To be truly progressive, Scotland needs to face up to its role in Empire and industries that caused the climate chaos

Watching from England with family in both countries, Scottish independence seems a progressive horizon. Scotland and Scots were subjugated by England – including my ancestors by the nation of my other ancestors – and UK Plc continues to profiteer from war, destruction and carbon-intense industries. But the Scottish establishment also profited immensely from the Empire and from the industrialisation that has destroyed our climate. To form its foundations as a progressive nation and find peace with its future, Scotland must make justice with its past.

The climate crisis is devastating the planet. In the Global North it is often referred to as a future threat, but for millions of people in the Global South who are facing droughts, crop failures, heatwaves and ever-intensifying storms, the devastation is happening now. There is no time – or money – to prepare and adapt. This is why climate change is an issue of social justice and racial equality. The nations that industrialised early have historically emitted a lion’s share of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and should compensate for it.

Britain had a crucial role in the transatlantic slave trade. Although slavery was officially abolished in the mid-19th Century, the idea of white supremacy still underpins our societies. George Floyd is another name in a long list of the victims of racism, structural and everyday.

By exploring links between slavery and climate change in the story of Empire; by mapping and comparing the ongoing work for slavery reparations and climate justice it is possible to start to tackle an even bigger question. What does Britain as a whole, in particular the establishments, owe the rest of the world for their role in this history? The answer to that question will inform how the different parts of Britain must divide the blame.

The sun never set on British crimes

Britain must stop slave trade denial. Words fail the barbarity of torturing and terrorising people from west Africa, killing many in the Middle Passage, then working to death those who survived the journey. An estimated 15 million people died in four centuries of transatlantic slavery, in which Britain overtook Portugal as key perpetrators. Britain trafficked across the Atlantic an estimated 3.1 million people from 1640-1807, when the trade but not slavery ended.

The Scottish establishment also profited immensely. Off the Sierra Leone coast, for instance, the Scottish Grants family oversaw Bunce Island for most of the 18th Century, a concentration camp for enslaved peoples before trafficking. Another example is Jamaica: by the early 1800s Scottish owned plantations held roughly a third of Jamaica’s enslaved population. Merchants and investors in Glasgow and Edinburgh became enriched as did those in London, Liverpool and Bristol.

Britain’s transatlantic slave trade ended in 1807, but slavery continued in the Empire even after abolition in 1834. Apologists for enslavers, including many British historians, suggest the 16th to the 19th centuries had different moral codes. This is true. Enslavers constructed this code: white supremacy.

Instead of acknowledging this, British history focuses on abolition. Historian and Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Eric William, has said it well: British history implies Britain only engaged in slavery to abolish it. Scottish history often replicates this narrative, embellishing abolitionists whilst underplaying complicity. In reality, enslaved people caused the end of slavery, through rebellions, running away, tool-breaking and striking.

Britain has been central in creating many carbon-intense industries, and the history of climate change is still being written. Peer-reviewed science calculates 90 global corporations are responsible and profited from 63% of man-made climate emissions between 1854-2010. Big oil and allied interests have, with parallels to what happened after slavery, tried to excuse and downplay their responsibility. They have denied climate change and done everything to prevent alternatives.

From the 1950s onwards big oil companies knew about the impending climate crisis but upheld silence. By 1988 the science got out. From then onwards, big oil and related industries countered the facts with climate denial and lobbying against alternatives. Despite knowing the threat, between 1988 to 2017, the fossil fuel industry produced as much carbon emissions as between 1750-1988. Despite the 2015 Paris Agreement clearly stating known reserves of fossil fuels must stay in the ground, big banks funnelled $2.7 trillion to big oil to discover more even dirtier fossil fuels since then.

The City of London is central to financing big oil and other extractive industries. Slavery played an insidious role making the financial sector that now forms an important part of the UK economy.

Slavery Capital

Royal Bank of Scotland is one of the big banks financing climate crisis and the bank – now a.k.a Natwest – ties back to slavery. Created in the early 18th Century, RBS was backed by Scottish investors who lost money in Scotland’s failed Darien Scheme to colonise what is now Panama. The financial hit of this failed plan is cited as a key motivation for the act of British Union. Transatlantic slavery created astronomical profits for enslavers. Managing this wealth and offering financing led to the expansion of financial institutions in London, Edinburgh and beyond.

Banks went from gold houses towards today’s financial industry largely due to slavery. Alongside RBS, other enslaver complicit banks include Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Bank and Arbuthnot Latham. Slavery also encouraged the creation of London’s financial institutions like the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange. Opened by Queen Elizabeth I in 1571, was a place where goods were turned into commodities setting in motion what became the London Stock Exchange. Slavery produced many of the goods, and a key early enslaver Sir William Garrard financed the Exchange. Lloyds of London was just a coffee shop before it became a broker for the insurance market, which grew largely insuring enslaved people and goods crossing the Atlantic.

Slavery also heralded complex financial instruments – e.g. mortgage-backed securities and collateralised debt obligations – in which enslaved peoples were bundled as assets or debts. Financialisation allowed investors to discreetly profit on secondary markets. It meant that even after abolition in 1834, UK financial institutions could covertly profit in the US and Brazil were slavery continued until 1865 and 1888. The investors in slavery profited after abolition another way: through a compensation scheme. The UK bailed out enslavers with 40% of government expenditure in 1834. Taxpayers finalised payments for this in 2015.

The opaque nature of today’s financial infrastructure means we cannot account for every penny created from slavery. But we do know the main enslavers, particularly as the compensation scheme required them to register full inventories of enslaved people in 1834. University College of London has made this information available, and it shows who profited from slavery.

Profits from the products of slavery, such as from cotton and sugar and also from related industries, were vast. They found many new ventures after abolition in the mid-19th Century. Vast investments went into the industrial revolution, including building railways and funding the next rounds of imperialism. These included further colonisation on both the African continent and in Asia by the British East India. It seems fair to speculate this wealth funded the burgeoning oil industry 50 years later. Perhaps the question about this period should be flipped. How many excessively wealthy individuals and corporations at the beginning of the 20th Century did not make their wealth in slavery or other imperialist schemes? I am not arguing there were none, but that they were the exception.

Past, present and future justice

The movements for climate justice and for historical justice for the crimes of slavery have different starting points, but also can be interlinked and solved in unison. Enslaved people, their descendants and white allies have called for reparations since slavery started. On the other hand climate debt was conceptualised and introduced to the world by Chile’s Instituto de Ecología Política before the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Climate debt is what is owed by those who have polluted the skies immensely to those who have done little or nothing, but suffer the impacts.

Answering three key questions gets to the crux of each movement, and their interconnections.

  1. Who are the victims?
  2. Who are the perpetrators?
  3. How could justice be served?

Broadly, the answers to 1 and 2 are discussed above. People in the Global South are victims of the climate crimes committed by those in the Global North, especially the establishment and corporations who have extended fossil fuels’ central role in the world economy. The victims of slavery are those who suffer the structural racism created to originally justify this crime against humanity, particularly the descendants of slavery. The countries of the Global North perpetrated and gained from slavery, particularly the establishment and corporations.

More complex is how we differentiate Britain’s – and by extension Scotland’s – role in each of these debts of injustice. There are potential avenues for historical justice that have been mapped out.

One of many plans to resolve the legacy of the injustices of slavery was created by the Caribbean Community of 15 nations. They have called on European nations for reparations for genocide, slavery, slave trading and racial apartheid, for the former colonies and descendants of slavery. Their 10-point plan divides into three themes. Slavery reparations need to be based on a apology (point 1) that starts a a healing process seeking psychological rehabilitation (8). Racist power structures need to be dismantled with the Global North repaying through supporting cultural institutions (4), such as university programs, and elevating African knowledge (7). A third pillar seeks to dismantle white privilege by sharing privileges universally. This includes reparations (2), including allowing people rights to return and remain across the former empire, also financial reparations for indigenous peoples (3), to build public health (5), education (6), transfer technology (9) and cancel sovereign debts former enslaved colonies supposedly owe international finance (10).

