For those of you who don’t know (or anyone that cares) I’m in my first year studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at UCL.
I’m writing this purely out of a reoccurring frustration I’ve been having with politics. I have my qualms with the other P and E but upon reflection, they’re personal problems.
However, when it comes to politics I know this goes beyond just my personal feelings. At first, I thought that what I learned and the way I was taught wasn’t problematic and the issue was just me not paying enough attention. But when I really started to pay attention to what I had been taught, I realised I have learned a whole lot of nothing.
And by nothing, I don’t mean I literally haven’t learned anything new. Some of my lecturers are actually really great. I just feel like I haven’t learned anything relevant. Even though I only just started studying politics I don’t really feel like I know anything more about solving political problems or the extent of what they are.
When I did my weekly readings I thought that my boredom came from a place of misunderstanding because of how dense and historical they could be. I also thought that perhaps the topics we were studying like the state and democratisation were necessary for an introductory course; so I was totally willing to devote my time to making sure I understood these things.
Then I realised that I was only learning about a small section of Western/Eurocentric thought. The thing is I could complain about the lack of diversity in academia but there are so many people that have already done this. Not that it makes it any less of a pressing issue, but I’m honestly just over talking about it. My main issue is that the extent to which my studies are even Eurocentric is questionable. How honest and transparent my subject is, is my concern. For some reason talking about colonialism in lectures or seminars is totally ignored, this is genuinely shocking to me. This must be madness because how can we talk about Europe and NOT talk about colonialism. It’s like if anyone says the word colonialism they’d burst into flames. I even saw that on one of the readings I had for this week the scholar said in the introduction that he wasn’t going to address colonialism. But why?
The answer is I’m not totally sure, but I think I have an idea. One thing I have learned in politics is how big of a deal nationalism is. British values are something that continue to be heavily promoted in this country despite the values being incredibly generic (in my opinion). This isn’t an issue though, I think that British values are great in some ways but to some British history is a massive threat to this. For example, tolerance is a British value but in the countries that the British colonised they essentially did everything they could to label native people as barbaric and toxic. They drew boundaries where there weren’t boundaries before and forced their language and religion on pretty much every single country they could get their hands on. So my question here is WHAT exactly did they tolerate? If we really deep it, the Brits (and also other European colonists) couldn’t tolerate other people living in their own countries. That is laughable. Sure, British values came after this but my point isn’t that the British are hypocrites. The point I’m trying to make is that if the British essentially just owned what they had done I really believe this could dampen a sense of national pride and I think this might be why history and politics are taught the way they are. And I think this is so wrong. National pride doesn’t depend on the erasure of a countries toxic past. To be honest it’s even debatable how necessary national pride is but that is a whole other topic.
The extent of the British Empire is actually quite remarkable, it stretched literally across the whole world people used to say “the sun never sets on the British Empire”. Well, the sun has set. But at what cost? The colonisers reaped enough economic benefits from the colonies that independence would not have been a long term threat to them. However, independence wasn’t as liberating as it is made out to be for the colonised. There is a lot to unpack here and I would be doing a huge disservice if I pretended like I knew all the ins and outs of colonies gaining their independence. But what I do know is that the effects of colonisation are still felt today which makes total sense because a lot of countries only recently gained their independence. Even in saying this, the extent to which ex-colonies are independent should be closely examined. Conditional aid/loans suggest that poorer countries (often ex-colonies) aren’t totally independent and what’s holding them hostage is economic growth and stability that they are made to believe can only come from the west. Economics is also guilty of not addressing this issue.
I think that sometimes “woke” culture or whatever you want to call it can make colonialism seem something that we just cannot seem to get over or always complain about and I do understand that. It can get really exhausting. But I think that when you really think about the scale and the proximity of colonisation it becomes something that we should examine so that we can offset the issues that have arisen from it, not something we should just forget about because it’s depressing to think about.
When I decided I wanted to study politics I thought it was going to be more problem-solving. Like, what are the issues in the world today and what political mechanisms can solve them? Perhaps that was my naivety coming out but regardless I guess I do have politics to thank for making me think in such a critical way. I just wish that it came from a place of genuine interest and not passionate outrage.
Interesting stuff to read: (slyly long but worth it)