attitudes versus beliefs

Except for the ideological ringleaders of the Rhodesian Front, it is unlikely that many of the followers who boosted the ranks of the Rhodesian Security Forces had any strong ideological position. This is my feeling, and it is also backed up by what I know of the naivety of those who lived around me as I grew up.

The difference between an attitude towards race, and a belief? When one imagines ranks of nazi Stosstruppen, signing on the dotted line to uphold the purity of the race, one most probably has the wrong idea. Rather imagine a much move naive basis for the banality of evil:

My team is stronger than your team. It has always beaten your
time, so why should this time be any different? Christianity is my mascot. What is yours? Communism!! Haha! My team is almost certain to beat your team

This is how I have seen the attitude of many Rhodesians fighting the war against the black guerillas.

We are on tour. We are having an adventure. We are assured an easy victory, because our team is always assured a win.”

Is this perspective on the white colonials worse or better than the traditional one — that they all signed on the dotted line to be adamant racists — is?

The moral delineation of good versus evil seems more blurred in relation to my definition.

However, this very blurring makes more profound and much more troubling the question of the nature of evil and how easily it seems to elude our rational approaches.


Hamlet minded–the white colonial condition

If you see that the white colonials felt that being abandoned by Britain was the betrayal of a (white colonial) Europeanised identity-in-the-making — not fully mature yet, nor profound enough to accept its own ambiguities and ambivalences — then you have a sense of “the child” (white colonialism) asserting itself against “the parent” (Europe) with a kind of psychologically troubled outlook that reminds us of Hamlet lamenting his mother’s morality. But this whole lamentation is a feature of his own immaturity, as much as it is a feature of the mother’s betrayal of so-called objective moral standards. The “rebellion” has to be played out against the “parent”, rather than through a more localised striving to establish one’s identity in relation to the past and with regard to the social and historical facts that produced the present. THAT would have been the more mature approach — not UDI, but an acceptance of one’s Africanisation. But it was immaturity (this is not a particularly moral condemnation I am making, but rather more of a psychological one), that led to the desire for a more Absolute form of identity. One wanted to be “European” and not particularly “African”. Hence, the white Rhodesian rebellion from 1965-1979, when it was defeated by the guerilla war.


This is what the ending had been like: Being dumped by the most enormous wave that you had ever had the misfortune to ride. The exhilaration of rebellion against Britain and “the world” call came to an abrupt end, crushing around one’s brain like a torrent of icicle fingers; smashing one’s skull and mind and body on the rocks with a confusion that is totally at odds with human modulations betokening mercy. There was something as natural and inevitable about this fall as there was to the “equal and opposite force” principle of physics. That is to say, the victims of the white colonial rebellion against the motherland were first and foremostly victims of the equal and opposite reaction they invited by their unyeiling stance against the world’s morality.

Not to feel any pity for the adolescent who makes this kind of error is to have a heart of ridiculous coldness and icy stone. The first world’s stance against this pulverising blow that demolished the mind of its adolescent was, at any rate, not a moralistic stance, but a shamefaced one — deriding the intellectual and emotional proficiencies of its colonial children.

Eternal adolescence. The white colonials. Pulverised psychologically to smithereens. What an inglorious ending.

The complacent Western parent wagging its index finger: “I knew my child would come to a no-good end. He certainly deserved the pauper’s coffin that he got.”


White skin, black mask?

Much of what I’m getting at here has to do with the way that Western society engages in the projective identification of “the colonial” as the excreta from its own body politic that it wishes to disown. (Cf. Melanie Klein and her definition of projective identification.)

So, “the colonial” is actually not anything real — but rather a defensive idea that the herd of Western society has developed as protection against its own inner knowledge of the imperial nature of Western society itself.

When I speak from the point of view of “the colonial”, I am also speaking not from the point of view of the one who was brought up in a colony, but rather from the point of view as one who has been conveniently scapegoated as that monster, “the colonial”.

For more, see comments.

According to Frantz Fanon, the black man wants to be white. [BLACK SKIN WHITE MASKS. p 63, “out of the blackest part of my soul ….surges the desire to be suddenly white”. Also: p 192, 193 — the “cultural imposition” of whiteness as an ethical imperative.]

If this is true, as it no doubt almost certainly is, then we can also go further to add an even deeper layer of complexity to this little historical nightmare that infuses us with the dynamics of contemporary identity politics. Let me explain how bad this gets:

For it wasn’t just about the blacks: Rather, the colonial white was one who wanted something, too. Above all, not to be a colonial, but to be more completely a Western Moderner, and to embrace some sort of metaphysical absolute.

