Mirror, mirror – the narcissistic universe

Who’s a pretty boy? Narcissus, in love with himself | Detail of paintitng by John William Waterhouse

June 2022

The impossibility of DNA needs explaining. The only explanation is meaning.

If the meaning of life is to create conscious beings (us) to reflect universal consciousness, that makes us mirrors, and the universe narcissistic.

Is it pathological, as with former US president Donald Chump and UK PM Bonzo Johnson?

Does the universe have narcissistic personality disorder? Lets hope not.

In any case, it hasn’t worked.

Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?

April 2022 | 3,000 words | Contents

Digest: It disappeared down the postmodern rabbit hole of intersectional identity politics, but the beat goes on.

Washington DC, US, 2020 | Photo: Kevin Dietsch / UPI / Alamy

Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?

Contents: Introduction | Coming apart? | BLM’s postmodern mission | What’s wrong with postmodernism | What next? | Update: the Transparency Center

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Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?


Started outstanding

Trayvon Martin | Photo: Splash News / Corbis

In 2020, Black Lives Matter was big. Huge. Then it kind of faded. What was it? Was it a hashtag, a slogan, a protest movement, a campaign – or what? And what happened to it?

The Black Lives Matter movement was started in the US in 2013 by a small group of radical black feminists after the acquittal of a neighbourhood watch coordinator who shot and killed an unarmed black 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin.

The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter spread on social media, and the project expanded into a national network of local ‘chapters’.

The movement returned to the headlines in 2020 when George Floyd was killed by a police officer. There was widespread disgust, and BLM grew into an international campaign.

Here in the UK, BLM got a lot of support – and some opposition when racists promoted the slogans ‘White Lives Matter’ and the more insidious ‘All Lives Matter’.

As a white anti-racist, I’ve written a long-form blogpost on racism. I added a preface about White Lives Matter.

Whilst recently updating that section, I looked into what had happened to Black Lives Matter and discovered this tale of the unexpected. I put it in a footnote; and then this separate post.

Despite white allyship being controversial, I considered myself a white ally of BLM. Now, I’m not so sure. Next time the badge falls off, I might not put it back.

(Update, June 2022 – the badge fell off. I didn’t put it back on my jacket. Knowing what I know now, I’d feel a fool. I put it on the shelf: a memento of innocent enthusiasm.)

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Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?

Coming apart?

The centre didn’t hold

Noir noir: Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter | Photo: Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times

After the killing of George Floyd in 2020, some $90m was donated to Black Lives Matter. BLM grew fast – perhaps too fast for the small group of organisers to keep up. A year later, the disorganised organisation started to come apart.

BLM’s main organisation is the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. There’s also an international network of locally based chapters.

In February 2021 the foundation said it gave $21.7m to BLM chapters, and its expenses were $8.4m. That left about $60m unexplained.

In May 2021 Patrisse Cullors, one of the three BLM founders, announced she was standing down as executive director of the foundation.

In February 2022 in a UK Guardian interview*, Cullors tearfully explained she resigned after the movement got black criticism for lack of transparency about the donations.

An April 2022 Washington Post column* criticised BLM’s use of its donations, including the secret purchase in 2020 of a $6m house in California.

The WP column drew on an April 2022 investigative article* on New York magazine news website Intelligencer about the BLM house, a 6,500-square-foot compound in Studio City, Los Angeles.

The Intelligencer article is hidden from the hard-up (like me) behind a paywall, but according to WP, it reported a $6m shambles:

  • BLM said the Studio City house was both a ‘safehouse’ and a place providing:
      Recording resources and dedicated space for Black creatives to launch content online and in real life focused on abolition, healing justice, urban agriculture and food justice, pop culture, activism, and politics’.
  • The only content produced there was a few videos made by Cullors for her YouTube channel.
  • On Twitter, in advance of the Intelligencer report, BLM urged followers:
      ‘Spread the word: we are redefining what it means to be an activist in this generation with our new Fellowship and Creator House‘.
  • On Instagram, Cullors said the purchase hadn’t been announced earlier because:
      ‘The property needed repairs and renovation‘.

In a May 2022 AP News interview*, Cullors denied wrongdoing but acknowledged she’d used the Studio City compound for non-BLM purposes, hosting parties to celebrate the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and her son’s birthday. She said:

    I look back at that and think, that probably wasn’t the best idea

* Lest it be suspected these pieces challenging BLM were by racist white hacks, they were all by award-winning black journalists: Nesrin Malik (Guardian), Karen Attiah (Washington Post), Sean Campbell (New York/Intelligencer) and Aaron Morrison (AP News).

There’s more. BLM leaders, friends and family have apparently had large consultancy payouts; and the $6m house was apparently bought from a developer friend who’d recently paid $3m for it.

Sorry – racist white hacks may well have been involved in the sources for the above paragraph: they’re both from the right-wing UK Daily Mail. The Mail refers to revelations in New York Magazine – but that’s behind the pesky paywall.

The impression given by the many articles and comments about all this – and by BLM’s defensive and obfuscatory response – is that BLM is more like a nepotistic cult than a well-run campaign organisation.

