Notes from Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent by Priyamvada Gopal

p. 60- “Ernest Jones and Chartism became synonymous in the mid-1850s.”… long taken an interest in Indian affairs, writing stinging polemics in the People’s Paper about the management of the East India Company in 1853, when its charter came up for renewal before parliament. In these, he had described a ‘mighty and magnifient country’ turned into ‘a nest for the most profligate nepotism’ by the greed of a ‘race of harpies’. .. When by August it had become clear that what was unfolding in India was indeed a large-scale uprising, Jones… set himself to deciphering the text of the rebellion against the grain of the interpretation provided by The Times and the other organs on the side of the East India company. He found … evidence of a will to resist, an insurgent consciousness exhibiting an ‘internal drive’ to transform historical circumstances.. He went on openly to attack The Times – the ‘dishonest’ and ‘unprincipled’ organ of the ‘Leadenhall Moneymongers’ for parroting the line that events in India constituted a military mutiny rather than a national insurrection. It was clear to him that the ‘independence’ of India had to be recognised… Once the full scale of the bloody uprising became clear however, Jones would read events more in terms of their own implications – clearly enthused, even surprised, by what seemed to be an even more powerful revellion than he claimed to have anticipated. … reform was not too little, too late, since the claims of the insurgents themselves had to be central”.

p65 Jones “If they massacre us, we taught them how.”

p. 88 Morant Bay 1865 “The ‘Jamaica affair’ was one of the few Victorian crises of empire in which there is a record expressed British working class cympathies for victims of violent colonial repression… not invoked simply out of generosity or a colour-blind egalitarianism, but in response to a self-assertion which made claims upon workinhg-class solidarity. We know, for cintance, that in earlty September 1866, by which time the Royal Commission had reported back very fully on events leading up to the rebellion, Eyre was burned in effigy on Clerkenwell Green. Funerary decorations used in some condemnatory working class protect meetings hailed Gordon’s death as that of a martyr… Dickens complaining in a letter to a friend: “So we are badgered about New Zealanders, and Hottentots, as if they were idenitical with men in clean shirts at Camberwell, and were to be bound by pen and ink accordingly”.

p. 94 In her influential work on the Eyre controversy, Catherine Hall has suggested that slave emancipation itself provoked a hardening in the typologies of racial difference … it “raised the spectre of black peoples as free and equal”… of what the Spectator magazine correctly described as “the demand of negroes for equal consideration with Irishmen, SCotchmen, and Englishmen”… shapes the ideological fault line that became visible in its wake. .. The presence of colonies, writes Linda COlley, made inescapable the question of whether colonial subjects, ‘those millions of men and women who were manifestly not British but had been brought under British rule by armed force.. have any claim on those vague but caluable freedoms so many Britons considered to be peculiarly their own”.

p. 107″For the white properties class of Jamaica and their supporters in Britain, the perceived refusal of freed blacks and their descendants to submit to the regimes of plnatation labour in favour of tilling their own blocks of land threw their self-serving idea of ‘freedom’ into crisis. The liberty of black Jamaicans to sell or withhold their labour power as they pleased was as much an economic problem as a political one.

p. 121 in the Bee-Hive, a regular columnist “Plain Dealer”

“Plain Dealer warns against allowing sympathy and solidariy to emerge solely on race lines. “Those of our countrymen who, in any dispute between white and black, confine their fellow-feeling to that side where they find complexions like their own, are not to be trusted, let them protest ever so loudly their devotion to the cause of public freedom and to the interests of their community.”… Real freedom is necessarily universal, so that its violation in one place constitutes its violation in another. “Most certainly the only way to preserve the liberties of our country is, to assert and vindicate them wherever they are assailed and violated.”

p. 133 “Some historical scholarship has dismissed [Wilfrid] Blunt as an “anti-imperialist British gadfly’ even as many scholars of that period of Egypt’s history have drawn on his copious notes of what unfolded during the Urabi uprising. Yet no study of British anticolonialism can ignore this figure… Blunt’s criticism was frequently more radical and textured than that produced by Positivists, including Harrison, and that this was in no small part due to his regular contact with anticolonial figures from the Arab world… Blunt sought to provide an alternative voice to British establishment discoure on empire, and self-consciously construct a counter-history delineating “the truse condition of things”. This he opposed to what he called the “manipylation of the organs of public news in the interests of our diplomacy”, including the presence in Cairo and elsewhere of what we might today call “embedded journalists” – a fact he cautions future historians to bear in mind when consulting newspaper files in search of information.”

p. 141 “Urabi’s nationalism was focused on land rights and economic grievances rather than on exlcuding racial or religious outsides… the fellah leader exuded an open attitude to “humanity at large without distinction of race or creed”. It is really at this point that Blunt’s growing understanding that freedom from bondage could be thought of as a shared human aspiration rather than one unique to European thought appears to have crystallized into a clear insight.”

