones. It's a good read with a nice argumentative comment thread, but Hanania didn't persuade me. As the grandson of two coal miners, I'm a union man where the private sector is concerned … but I'll pursue this at more length in a future Diary.)


Mind? No matter. Matter? Never mind.     I'm mildly surprised that my reports on the University of Arizona "Toward a Science of Consciousness" conferences rank high up among those I get most email on.

I reported the 2008 conference for National Review Online here. Then, after a six-year pause, I covered the 2014 conference for The American Spectator. That 2014 report included the following excuse:

I attended the 2008 conference and live-blogged it. Following developments afterwards in a desultory way, it seemed to me that progress was very slow, so I skipped the 2010 and 2012 meetings. After six years, though, I thought the 2014 Tucson gathering might have something new to tell us, so I signed up.

Whence the second report.

The conferences still take place every even-numbered year in Tucson, although they are now just called "The Science of Consciousness." In odd-numbered years they are held abroad. The 2023 conference is in Sicily, May 22nd to 28th.

Have I lost interest? emailers ask. Shall I not be attending any more "The Science of Consciousness" gatherings? Has that hope died — the hope I nursed when signing up in 2014, that the consciousness researchers "might have something new to tell us"? Might I perhaps attend the 2024 conference in Tucson? That will, after all, be ten years since the last one I reported on. (And thirty years since the very first of these conferences.)

Eh, I wouldn't mind, if I can get some magazine to pay my expenses. I'm pretty sure (although I haven't asked) that Consciousness Studies is too far outside the scope of VDARE.com for them to cover it. I've lost touch with The American Spectator. As for National Review … well. But I wouldn't mind. An all-expensed week hanging out with the consciousness crowd in Tucson would be a blessed relief from the 2024 political campaigning and all its inanities.

And yes, researchers are still digging into the mysteries of consciousness. Donald Hoffman, who I reported on in 2014, continues to develop his radical idealism:

What we call the physical world is a projection into CAs [that is, conscious agents] of other CAs … Spacetime is a species-specific hack.

Prof. Hoffman has published a book since I engaged with him: The Case Against Reality: How Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes. He has also become something of a star on YouTube.

And every once in a while I catch something relevant in the general news outlets. Late February, for example, I spotted this one in New Yorker: one of the magazine's writers reporting on Professor Jane Bennett, a credentialed academic who has published at least six books. Prof. Bennett believes everything is conscious:

Stuff has agency. Inanimate matter is not inert. Everything is always doing something … Bennett aims to treat pretty much everything as potential kin …

Borrowing a phrase from the philosopher Mario Perniola, she concludes that there's a "sex appeal of the inorganic" — "a shimmering, potentially violent vitality intrinsic to matter."

Hoo-kay. It all sounds as though it belongs more in the realm of abnormal psychology than that of true science. Still, Prof. Bennett's musings aren't that far removed from panpsychism, an old and respectable line of thought in philosophy of mind. Panpsychism is taken seriously by some very smart people, including some I have met and to whose smarts I can personally attest.

Panpsychism was discussed earnestly at both of the "Toward a Science of Consciousness" conferences I attended. So I wouldn't be terrifically surprised to meet Prof. Bennett at the 2024 Tucson bash, in the event I can find some kind editor to expense me.

That all said, I'm reluctant to take seriously anyone who quotes Stephen Jay Gould with approval.

[This is Derb's office chair here. Can someone please get him to take a break for a while? I don't know what "BMI" means, but he's a heck of a burden to put up with for two hours at a stretch. Thanks!]


Fiction of the month.     Twenty years ago, in an article I wrote after having just watched the movie made from the 2001 TV miniseries Attila, I aired my longstanding fascination with the Huns. My article included the following:

After I had read [Gibbon's] account, back in the 1970s, I was so fascinated I sought out everything else then in print about the Huns. There wasn't much, and what there was added very little — though Maenchen-Helfen has some nice photographs of Hun artwork.

I had somehow missed the Hungarian writer Géza Gárdonyi's 1901 novel Slave of the Huns, although Andrew Feldmar had published an English translation in 1969. Slave of the Huns is considered enough of a classic to have its own Wikipedia page.

In mid-March something reminded me of the book. The Mrs and I had a trip to Texas planned for the end of the month, so I bought a copy of Slave of the Huns from Abebooks to read on the plane.

The narrative has some dull stretches but on the whole is not bad. Attila is a perfect subject for historical novelists.

The Huns were illiterate: the scanty bits of information we have about them were all written by their enemies, and really cover only two events: (1) the embassy sent to Attila by the Eastern Roman Emperor in the late 440s a.d. and (2) the death of Attila in 453.

The latter event is known only by hearsay, and may be complete fiction; so there is plenty of room here for a novelist to exercise his imagination. I think Géza Gárdonyi drew the Huns as somewhat more civilized than they actually were; but since we know so little about how they lived, my guess is no better than his.

If the author did let the Huns off lightly, it may have been because there were romantic notions about them circulating in Hungary from the Middle Ages well into the 20th century. Gibbon, writing 120 years before Gárdonyi, noted that "The Hungarians … ambitiously insert the name of Attila among their native kings."