Repaying climate debts on the other hand requires abolishing high carbon industries and moving beyond fossil fuels. It also requires healing and financial compensation, so people of the Global South can adapt to climate change and build renewables-based economies. One direct crossover between Caricom’s plan and climate debt is transfer of renewable technology and facilitating other ecologically sound forms of development. Climate justice also calls for cancelling Global South debts owed to international financial institutions, not least as the north has violently taken so much from the south.

The principles of climate justice are integrated into international climate agreements. But these meetings are little more than talking shops as they are controlled by nations of the Global North in cahoots with multinational companies. Also, to date the EU has refused to meet with Caricom about slavery reparations.

But momentum is building for historic justice on both fronts. Since the murder of George Floyd not only are enslavers’ statues toppling, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has called on countries to confront slavery and colonialism with reparations. Increasingly, legal efforts are coming forward to sue slavery’s benefactors. This has strong parallels to climate litigation, a strong and growing movement to use legal avenues to hold big polluters to account.

Legal cases against those who have profited from slavery and causing climate disaster seem ever more likely to succeed for related reasons. We can pinpoint accurately who are the perpetrators. With slavery this is due to research such as UCL database that shows an inventory of British enslavers in 1834 and Nikole Hannah-Jones’s in-depth 1619 Project for the New York Times into the impact of US enslavement.

From the Magazine: ‘It Is Time for Reparations’

With climate, advances in science mean that legal thresholds can be overcome to show how massive polluters are causing ongoing climate disasters. Also, the public mood has shifted were climate denial and slavery denial are less viable; first one due to the obvious crises all around us, the second due to the Black Lives Movement showing the pandemic of racism never went away.

Another way to show the momentum of each movement is that corporations are offering settlements to nip the anger in the bud. This explains why big oil is now campaigning for a meek carbon tax, with the stipulation that all climate debts are absolved. Likewise, big corporations are now offering charity donations to absolve their consciousness of historic crimes of slavery. This is damage limitation to try to head off litigation. But reparations is not about charity, which only reinforces the power dynamics and paternalism of white supremacy. Corporate criminals cannot be relied to decide their own punishments, but that they are trying shows they are clearly rattled.

But what about the role of Britain? It seems almost impossible to imagine Westminster’s government – particularly the current one – engaging in processes of reparations about climate, slavery or other crimes of Empire. The buck stops with the corporations and financial institutions. The House of Lords is still loaded with barons made rich or aristocrats by slavery and later the fossil fuel business. Many of the elites own their mansions, stately homes and palaces due to slavery. Carbon intense businesses turned millionaires into billionaires. And finally – the Royal family did more than any family to make wealth from slavery, whether this was Queen Elizabeth I sponsoring early voyages or the deep involvement of monarchs from Charles II to the Georges.

Scottish independence would – or will – break the status quo. It will start a conversation on dividing debts and assets. The legacies of slavery and climate crimes must be part of this conversation. It has already started for some institutions, with the University of Glasgow auditing their involvement in slavery, but can go further. There are questions on what personal and institutional wealth should be returned, what castles and stately homes compensated for. By working together with movements demanding climate reparations or the Caribbean Commission on justice for the crimes of slavery, Scotland would set an international standard for a progressive nation of the 21st Century. Without the weight of the past in the British empire, future would be Scotland’s.

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  1. Muiris says:

    As an Irishman, I was raised with Catholic guilt. This has now been replaced by humanistic and racial guilt. I utterly reject them all.

    Yes, I agree that we should try to rectify the inequalities of our accidents of birth, whether racially based or not. The descendant of a slave is no more responsible for their accident of birth, than I am for mine.

    My ancestors were oppressed, and many Irish enslaved (hence the Irish names & emblems in the Caribbean). The Barbary pirates enslaved >1 million Europeans, including the sack of Baltimore (West Cork) in 1631. The descendants of the perpetrators are not responsible for what their ancestors did, and neither are we.

    1. papko says:

      Good points you make.
      What I don’t like about the article is it seems to lay all blame with England, they built a sea power, they vied for dominance in a lucrative trade, and they left their mark on the USA, (which they colonized and whose law is based on English law), like wise all the adjacent countries were suborned to the Union Jack.
      The writer admits that Scots were involved in the slave trade, yet he exonerates Scotland (and by definition the Scottish working class who are as pure as snow) by attaching the opprobrium to the “elites”.

      So even though every single town and person in the country benefitted from the wealth accrued by these elites in this unsavory trade, all the beneficiaries are innocent because they had no choice ?

      So Scotland good and England bad and no doubt America good and every other country good but the source of all sin is England the home of the elites presumably.

      Yet if Scotland can claim the elites perpetrated this wickedness in her name, why cant England?

      1. Steve Rushton says:

        Yes, the US was built by enslaved people and is a colonial settler state. It must pay reparations too, see the excellent 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones, referenced in the piece. I’d say England/ Scotland’s (Britain’s) elites are most to blame for the British slave trade: for instance the English/Scottish King James ii/vii founded the Royal African Company. Many of these families still live in palaces/ castles/ stately homes built by the wealth from enslaving people.

    2. Jamie MacDonald says:

      No but the point being made is that the descendents of the perpetrators continue to benefit from this wealth, while the victims still suffer in the world it has created..
      A world that must change it we are to survive as a living planet.
      It seems to me, it is these institutions and establishments that are running the whole show for their own ends and have governments and politicians all over the world, in their pockets.
      We need independence in Scotland to even start shaking the tree imo, as London is so steeped in this, any other way is unthinkable for the powers that be operating from there.. Saw a programme on tv recently about London and the overseas tax havens called ‘the UK gold’ , worth a watch..

      1. Muiris says:

        I don’t disagree with any of your points about institutions. Every society has its institutions which are self protecting/self perpetuating, and most dangerously self believing.

        What I do disagree with is the designation of victimhood/elite by race. Is it right to assume that because of skin colour, that someone’s ancestor was a slave/slave owner?

        What I think that we agree on, is 1) all people deserve to be treated decently, 2) Society (probably through education, in it’s broadest sense) needs to facilitate social mobility, so that those with talent, but no ‘background’, can emerge, benefitting themselves, but also society. 3) Our planet needs to be treated decently. (I accept very broad principles, which are open to conflicting interpretation)

        1. Steve Rushton says:

          My argument is that those whose ancestors engaged in enslaving people and have inherited wealth from that should pay reparations. And nations/ societies need to look at their collective responsibilities and make amends for their white privilege. I think education in its broadest sense plays such a key part in this process.

          1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            ‘…that those whose ancestors engaged in enslaving people and have inherited wealth from that should pay reparations.’

            That’s not an argument, Steve; it’s just a statement of principle. An argument would attempt to demonstrate *why* they should pay reparations; that is, to justify the principle.

  2. Josef Ó Luain says:

    Respect to your fire, compassion and demand for justice, Steve, they’re few in number on here who wouldn’t agree with the thrust of your analysis, I’m sure.

  3. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

    Oh, there’s so much illusion in this article that it’s hard to see where to begin.

    Let’s start at the end. Where is the evidence that Scottish independence will break the status quo? There is none. This is wishful thinking. Nationalism is irrelevant to the power of the multinational corporations and financial institutions that comprise the dominant elites that control our discourse; like ‘woke’ culture, it’s just another marketable commodity.

    As Nike has demonstrated with its most recent advert, George Floyd sells shoes; global capitalism simply takes whatever righteousness floats our boats and absorbs, packages, and profits from its remix.

    And what evidence is there that a future Scottish government will break with the nations of the Global North through which the dominant elites control the institutions of ‘global justice’? ‘Most Scots’, who elect their national government, like the deeply exploitative consumer lifestyles, which they enjoy courtesy of Apple, MacDonald’s, Nike, and Walmart, far too much to allow that to happen. Again, to think otherwise is to indulge in leftist fantasy

    And why on earth must Scotland make justice with its past to form its foundations as a progressive nation and find peace with its future? I know why. It’s the great social gimmick of casting our national story in accordance with the plot of the archetypal Salvation Myth.

