March 30th, 2004

fat pony like thunder

gimme gimme gimme

Some American descendents of African slaves are claiming damages from companies which profited from slavery. Now, while I obviously am not pro-slavery, I really don't think they have a right to billions of dollars for this, and I think most retrospective compensations are kind of ridiculous. While accepting responsibility for something in living memory (the various Christian churches - not just the Catholic one - really needed to do a lot of soul searching about what they didn't object to in the '30s and '40s) and acknowledging a long history of mistaken belief (like the Catholic Church and anti-semitism) is one thing, apologising and financially compensating for something that happened over 100 years ago is another. And I feel this on a personal level. Every so often, some stupid anti-British people here try and get an apology from the British government for the Famine (they don't even bother with the 800 years of colonisation). Now, I'm pretty sure that my ancestors didn't exactly have fun during the Famine, but do I care about an apology? No, I don't. It's meaningless.

It's meaningless on an economic level too - I could claim that if the penal laws hadn't been enforced and Ireland hadn't been intentionally kept as an agricultural rather than an industrial economy, my family might have been richer (and at least entitled to own land and vote). But I don't hold the British government - or you, my British chums - responsible for this. I certainly don't think I have the right to say "my ancestors were repressed and forcibly kept poor and ignorant! Give ME money for this!"

Maybe it's just because compensation culture really bothers me. I'm a socialist, I believe the state has a duty to the people, and I don't believe in some sort of Darwinian social order in which the weak fall by the wayside. But I don't believe that everyone deserves money for everything that happens to them, which isn't a particular person or institution's fault. I don't believe that if a kid falls in the playground they have a right to sue the school (and I know of lots of schools, including the one where my mother teaches, where children are no longer allowed run in the playground because selfish parents have sued the school for tens of thousands). And while I do believe people are entitled to compensation for something bad that has been done to them, I don't think I or anyone else deserves to be compensated for anything, no matter how horrific, that happened to our great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents.