Winter of our discontent

The count-down to Xmas is on, yet the economic news seems to get grimmer and grimmer (as I am currently in London) this seems to be emphasised by the perennial lack of sunlight – the Big Grey – this time of year that extends from Nov to around April and, in my mind, a major contributing factor to the misanthropic and insolent nature of the English. It is hard not calcify over with the cold and short daylight hours especially if you are Australian or Californian.

Somehow, to me, the ‘hibernation’ season always feels as if it lacks a future whereas sunshine (whether it be minus 10 and in NY) always has the promise of hope. This winter is bleaker than ever even Dickensian in nature with more beggars and homeless in the street, a strange austerity settling like dust over the bling and glitz of Piccadilly, presumably now still there for those who are left with some money to spend – the Russian oligarches.

 I am reminded of ringing my better half (who, amongst other things is a trained economist) on ‘black Tuesday’ in early October when Merrill Lynch and Washington Mutual went down (the first of many as we now know) who told me then, in an ominous prophetic tone  that it wasn’t 1989 nor 1929 but 1890. There are some parallels – in 1893 banks suddenly collapsed due to the over extension and over funding of railroads – which was made worse by the fact that the US dollar was pinned to gold and silver values. This lead to the worst economic crisis to date at that point in US history.

     Traditionally its usually war driven by the rise of nationalism, fear and general xenophobia, as well as (some believe) industry itself looking for a new machine (war) to produce for that has pulled the Western world out of dire economic times. But I’m hoping the raise of a new global sensibility – the profound understanding that we really do now live in a global economy – will break this historical cycle. This leads me to a wonderful editorial that was in The London Times, 11/11/08 by David Aaronovitch entitled ‘Black, white or neither – The Mixed race dilemma’. It was brave article about the history of mixed race marriages in the US and the importance of Obama having such a heritage in terms of a global sensibility.

 Like myself, Mr. Aaronovitch is part Jewish. He talks about the particular perspective this gives one – to be slightly on the outside looking in. In terms of Barrack Obama, he is not only half black; his father was African making him (arguably) potentially one of the most cosmopolitan US presidents to date.

Being of mixed heritage, colour, religion gives one much more of a world view and inevitably throws one into an empathic understanding of diversity – an absolute necessary if one wishes to counteract the usual contraction both politically and psychologically in times of fear.

I would argue we are all of mixed race. Anyone who has scratched the surface of their own family history in any depth will find they are far more mixed than they realised. The evidence is in the genome; as a well-known extreme right-wing Australian politician (no longer in politics but I’ll keep names out of this for legal purposes) found out to her chagrin. Confident she was 100% English stock (an oxymoron in itself if one knows anything about the history of the constant waves of migration of Britain, not to mention the Pics and the Celts) she discovered her genetic heritage stretched as far as Southern Italy and beyond. No surprise there and one in the eye for that old chestnut ‘racial purity’. They have found ancient groups of blond, blue-eyed traders in the Gobi desert – thousands of years old. Even the ancient Greek father of all history – Herodotus –  speaks of blond prisoners of war being paraded in Ancient Persia.

Language itself reflects this – for example the languages of Europe, Britain and Northern Indian language groups all spring from one parent language known as Indo-European. This link is reflected in the Celtic myths and deities. The sacred Hindu texts the Vedas are named from the Sanskrit root vid meaning ‘knowledge’ This same root occurs in Old Irish as uid meaning ‘observation, perception and knowledge’ and is one of the two roots of the compound Celtic word Druid (Dru-vid) meaning ‘thorough knowledge.’ Fascinating. (Note: thanks to author Celtic specialist Peter Berresford Ellis for the above information).

 A lot of so-called history is revisionist in terms of race. For example, when researching the early Australian colony of 1815 I discovered it was far more mixed racially then the traditional Australian history books would lead you to believe. Polynesians, Americans, Germans, Jews, Poles all mingled with both the first generation Australians and the convict classes (not all of whom were Irish Catholics.) Political prisoners were mixed in with the petty thieves as well as religious refugees and freeborn entrepreneurs. There were even prominent African Americans evolved in the later Australian Gold Rush – and a Jewish outlaw who became famous when he was granted his life through a ‘divine intervention’ clause when they tried to hang him publically  three times and on every occasion the rope broke. Great theatre and probably a great con (although I guess he might have been really fat).

Certainly in recent years there was as much push under the former John Howard regime (Howard was voted out in 2007), (reminiscent of the Menzies era = Australia’s McCarthy period) to present both contemporary and historical Australia again as an white Anglo-Saxon British outpost. It was never that simple.

And in terms of the UK there were also Africans in the court of Elizabeth the 1st and small communities in some of the Northern ports in the 16th, 27th and 18th centuries.

Now is the time for us to acknowledge similarity not difference and to take collective responsibility as one race – humanity.