p. 145 “The Blunts returned to an England in the spring of 1882 where the political landscape had changed significantly and for the worse. The Liberals, now in power, had abandoned their “enthusiasm for Eastern nationalities and Eastern liberty” and were full of ideas of “imperial coercion” in relation, not least, to Ireland. Answering hostile parliamentary questions after the bombardment of Alexandria, Gladstone insisted that, without European intervention Urabi “would have become dictator of the country”… Blunt’s work was cut out for him: to undo the myth-making of imperial self-justification alongside the concomitant demonizing of Island and Muslims, itself a legacy of the 1857 uprising, which the British authorities blamed largely on Indian Muslims.”

p. 157 Positivist intellectual and writer Frederick Harrison. “If the colonial enterprise was indeed to be understood as one based on spreading liberal values, as Gladstone was claiming, how strange was it that “the Egyptians grew sulky at so much civilisation”? Perhaps the answer lay in more grossly material realms: “A native pays tax of 12% annual value on his house; the European lives tax free. The native fly-driver pays a heavy tax on his carriage; the European banker drives his pair tax free. Next, the civilisers having obliged the country with some 115 millions sterling at 7 and 10 per cent, obtained “concessions” for about 35 millions more. Then they kindly exempted themselves from taxation, were good enough to set up local courts in which they had the right to bring their civil and criminal affairs to a judge of their own nation. An army of European judges, and secretaries, and assessors, and barristers were called in at very liberal salaries, who kindly undertook to do the law for the Egyptian people.”

p. 177 “the Swadeshi movement in Begal threw up a decisive ideological fault line within the Congress, signalling the first turn to radicalizing and consolidating anti-colonial resistance in the Indian subcontinent. The bitterly opposed Partition of Bengal in 1905, aimed at diffusing growing militancy in the region, resulted instead in the emergence of the figure of the ‘Extremist’, whose militant agitational tactics were the counterfoil to the more traditional petitioning mode of those deemed “Moderate”… While the term self-emancipation” would not explicitly appear on the rhetorical horison of British anti-colonialism until the 1930s, the idea that the governed would claim the reins of governance for themselves – and not just wait for them to be offerred – would from this point on become an increasingly significant dimension of critizques of empire in Britain.”

p. 216 Shapurji Saklatvala “sought actively to force a language of opposition to empire that would at once undo the pretences and prevarications of gradulaist reformism and make clear that resistance to empire was in the interest of both the Indian and British working classes. Where Hardie, MacDonald and others who visited India during the Swadeshi years came back to make the case for reforms that might defuse the ‘unrest’, Saklatvala was arfguably the first MP to make a sustained case in parliament against reformism and ‘liberal’ approaches to colonial governance in themselves. … To the later dismay of the British Communist Party he was also committed to retaining something of his Parsi cultural and religious heritage. Described later by George Padmore as the “most independent-minded Communist ever”, during his parliamentary carrer Saklatvala … put in place an unbridgeable antagonism between empire and democracy, refused to accept that reforms or ‘trusteeship’ were possible in the context of political subjugation, identified the centrality of capitalism to the imperial project, and stressed the revolutionary agency of the oppressed out of which common ground would emerge”.

p. 272 League Against ImperialismGeorge Lansbury MP “no communist by a long shot… was vociferous in defending thwt he called the ‘spontenaity; of the gathering in Brussels against charges of following a Comintern line.. apostrophized the enormous diversity … the first [organisation] “specifically and without qualifications [to challenge] the right of the white races to dominate, control and exploit races which are described as backward.” The organisation’s constitutive repudiation of paternalism was clearly pivotal here – with a remarkable degree of self-reflexivity, Lansbury acknowledges that, even among socialists, the historical tendency had been to go along with the claim that ‘white men organise and control coloured people for the good of those controlled”.”

p. 284 “the London Manifesto made visible a fault line that would haunt metropolitan anticolonialism and debates on the left over the next decades. In the excevution of capitalist crime, where the project of empire was inextricable from the project of capital, could it be that white labour ‘is particeps criminis with white capital?.. how could and should white labour assess its role in the project of imperialism given thhe extent to which, both consciously and unconsciously, not least through its share of the vote in modern democracies, it had “been cajoled and flattered into imperialistic schemes”.

p. 297 Nancy Cunard “already something of a celebrity as a poet, writer, journalist, collector, artistic muse, music aficionado and publisher, Cuard had written to solicit a contribution for her anthology, Negro, originally titled Colour… wanted to curate a panoramic work that would at once function as a cultural history of African and Acrican-American life and as a forum for black liberation globally… rooted in Cunard’s friendships with black musicians, writers, artists, and photographers, and her sense that any resolution of the “Negro question” would require engagement with the histories and struggles of black peoples across the globe.”