However, BLM’s financial irregularities seem a matter of incompetence and mission-drift with a dash of ‘looking after’ people, rather than full-on fraud. Cullors said:

    Black people in general have a hard time with money. It’s a trigger point for us.

In spite of the irregularities, Black Lives Matter hasn’t quite come apart.

The BLM website gives the impression that all is well. But it’s not – as its mixed-up mission shows.

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Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?

BLM’s postmodern mission

Down the rabbit hole

Fun with Foucault – postmodernist Michel Foucault at home in Paris, 1978 | Photo: Martine Franck / Magnum

So what’s Black Lives Matter about? Supporters may have assumed its idea was to oppose racist violence and institutional racism – but it’s more complicated than that.

BLM has a surprisingly radical agenda. According to BLM’s About page, its mission is to:

    Eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes

Less predictably, it goes on to say:

    We affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. Our network centers those who have been marginalized within Black liberation movements.

There’s more like that.

According to a thoughtful 2021 National Affairs article, BLM’s founders have said their ideology is rooted in postmodern cultural theory:

    A few rabid souls have ferreted out what they regard as the Marxist foundations of BLM. But this gives its prime movers too much credit. BLM has been shaped more by post-modern cultural theory than by Marxism. By their own account, the three young women who ignited this proudly “leaderless” movement have been shaped primarily by feminism and queer theory. Hence their vitriolic critique of the male-dominated black church, not to mention the traditional family.

This analysis evokes the controversial phenomena of intersectional identity politics and critical race theory.

Identity politics emerged in the 1960s and 70s from French postmodernism (which emerged in the 1950s and 60s mainly from the writings of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida).

Identity politics enables people of a particular ethnicity or other identifying factor to develop a political agenda based on their identity and their sense of oppression.

Some advocates of identity politics take an intersectional approach, addressing the range of interacting systems of oppression which result from people’s various identities.

The first written use of the term ‘identity politics’ was apparently in a 1977 statement by a US black feminist lesbian socialist group, the Combahee River Collective.

The radical BLM mission statement appears to continue the black feminist lesbian socialist theme. Co-founder Patrisse Cullors has described herself and her fellow organizers as ‘trained Marxists’. BLM has been sarcastically dubbed ‘Black Lesbian Marxists’.

Critical race theory (CRT) – also a branch of postmodernism – first arose, like identity politics, in the 1970s. According to Wikipedia, it’s:

    a cross-disciplinary intellectual and social movement of civil-rights scholars and activists who seek to examine the intersection of race, society, and law in the United States and to challenge mainstream American liberal approaches to racial justice…A key CRT concept is intersectionality

CRT recently made the news when conservatives complained about the supposed surge in feminist and critical race theory being taught in colleges and universities.

However, an Aljazeera online opinion piece by a US professor said CRT informs BLM and that’s what scares the conservatives:

    The significance of Critical Race Theory at this particular juncture in American history is the way a sustained course of the theoretical groundwork now informs … Black Lives Matter. This fruitful dialectic between an academic theory and a grassroots social uprising is what frightens the custodians of the status quo who are fighting tooth and nail to protect and preserve their race and class privileges.

That’s fine, but perhaps BLM supporters wanted to stop police killing black men rather than have a fruitful dialectic with an academic theory.

Supporters – and donors – might sympathise with the complex and passionate ideas in BLM’s radical mission statement, but might be surprised to learn BLM isn’t the focussed and well-organised campaign against racist murder they – reasonably – expect it to be.

The Black Lives Matter mission, apparently inspired by postmodern intersectional identity politics, makes BLM seem more like Snowflake City than a campaign coordinator.

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Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?

What’s wrong with postmodernism

It betrays the oppressed

Postmodernism critic Ambalavaner Sivanandan | Photo: Jane Bown / The Observer

If the Black Lives Matter organisation collapses, it’ll be – partly, at least – postmodernism’s fault.

Postmodernism is playful, exciting and seductive, but when its theories inform and shape a campaign against racism, it’s a dangerous rabbit hole.

The danger of postmodernism in this context was nailed by the late Ambalavaner Sivanandan, a founder and director of UK anti-racist thinktank the Institute of Race Relations. He accused postmodernists of betrayal.

Sivanandan, described in an obituary as ‘a tireless and eloquent voice explaining the connections between race, class, imperialism and colonialism’, was a novelist, activist and writer.

In Catching History on the Wing – Race, Culture and Globalisation, Sivanandan wrote:

    The intellectuals have defected, and walled themselves up behind a new language of privilege… To justify their betrayal, the postmodernists have created a whole new language of their own which allows them to appropriate struggle without engaging in it.

Taking on the job abandoned by the treacherous postmodernists, Sivanandan analysed the murderous symbiosis of poverty and racism with angry eloquence:

    Racism and imperialism work in tandem, and poverty is their handmaiden. And it is that symbiosis between racism and poverty that, under those other imperatives of multinational capitalism, the free market and the enriching of the rich, has come to define the “underclass” of the United States and, increasingly, of Britain and Western Europe… It is there, where the poorest sections of our communities, white and black, scrabble for the leftovers of work, the rubble of slum housing and the dwindling share of welfare, that racism is at its most virulent, its most murderous.

