After the Empire — TheVampires Return
Dracula says: “ ‘These friends’ — and he laid his hand on some of the books — ‘have been good friends to me, and for some years past, ever since I had the idea of going to London, have given me many, many hours of pleasure. Through them I have come to know your great England’ “ — Bram Stoker, Dracula.
The British Empire is neither Dead or Alive, a Zombie or a Vampire, that I had explained in my previous article The Battle for the Self. Maybe we should all start wearing garlic around our necks, and keep a Rosary in our pockets. Who knows. UK politicians are still so scary or scared, or both. Now the defence secretary Gavin Williamson wants to build new military bases around the world after Brexit. “‘This is our moment to be that true global player once more,’ says Gavin Williamson”, so the INDEPENDENT. Possible locations included Singapore or Brunei in the South China Sea and Montserrat or Guyana in the Caribbean, conjuring the old Empire.
This is a smokescreen. Behind the UK’s pompous declarations is none less than the mighty Uncle Sam. “The US Has Military Forces in Over 160 Countries, but the Pentagon Is Hiding the Exact Numbers,” says Information Clearinghouse.
But as we know, economic might is more potent than military strength. The so-called “Third World” or “developing nations” are taking over. Four hundred years of Western dominance and plunder, secured by ships and cannons, and pervasive ideologies of superiority and exceptionalism is coming to an end. Facts are what they are. Forecasted estimated gross domestic product based on purchasing power parity, abbreviated GDP (PPP) shows China surpassing the US by 5 Trillion in 2018.
So irrational horror scenarios in contemporary Britain, such as Brexit, Skripal, and “Russia, Russia, Russia”, pushed by click-baiting mainstream media, work so well because there is an underlying popular uneasiness about Britain’s diminished role on a world stage and maybe a new awareness of its past failures.
Fears like that are not entirely new, which takes me to the Gothic novel, that experienced a revival towards the close of the nineteenth century. Novels such as Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Grey, thrive on the irrational, the subconscious, and the uncanny of which Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published in 1897 is a prime example.
Stephen Arata, Professor and Chair, Department of English at the University of Virginia, thinks that there is more to the Dracula story than just horror and some psychological conundrums about female sexuality as it was popular at that time considering the emergence of Freudian psychology. He notes, for late-Victorian Gothic we need to take into account the cultural context “surrounding and informing the text.” He writes in his paper “The Occidental Tourist: “Dracula” and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization”,
In the case of Dracula, the context includes the decline of Britain as a world power at the close of the nineteenth century; or rather, the way the perception of that decline was articulated by contemporary writers…..The decay of British global influence, the loss of overseas markets for British goods, the economic and political rise of Germany and the United States, the increasing unrest in British colonies and possessions, the growing domestic uneasiness over the morality of imperialism- all combined to erode Victorian confidence in the inevitability of British progress and hegemony4. Late-Victorian fiction in particular is saturated with the sense that the entire nation — as a race of people, as a political and imperial force, as a social and cultural power — was in irretrievable decline.
So Arata reckons that a terrifying reversal had occurred: “the colonizer finds himself in the position of the colonized, the exploiter becomes exploited, the victimizer victimized.”
He links such fears not only to a perceived decline — racial, moral, spiritual — which makes the nation vulnerable to attack from more vigorous, “primitive” peoples but also as a response to a cultural guilt “In the marauding, invasive Other, British culture sees its own imperial practices mirrored back in monstrous forms.” In another example, Arata mentions H. G. Wells, who had the idea for his “War of the Worlds” after a discussion with his brother Frank over the extermination of the indigenous Tasmanian population under British rule.
Reverse colonization narratives thus contain the potential for powerful critiques of imperialist ideologies, even if that potential usually remains unrealized. As fantasies, these narratives provide an opportunity to atone for imperial sins, since reverse colonization is often represented as deserved punishment,
We also hear that Bram Stoker had some interest in the British Empire’s history that found its footprint in his most famous novel. Some critics noticed that Dracula manifests the threat of the primitive trying to colonise the civilised world by overturning the progressive scientific world of contemporary Britain.
But the spirit of Dracula already inhabited Britain ideologically and practically. The destructive forces previously operated within British society and in several other European societies as well. Preparation for a showdown between the colonial powers was on the horizon. World War I was looming. Dracula’s poison found its fertile soil everywhere in Europe. The evil primitive and destructive forces that Britain projected towards the uncivilised regions of the world already inhabited the West, discussed in my article “How the Self was Lost”. In 1897 when Stoker published Dracula nobody could envisage the “disaster triumphant”, that Adorno referred to when he spoke about the Enlightenment. It was about to descend upon a civilisation that was so highly cherished in Victorian times.