p. 324 Mussolini’s invasion – “Emperor Haile Salassie (Ras Tafari), croowned only a few years elrier, in 1930, would take the fateful but hugely important decision not to follow the path of appeasement urged by Britain, but to lay his case before the League of Nations, stating categorically that, as the maps showed, Wal Wal lay well inside soverign Ethiopian territory. In doing so, he was boldly staking Ethopia’s claim to equality of status with soverign European nations and, equally significantly, challenging the league to show that its vaunted universal principles – collective security, peace and order – would be applied beyond Europe.His attempt to hold them to their stated universal commitments would fail signally, and that failure, which enabled Italy to invade his kingdom unchallenged, would reverberate across an outraged West Indies and Africa”

p. 385 “The war had afforded colonial governments the chance to further repress resistance and suspend civil liberties in the name of security. Censorship prevailed widely and interning agitators was commonplace. This included two Irish women who had come to Trinidad to help organise the labour movement there. Padmore’s tribue to Kathleen Donnellan, who died attempting to escape, and her comrade E. Cahill, was eloquent with anger…”I am sure West Indian workers will remember them with affection and gratitude long after the little Hitlers who now sit on their backs have been relegated to the dustbin of history.”

p. 389 “The Manchester Pan-African Congress… on 15 and 16 October 1945 … had about 200 delegates and several observers.. of historical significance for the case of characters it brought together, for the analyses and resolutions which emerged from it, and, not leasy, for apotheosizing the currents of black self-assertion and radical anticolonialism that had emerged so powerfully in the previous decade.”

p. 399 “The movement that came to be known as ‘Mau Mau’ was the culmination of many years of resistance by those dispossed of their lands and put to work on European farms. At the heart of their grievances – which also included low wages, racist passbooks known as kipande, and lack of electoral representation – was ‘land hunger’, large swathes of arable land coming under settler occupation while poor Kenyans, mainly Kikuyu, lived economically deprived lives in ‘Reserves’ or on tiny plots on settler land which they worked.. the roots of the uprising lay in the post-war intensification of fear and anxiety among ‘squatters’ – the misleadingly named communities of farm labour who worked settler plantations and faced intensidication of pressive measures to contain them – and the resistance they frequently put up to exploitative regimes of labour extraction.”

p. 405 “When Seretse Khama of Bechuanaland was infamously deposed from his chieftainship by a Labour government for the crime of marrying a white Englishwoman – for fear of offending South Africa, where ‘miscegenation’ was illegal – Brockway stood agains his own party’s ministers in support for Khama.” (Labour) “Brockway would also attempt strenuously to slough off his paternalist tendencies in order to become what he called a ‘world citizen’.”

p. 414 “A 16-year-old African boy is taken into custody as a suspected insurgent. The bext day his body is returned to his family; he had been shot “while trying to escape”. When his father tries to find a lawyer, he and his friends are also taken into detention. A young boy shins up a tree in terror; though not an insurgent, he is shot by the security forces, wounded he falls to the ground. A third young man is being made to ‘confess’ that he is Mau Mau. Tied up with his dead between his knees, dirt forced down his throat, he is left out in the cold night air and refused foor as he slowly slumps to death. These were a few of the shocking stories Daily Mirror readers encountered in the run-up to Christmas 1955, in a syndicated set of articles focusing on the Emergency in Kenya. They were authored by Labour MP Barbara Castle who, commissioned by the tabloid, had undertaken a ‘one-woman probe’ into allegations of widespread acuse by British forces in Kenya during the Emergency.”

p. 439 “Perham’s Reith Lectures were not precisely a defence of anticolonialism, they were certainly a stringently honest account of how it had shaped the present… Why, Perham asked, had the official world of Britain been so myopic, made such serious miscalculations on the basis that anything resembling African independence was a long way off? “perhaps the reason for this degree of blindness is that British people do not understand nationalism, do not recognise it, or at least its strength, in others.” This was not because Britain was immune to nationalism; on the contrary “the confidence arising from our former power, may have bred in us an unconscious kind of nationalism, one that seldom neeeded to assert or even know itself.”

p. 444 “As Christopher Hale has noted, though Malaya has long been used as an example of a thoughtful and #benign’ counterinsurgency on Britain’s record, unlike thos in Cyprus and Kenya, “The Emergency War in Malay as a nasty and brutal business,” involving, as it had in Kenya, subterfuge, illegality, collective punishment, forced resettlement and unjustifiable civilian bloodshed, which along with the lethal consequences of colonial divide and rule, manifests malign consequences even today: the paper trail itself may well only be partial.”

p. 447 “It has been the argument of this book that British public life and political discourse have been mired in a tenacious colonial mythology in which Britain – followed by the remainder of the geopolitical West – is the wellspring of ideas of freedom, either ‘bestowing’ it on claves and colonial subjects or ‘teaching’ them how to go about obtaining it. The assumption does not restrict itself to the undoubtedly copious body of writing on the idea of ‘liberty’ which is certainly a notable feature of British and American intellectual history; it extends… to the very impulses that drive human beings to make their own history, in circumstances not of their own choosing. It is this mythology which has enabled two successive 21st century Labour prime ministers to make historically dubious promouncements – in one case with lethal consequences:

The days of Britain having to apologise for its colonial history are over … We should talk, and rightly so, about British values that are enduring, because they stand for some of the greatest ideas in history: tolerance, liberty, civic duty, that grew in Britain and influenced the rest of the world.