    According to this constitutive myth, to attain a state of blessedness (‘a progressive nation… [at] peace with its future’), we must undertake a transformative journey from our current condition of fallenness to one of redemption, a journey which inevitably involves sacrifice and suffering. In short, Scotland must make justice with its past in imitation of a Disney morality tale. (‘Kerching!’).

    The dominant construction of ‘justice’ in capitalist society – the one that expresses our current social praxis in (among other things) our moral judgements – is that of debt-repayment. Hence, the Global North ‘owes’ the Global South reparations, and its the duty of a future Scottish government to shoulder its share of the North’s corporate liability for the assets that were stripped.

    This is the justice of bankers and grocers. This isn’t ‘progressive’; it simply confirms the hegemony of bourgeois ideology, the ethics of balancing the books, the peace of mind that comes from a reconciled balance sheet.

    This is just the same old hand-wringing shite, the marketing of a Disney lifestyle fantasy of global peace and justice.

    It changes nothing.

    1. “Where is the evidence that Scottish independence will break the status quo?” – do you mean this in these sense of the economics of capitalism?

      In itself “The break of the British state is a creative act” as John Maclean once said.

      1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

        I mean it as it’s intended in the penultimate paragraph of Steve’s article, in which the term’s reference is contained.

        My point is that he cannot know what the polity of an independent Scotland will look like; it might equally look just the same as it is today, controlled by the same dominant elite that, by his own admission, controls the Global North, and by the same ideological means. His vision of an independent Scotland as an exceptional Scotland is based on wishful thinking rather than on any projection from the evidence of current social attitudes; as a people, we’re just as enthralled to the deeply exploitative consumer lifestyles, which we enjoy courtesy of Apple, MacDonald’s, Nike, and Walmart, as any people in the Global North.

  4. Morag Williams says:

    Dividing debts and assets?

    Surely, Scotland keeps the land in Scotland and England keeps the debts. Scotland should also re-draw the fishing borders in line with international protocol.

    North Sea Oil has been keeping England afloat for too long and when was the last time that Scotland got the government that the people voted for?

    You know it makes sense: if England was subsidising Scotland . . . well England would have been independent long ago.

  5. SleepingDog says:

    British imperial chattel slavery was worse than that, though. Like the UN description of belligerent war as containing all crimes, such slavery perpetrated a vast amount of moral crimes against the person, illustrated by such ‘micro-history’ as this book review, the appalling story of an African child abducted, raped, infected, maimed, tortured and murdered by British slavers who had driven down the price of slaves by bombarding an African town, who were acquitted by a judge in a British court after being accused by some of their own sailors:
    as well as moral crimes on the larger scale. As Walter Rodney describes in his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, European slavery deprived African societies of many from their most productive generations, and destabilized human cultures across the continent by, in many cases, traders only accepting slaves as trade goods, and similarly only trading firearms to Africans who provided slaves. This meant that the only factions with access to firearms were those prepared to trade enslaved people for them, and put such malevolent African actors in power, fanning a raiding and warmaking culture to capture more slaves. And if an African kingdom or faction wanted to stop selling slaves, the Europeans could threaten a punitive regime-changing expedition, bombard a coastal stronghold, or simply threaten to sell arms to the kingdom/faction’s enemies.

    It is not hard to imagine what would happen if aliens today offered ray guns in exchange for human captives. They would find some takers, and those takers would grow powerful, even if the practice was widely viewed as an abomination by most Earthpeople.

  6. Daniel Raphael says:

    Superb article, timely and much needed. Once again, Bella shines as the venue for fearless analysis and creative thinking.

  7. Norrie MacPhail says:

    Whilst this is very emotive and factually pretty accurate, it encompasses a specific period of development and time to the exclusion of prior history. It also invokes a financial response by way of the failing economic arguments we have operated by over the last however many centuries. Should we discuss the Roman empire consequences, Viking pillages and Egyptian slavery models of the past, or what is happening in Zimbabwe today, to see we’re not the only failures, should you look at history that way.

    We have issues that need addressed much more urgently than arguing about who should do what for whom and how they should pay for it. Money is the problem and the cause of the global issues we all face today, regardless of colour, class , creed or history. We have a monumental one planet crisis to deal with, yet here we are still debating boundaries and papering over the cracks of the politics of little people, rather than dealing with the root cause.

    Steve, perhaps you can come up with a model for solving the climate emergency, but be assured it would be far too radical for mankind to be big enough to adopt it!

  8. MBC says:

    I’m all in favour of reparations but wish to correct the emerging narrative that modern day Scots benefited from empire or that white slavers were the whole problem.

    African chiefs also sold other Africans. Otherwise there would have been no slave trade without local African collaborators. An article appeared on the BBC website recently by Nigerian writer and journalist Adaobi Nwaubani about her great-great grandfather who sold slaves, saying it was normal in those days and we can’t judge the past by the standards of the present. She calls her ancestor a businessman who was in other respects a good chief just as Edward Coleston was a philanthropist and civic leader who helped the poor people of Bristol. Should her family also pay reparations? How many current African leaders currently abusing their power are descendants of chiefs who assisted in this foul trade? Or collaborated with the British Empire?

    The slave trade benefitted an elite. Precious little of the wealth ever trickled down to ordinary working class Scottish people. My ancestors on my grandfather’s side were agricultural workers in East Lothian who never owned a handful of earth or ever had any security on it. On my grandmother’s side they were millworkers and coal miners from Clackmannanshire who were once ‘thirled’ to the mine. My great-great-grandmother worked at the pit-head sorting coal whilst her mother as a girl carried coal on her back from down the mine until this was banned for women and children in 1848, a long established practice which shocked Victorian reformers. David Livingstone worked in a cotton mill from childhood, with his first wages he bought a Latin grammar book. He had the book attached to one end of the weaving machine and at each pass he would either read the word or with the next pass, he would read the meaning and memorise both. In this way he acquired an education sufficient to enrol in night classes at the Anderson Institute in Glasgow to study medicine (now Strathclyde University). He became a medical missionary and determined to stop the Arab slave trade that persisted on the east coast of Africa.

    Should rich Arab nations not also be approached for reparations?

    The working class of Scotland and elsewhere in the UK got zilch out of slavery. They were not technically slaves since they were paid (precious little) for their labour, nor did they endure harsh, cruel and inhumane punishments for disobedience. But their liberty was limited and their lives short and brutal. They endured appalling work and housing conditions for wages that barely paid for food and rent. There was no security, no roots. They moved around constantly from short term contract to short term contract. They didn’t even have little plots they could cultivate for food.

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      But modern-day Scots do benefit from empire. The relative material prosperity we enjoy today (in the form of the NHS, for example) was built on the economics of our former empire, whence the bulk of our capital came. Indeed, it was the promise of such prosperity that induced us to join the English in forming Britain Plc in the first place.

      1. MBC says:

        Sorry, but you are wrong there. The NHS prior to 1948 was based on voluntarism. See Every sector of society contributed to the voluntary effort. Trade unions, pub collections… hospital consultants gave their skills for free (part of their research).

        1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          Yep, and I’m a big fan of the kind of mutualism by which real communities supplied their own local needs before their members’ welfare was nationalised in 1948.

          What I meant was: that the investment that made the industrial revolution possible came from the fortunes made through empire; and that, without the industrial revolution, we wouldn’t have had the exponential increase in productivity that abolished scarcity in the Global North and laid the foundations of the relative prosperity we enjoy today in terms of the health, education, and leisure opportunities that are available to us.

          Of course, this prosperity could be more fairly distributed within our society; but however it’s distributed, it still rests on the exploitation of the resources of the people we colonised back in the day.

  9. SleepingDog says:

    There is a simpler way to view responses both to slavery reparations and climate emergency. The issue is excess. In the doughnut economics model from Kate Raworth, humans have exceeded sustainable pressures on various life-supporting planetary systems.
    “The environmental ceiling consists of nine planetary boundaries, as set out by Rockstrom et al, beyond which lie unacceptable environmental degradation and potential tipping points in Earth systems.”

