December 30, 2009

Educating Tony about genocide

In Levi's Celebrates Manifest Destiny, I noted how American pioneers succeeded mainly by stealing Indian land. Searching for background information led me to Manvotional: Pioneers! O Pioneers! by Walt Whitman in the Art of Manliness blog.

In the comments section, someone named Tony put up a spirited defense of America's genocidal actions. I've debated people like this hundreds of times, so I shouldn't bother, but I got carried away and did it again.

Go to the original posting to see all the arguments in context. I've picked a few of Tony's most egregious claims to rebut:Here it is true that the pioneers settled in the west, and that they also settled the wildness of the west--yes Native Americans were there, but it was still a wild place.There's a difference between settling the West and settling in the West. Pioneers could've done the latter even if the Indians were present, but not the former. The phrase "settling the West," which most Americans use, is incorrect.

If you think pioneers settled the "wildness" of the West, you're perpetuating the myth that Indians were savages without culture or civilization. That they were little more than from wild animals. That's the same argument as before, so the distinction you're making--settling the West vs. settling the West's "wildness"--is immaterial.

The fact is that the Indians had already settled Americas when the Europeans arrived. No amount of semantic games can change this fact.

Later in your argument, you yourself tell us how Indians weren't idealistic tree-huggers--how they altered the landscape by cutting trees, burning brush, etc. News flash, buddy: These are the activities involved in "settling" the land. So you implicit admit what you've tried to deny: that the land wasn't "wild" and didn't need "taming" or "settling."The truth is that Native Americans were displacing and conquering each other long before the white man came to this land.The truth is that only moral midgets think two wrongs make a right. Using this asinine "logic," Al Qaeda was justified in attacking us because we attacked the Indians.The truth is that Native Americans warred with each other and conquered each other.Many tribes were predominantly peaceful, so this is a misleading stereotype. European nations fought much bigger and longer wars. In any case, nothing justifies the hemisphere-wide genocide against Indians, which goes far beyond anything Indians did to each other.

Disease killed most Indians...really?These diseases were not spread will ill intent. If I have swine flu and I give it to someone else and they die, did I murder them?If you knowingly exposed someone to a fatal disease, as the Europeans did...yes, you'd be guilty of some crime. I'm not sure of the charge, but manslaughter, perhaps.

And so what if disease killed 90% of the Indians and warfare killed only 10%? Ten percent of several million people is still mass murder and it still constitutes genocide.

FYI, the intent to exterminate Indian peoples and cultures is what matters, not the results. Similarly, we call the Holocaust an act of genocide even though many Jews survived it.

You gotta it when genocide defenders point out that disease killed the majority of Indians. As if that's some stunning revelation. As if Indians and liberal ("revisionist") historians didn't realize it until a few conservative soothsayers pointed it out. Thanks for that deep insight, pal.There was never any systematic policy in place to wipe the Native Americans out. Disease is not a system--it just happened. War was not waged against the Indian to kill him, but simply to move him off his land (still unconscionable, but not genocide), and starvation (the killing of buffalo) was also not used to kill the Indians but to force them onto reservations."Unconscionable"...but you're defending it as conscionable. No "systematic policy"...but a bunch of unsystematic policies and decisions that had the same effect. Too bad the definition of genocide doesn't require the extermination to be systematic.

FYI, forced relocation and cultural destruction are part of the official definition of genocide. If you "kill the Indian to save the man," you've committed an act of genocide even if the victim lives. For more on the subject, see Genocide by Any Other Name....

And war is always waged to kill people, bright boy. That's inherent in the definition of war. If a war has other motivations, that doesn't change the fact of the deadly intent.

Again, by your logic, the 9/11 terrorists didn't intend to kill the people in the World Trade Center. They wanted to send us a message about getting out of the Middle East and innocent victims just happened to get in the way. Unconscionable, yes, but not mass murder according to you.

No alternative to being savage?But [Indians] lived like that not from choice, but from a lack of an alternative. They lacked written language which kept them from record keeping, which kept them from property ownership, which kept them from a formal economy and so on. There is no virtue where there is no choice.Actually, Indians were free to build cities such as Cahokia or Tenochtitlán, which some did. They were also free to reject this urban lifestyle in favor of a more agrarian one, which many did.

Among the things Indians could've done but didn't were: 1) Wallow in unsanitary conditions without bathing. 2) Demand obedience to a hierarchical church and state with "divine" authorities. 3) Devote their lives to gathering material goods and titles. Which explains why people the Indians captured almost always wanted to stay with the Indians.