If we can establish and spread the values of liberty, the rule of law, human rights and an open society then that is in our national interests too. The spread of our values makes us safer.

To undo this myhology systematically, then, remains a project of the highest interllectural and political importance.. In Insurgent Empire, I have tried to show not only that insurgencies were frequent during British colonial rule, but that resistance to empire and the crises it generated shaped dissent around the imperial project within Britain. Put another way, the resistance of the periphery helped radicalize sections of the metropole. In the process, ideas of freeom that were not reducible to Obama’s ultimate “triumph of a system of free enterprise that unleashes the full potential of individual men and women” did make their claims heard, even if they were not always heeded… Tracking the lines of dissent and opposition within Britain and the ways in which these frequently emerged as part of a diaological and transational process is one way in which Britons today can both interrogate the seamless national mythologies they are routinely invited to consume. It enables Britons to lay claim to a different, more challenging history, and yet one that is more suited to a heterogeneous society which can draw on multiple historical and cultural resources.”

p. 454 “Rohes was of course far from being a lone imperial ideologue. But was he so very completely endorsed in his time and by his peers? Here is another distinguished classicist writing in his memoirs about his return to Oxford where he had studied and taught for a number of years: “I cannot say that I saw with pleasure my old University made a pedestal for the statue of such a man as Rhodes.” Goldwin Smith, who wrote this, was not a revolutionary, but he had been a member of the Jamaica Committee, which had sought unsuccessfully to bring Governor Eyre to book. By the end of the 19th century, even a few literary works which had begun to ask troubling questions about the imperial project and white supremacy more broadly were well know: Joseph Conrad’s very different novels Almayer’s Folly, set in Dutch South East Asia, and The HEart of Darness, set in the Belgian Congo, and Olive Schreiner’s Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland, set in southern Africa. In the interwar period emerged Forster’s A Passage to India and George Orwell’s Burmese Days. Dissenters from the imperial status quo may not have carried the day, but they were no lone wolves either, as we have seen…. Fenner Brockway and the Movement for Colonial Freedom, for instance, became deeply involved with the ultimately successful battle to end apartheid in South Africa, to which boycotts on the part of an international community were essential. Brockway was also the initiator, working together with ethnic minority groups in Britain, of legislation to end racial discrimination in public places, successful only at the eighth attempt. In the face of disdainful dismissals and active silencing from various quarters of the establishment, it is these lines of resistance and geneaologies of dissent that must continue to give heart and hope to those who look togwards a more fully decolonized future for both Britain and the postcolonial world.”


Notes from Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert

p. 19 The Mississippi River’s drainage basic is the third largest in the world, exceeded in area only by the Amazon’s and the Congo’s. It stretches over more than 1.2 m suqare miles and encompasses 31 states and slices of two Canadian provinces. The basi is shaped a bit like a funnel, with its spout sticking into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Great Lakes’ drainage basin is also vast. It extends over 200,000 sqyare miles and contains 80% of North America’s fresh surface water supply… drains east into the Atlantic, by way of the St Lawrence River.
The two great basins abut each other, but thety are – or were – distinct aquatic worlds. These was no way for a fish (or a mollusc or a crustacean) to climb out ofone drainage system and into the other. When Chicago solved its sewage problem by digging the Sanitary and Ship Canal, a portal opened up, and the two aquatic realsm were connected. For most the 20th century, that wasn’t much of an issue, the canal, loaded with Chicago’s waste, was too toxic to serve as a viable route. With the passde of the Clean Water ACt and the work of groups like Friends of the Chicago River, conditions improved, and creates like the round goby began to slip through.

p. 106 It’s estimated that one out of every four creatures in the oceans spends at tleast part of its life on a reef. According to Roger Bradbury, an ecologist at Australian National University, were these structures to disappear, the seas would look a lot like they did in Precambrian times, more than 500 million years ago, before crustaceans had even evolved. “It will be slimy,” he has observed.

