An Interview with Colin Hannaford – Riots in England – Part II

Aug 24, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

Part 1: An Interview with Colin Hannaford: On the Riots in Britain – Perspectives from Belgium

1) Colin, Britannia used to rule the world and the seas – it seems the China is the current dominant world power – how has this impacted England?

About a month ago, I had dinner in London with a Chinese diplomat. He reminded me that throughout its three thousand year history China was the biggest, the most powerful and the wealthiest nation in the world, and, he said, it intends to be the biggest, most powerful and most wealthy again.

He also described the extreme resentment that the people of China feel for the West, and declared that the Chinese people will support their government’s ambition, whatever the cost. I did not mention reports that many are currently killing themselves because of the punishing hours they are being made to work.

Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution

We did talk briefly of China under Mao Zedong. Chairman Mao is still regarded by many Chinese as their greatest military and political strategist, statesman, visionary, and poet. But in just four years, from 1958 to 1962, in the period known as ‘The Great Leap Forward’, at least 40 million people were worked, starved, or beaten to death in the attempt of Mao’s followers to satisfy ambition at that time to equal or surpass the West.

To this, the diplomat made a comment that I found surprising and courageous. “Mao,” he declared, “wanted to create a society in which everyone was equal.” This was not surprising. But then he ended: “And he failed.”

I should have asked him: “But did Mao fail; or did the Chinese people fail him?”

In a more general sense this is surely the question you are asking here. In Toynbee’s formulation this might be: ‘Do cultures wait to be murdered, or can they commit suicide all by themselves?’

It was not easy to surprise a representative of the world’s most populous nation when it already becoming confident of its power and wealth once again, but having learnt that I have been a mathematics teacher, the diplomat told us, with understandable pride, that he had usually been the first in his school mathematics class: “I always found it most satisfying,” he declared, “when I was the first to solve a difficult problem.”

I agreed with him that mathematics can provide both rational and emotional satisfaction, even real joy. It is a pity that so few children actually learn this as he had. “But isn’t it unfortunate,” I continued, “that Chairman Mao could not explain to the Chinese people that mathematics teaching can also help them, in fact it can help everyone, to see others as equals. This would surely have helped him greatly.”

Politely – but very firmly – the mathematics scholar who was usually the first in his class shook his head. “I do not see how that can be true.”

Well, in the West it is usual for children to learn mathematics competitively. Of course, this supports capitalism. But the creation of mathematics is based on a very simple moral principle: that its arguments should be understandable by everyone. This is the result of its political origin.”

He was now visibly annoyed. “I do not understand you. Mathematics has never had an origin in politics.”

“Excuse me, but it does. Although very few people know it today, which is itself something of a mystery, especially in Western societies, what we commonly call mathematical arguments, that is arguments which have the form: evidence; connection; conclusion – all to be as obvious as possible – these forms of argument were first developed by the Athenian Greeks to enable everyone, including, actually women and slaves, to examine, test, and judge political arguments. Originally, they were not meant as mathematics. Their purpose was to cut through political rhetoric, created by the rich and their servants, to give greater powers to ordinary people; in other words, to support and strengthen democracy. The mathematicians adopted the same practice later, after they abandoned magic.”

He sat for a full half minute in silence, and then said slowly: “I have never – no, never – heard of that connection before.”

His consternation was palpable. And if he had not, I wondered, how many of China’s 900 million people have also never heard of it before. What would happen they did learn of it: even, possibly, through the internet via EducationViews? Perhaps I might be invited to Beijing?

Naturally, I asked him to name a well-placed minister of the People’s Republic of China who might wish to be informed that China’s tens of thousands mathematics teachers have the ability to continue Chairman Mao’s plan. I still hope for a response.

A more sober response must notice the most consistent feature of Chinese governments throughout its long, long history: their willingness to sacrifice huge numbers of its people to satisfy their ambitions. On being told, for example, that tens of millions were starving to death because of his policies, Mao calmly declared: ‘Let them starve. The more who die the more the rest will be able to eat.’

