🔢 Key Takeaways
- It is important to examine history from a moral standpoint to fully understand complicated moral issues. Balancing historical accuracy and morality can be difficult in today's polarized society. Both pride and shame can be found in imperial history.
- Facing opposition can deeply affect individuals. It's important to recognize the toll it takes and distinguish personal problems from external opposition, without engaging in defamation or false claims.
- Dr. Nigel Biggar emphasizes the importance of honesty and willingness to learn when discussing controversial topics like colonialism. Being open to criticism and admitting to painful history can help defend against negative associations.
- To think critically, one must examine their biases, scrutinize opposing views, and be transparent in their analysis. Doing so requires personal virtue and can help recognize the role of logic in the objective world.
- Living a meaningful life requires aligning oneself to what's good, true, and beautiful. Bearing witness to truth, respecting it, and avoiding short-term gratification or deception leads to fulfillment.
- Acknowledge and pursue the importance of truth, goodness, and beauty in your life. Pursuing these values can make you more beautiful and inspire you to stand up for justice and truth.
- Emulate the Christian ethic of combining strength with caring for the vulnerable by establishing a relationship with the truth and choosing to do what is right, reflecting the intrinsic logos of being.
- Our interests and sense of autonomy shape the problems we face and opportunities we pursue. Authenticity and ethical responsibility are vital, while some people are naturally more inclined to act on their calling.
- Failing to acknowledge small problems can lead to larger disasters, and history should be examined without preconceptions to fully understand the complexities of the motives behind historical events.
- Motivations and relationships cannot be reduced to a single factor like power. Abuse of power is not always bad, and the desire to profit is not inherently negative. Trade can lead to a natural moral code.
- Exploitation may lead to short-term gains, but sustainable economic relationships rely on mutually beneficial exchange. While repudiating colonialism is important, it does not necessarily eradicate systemic racism, and a nuanced understanding of history is crucial.
- Although slavery was a global practice, Britain's moral stance based on the belief that all individuals have a divine soul enabled the abolition of slavery, from Brazil to Africa and India, through the use of power for humanitarian purposes.
- The development of scientific, biological racism in the late 1800s perpetuated a fixed racial hierarchy, but the question of whether the British Empire was essentially racist is complex and cannot be reduced to a singular motivation.
- The British Empire was not a monolithic entity and its history is nuanced. While it had unjust conquests, it also made efforts to prevent unjust seizure of land and promoted voluntary cooperation towards ethical goals. The recognition of limits led to positive relationships with former colonies.
- The use of force and conquest by the British Empire depended on circumstances, and accusations of genocide must be carefully defined as intentional. Trading with those outside our ethnic group can lessen the desire to dominate.
- Colonialism was not a unified concept and involved multiple groups. Just government is necessary for legitimacy and stability. Hong Kong showcases the importance of the rule of law and stability for refugees.
- Legitimate sovereignty and force by states are not always oppressive or powerful. Good rulers prioritize truth, beauty, and justice, and even non-democratic governments can be a step towards good governance. Democracy is not a fail-safe mechanism, and the notion of oppression and power as the only motivators is demoralizing.
- The belief that power is the motivator of humanity and resentment towards productivity has been a battle across human history. Current debates on colonialism are driven by spiritual rather than logical forces.
- Some social justice movements may have a problematic approach and attitude towards their supposed beneficiaries, often using victimhood as a political tool and showing hostility towards opposing views. Keeping an open mind and embracing diversity of perspectives is crucial for progress and equality.
- It's important to examine criticisms and fortify one's beliefs. Biggar's consistent experience is that once he faces opposition, he still believes he is right. There is a demand for even-handed discussion on controversial topics.
📝 Podcast Summary
Balancing Historical Accuracy and Morality in a Polarized Society
In his book Colonialism, A Moral Reckoning, Professor Nigel Bigger examines the morality of European colonial endeavors, particularly the British effort, and finds that it is essential to examine history from a moral standpoint in order to make sense of complicated moral issues. Bigger argues that the story of Cecil Rhodes being South Africa's Hitler is just not true and that we can find both cause for shame and pride in our imperial history. However, he faced backlash from some individuals who denounced him and his project. This experience highlights the difficult task of balancing historical accuracy and morality in today's polarized society.
The Psychological Toll of Opposition and Criticism
Facing opposition and criticism can have devastating effects on individuals, comparable to serious personal illnesses or legal battles. The psychological mechanisms behind shunning and isolation can be toxic and contagious, and can lead to individuals being treated with contempt and derision, as seen in cases of colonialism and anti-Semitism. It is important to recognize the personal and professional costs of moving forward in the face of such opposition, and to have sympathy for those who choose to withdraw. However, it is also important to distinguish personal problems from external opposition, and to be cautious not to engage in defamation or false claims.
