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 Writing history in statu nascendi.

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PaulRyckier
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PostSubject: Writing history in statu nascendi.   Mon 05 Mar 2018, 22:42

I wrote on 21 Feb.2018 on Priscilla's thread: Religions-The Benefits:
"I was watching the news and intended to start a thread about the question: How history can be written correctly, if even the history in statu nascendi is that much inlfuenced by political bias and where it isn't even possible to rely on independent sources, while the only sources are mostly the biased ones from inside?".

Here is an exception, although if I recall it well I haven't seen it in BBC world or it has to be that I didn'd watch it one day.
I thought that Bangladesh was a Muslim country, which leaned mostly to the Islam. I have to say that I with this article, was pushed to look better on the internet to Bangladesh:
https://scroll.in/latest/870758/bangladesh-secular-activist-and-sci-fi-writer-zafar-iqbal-attacked-during-seminar-in-sylhet

Zafar Iqbal, a secular writer and scienitst is nearly murdered the day before yesterday by a madrassa student Faizal. It seems that there is still a secular opposition in Bangladesh. I wonder if there is also a separation between Church and State? Have to investigate.

But another story of lacking information, lacking to form a real picture of what happens.
I know that the Rohingas were expelled from Birma, also a case of nationalism mixed with religion, as i see it on the first sight (will investigate too); Budhistic customs in oppposition with Islam, together with nationalism a dangerous mixture. And they are now burning the villages of the Rohingas with the goal to forbid the return of the Rohingas.
I saw in the last days a French documentary about the refugee camps of the Rohingas in Bangladesh near the Birman border.
The army was present, but they did nearly nothing, the whole camp was led by some bearded men and they could freely act among the soldiers of the Bangladesh army. They had seemingly their own sources for food they builded barraks they said to the French reporter that they were looking for schools too, but when the reporter checked, it were  madrassas were only the religion was thought, and were the children, the reporter thought, could be set up against the infidels at the other side of the border.
I have nothing seen of that in the general news. Or is that too much in detail. Although about the atrocities of the Birman side it was constantly in the general news...

Kind regards, Paul.
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Vizzer
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PostSubject: Re: Writing history in statu nascendi.   Sun 13 May 2018, 14:04

This relates to a point raised by nordmann on the Comparison relation thread about the importance of distinguishing between ‘authority’ and ‘power’. I was recently reading the short story Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell. The author himself describes it as an ‘essay’. It was first published in 1936 but was set 10 years before that (i.e. during the 1920s) when Orwell (as Eric Blair) was a policeman in Burma.

The 1920s is a fascinating decade in terms of evaluating the ebb and flow of authority and power – in this case the authority and power of the British Empire. In 1920 the British Empire actually reached its greatest extent in terms of geographical size. Yet geographical size relates to authority, or rather to claimed authority, rather than to power as such. The 1920s would see southern Ireland leave the UK (i.e. a major dislocation within the supposed home islands of the empire) and would also see the British Empire experience overstretch and difficulty maintaining authority in newly acquired territories such as Iraq. In other words, although the British Empire was at its zenith in terms of authority, its actual power was already well on the wane.

In Shooting an Elephant, Orwell describes how in the town he is posted in ‘anti-European feeling was very bitter’ and that he would get ‘insults hooted after me’. He says he found all this ‘perplexing and upsetting’ because ‘I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically – and secretly, of course – I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British’. He adds that he had a ‘hatred of the empire I served’ but that ‘I did not even know that the British Empire is dying.’ A non sequitur which, nevertheless, neatly illustrates the statu nascendi in which the essay is set.

