I know I just read this September 10, 2013 9:57 PM   Subscribe

A while back I read something about the various colonial powers habit of carving up their colonial holdings to deliberately create ethnic ratios of about 70, 25 and 5% and essentially pit them against one another. I'm 99% sure it was here but try as I might I can't find it. Does anyone know the article I'm talking about?
posted by Kid Charlemagne to MetaFilter-Related at 9:57 PM (11 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

I just read about this in a blog post by Mefi's own Charlie Stross:
You carved up the blank areas on the map, deliberately cutting across tribal/national boundaries, to establish zones with a 70/25/5 percentage split. The 70% majority were to be ruled and policed by representatives drawn from the 25% minority, armed with clubs and possibly rifles, while the 5% of imperial merchants and administrators enforced colonial rule over the 25%ers with machine guns and gunboats.
posted by Pronoiac at 11:30 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

That just shows how inefficient those imperialists were. Nowadays as little as 1% of the population controls everybody else, in a much simplified structure. That's progress!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 4:09 AM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

The piece by Charlie Stross was a main link in this FPP. That's definitely where I saw it.
posted by crocomancer at 5:10 AM on September 11, 2013

This definitely struck me as a new idea when I saw it on his blog. I don't remember seeing this idea of deliberately creating particular majority/minority ratios anywhere before.

It also struck me as sounding a bit unlikely as a deliberate policy. The world in general has a complex distribution of groups. It would be difficult to draw up borders that just contain a single group. If you tried to draw up borders that reflect group identity as one factor, but also have other factors (overall size, access to water, convenient routes between cities, natural resources) you'd probably end up with roughly that sort of majority/minority mixture by accident.

Challenge: if it's so easy to neatly split up nations along religious sectarian lines, draw a map partitioning Scotland into Catholic Scotland and Protestant Scotland that isn't going to have similar problems...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 5:31 AM on September 11, 2013

Adam Curtis says tha France followed exactly that policy in Rwanda, which lead to the genocide there.
posted by empath at 6:11 AM on September 11, 2013

It's based in fact, but this is just wishful thinking, or, in Stross's case, a kind of exagerated precision for effect.

First of all, there wasn't anything like accurate demographics at the time. Second of all, the reality of the world is that people intermix: the fantasy of nation-states is that everyone in some set of borders should share the same genes and religion and language and all the rest, but it's always been a fantasy. Hutu and Tutsi have always lived together: the French and especially the Belgians abused that fact by "inventing" the idea that they were two different races and that one was superior to the other. The idea that the colonial invaders could or would produce ethnically pure divisions is the real absurdity (where do you draw the line so that India has no Muslims?)

The problem is that in the era of nation-states, having something less than full ethnic purity became a weakness, and the colonial powers didn't let the local push and pull of politics determine boundaries but rather asserted them by fiat. They're (we're) certainly to blame for much of what followed, but the line-drawing is much less an issue than the original sin of invading these places in the first place and propping up some powers and groups to act as colonial administrators.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:22 AM on September 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

Granting power to a minority group to rule over the majority group does appear to be a deliberate tactic (easier to control your 'puppet,' I suppose, if they are more dependent on you than the population in their own nation). But the re-drawing of boundaries in the wake of WWI was not so much a deliberate recipe as the result of a complex mix of arrogance, ignorance, politics, and promises. See, for example, Christopher Catherwood's book on the formation of Iraq, Winston's Folly. It seems that the main goal of the colonial powers was to carve out pieces of the former Ottoman Empire for themselves, with little regard for anything else.
posted by fikri at 7:01 AM on September 11, 2013

"It's based in fact, but this is just wishful thinking"

I thought it was called "Divide and Conquer," and was used by all the European powers of old. We certainly did this sort of thing in several places, unless my history teachers were lying to me.
posted by marienbad at 9:01 AM on September 11, 2013

Divide and conquer as a principle was a real tactic, but going for certain specific ratios as a matter of policy is different, and ahistorical, I think.
posted by forgetful snow at 9:52 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

"It's based in fact, but this is just wishful thinking"

Say, rather, a "just so" story.

If you look at how hard it is to keep voting districts gerrymandered in the US, you'll see why the 75/20/5 story grants much more insight to imperial powers than they actually had. (It's also just the 80/20 ratio in disguise.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:55 AM on September 11, 2013

It is a just so story, really. This was not an intentional formula.
posted by Miko at 12:28 PM on September 11, 2013

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