    Much of this excess is in the ex-slaving imperial nations, but it is not necessary to tie responsibility for slavery to environmental despoliation to achieve a measure of justice (and best chances of survival). All you need to do is eliminate environmentally-unsustainable excess by a vigorous down-levelling, coupled with a moderate but global up-levelling to achieve the social foundation which is the other component of the Doughnut. The institution of slavery and the capitalist pursuit of endless profit are the twin evils of excess that can be opposed by a philosophy of the good life of moderation, relative equality and a functioning relationship with the natural world.

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      The problem with Kate’s model is that, as the historian, Richard Toye, rather neatly put it in his review of her book back in 2017, it kind of assumes that a can opener will inevitably wash up on the beach. She doesn’t have a political programme to go with it, which is a bit like responding to institutionalised racism by stamping your foot and shouting ‘Unfair!’

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Anndrais mac Chaluim, your criticism would more fairly apply to your own comment, which lacks any positive route forward. Allow me to hand you a can opener.

        Kate Raworth’s book Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist provides analysis and historical perspective on the failings of academic economics rebelled against world-wide by economics students protesting against the narrow, ideological, crash-ignoring, mystery-stacked teachings of ‘old goats’. Whether such book needs to offer a political programme or not, Raworth does make a number of suggestions throughout.

        For example, in chapter 1, she note the Bolivian constitutional right to live well (buen vivir).

        In chapter 2, she recommends some changes to make democratic politics work, describing the state as best supporting actor, providing public goods, supporting household, protecting commons, harnessing and regulating market.

        In chapter 3, she recommends reforming research so that it is no longer biased on the WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic) countries.

        In chapter 4, she makes the point about policy-makers needing to understand systems theories.

        In chapter 5, she calls for a universal basic income backed by public services, taxing the super-rich and closing worldwide corporate tax loopholes and tax havens; and a global knowledge commons.

        In chapter 6, she talks about the state’s key role needing to be rational taxation promoting (regenerative) resource (not labour) productivity.

        In chapter 7, she makes a number of policy recommendations, acknowledging that it will not be plain sailing:
        p281 “Reversing consumerism’s financial and cultural dominance in public and private life is set to be one of the twenty-first century’s most gripping psychological dramas.”

        Raworth concludes by returning to the rebel economics students who talk of “storming the citadels” of academia and dealing with intellectual inertia at the top. There are many ways into the doughnut (not a single political track), economics needs to embrace the insights of other disciplines to drag it into the 21st century, the metaphor of infinite growth has be brought to ground, and we can remake our economy through self-organisational power.

        I am not sure what more you expect from an economic work. Perhaps if the author was male you would not make stupid and snide comments about stamping feet?

        1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          Yes, you’re right; maybe I expect too much of her book.

        2. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          Kate’s mission is to redeem humanity from its fallen state by changing its consumerist mindset. She aims to do so through the managerial process of education and transformative action.

          Basically, her strategy is to re-educate politicians to her way of thinking, politicians who will then legislate accordingly, thereby compelling us to change our ways.

          The reef on which this strategy founders is and always has been democracy. Even if she were to succeed in re-educating national and local politicians to her way of thinking, those politicians, to retain their positions of power and prestige, still need to sell that thinking to their electorates, which comprise consumers who are unwilling to give up their consumerist lifestyles.

          It’s just an inconvenient fact that, in the Global North, politicians who peddle anti-consumerist policies tend not to do very well at all in the polls.

          1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            By ‘politicians’ I mean ‘community leaders’. Check out her Thriving Cities Initiative.

          2. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, how would you know that Raworth’s strategy is to re-educate politicians/community leaders? That seems both a simple-minded interpretation and more of your elitist twaddle, and you won’t say if you actually read her book or just the puerile review of it (the comments are significantly more insightful):
            Representative democracy, even in its hobbled modern forms, is not about persuading leaders or policy-makers, as if petitioning a ye-olde monarch, but replacing them. If you read the book, you might have noticed that the subtext is about getting rid of the ‘old goats’. Purely electoral means are unlikely to yield the required results in a system as brazenly corrupt as the British imperial one, but at least by helping move or extend the Overton window to make environmental discussion a major concern of economics, thinkers like Raworth encourage and support the kind of mass activism that the students she writes about participate in, and perhaps introduce useful concepts to a wide audience (or electorate). She also has some accessible short animations on her website.

            The point at which a model becomes obsolete in public perception is one of those features of complex systems characterised by tipping points, which also feature in her book and in environmental science more generally. Essentially the neoliberal economic model is based on lies and ludicrous fantasies. Raworth and others point these out, bust the myths, and explain the disconnect. I leant a copy of her book to a more socially-conservative friend with an interest in economics, and they told me they were impressed by the rigour and realism of her arguments, surprised perhaps by the lack of rainbows and unicorns they were expecting, I guess.

            But your focus on an individual neglects the main point I was making about excess. For all your trying to hold the future to patterns of the past, it seems that various forms of consumerism have been forgone during the pandemic crisis, and perhaps survival seems rather more important for some people. Your absurdist characterisation of anti-consumerism being ‘peddled’, when of course the reality is that consumerism is being peddled and by enormous well-funded industries, is typical of your duplicitous style. Perhaps we will see different social behaviour when various advertising bubbles burst, or stressful habits are broken, or clean air inhaled for the first time in years.

            And for all your top-down fantasies, politicians remain in the least trusted nether regions of groups the public trusts/distrusts. At the top, nurses, perhaps, in the UK. So maybe you are not as in tune with public opinion as you imagine.

          3. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            1. Yes, I had to read Kate’s book a couple of years ago, shortly after it was first published. It had just been judged a Financial Times Book of the Year, and the book club cum reading programme in which I was participating at the time chose it to critique on the strength of that stamp of approval.

            2. I know that Kate’s strategy is to re-educate politicians/community leaders because she describes that strategy in the methodological guide she wrote for the Thriving Cities Initiative, which was published just a few weeks ago.

            3. You’re right: representative democracy is not about persuading leaders or policy-makers, but nor is it about replacing those leaders. Rather, it’s about choosing others to represent us and make important decisions on their behalf. It’s true that Kate hopes that the people we choose to represent us in the future (the ‘leaders of tomorrow’ who attend her ‘Action Labs’) will share her thinking and enact it through the power structures of government.

            4. ‘…it seems that various forms of consumerism have been forgone during the pandemic crisis…’

            You think? Latest ONS figures show that consumption has boomed during the lockdown, as online retail has come into its own. In the first quarter of this financial year, people in the Global North have been buying just shy of 62% more stuff than they were in the last quarter of the previous financial year. The fact that, for the past five months, we’ve all been stuck in our bunkers, twiddling our thumbs, with nothing to do but consume, is believed by ONS analysts to have been a major contributing factor to this feeding-frenzy.

            5. Not only is anti-consumerism being peddled (you’ve already visited Kate’s own marketing website, I see), but it’s being peddled by Amazon and Boss. Anti-consumerism is big business and has become itself a consumer brand. That’s how big business subverts heterodoxy; it copies, transforms, and recombines it as something it can sell. Everything, as they say, is a remix. Such is the fate of all countercultural expressions in our postmodern times, which is a problem I’ve been wrestling with for the past forty years.

          4. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, in that case:

            1) then you have to take responsibility for pointing people to a dodgy review.
            2) it is still simple-minded to take someone’s stated strategy as their real one, especially one addressed to corrupt, sociopathic megalomaniacs. You might as well ascribe humanitarian motives for NATO’s wars or believe that the British Empire is committed to spreading democracy (it isn’t, by the way, not even in its own territories):
            The point is similar to an open letter, you address someone but have a public audience. In this case it prevents governments from saying “we are guided by the economics” in the same way “guided by the science” was used during the pandemics. If the economic advice is contested, other justifications are required.
            You might think that by addressing you with these arguments, my strategic goal is to persuade or educate you. It isn’t.
            3) I don’t really see the distinction between replacing leaders and choosing others.
            4) I said “some forms of consumerism”. Television watching appears to have shot up during lockdown by one estimate. Digital consumption has the potential to be less environmentally degrading to the planet. Still, I think you are correct to identify a Global North mass behaviour.
            5) My persistent point is that a ‘good life’ philosophy is inherently anathemic to capitalist consumerism, and its tendency towards universality, non-extractivity, positive relation with nature, low consumption, maker culture, and so forth, is entirely consistent with Raworth’s economic views, which is why she points out Bolivia’s constitutional recognition of the rights of nature and the goal of buen vivir, or living well (aka the good life). It is a pity that for many Britons of a certain vintage, the Good Life will be forever associated with the television comedy of the same name. While it is true that a twisted version of such philosophies can be pushed for commercial gain (as in the later versions of Epicureanism which tended to hedonism and excess), they are (in original form) no way associated with the capitalist entities you mention. I don’t have the quote to hand, but Epicurus is recorded as saying something about his ideal being in the company of friends sharing a bread and a pot of cheese. That’s the kind of human ecological footprint the planet can bear.

