Uqbar

by Daniel on July 9, 2003

Up until recently, I had rather arrogantly assumed that a lot of people were either terribly ignorant about world affairs or were telling lies on purpose. However, ever since the run-up to the war on Iraq, I have been troubled by a much more worrying possibility. In the first few months of this year, I read a number of short articles containing references to the appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s which, from the context, caused me to suspect that my internet connection was in some way dragging in material from a parallel universe; one in which the USA entered the Second World War in 1939 as a pre-emptive measure rather than 1941 in response to an attack. It just began to seem more plausible explanation than to assume that so many people were making precisely the same error.

When you start thinking this way, of course, you begin to notice all sorts of other examples. Below, I’ve listed a number of statements that are definitely true in my universe. If any of them strike you as being definitely false, then something very interesting indeed is going on. I would particularly like to get in touch with several of you (not all), as I fear that your mathematics is beginning to leak into my world. I had previously to this date established to my own satisfaction certain propositions relating to the amount of money available for pensions in the future, but a person, who I am sure I remember from university, is currently making arguments which appear to me to breach fundamental adding-up constraints. My list follows:

  • The total death toll attributable to Stalinist Communism was much closer to 20 million than 60 million
  • “Don Quixote” was written by Guillermo de Cervantes
  • The murder rate in Australia did not suddenly spike upwards as the result of new firearms legislation in 1996
  • There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq
  • The Zahir is no longer kept in the British Museum; it has not been there for some time
  • Native-born British people are citizens of the United Kingdom and have not been referred to as “subjects” since the reform Acts of 1832.
  • It is not possible to introduce tobacco genes into a maize plant by a normal process of cross-breeding
  • Sydney is the capital of Australia
  • Senator Joseph McCarthy falsely accused a number of people of being Communists during the 1950s.
  • Osama bin Laden is an enemy of Saddam Hussein and has repeatedly denounced the Iraqi government
  • Dunsop Bridge in Northumberland is at the centre of gravity of the island of Great Britain
  • The land mass currently occupied by the United States of America was formerly occupied by human beings, who were largely exterminated during its settlement by Europeans
  • The polar ice caps are melting.
  • The West Bank of the River Jordan is not part of the State of Israel
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote the majority of his work in Spanish
  • The Gross Domestic Product of Russia fell by 42% during the years 1991-1994.

For obvious reasons, I have not provided hyperlinks backing up these assertions, as it is the very source of those hyperlinks which is the matter in question, but you must please accept my assertion as sincere that none of these facts is in the remotest doubt. Thank you in advance for your help

{ 35 comments }

1

Kenneth G. Cavness 07.09.03 at 7:23 pm

So long as you are not claiming that Europeans are un-human beings, which your tortured clause there suggests, I believe you and I likely inhabit much of the same universe. I’m sure you’re delighted to discover this happy fact.

2

Duncan 07.09.03 at 7:35 pm

What happened to Canberra then? Or am I missing some irony?

3

Nick Smale 07.09.03 at 7:39 pm

I’m probably missing the point here, but in my universe the capital of Australia is definitely Canberra

4

Kenneth G. Cavness 07.09.03 at 7:40 pm

Guess I should be glad I used the qualifier “much”, then. Yeek.

Though, really. Prove Canberra really exists. Bet you can’t.

5

Kenneth G. Cavness 07.09.03 at 7:45 pm

It, of course, is also Miguel, not Guillermo, Cervantes.

And we don’t know quite how many were killed in the Stalinist Purges, especially since the number fades in an out determining on how you count it.

And Joseph McCarthy didn’t just accuse people of being Communists during the 1950’s, he accused them of being Communists for much of their adult lives.

I’m sure there are other errors or questions of opinion vs. fact, but it was still an amusing read, n’est-ce pas?

6

Kieran Healy 07.09.03 at 7:58 pm

Canberra seems to have a weak hold on the world. I’m moving there next week, so I hope it exists. But yesterday I tried to ship my mountain bike there, and the woman from Bax International insisted that there was No Such Destination in Australia. Sydney they could manage, but their computers had never heard of Canberra.

7

Alan 07.09.03 at 8:03 pm

All Sydneysiders are quasi-chauvinsitic about Sydney. I say quasi- only because most of our claims for urban superiority are true. Sadly, in a foolish and unjustified pandering to Melbourne the authors of our constitution chose to enact Section 125 Seat of Government.

The seat of Government of the Commonwealth shall be determined by the Parliament, and shall be within territory which shall have been granted to or acquired by the Commonwealth, and shall be vested in and belong to the Commonwealth, and shall be in the State of New South Wales, and be distant not less than one hundred miles from Sydney.