Sivanandan also criticised identity politics as an inward-looking, naval-gazing exercise.

In his 1990 collection, Communities of Resistance: Writings on Black Struggles for Socialism, Sivanandan urged black and South Asian groups to look beyond their cultural identity in their struggle against racism:

    The whole purpose of knowing who we are is not to interpret the world, but to change it. We don’tneed a cultural identity for its own sake, but to make use of the positive aspect of our culture to forge correct alliances and fight the correct battles.

What’s wrong with postmodernism in this context is that Black Lives Matter was entrusted to oppose racist murder, but its postmodernist adherents of intersectional identity politics have lost focus. They’ve appropriated the struggle but not effectively engaged in it.

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Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?

What next?

Good question

George Floyd: an ordinary black man murdered by the white police | Photo: Ben Crump Law Firm

At the time of writing (May 2022), the Black Lives Matter website gives no hint of any difficulties (except to say it’s a ‘target of disinformation’). However, it continues its mixed message.

On the one hand there’s a robust response to US government plans to advance racial justice:

    One of the greatest systemic factors affecting the livelihood of Black communities is the continued over-policing, brutalization, and incarceration of our people. Violence by police tears our families apart; leaves emotional, logistical, and financial gaps in our communities; and steals the lives of so many of our loved ones before they get the chance to achieve their dreams. We need the next phase of the action plan to explicitly address how federal agencies will update their policies to hold officers and departments at the local, state, and federal level accountable for the way they engage with Black people.

On the other hand, there’s some deep woo*:

    Healing justice…a portal for revolutionary visions of Black freedom…something we deserve…something we own…something we embody…something each and everyone of us must have. This month our center is ‘Collective Imagination: The Art of Healing Part III.’ We turn our conversation to sacred and luminous practices of creativity and imagination in the healing journeys of Black people. Our healers examine…the multiple ways to access Spirit and wholeness through the individual and collective body. We affirm that healthy connections hold spaciousness for healing and love…sacred healing practices…can support the transformation of individual and collective grief into collective imaginings, futures, and liberation for cultivating sovereignty and co-sovereignty.

* Woo: short for woo-woo, a sarcastic term meaning unconventional beliefs regarded as having little or no scientific basis, especially those relating to spirituality, mysticism, or alternative medicine

The BLM woo’s esoteric beliefs are presumably meant to protect activists who feel oppressed because of their intersectional identity, but they seem out of place in a campaign meant to protect ordinary black people like Trayvon Martin and George Floyd from racist murder by the police.

What next? Can Black Lives Matter be saved from disappearing up its postmodern woo-woo arse*? Maybe.

* I’m English – I can’t write ‘ass’. Sorry 😉

Maybe it just needs organising properly – with mission focus and financial transparency.

Maybe it could keep the spirit of radical activism, but hive off the woo and the postmodern cultural theory to a new sister organisation

(Black Snowflakes Matter? A suitable role for Patrisse Cullors, perhaps.)

I asked the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation for their comments. They haven’t replied.

Whatever happens with the complicated and troubled organisation, the central Black Lives Matter idea of opposition to racist murder lives on – and still has the reach and momentum to help make racism history.

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Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?

Update, June 2022

BLM’s Transparency Center

See-through blackwashing seen through

The Black Lives Matter website now has a ‘Transparency Center‘ which addresses some of the issues raised. It says:

    We are embracing this moment as an opportunity for celebration, accountability, healing, truth-telling, and transparency. We aim to move forward into this next chapter with the lessons learned, achievements underscored, and a renewed commitment to justice and powerbuilding in service to our community.

It goes on to attack ‘misinformation from the right wing’, saying:

    The right has taken up this cause, hoping to sow mistrust in our work via their media outlets. They have spread misinformation and have taken what is really an important conversation for our community, trashed it, and used their coverage as some sort of validation of their racist allegations. We hope that this is the beginning of a real conversation for our people about the dynamics of our power and our relationship to money.

It says returns have been filed with the IRS (US internal revenue service), and goes on to say:

    An independent audit has revealed that Black Lives Matter’s finances are strong, the organization is financially sound, and its leaders have been good stewards of the people’s donations.

It says the foundation spends far less on costs than other similar organisations.

It says the foundation’s been fully reimbursed for private events held at the ‘Creator’s House’ (the $6m LA house). It says:

    The Creator’s House was purchased as a space of our own, with the intention of providing housing and studio space for recipients of the Black Joy Creators Fellowship in service of Black culture and the movement.

It announces three new board members ‘with an extensive background in racial justice work’.

That sounds good, but googling shows that one of the three has a history of financial delinquency, all three are financially linked through consultancy payments, and all three are connected to BLM founder Patrisse Cullors.

Cronyism, mismanagement, consultancy payments – it looks as though nothing has changed, and the ‘transparency’ is mainly whitewashing. Or should that be blackwashing?

Also, although there has been criticism from the nutty Right, it’s disingenuous to – wrongly – dismiss all the critics as right-wing racists and thereby swerve the criticism.