          5. “Anti-consumerism is big business and has become itself a consumer brand. That’s how big business subverts heterodoxy; it copies, transforms, and recombines it as something it can sell.”

            Very true. The system innoculates itself against change.

            But there are limits to this. This is one of the reasons why degrowth is so challenging to people and to conventional economics.

          6. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            @ SleepingDog

            The problem you have with eudaimonia – the Good Life – as telos is that there are so many different brands of it, it has spawned so many ‘isms’.

            I concur with Aristotle that everyone agrees that eudaimonia is the highest good for human beings, but that there is substantial disagreement on what sort of life counts as doing and living well; i.e. counts as eudaimon. You clearly buy into the Epicurean brand; my taste is more towards the brand that’s marketed under the Pyrrho label, the product description of which is:

            ‘Whoever wants eudaimonia must consider these three questions:

            ‘First, how are pragmata (ethical matters, affairs, topics) by nature?

            ‘Secondly, what attitude should we adopt towards them?

            ‘Thirdly, what will be the outcome for those who have this attitude?”

            ‘Pyrrho’s answer is that:

            ‘”As for pragmata they are all adiaphora (undifferentiated by a logical differentia), astathmēta (unstable, unbalanced, not measurable), and anepikrita (unjudged, unfixed, undecidable). Therefore, neither our sense-perceptions nor our doxai (views, theories, beliefs) tell us the truth or lie; so we certainly should not rely on them. Rather, we should be adoxastoi (without views), aklineis (uninclined toward this side or that), and akradantoi (unwavering in our refusal to choose), saying about every single one that it no more is than it is not or it both is and is not or it neither is nor is not.”’
            (Eusebius of Caesarea, quoting Aristocles of Messene, quoting Timon of Phlius, one of Pyrrho’s students)

            So, while arete – excellence or virtue – might for you consist in saving the planet by eating fondue with your pals, for me its the unwavering practice of immanent critique. You pays your money and takes your choice.

          7. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, I agree that there are many versions of the good (as in ethical not goods) life, of human thriving, excellence, practical wisdom. I am not arguing for Epicureanism, I just used that as an example, and anyway I think it would need to be greatly updated (I am certainly not ruling out the benefits of a modern connected, digital-based culture, although it would generally have to be a lot healthier than the worst examples today). What I am arguing for is a cultural debate about these to bring more of these ideas into the mainstream, as a counter to consumer capitalism. I am searching my memory for authentic examples, perhaps the closest I can think of in classic Epicurean terms is The Clangers (original version).

            The universalist view, aspects of the good life which can be shared across human cultures, is important not just for environmentalism, but for world peace. Violations of the good life elsewhere should be as close to our concerns as making the good life for ourselves. This is still humanism, and I say we need to move beyond that, but at least it moves us towards global levelling, redistribution, and a decisive break with consumer capitalism and its many corruptions, as ideal.

            By the way, I have no idea what your passage from Pyrrho means. Individualistic scepticism has been no friend to the environmentalist movements, nor helpful in pandemic measures.

          8. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            @ Bella Caledonia Editor

            Yes, degrowth is so alien to people and conventional economics because of the hegemony that consumerism exercises over our current praxis. Immanent critique (see above) is our best hope of undermining that – or any – hegemony.

          9. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Well, you see, the universalist view – the view that reduces all difference to an identity (e.g. to a common ‘humanity’) – is just what globalisation is about: standardisation; equality; turning incommensurable groups and individuals into exchangeable units of labour or consumption. It’s part of the ideology of capitalism, as this began to emerge at the time of the Enlightenment, and has intensified with the development of consumer capitalism and the knowledge economy.

            The various antihumanisms that arose in the 20th century are an antidote to humanism. As their name suggests, they’re critical of traditional humanism, traditional ideas about humanity, and the human condition. Central to antihumanism generally is the conclusion that philosophical anthropology and its concepts of ‘human nature’, ‘mankind’, or ‘humanity’ should be contextualised as historical, ideological, or metaphysical constructs and no longer viewed as absolutes.

            Basically, there’s no eudaimon or ‘good life’ that can be shared without imposition across cultures; for what each culture considers is the sort of life that counts as doing and living well varies quite fundamentally. Of course, the globalisation of Western cultures is gradually extending their hegemony over others, opening markets in the knowledge economy for our art, morality, politics, fashion, and other cultural goods; so, it may well be that we are heading historically towards a ‘universal humanity’ based on the elimination of colonised cultures by the Global North and you will have your ‘common humanity’.

          10. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, but that universalist view is not reductive, it is productive: it produces new collective identities. That is what a culture is, a kind of shared identity. Sure, global capitalism results in McDonald’s in every town centre, so to speak, and markets tend to homogenise, even though we have a far greater diversity of products than ever before. But the planetary reality for human is that we share a biology, which is why we need global solutions for climate emergencies, pollution of biospheres, pandemics, nuclear weapons and so forth. My point is that, for me, one cannot live the good life on the basis of denying it to other people, perhaps exploited populations on the other side of the planet.

            And if we are to create a new political unit in Scotland, we need to think about the kinds of real things that we share inside and out, and the kind of life that will justify a separation from the UK and its slave position to the USAmerican Empire/world-poisoning global capital. Again, I am not talking about an identical good life everywhere, but one framework which incorporates a common core of biological-based ethical values. Humans have friends, they need to eat, they sometimes like making things, and so on. Simple ideas that a child could easily grasp. Updated to include benefits from the modern scientific, digital age. Is it really so hard to see what we are currently doing wrong in the world? There is actually a very strong codified global consensus about universal components of the good life in various UN instruments, however lacking the implementation is.

          11. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            No, one’s culture isn’t a shared identity, though one’s shared identities are cultural artefacts.

            ‘Culture’ is the differential term by which we define ‘nature’, and vice versa. Anything we don’t make, but is just ‘given’, is said to be ‘natural’; whatever we do make, and which wouldn’t exist without us, is said to be ‘cultural’. These sorts of mutually defining dichotomies – ‘true’/’false’, ‘right’/’wrong’, ‘natural’/’cultural’, ‘subject’/’object’, ‘self/other’, ‘mind’/’matter’, ‘noumenal’/’phenomenal’ (‘real’/’apparent’) – are our peculiar way of making sense of the universe and a cultural artefact that Europe inherited at its inception from the ancient Greeks.

            We make our shared identities; that I’m a ‘white’/‘male’/‘Scottish’/‘human’ – whatever term I use to qualify my existence – is a product of the differentiations by which, thanks to the historical accident of the ancient Greeks, I make a ‘world’ out of the interiority of immediate experience. There’s nothing natural about any of those designations; my race, gender, nationality, species, etc. are artificial constructions. We only share those identities insofar as we share a language, by the differentials of which those identities are mutually defined as black/white, man/woman, Scottish/English, human/non-human.

            As Marx said: we are self-creative rather than natural beings; that is to say, beings who develop the capacities peculiar to us as we work and live with one another, and who in this process acquire our ideas of the world and of ourselves.

            Following this line of thought… That we share biology isn’t a planetary reality; it’s only a Western reality. Biology, as a concept, is a Western construct; the use of its taxonomies – its systems of classification – to differentiate and group individuals, races, and species is a peculiarly Western emergent practice. The fact that this piece of Western ideology/reality has since been globalised by empire makes it no less historical or any more absolute.

