Wed. Oct 28th, 2020
OPINIONISTA: Holding on to the idea of the West, and the world that Europe created

Forget the actual persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar, the Roma in Europe, Latinos in the USA or people being put into veritable concentration camps, or bombed out of their homes and communities from Syria to China – the ‘Boers’, we are told, are ‘the most persecuted race in the world’.

There’s a new meme doing the rounds on social media. It tells the world, that “The Boervolk is the most persecuted race in the world” and defines “the boer” as “any white Afrikaans speaking or English speaking person of European ancestry or origin believing in God and the Boer nation and culture”.

There are so many awful statements and claims in that meme, if it were not so dangerous and filled with lies, it would be easy to dismiss it as a load of horse manure. What I will do, however, is discuss a single strand that runs through the meme, and that fits into a global spirit of the times. 

There is a growing fear and loathing about the decline of the European world, the “end of western civilisation,” and rejection of “the enlightenment”. To put it very bluntly, some white people are not happy that so many people of colour (I don’t really like that phrase, but it’s better than non-whites, or non-Europeans), are “taking over,” they want to replace European civilisation with “weapons” like “multi-culturalism,” and generally destroy the world that whites have built. This shift was spurred on by the Tea Party Movement, which was essentially a reaction to the Presidency of Barack Obama, and gained significant momentum, and emboldenment with the Donald Trump presidency. All these issues have, in turn, emboldened sections of the white population in South Africa. But let me step back, and provide some context.

Recurrent crises and fault lines in global capitalism and democracy

It is almost impossible to understand national or sub-national social and political economic matters, outside of global and historical trends or states of affairs. For instance, at the end of the Cold War, very many despotic regimes across Africa lost the backing of the East or West – notwithstanding the romantic idealism of the Non-Aligned Movement. Elsewhere, across the European world – I refer to more than the cartographic reality – there was a sense of triumphalism. Liberal capitalism had won, and the last man standing was a liberal capitalist…. Then things went horribly wrong. In somewhat rapid succession, between 1990 and 2020, the world witnessed a series of banking, financial, currency, debt and “economic” crises; the East Asian Crisis of 1997 and the 2008 global crisis were the most prominent, with Argentina’s latest (2020) debt crisis being the latest in this series of crises

Over these 30 years, capitalism and democracy, which had become so entwined with the unstable idea of a Judeo-Christian world as the basis for societies in the United States and its European kin, began to come apart. Democracy came into confrontation with capitalism. Globalisation, in the financial and “purely” economic sense, turned certainty and stability (of jobs, homes, a car for every adult and assured upward mobility) of the US middle class, into a nightmare, and there emerged, partially as a response to this apparent vulnerability a new discourse on “localisation”. We can argue about that some other time. 

A world in search of purity and exclusivity

One outcome of this localisation is that everyone is rereating into the safety of their racial, ethnic or religious identities. We are at a point in history, then, where everything that has worked for the “the West” the “European world,” and all the great that was supposed to have come from the European enlightenment is coming under intense scrutiny, and provoking very many dangerous trends.

As such, we are facing an historical wave – a global historical wave – of ethno-nationalism, crypto-fascism, or outright fascism, anti-globalism and anti-multi-culturalism, and even resistance to the multilateral system. While all the former may be explained by the horrid search for purity, in a world that is becoming “impure” (races are mixing), the latter is attached to this by Trump’s resistance to “globalism”. Even the “Boere” are panicking.

Trump’s nationalism and “sloppy fascism” has parallels with those of Hungary’s Victor Orban, Matteo Salvini of Italy, and India’s Narendra Modi and his sidekick Amit Shah who has made sure that hatred of non-Hindus, especially Muslims, was going viral in India.

Add to this mix the openly and proudly expressed white supremacy of Richard Spencer, in the United States, and you have an explosive system of contending nationalisms or claims of persecution (whites complain that they are becoming a minority) and, in the case of the Boer nation, you have untested and propagated fear of persecution – and an end of the world as we have known it for the past 2000 years. We’ll come back to those 2000 years.

In the meantime, forget the actual persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar, the Roma in Europe, Latinos in the USA or any number of people being put into veritable concentration camps, or bombed out of their homes and communities from Syria to China, the “Boers,” we are told, are “the most persecuted race in the world”. But let’s get back to the macro picture. 

The end of the European world is a myth

Let’s start with a question. It sounds rhetorical – but it’s as serious as the day is long. Is the European world really ending? The short answer is no. The long answer is very complicated, but I will try to simplify it, only for the sake of brevity. Forgive me if this sounds patronising. We are in the year 2000. We have a map of the world that neatly details where all countries are, and where they share borders. In most places around the world, we use the same calendar, we set our clocks more or less in sync – accounting for vast distances. We spend our days and months in countries designed by the Europeans – and most of us speak their languages.  

While only 33% of the world claim English as their mother tongue, at least 1.1 billion people speak English. From Poland or the Czech Republic, to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Malaysia and India (and very many other countries), contribute to the Indo-European language spoken by 40% of the world. The Boers, as defined in the meme, do not want to be part of this world.

At the same time, almost every piece of technological hardware (and software) the world has used for at least seven decades, emanated mainly from “the West” – with the former Soviet Union making significant contributions in areas like space-technology. This makes the arguments of decline or collapse rather weak.

But let’s wrap it all up. The year 2000 is based on the Gregorian calendar and was introduced in October 1582. It’s European, and nobody wants to change it. I haven’t come across anyone who wants the world to turn to the lunisolar calendar (the Jewish, or Muslim calendars). The time we use on our watches is near universally accepted (Physics note: Please don’t ask me what time is – it’s very complicated). 

While Egyptians typically can take credit for the first time keeping, the production of clocks solidified the division of each day into hours and minutes. Some historical records would have us believe that wheeled vehicles first appeared from the second half of the 4th millennium BCE, across Mesopotamia, Northern Caucasus and Central Europe, but nobody knows for sure, where or when the wheel was invented.

We can go on and on, but by now it should be clear. The world that we live in, the maps we use, the measurements and markings of latitude and longitude are all European or Western creations – there is absolutely no indication that any of that will change any time soon.

While 1.1 billion of us speak English (a European language) every day, there is a possibility that most of us will speak Mandarin – in about 100 years, Kobus. It has taken about 500 years for English to be the most spoken language. I wouldn’t be too worried about European civilisation ending any time soon – at least not in our lived experience. 

The Boers, who always considered themselves as Europeans, need to accept that there are no plans to destroy the institutions of Western civilisation. What will probably happen, is that non-European cultures, customs, traditions and practices will start to grow and spread – and that can only be a good thing.

We will challenge the dominance, the power and control – all of which is part of the production of knowledge. A good thing, surely. For now, Greenwich mean time, the Gregorian calendar, the technologies we use in our daily lives, will remain – and they will get better – with us for many decades to come. That’s the attempted intellectual part.

From the gut, I think “the Boers” in the meme are simply living in fear of a planet of mixed race, multi-cultural people, who self-identify, decide on their own sexual or other preferences, and where being proudly white is an aberration. DM

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