Friday, June 5, 2015

On Colonialism and Redress

I was involved in a discussion with one of my friends on Facebook, about South African politics. The discussion quite quickly turned to the question of race, and eventually moved over to the subject of colonialism, and redress for the past.

Certainly, I’m not surprised that it eventually got there, since these are very hot topics in South Africa at the moment, and people on all sides have some very strong feelings about it.

Still, it got me thinking about the subject of colonialism (or “conquest”, if you prefer a less clinical term) throughout history.

Before I begin, I should warn you that I haven’t done any particular research for this article. This is just based on the things I have grown up learning and hearing, and hence it might also come across as overly simplistic or romanticised. I think I have the gist of it down, though.

The way I see it, human beings are an expansionist bunch. It’s in our nature. Starting in Antiquity, the Aztecs and the Mayans were conquering the Americas. Over in Europe, the Romans and the Greeks (and for a brief period, the Egyptians) were doing the same thing with Europe, Central Asia, and North Africa. In sub-equatorial Africa, various tribes were vying to extend their territories.

I’m not familiar with ancient East Asia and Australasia, but I’m willing to bet similar things were happening there, too.

Throughout history, the rules have been the same: he who had the better technology, the better strategies, and the better tactics, won.

Fast forward to the Dark Ages – we had the Anglos and the Saxons fighting for dominance, which led to the establishment of the country that would eventually become Great Britain.

Fast forward a little more. The Europeans were the first people to develop technology that allowed them to cross the open ocean. So, as is in our human nature, they set sail in search of new land masses to claim as their own… to colonise. And they didn’t care who lived on those land masses, either. It was like, “Ooh, there’s land over there. I’m going to claim it for my country!”

One of the continents that was “discovered” in this way was Africa, and one of the countries that were founded in this way (by Dutch colonists) was South Africa. Jan van Riebeeck had a mandate from his sovereign to found new colonies on newly discovered land. This he did. Unfortunately, he, like Columbus, De Gama, and lots of others, didn’t particularly care who was occupying the land at the time – although some might say that he treated the natives of his new found land pretty well, relatively speaking.

Right now, we’re considering a mission to colonise Mars, one on which we’re hoping to embark within the next twenty years, if I remember correctly. Once again, this is evidence of the undeniable human desire to expand – our influence, our territory, our control, by whatever means necessary. We can’t fight it. It’s in our nature. I don’t know if there is intelligent life on Mars, but I know this: if there is life, if we find it, and if they’re less technologically advanced than us, we will conquer and colonise them. It’s who we are.

But I digress.

Now, suppose African people had been the first to develop this open-water-travel technology. If this had happened, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that they would have handled it the same way as the Europeans did. We’d be having the same discussion now, but we’d be on opposite sides. We’d probably be on European soil, and we’d definitely not be speaking English; we’d probably be speaking an African language, or perhaps a completely different language derived from an African language (think Afrikaans, which was derived from Dutch). Africa would be the dominant culture on the planet, and unless my ancestors were slaves, I definitely would not have been born in Africa!

If Africa had never been colonised, I don’t know if they would have borders and infrastructure, like they do today. I’m fairly sure that they would, but they’d be very different borders, and things would probably look very different, technologically speaking, as well.

It’s fun to explore and fantasise about alternate histories and timelines, but that’s all they are – fantasies about alternate timelines.

Now, to the question of whether the people who were colonised should be entitled to an apology, or redress in some way, from the countries that colonised them.

Personally, I think not, for the simple reason that the shoe could very easily have been on the other foot, and without a doubt, would have been if history and luck had played out just slightly differently.

Besides, I freely admit that I exist, and I was born in Africa, because Africa was colonised by Europeans, and I really don’t think I need to apologise for my very existence. Should Italy apologise to Britain for the actions of the Caesars? Should it give back land? You can be sure that some of Italy was once under the control of the people who would eventually become Britons. Should the average Italian, living in Italy, apologise to British natives, and offer to give up his house? He certainly didn’t have anything to do with taking it from them.

Now, of course, we went through Apartheid in this country, which was a terrible time in our history. But we’re not the only people who went through a time like that. Think of the Americans, and what they did to their Natives, to say nothing about how they treated Africans, whom they brought over as slaves.

What about the Australians, with the Aborigines?

The thing is, most people who are alive today in those countries had nothing personally to do with those policies. Many benefited, yes – I benefited from Apartheid… but I didn’t know it at the time. Nobody whose great grandfather stole someone else’s land should be expected to give that land away to someone else’s great grandson. No-one who is lucky enough to have a job should be expected to give it up to someone whose grandfather was never given the opportunity to have a job.

I feel sad about those things, and at times I feel a twinge of guilt. My heritage is a bit marred, let’s be honest. But I don’t feel the need to apologise for any of it, because first of all, I don’t feel personally responsible for it, and secondly, because I know how easily it could have turned out that I would’ve been the one with the oppressed past… and I sure as anything don’t think I would have a right to expect an apology or redress from the descendants of those oppressors.