p. 120 “Cane toads are native to South America, Central America and the very southernmost top of Texas. In the mid-1800s, they were imported to the Caribbean. The idea was to enlist the toads in the battle against beetle grubs, which were plaguing the region’s cash crop – sugar cane. (Sugar cane, too, is an imported species,; it is native to New Guinea.).. in 1935, 102 toads were loaded onto a steamer in Honolulu. 101 of them survived the journey, and ended up at a research station in sugar-cane country, on Australia’s northeast coast. Within a year, they’d produced more than 1.5 million eggs. The resulting toadlets were intentionally released into the region’s rivers and ponds.
It’s doubtful that the toads ever did the sugar cane much good. Cane rubs perch too high off the ground for a boulder-sized amphibian to reach. This didn’t faze the toads. They found plenty else to eat…In the early phase of the iinvasion, the toads were advancing at a rate of about six miles a year. A few decades later, they were moving 12 miles a year. By the time they hit Middle Point, they’d sped up to 30 miles a year. When researchers measured the toads at the incasion front, they found out why. The toads on the front lines had significantly longer legs than the toads back in Queensland.”

p. 172 The first government report on global warming – though the phenomenon was not yet called “global warming” – was delivered to President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. “Man is unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical exmperiment,” it asserted. The result of burning fossil fuels would, almost certainly, be “significant changes in termperature,” which would, in turn, lead to other changes. “The melting of the Antarctic ice cap would raise sea levels by 400 feet,” the report noted. Even if the process took a thousand years to play out, the oceans would “rise about four feet every 10 years,” or “44 feet per century”.

p. 200 “Andy Parker is the project director for the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative, which works to expand the “global conversation” around geoengineering. His preferred drug analogy for the technology is chemotherapy. No one in his right mind would undergo chemotherapy were better options available. “We live in a world,” he has said, “where deliberately dimming the fucking sun might be less risky than not doing it.”
But to imagine that ‘dimming the fucking sun’ could be less dangerous than not dimming it, you have to imagine not only that the technology will work according to plan but also that it will be deployed according to plan. And that’s a lot of imagining… scientists can only make recommendations; implementation is a political decision You might hope that uch a decision would be made equitably with respect to those alive today and to future generations, both human and non-human. But let’s just say the record here isn’t strong. (See, for example, climate change.)
Suppose that the world – or just a small group of assertive nations – launched a fleet of SAILs. And suppose that even as the SAILs are flying and lofting more and more tons of particles, global emissions continue to rise. The result would not be a reurn to the climate of pre-industrial days or even to that of the Pleistocene or even that of the Eocene, when crocodiles based on Arctic shores. It would be an unprecedented climate for an unprecedneted world, where silver carp glisten under a white sky.”


Notes from Coral Empire: Underwater Oceans, Colonial Tropics, Visual Modernity by Ann Elias

p. 6 “Williamson was a practiced suit-and-helmet diver. Hurley claimed to be practicsed at diving but the proof is hard to find… the way Hurley and Williamson conceptualised the undersea and visualised marine animals was mediated by the artificial underwater environments of aquariums… an optical devise invented forviewing the underwater and its creatures in the safe, dry space of land and air”

p 7 To anyone who was British-descended, and white, the coral islands, reefs and waterways of the Bahamas and Australia in the 1920s were known as the empire’s “possessions”. THe “edenic isles set in sparkling seas” – as David Arnold described Western ideas of the tropics – generated much imperial self-satisfaction. .. the British Empire was also a “coral empire” in which the figure of the coral reef became a suggestive symbol of expansionism.”

p.18 “coral reefs were models for a wide variety of social claims about the British Empire.In 1861, they were a demonstration of the correct structure of a colonial society in whjich “the broader the base, the loftier the apex”. In 1908, they wer seen as mirrors of the human character, which “like a coral reef, is made bit by bit”. They served as a precautionary tale for the potential chaos and randoness of exxpanionsim, with some observers concluding that the British Empire “grew like a coral reef, without a plan”. They justified the significance of brotherhoods, guilds, and fraternities because “society has been built up like a coral atoll of innumerable fraternities – social, political and industrial”. And, when, in 1929, there was mounting concerns across the empire about worker exploitation, coral reefs served as a threat and a warning to anyone who would forget that “{the workers] build the reef, and the reef maintains them. Disaster to the reed meas death to its inhabitants”.

p. 72 “Williamson’s chapter on sharks in Twenty Years Under the Sea syands as one of the earliest, lengthy, firsthand observations of shark behaviour. But he was not a disinterested observer: sharks were vicious, untristworthy and dangerous. Mostly, he felt horrified by them and called them “wolves of the sea”, “man-eaters”, “ravenous beasts”, “the enemy” “frenzied demons” and “cold-blooded cannibals”. … The undersea harboured shady life and suspect characters, of which the shark and the octopius were Williamon’s most feared..”

p. 73 “Killing shatks was blood sport, and the joy of killing a display of masculinity and bravery despire the reality that Williamson preferred the protected space of the photosphere to immersion in the sea. The scene in which he had the camera turned on himself as he stabbed a shark – a shark that had been attracted to his boat by a dead gorse and animal blood poured into the water – takes place very quickly. By completing the act, Williamson had delivered on a promise to a financial baker that he would secure on film a fight between a man and a “man eater”.

