Redressing The Past

July 25, 2020

My wife and I many years ago took out what was called an Endowment Mortgage on our first home together. Some 15 years later we were informed that we had been ‘missold’ that Endowment Mortgage; that in short it was not all it was cracked up to be to us by the seller and at the time we were first sold it.

My wife and I tried to claim some redress for this misselling, and from the company with which the Endowment Mortgage was maturing; and we went through various procedures until we realised that at best we should be having returned to us only that sum which we had invested in the first place, and without any growth.

And so she and I decided to allow the Endowment Mortgage to run to its full term and so collect that matured policy with growth; all of which we were in need of in order to pay off our mortgage on our home.

The point I am making here is related to claims made by persons for redresses for what are perceived as evil events and which occurred deep in the historical past.

At present we are seeing statues being pulled down in our enthusiasm to ‘make good’ events now considered unwholesome and from our historical past

I have seen a person, formerly a government minister, now on TV, and leaning sympathetically towards an idea for paying (money of course, it’s always money) redress to peoples whose forefathers and mothers historically were enslaved by British means.

The argument being that as slaves these forerunners contributed to the wealth and standards of life we enjoy in Britain today, and were never duly rewarded for their contribution.

Both the statues coming down and the redress for descendants of slaves are justified by advocates of them as redresses of injustices offered and suffered in the past.

Yet should we close down those Nazi camps which remain open as museums of the dreadful things that went on there in the 1940s? Are these not a memorial to an atrocity?

Of course you will say, these museums are warnings, ‘lest we forget’, which hold in remembrance those who suffered and died, and are memorials of loss rather than statements in favour of, aggrandisements of. past militarisms.

And so we are resting our case on the fact of the intention for having memorials; one is meant as a warning we must never repeat the atrocity; the other as a celebration of a person or event which is now considered evil.

Yet just as our outlooks have changed since the celebratory attitude towards an event or person was current, so that we now see the same event or person as being evil; cannot our changed outlook be sufficient to alter our intent for having a memorial, and the memorial remain, but no longer as being feted and celebrated, but as a warning? Nothing has to be done except that we change our outlook and see the memorial as a warning rather than a celebration.

For us to destroy an historical memorial ‘because we don’t agree with’ what it stands for – where does this logic lead us? Are we attempting to erase the past? Are we attempting to teach our children omissions of the historical past, even of the fact that once such events and persons were felt important enough and valuable enough to warrant memorials to them being placed in our public spaces? And instead we teach our children to hate; we tell them that such events and persons are to be despised; and at an age when they cannot yet discern for themselves, we inculcate views which malign a past, and in which their own flesh and blood forerunners were actors, sufferers, and beneficiaries.

Are we to have descendants of the railway navvies, those alive today and related by family to the men and women who built The Great Western and other lines in Britain in the 19th century, are these descendants to be considered seriously for ‘compensation’ (it’s money, it’s always money, ‘the only compensation worth having’!!) ...compensation to be had from present day railway companies for these navvies’ parts in the making of British wealth and hegemony in the Victorian and Edwardian periods?

And whose labours still benefit us today – are still creating wealth for us. Is this absurd? I think so. Where might such a policy end? How many historical injustices might be “straightened out”? And in fifty or one hundred years time, when the follies of our days are showing in their stark obviousness to our descendants, should there be then yet another ‘all change’ and we pull down the early 21st century monuments, and recompense the descendants of persons who at present are living on the streets in our British towns and cities?

Besides – should we ‘whitewash’ the past? I can recall a time when we British castigated and ridiculed Soviet Communist Party official historians for their systematic and ideological attempts to square the Russian past to leanings and ideologies, the politics and the propagandas for which the Moscow Politburo demanded of them.

Just as the Soviets by their wall-eyed policies acted and built huge energy dams and infrastructure projects ‘by committee’ and based on ideology rather than on environmental fact, and just as these projects acted without intention to blight, often destroy for generations, the landscapes and peoples roundabout them, are we not thus blighting our intellectual landscape and our people by us taking the past up like a children’s game and rearranging the pieces to suit our idea of what the latest Mr Potato Head should look like?

There’s a few pernicious ideas behind this ‘reengineering the past’. One says that history is chiefly a matter of ethical interpretation; that why persons did things as they did in the past can be judged and juried and sentenced by the ethics and judgements typical of ours as they are in any present age. This logically means that whatever is thought in the present time is right; and whatever differs from this thought and comes from a different time is wrong.

There is also the idea that life and human beings are malleable; and so ought to be worked like metal or wood, or clay or stone, so to provide them with ‘the right thoughts’. Lives in these dark days are considered by too many who feel they are of superior understanding, as being able to be chosen, adopted and adapted absolutely, and without reference to or interference from ‘others’ nor from ‘biological’ and other empirical conditionals.

Thus not only can we rearrange the past to get it to say what we want it to say to us; we can ‘become’ whom we want to be, like Moley in The Wind in the Willows ‘You can be whatever you want to be – when you’re wearing Fancy Dress”.

This of course is a mantra available only to those amongst us who are without any fears of want and who are suffering no material privations; those amongst us who have ‘lost the plot’ of human life being grounded in a set of (God) given conditionals, and who are living ‘merrily’ in their ‘socially-distanced bubbles’. Tell a young miner working among noxious rare earths in the heart of Africa or Indonesia that he can be ‘whom he chooses to be’ . Tell a family living on the edge of Turkey and Syria in a refugee camp; or a young woman in Yemen starving and heartbroken, that they can choose their gender, their biological sex, their lifestyle. Then you will see how callously hollow your concerns about ‘personal identity’ and ‘my rights’ might be.

None of us has any rights whilst we are contented to play games of ‘who am I’ and ‘look at me’ and ‘I want...’ and yet these kinds of suffering people across the world are altogether left out of our mental furniture. Rights and choices come only to those who are willing to let go of such luxuries as them being of no use great to themselves; and those rights and choices which come to them instead, are the rights and choices of others, and not those primarily and exclusively for themselves.

Is an argument – nonetheless true and historical, and logically sound – going to be labelled with incontinent, intemperate, ire and bile, by ‘contemporary thinkers’ and as being a racist argument, that says that many, by far a great majority, of persons in Britain today and of origins from British ex-colonies, and there are probably millions of these persons in Britain right now, did not these persons end up here and happily – I am glad to say it – enjoying the benefits of living in Britain, simply because their forebears were colonial subjects exploited and treated abysmally by the British?

By the standards of the company which managed my wife’s and mine, ‘missold’ Endowment Mortgage, yes indeed, do offer these persons,if they demand it, due compensation (money, ha,ha,) but let them realise – but, but, I am not in favour of this – as a result of them accepting this compensation, let their interest and claims to British life and benefits become wholly void and forfeited.

I make the point not to be ‘nasty’ but simply to draw out the logic of historical compensations (with Dogberry we might say of them that ‘comparisons are odorous”). I’m happy that these people in Britain who are originated from ex colonies, that they are here and are some among all of Britain’s peoples making British life, for all its faults, a life better than other lives in many nations right now, and with all their faults.