What’s done is done. The past is in the past. Racism is a terrible thing (as is discrimination based on anything the other person can’t control), and should never happen again. People learn racism, and the only way our children are going to learn racism, is if we teach them. Which is exactly what we’re doing, every time we base a discussion on which political party to vote for, or whom to give a job to, or who the biggest criminals are in this country, on race.

Let’s teach our children that the colour of their skin really doesn’t matter. What matters is their ethics, their morals, their entrepreneurial spirits, and their willingness to work to achieve greatness. Only then, I believe, can we truly rebuild this country!

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Friday, August 29, 2014

What's Wrong With Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

A friend of mine posted on Facebook recently, about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. She said that apparently the ALS Association does embryonic stem cell research, and it's something we should bear in mind. She also said that it may be possible, if you donate, to request that your money does not get used for this.

I asked her what she thought was wrong with embryonic stem cell research, because I have Retinitis Pigmentosa, and they're making big headway with this research, in terms of finding a cure. Her response was that she believes that life begins at conception, which incidentally is also why she's against abortion.

Now, she and I are both Christians, and although we have healthy disagreements about certain things, we generally see eye-to-eye on the big issues. I also believe that life begins at conception, and am also against abortion, for the same reasons. But I honestly believe that this is different, and here's why:

Embryos used for stem cell research are specifically created, in a lab environment, for the purpose of extracting stem cells (which destroys the embryo, which is what causes the controversy). There is never any plan to implant this embryo and carry it to term. I'm not a hundred percent sure how the process works, but other than the fact that sperm is still involved, I think it's a bit tenuous to even call that "conception" (and I, personally, wouldn't go so far as to call it that). There's simply no potential for life.

Contrast that with a woman who gets pregnant (either artificially or... traditionally, or even violently), and then decides to abort her baby. God in His wisdom allowed her to fall pregnant, and He therefore presumably has a plan for the human being growing inside of her. It is absolutely wrong (and even constitutes murder) to snuff out that life at any stage in its development.

My friend also asked why they can't just take stem cells from the placenta or umbilical cord, to do their research.

Well, I don't know, but I'm sure they've thought of it. Maybe it is appropriate to do that for some conditions, but not others. Maybe it's a logistical thing, where it takes a while to find a pregnant mother who would be willing to donate those cells, then wait nine months for her to give birth (if she doesn't miscarry), and then hope she doesn't renege on her promise. It's a long lead time, and it relies on things outside of the researchers' control.

Maybe that plays a part in the reason why. Maybe it doesn't. But I'm sure there are reasons.

So anyway, that's how I feel about the issue. As a Christian, where do you stand? Do you draw a distinction between embryos created specifically for research purposes and a woman falling pregnant? Does the intention matter at all, or does it all amount to the same thing?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Christian Logic

Many people ask questions about things related to Christianity, and are frustrated with the answers. I think that a lot of the time, they get frustrated because they hope and expect to receive answers that will make logical sense to them. They don't get the answers they're looking for because, quite frankly, it doesn't work that way.

Christianity and what we believe is something that very seldom makes any logical sense. Or rather, it doesn't start with an intellectual understanding. When you accept something on an emotional and spiritual level, your intellectual mind will find ways of making what you believe seem completely rational and logical. Until you do, your mind will simply register those things as silly, laughable, and crazy.

A case in point is the common "Where did Cain find a wife?" question. There are lots of different theories, some of them conflicting. I personally have my own, but I won't bore you with the details.

To me, the answer to the question is ultimately irrelevant, but the thing is, anyone who subscribes to any particular theory automatically believes that their preferred explanation makes perfect logical sense. On the other hand, anyone who doesn't fundamentally believe in the basic tenets of Christianity automatically believes that we're all a bunch of looney toons.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Twitter is not a Social Network

Recently, a Christian blogger who I respect mentioned me in a blog post, entitled Ranking blogs by Twitter followers. He had noticed the following tweet of mine: He said that he agreed with my usage of Twitter, and that it got him thinking about how people use Twitter. I wanted to simply post a comment on his blog, but since my response would be a bit off the topic of what he was actually trying to say, I thought I'd write a new one in response.

Thanks for the mention, Steve (follow Steve @hayesstw on Twitter)!

You are right. What I was trying to get at is this: on Facebook (for example) I try to limit my friends list to people I actually know in real life. On Twitter, my approach is completely different. I might follow someone on Twitter simply because I'm their friend in real life and I want to give them "the benefit of the doubt." But I'll quickly unfollow them if they continually tweet stuff that I have no interest in. I don't take offence at being unfollowed, and I expect that you won't, either.