In the story, a working elephant goes ‘must’ (i.e. rogue) and destroys crops, raids fruit stalls, overturns a municipal rubbish van, kills a cow and finally tramples a man to death. Orwell has to investigate, and as a Briton and a policeman and also being in possession of an elephant rifle, he now finds that he has a triple layer of authority in the situation. He personally has no intention of shooting the elephant which, when he finds it, is peaceably minding its own business eating bunches of grass. A gathering crowd, however, which on another day may have been hooting at him (i.e. undermining his authority) now has an expectation of him. In other words the crowd not only confers authority on him but also expects him to exercise power. Paradoxically Orwell writes:

But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have. It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him. At that age I was not squeamish about killing animals, but I had never shot an elephant and never wanted to. (Somehow it always seems worse to kill a large animal.) Besides, there was the beast's owner to be considered. Alive, the elephant was worth at least a hundred pounds; dead, he would only be worth the value of his tusks, five pounds, possibly.’

Although he now has both authority and power, the decision, however, is not his to make. Rather he describes himself as being an ‘absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will’ of the crowd. He likens his situation as being:

a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things.

In the end he does shoot the elephant and concludes that he ‘had done it solely to avoid looking a fool’. One wonders just how many historical actions and incidents (and not just relating to the end of the British Empire) were undertaken by people merely acting out a role expected of them by others rather than due to any considerations based on their own evaluation of the circumstances.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Writing history in statu nascendi.   Mon 14 May 2018, 10:40

Loss of empire begins with a whittling away of authority, and power then tends to collapse in the aftermath - a direct inverse of the sequence by which it was normally achieved in the first place. Your example of Eric Blair is a good one as someone caught up in the whittling away part of the process. Equally good testaments to the difference between authority and power can be found from the corresponding period at the start of this sequence - namely when the imperial state has established power and is now in the process of establishing an authority that is in some way respected (or at least acquiesced to) by those subsumed into its ambit.

This is the rather serious historical process so marvellously lampooned in the "What did the Romans ever do for us?" scene in "The Life Of Brian" - the bit where the "downtrodden" realise that in fact the imperial model depends more on them maybe being "down" but not "trodden", and the intellectual gymnastics by which those who realise this first then seek to gain advantage, or at least utilise this new realisation to some end that conveys local benefit (as Priscilla might term it). At the very least however this process itself means that they must, by default, become apologists for the regime, and a crucial aspect to this stance is that they actively deflect critical attention among their peers from contemplating the actual cost this "benefit" entails. This of course plays straight into the imperialists' hands and not only perpetuates the takeover but begins the process of re-modelling the local society so that becomes a quasi-voluntary part of the imperial whole, a voluntary net contributor to imperial wealth without which no empire has ever survived for long. The "glue" that holds things together as this sometimes very painful process is underway is of course the notion of "authority" invested in the imperial state and its agents, and only conferred from this source to any voluntarily participating local agents, who never require to be a unanimously popular element within that society but only of sufficient critical mass within that society to apply the glue.

And, just as Reg & Co struggled to analyse their true position as "subjects" in the nascent imperial state into which they had been subsumed, this dialogue between such subjects as they attempt to weigh up the benefit and price involved in acquiescing to the new authority has always yielded fertile historical source data for anyone subsequently attempting to understand how this process was conducted in any particular incidence of imperial takeover.

In the Irish example of colonialism under English imperial rule this aspect to the local acquiescence and even apology for the imposed authority is probably best exemplified by Edmund Burke - a man who historically, sociologically, politically and no doubt personally, stood at that crossroads between the old and the new orders in which, depending on which prism through which he is viewed in terms of how such historical acquiescence is judged later, quite literally emerges as "all things to all men, just not all men at one time, or all things at one time either", to borrow Nehru's comment about Gandhi (a man in a remarkably similar position when one thinks about it). Burke emerges as both hero and villain in Irish history, sometimes regarded as such by the same people, and sometimes even for the same reason. This conflict of purpose, character, behaviour and interpretation is reserved for those who, in the imperial process of establishing authority to justify the power being exercised, find themselves coincidentally at that crucial stage of either knitting the two together or beginning to tear them apart. Either way, their recorded words are worth reading if one really wants to understand that particular stage of any empire's history.
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