It’s like Israel saying all critics of Zionist oppression are anti-Jewish, or Muslims saying all critics of Salafi self-segregation are Islamophobic. They can’t or won’t respond to the criticism. Instead, they slur the critics.

It’s a shame. In 2020 I was an enthusiastic white ally of Black Lives Matter and, as a left-wing anti-racist critic, I’d like to wish the newly would-be-transparent organisation well. But it doesn’t look good.

I’ve asked the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation again for their comments.

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This post is also a footnote in my longform antiracist post, Colour me racist, blame my genes – racism explained as a redundant instinct

Please feel free to comment…

Identity politics – fun with Foucault

Here comes a snowflake! | photo: Anest / istockphoto

In the UK and the US the traditional left-right two-party political system seems to be running out of steam. Things are fragmenting. Consider the hot potato of identity politics.

Originally French, then mainly American and now exported back to Europe, the concept of identity politics enables people of a particular ethnicity or other identifying factor (they’re sometimes rudely called snowflakes) to develop a political agenda based on their identity and their sense of oppression.

Some advocates of identity politics take an intersectional approach, addressing the range of interacting systems of oppression which result from people’s various identities.

Fun with Foucault
– postmodernist Michel Foucault at home in Paris, 1978 | Photo: Martine Franck / Magnum

Identity politics emerged in the 1960s and 70s from the hotbed of French postmodernism, which emerged in the 1950s and 60s mainly from the writings of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.

The term ‘identity politics’ was apparently first used in writing in a 1977 statement by a US black feminist lesbian socialist group. It surged in the US in the 1980s and rose to prominence again recently, attracting controversy and criticism.

Liberal critics of identity politics say reaction against its supposedly strident demands contributed to the 2016 US election of populist psycho Donald Trump. Trump voters were said to have voted ‘white’.

Leftist critics of identity politics (eg Ambalavaner Sivanandan) say it’s a distraction from the class struggle. Other critics say the idea fosters inherently wrong or unnecessarily divisive notions of identity, or an unhelpfully exaggerated sense of victimhood.

Some identity politics groups, snarkily dubbed snowflakes, are criticised for being quick to take offence and being vindictive in their ‘cancel culture‘ pursuit of offenders.

Identity politics has been famously dismissed by batty best-selling author and psychologist Jordan Peterson. He echoes fellow bat Ayn Rand (author of Atlas Shrugged) in asserting the primacy of the individual over the group.

Alt-right white supremacists have their very own version of identity politics, ‘identitarianism’, which asserts the right of white people to Western culture and territories claimed to belong exclusively to them. Bless.

The oppression elephant in the identity politics room is racism. Does identity politics address racism? Is there such a thing as black identity politics?

There’s clearly a need for a collective political agenda to challenge the oppression of systemic colour prejudice, but I googled ‘black identity politics’ and got no meaningful results (in the first five pages).

Apparently the hot potato of identity politics doesn’t address racism. Perhaps a cooler and less fragmentary political movement is needed for that.

Edit: Sadly – and surprisingly (to me, anyway) – it seems the Black Lives Matter organisation, rather than being the focussed and well-organised campaign supporters and donors might expect, is actually a perfect example of overheated identity politics, and has consequently disappeared down that rabbit hole.

This post is an excerpt from my longform antiracist post Colour me racist, blame my genes – racism explained as a redundant instinct

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A brief history of the UK’s brutal colonisation of Ireland, and its troubled aftermath

You what? | Visit Quotes

After centuries of previous military incursions, the 17th-century conquest of Ireland by Protestant mass murderer Oliver Cromwell made Ireland a British colony. In 1800 it became part of the newly named United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Several horrific famines and brutally suppressed rebellions later, the colony finally fractured in 1921 when Ireland was partitioned.

The main part of Ireland gained independence and became known as Éire, the Irish name for Ireland. Éire was officially declared a republic in 1949.

Six counties in the northeast of Ireland chose in 1921 to stay in the UK and became known as Northern Ireland. In 1927, the UK was renamed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland there’s been constant conflict between the mostly Catholic Republican minority and the mostly Protestant Unionist majority.

The indigenous Republicans want Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland (officially known as Éire or Ireland).

The Unionists claim loyalty to the United Kingdom. They’re mostly descendants of British ‘settlers’ who migrated during the 17th-century colonial ‘Plantation of Ulster’.

The Plantation of Ulster reinforced the colonialisation of Ireland. British landowners were given land in the north of Ireland, mostly stolen from the Irish. The new landowners imported British tenants and workers.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, more British settlers came to the north of Ireland from Scotland, forced out by the theft of land known as the Highland clearances.

(Regarding the theft of land by the aristocracy, see my blogpost, The super-rich – law and order.)

Protestant ascendancy in Ireland was consolidated in 1690 by the Battle of the Boyne, when the forces of Protestant king William defeated those of the deposed Catholic king, James.

William III, AKA William of Orange (he formerly ruled the Dutch Republic), had recently become king of England and Scotland, deposing James II in the so-called Glorious Revolution.