The Challenges of Discussing Controversial Topics
Dr. Nigel Biggar discusses the challenges of being associated with controversial topics like colonialism, where the fear of being contaminated by disgust and contempt leads to people retreating. There is also the possibility for one's interests to shape their views on a topic, which can be applicable for both supporters and critics. As an ethicist, Dr. Biggar believes in being honest and facing criticism with a sense of responsibility, even when admitting to the painful aspects of history. He highlights the importance of having certain virtues such as honesty and a willingness to learn, which can help in defending oneself against criticism.
The Importance of Critical Thinking in Fairly Examining Opposing Views
Psychologizing dismissal of opposition is a dangerous tactic that allows one to be dishonest. Critical thinking requires examining one's own biases and subjecting one's thoughts to intense analysis. Scrupulously being just to what someone says, even construing it in the strongest possible form, helps in dismantling it objectively. It also requires a matter of personal virtue, becoming the kind of person who feels obliged to do it. Transparency in the inquiry process makes it possible for readers to follow along and double-check whether one is playing a straight game. Investigating the metaphysical presumptions of science is important to recognize the existence of logos or logic in the objective world.
The Principles of Living a Meaningful Life
To live a meaningful life, one needs to approximate oneself to what's good, true, and beautiful, which is the most important principle. The goal is to bear witness to the truth as one sees it, even though it may not have lasting effects or one may not know everything. Being bound or obliged to that goal might sound like a burden, but it also leads to fulfillment. One needs to respect the truth and always attempt to align oneself with it, as opposed to resorting to short-term gratification or deception. These are the key factors that drive Dr. Nigel Biggar to live his life.
Debunking Post-modernist and Neo-Marxist Claims and Pursuing Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in Life
Dr. Nigel Biggar and Jordan Peterson discuss the post-modernist and neo-Marxist claim that all claims to truth are essentially masks for an underlying drive to power, and how this is flawed. They also touch on the importance of acknowledging and pursuing truth, goodness, and beauty in human life, and how doing so makes individuals more beautiful, raising the question of why the cosmos is constructed in a way that humans are moved by people who risk all for justice or the truth.
The Christian Ethic of Masculine Strength and Care
Establishing a relationship with the truth is the pathway forward, as it allows us to effectively dance with reality. The Christian ethic of combining masculine strength with caring for the vulnerable is admirable and calls us to emulate it. Nigel Biggar became a Christian ethicist due to his fascination with questions of right and wrong in the political crisis of Britain in the 1970s. He refers to his experience of choosing to do what is right as possession, reflecting the intrinsic logos of being.
Interest and Autonomy: The Mystery Explored
The phenomenon of interest and problem autonomy is a mystery that scientists and individuals alike experience. This interest manifests as problems that beset individuals and as opportunities that beckon to them. It is difficult to convince oneself to be interested in something that doesn't call to them. Autonomy is related to the idea of possession, where something seizes individuals and directs them to act. If individuals ignore their ethical responsibility to speak the truth, they will end up in a dismal place, like the story of Jonah. Some people are inherently made to respond to the call, while others are not.
The Complexity of Motives behind the British Empire
The failure to address a million micro-catastrophes leads to macro-catastrophes, and people distance themselves from the consequences of their actions. When investigating the pros and cons of colonialism, Nigel Biggar found that it was inadequate to describe the British Empire as driven by simple greed and lust for domination. The motives for the empire were varied, with an early and persistent motive being trade. To understand the history of the British Empire, it's important not to import a one fits all theory and examine the historical data without pre-programmed theories.
The Complexities of Ancestral Motivations and the Misconceptions of Power
The motivations of our ancestors were complex, with some good and some bad reasons. Monomaniacally reducing all motivations to a single one is reflective of the refusal to think in complex ways. Post-modernists have elevated power to the status of a God, simplifying the endeavor of analyzing human relationships. The abuse of power is not always bad, as power is necessary to accomplish things. The desire to profit or flourish is not necessarily greed unless it comes at other people's expense or is unjust. Trade, in principle, benefits both parties, and a natural ethos emerges as a consequence of repeated trade.
The Importance of Mutually Beneficial Exchange and the Complexities of Colonialism and Slavery
Mutually beneficial exchange is crucial for sustainable and growing economic relationships. Exploitation may lead to short-term gains but fails in the long-run. Slavery has been a ubiquitous feature of human societies, but its conscious realization as intrinsically immoral led to successful efforts against it. Colonialism and slavery should not be equated as the identification of colonialism with slavery is a simplistic and fundamentally flawed view. The repudiation of colonial past does not necessarily free a society from systemic racism, and a nuanced understanding of history is crucial.
The Emergence of Opposition to Slavery and its Moral Impact
Although slavery has been practiced across the entire human family, opposition to it emerged with difficulty and rarely. The British Empire, among other nations, came to the view that owning others as property without rights was morally wrong, leading to the abolition of the slave trade and slavery. The will to use power and compulsion in keeping slaves was relatively ubiquitous; however, progressive people of their day used power for humanitarian purposes, leading to the abolishment of slavery from Brazil across Africa, India to militia. Opposition to slavery would not have emerged the way it did in Britain if it wouldn't have been able to draw on a well of metaphysical and religious presupposition, which was predicated on the idea that each person has a soul and that that soul in some manner has divine value.
