“Another in a long line of economically suicidal decisions made by the Indian government against its own citizens,” he tweeted, referring to a government move to halt a Facebook scheme that would provide free Internet to impoverished Indians. (For more context, see my colleague Brian Fung’s useful piece on the brouhaha.)
Confronted by critics who argued that Facebook’s plan — built on exclusive deals it made with private companies — amounted to a form of de facto neocolonialism, Andreesen set the cat among the pigeons with another tweet, since deleted: “Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?”
The resulting firestorm has been documented elsewhere. Judging from the lengthy string of apologetic tweets now on his timeline, Andreesen probably regrets the clumsiness of his message.
If read charitably, Andreesen was perhaps criticizing the sclerotic state socialism that defined India’s economy for decades after its independence in 1947, with Indian politicians conditioned to be wary of Western foreign investment. This is a history that many Indians themselves critique and sometimes lament.
If interpreted another way, though, Andreesen’s comment echoed an uglier line of reasoning — that much of the post-colonial world would somehow be better off were it still under the yoke of Western empires.
This is a problematic argument for many reasons, not least because it still has so many proponents. (Just read the comments beneath some WorldViews posts to get a glimpse of this narrative.)
Gazing at a world in disarray and chaos, it’s become almost in vogue for some commentators to point to those good old halcyon days of empire, when a sultan in Istanbul could keep myriad religious and ethnic groups in check or when the sun, burning red, never set on the British queen’s vast dominion.
A recent poll in Britain found that 44 percent of the British public were still proud of the British Empire, while only 21 percent regretted that it happened. Let’s be clear: This is an empire that, for all its supposed propagation of liberal values on the benighted peoples of the earth, induced famines that killed millions, herded colonial peoples into concentration camps and carried out massacres of others.
To be sure, you can be simultaneously proud of your country’s history and aware of its sins. And, of course, the history of colonialism is more complex than a simple litany of acts of European injustice and greed. So, too, are the histories of the many nations that won independence in the mid-20th century.
Post-colonial elites — from Latin America and the Caribbean to countries in Africa and Asia — have at various stages let down their own people, embraced authoritarianism, indulged in cronyism and carried out their own abuses of power.
Still, that doesn’t mean the legacy of empire deserves to be rehabilitated.
The reason tweets like Andreesen’s (and statements far more provocative than that) raise the hackles of those from the decolonized world is a simple one, but it needs to be spelled out.
Any defense or celebration of colonialism carries with it an implicit judgment: That somehow these peoples deserved subjugation to a foreign power. And that they didn’t deserve the same self-determination that people in the West take for granted and, indeed, constantly trumpet as inalienable.
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