Tuesday, March 17, 2015


When I was a little chap my home city was infested every holiday by these strange characters from the inland whose skin was very white (or very red). You could normally spot them by their lumo swimming shorts and they were more likely to be buying ice-creams because they were from where the money came from. They came from the golden city beyond the Vaal river. We called them Vaalies.

As a sporting nation, South Africa the pariah nation had to create internal rivalries. Hating the Vaalies made sport more fun. Some of the Vaalies used to stay at my house. And I was rather fond of them. They were family. So I would even get one of those ice creams on our beach trips. I later discovered that I had been born beyond the Vaal before my memory started. Surely I got a free pass and could claim full Durban Boy status? What's two years in the grand scheme of things?

Matt Ridley makes a good point:

'Every human being has two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents, and so on. A mere thirty generations back - in roughly, 1066 AD - you had more than a billion direct ancestors in the same generation (2 to the power of 30). Since there were fewer than a billion people alive at that time in the whole world, many of these people were your ancestors twice or three times over. If, like me, you are of British descent, the chances are that almost all of the few million Britons alive, including King Harold, William the Conqueror, a random serving wench and the meanest vassal (but excluding all well behaved monks and nuns) are your direct ancestors.... If you go back a little further, all of the different human races merge. Little more than three thousand generations back, all of our ancestors lived in Africa.'
- Matt Ridley

We have rejected the idea that people should get to inherit authority over us because of a birthright. We seem less willing to reject other birthrights. Despite the fact that the place of our birth is a complete lottery. The last century saw the birth of the Welfare State. The idea is based on equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to sort out minimum basic provisions. This is a great idea, but since some countries have done much better than others it also makes us very wary of people moving around the world hunting welfare benefits. It also has a the bizarre effect of making liberal people more concerned about internal equality than global equality. There is enormous work to do, but the world is a much more equal place now than 30 years ago as pointed out by Max Roser.

As soon as there doesn't seem to be enough to go around, differences with other groups get used as for much more scary things than sporting banter. 'Enough to go around' is very relative. A touch of looking around the world can go a long way to decrease bitterness with our own lot. Poverty and lack of opportunity is a problem, but trying to solve one groups problems to the exclusion of others isn't the right approach. The problem isn't just in one part of the world. South Africa saw Xenophobic attacks in 2008 and beyond. In the UK, as Musa Okwonga puts it 'The framing of the UK immigration debate is often "they are coming over here to take our resources". There is an empire sized irony in that.' Go forward 30 or so generations and those alive will likely be shared descendants of all of us. Rather than anyone taking resources, we are all custodians of what we have for them.

As I have gotten older, I have come to realise that Vaalies are people too. So are Aussies. Even Steve Waugh.
Post a Comment