p. 101 Williamson “no eyes are like that of the octopus. They are everyting that is horrible. Dead eyes. The eyes of a corpse through which the demon peers forther, unearthly, expressionless, yet filled with such bestial malignancy that one’s very soul seems to shrink beneath their gaze, and cold perspiration beads the brow.”

p. 108 “In 1922, at Coogee, a beach in Sydney once described as “shark infested”, 80,000 white Australians gathered to watch nine Loyalty Islanders of the South Pacific take to the surg in lioncloths to hunt and kill sharks with knives. Spectators were disappointed when no sharkes were sighted, but the story shows that by 1920, the spectacle of Indigenous men fighting srarks had become a way of defining Islander peoples, and something of a blood sport”

p. 108 “The motif of the shark and “native diver” became a common signt in Australian popular culture illustrations of the 20th century. In 1948, for instance, Sanitorium, a food company that produced breakfast cereal issued a set of pictorial cards of the Great Barrier Reef for children to collect. One card shows a naked diver at the Great Barrier Reed, a figure not distinguished by name as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander but implied to be Indigenous. The male figure is shown striking through the underwater followed by a shark… Also in the card set was .. a struggle between an Indigenous diver and a giant clam. The viewer is left to imagine the man drowning or being eaten alive, if not by the clam then the shark. From a very young age then, Australian children learned through popular imagery to recognise and stereotype racial difference and species difference, to imagine both the racial and animal Other as savage and terrifying, and to displace animality onto the bodies of Indigenous people”

p. 119 “when Hurley ventured forth, the Torres Strait Islands, Papua and the former British New Guinea were known as Australia’s “tropical possessions” and “our unknown lands”.

p. 121 The heroic life entails the idea of leaving behind the everyday world of domestic affairs to enter one of unfamiliarity and danger. It entails a masculine ideal of putting distance between heroics and the feminity fo the everyday. Even in 1915, Hurley was praised as the main who made the unknown known. He was described as “Australia’s most daring photographer”… conceiving of wilderness as a stage on which to act out masciline ideals of “battling” and then return home with evidence in the form of photographs and films.

p. 125 Diaries … there are no descriptions of swimming – only descriptions of wading in the shallows. .. Hurley did, though, watch intently as two Torres Strait Islander, who were assistants, dived underwater to collect diant clams and marine life that would later serve as camera subjects. As with JE Williamson’s “native” labourers, the men who assisted Hurley made it easy for him to undertake photography and filmmaking without he himself having to prepare, collect, carry, and operate equipment and machines on his own…. The situation was similar to the more general social condition described by James Clifford in relation to the invisibility of “native labour”. “europeans moved through unfamiliar places, their relative comfort and safety were ensured by a well-developed infrastructure of guides, assistants, suppliers, translators and carriers. Does the labour of these people count as #travel’?”

p. 127 “The collection of photographs produced on the second expedition, which show fish and corals underwater but wer in fact photographed in an aquarium, are to this day labelled “underwater photographs”, a categorisation that implies they were taken by a diver submerged in the sea.”

p. 191 “There are many photographs of Carl Akeley and his helpers on location in Africa, preparing drawings of the environment for future reference when designing dioramas. Akeley had implicit faith in the unity of science, fact and documentary … Donna Haraway argues that the fear of nature faking was a fear of the “failure of order” of class, race and sex, a stable social order based on ideologies that deremined what was real and true, and a social order that had been in place for centuries. Never before had that social order been so undermined as it was by modern society’s increasing inclination towards simulation and deception, by the social challenges presented by the emancipation of women, and by the increasing agency sought by non-white people.”

p. 219 Williamson’s account of the dying stingray recalls a recent argument put forward by Timothy Merton about human pity towards neighbours in the nonhuman worl in which he states that “pity for the living world is an aspect of a sadistic relish for devouring it”. When nature is externalised as somthing outside and distant from human life, pity is another way of reinforcing the exclusion and objectification of others.”

p. 227 “With the camera, or “techno-remora” as Haraway calls it, strapped to the back of the turtle, it does suggest that humans are in control. Yet when watching the turtle from the viewing position of the GoPro, there is a sense of being drawn into a political frame where much more is at stake than the pleasure of viewing. Rather, there is some hesitations and uncertainty about our own place in the world that comes from seeing the subjectivity and sentience of the turtle. It comes from noticing the turtles decisions, movements, expressions, actions, thinking, personality, appearance, performances, aesthetics and subjectivity, and from feeling bound to the turtle through the camera. The crittercam is effective in encouraging something that Jonathan Burt appreciates in watching worthwhile films about animals, namely “a sense of what is meant by our co-habitation with other forms of life.”