            Now, we probably could, through globalisation, succeed in imposing on others this ‘common core of [Western] biological-based ethical values’ into which you buy, and in eliminating rival heterodox traditions to establish a cultural hegemony over those others, on the pretext of saving the planet and/or extending social justice. After all, we’ve got form; we’ve a long history of clothing our will to power with paternalism. The Global North has been ‘civilising’ the Global South for centuries. Why stop now, eh?

          12. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, that is one ridiculous (and I suspect mischievous) mischaracterisation of what I said. Far from ‘paternalistically’ ‘imposing’ anything, I am arguing that there is a common set of biological-based values from which a family of good life patterns emerge in human society. That is why human cultures have so much in common when it comes to the sociobiological basics (meals, friendship and so on). Any healthy child should be able to understand this. Biology exists whether you like it or not. I fail to see how any useful good life philosophy will emerge from your mystically-opaque solipsistic sophistry.

            Your confusion may relate to your misunderstanding of the role in standards of supporting diversity. It is always good to get cross-disciplinary input, and one’s philosophy would benefit from basic understanding of science, technology, literature, music and so forth. The standardisation of the four chemical base codes of DNA supports as Charles Darwin noted “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved”. Layers of technology standards support the diversity of today’s world wide web content. Twenty-six letters of the Latin alphabet, a great chunk of world literature. The standard system of musical notes underpin the kaleidoscope of digitised music that fill many people’s homes. Effectively idea communism is more productive in such standards (capitalism’s narrow interest tend towards proprietary standards). Key concepts are modularity, separation of concerns and interoperability (plus efficiency, reusability, scalability and some others). So just because humans share the same biology, and should they adopt a similar core of good-life values and practice across communities and cultures, does not condemn them to globally-homogenous lives, any more than speaking the same language or using the worldwide web with common netiquette does. Actually, the opposite, as healthy societies where people can flourish and reach their various potentials will support more diversity than degraded or subsistence societies, and digitally-mediated collaboration will support further fusions.

          13. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            ‘I am arguing that there is a common set of biological-based values from which a family of good life patterns emerge in human society.’

            Well, you’re certainly asserting this, but I’ve yet to see an argument in support of this assertion. To counter your assertion, I’ve been arguing (though you’ve shown yourself to be incapable of following that argument, alas!) that the sociobiological theory of ethics you’ve bought into is, like all our theories, an ideology that’s emerged from the European experience and is, at best, true only relative to that experience. Biology does indeed exist, whether I like it out not, but it’s something we’ve made rather than something that’s been given us; it’s a cultural rather than a natural artefact.

            ‘I fail to see how any useful good life philosophy will emerge from your mystically-opaque solipsistic sophistry.’

            I’ve already indicated that my philosophical practice, call it what you will, issues in the good life or ‘happiness’ prescribed by Pyrrho of Elis and his successors in the ideology of scepticism, which sadly you admitted is beyond your understanding.

          14. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, OK, so I have used the word ‘biology’ in different senses, and hoped my qualifying context would indicate which. So here I will distinguish biology-science from biology-stuff (the real-world aspect that biology-science studies, as in: humans share a common biology-stuff). For the purposes of this argument, I will define politics as how we arrange to live in groups large enough to include strangers, and ‘good life’ as views on how ideally we should live within those arrangements (life, therefore based on biology-stuff).

            So what are humans concerned about these days?

            Black Lives Matter. Skin colour: biology-stuff. Knee on windpipe: biology-stuff. Being killed and intimidated by others of your species: biology-stuff. Respecting others (as you would make a universal rule): good life. Civic protest against injustice: good life.

            COVID-19 pandemic. Masks: biology-stuff. Social distancing: biology-stuff. Handwashing: biology-stuff. Access to education: good life. Thriving in adversity: good life. Duties of care to others: good life. Value of cultural forms: good life. Some of the adverts I have seen about get-togethers with friends for moderate food and drink are quintessentially Epicurean good life, apparently tapping into mass public feeling in (but not restricted to) the UK.

            UN instruments. For all its structural flaws and biases, the United Nations is based on universalist principles. Taken together, these principles outline a globally-shared sense of biology-stuff and good life values. Shared, in that these (legally-binding or aspirational) instruments are very widely ratified across global human nations. A flavour:
            “Human Rights and the UN System
            Human rights is a cross-cutting theme in all UN policies and programmes in the key areas of peace and security, development, humanitarian assistance, and economic and social affairs. As a result, virtually every UN body and specialized agency is involved to some degree in the protection of human rights. Some examples are the right to development, which is at the core of the Sustainable Development Goals; the right to food, championed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, labour rights, defined and protected by the International Labour Organization, gender equality, which is promulgated by UN Women, the rights of children, indigenous peoples, and disabled persons.”
            Therefore a mixture of biology-stuff, biology-science and good life at core, within a framework of world politics.

          15. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            To recontextualise this discussion: Steve urged in his article that, to be truly progressive, Scotland needs to face up to its role in Empire and industries that caused the climate chaos. Part of this role has been the globalisation of the European mindsets that you and I share (even our present disagreement takes place within the locus of those mindsets, as it must, given that we are both products of the European experience). Ergo, a truly progressive Scotland (although I’m wary of the term ‘progressive’, since ‘progress’ is an Enlightenment concept and therefore part of our shared European experience) needs to face up to its role in maintaining and extending the hegemony of our ideas and practices. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, we should laissez-faire – ‘let it be’.

          16. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Another wee digression, eh? Okay; I’m up for that.

            No, I understood perfectly what you were intending when you used the word ‘biology’: organic life; the referent of biology’s discourse rather than biology itself. It’s a common enough mistake.

            Here’s another wee history lesson:

            In the mid-18th century, early naturalists, like the Småland physician, Carl Linnaeus, following the example of Aristotle of Stagira, began to publish taxonomies; that is, systems of naming the organisms that comprise life. Each of these naturalists believed that his taxonomy corresponded to real differentiations in nature; God’s plan, if you will.

            However, others. like the Burgundian natural historian, Georges-Louis Leclerc, saw the taxonomists’ species as artificial categories and the organisms they name as malleable and continuous rather than fixed and discontinuous.

            It was this nominalisation of taxonomy and the deconstruction of its realist reception that opened the possibility of all life having a common descent. Leclerc’s work, in particular, influenced the evolutionary theories of both Lamarck and Darwin; he is a seminal figure in the history of evolutionary thought.

            The moral of this lesson is that, in evolutionary biology, species are treated as artificial categories of classification (cultural artefacts), not as real differentiations in nature; the differentiations of taxonomy are held to have no reality other than as names by which we differentiate and order organisms for instrumental purposes; that is, for the purposes of domination and exploitation.

            Specialisation, racialisation, and gender-differentiation are just some of the ways in which we process life for such purposes.

            In other words, ‘human’ life is nothing special unto itself; it’s just a name we give to some organic matter that, as a whole, seeks to survive and reproduce itself in perpetuity.

            This antihumanism, about which I discoursed in an earlier post, is a fundamental feature of the bioethics of contemporary ecologists like Peter Singer. According to those ecologists, it’s our very exceptionalism – our self-separation from and self-privileging over the rest of bios as ‘humans’ / ’white’ / ’male’ / ’Christian’ / ’Scottish’…etc. – that lies at the foundation of all that’s wrong with the world.

            Now, if you don’t mind, rather than accede to your humpty-dumptying, I’ll stick with the less persuasive definition of politics that’s current in political science, which is that politics is ‘the set of activities associated with making decisions in groups, defined as sets of power relations between individuals; in particular, those activities associated with making decisions that relate to the distribution of resources and/or status’; more pithily, politics pertains to our deciding ‘who gets what, when, how’.

            So, that understood, let’s consider your question: what are humans concerned about these days?