The Complex Question of Racism in the British Empire
The development of scientific, biological racism in the late 1800s perpetuated a fixed racial hierarchy with white races being considered biologically superior to non-white races. However, this ideology did not stem from the Christian tradition but arose from the confines of the scientific community. The eugenicist movement was a misuse of Darwin's principles and misrepresented the notion of survival of the fittest. Despite racial prejudices, the British Empire also had movements for the abolition of slavery and concern for native peoples suffering under the sudden impact of modernity. Additionally, there were Britons fascinated and respectful of native cultures. The question of whether the British Empire was essentially racist is complex and cannot be reduced to a singular motivation.
The Complexities of the British Empire: Beyond the Labels of Racism and Exploitation
The British Empire was not just one thing and cannot be categorically labeled as racist or exploitative. While there were unjust conquests in North America, Australia, and Africa, there were also efforts to negotiate land treaties and prevent unjust seizure of land. The emergence of the commonwealth and the idea of voluntary cooperation towards ethical goals were positive convictions that led to the relaxation of the empire. The British recognized the limits of their power and negotiated with their colonies, leading to decent governance and positive relationships with former colonies like India.
The British Empire and Genocide Accusations: Examining Conquest and Intent
The use of force and conquest is not necessarily wrong, but depends on the circumstances. The British empire was not built entirely on conquest or unjust seizure of land, and treaties were sometimes agreed upon with native Canadians. The accusation of genocide in the British empire should be carefully defined, as it must be intentional. In the case of Tasmania, there was no intention to exterminate the Aboriginal population, and even the colonial government attempted to protect them. The human propensity to identify with one group and feel superior to another is universal, but the invitation to trade and welcome those outside our ethnic group can modify the expression of this desire to dominate.
The Complexity of Colonial Encounters and the Necessity of Just Government
Colonial encounters were plagued by a vast cultural gap, weak government authority, and an inclination towards dismissive and hostile attitudes. The absence of democracy did not necessarily delegitimize colonial government, but a just government that served the people's interests was necessary for legitimacy. Colonialism was not a unitary concept, and different groups of people such as traders, missionaries, adventurers, and government officials were involved. The story of colonialism involved economic exploitation and attempts to control encounters with natives. Hong Kong was an example of how the rule of law and sufficient stability were important factors for people seeking refuge. Legitimacy is earned through the provision of just government that serves the interests of its people and invites communication between the top and bottom.
Rethinking Legitimate Sovereignty and the Use of Force by States
The concept of legitimate sovereignty and the use of force by states depend on the circumstances of the case, and it is not always a manifestation of oppression and power. Good rulers recognize that they are subject to the principles of truth and beauty and justice, and are subordinate to those virtues. Even non-democratic governments that prioritize safeguarding each individual's responsibility can be a legitimate step towards good governance. Therefore, democracy and liberal democracy serve as a way of constraining the possibility of government going bad, but it is not a fail-safe mechanism. The notion of oppression and power as the only motivators of our ancestors is profoundly demoralizing to modern people, especially young men, as it implies that their ambitions are nothing but a manifestation of self-centered greed.
A Discussion on Post-Modernism and Anti-colonial Critique
Dr. Nigel Biggar and Jordan Peterson discuss the post-modernist and anti-colonial critique of European British empires and the impact on the west's confidence in its institutions. They highlight the attempt to revivify the Marxist doctrine of oppression and victimhood as a way of breathing new life into the fundamental belief that power is the motivator of humanity. Furthermore, they note that this resentment and envy towards productivity and generosity has been a battle across human history, manifested in various forms and ideologies. Ultimately, Dr. Biggar and Peterson suggest that this is a spiritual, rather than a logical, force driving current debates on colonialism and the west's historical impact.
The Downside of Social Justice Movements: A Critical View
The desire to acquire unearned moral virtue and the guise of messianism without any of the work is a fundamental driver of some social justice movements. There is also a patronizing and condescending attitude towards those groups that they claim to represent. Furthermore, identifying oneself as a victim has become a political tool to gain status and material benefits, leading to falsified claims of victimhood. Hostility towards opposing ideas and unfair criticism is prevalent in the discourse of these movements. Dr. Nigel Biggar's book has also received harsh reviews, indicating a resistance to alternative perspectives.
Dr. Nigel Biggar on Scrutinizing Accusations and Fortifying Convictions
Despite facing criticism and attempts to cancel his book on colonialism, Dr. Nigel Biggar's book has been widely appreciated and sold thousands of copies. Biggar emphasizes the importance of scrutinizing accusations and fortifying oneself in one's convictions. His consistent experience has been that once he faces opposition and looks at it closely, he still believes he is right. Biggar recently retired from being a full-time professor at Oxford, but is keeping busy with writing for publications and having thoughtful conversations on colonialism. He may write about his experiences with free speech and institutional behaviors. Overall, there is a large public appetite for an even-handed consideration of contentious topics.