To know one must know

I was having a discussion with a young person of subcontinental origin who is completing a STEM Ph.D. An open-minded and curious person and they asked me to exposit to them why a post-colonial paradigm that reduces all non-Western/white peoples to being objects in a narrative driven by Western/white agents is built on false premises. My candid opinion is that this is not something that one can explain in a single conversation, or in a single article. The reason is simple: if you don’t know much you are ultimately relying on someone else’s credibility.

I think I’m a credible person, but obviously I would think that. Unfortunately, history is messy, complex, and filled with shades and textures that can only be appreciated through direct consumption, not description. You need to read the history yourself and reflect upon it deeply in a first-person sense.

The reality is that there are plainly mendacious actors out there who launder their credentials to promote lies. This behavior knows no ideology but is quite common and pervasive. Often these “public historians” do not lie or spread falsehood directly, but they obfuscate and redirect attention in such a manner so that their audience draws particular ‘natural’ conclusions which are at variance with reality as we understand it.

I particularly recommend history written about the time before 1800, because the foundations of the present often run quite deep, an assertion which directly undercuts the logic of post-colonialism, where the recent overwhelms the past.

Economic history, in particular, is often useful because it deals in concrete variables, where human judgment is less opaque. For example, Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium.

On occasion, readers will question why it is so important to know broadly and deeply to understand the particular. That is due to the reality that the particular is simply the terminal node in a tree of decisions which fans out into the past and across continents.

8 thoughts on “To know one must know”

  1. /Unfortunately, history is messy, complex, and filled with shades and textures that can only be appreciated through direct consumption, not description/

    + …hidden, falsified, distorted, manipulative, ideological, deepstated…

  2. Postcolonial theory is a very circuitous way by which Whites engage in impressive amounts of self-aggrandizement.

    Of course, many idiot Browns have adopted the nonsense with gusto at this point.

  3. I have been meaning to ask you Razib, as an avid reader of history, how do you know to trust a history book? Aside from the mendacious nature of some authors, every time I crack open a history book I’m struck at the sloppiness. It seems to me like I’m supposed to take the author’s opinon on faith, as there’s no evidence or analysis provided for their claims.

  4. Post-colonial is an academic criteria because questions asked impact the answers & people who answer them, hence so much focus on ‘Methodologies’.

    Academia itself is having to shed it’s protective nature to critically look at itself, it’s methodologies & it’s blind spots. Sometime back ‘democratic socialism’ was the answer for all social problems but not anymore thanks to the political results going against academic wisdom.

    I don’t understand the obsession of discrediting post-colonial critique. It is like saying since it only focuses on certain academic blind spots to critique which creates it’s own blind spots in the process & hence it is wrong. Everything has blind spots but the idea is to pit all ideas against each other to get the best possible explanations to describe human experience.

    The main reason for calling something ‘Post-colonial’ is because the system were formed during colonial periods with colonial objectives & blind spots. While the scope of research kept spreading but objectives, methods & systems were not challenged for a long time after colonialism ended and thus post-colonial critique has helped peeled off those layers and moved the academic engagements in new directions.

    For e.g. Darymple’s admissions about India’s history & modern Indian history.

    Such admissions are happening only now when Hindus have started ‘asserting’ their identities in the same manners as Abrahamic religions have been doing, I wonder why ? Maybe because the system simply did not recognized their unique experiences & thus forced them to change their ways to the manners which forces academia to engage with them instead of ignoring them.

  5. I have been meaning to ask you Razib, as an avid reader of history, how do you know to trust a history book?

    1) books aimed at fellow academics are more trustworthy

    2) you need to familiarize yourself with the literature. the more you read, the more you can spot bullshit


    stop posting youtube links if you want to be taken seriously. mostly because when you do this you aren’t taking other peoples’ time seriously. if you post to a text link i can skim/scan subsample and get stuff out of it. with video content it’s low density and i have to watch the whole thing.

    there is some good youtube content. but mostly it is geared to dumb people who don’t read.

    1. I post videos when there are no alternative is available for them. The kind of admissions William Darymple has made in these 2 videos {their total runtime would be below 5 min.} used to be sidelined, avoided or simply not acknowledged by labeling them as ‘Hindutva appropriation of colonial interpretation of India’s past’. I hope that you were able to find time to watch them.

      The rest of the post was all about explaining why post-colonial as critical method is valid method of inquiry into the systems & methods which developed out of colonial project.

  7. It seems that the perception of relativity of history is getting critical mass. This is one of the visible BP accomplishments. More and more pundits realize that it is not for eating all what is flying. It may help some of them to come to the terms of own ancient history…

    Speaking about history…The time for SERINDIA is… 4, 3, 2, 1, up. All – fingers off the keyboards. You have 24 h to submit your answers to get in a competition for a post-Christmas present.

    Hope you follow a serial in Omar’s ‘classical’ thread which is directly linked with this thread. After the story about ‘classical’ Romans, it is coming a story about ‘super-duper classical’ Greeks. All visitors are getting free souvlaki (all dietary requirements – halal, pork free, beef free, meat free, cow urine free, skewers free, no shit). Door prizes for all who remember one ‘miracle’ nation’s name worth mentioning in any discipline on the global scale in last 200 years (scientist, writer, philosopher, thinker, engineer…). Stay tuned.

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