Such territory shall contain an area of not less than one hundred square miles, and such portion thereof as shall consist of Crown lands shall be granted to the Commonwealth without any payment therefor.

The Parliament shall sit at Melbourne until it meet at the seat of Government.

8

Ghost of a flea 07.09.03 at 8:03 pm

Osama bin Laden is (or, rather more likely, was) an enemy of Saddam Hussein and repeatedly denounced the Iraqi government. Far enough. Of course, the United States government was an enemy of the Khmer Rouge and repeatedly denounced it and its Chinese communist backers. That did not stop the United States from backing the Khmer Rouge against the Vietnamese communists. Mutual animosity between the jihadis and Ba’athist fascists would not of necessity impare cooperation against the United States.

9

Henry 07.09.03 at 8:50 pm

_The total death toll attributable to Stalinist Communism was much closer to 20 million than 60 million_

Or, as Robert Conquest rather tastelessly put it

There was a great Marxist called Lenin
Who did two or three million men in
That’s a lot to have done in
But where he did one in,
that grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.

10

Jack Murray 07.09.03 at 9:36 pm

Hitler’s appeasement is paralelled with Sadaam’s appeasement solely for the purpose of illustrating the point that enough have been killed. If Hitler had been pre-emptively attacked by a coalition I suggest to you less people would have been killed in WWII. True indeed America stayed out of Europe until it was attacked by an Asian country, but if we weren’t isolationist and entered Europe earlier less blood would have been shed. Nobody contests Mr Hussein is a murderer. The sooner his regime is disamantled, the sooner Iraq can be free to hate us on their own will, without the threat of innocent’s deliberate murdering. The sooner the threat of having a murderer in control of an army, or having control of weapons which are a valuable commodity in terrorist black markets(ghost of a flea explained how people indifferent towards one another often unite for common causes) and used against this country. That was evidently a chance that people making the decisions no longer wanted to take.

11

Scott Martens 07.09.03 at 10:14 pm

Now wait a minute, if Britain has had citizens for the last 171 years instead of subjects, what’s the deal with Canada? It didn’t have any citizens at all until 1947. I thought Canucks were, pre-1947, British subjects, because they sure weren’t British citizens.

And it’s July – that means one icecap is growing and the other is shrinking.

Alas, unlike the search for Tlön, finding books that describe the strange alternate universe you’ve encountered should not be too hard.

12

Bob 07.09.03 at 10:16 pm

“The total death toll attributable to Stalinist Communism was much closer to 20 million than 60 million”

Do Norman Davies, author of Europe; OUP (1996) and the authorities he cites in Appendix III know of your conclusion?

13

alkali 07.09.03 at 10:23 pm

D^2 is smart enough that I’m at least a little thrown by the Cervantes and Sydney points. (Is he technically right in some abstruse way? Are these elaborate jokes? What am I missing here?)

14

back40 07.10.03 at 2:23 am

The Fravashi concept of glavering may give insight into this subject.

15

James Russell 07.10.03 at 3:21 am

Speaking as someone who lives in Sydney (and who has visited Canberra and can therefore verify that at least it did exist when I was there in 1994), I can assure you Sydney is not the capital of Australia. It only likes to think it is. The same is true for Melbourne, of course.

16

John 07.10.03 at 4:22 am

Wait, are all of your statements supposed to be true? Because I’m pretty sure British people were subjects until a citizenship act passed in the 1940s. Plus Miguel de Cervantes and Canberra, of course. Perhaps you do really live in an alternate universe. (BTW, to any Australians, was Sydney ever the capital of Australia? I’m under the impression that Melbourne was the first capital, but I’m not sure of that)

17

sp dinsmoor 07.10.03 at 4:36 am

18

Kenneth G. Cavness 07.10.03 at 4:40 am

It’s become clear, by now, that this is either a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, a gigantic hoax the likes of which I have never seen, or the workings of a geniuinely disturbed mind.

Whatever this is, I’ve been heartily entertained.

19

mark safranski 07.10.03 at 6:12 am

Unfortunately we can never really know the total number of people Stalin killed because compared to the Nazis the Russians were lousy record keepers. Their archives have also been haphazardly ” scrubbed” immediately after Stalin’s death by Beria, then once or twice by Khrushchev then again in 1991 as the USSR fell apart.

20 million is a conservative estimate for straight political liquidation and labor camp deaths. A significant portion of Soviet WWII casualties ( an additional 20 million) are due in part to Stalin’s incompetence as a supreme commander. Whether or not to add in a portion of this total is a judgement call.