The Western colonial, after all — and this is to say, most of the time — sincerely believed in his mission to be the paternalistic civilising force over the rampant lifestyle of the natives. He saw himself as the exact opposite of the iron fist in the velvet glove. In fact, he was to be the unyielding and severe face of civilisation, whilst turning a blind eye to all sorts of otherwise unconscionable behaviour in his “charges, which he felt obligated to dismiss as mere mischieviousness and/or childishness. This was the doubleness of soul that I grew up with. My teachers replicated it, one and all. It was the ostensible harshness, which much of the time melted, upon touch, into a kind of liquid and translucent quality of Christian spirit.

And yet the white colonial master no doubt found that his position in the world lacked the seriousness of an absolute morality. Thus, he was often tempted to lurch towards the morality of the West, with its single Modernist face, its one standard defining order, and its linearity in terms of logic.

Just as the black slave or black colonial man will often suffer from bad self esteem in relation to the representative normality of being white, so the white colonial, too, suffered a negative chip on his image — due to not being fully Western. It was the West that held the key to real dominance and power for him — just as “whiteness” held the key to power for the black man who was colonised.

The UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) of Rhodesia in 1965, making itself a sovereign state apart from the control of Britain was just such a lurch towards real power and at self-esteem. The palpable reality of this is well portrayed by the patriotic singing of John Edmond at the time. One of his songs, addressed to Britain, states the following concerning the UDI from Britain. Britain is cast as the parent who is obligated to let the mature colony go, as a parent lets go of a child, enabling it to fend for itself:

And now the eldest child has left
The parents and the home
And it can prove its worth
If it’s only left alone.

The psychology and the assertion of it were entirely justified: But, alas! What was the way that this child had found to assert its independence from its parent figure (Britain), apart from in a lurch toward a metaphysical absolute, in terms of overall cultural orientation?

What the Rhodesian leaders wanted was a release from the ambiguity of a caretaker role — the obligation to have a liquid and ever-giving Christian soul. They wanted power to be more well defined in the way that it was to be recognisably invested in them. They wanted, in effect, to rule upon the basis of real, political sovereignty. UDI was an attempt to harden the soul of the nation in such a way that those who sought a more Idealised and clear-cut identity — perhaps if I am right, one that was felt to be more respectably “Western” — could consolidate their rights to that identity, and raise their self-esteem vis-a-vis “the parent”.

Although the lurch of UDI was towards an ideological absolutism of identity, based on an impetus towards complete national sovereignty, the motivation for this lurch was (as I have explained) incredibly relative. It was intended as a movement towards a Modernist ideological framework — where everything was neatly categorisable and clear-cut. UDI was a movement away from the Christian’s obligation to the poor and needy and towards more self-centred and individualistic notion of identity (for its own sake). It was supposed to instantiate (on a political level) the typical psycho-social movement away from childhood, and towards owning oneself. And yet, for all that, it was a movement towards becoming more harder of heart, more fingertip freezing icy in individualistic disposition, and more absolute in an ideological determination to win the war at any cost. The mocking of the Westerners from the other side of the world only served to consolidate a psychological sense of being righteously indignant, thus consolidating the defiance and determination of the wayward colony, cast as “the adolescent”.

The struggle of the adolescent was to break free from its parent — with the sole purpose of becoming more like its parent (more Western). This is why, upon the defeat of the Rhodesian forces in 1979, many of the white colonials threw up their arms in glee (which was only 50 per cent mock glee) proclaiming their newfound freedom to emigrate from the colony in order to finally make themselves Westerners at last. Nothing else could possibly have given them so much pleasure as to lose their colonial home in order to find their “real” home in the West — to this day, this is what many of the displaced whites continue to insinuate.

The Oedipus complex and colonialism

Revisiting the Oedipus complex:

To begin with, a quick consideration of how NOT to read Marechera.
An incorrect way of reading Marechera is:

1. nihilistically — as a “postmodern” and as if he were merely rearranging ideas “on the surface”, somewhat dadaistically, and in order to amuse himself, whilst not criticising the established orders that he was actually intent on criticising.

Also, via the lens of Post-oedipal blindness.

2.   Since, according to Michael Mack’s Freud,  Kant‘s  Categorical Imperative is “The Oedipus Complex”, one ought not to reads Marechera in a kind of subconscious tone of, “Yes, but all the moral answers are already entirely obvious to my abstract thinking mind.”  If one does so, your own Oedipus complex is blinding you to what the author has to say about  historical change engendering psychological complexity.

