On the shoulders of giants: Oriel College and Rhodes

First, an extract from a blog ages ago, in italics if you want to skip it:

As a response to people demanding ‘climate compensation’, one of the chapters in my book Total Sustainability was called  ‘the rich world owes no compensation to the poor world’. The world only has the technological capability to support a population over seven billion because of the activities of our ancestors. Without the industrial revolution, the energy it used, the pollution it generated, the CO2 it led to, very many of those alive today would not be. We owe no apology for that. It is only through that historic activity that we are where we are, with the technology that allows poor countries to develop. Developing countries are developing in a world that already has high CO2 levels and is still largely economically and technologically locked into CO2-intensive energy production. That is simply the price humanity overall has paid to get where we are. When a developing country builds a new power station or a road or a telecomms network, it uses today’s technology, not 16th century technology – the century where modern science and technology arguably really started. Without the rich world having used all that energy with its associated environmental impact, they’d have to use 16th century technology. There would be no rich world to sell to, and no means to develop. Developing is a far faster and easier process today than it was when we did it.

Our ancestors in the rich world had to suffer the pain hundreds of years ago – they were the giants on whose shoulders we now stand. It was mostly our ancestors in the rich world whose ingenuity and effort, whose blood, sweat and tears paid for a world that can support seven billion people. It was mostly they who invented and developed the electricity, telecoms, the web, pharmaceuticals and biotech, genetically superior crops, advanced manufacturing and farming technology that make it possible. That all cost environmental impacts as part of the price. The whole of humanity has benefitted from that investment, not just rich countries, and if any compensation or apology were due to the rest of the world for it, then it has already been paid many times over in lives saved and lives enabled, economic aid already enabled by that wealth, and the vastly better financial and economic well-being for the future developing world that resulted from that investment. The developing world is developing later, but that is not the fault of our ancestors for making our investment earlier.

Amount of compensation owed: zero. Amount we should give for other reasons: as much as we can reasonably afford. Let’s give through compassion and generosity and feeling of common humanity, because we can and because we want to, not because we are being forced.

I want to add to this today because I am increasingly angered by the morons in university student unions at various universities closing down freedom of speech, their university staff who allow that to happen, and now others – students and cowardly staff – at Oriel College in Oxford who want to remove statues of historic figures (Cecil Rhodes in this case) because their lives and values don’t measure up to today’s political correctness.

My argument is identical to the one I used above, and other people are commenting similarly. Those students show enormous egos that are matched only by their stupidity, arrogance, immaturity and lack of insight. They would not have any of the enormous privileges they enjoy today without the contributions of those who went before them and every student capable of reaching Oxford standards should understand that well, long before they reach university age. That they don’t casts doubt on the health of Oriel’s entrance standards.

Many of the giants who created the layers of foundations of today’s culture had personality traits or did things that are not admirable by today’s standards, but were it not for their efforts and contributions to make the world we all enjoy today, we would not be able to sit and reflect on them. Rhodes had many faults, but he would not have a statue to honor him were it not for a previous generation recognizing and admiring his contribution to the culture of the time. He acted at the time, within the culture of the time, within the views of the time and those honoring him had every right to do so by the standards of their time. Students of today seem to think they have reached some all-time pinnacle of cultural superiority, and it isn’t clear why.  That is unsavory enough, but do they think also they created that from a vacuum? They should consider that it may well be their generation with its misplaced and unearned arrogance upon whom history will pour scorn. Through their efforts to undermine freedom of speech and rewrite history, they show that they certainly do not measure up to even the most basic standards of their immediate ancestors who earned the right to freedom, having properly understood its value. As others have observed today, their actions are not very different from ISIS destroying ancient temples. Although their actions differ in degree, perhaps the mindsets are not so different – fanatical self-belief, undeserved and unearned conviction of their own moral superiority to everyone else, while everyone else see them for what they are, mindless thugs.


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