Books Politics

Notes from Mariana Mazzucato’s Mission Economy

p. xi “In the UK, the government outsourced health contracts worth £9/2bn in 2018 alone. Over 84% of care home beds are in privately owned homes, and 50,000 are in homes run by private equity companies..The total value of the public health grant in the UK – which enables local authorities to provide vital health care and preventative services – has been declining in real terms, from £4 billion in 2015-6 to £3.2 bn in 2020/1.”

p. 11 “Between 1995 and 2013, real median wgaes in the OECD countries grew at an annual average rate of 0.8% versus 1.5% growth in labour productivity.”

p. 16 “Fire (finance, investment, real estate) is burning the foundation on which economic growth rests. In the USA and the UK only about a fifth of finance goes into the productive economy… 10% of all UK bank lending helps non-financial firms; the rest supports real estate and financial assets. In 1970 real estate lending constituted about 35% of all beank lending in advanced economies; by 2007 the figure had risen to about 60%. .. fuels a debt-driven system and speculative bubbles which, when they burst, bring banks and others begging for government bailouts. … if they failed, the entire system would come crashing down with them. So the banks got the bailouts: FIRE profits are private; FIRE losses are public. … Business itself has become financialised. … within non-finance sectors, financial activities and their accompanying attitudes have come to dominate business. An ever greater share of corporate profits have been used to boost sort-term gains in stock prices rather than provide long-term investment in areas like new capital equipment, R&D and worker training”

p. 34 if a government dares do anything ambitious, it risks being accused of crowding out private investment… Lurking deeper is the familiar conviction that only the private sector creates calue and – by extension – that government investment may destroy it. … Government investment often has the opposite effect. When structured strategically it can crowd in private investment, stimulating funding that might not have happened otherwise and expanding national outpur, which benefits public and private investors alike…. Relatively small government stakes in Airbus have helped build the world’s biggest aircrat comapny, with operations and suppliers across Europe. The history of technological breakthroughs shows that public investment, particularly when made early in the innovation process, absorbs major uncertainties and long-term risks that private investors can be reluctant to take on.”

p. 38 New Public Management “NPM led to proposals to a) privatise publicly owned companies b) decentralise and/or break up big public organisations and c) introduce metrics such as performance pay. One way to reduce the risk of government ‘doing harm’ was to outsource and privatise public services. In theory, outsourcing and privatisation would ameliorate the principal-agent problem in the relationship between government and xitiens, save money and improve services. The practice turned out to be quite different… accompanied by centralisation of the state machine, for example by weakening the pwoer of local government over housing.. Between 1980 and 1996 the UK accounted for 40% of the total value of all assets privatised acorss the OECD.”

p. 39 In total, there have been over 700 projects financed through PFI in the UK since 1998, with a capital value of around £60 billion. Under the current paymnet arrangements, these will cost the public purse a cumulative total of nearly £310 billion by 2047-8 – more than five times the original capital outlay. The UK’s National Audit Office estimates the cost of a PFI project is typically 40% higher than an identical project financed by government borrowing.”

p. 42 “Carillon’s failure led to accusations by Blackrock, the giant fund managed that was one of the company’sinvestors, that the company thought about ‘how to renumerate executives rather than what was actually going on in the business’. The institute for Government said the government had created a “corporate monster” with “low-margin, high-risk” projects – an endemic weakness of the outsourcing model of procurement, particularly for longterm projects, where contractors are tempted to underbid to increase market share and hope they can increase their margins as the prject progresses.”

p. 46 In 1970 the public sector employed 47% of arhcitects in the UK, mostly with local authorities. Today it is less than 1%. This partly reflects the sharp fall in the provision of new public housing by local authorities but it is also consistent with the outsourcing trend across government.”

p. 55 Warren Buffett once said – quite rightly – that “society is responsible for a very signfiicant percentage of what I’ve earned”.

p. 109 SDGs “the perfect starting point for considering the challenges that missions might address…. engage diverse stakeholders across the world. The idneitfy internationally agreed grand challenges that have been chosen by broad and comprehensive consultation around the world. They offer huge opporuntities to direct innovation at multiple social and technological problems to create societies that are just, inclusive and sustainable.”

p. 123 “DArPA took enormous risks in funding the invention of the internet – and it did so with a problem in mind: so that satellites could communicate. Similarly, the US Navy funded the invetion of GPS in an effort to target missiles better… recently funded two pharmaceutical companies, Merderna Inc and Inovio Pharmaceutical Inc to create RNA and DNA vaccines – technologies that many scientists and inevtors considered speculative and high-risk.”

p. 163 “When they built the cathedrals that are among Europe’s most magnificent cultural achievements, the medieval master builders took chances that would drive a modern architect out of business. Nobody knew how much it would cost to build a cathedral or how long it would take. But these were missions with a purpose – to demonstrate the glory of God through creativity – and they brought together many different sectors of society: clergy, craftsmen, nobles, rulers and ordinary people.”

