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Sunday, 9 August 2015

Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners

Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners is a BBC documentary programme, written and presented by historian David Olusoga, looking at the abolition of slavery in Britain and the extraordinary choice by the government of the day to compensate slave owners for their loss of 'property'. Compensation which amounted to 17 billion pounds in today’s value!

I was already aware of the extent that British slavery was the foundation upon which Britain built its industrial wealth. In 2007, the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade (but not slavery!) in the British Empire, the BBC transmitted a number of programmes which revealed the shocking truth about the British and slavery. The matter was also exposed in another documentary (first transmitted in 2012) called Empire, written and presented by Jeremy Paxman.

David Olusoga’s new documentary programme delves into these dark matters in greater depth and reveals just how much slavery had been normalised in the minds of British people, the extent of slave ownership, the phenomenal wealth that it created, and the staggering compensation amount paid, not to the victims – the enslaved – but to the slave owners – the criminals.

What I found disturbing was the dehumanization of the African peoples and how this was used to justify the enslavement of human beings, which if you recall my blogs on genocide earlier this year (2015), is part of the path to genocide. We, the British, so proud of ourselves for being the light of freedom and democracy in the world, behaved just like the Nazis did. And let us be in no doubt that slavery and the slave trade were (are) crimes against humanity, committed by the British, but also by other Europeans such as the Dutch, the Portuguese, among others. The Nazis were not an aberration but a continuation of a European inclination towards barbarism, violence, aggression, and racial superiority. And this continues to this day.

The other thing that I noted is the British peoples’ denial that slavery happened, which is the last stage in genocide. As Olusoga points out, the history of British slavery has mostly been forgotten and pushed out of sight. The truth about slavery serves well to demonstrate just how far the British were prepared to go in the pursuit of profits. So what has changed!

It is not science that people need to know more about, but history, our history as Europeans, and social sciences as well, where one begins to understand how and why such things happen. People who do not know and understand their history are very likely to repeat such dark and evil deeds. Science will do nothing to prevent this, and is more likely than any other field of activity to create the conditions which will lead to further rounds of barbarism. This is the nature of the reductive mind caught-up in the nonsense that we should embrace rationality and reason. Why? So that we can use rational arguments to reason our way to accepting crimes such as slavery? What will be the next crime against humanity that we will use reason – rational arguments – to justify? Actually we already know the answer to this question – it is the destruction of our planet in the pursuit of materialism, profit, growth and jobs. Europeans have not changed.

One must understand that there is a truth, beyond the realms of scientific positivism: the light does indeed shine in the mind, and the mind has not understood it. And the more an individual embraces the rational, the objective, the less likely their mind will understand it. We humans are a trinity of opposite characteristics (rational/objective, irrational/subjective, and the spiritual) and there is nothing wrong with this. It is what we are - human. We are not machines.

It is about time that we embraced such understandings and turned away from all forms of ideology, for it is the case that all ideologies, including those of people like Dawkins and his disciples, do lead ultimately to … exactly the horror that we Europeans have been inflicting on ourselves and the rest of the world for thousands of years. It is time now to change, to become different people, and you will not achieve this goal by listening to extremists, in whatever form they come – religious, scientific, atheist, materialist … There are many to choose from!

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