Thursday, May 18, 2017

Bristol Nativist / Slave Trade Apologist Bingo, continued

For no doubt others from our recorded pasts are also likely to suffer the similar biased cultural shredding of Colston and I suspect there will be further opposition from authentic Bristolians…
      R L Smith

The music committee's sole aim, it would appear, is to change the name of a certain Bristol building - something I supsect 90 percent of genuine Bristolians do not want.
     H. W White

And to the rest of you people living here, born and bred: do something. Don’t less this happen. Colson Hall is Bristol’s. It’s ours, yours and mine. It’s not theirs. 
     H.W WHite

While we’re about it why don’t we get rid of everything Italian (restaurants, food shops, etc) for all the slavery the Romans brought to our shores…and whilst on the subject, all our Danish pastry shops for the raping and pillaging the Vikings did to us.
     Tim Lalonde

My family came from France in the late 19th century…We’ve never sought an apology for Trafalgar, Waterloo, Agincourt…
     Tim Lalonde

…if we change the name of the Colston Hall then we also have to look at Wills, Cadbury’s and Fry’s, all philanthropic dynasties but no doubt something in their past would offend some people.
      “A Bristolian with a voting bug.”

While there are  those who would clearly prefer to see the name of Edward Colston eradicated from Bristol altogether, he was and always will be a part of our great city’s history, warts and all…
     Adrian Courtney Smith

Slavery was bad and we all say that now, but…
    “A Bristolian with a voting bug.”


Simon said...

These all seem perfectly defensible sentiments to me.

Tell us wherein the racism lies, if you will. I don't have a pair of those miracle specs alas. You know the ones I mean, Andrew. The super-duper ones that enable so many people to detect and to shout "racism!" in places where it's completely invisible to the rest of us.

Presumably because we're infected with the same moral disease, which only means we need your help all the more.

Crikey, there could be some of it under my sofa, right now. Or lurking between the lines of my gas bill. For pity's sake, help me... starting by explaining where the racism is manifest in those quotation?

Gavin Burrows said...

"Tell us wherein the racism lies, if you will"

Maybe Andrew could write a whole blog post where he goes in depth into his reasoning on this issue.

Oh hang on, wait...

Andrew Rilstone said...

Actually, I'm perfectly happy to take the word "racist" out of the title. Doing it now.

Andrew Rilstone said...


Andrew Rilstone said...

OK, Simon, now, could you please explain to me what you understand by the terms "authentic Bristolian", "genuine Bristolian" "true Bristolian" and "born and bred Bristolian", and how, in your opinion, they can be distinguished from inauthentic, fake or bogus, false Bristolians?

Is there a sharp line of distinction between those who, as member of the city, are the foundation and the support of its existence and greatness, and those who are merely domiciled in the city and simply earn their livelihood here?

Looking forward to your answer.

As Gavin says, I would also be interested in your feedback on the two substantial pieces I have written about the Great Hall Kerfuffle

Simon said...

There's nothing racist about any of those expressions, and if the distinctions they draw are ones of degree or of judgement then that doesn't make them either meaningless or morally dubious, except perhaps to those who're determined to ascribe malign intentions to their opponents, come what may - or who insist on refracting everything through those racial lenses I mentioned.

So, and by way of addressing the relevant part of your earlier post also, let's take "born and bred Bristolian". The meaning of that is clear enough, as signifying someone born in Bristol (or is its near surroundings, I suppose) and having spent the major part of their formative years there. Were I, on the other hand, to move to Bristol next week, and then demand from the get-go that the city alter whatever outward aspects of its heritage I didn't approve of, and that, furthermore, I had every moral right to do because, simply qua resident, I was as much a "Bristolian" (!) as anybody else... Then in that (admittedly extreme) scenario, you might reasonably call me a pretender, a presumptuous fool, and possibly a dogmatic ideologue to boot.

Yours is a strictly legal, nominalist notion of citizenship - the only such notion the postmodern left is prepared to acknowledge - which is necessarily flat and universal, because it must (rightly) respect the equality of all persons before the law. But there is another, metaphysical notion which the left - now that its indiscriminate accusations of racism have no force anymore - calls "nativism", and the rest of us just call having roots in the culture of a particular place and time, and among a particular people. Which isn't rigid or inhospitable or necessarily exclusionary, but which has enough purchase on our emotions that we'll fight back hard when what we feel to be our home seems to be under attack from without. And this is no more a step away from "fascism" and the pagan idolatry of "blood and soil", than believing in the welfare state is a step away from the Gulag. David Goodhart's book, which was all the rage a while back, is about precisely about all of this, when he talks about the recent populist wave as being a revolt of the "Somewheres" against the "Anywheres".

