George Walford: Editorial Notes (20)

This is the season for gardening, as defined as: Eleven months of hard work for one month of bitter disappointment.

And the one phrase we all know and hate: “A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!,” is a mistranscription. What he actually wrote was: “A garden is a toilsome thing, God rot it!”

Frank Chapple, an ex-President of the TUC, says (in his autobiography) that the Labour Party has swung farther left as its membership votes have declined. That can be put another way: The party’s membership and votes have declined as it has swung farther left.

In 1833 Britain emancipated some 780,000 colonial slaves. Twenty million pounds was paid to their former “owners” as compensation, and this has always seemed to us a funny thing to do; surely it was the slaves who deserved the compensation.

We now find, from Davis’s Slavery and Human Freedom that William Lloyd Garrison, among others, was well aware of this, and went even farther, holding that what the planters deserved was punishment. Compensation was paid as a tactical measure, they placed social above abstract justice. Not always as stiff-minded as their collars made them look, those Victorians.

One of the early 19th Century books on the slave trade includes a diagram of the way slaves were packed into ships. It has been said to resemble the seating plan on an airliner, and the similarity is strengthened by the recent moves by some airlines to do away with emergency doors in order to pack in a few more bodies.

“When (in 1532 Ed.) a ship put in at a Nicaraguan port loaded with illegally enslaved Indians, the governor freed them and sent them home. But first the natives, some of whom were women and suckling children, had their face brands cancelled. Fresh letters spelling ‘libre’ were burned into their scarred faces.” (David Brion Davis, Slavery and Human Freedom Oxford University Press, 1984 p.324).

ERNEST GELLNER wrote the Foreword to A. M. Khazanov’s Nomads and the Outside World (Cambridge U. P. 1984). Discussing some of the difficulties created for Marxist theorists by the practices of Kazakh nomads, he suggests their motto might well be: “No feudalization without sedentarization.” Now there’s one to put on your banner at the next demo.

These awkward Kazakhs seem to have functioned as kin communities rather than developing proper Marxist classes. As Gellner puts it:

One can imagine a Kazakh herdsman in his pastoral collective, scratching his ear with a bit of stubble as his herd grazes peacefully, and wondering: “Now if we Kazakhs really had no classes to speak of before the Revolution, who exactly was it that we liquidated during the recent decades? A rum business… “

J. M. Keynes has remarked that when people express what they deeply believe it often turns out to be an idea originated by some forgotten economist. One phrase which expresses what a good many people now deeply believe, and assert against the aridities of the economists, is “quality of life.” In Nomads and the Outside World Khazanov mentions incidentally that this was originated by A. C. Pigou – an economist.

In response to a demand from Mrs. Thatcher that terrorists should be “starved of the oxygen of publicity” (Sunday Times 4 Aug 85) the directors of the BBC banned the screening of an interview with a representative of the IRA. What was that bit again, about suppression of dissidents in the USSR?

The item above was written before it had been reported by the Observer (18 Aug 85) that MI5 (who was it said military intelligence is a contradiction in terms?) had been vetting employees of the BBC and blacklisting some of them.

RIGID CONTROL ought not be imposed on people. Human beings are not machines and should not be expected to behave with mechanical precision, they should always have freedom to express themselves, to do their jobs in their own way. Eric Korn writes in the TLS (26 July 85) of Dale Lowdermilk, who has founded NOT-SAFE, an organization opposed to over-regulation of people. All advanced thinkers will approve; Dale Lowdermilk is in favour of freedom, and that is always a good thing.

Now here’s the bit to think about during your next take-off: Dale Lowdermilk, defender of the freedom of workers to do their jobs in the way they think best, opponent of seat-belt laws and stringent safety rules, is an Air Traffic Controller.

It is reported that Austrian wines have been adulterated with diethylene glycol. Anybody who has been up in those mountains on a winter’s night may well feel that drinking anti-freeze is not a bad idea.

from Ideological Commentary 20, September 1985.