On Imperialism, Genocide, and the British Empire

There’s a meme floating around claiming in excess of 1 billion deaths in India alone due to the British Empire. This is posted as a response to a popular anti-Communist argument that Communism has killed tens of millions of people, something that cannot be said of capitalism.

That last clause is of course, false. Capitalism has killed hundreds of millions. Among instances ...

  • Irish Potato Famine: 1m+ dead, 40% permanent decline in Ireland's population.
  • Transatlantic slave trade: ~100m dead.
  • Native American Genocide: ~100m dead.
  • East India Company: ~30m dead plausibly, arguably up to 1.8 billions.

All in the name of capitalism and markets.



You could draw up a similar tally for certain mainstream religions, perhaps scaled by an order of magnitude or two, to reflect much smaller population of Earth.

Controversial thought: maybe it's less about particular ideology, and more about how systems of power in general expand and interact with each other? It feels to me that in those scenarios, ideology was a free variable - if you were to magically replace capitalists with communists, the same violence would've happened anyway.

@temporal The point that power simply operates in this manner is in fact one that I've been hammering for at least six years now. The realisation came to me when reading the introduction to A.H.M. Jones, Augustus, reproduced here:


That describes the three political parties of Rome circa 40 BCE, the optimates, the priviledged and wealthy landowner classes, the populares, largely peasant workers, and the equites, effectively a small professional class.

The descriptions, political platforms, and ideological tools of each party could be ripped from today's headlines.

That said, there's something specific about capitalism which internalises profits and externalises costs, including costs at genocidal and ecocidal levels, which should be specifically addressed. I feel that that itself is more information-theoretic in basis than ideological as well.

Religion largely is yet another tool serving power. In many ways it is utterly uninteresting to that extent.

@dredmorbius There's likely lot of nuance here I haven't thought through yet. However, there is a simple concept I'm trying to distill and point to.

You have a group of people invading other peoples' land, murdering the natives and stealing resources. It's immaterial whether the invaders are following business opportunities, liberating the working class, or cleansing the land of unbelievers. The things they do are the same. Justifications look different, but they do smell the same too.


@dredmorbius There are countless examples - both historical and modern, some happening right in front of us on the Internet - which demonstrate that the same core ideology will drive some to do great good, and will lead others to violence and destruction. It seems to me the contents of the ideology may not matter - the difference between those two interpretations are a function of the group, not the idea. Extremism seems to be independent of any given ideology attached to it.


@dredmorbius In this way, communist extremists, capitalist extremists and crusaders will do pretty much the same thing given the same situation. But that's the delivery end.

On the command end, I'm not sure if there even is a meaningful distinction between "capitalists" and "communists", and arguably religion itself doesn't even enter the picture. You have a power structure that covets resources or land or power. Any ideology is just a color of the box, containing the exact same process inside.


@dredmorbius What I mean is, all those atrocities you mentioned and other well-known ones seem to be driven by a group of people forming a power structure that wants to expand, exercise control, or survive (e.g. against domestic unrest).

It seems to me that whether it's a democracy, monarchy, church state, empire or a conglomerate, there are exactly the same dynamics at play. Bunch of people with a goal, scheming to motivate a larger group to execute on it.


@dredmorbius Or, another way to put it: the difference between capitalism and communism doesn't exist for the ruling class, arguably doesn't matter for the upper class, and definitely doesn't matter for the warrior class. It only affects the middle and lower classes - those who have to abide by the rules of their society, and stay contained within it.

(I apologize if it's a bit incoherent, it's something I'm just beginning to think about.)




Though what I'm getting at is, ideology is a red herring here. It's a free variable. It's not "commies and nazis are the same". It's "extremists wearing the banner of $foo are all the same", where $foo is "nazism" or "communism" or "freedom" or any other group of ideas, even ostensibly benign.

They all "don't care about you" and "only want to give you orders and tell you what to do".


@temporal @dredmorbius

You're in the ambiguous area of writing which could either be; Anarchy is the only answer, all power corrupts or radical centrism, we need to replace these idealogues with benevolent technocrats, horseshoe theory, etc.

@az That would be if I were suggesting solutions, which I'm not.

I did believe a form of what's known as "horseshoe theory" these days, because it's kind of obvious - but that's before it was given a name and a whole lot of political context that I don't know about and don't want to step into.




What I'm getting at is, let's call it, "shell theory". Imagine the political spectrum in whatever form you'd like, and add another dimension to the underlying space. That dimension is one of extremism/craziness, and the spectrum extends into it, merging into a single point at the "most extremist" end of the new dimension.

So e.g. if you view politics as a line, then you now have a triangle; if you see it as a horseshoe/circle, you now get a cone. Extremists are close to the tip.




See also my little sketch below.

Take the "political compass", and imagine it's a square that's a cross-section of a pyramid. The vertical dimension is that of craziness/violence/extremism, and as you go up from whatever edge of the political compass, you get closer and closer to all the others at your "extremism level".

Honestly, I think it shouldn't even be a shell but a *volume* - that is, you can arrive at violence from any point on the political compass.



@temporal I'd tend to look for axis and behavioural foundations first, then try to find an appropriate form after.

OCEAN / CANOE and Big Five characteristics are one set: openness conscientiousness extraversiona agreeableness neuroticism.

For groups or polities there are probably a few others. On no particular basis and in no particular order, hauled straight from /dev/ass:

  • Individualism <-> Community
  • Tradition <-> Novelty
  • Authority <-> Empiricism
  • Intelligence <-> Stupidity
  • Consistency <-> Inconsistency
  • Peacefulness <-> Aggression
  • Short-term <-> Long-term
  • Rigidity <-> Flexibility
  • Large-scale <-> Small-scale
  • High-trust <-> Low-trust
  • Punitive <-> Restorative

There are probably slots for fitting in justice, fairness, order, routine, property, equality, and other elements.

Some of my suggestions are fairly strongly related (Authority/Empiricism, Tradition/Novelty, and Rigidity/Flexibility, say), others seem fairly independent. It's more dimensions than will fit into any 3- or 4-space representation, though.


@temporal One thing I do like of your pyramid though is that it incorporates a dimension I think is frequently overlooked, effectively, disinhibition.

Individuals or groups which are prone to act in unpredictable or irrational manners, or without concern for either the well-being of others, or even themselves, are inherently less governable.


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