How Curses Work 3.5: Mythoimperialismo

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Imperialism lies not just in the physical violence of invasion, domination, exploitation and subjugation, but also in the cultural violence of the appropriation and representation of the subjugated.

This is how exploitation and domination always works.  Patriarchy's domination of women is expressed in the marginalization, infantilization and suffocating sexualization of the female image in culture, the relentless portrayal of the woman as secondary, as an adjunct, as a commodity, as a servant or helpmate, as a source of male pleasure and satisfaction.  So the violence of imperialism is also expressed in the representation of the subjugated peoples as inferior and/or dangerous, by the plundering of their stories, histories, images, ideas, practices, customs, languages, discourses, art, architecture, etc., and their transformation into aspects of the dominant culture of the imperialist.

The subject culture is usually thus shown to be inherently deserving of domination, inherently savage, childlike, irrational and sinister.  If the subject culture is not demonized, it is usually infantilized, fanaticized (even their bravery is not real bravery but rather fanatical zeal from savages who do not feel pain or fear death the way we civilized people do), or shown as shambolic, idiotic and comic.  Needless to say, any resistance to imperial domination, or violent reaction against it, is generalised and used as evidence of the fanaticism and savagery of the dominated.

The imperialism of the modern age - beyond the brutal reality of bullets and plunder, and beyond the underlying system of states competing globally when their geopolitical priorities converge with those of their national concentrations of capital - is a system of myths.  It is as important to promulgate myths among the people of the imperial nation as it is to foist them on the victims.  One of the most enduring myths of imperialism is that the victims are to blame for their own plight.  This, together with a whole raft of inferiority complexes, is internalized by colonized people.  But it is also internalized by the colonizing nation.  This manifests itself in various versions.  There is, for instance, the 'it's for their own good' version, which says that the colonized benefit from colonialism, because colonialism brings them the benefits of 'civilization' (i.e. white Anglo-Saxon Christianity or modern secular liberal democracy, depending on which era the ideology comes from) to people who desperately need it.  This is closely related to the demonizing of the colonized.  The dual nature of the 'native' in all colonialist ideology is that they are "half-devil and half-child".

Our imperialism needs its ideological myths, just as much as the imperialism of the past... the really scary thing is that we keep coming up with the same myths about the same people... probably because we keep needing those myths as a cultural blindfold to stop ourselves seeing imperialism for what it is.

These are the merest banalities.


Comments

John 5 years, 5 months ago

"All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?"

...said Reg, a Jew oppressed by the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, but was actually a played by an actor from Britain, whose era of empire had pretty much just ended.

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Jack Graham 5 years, 5 months ago

Interesting. I like that movie, and that's a funny sketch, but - to be humourless for a moment - it shows how pervasive the idea that empire brings the benefit of civilization to the conquered really is. Truth is, even in Rome proper, we know who really got the benefits. All those impressive aquaducts didn't bring sanitation and public health; the water went to the fountains of the rich.

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Lucy McGough 5 years, 5 months ago

"Gosh, don't you just love Roman civilization?" thought Jesus as he hung on the cross, looking down on the soldiers playing dice for his clothes...

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