            Well, following on from the above: as evolutionary biologists will tell you, humans don’t ‘really’ exist; they exist only as a term in a formalised but ne less artifical binomial nomenclature (a.k.a. a ‘taxonomy). There’s ‘really’ just a heterogeneous mass of organic material to which you, me, and every other organic body in the universe belongs, and which, with luck, will survive and reproduce itself into the future in successive chance aggregates.

            ‘Humans’ are nothing more than a biochemical process, no different in essence from that which animates other matter; the term is a useful-cum-dangerous stratagem in life’s struggle to survive and reproduce itself. Ask the ethologist, Richard Dawkins; better still, since he’s getting on a bit and has grown quite grumpy and fixated with God in his dotage, read The Selfish Gene.

            You can no more meaningfully generalise about what life’s concerned about than you can reduce the complex variation and variability of the chemical processes, molecular interactions, and physiological mechanisms that comprise its physical structure to any kind of single authoritative system of special identities.

            All we can meaningfully say is that life is concerned with perpetuating itself… and perhaps not even that; for to say that life is ‘concerned’ about anything is to speak teleologically, like David Attenborough does when he deifies ‘Nature’ on the telly. Teleological thinking like that is a big No-No in science.

            Moreover, to the extent that it makes any sense whatsoever to speak of life as being ‘concerned’, and keeping that rather dubious expression under erasure, the ‘concerns’ that particular bodies voice are situational, not global.

            The ‘concerns’ voiced by the bodies with which my body situationally interacts are mostly about things like the condition of the Boat Bridge, the risk of catching an infection while one goes about one’s daily business, whether or not one will have a job or a business in a couple of month’s time, dog shit in the street, human excrement on the loch shore, whether or not the blessed/infernal Glasgow Rangers will be able to stop the infernal/blessed Glasgow Celtic winning ten league titles in a row, whether or not the credits received from the government’s qualifications authority will be sufficient to buy one a place at university… Those kinds of thing.

            I seldom find myself in interaction with any body that voices global ‘concerns’ about such abstract matters as social justice, bio-security, ecological sustainability, human rights, or (the daddy of them all) ‘the good life’; indeed, I tend to avoid such bodies and their psychoses like the plague…

            …paltry things,
            Tattered coats on sticks, unless
            Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
            For every tatter in its mortal dress,
            Nor is there singing school but studying
            Monuments of its own magnificence…

            …except when I’m feeling playful and looking for some entertainment.

            So, in my experience (which is all I’ve got to go on), the ‘concerns’ voiced by particular bodies are petits récits like the above rather than métarécits about ‘life, the universe, and everything’.

            Again, in my experience, in their groups or polities, those bodies are mainly ‘concerned’ with the distribution of resources and/or status; that is, with ‘who gets what, when, how’ within their group. In fact, if you approve the findings of some anthropologists and social psychologists, this might be their exclusive ‘concern’.

            If those scientists are right, then even those tattered coats among the so-called ‘chattering classes’, which do divert themselves from their bread-and-butter concerns with such ‘higher’ matters, may do so out of a sublimated bread-and-butter concern for their status within their group rather than from any ‘higher’, more purely selfless motive.

            Maybe, in the final biological analysis, it does all come down to sex and power; we’re all just competing to get laid, that’s all.

            Here endeth this morning’s lesson…

          17. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, as you well know, my comments were in the context of this article (creating a progressive Scotland that breaks with the status quo and history of the morally-criminal British Empire) and the wider nation-building questions of Scottish Independence. In this context it matters little what the topics typical of letters written to the editors of local newspapers are. I know little about how the ‘buen vivir’ principle got into Bolivia’s constitution, but apparently it was discussed at one of the World Social Forum events:
            which I know nothing about, but perhaps neither do your habitual interactees. If I was going to participate in a democratic process to shape a new Constitution for Scotland, I would like to know how populations of other countries went about it, and if they had any good ideas. In other words, we would be necessarily concerned with abstract matters, not the state of town centre pavements.

            I was interested to see you advocating a laissez-faire policy for an Independent Scotland in the universalist, Golden Rule-esque, even sociobiological sense of live and let live. While I also think such a policy is a naive fantasy in our interconnected globe, the idea that before redistributing for reparation we should first halt the current redistribution from global poor to global rich is a necessary consideration for the article’s aims. And it reminded me of a snippet of speech apparently taken from a Leveller text, from the graphic history The Many Not the Few, in the context of Oliver Cromwell’s imminent threat to the Irish:
            “Whether those who pretend for freedom (as the English now) shall not make themselves altogether inexcusable in entrenching upon others’ freedoms, and whether it be not the character of a true patriot to endeavour the just freedom of all men as well as his own?”
            Setting aside the sexist and patriotic framing, and archaic formulation, this seems very modern in sense, although clearly it could do with an environmental update. Our Scottish Constitution should have something positive to say about non-Scottish, and non-human, lives. In my view.

          18. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Good, I’m glad you’re returning to the context Steve’s article. I recontextualised our discussion a few posts ago.

            So, do you agree or disagree that:

            part of Scotland’s role in the empire of the Global North has been the globalisation of the European mindsets that you and I share as products of the European experience;

            ergo, a truly ‘progressive’ Scotland (keeping the problematic term ‘progressive’ under erasure) needs to face up to its role in maintaining and extending the global hegemony of those mindsets?

            As for the rest, if I wasn’t excluded from the process of shaping a new constitution for Scotland by its political elite, which has already made a good job of appropriating the Scottish parliament, the first thing I’d would want to know what checks and balances it would establish to limit the power of government and its agencies over civil society, ‘civil society’ being any community of citizens linked by common interests and collective activity.

            The second thing I’d want to know is what legal processes this new constitution would establish for the pursuit of civil claims against the government for alleged wrongs, both current and past, and for the reparation of established wrongs. That is, I’d want to know what processes the constitution would establish for holding government to account.

            Thirdly, I’d want to know what processes of coercion it would establish to enforce the judgements of our legal tribunals in their arbitration of such civil claims.
            My ‘laissez-faire policy’ (as you characterise my suggestion that ‘a truly progressive Scotland… [etc.] needs to face up to its role in maintaining and extending the hegemony of our ideas and practices’) is the suggestion that an independent Scotland should not interfere, either as crusader or missionary, in others’ affairs. Maybe this could be part of any new constitution too; maybe the ‘something positive’ it could say about others is that they too are independent.

          19. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            [Ignore the foregoing; the heat in the walled garden, to which I retired to work after a rather boozy lunch, caused in me a rush of blood followed by blissful bee-murmurous somnambulance. Here’s the draft I should have posted, dozy old duffer that I am!]

            Good, I’m glad you’re returning to the context of Steve’s article. I recontextualised our discussion a few posts ago.

            So, do you agree or disagree that:

            part of Scotland’s role in the empire of the Global North has been the globalisation of the European mindsets that you and I share as products of the European experience;

            ergo, a truly ‘progressive’ Scotland (keeping the problematic term ‘progressive’ under erasure) needs to face up to its role in maintaining and extending the global hegemony of those mindsets?

            As for the rest… if I weren’t excluded from the process of shaping a new constitution for Scotland by its political elite, which has already made a good job of appropriating the Scottish parliament, so I’d be surprised if the likes of us would be included, I’d want to know:

            what checks and balances it would establish to limit the power of government and its agencies over civil society, ‘civil society’ being any community of citizens linked by common interests and collective activity;

            what legal processes it would establish for the pursuit of civil claims against the government for alleged wrongs, both current and past, and for the reparation of duly established wrongs;

            what processes it would establish for the enforcement of the judgements those legal processes arrived at in their arbitration of such civil claims;

            what processes it would establish for the future review and revision of its own principles and provisions;

            how it would be defended against its enemies, both internal and external;

            how much it will cost and how that cost will be met;

            what the relation of the state it constitutes will be with other people and polities.

            In relation to the latter, I’d argue for my ‘laissez-faire policy’; that an independent Scotland shouldn’t interfere, either as crusader or missionary, in others’ affairs, but should leave those others, as Robert Burns put it, ‘undone to their fates’.

            Maybe this could be the ‘something positive’ a new constitution could say about other states: that they too are undone to their fates, i.e. ‘independent’.