Your pseudo-socialist fantasies notwithstanding, many if not most Indians understood the concepts of personal property and territorial rights (e.g., hunting grounds). Again, you don't need written records if you're not prone to lying and cheating, as Euro-Americans were. "You stay on your side of the river and we'll stay on ours"...simple.

Have you heard of the fur trade? Many tribes had extensive trade economies. Whether these economies were "formal" or not is irrelevant. And keeping trade records doesn't necessarily require a written language. Drawings, notches, beads, or memories can substitute for written tallies.

Here's a good example of the Indians' informal economy:

Ancient Miwok harvested salt

For trade according to new report

By Don Baumgart
Ten families could have harvested the salt from the 300 plus basins, Diggles estimates. “But, those people wouldn’t have time to do anything else.” He estimates it took a minimum of 40 Miwok families to support the salt makers.

“The site is the most impressive prehistoric saltworks yet discovered in North America,” Diggles and Moore said in their report, “and represents a unique departure from traditional hunter-gatherer activities to that of manufacturing.”

The grinding of so many basins in granite could not have been done without the labor of a concentrated population.
So the Miwoks had a small salt-making business with a few dozen employees. Several other small businesses provided food, clothing, shelter, security, and so forth to support them. That's basically the economy you'd find in any community of a couple hundred people.

In short, thanks for sharing your stereotypical "history" with us. You're doing a great job of regurgitating your grade-school textbooks. I'm so glad to hear that the first racist settlers were correct and Indians really were primitive "savages."

Western culture is superior?Relativism is silly--some cultures are superior to other cultures. A superior culture came to this land and the results were incredibly unfortunate. But it also brought progress.Respondent Nik addressed this when he wrote:As for the sophistication of the Native American civilization, it all depends on what you value: technological advancement and material wealth or sustainable culture built on respect for community and for nature. I think the Native American belief and property system were far more sophisticated than the Western ones that replaced them.Your pro-genocide comments are the only silly thing I see here, Tony. Indian cultures would've evolved through cultural exchange even if we hadn't conquered them. They'd be using computers the same way the Chinese and Russians are using computers though we didn't conquer them. You're comparing apples to oranges when you compare today's Western cultures to pre-Columbian Indian cultures.

What do you base your ridiculous claim on? Euro-Americans "won" primarily because of their inadvertent germ warfare, which you admitted. They also won because of their propensity to break their own vows and laws after signing treaties. Even with these unanticipated and immoral advantages, Native defeat wasn't inevitable. So where exactly is the cultural superiority?

If you define "cultural superiority" as military supremacy, then it's easy to determine the greatest culture in the modern world. The US defeated Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the USSR...and Vietnam defeated the US. Vietnam is Earth's greatest culture.

If you define "cultural superiority" as economic supremacy, you have about a decade before China overtakes the US (and Vietnam) as Earth's greatest culture. Then what? You'll be reduced to weak, qualitative arguments such as "the US is the freest country on Earth" even though other countries have more income per capita, less crime, longer life expectancies, etc., etc. In other words, you'll become a cultural relativist.

Have you read Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel? If you have, you must've missed its message. The message is that the West succeeded because of the luck of the draw, not because of any innate superiority. For more on the subject, see The Myth of Western Superiority.

Are you really saying "progress" is such a virtue that it was worth the death of millions of Indians? Please answer yes or no. Yes, the progress was worth with it or no, it wasn't. Let's see exactly how much or little you value Indian lives.

"Might makes right" better than Zinn?It’s important to look beyond what you read from Howard Zinn or what your college professor told you to get a full understanding of history.At least others are citing 20th-century sources. You need to look beyond your 19th-century racist justifications for genocide. You're using the same arguments the Indian killers used and you sound about as immoral as they did.

For more on the subject, see Europeans Taught Natives "Discipline, Order"?, Europeans and Indians Equally Evil?, and No Colonization, No United States?

Below:  Our superior Western culture.


Stephen said...

A few problems with your post:

"Among the things Indians could've done but didn't were: 1) Wallow in unsanitary conditions without bathing."

First off there were European cultures that did have a standard of cleanliness; the Norse for example were renowned for their hygiene. You're essentially doing the reverse of what anti-Indian bigots do; comparing the best of the Indian cultures to the worst of the European cultures.

"2) Demand obedience to a hierarchical church and state with "divine" authorities."

Would that include the Basques who owned their land free of the church or crown and practiced democracy? Second of all religious fanaticism is not exactly something unique to Europe.

"Devote their lives to gathering material goods and titles."

This an example of stereotyping not every single European culture was a hellish feudal monarchy; take the medieval Italian republics for example or the Manx Tynwald which is one of the oldest examples of democracy on the planet.