On this record, it is unlikely that a far wealthier and more powerful China will be very different. Increasing the number of nuclear missile subs and nuclear carriers in the Pacific and off its shores will certainly not reduce its government’s paranoia or the Chinese people’s resentment of the West.

And yet, and yet – this is no longer the world of Chairman Mao. He could certainly never have imagined that China would become America’s largest creditor. And there is increasing civil unrest in China.

The diplomat obviously believed that Mao’s ruthlessness was justified by his aim to create a more equal society. Many hundreds of millions must also believe it. But continuing to oppress the people without being able to continue Mao’s aim, may yet lead to suicide. To forestall this possibility, a war with the United States – even a war combined with Russia against the United States – might be envisaged first.

Here, then, is how we might follow the wise advice of the famous Chinese general Sun-Tzu, who flourished around 500 BC. In his great treatise on the art of war he wrote: ‘The supreme excellence is not to win a hundred victories in a hundred battles. It is to subdue the armies of your enemies without even having to fight them’.

The fact that Britain is no longer able to rule half the world is actually immaterial. That the United States now tries to do the same is also immaterial.

Arguably it is far more important – I have no wish here to seem provocative, by the way; but, if I am: so, sue me – that within four or five centuries after its inception in Athenian Greece, which was also around 500 BC, the astonishing notion that a stable and highly successful society can be founded on the principal of the complete political equality of all adult males crossed the Mediterranean to Palestine, where a popular young rabbi called Yeshua translated it into the idiom of his famous contemporary Hillel.

Rabbi Hillel is famous for responding to a mocking challenge to explain the entire moral principle of the Torah whilst standing on only one leg by replying: “It is: do not do unto others what you would not wish them to do to you. The rest of the Torah is commentary. You should study it.”

Despairing of the constant squabbling and fighting of Jews with each other, and knowing what the distant Greeks had achieved, Yeshua turned this succinct summation of the Torah into a political principle.

He declared that if only the Jewish men would accept this necessity to treat one another as political equals, it would stop the endless fighting over whether to resist or collaborate with their Roman occupiers.

‘Within your own lifetimes’ he told his followers, with wonderful confidence, ‘you can be united in a Kingdom of Heaven, in a democracy which will make you far more powerful than you are now, and which will enable you deal with the Romans also as equals.’

The Romans were generally well-disposed towards democracies. They dealt with them all the time. Yeshua was therefore far more of a threat to the Herodian court and to its supporting priests than to the Romans.

It was therefore the courtiers and priests who demanded Yeshua’s trial, his punishment and his death. Famously, the Roman governor could find no fault in him or in his ideas. He might even have wished for them to work.

And the same must be true of many in high places today in the Chinese government. They have an urgent need to show their people that the aim of their great leader has not been abandoned: that they will be helped towards a society in which everyone is equal.

And the charming fact is that there is a way to achieve this aim which can be derived entirely from within China’s own long, long history.

Although historians still argue about exact times and details, it is not disputable that Chinese mathematics was being developed to a high standard many centuries before the Greeks turned their minds to it.

The Chinese people do not therefore need to believe in Yeshua to understand what this means to them. A new generation of Chinese children can grow up – a generation hundreds of millions strong – knowing that in their mathematics lessons they must be addressed by their teachers as equals.

They will learn as well that no-one has more responsibility for critical constructive discourse between rulers and ruled that they have.

They may even do this before us!

2) What about leadership in Britain – does the Prime Minister seem to have a handle on the situation?

It’s hard to say. He seems a decent, honest, well-intentioned man. Since he is already rich, at least he does not need to use his office to enrich himself.

The fact is that although the British have elected some disastrous individuals to high office in the most recent past – and although one was never elected but was simply appointed by his predecessor – our political system has simply become reflection of our education system. The consequence of this is that majority of our politicians are representatives of Division Two, not Division One. Division One individuals tend to steer clear of politics: to our general detriment.