So Hungarians of 1901, the year Slave of the Huns was published, believed themselves to be in line of descent from Attila and his people.

Given the Huns' reputation for massacre and destruction, you might think this is an odd thing for a nation to feel proud of. Attila's deeds of conquest were, however, very impressive. In little more than a dozen years he created the largest empire since Rome, "from Central Europe to the Black Sea and from the Danube River to the Baltic." For a small, proud ethny like the Magyars, knowing themselves to be of Asian origins, surrounded by European countries speaking languages utterly unrelated to their own, the pride is understandable.

For sure the Hungarians of 120 years ago thought well enough of Attila to name at least some of their children after him. Hungary's greatest 20th-century poet, born in 1905, was Attila József, "the Hungarian Rimbaud" (according to Arthur Koestler, József's friend and five-months-younger coeval).

Are these claims of a Hunnic origin sound? No, say the scholars:

The modern Hungarians cannot claim to be the descendants of Attila and his Huns. The Magyars are a Finnish race, while the Huns were certainly Turks.

So writes the anonymous footnoter in my 1960s edition of Gibbon. As far as I can gather from some internet doodling, that's still the unanimous opinion of ethnographers. That "Hun" is the first syllable of "Hungary" seems to be just a linguistic coincidence.

There is nothing in the historical record to suggest otherwise. The year after Attila's death in a.d. 453 his empire was completely destroyed by a German revolt in the Battle of the Nedao. A Hunnish remnant lingered on in Europe for a few years but had retreated to the Russian steppe by 470 and disappeared from history altogether soon after. It was then three hundred years before the Magyars were identified as a distinct people in South Russia, and another hundred before they occupied Hungary in the 890s.

All that aside, Slave of the Huns works decently well as a novel. The closing chapters, dealing with the death and funeral of Attila, are the best. My only complaint — a small one — is that Gárdonyi takes no position on the fate of Ildico. The common opinion is that she was killed on the spot; but there is no good source for this. The entire wedding-night story may in fact, as I said, be a fable. We just don't know, and never shall.


Avis tries harder … to vex loyal customers.     I mentioned back there that the Derbs had a trip to Texas planned for the end of the month. Some friends own a ranch in the Hill Country north of Fredericksburg. We wanted to visit with them, then go exploring.

Our plan was to fly down to San Antonio then rent a car to get us to the ranch and do the exploring. For the car rental, Avis was my choice. We are a one-car family; so when I need to take a solo trip, or for vacations like this, I rent. There's an Avis office conveniently near to the Derb mansion, so that's the firm I've been using. I'm on their regular-customer database and get SPECIAL OFFER emails all the time.

A week before departure the Mrs went online and booked a car rental from Avis, for pick-up when we arrived.

So there we were in late evening on the first day of our vacation, disembarked from the plane at San Antonio International Airport, checking in at the Avis desk in the auto rental plaza to pick up our car.

I showed the desk clerk our reservation, which was in Mrs Derbyshire's name. He asked for her driver license. She gave it to him. He applied it to some scanning device on the counter.

"I'm sorry. It says this is not a valid license." The guy handed it back.

This was a perfectly ordinary, up-to-date New York State driver license. My wife's been a licensed driver for thirty-five years. We protested.

"Sorry. The machine says it's not valid. I can't rent you a car."

Might the machine be malfunctioning? Could they try my card, just to see if it validated? I handed it over. Yes, the machine declared it valid.

OK, could we flip the reservation to my name? That would solve the problem, wouldn't it?

"Well, we can cancel the previous reservation and make a new one. But there would be a $150 pickup-day cancellation fee."

Huh? Because your machine failed to validate a perfectly good license, we are in for $150? That's nuts.

(Not pleased. Shrug.) "Well, I could call my manager."

He did, or pretended to. Came back.

"That's it, I'm afraid. Gotta do a cancellation. You could call Customer Service, argue about the cancellation fee. I'll give you the number."

We protested. They shrugged.

There was a whole row of desks for different rental companies, some with no-one waiting to be served. Me, to wife, at normal voice volume: "Let's try a different rental company — one whose registration software actually works."

We went to the National desk. A very pleasant young lady booked us a car rental in five minutes flat without any automated scanning of licenses. Bless you, Ma'am.

Oh, and Avis? I've put those SPECIAL OFFER emails on auto-delete. You lost yourselves a customer.


Exploring Texas.     …  So there we were in Texas, equipped with a car and ready to go.

I have some general observations about the Lone Star State, but I'm over my word budget so I'll postpone them to my April Diary, with the excuse that our vacation slopped over into the first two days of April. Watch this space!


Math Corner.     Here's a brainteaser from the MAA's Math Horizons magazine for February. It was posed by Goran Conar of Varaždin, Croatia.

This is one of those highly annoying problems that I haven't been able to solve although it seems to need no more than high-school algebra. Plainly equality occurs when a = b = c = 1, but the general proof eludes me.

I'll have another go at it in April and post a solution if I have one. Meanwhile, if you have one, for pity's sake put me out of my misery.

Brainteaser:   Let a, b, and c be positive real numbers such that a² + b² + c² ≤ 3. Prove that

√(1 + a) + √(1 + b) + √(1 + c)  ≥  (√2)(a + b + c)² / 3

When does equality occur?