From one Christian to another, I wish you'd read this piece from the journal First Things, which is about as brilliant an analysis of our current social predicament as I've read.

In fact, I'm not too proud to beg you to read it Andrew.

Andrew Rilstone said...

There were an awful lot of words there. I want to make sure that I understood them sll.

1: A person who is "born and bred" in Bristol is a person who was born in the city and grew up there, correct?

2: "True" "authentic" "genuine" Bristolians are people who were born and bred in the city, i.e who have lived here all their lives, correct?

3: These "authentic" Bristolians possess some essence-of-Bristolness which enables them to understand things (in this particular case, why a hall has to have a particular name, but it might also be something like whether there should be fountains in the center or whether a pub ought to become a wine bar) which inauthentic Bristolians like me can't ever understand.

Note that one letter writer went so far as to say that inauthentic Bristolians ought to leave the city.

So you basically agree with my proposition: that there should be a sharp line of distinction between those who are members of the city and are the foundations of its existence and greatness, and those (like me) who are merely domiciled in the city and in order to earn their livelihood here?

Simon said...

I'll reply a little later Andrew, as I must be off to work even as I'd rather dialogue with you,

In the meantime, if you do get the chance, then please do read the article I mentioned, as it will explain the perspective of beastly nativists like myself much better than even my best attempt to answer your direct questions, misconceived as I think they are in respect of their premises. I guarantee you won't consider it wasted time.

Simon said...

So now my lunch time is upon me, allow me reply to your questions directly:

1. Yes, I would say that's self-evidently the meaning of those words.

2. You're suggesting a crude binary division that no reasonable person would insist on, and thereby setting up a straw man which is easily knocked down.

It's a spectrum, not a dichotomy. For instance, when someone says of Mr X that he's a "true Bristolian", it's as much a shorthand as saying that he's is "a truly kind man". To describe him as such isn't to propose that he instantiates kindness perfectly, or that a somewhat less kind man mightn't also merit the description nonetheless. But as there are degrees of kindness, so it seems self-evident there are degrees of rootedness - intellectual, aesthetical, emotional and so on - in a particular place, time and culture.

It's certainly impossible to define, except in vague terms, what (in essence, as you put it) the quality being a Bristolian, or an Englishman or whatnot, actually is. I'm reminded of John Major's evocation, way back when, of "old maids cycling to Holy Communion in the morning mist". But as even that, perhaps hopelessly mystical, effort shows, you know it when you see it. But that such things can't be measured with any exactness doesn't alter the fact that judgements about them, though highly subjective, nonetheless aim at an objective truth. Few things lend themselves to the sort of precision one demands in, say, mathematics, and it would be absurd to insist that they should.

3. That really depends on what you mean by understanding. In some ways, it's true to say I know myself better than anyone else knows me (excepting God), because I have an "insight" (literally) which is unavailable to others. But by the same token, I'm also sometimes the last person to recognise something about myself that is obvious to everyone else. So in like manner, an outsider (or relative outsider) to a community sometimes bears the most valuable wisdom, which is one reason why a completely insulated society is also a stagnant, and likely ultimately doomed, one.

But all that's by-the-by. The real distinction is not one of understanding, but between degrees of moral claim to influence the future of the community in which a man finds himself. And this mustn't be confused with that mere legal equality which is only proper (that "necessary fiction" about which CS Lewis wrote his essay).

For example, during the years I was domiciled in Rome, and earned by livlihood there, I had as much legal right to my residency in the city as any Italian, and could even have voted if I chose (I think). Yet I would never have claimed to be an "authentic" Roman, merely account of my being resident. That would have been absurd to anyone, including me. Indeed, I would also have respectfully deferred (within reason) to my actually Italian friends and neighbours - vastly more rooted there than I - in matters to do with that city's future, should such mattrs ever have presented themselves.