          20. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, while I appreciate the value of the questions you introduce after “as for the rest”, I hope that these already-overlong exchanges might be brought to some temporary resting point here. However, I will answer your first question about my views on European mindsets which seems to mark a significant point of divergence.

            During my formal studies, I was aware of the Eurocentricity of many course modules, along with some other biases (our Philosophy of Religion class turned out to be solely concerned with Christianity, taught by the semi-apologetic university chaplain). But our Psychology classes were heavily influenced by USAmerican research, and I am not sure if you count Russians like Pavlov as Europeans. Non-European views were explicitly covered in North–South Relations in International Politics. It seems to me that a Eurocentric bias is behind the imaginary construct of a ‘European mindset’ and its alleged world domination. But logically and historically I cannot accept that a line can be drawn around European minds and those outside.

            When I mentioned the European name of Bolivia’s ‘buen vivir’, I was aware that there was some basis on indigenous thinking, such as sumak kawsay, which I know almost nothing about but seems to stress collective human stewardship of the environment. Whatever this buen vivir is now, it has been represented as a developing philosophy incorporating ideas from various global sources, fused together but still contestable, which is generally how progress is seen to happen.

            In any case, Europe was something of a global backwater a thousand years ago, and many of the ideas claimed for European ‘genius’ have been traced to imports. Europe has always been a pretty fuzzy concept, and actually identifying a major European idea is a challenge. Is Christianity a European idea? Surely that was a major influence on ‘mindsets’? Is football a European idea? I follow the (Association Football) World Cup, whose history is partly about the rise of South American sides. Many musical roots have been traced back to Africa. Our modern mathematics relies on Indo-Arabic mathematicians. Many elements of Eastern philosophy have been influential in the West. And China invented many commonplaces of the modern world long before Europeans encountered them.

            I may be vastly ignorant about the world, but I also vastly ignorant about Europe, so it is hard to see how Europe has conditioned my thinking. Nowadays, USAmerican and Japanese cultural imports crowd alongside British cultural content, while many in the UK seem to reject European videoforms that require reading subtitles. I am working my way through a collection of world literature (with its own editorial biases that I can to some measure detect). The authors of two of the last serious books I have read are non-Europeans commenting on the deficiencies of Eurocentric views (Shashi Tharoor and Walter Rodney).

            Many people at this moment inside and outside of the map-lines of Europe have a mixture of backgrounds crossing those imaginary lines. Ideas, people and artefacts have crossed those boundaries since prehistorical times.

            So no, I disagree that there has been a “globalisation of the European mindsets that you and I share as products of the European experience”, while Eurocentric views are in practice often quite easy to identify and perhaps only slightly more difficult to inoculate against. Looking at a globe usually helps. Maybe draw some two-headed arrows. The issue of political centrality and its relationship with inheritance is a topic I hope to return to.

          21. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            As a cultural phenomenon, ‘Europe’ was invented during the Carolingian Renaissance of the 9th century CE, probably by Charlemagne’s court scholar, Alcuin of York.

            This renaissance was part of Charles the Great’s stated mission – the moral regeneration of society and the expansion of that morality through empire – a mission for which his Admonitio generalis (789 CE) and Epistola de litteris colendis (date unknown) served as manifestos. From that time hence, the term has designated the sphere of influence of Charles’ moral order, the hegemony of which has over the intervening centuries grown and spread across the rest of the globe by means of sword and book, crusade and mission, and which has reached its zenith in today’s globalisation.

            Now, you deny that you are ‘European’, that your ‘mind’ (for want of a better term – so we’d better keep that under erasure too) is a product of your enculturation. Maybe you like to think that your ‘mind’ is somehow free-floating in some transcendent realm of ‘humanity’ outside of your earthly existence or ‘history’; I don’t know. If so, then you’re deluding yourself, and this self-delusion is itself a mark of the hegemony that the moral order that is ‘Europe’ has come to exercise over the westernised world. You’re as ‘European’ as I am; the difference is that I recognise and acknowledge my history and enculturation.

            It’s our active and willing complicity in the comprehensive ‘European project’ of empire, which began with the Carolingian renaissance, that we, as Scots, need to recognise and acknowledge if we’re to become a truly ‘progressive’ nation. Self-delusional denial is a major obstacle to that ‘progress’.

          22. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, I am not denying the cultural shaping of my mind, although I would add other influences and constraints like biology-stuff. If I were blind from birth, I could hardly imbibe the same range of European cultural artefacts that a sighted person could. Minds are, I guess, sociobiological constructs, as in it takes a village to raise child. Culture is not exclusive to humans, it has been observed in other primates. Growing up amongst animals, humans may take on some aspects of their minds (and vice versa) to some extent. It is you who claim to transcend your conditioning.

            Your description of this ‘dominant’ ‘European mindset’ smacks of tawdry Orientalism (as I understand the concept, I have not read Said’s book) for which the only mode of interaction is to ‘culturally appropriate’ from those it conquers. Yeah, whatever.

            And your model, if I can glorify it with that description, seems to be composed largely of deep flaws. How can you explain youth counterculture? Or that the colonial image of Europe was so often a bizarre fantasy (I am reminded of the separated siblings in the television adaptation of White Teeth). Or that European cultural divisions have sometimes been so deep and bloody and resistant to healing. Or take into account the acceleration of global cultural intermixing. And, to put it plainly, your heroes are not my heroes.

            I am not sure how much of Europe, let alone the world, you can see from inside your self-described parochial micro-bubble. Perhaps you confuse Europa with the distorted reflected image of yourself.

          23. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            A final wee aside:

            Alcuin of York is a particular hero of mine. One of his main political struggles was against monarchianism; the so-called ‘single’ principle of authority. Against the absolute unity of authority (‘oriental despotism’), he advocated (e.g. at the Council of Frankfurt in 794 CE) the tripartite division of authority to reduce the risk of it being abused (‘tyranny’). Having failed, on his return in 790 to his birthland in Northumbria, to win King Æthelred over to the Carolingian idea of thus limiting the power of government, he returned to Francia where he carried on the good fight for the more enlightened Charles, who was building his empire of ‘Europe’ on such principles.

            Alcuin’s translation of trinitarianism into the context of politics provided the seed of the ‘European’ principle of limited monarchy on which, among other things, our partial democracy is based.

          24. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            And I’m not denying that, in the course of its history, ‘Europe’ has culturally appropriated a great deal from others during its missions and conquests. This is another grievance that the victims of globalisation have against us and that we, as Scots, need to hear and address.

  10. Daniel Lamont says:

    A general comment. Daniel Raphael on 2nd August comments on the quality of the articles on BC. I would like to add that a major contribution to the thrust of BC is the quality of the comments on articles as is amply illustrated by this thread.
    A request. Not all readers move in BCcircles. A couple of lines of bio about each author would be very helpful, especially as I often refer Canadian friends to BC.

  11. Heilan Laddie says:

    I live in the far North of Scotland, i walk out the back door of my house and see 36 wind turbines, i look left and i see 4 oil rigs, i look further left and i see 85 marine turbines, yet i pay one of the highest electricity tariffs in Scotland.
    My cousin who lives in outer London and his electricity tarriff is less than half of what I’m paying.
    How much electricity does Scotland export to little engerland?
    Srtong enough
    Clever enough
    Rich enough
    and had enough, roll on independence.

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      It boils down to three main factors:

      1. How much the energy company sells in your area
      2. How much it buys from generators in your area
      3. The different charges imposed on the energy supplier by the local distribution network in your area

      In the north of Scotland, the energy companies sell comparatively little; so, the price that the local Distribution Network Operators (DNOs), who own, operate and maintain electricity infrastructure, charge the energy companies to bring an electricity supply to your area is borne by many fewer customers, which pushes the tariffs up.

      Your DNO will be Scottish and Southern Energy plc, the headquarters of which are in Perth. Maybe you should petition SSE and its shareholders to reduce its charges to energy supply companies so that they can deliver your electricity more cheaply.

      And here’s another thought: if the SSE was renationalised, the cost of your energy supply could be subsidised by the taxpayer.

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