As for Cameron’s leadership, I was entirely wrong in my earlier understanding of the scale of the recent rioting, as he may have been. Other commentators have since echoed my belief that mobile phones make deliberate assaults on selected stores now entirely practical, and that the drug trade keeps the city gangs united. But I was very wrong in estimating how many thousands of morally rootless idiots – I would say much of the lower half of Division Two and Division Three – would join the fun.

This produced a whole lot more trouble than our police could handle..

Empty churches on Sunday

3) As you know I visit London and Oxford on occasion and was struck by the number of empty churches on Sunday- does this have anything to do with the situation?

Some months ago I invited to dinner a director of the research centre for science and religion of one of our major universities. Young, highly intelligent, urbane, originally a physicist, now a minister, I asked him what is now his aim.

His reply may not astonish you. It astonished me. It was: “I want to help as many people as possible to Heaven.”

I am decidedly unusual amongst my friends in believing in Heaven. But his reply seems to me remarkably unambitious. Because Britain has had an established church, the rivalry between different sects never developed on the scale that it has in other countries. This, arguably, is what sustains the numbers of different worshippers in other countries.

But let me now ask you, and our readers, a Socratic question: ‘Can you imagine the numbers who attend your church remaining the same if you could be sure of getting to Heaven without its help?’

In Britain, most people no longer believe in Heaven. We are actually living in a far more secular age than most understand. It is no longer possible to declare a belief in a personal religious duty without being immediately thought crazy. To be respected such a duty must be reduced to sectarian formula. This is the modern form of idolatry.

4) How is employment in England? I guess if people are not employed, they have plenty of free time on their hands?

Previous British governments have tended to follow this buffoonery in supposing that anyone who does NOT have work must be looked after by those who do have work until they can get around to finding some work that they will enjoy. Obviously, until this happens, they need money.

Many university degrees are now almost valueless. Gresham’s Law: bad money drives out good.

Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579) Gresham’s Law: ‘Bad money drives out good’

Socialist ideas like this are largely derived from that silly chap Rousseau. He persuaded himself, and has since persuaded many who are either far sillier or far more cynical, that people are naturally good, kind, generous, thoughtful, tolerant, industrious, and wise.

Previous British governments have tended to follow this buffoonery in supposing that anyone who does have work must be looked after by those who do have work until they can get around to finding some work that they will enjoy. Obviously, until this happens, they need money.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778)

As a consequence of being paid for no work, millions never work.

Rousseau was wrong. QED.

5) Colin, in America, we are dealing with the issue of illegal immigrants- do you have this problem in the United Kingdom?

Many immigrants are honest, hard-working, and good parents. The response of one whose son was killed in the rioting, who then insisted that no-one avenge him, was a moral inspiration. Nevertheless, a respectable independent survey discovered last month that: 71% of Britons say there are too many immigrants of all kinds in Britain; 75% think immigrants place too much pressure on public services; 60% think it has made it harder to get work.

Anecdotally: last week I receive a local government announcement about reducing library services. Many libraries in Britain were created by Andrew Carnegie’s Foundation to bring books to ordinary British people. This announcement told me that I could request the same announcement in any of twenty other languages.

If integration is not on the political agenda, this is bad for everyone.

6) Let’s talk social stratification- are some of the masses bewildered, frustrated and angry with the British system?

When I was sixteen, my father told me that he could not afford to support me at university. I promptly went back to my school and volunteered for the Army. This may not have been such a good idea, but it stopped me from feeling bewildered, frustrated, and angry. Before I could join up – I had to wait until I was seventeen – I worked on a building site for the rest of the year.

7) Do all these rioters feel cheated out of “the good life “?

I believe the good life is available today, in either of our countries, in fact in most countries, to those who can use their school-time to learn how to learn and who are afterwards also anxious to earn their keep.

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