"Which explains why people the Indians captured almost always wanted to stay with the Indians."

That sounds like some absurd premise straight out of a bodice ripper.

"Again, you don't need written records if you're not prone to lying and cheating, as Euro-Americans were."

Even more absurdity you seem to be suggesting that Euro-Americans are genetically prone to lying while all Indians were sweethearts. Then there's the matter of this quote:

"As for the sophistication of the Native American civilization, it all depends on what you value: technological advancement and material wealth or sustainable culture built on respect for community and for nature. I think the Native American belief and property system were far more sophisticated than the Western ones that replaced them."

The problem is that there were Eruopean cultures that had respect for community and nature; the Basques would be a perfect example.

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Kat said...

Although I like some of the "Art of Manliness" articles, this isn't one of them:

Check out the book:
Retribing book

Kat said...

I just read this:
The Art of Manliness is Anti-Woman

I'll backtrack... That's scary as f*ck: To recap, the Pioneers were cool, inspirational and "manly" (who cares about the Indians?) and women should not be allowed to vote or go to College. Whoa...
Please wake me up when we are finally in the 21st century- all of us.

Rob said...

I've never heard of a Native culture that didn't practice bathing. In contrast, many if not most European culture didn't practice it. So I was comparing average to average, which is fair and valid, not best to worst.

Some generalizations about European bathing customs:

* Through great periods of European and much of U.S. history, clieanliness was inconvenient, religiously restricted, or just plain out of fashion.

* Living unwashed were saints, the masses, and monarchs alike.

* In response to the debauchery of Roman baths, the early Christian church frequently discouraged cleanliness. "To those that are well, and especially to the young," Saint Benedict in the sixth century commanded, "bathing shall seldom be permitted."

Rob said...

"Demand obedience..." was a generalization, something you've demonstrated you don't understand. And except for maybe the big empires (Aztec, Maya, Inca), Indian cultures weren't fanatical about their religions. They didn't insist their religions were the only valid ones or try to convert others to them.

"Devote their live..." was a general comment on the materialism of Western culture. It applies to democratic countries such as the US as well as to Europe's monarchies.

Couldn't you find a more significant medieval democracy than the tiny Isle of Man? How about Iceland?

FYI, the Italian "republics" were mostly republics in name only. Here's what people have said about them:

What I found from the little I researched is that they were oligarchies, only rich and powerful residents of the cities themselves ruled them. Franchise was limited and was modeled on the Roman model (grouping people into classes with a certain weight according to wealth).

The medieval Italian republics were not democratic in any meaningful modern sense. It was essentially the rule of the trading interests (the burgesses). It's no coincidence that this form of government was preferred in these booming trading towns over monarchies.

Rob said...

I think the Western propensity to lie is cultural, not genetic. It probably has something to do with avoiding shame and punishment from one's fellow Christian sinners.

As for my claim about Indian captives, I believe it's well-documented in the literature. For instance, in this excerpt from Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen:

The historian Gary Nash tells us that interculturation took place from the start in Virginia, "facilitated by the fact that some Indians lived among the English as day laborers, while a number of settlers fled to Indian villages rather than endure the rigors of life among the autocratic English." Indeed, many white and black newcomers chose to live an Indian lifestyle. In his Letters from an American Farmer, Michel Guillaume Jean de Crevecoeur wrote, "There must be in the Indians' social bond something singularly captivating, and far superior to be boasted of among us; for thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those Aborigines having from choice become Europeans." Crevecoeur overstated his case: as we know from Squanto's example, some Natives chose to live among whites from the beginning. The migration was mostly the other way, however. As Benjamin Franklin put it, "No European who has tasted Savage Life can afterwards bear to live in our societies."

Europeans were always trying to stop the outflow. Hernando De Soto had to post guards to keep his men and women from defecting to Native societies. The Pilgrims so feared Indianization that they made it a crime for men to wear long hair. "People who did run away to the Indians might expect very extreme punishments, even up to the death penalty," if caught by Whites. Nonetheless, right up to the end of independent Indian nationhood in 1890, whites continued to defect, and whites who lived an Indian lifestyle, such as Daniel Boone, became cultural heroes in white society.

Rob said...

Finally, your "problem" with Nik's quote stems from your misreading of what he said. He referred specifically to the Western beliefs that replaced their Indian counterparts. The Basque belief system wasn't influential in Europe or the Americas, so it's irrelevant to Nik's claim.

Rob said...

P.S. Thanks for the update on "The Art of Manliness," Kat. I presumed I wouldn't like it, but I didn't investigate it. I figured it would just make me mad. Glad to see I was right. ;-)