The decisive battle was fought for control of a ford on the River Boyne near Drogheda in Ireland. James eventually fled to France. His defeated ‘Jacobite’ followers were allowed to practice Catholicism if they swore loyalty to William.

The Boyne victory by William (popularly known by his supporters as King Billy) is still commemorated by Protestants in Northern Ireland with annual Orange parades.

The parades face opposition from Catholics and Irish nationalists, who see them as sectarian and triumphalist.

In the 1960s, violent unrest known as the Troubles broke out in Northern Ireland. 30 years of armed conflict between Republican and Protestant groups and the British army ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, which brought an uneasy but lasting peace.

In 2020, a Northern Ireland opinion poll showed 47% in favour of staying in the UK, and 45% in favour of a united Ireland. (The same poll was run in Ireland: 71% favoured unification.)

On the whole, the rest of the UK couldn’t care less about Northern Ireland – it’s an embarrassing colonial hangover – and NI Protestants, despite their proclaimed ‘loyalism’, couldn’t really care less about the UK – they just want to preserve their postcolonial privileges.

Considering this horrible history, it’d be better and fairer all round if Ireland was unified. Sure, the Protestants would protest, but they’d be fine. They’d be a protected minority – in an EU country, lucky sods.

    Note to Taoiseach: take Northern Ireland – I mean, actually take it, please!

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This post is a footnote from my longform post Brexit and free movement – the east European elephant. The footnote was written in the context of the problematic impact of Brexit on the Irish border. (The solution: unification!)

Gingerism – the acceptable face of racism?

Princess Merida, Brave, 2012 | Image: Disney

Recently in my workplace I overheard some jokey chat about ‘gingers’. It wasn’t directed at a particular person but I felt uneasy, as I always do when this casual prejudice happens. It felt like a form of racism.

Prejudice against red-haired people, known as gingerism, apparently exists only in England. It’s always framed as jokey banter and is often heard in the workplace or the pub.

If anyone objects, they’re likely to be chided: ‘It’s just a bit of fun. Can’t you take a joke?’ But is it a harmless joke? Or is it actually racism seeking an ‘acceptable’ form?

In the 1950s and 60s, racist comments were commonplace in the workplace and the pub, but now they’re unacceptable in public. Perhaps ‘harmless’ jokes about red-haired people or about the Welsh, (another similarly mocked group) constitute a new outlet for the redundant but dangerous and destructive anti-stranger instinct upon which racism is apparently built.

A UK Guardian article on the subject downplayed the idea of gingerism as racism, pointing out that people with red hair clearly don’t suffer the same devastating personal and institutional discrimination as people with black or brown skin.

However, the Guardian article suggested an interesting explanation for gingerism: English anti-Celtism, and – more specifically – anti-Irish feeling.

Many Irish people have red hair. Since Cromwell’s brutal colonisation of ireland, there’s been a tendency for the English to disdain the Irish. (Hence Irish ‘jokes’.)

In the 1950s, London boarding-house signs supposedly said, ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish‘. This seems to be apocryphal, but it illustrates a real prejudice.

(See my post, A brief history of the UK’s brutal colonisation of Ireland, and its troubled aftermath.)

English red-haired people bravely (Brave!) try to reappropriate the word ‘ginger’ – as African Americans have reappropriated the N-word. But the bullying ‘jokes’ continue regardless.

Red-haired Neanderthals

Neanderthal humans had red hair. Having lived in Europe for over 100,000 years, they were apparently wiped out 35,000 years ago by immigrating early modern humans. (Early modern humans emigrated everywhere – they’re the ancestors of all humans.)

Perhaps ‘jokey’ bullying of red-haired people and colonialist anti-Irish sentiments are echoes of that ancient hostility.

(As well as killing Neanderthals, early humans interbred with them. Most Europeans and Asians have 1-4% Neanderthal DNA. However, red hair in modern humans isn’t inherited from Neanderthals – apparently it’s a different gene.)

This post is an excerpt from my longform post Colour me racist, blame my genes – racism explained as a redundant instinct

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Decolonise this – the dark side of the Enlightenment

German philosopher and racist twat Immanuel Kant

I’ve always greatly respected the Enlightenment, the European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries led by philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, Newton, Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith.

The Enlightenment emphasised reason. I’d looked up to it as a way out of superstition, ignorance and oppression, and as the foundation of modern liberal democracy.

However, the Black Lives Matter movement has exposed the part played by Enlightenment philosophers in justifying the slave trade and slavery by coming up with the idea of white supremacy.

I didn’t know, for instance, that Immanuel Kant said, ‘humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites’. To be fair, he later recanted (re-Kanted?) but the damage was done.

Before changing his mind, Kant expounded at length from his Königsberg coffee-shop about the failings of the various ‘races’ as compared with the perfect whites. He babbled authoritatively about the qualities of different African ‘races’ in terms of their suitability as slaves.

Such ‘philosophy’ was extremely useful to slave traders and ‘owners’ – not in practical terms, but in terms of moral support for their inhuman enterprise.