In fact, more often than not, the points the author wants to make are naturalistic (about society and how we actually experience it without a divine law to mediate its effects) and empirical. “Blindness” is a feature of assuming one has already grasped everything about the world when there is still something more to grasp.

The “Oedipus complex” in terms of the author’s own autobiography and experiences may be reinterpreted (of course metaphorically, which is in terms of what I perceive the whole Freudian system of complexes to be — a huge metaphor about one’s relationship to power…) as a form of intellectual gigantism triggered in the genes and perpetuated by not knowing who one’s own parent really is. In terms of this, one is never satisfied by having “assimilated language”. One is already in doubt whether this language is not the true language, the most efficacious language, the language that will nurture and not mislead one, the language of a true progenitor and not of a spurious host, the language that is likely to last, and not be cast aside by more superior linguistic forms, the language that really is what-it-seems-to-be and not something other.

To introject the father’s law through language under these terms is not an easy matter. One may introject the law entailed in a number of languages — but who is it to guarantee that this is THE language? — the one guaranteed forever? The resolution of the Oedipus complex through the acceptance of castration is the gateway leading away from awareness and experience of personal impulses and away from the bliss of mystical enjoinment with the world, but into an excessive reliance on the pure potency of language itself.

This produces a cascading quality of experience where one finds more and more layers to the onion of identity.  The self is never to be found in a completed condition, but always somehow perpetually changes before one’s eyes. One keeps growing and growing as one assimilates new information about language and about its insinuations about realities concerning us that differ from our self perceptions. At the same time, one keeps shrinking and shrinking (as we find more in the language we had come to trust, which we had already assimilated and introjected as our own law),  turns out to be false. The self is thus constantly in the throes of change. One can never be satisfied with the result because one is never satisfied that truth has been furnished. (Hence the autobiographical quality of Marechera’s writing as a kind of self-inquisition regarding the matter of how much truth had settled into him at any one time.)

Any colonial child (for example, I, or Marechera) is the bastard child of an elusive father whose ideology would not stick around long enough for it to have become entirely entrenched. Colonialism is therefore an ideology which produces children with an identity on the move. We fail to  ‘grow up’ in the sense of what’s expected, never becoming crystalised and firm and never-changing in the selves our fathers would have begotten. Those who mistake our personalities for those of plants or grass, that have established their identities through their acts and appearance once and forever more, will be variously, shocked and scandalized — but rarely disappointed. In Marechera’s terms, “we are changelings.”

–But only insofar as we are still looking for our rightful place.  Apart from that we are ourselves, mischievous, manic and very, very, stable.

Western Barbarism — with no end in sight

I just came from Wikipedia, where I had been doing some research on the Rhodesian national anthem, in relation to a possibly oblique reference in one of Marechera’s children’s stories. By the way, Marechera says the following:

“Let us eat him in a civilised way,” said White Baboon.
Black Baboon agreed, “Yes, let us eat him in a civilised way.”
They carried Green Baboon into the kitchen.
They cut Green Baboon into chops and steaks.
They cooked Green Baboon with spices and dry white wine.
White Baboon made the salad.
Black Baboon made the custard.
They spread the tablecloth on the table out on the verandah.
They set the knives and forks. They placed two plates
and two serviettes and two comfortable chairs.
They sat down to eat. The moon was up, big and round.
Black Baboon had put on a record on the gramophone.
“Ah, Beethoven!” sighed White Baboon, listening to the music.

[emphasis mine]

The Wikipedia article was suprisingly forthright at coming up with actually a very similar sentiment to the one that I thought Marechera was expressing in the emboldened line above:

The unoriginal choice of tune prompted ridicule among foreign observers. The British writer Richard West, in his 1978 book White Tribes Revisited, remarked; “How can one not…squirm with embarrassment, when television ends at night with the Rhodesian national anthem, sung to the tune of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony?” adding that “white Rhodesians are notoriously philistine”.
It’s kind of like those Islamic ragheads that make you want to squirm for not being western enough, or those hook-nosed kikes who try to take over our banks. (They also make us squirm with embarrassment.) Prejudice and hatefulness are always in season, although the objects of rage and discrimination may change.

So that those who may take courage from such stereotypes in order to perpetuate their hate-crimes think twice, I emended the Wikipedia entry slightly. It now also reads:

The fact that a plodding funeral anthem is shared by England and the United States (“My country ’tis of thee,” and “God save our Queen”) does not imply any similar unoriginality, nor does this raise any question of the members of these countries not showing good taste.