p. 169 “the ancient Greeks used the term ‘idiotes’ to debote those who did not operate in the public sphere; to put it harshly, if you were only concerned with the private sector, you were an idiot.So if you were a wealthy Athenian and you didn’t want to be seen as an idiot, you funded public arts like threate festivals (as told by Xenophon, perhaps the first economist, in Hiero. Later the ancient Romans spoke of the ‘pro bono publico’, based on ethical considerations of working for the common good, not the pursuit a profit”.

p. 182 Alan Greenspan 2005 “There is nothing to prevent the government from creating as much money as it wants and paying it to somebody. The question is, how do you set up a system which ensures the real assets are created which those benefits are employed to purcahse… It’s a question of the structure of a financial system which assured that the real reosources are created.”… in other words, the key question is whether the economy has the productive capacity to make good use of the money that is created and placed in private hands.”

p. 183 economists such as Stephanie Kelton, who belong to the economic school called modern money theory (MMT), have been trying to get gvoernments to realise that the idea they have to come up with money before they spend it is reverse logical In reality, spending itself creates money.”

p. 184 “If the government spends £10 and taxes £4m, it can be said to be in deficit by £6. But that £6 is also in the hands of people and businesses… The other side of a government deficit is a private surplus. In other words, the government’s and private sector’s balance sheets must be mirror images of each other,, a government surplus ‘sucks’ pounds off balance sheets. A sustained fiscal surplus means constant sucking, which means that he private sector is losing financial assets, as maturing bonds are not reissued. Thus, fiscal surpluses weaken private-sector balance sheets.”

p. 185 “What happens to the money government is spending when it gets into private hands. Much of it is invested in government bonds… the lynchpin of the financial system and the core of many portfolios: pensioners, who complain about government profligacy are probabli living off income partly derived from government bonds. The national debt, which so exercises many politicians and citizens, is actually the historical accumulation of money spent by government, not taxed back, and now a privately held asset. Government red ink equals private sector black ink.”

p. 199 The Philosopher Hannah Arendt developed the concept of the common good and public value – into an active participatory one with her concept of viva activa. Her idea was that citizens should engage in public affairs, as this is the only way to escape totalitarianism and alienationin mass-production capitalism: here the idea of commmon good is relctec in the idea of an active citizen … also means the need for society to be open to real debate, the contestation of ideas and explicit conflicts over values… Participation is not a silent, harmonious process.”

p. 205 “Capitalist markets are an outcome of how each actor in the system is organised and governed, and how the different actors relate to one another.. No particular kind of market behaviour is inevitable. For example, the market pressure often cited as forcing a business to neglect the long term in favour of the short term, as too many companies do today, is the product of a particualr organisation of the market. Nor is there anything inevitable in government bureaucracies being too slow to react to challenges such as digital platforms and climate change. Rather, both are outcomes of agency, actions and governance structures that are chosen inside organisations, as well as the legal and institutional relationships between them, as well as the legal and institutional relationships between them”.

Books Environmental politics History Podcasts Politics

Podcast: Floating Coast

The history of the ecology of the Bering Coast might sound like a bit of an obscure subject, but this podcast brought it alive.

An interview with  Bathsheba Demuth, the academic author of the title of that name, is a fascinating listen.

What really struck with me is the way in which whaling was one more great extraction of resources – energy – from the periphery to the political centres of the colonial era. How much a whale is in practical terms a huge store of energy – all harvested up from the krill that teems so richly in particularly polar regions. On a smaller scale tundra lichen fed caribou, the riches from which were also transported to political centres.

Memorable phrase – “all conversion is a loss.”

The book also very well regarded in this New York Times review.

Books History Politics

Podcast: The Jakarta Method

To quote from the blurb:  “In The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade & the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World (Public Affairs, 2020) journalist Vincent Bevins links the history of the overthrow of Sukarno – a leader of 1960s Third Worldism –, the rise of the Suharto – one of the most brutal and corrupt dictators – , and the slaughter of 500,000 to one million Indonesians allegedly linked to the Indonesian Community Party (the PKI) to the Latin American “dirty wars”, including Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Central America.”

As someone who managed the Bangkok Post’s coverage of the fall of Suharto, this is all a story that I should have known, yet I confess I knew little of it. That there’s been a huge massacre certainly, but not the US role, or the way that this became a model for so many other US dirty wars to follow.

It can’t but provoke thoughts about alternative histories, how if national aspirations had not been crushed in the service of capitalism, if the world had not been divided into two camps of US and USSR, how we might be in a very different place now.

But, since I’m always looking for the hopeful side, how the ending of US hegemony, a more unstable time, frightening as it can often feel, could allow time for developments of genuine self-determination and democracy, rather than pseudo-democracies and outright dictatorships.