One writer figured that according to Prerevolutionary demographic trends, the USSR should have had a population of 452 million by the late 1970’s. Obviously Stalin had no small impact

20

Brad DeLong 07.10.03 at 6:51 am

>>D^2 is smart enough that I’m at least a little thrown by the Cervantes and Sydney points. (Is he technically right in some abstruse way? Are these elaborate jokes? What am I missing here?)< < What you are missing is that Daniel Davies does in fact live not in your universe but in a closely-related parallel one--in which Sydney is the capital of Australia, and the author of the Qijote is Guillermo de Cervantes.

Just as I live in a different parallel universe in which the author of the Qijote is one Pierre Menard

21

Nick 07.10.03 at 7:33 am

Brad: Just as I live in a different parallel universe in which the author of the Qijote is one Pierre Menard

This is very strange, because Pierre Menard lived in a universe where the author of the Qijote is Miguel de Cervantes…

22

mj 07.10.03 at 7:52 am

Cervantes did indeed write the first Quijote, but Menard’s Quijote was far far superior.

23

epist 07.10.03 at 8:35 am

As to Canada,

The terms are a bit fuzzy. Canadians were made so by the British North America Act of 1867, which made the original four provinces (Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, if you must know) into the Dominion of Canada, but the Queen was still the head of Government.

The young Dominion gradually became more independent, and was officialy released from ‘colony’ status by the Statute of Westminister in the British Parliament in 1931. In 1982, Canada ‘repatriated’ the consitution (and if you think its not as painful as it sounds, you’ve obviously never been polled)), completely reserving all consitutional powers with the Canadian government, but preserved the titular position for the British monarch (more specifically, the Governer General-whcih leads me to note that Canada has had an Asian woman as the head of the government for quite a while now. And yet we-almost-never brag about our PC cred *cough* gay marriage *cough*).

So are Canadians ‘subjects’ of the Queen? In a sense, yes. But in a more accurate sense, no. When this happen exactly, however, isn’t clear; there are at least a couple of dates to choose from.

Canadian conservatives (an officially protected species, they winter in the Gulf and summer in Ontario, like the geese) would say 1867, Canadian moderates (can you imagine the fun?) might take the Balfour declaration (1926) of complete self-governence for non-constitutional matters. Constitutional Purists (who make the moderates look like flappers)would say 1982. Canadian nationalists (I’m the other one) would say we haven’t yet slipped the chains.

Thank you
(/pedantry)

24

Tim Lambert 07.10.03 at 8:48 am

The Sydney thing is obviously a reference to the fact that “honest” John Howard didn’t want to live in Canberra so he moved into Kirribilli House in Sydney and runs the country from there. Cervantes is left as an exercise for the reader.

25

scott martens 07.10.03 at 10:34 am

Epist, however the Canadian government has been organised over the years, there were still no Canadian citizens until the Citizenship Act of 1947. Before that, there were many Canadian residents of various kinds: British citizens on Canadian soil had full legal rights whenever they were in Canada and passed their British citizenship on to their Canadian-born decendants in perpetuity. All others were, as I understood it, British subjects, or British protected persons in the case of treaty natives, whose right to abode in Canada was assured as long as they were either born on Canadian territory or had legally resided there for at least three years and been naturalised, but who had no right to abode in the UK. I have repeatedly heard the term “British subject” used to describe this status, which was only replaced by Canadian citizenship in 1947. Canadian citizens born to British citizens in Canada who had never resided in the UK only lost their right to abode in the UK after the 1971 UK Immigration Act.

Now, I have to think that there is the possibility that I too have been in contact with a parallel universe, but it seems to me that before 1947 Canada was a nation with no citizens, peopled largely by British subjects and a minority of British citizens.

26

Charlie B. 07.10.03 at 12:20 pm

Good to read a thread of comments so profoundly relevant to the original post. Before the Iraq war the “Guardian” published the views of a dozen or so eminent historials about the degree to which the 1930s provided a historical point of comparison. With one exception they all ignored the nature of the appeasement in 1938, and the idea that we are safe from expansionary dictators if we give in to them until they present a threat that cannot be ignored (like initiating war themselves).