Now we know about the Enlightenment’s dark side, and in the woke wake of that awareness students have – understandably – called for decolonisation of the university syllabus. (The Daily Mail‘s response: ‘They Kant be serious!’)

In defence of the Enlightenment, it’s said that Kant & co. were conservative, and we should look to lesser-known radical philosophers of the Enlightenment – Baruch Spinoza, for instance – for its heart and soul.

Maybe so, but those mainstream conservative Enlightenment philosophers built our foundations – which now feel shaky.

Luckily – switch of metaphor! – the fruit of the Enlightenment, liberal democracy (currently the worst form of government apart from all the others) seems not to be poisoned by its toxic past. So I’ll still praise the Enlightenment – but less wholeheartedly.

The poison wasn’t Enlightenment philosophy – it was colonialism. It’d be nice to think those two heavyweight phenomena – Enlightenment and colonialism – were fundamentally separate and coincidental, rather than horribly symbiotic.

We need to decolonise our democracy but it’s easier said than done. Having ripped off and destroyed colonial countries, the UK blithely invited large numbers of residents of those countries to move and live here to help rebuild postwar Britain – then blighted their lives with postcolonial racism.

As I argue elsewhere, colonial racism is apparently a twisted version of a redundant anti-stranger instinct (evolved to protect against communicable disease).

If we acknowledge that, we can choose to live above it (as with other ‘monsters from the id‘), so enabling us to oppose and end racism – and to decolonise our minds and institutions.

This post is an edited excerpt from my longform post Colour me racist, blame my genes – racism explained as a redundant instinct

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Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

Meghan Markle, AKA Duchess of Sussex | Photo: Shutterstock

Is it OK to say ‘mixed race’? No – because there are no human ‘races’. But…

Even the Guardian (centre-left, the UK’s only national daily newspaper not owned by billionaire twats) uses it to describe, for instance, Meghan Markle. (The usually brilliant Guardian style guide is silent on the subject.)

I objected to the use of the phrase on a local Facebook page and got a hostile response. People said, ‘I’m mixed race – that’s what I call myself’. But why would anyone accept that phrase as a description of themselves, loaded as it is with outmoded prejudice?

‘Mixed heritage’ (or ‘mixed ethnicity’) is better. More syllables, admittedly, but meaningful.

Some people say they’re dual heritage. That’s understandable – they want people to know they have two ethnicities, two cultures, and to be aware of the challenges that brings.

However, ‘dual heritage‘ can be seen as pointlessly limiting – like the horrible ‘half-caste‘ – which leads to a hell-hole of racist numerical classifications such as ‘quadroon‘.

What if one of your parents had African heritage and the other parent had dual South Asian and white heritage? Would you say you’re triple heritage?

Mixed heritage‘ as a label gives enough information – without a number. It says, in effect, ‘Yes, as you may infer from my facial appearance, I have more than one ethnic identity. I’ll give more information if and when it’s appropriate’.

Why do skin colour and ethnic origin need describing? Mostly they don’t, but the concept of ethnicity allows people to identify themselves as, for instance, black British, Asian British, or mixed heritage, thereby voicing their own feelings about who they are in positive terms which include family origins, the colour of their skin, and their cultural allegiances.

Skin colour can also be useful to describe an unknown person. In the local Facebook-page incident a man harassing women in a park was described as ‘mixed-race‘.

Similarly, UK police use identification codes to describe suspects to colleagues, eg IC4: [South] Asian. (Interestingly, there’s no IC code for people whose skin colour indicates mixed heritage.)

(However, such ‘racial profiling’ can also be abused by the police, for instance in the controversial and problematic practice of ‘stop and search‘.)

So there may be a perceived need to describe skin colour and ethnic origin, in which case the words used matter.

‘Mixed race’ implies there are human races – but only science-denying racists believe that. They say there are different races, some of which are intrinsically superior to others. They’re wrong.

Pseudo-scientific racists, from ‘Enlightenment’ philosophers (eg Kant and Locke) onwards, tried to justify colonialism and racism by claiming Europeans are inherently more intelligent than other ‘races‘. They aren’t.

German philosopher and racist twat Immanuel Kant | Image: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Taxonomically, it’s generally agreed that all modern humans are Homo sapiens sapiens, the only surviving subspecies of the species Homo sapiens (the only surviving species of the genus Homo).

Race is a slippery word, but in biology it’s an informal rank below the level of subspecies, the members of which are significantly distinct from other members of the subspecies.

Genetic research has confirmed the obvious: the differences that evolved between different human populations are not significantly genetically distinct. The different populations are not races in any scientifically meaningful sense.

Single-gene disorders are the only significant genetic difference between the different poulations. For instance, cystic fibrosis is most common among people of north European heritage. Otherwise the differences, albeit visually and culturally obvious, are superficial.

There are no different human races, just human populations with differences which, apart from single-gene disorders, are superficial – and which are becoming increasingly mixed!

Before pseudo-scientific racism was rumbled, racists sneered about the danger of ‘miscegenation‘; and amongst ethnic minorities there’s pressure to resist assimilation and preserve cultural heritage by not ‘marrying out‘, but – some dodgy lyrics aside – Blue Mink were right: what we need is a great big melting pot.