I've said it before: to me, Twitter is NOT a social network! Sure, there are conversations taking place on Twitter all the time, but they're more of the academic debate kind than the "Hi, how are you?" kind. I use Twitter first and foremost as an Information Sharing Network. The vast majority of the things I share on Twitter are links to articles. Sometimes I share funny photos, or post updates without any links - but when I do that, it's to advertise events or venues that I've attended, and I try to mention people by their Twitter handles in those. This helps advertise those events and venues and get the organisers more followers. There's always a point.

And yes, if I find your posts interesting, informative, or funny, I'll follow you. If that ceases to be the case, I'll stop. My friendship with you, or whether I know you in real life or not, has nothing to do with it!

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Migration from FM to Digital

Over the past few weeks, many of our favourite radio deejays have left their home radio stations to pursue other opportunities. Paul Rotherham left 94.7 for WorldTunes, Darren Scott left Jacaranda to start Ballz, and Bailey Schneider left 94.7 for 2oceansvibe, to name a few.

I have a Media Centre PC in our lounge, running XMBC on top of Ubuntu Desktop. A couple weeks ago, I installed the TuneIn add-on for XBMC on my media centre. It allows me to listen to loads of online and traditional radio stations over the Internet, and it works beautifully.

The thing is, we listen to the radio in our car, and I listen to the radio all day while at work. I tried installing the TuneIn app on my Android phone. It also works great, but for two problems:
  1. It's really expensive to audio stream over GPRS in South Africa, and
  2. It really chews my cellphone's battery.
We're not allowed to audio stream at work, so unless I pay the exorbitant data charges, there's no listening to my favourite deejays there, either.

I did loads of Googling today, and it amazes me that no-one has yet to come up with a dedicated online radio listening device. I would think if anyone would invent such a device, it would be someone like TuneIn! Come on, guys, come to the party! Then of course it's up to the cellphone providers (MTN, I'm looking at you!) to come up with flat rated data plans for audio streaming. It can't be that difficult.

When I can have a dedicated device in my car (replacing my car radio), and a dedicated device on my desk at work (to replace my traditional radio), the migration from FM to Digital will truly be complete!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Google's new "Privacy Policy" in action

I was searching the web yesterday, doing some research on a certain product for work. Obviously, I was signed into my Google account at the time.

A few minutes later, I visited a web site featuring "Ads by Google," and what did I see? Yep, an ad for the product I'd be searching for earlier! Now, this could have been a coincidence, but I doubt it, and I think it's really cool!

Ever since the announcement of Google's new privacy policy came out, people have been bitching no end about it. I don't understand why.

If you think about it, the vast majority of Google's revenue comes from advertising. Every time you click on an "Ad by Google" on a random website, the company pays Google - and Google pays the website owner. If this wasn't so, we'd have to pay Google directly for all the wonderful services they provide for us... how else would they stay in business? What's more, the system I've just described has helped countless individuals and small businesses justify the cost of maintaining a presence on the web, something they would never be able to afford otherwise. I, personally, host a couple websites containing Google ads. This very blog that you're reading is supported in part by Google ads!

Google used to (and still does) target the ads that people see based on keywords on the page on which they appear. The logic being that if someone were browsing a web site about cars, they'd be more likely to click on ads appearing on that website, that are about cars. This logic works in theory, but falls over in practice, where the average person views many different pages in any given day.

The new system is way better. Combined with the old system, it keeps track of everything you search for while signed into your Google account, as well as the things that you share, comment on and "+1" on Google+. Using this information, Google believes it can show you ads that you're more likely to click on.

It's still not perfect, but I say anything that can help to make the web more engaging and valuable to me has got to be a good thing!

So what's the problem, anyway?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January Analytics

I checked the Google Analytics for my blog this morning (31 January 2012), and I found some pretty interesting things that happened in January.

For the first time in history, there were more visits from the United States than South Africa. It seems I've gone international!

Also for the first time in history, Firefox beat out Chrome as the top browser from which people visit my blog, and Internet Explorer didn't even feature.

The most popular search term was zuma deluxe ubuntu lucid. I searched for that term, and I found that it leads to an old blog post I wrote back in June 2010, titled Running full screen games under Wine, with Visual Effects enabled. But, it only showed on the second page of the Google South Africa search results, so whoever it was, was obviously very desperate to find an answer to their question! I hope it helped...

Incidentally, I had forgotten all about that article, so I found myself wondering whether President Jacob Zuma was now using Ubuntu Lucid Lynx!

The most visited page for the month of January 2012 (not surprisingly), was the only article I had written in January, Thoughts on web apps, but it wasn't the first page that most users found. The first page that most users found (and thus ended up browsing to the web apps article) was in fact Gmail blocks my mail as Spam. I wrote that article in November 2010! Evidently, this is still an issue that frustrates users.

Google Analytics is definitely a very interesting tool....