June 07, 2011

The Aztecs ruined it

Just a thought:

The Aztecs ruined it for other Indians. Most anti-Indian arguments end up with, "Just look at the Aztecs and their practice of human sacrifice." Without that argument, the Indian haters would have nothing.

A quick recap of Aztec history:The Aztec empire ... originated in 1427 as a triple alliance between the city-states Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan. ... The empire reached its maximal extent in 1519 just prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors led by Cort├ęs who managed to topple the Aztec empire.Let's put this into proper perspective. The Aztecs ruled for fewer than 100 years out of the 10,000-year Native history. They ruled only part of the modern territory of Mexico, which is only 1/20th of the area of North and South America.

So the Aztecs represent less than 1% of Native time x 5% of Native space. In other words, the Aztecs represent less than 0.05% (1/20th of 1%) of Native history.

To put that into perspective, it would be like understanding US history--the Revolution, the Constitution, westward expansion, commerce, foreign policy, slavery, the Civil War, immigration, etc.--by looking only at California from 2000 to 2001. It's about as close to irrelevant as you can get without being totally irrelevant.

And this doesn't begin to address the reasons for the Aztecs' human sacrifice. For many if not most of them, it was a deeply held religious conviction. I'm not sure we can prove a single Aztec felt an unhealthy lust for blood or a depraved indifference to human life.

For all these reasons, citing the Aztecs in a Native debate is ridiculous. It's like citing one white man who gave an Indian a hand to counteract 500 years of conquest and genocide. It's a joke.

For more on the Aztecs, see The Origin of Yaomachtia and Alternatives to Dark Horse's TUROK.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Pawnee occasionally sacrificed a virgin from another tribe. The United States was allied with the Pawnee. Ergo, the human sacrifice argument doesn't really cut it ("it", being an incision in the chest, from which the heart is removed). Of course, it's no different than "spreading democracy" today, no?

Hunter C. Eden said...

Wow. They ruined it. How inconsiderate of those mean Aztecs. I'll grant that you acknowledge most people don't take the time to understand the reasoning behind Aztec sacrifice, but if this isn't a culturally-dismissive statement, I don't know what is. Most of our sources on the numbers of people sacrificed are from sources overseen (if not written by) the Spanish. Mesoamericanists have found that had the Aztecs really sacrificed as many people as claimed, Mexico would have been a depopulated wasteland, not the thriving Indigenous cultural center it was.

But sacrifice or not, I don't think Aztec society was any more violent than European or any other human society. They didn't torture people like the Spaniards did, stage inhumane sporting spectacles like bear-baiting, or practice the sort of total warfare that other civilizations used against civilian populations. And given that all human societies are composed of, well, humans, shouldn't we expect a little unsavory and violent behavior even from Indians?

You like to point out the deficiencies in everybody else's portrayal of Indians. Maybe you should put down your crusader complex and refute commonly-held (and inaccurate) stereotypes about the Aztecs rather than repeat them.

Hunter C. Eden said...

Wow. They ruined it. How inconsiderate of those mean Aztecs. I'll grant that you acknowledge most people don't take the time to understand the reasoning behind Aztec sacrifice, but if this isn't a culturally-dismissive statement, I don't know what is. Most of our sources on the numbers of people sacrificed are from sources overseen (if not written by) the Spanish. Mesoamericanists have found that had the Aztecs really sacrificed as many people as claimed, Mexico would have been a depopulated wasteland, not the thriving Indigenous cultural center it was.

But sacrifice or not, I don't think Aztec society was any more violent than European or any other human society. They didn't torture people like the Spaniards did, stage inhumane sporting spectacles like bear-baiting, or practice the sort of total warfare that other civilizations used against civilian populations. And given that all human societies are composed of, well, humans, shouldn't we expect a little unsavory and violent behavior even from Indians?

You like to point out the deficiencies in everybody else's portrayal of Indians. Maybe you should put down your crusader complex and refute commonly-held (and inaccurate) stereotypes about the Aztecs rather than repeat them.

Hunter C. Eden said...

Wow--the Aztecs ruined it. How inconsiderate of them. A more constructive way to frame that argument might be to say that Spanish sources greatly exaggerated the extent of Aztec sacrifice (as I understand it, some Mesoamericanists crunched the numbers and found that had sacrifices really occurred to the extent that Spanish detractors claimed, Mexico would have been completely depopulated). Or maybe to point out that sure, Aztecs practiced human sacrifice on a large scale, but they didn't practice judicial torture like the Spaniards did or inhumane spectacles like bear-baiting that European societies had no problem with. Or possibly to bring up the idea that there's not a lot of daylight between human sacrifice to the Aztec divinities and human sacrifice in the name of the Holy Inquisition. But did their naughty behavior make it hard on poor, crusading white men like you, Rob? I'm sure Tlacaeleltzin would apologize. If only he had known. . .

I'll grant you that you mention the deeply-held religious conviction with which the Aztecs practiced sacrifice, but the presumption with which you say they "ruined it" for other Indians (the Aztecs would no more have considered themselves "Indians" than the Spaniards would have thought of themselves as "Europeans" or "whites") is both disgusting and pretty hard to swallow from a guy who seems so keen on calling out everybody else on their supposed stereotypes. How is this any different from the culturally imperialistic attitude you so shrilly despise in others?