Now, had I remained there, of course I would have become more "genuinely" Roman in time. But I'd expect to have had to work at it: by breathing Roman air, so to speak, learning to think Roman thoughts and to understand things in the way an Italian does, to perceive the beauty and value in the things which mattered to them, and so on. And if I wasn't prepared to do any of that, but instead stood on my legal rights to this, that and the other, as though they were moral ones, well then... I wouldn't blame a Roman for reminding me that I could always leave if things weren't to my liking. (Which would be, incidentally, a very different thing from forcing me to leave.)

So in answer to your final question - no, there is no such clear and distinct line. And to suggest that what you call "nativism" implies that there is is a crude misrepresentation which only serves as an excuse for the usual name-calling.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I have no particular problem with using "British" or "Bristol" as an adjective: if I described myself as "very British" I might mean that I drink tea, form queues and apologize unnecessarily. If I said that our caretaker was "very Bristolian" I might mean that he liked cider, supported the Gasworks, and put L sounds at the ends of his sentences. Although these adjectives are still problematic: might I not just as well say that a "typical Bristolian" is a street artist who smokes weed frequents vegan coffee bars?

But the green inkers were not praising some cider guzzling, shanty bellowing old wurzel for being "a true Bristolian!" Councilor Eddy (the same man who took a gollywog to work and displayed it his office to prove some point or other) said that the decision to rename the former Colston Hall had been taken by "a minority of non-Bristolians." Ms Mitchell said that they "might not even be Bristolians". They are definitely drawing a line, and stating that people on one side of it (Bristolians) understood why the hall has to be named after a human trafficker in perpetuity; and people on the other side of it (non-Bristolians) did not understand (or had no right to an opinion one way or the other?)

I concede that "Bristolian" might mean simply "a person who lives in Bristol", and "non Bristolian" might mean "a person who does not live in Bristol". Some of the green inkers might simply have been saying "Only people who live in the city should be allowed to make decisions about the city."

But the fact that they are keen to claim that they are "Bristolians born and bred" strongly suggests that just living in the city is not sufficient: you have to have been born here to understand our ways. And the use of terms like "true Bristolian", "genuine Bristolian", "authentic Bristolian" suggests an attempt to draw a line. All people living in Bristol are Bristolian, but some people living in Bristol are more Bristolian than others.

You appear to accept my general point: the argument about Colston's name is surrogate for an argument about identity.

Some people believe very strongly that there is sharp line of distinction to be drawn between true Bristolians who are members of the city; and so-called Bristolians who are merely domiciled here and don't contribute to the city's existence or it's greatness. These people have adopted the name of the hall as a symbol of this exclusionary view of the city. Not because they specially care about Colston, or even knew who he was six months ago; but because they need a badge to intensify themselves. It's become a totemic issue, like saying you believe in flogging at Conservative Party Conference. You know that someone is one of "us" if they want the hall to keep its old name; you know that someone is one of "them" if they want to rename it.

Of course, Bristol, like everywhere else, as a history -- a history which includes bus strikes, race riots, a carnival and the first black British mayor. I doubt if it is a complete coincidence that the green inkers have adopted the head of the Royal African Company as their shibboleth.

Gavin Burrows said...

Speaking as a non-Bristolian...

Massive Attack of course spiked this controversy by refusing to play the hall under it's current name. I don't know if either of the guys in the band were born in Bristol, but both seem to have lived their adult lives there. And they famously once refused a record contract because it was conditional on their moving to London, where Bristol isn't.

But none of that matters because the argument is a circular one. "Only true Bristolians can understand." "But these people from Bristol disagree with you." "Then they can't be Bristolians." As Andrew says, this is a No True Bristolian argument.

Mike Taylor said...

There seems to be something about people like this that makes them write sentences like "Then in that (admittedly extreme) scenario, you might reasonably call me a pretender, a presumptuous fool, and possibly a dogmatic ideologue to boot." You can see the same tendency in Five times Hugo award loser John C. Wright: "having the form of C. S. Lewis, but denying its power".

Simon said...

Mike, whatever "people like this" is supposed to mean, I write the best I can, and generally express myself fairly well I think. I don't set out to imitate anyone, least of all CSL.

I could easily poke fun at your own style too Mike, but it would seem a cheap and nasty substitute for argument.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I hereby give notice that I am going to write a short essay on what I think Mike meant in the next couple of days. (So you won't be taken by surprise by your names being taken in vain above the line.)

Mike Taylor said...

This should be rather jolly.

Simon said...

I await it with interest Andrew!