Remarkable how Stoker highlighted Dracula’s strategy. When the young solicitor Jonathan Harker arrived at the Count’s castle he didn’t find a primitive and ignorant creature, no, he saw an accomplished Occidentalist, so Arata. The library was full of a vast number of English books on all subjects a cultured Englishman would read, history, geography, politics, political economy, botany, geology, law — all related to England and English life and customs and manners. And Dracula says: “ ‘these friends’ — and he laid his hand on some of the books — ’have been good friends to me, and for some years past, ever since I had the idea of going to London, have given me many, many hours of pleasure for them I have come to know your great England’ ”.
So here we have the Orientalist Harker travelling East, and Dracula the Occidentalist travelling West. Dracula’s interests and motivations were naturally cast as evil manifestations masking his sinister plan to invade and exploit Britain and her people.
Van Helsing, the expert hypnotist, who played an important role in neutralising Dracula foresaw that this was a growing monster, not only mimicking the practices of the British imperialist but rapidly becoming superior to his teachers. “The racial threat embodied by the Count is thus intensified: not only is he more vigorous, more fecund, more “primitive” than his Western antagonists, he is also becoming more “advanced” and will soon be invincible.
And here we have the script for the inevitable fate of all empires. The suppressed and exploited eventually learn and develop the ways of the oppressor. Dracula, an apt metaphor for phenomena in today’s world, a world were a US-led unipolar world, is now turning into a multi-polar world, by countries that were previously underdeveloped or even colonies.
Russia, China, India and Iran indeed have become a “Draculean nightmare” for the West, as Zero Hedge notes. They have not only grown more powerful economically but are also now on the verge of spreading their wings politically and militarily. Not only that, former colonies, especially in Africa, that once suffered under the heavy hands of British, French, Belgian, and German colonialism and their genocidal practices, are now happy to embrace China’s assistance in developing their nations.
Dr Mehari Taddele Maru, a scholar of peace and security, writes,
…China’s history of fast and successful economic growth is a model from which many lessons could be learned in Africa. China’s capacity to ensure policy sovereignty remains relevant and highly attractive to African leaders and scholars. According to the World Bank, in about 40 years, China has lifted about 800 million people out of poverty through its untraditional path of development. Notably, it has achieved many of the Millennium Development Goals.
Africans should take a page from China’s playbook on development and sovereignty. They can keep their home in order and also make the best out of the competition between great powers and regional players whether they are from the West, Far East or the Middle East.
As things stand, China is already winning the hearts and the minds of Africans. The West will have to either change tact or forever play catch up.
So has China “vampirised” the intellectual blood of the West? Well, as Foreign Policy writes, ”We Were Pirates, Too: Why America was the China of the 19th century and it continues,
The ship carrying Francis Cabot Lowell and his family home from England in the summer of 1812 was intercepted by a British war squadron, which held the passengers and crew for some days at the British base at Halifax, Canada. Lowell’s baggage was subject to several intensive searches, for his captors had been warned that he may have stolen designs for power textile weaving machinery, a serious crime in England. Lowell, indeed, had done just that — but, aware of the risk, had committed the designs to memory.
So, nothing unusual to see. Economic and political espionage at work and as usual officially denied. China even has their defenders in the West, for example, economist Larry Summers,
You ask me where China’s technological progress is coming from. It’s coming from terrific entrepreneurs who are getting the benefit of huge government investments in basic science. It’s coming from an educational system that’s privileging excellence, concentrating on science and technology,” said Summers, former Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton and an ex-economic advisor to Barack Obama. “That’s where their leadership is coming from, not from taking a stake in some U.S. company.
But the Have-nots will go to the Haves, or what goes around comes around. The SPECTATOR writes,
Now, however, China is getting serious about hacking, but as the hackee, not the hacker. Suddenly they have something they want to protect, and realise that it’s a lot harder to be the leader than it is a follower who can cut corners to get ahead.
The West should do everything it can to keep the Chinese worried about their secrets. After all, turnabout is fair play. Washington and London would do well to keep a close cyber eye on just how advanced China is getting in supercomputers, artificial intelligence, and the like. There might be some tidbits that can find their way over to our laboratories and research centres that save us a million pounds here and a million dollars there. The Chinese may well decide it wasn’t such a great idea to try and steal anything they could get their hands on — it gives other people ideas. What’s the word for chutzpah in Chinese?
In the age of the Internet, Dracula’s brood hatched forming into countless official and unofficial hackers, private, corporate and state, feasting not only on the intellectual blood of their adversaries. As I had shown in my article Dorian’s Algorithm, we as individuals have become valuable as well, our digital selves are up for the highest bidder to suck our blood. Dracula’s children have already bitten you. Check those small teeth on your smartphone.
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