In the meantime, words matter. Some say ‘race‘ is a social construct that doesn’t have to be scientifically meaningful – it’s just a way of describing the different human populations.

This is where it gets tricky. On the one hand, clever racists use the social construct idea to blur the issue and keep talking about ‘race‘ despite the scientific evidence that there are no races.

On the other hand, ‘race‘ as a social construct is also used by non-racists. It’s used as shorthand for different ethnic populations by people of colour and by both black and white writers and speakers in non-racist media.

Race‘ is also implied in the use of the word ‘racism‘. Antiracists speaking or writing about racism implicitly accept the notion of ‘race‘ – presumably, the social construct version.

For those wanting to identify and eventually eliminate ‘racism‘, the solution to this linguistic dilemna is to nevertheless avoid using the word ‘race‘.

Despite being an arguably useful social construct and the root-word of the useful word ‘racism‘, the word ‘race‘ is fundamentally toxic and redundant.

As for the word ‘racism‘, until the thing misnamed as racism ends, that word will probably continue to be used, trailing its toxic root.

Colour prejudice‘ is more accurate than ‘racism‘, but it’s out of fashion – and it wouldn’t cover white-on-white anti-Judaism. We need a better word.

‘Racism’ is the wrong word. There are no races. It’s also not really ‘colour prejudice’. That makes no sense. It’s culture prejudice. (That’s ‘culture’, not ‘cultural’.) The skin colour of people of African or South Asian heritage living in Europe (or the USA) indicates a different culture. This doesn’t necessarily involve the idea that some cultures are superior to others. It’s the cultural difference indicated by different skin colour that provokes prejudice.

(Also, strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as the ‘human race‘. It’s an inclusive and relatively harmless phrase – and the ‘human subspecies‘ isn’t catchy – but ‘humanity‘ is better.)

Back to ‘mixed-race‘ – there’s no reason to say it. It’s loaded with colonial notions of white superiority. It should be left in the shameful past where it belongs. ‘Mixed heritage‘ is better – it celebrates our differences and embraces their mixing.

But… some people of mixed heritage say, ‘I’m mixed race – that’s how I describe myself. Don’t tell me what to say!’

It must be difficult enough being brown-skinned in a white world – facing microracism (‘Where are you from?’) and conscious and unconscious personal and institutional bias – without having a white saviour (I’m white, by the way – Hi!) tell you how you should or shouldn’t describe yourself.

Whitesplaining word-nerd, antiracist virtue signaller – who do I think I am? It’s like a white person telling African Americans not to use the N-word: ‘I say, you rapper chappies – you really shouldn’t use that bad word.’

Except it’s not like that. When a mixed-heritage person uses the phrase ‘mixed-race‘ to describe themselves, they’re not re-appropriating the word ‘race‘ in a playfully political way.

They’re giving white people permission to use that phrase – and they’re inadvertently agreeing with zealous racists, the only people who think there actually are different races.

Maybe mixed-heritage people call themselves ‘mixed-race‘, thinking, ‘So what? Who cares? It’s a social construct. It’s just what people say. And it’s only two syllables.’

Maybe mixed-heritage people call themselves ‘mixed-race‘ to wind up mitherers like me. If so, Damn – you got me.

I just hope it’s not an example of that depressing phenomenon, internalised racism.

Afterthought 1: I’m a white English man. I had a DNA ancestry test: I’m 36% Scottish. However, I’d never refer to myself as mixed-heritage – presumably because it doesn’t involve my skin colour, and its still North European culture…

Afterthought 2: A commenter on this post, Paul Staddon, kindly pointed out that young people of mixed heritage tend to refer to themselves as ‘mixed’. That’s a pefect solution!

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Forward to the Past – hunting and gathering as a leisure activity

There’s a large park near us with deer in it. I’m an anti-hunting vegetarian, but whilst walking there recently, I felt an atavistic urge to hunt the deer!

Kill Bambi! | Photo: Christopher Day

Here in the UK, we churlish peasants hate the landed aristocracy (and the nouveaux super-rich), not least for their hobbies of huntin’, shootin’ an’ fishin’. (The dropped end-consonant is an aristo affectation.)

However, putting aside class hatred, maybe that’s what we’d all do if we had their time and money (although perhaps not in pursuit of the inedible fox, UK aristos’ favourite quarry). Maybe it’s intrinsically enjoyable. Maybe it goes back to hunting and gathering.

Putting aside – also – our modern vegetarian sensibilities, maybe hunting and gathering was sociable and enjoyable. Then we invented farming, which was antisocial and boring. (Perhaps nomadic herding is an acceptable intermediate lifestyle.)

After the Norman invasion of England in 1066, the victors stole all the land. They hunted in their forests. No one else could. (Perhaps poaching was semi-tolerated as a safety valve. Huntin’ an’ poachin’!)

So in the future (having somehow survived the climate crisis), with aristos and the super-rich all exiled to the moon (for receiving stolen land and criminal damage to the environment), and with reformed money, a state income, most work automated, food produced hydroponically and the land commonised and rewilded, we can all enjoy some occasional recreational huntin’ an’ gatherin’.