In particular they ignored the extent to which Chamberlain presented Hitler as being sufficiently appeased by the sacrifice of Czechoslovakia that he ceased to be nearly as much of threat to general war; and the fact that after WWII documentart evidence showed that the Munich back-down convinced Hitler that the UK and France were much weaker than he had imagined, and that he could accellerate his plans for land seizure and general war to a degee he had previously thought too risky. As a result general war broke out in 1939. Had Chamberlain and France opposed Hitler over the Sudetenland Hitler might have slowed down his provocative expansion and with European war not breaking out till 1940 or 1941, thew allies would have been far better prepared. It is instructive to see how Chamberlain, speaking in the House of Commons in 1938 immediately after Munich characterised the “peace movement” of his time, and its role in what was a complelely disastrous and cowardly policy:

Mr Chamberlain: “In my view the strongest force of all, one which grew and took fresh shapes and forms every day war, the force not of any one individual, but was that unmistakable sense of unanimity among the peoples of the world that war must somehow be averted. The peoples of the British Empire were at one with those of Germany, of France and of Italy, and their anxiety, their intense desire for peace, pervaded the whole atmosphere of the conference, and I believe that that, and not threats, made possible the concessions that were made. I know the House will want to hear what I am sure it does not doubt, that throughout these discussions the Dominions, the Governments of the Dominions, have been kept in the closest touch with the march of events by telegraph and by personal contact, and I would like to say how greatly I was encouraged on each of the journeys I made to Germany by the knowledge that I went with the good wishes of the Governments of the Dominions. They shared all our anxieties and all our hopes. They rejoiced with us that peace was preserved, and with us they look forward to further efforts to consolidate what has been done.

“Ever since I assumed my present office my main purpose has been to work for the pacification of Europe, for the removal of those suspicions and those animosities which have so long poisoned the air. The path which leads to appeasement is long and bristles with obstacles. The question of Czechoslovakia is the latest and perhaps the most dangerous. Now that we have got past it, I feel that it may be possible to make further progress along the road to sanity.”

27

Charlie B. 07.10.03 at 12:41 pm

My post was meant to demonstrate that today’s historians have shifted all debate about “appeasement” to 1939 and ignored the events of 1936-38, the lessons of which are inconvenient to them. As a result there has been a general deterioration in understanding of the factual narrative of the outbreaks of hostilities in 1939-41.

Other responses:

The victims of Stalinist Communism must include those who died in China at Communist hands during the Civil War and after 1951, in Eastern Europe after 1939, and also in Korea and Vietnam. The figure is nearer to 60 million than 20 million.

“There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq” – when?

“Osama bin Laden is an enemy of Saddam Hussein and has repeatedly denounced the Iraqi government”
what is an enemy? what does OBL think an “enemy” is? is my enemy’s enemy my friend?

“the land mass currently occupied by the United States of America was formerly occupied by human beings, who were largely exterminated during its settlement by Europeans”
No, that is not a fact – it is an analysis that contains far too many terms that are not defined or explained, and no historical data.

Failure to mention other points does not imply that I agree they are correct (9th Amendment).

28

tristerol 07.10.03 at 12:44 pm

Everyone knows that Pierre Menard was the modern author of Don Quixote.

29

Kenneth G. Cavness 07.10.03 at 3:59 pm

Now that I have read the article on Uqbar, I can honestly say: I’ve been ravished by d^2’s linguistic legerdemain, and I loved every minute of it.

30

Jeremy Osner 07.10.03 at 5:46 pm

Speaking of parallel universes, there seems to be some confusion between J. Borges and e. e. cummings at the linked translation of his commentary.

31

alkali 07.10.03 at 7:05 pm

I asked:

Are these elaborate jokes? What am I missing here?

Brad DeLong counsels:

What you are missing is that Daniel Davies does in fact live not in your universe but in a closely-related parallel one—in which Sydney is the capital of Australia, and the author of the Qijote is Guillermo de Cervantes.

Is Prof. DeLong trying to explain that D^2 is joking, and D^2’s reference to Borges is the tip-off? Or is the professor himself trying to have some fun with me?

It was bad enough when Yglesias went on for pages about philosophy articles I’ve never read. Now this fresh hell. I’m going to go back to reading comic books in a minute.

32

Andrew Northrup 07.10.03 at 8:11 pm

In my alternate universe, Don Quixote is a children’s story about a donkey name Don Quicks-Oaty, Uqbar is an imaginary land invented by famed pianist/humorist Victor Borge, and the capital of Australia is, as it is in the real world, Paul Hoganopolis.

33

mitch 07.11.03 at 2:18 am

R.J. Rummel: “…the Soviet Union appears the greatest megamurderer of all, apparently killing near 61,000,000 people. Stalin himself is responsible for almost 43,000,000 of these. Most of the deaths, perhaps around 39,000,000 are due to lethal forced labor in gulag and transit thereto.”

34

johnny phenothiazine 07.11.03 at 2:40 am

hey man love that stuff, a while back I even scanned that for you all to steal

your old friend johnny p

35

Prentiss Riddle 07.11.03 at 11:30 pm

Subjects of the Queen? You mean, like opera and fat-bottomed girls?

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