While my sarcasm may be a little awkward, I also know now that opposing a sea of prejudice never quite ends it. The social and political sanctification of hatred towards a group really betrays a low-level mindset. It shows me that those who are politically correct are not so righteous as they want to seem to be.

But let me move on to the earlier point about Marechera’s children’s verse, and therefore on to something really subtle. The subtelty we have before us is that of Black Baboon and White Baboon eating Green Baboon in a “civilised way”. This is just after Green Baboon calls out to them to “stop fighting” because he finds it so distressing. Upon hearing this appeal, the baboons’ eyes become narrow and sharp. They beat Green Baboon all day, and it is “like thunder”. Once he is dead, these baboons decide that they want to enjoy the recognition from each other that they are both very civilised. They decide that the best way to achieve this effect is to cut Green Baboon into steaks and eat him in their preferred way, with dry white wine and dessert — whilst listening to Beethoven.

In terms of the verses above, the killer baboons listening to Beethoven signifies the false attribution of civilisation to processes that have nothing to do with being civilised. Listening to Beethoven whilst you are eating your brother is not just phillistine, it is barbaric. To those who want to use power in order to make others obey, Green Baboon says, “Stop! I cannot stand it!”

Those who write books or make articles suggesting that it is okay to be derogatory about a certain group of people because of their aesthetic sensibilities (or lack thereof) or for any other reason, are declaring open season upon that group of people, in all sorts of minor and major contexts. This is an act of war, which forces society to regress as people are forced to take sides in order to defend their putative identities. The people who perpetuate this kind of warfare are profoundly irrational — they cannot be reasoned with. That they take on the cloak of civilisation and believe themselves to be speaking on behalf of civilisation itself is only to be deeply lamented. They are defenders of Beethoven, no doubt, and like their Green Baboon very lightly toasted, with the subtle aroma of Dom Pérignon in order to express the state of their high mindedness as self-chosen appointees of Ultra-Civilisation.

Western colonialism again — in the PRESENT!!! (but, what can you do??)

The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness

“Many of these veterans returned home deeply disturbed by the disparity between the reality of the war and the way it is portrayed by the US government and American media. The war the vets described is a dark and even depraved enterprise, one that bears a powerful resemblance to other misguided and brutal colonial wars and occupations, from the French occupation of Algeria to the American war in Vietnam and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.”


And Now ABOVE for you, a picture of TONY ABBOTT, and below, we can see PUNCH looking for his JUDY.

letter in response to Guardian article: Max Hastings

I was one who was born in Rhodesia, and was forced to emigrate whilst still a child (as this was my parents’ decision, not mine). Regrettably, I found my ‘welcome’ into the First World to be anything but. To this day, I maintain that the general levels of moral reflection and self-discipline among much of the populace in my current milieu are frighteningly low. I wonder if it could cross the minds of some of the moral pontificators on the evils of colonialism that acting upon their unchecked assumptions about colonial whites could give the colonial white immigrants, to whom some denizens of the western left are pleased to give short thrift, imputing to them collective guilt. This only leads to the blindsided newcomer learning complete contempt for those who wish to punish us for nothing we had done wrong. To act to punish without even the preliminaries of an introduction to the individual whom you are punishing is quite without morality or decency, in my view.

Ashis Nandy, the Indian post-colonial theorist and intellectual cautions us against making monsters out of the ex-colonials. To do so, he says, is to reinforce colonialism as a psychologically potent force. These disempowered colonials as victims of Modernity, dwarfed in relation to the gigantic mechanisms and devices of modern warfare.

Nandy’s position on colonialism lends itself to a truly moral appraisal of the colonials, who and what they were, and how they are really situated in relation to contemporary manifestations of power. The children of the white colonials are particularly vulnerable, even compared to their uprooted parents. My generation is also the victim of colonial secrecy about what went on, and religious shame, which prevents free communication, and makes us victim to both right wing and left wing propaganda.

Hastings position, by contrast to Nandy’s more enlightened position about the colonialism of the past, only contributes to a highly immoral and destructive blaming of the generation of the white colonials’ children, who did not play any part in the politics of the era. Hastings is reinforcing the violent psychological legacy of the colonial era, and is creating more of the anguish which the astute Zimbabwean writer, Dambudzo Marechera, railed against:

“We are refugees fleeing from the excesses of our parents,” he said.

Marechera, hardly a partisan for the nativistic order that preceded colonialism, went on to say, “Tradition, on closer examination, always reveals secrets we prefer to flush down the toilet.”