Then, at the end of the day, it’s back to the tribal eco-cave for an evening of eating, drinking, story-telling and singing around the fire. (Finally, drunk as skunks, it’s back by autodrone to our ecopods.)

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We’re all normal and we want our freedom

‘Shocking’ – film still from Marat/Sade, 1967 | United Artists

Back in the 60s I vaguely wondered, through the stoned haze, how come that unusual line, ‘We’re all normal and we want our freedom‘, was in songs on two albums by different artists?

The songs were Red Telephone on Forever Changes (1967) by Love and We Are Normal on The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse (1968) by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

Decades later, I finally looked it up: it’s from Marat/Sade, the famous 1963 play by Peter Weiss. The full title is The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.

Set in 1808 in the Parisian asylum in which the Marquis de Sade was incarcerated in real life, the play features de Sade staging a (fictional) play-within-a-play about the (real-life) murder of Jean-Paul Marat, using his fellow inmates as actors. In Act 1, Scene 6, the inmates chant, ‘We’re all normal and we want our freedom‘.

The play, said to draw on the ideas of Bertold Brecht and Antonin Artaud, was directed for theatre and film by theatre god Peter Brook. His award-winning production reportedly shocked audiences. Love’s Arthur Lee and the Bonzo’s Viv Stanshall must have seen it and borrowed that line.

In 1967 the film was showing in the USA; there was also a much-praised Broadway production. In Los Angeles, Lee probably saw the film and borrowed the Marat/Sade line for The Red Telephone.

(He apparently also borrowed from the stomping chant on Napolean XIV‘s They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!, released in 1966. Marat/Sade and the Napolean XIV song both address incarceration due to mental illness. Coincidentally, Napolean was in power in 1808.)

The Bonzo’s We Are Normal was written by Stanshall and fellow Bonzo Neil Innes. Innes has said he thought they got the line from Marat/Sade – the theatre and film versions were on in London – but apparently Stanshall has said he got it from Love. Perhaps it was both.

During the recording of Doughnut, Dadaist Stanshall, wearing a rabbit’s head and underpants, interviewed members of the public in a nearby London street. On We Are Normal, an interviewee is heard saying, ‘He’s got a head on him like a rabbit.’

The Bonzo’s spooky, extraordinary song is part sound experiment with cut-up vox pop and Miles-like trumpet, and part cod heavy rock. The only lyric is a close paraphrase of the Marat/Sade line, sung repeatedly and assertively in the rock section:

    We are normal and we want our freedom

Stanshall slips in a cracking rhyme: ‘We are normal and we dig Bert Weedon‘. (He sabotages his joke by adding a sarcastic laugh, as if to say that although he couldn’t resist it, such humour was out of place in a serious experimental artwork.)

Love’s wistful, melancholic The Red Telephone segues near the end into an ominous Napolean-XIV-like marching chant:

  • They’re locking them up today
  • They’re throwing away the key
  • I wonder who it’ll be tomorrow, you or me?

The song then ends with a plaintive spoken rendition of that Marat/Sade line:

    We’re all normal and we want our freedom
‘Joke’ explanation (I know): Lee messes up the imagined re-enactment of Stanshall’s gag:

    A punk stopped me on the street. He said, ‘You got a light, Mac?’ I said, ‘No – but I’ve got a dark brown overcoat.’

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I’m a woke dirty old man

Image: American Dad / Fox

As an ‘old’ man (over 70), am I a dirty old man? Yes, of course. Not by being a pervert or flasher, but by finding young women attractive. I love my wife and wouldn’t cheat – but I look at young women lustfully.

Women of any age can be attractive – but young women are special. That’s the ‘dirty old man’ bit.

Lust is primal. Age tempers it – it becomes less visceral and more cerebral (and what chance of reciprocation would an old man have anyway?) but it remains present and incorrect.

So what? The thing is, in the wake of the 2021 UK murder of Sarah Everard and the subsequent Reclaim These Streets movement, men of good will – even old men – must adjust our attitude towards women.

The memorable phrase, ‘All men are rapists‘ (said by a character in the novel The Women’s Room by radical feminist Marilyn French) is a good starting point. If it’s true, what should we modern, civilised men do with that evolved predatory tendency?

First we should acknowledge it. After all we’re animals with monsters from the id. Then we should chose to live above it.

Most men are decent and don’t rape, but the tidal wave of testimony that followed Sarah’s death shows that many men and boys do rape and assault – and get away with it.

Those who wish to reject that brutality can acknowledge the lusftful impulse, admire the beauty, consciously reject any predatory urge and be prepared to protect women and girls.

So If I’m walking in the park, being alive and heterosexual I’ll discreetly admire young women jogging in skin-tight leggings. (Discreetly, because staring is intrusive. Marilyn French’s character goes on to say, ‘They rape us with their eyes’.)

But I’ll also be on the lookout for any predatory behaviour and be ready to intervene. Arthritis permitting. I’m a woke dirty old man.

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