Thursday, October 19, 2017

European Colonialism Is the Central Fact of Politics on Earth


"Columbus' treatment of the Hispaniola natives was even worse [than his treatment of natives in the Bermudas] as his soldiers raped, killed, and enslaved them with impunity at every landing. When Columbus fell ill in 1495, soldiers were reported to have gone on a rampage, slaughtering 50,000 natives. Upon his recovery, Columbus organized his troops' efforts, forming a squadron of several hundred heavily armed men and more than twenty attack dogs. The men tore across the land, killing thousands of sick and unarmed natives. Soldiers would use their captives for sword practice, attempting to decapitate them or cut them in half with a single blow" (source; click to enlarge).

by Gaius Publius

I spent the last week and a half on the west coast (Pacific Ocean side) of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, blissfully free of U.S. television and the manufactured-angry social disease we call American political discourse. No hyped-by-hate "God, guns and gays" types among the BC rurals; just nice reasonable people who like living outdoors.

The week off included the U.S. holiday known as Columbus Day, reading about which exposed me to this excellent piece by Jon Schwarz, of Tiny Revolution fame, now writing at The Intercept. This is one of the most perceptive, dot-connecting pieces I've read in a long time, so I'd like to tease it to you, and in the process comment on what I take to be its main point.

First the tease — its intro:
Columbus Day Is the Most Important Day of Every Year

Today, October 12, is Columbus Day. Every year it’s officially the second Monday in October; this year it falls on the exact anniversary of the Niña, Pinta and Santa María’s arrival in the Bahamas 523 years ago.

So to mark today, I’ve made a list. I’m sure to almost all Americans it would seem like a meaningless jumble of things with no connection to each other. But in fact it tells one story, the story of why October 12, 1492, is the most important date in human history — and demonstrates that you have to understand that in order for anything happening on Earth now to make sense:
  • $ (i.e., the dollar sign) — and Cerro Rico, Bolivia’s “Mountain That Eats Men”
  • the movies War of the Worlds and Avatar — and the movies Apocalypse Now and Day of the Jackal
  • the original seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony — and the “generous offer” made by Israel to the Palestinian Authority in 2000
  • Cinco de Mayo — and the investor-state dispute settlement section of the Trans-Pacific Partnership
  • an abortive 2003 attempt to bring Nelson Mandela to the United Nations to oppose the invasion of Iraq — and South Koreans protesting the 2010 Israeli attack on the first Gaza flotilla
  • Hitler’s October 17, 1941, discussion of the invasion of the Soviet Union — and the Washington Redskins
Confused? Here’s the explanation...
The thread of connections among those bulleted objects and events is a fun ride; to take it, I recommend reading the piece from start to finish.

But let's just focus on this part, its main point:
Columbus’ landfall in the Western Hemisphere was the opening of Europe’s conquest of essentially all of this planet. By 1914, 422 years later, European powers and the U.S. controlled 85 percent of the world’s land mass.

White people didn’t accomplish this by asking politely. As conservative Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington put it in 1996, “The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion … but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.”

In fact, European colonialism involved a level of brutality comparable in every way to that of 20th-century fascism and communism, and it started with Columbus himself. Estimates of the number of people living on the island of Hispaniola when Columbus established settlements range from 250,000 to several million. Within 30 years of his arrival, 80 to 90 percent of them were dead due to disease, war and enslavement, in what another Harvard professor cheerily called “complete genocide.” Contemporary accounts of the Spaniards’ berserk cruelty really have to be read to be believed.

Formally, of course, European colonialism largely ended in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Yet informally, it has — behind the mask of what Pope Francis recently called “new forms of colonialism” — continued with surprising success.

Thus European colonialism is the central fact of politics on earth. And precisely because of that, it is almost never part of any American discussion of politics. Anthropologists call this phenomenon “social silence” — meaning that in most human societies, the subjects that are core to how the societies function are exactly the ones that are never mentioned. [bolded emphasis mine]
Take just that one idea, which I took for my title — European colonialism is the central fact of politics on earth — take it to heart, and then reflect on the world we see today. Schwarz: "If we maintain the social silence around colonialism, our past and present will always be bewildering..." Indeed.

From the start of the early march into Europe of the Proto-Indo-European people from their home near the Caucasus Mountains, with their father-gods — both "Zeus" and "Jupiter" are derived from proto-Indo-European words that became "deus pater" — and their Bronze Age daggers, spears and axes, the European "West" has been consistently among the most rapacious tribes of our species.

Bringing It All Back Home

This is not about the past, but the past continued in us. What we did, we do — in our Ferguson-like neighborhoods; in our guilt-or-innocence-be-damned, glory-in-punishment courts and prisons; in abandoned storm-torn Puerto Rico; in our eager, invisible bombings and dronings throughout the Middle East and into Asia; in our happy, unironic interference in every election on earth we care about; and so much more. Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, certified a coup in Honduras that led to the deaths of many, like activist Berta Cáceres, yet she complains with loud voice and apparent impunity that foreign electoral "interference" may have damaged her own electoral chances.

As Schwarz says, international colonizing by Western Europe and its Sun King offspring, the United States, is entirely invisible to its perpetrators.

Yet nothing about the state of the world today — from a nearly inevitable climate change disaster to wealth inequality beyond the dreams of avarice — can be understood without accounting for the invisible celebrations of rape and plunder that underpin everything done by the West to the rest of the world.

Want proof? Pull out your smart phone and consider where it was made — in factories surrounded by suicide nets to stop the wage slaves working there from killing themselves as the better alternative to their lives and conditions — all so we can have the next benefits of Western life, like faster texting and sexier screen bezels.

Click to enlarge; source.

Or, to bring this full circle, consider Columbus again (emphasis mine):
When slaves held in captivity began to die at high rates, Columbus switched to a different system of forced labor. He ordered all natives over the age of thirteen to collect a specified amount (one hawk's bell full) of gold powder every three months. Natives who brought the amount were given a copper token to hang around their necks, and those found without tokens had their hands amputated and were left to bleed to death.

The Arawaks attempted to fight back against Columbus's men but lacked their armor, guns, swords, and horses. When taken prisoner, they were hanged or burned to death. Desperation led to mass suicides and infanticide among the natives. In just two years under Columbus' governorship more than half of the 250,000 Arawaks in Haiti were dead.
From Columbus' own pen:
"Now that so much gold is found, a dispute arises as to which brings more profit, whether to go about robbing or to go to the mines. A hundred castellanos are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand, and for all ages a good price must be paid."
Yes, that's a proud reference to the availability of nine-year-old native girls.

There's Always a Price...

The only difference between then and now is the timing of the price. The generations before us paid some price for their conquests, but not nearly in proportion to the damage they were doing. The West lives well despite its way of getting there.

I think this generation though, guilty and innocent alike, unlike those previous, will reap the full reward of the Indo-European rape of the world. The "war on (dark-skinned) terror" is already coming home, to Europe as a start in the form of angry and suffering climate and war refugees, and soon I fear to the paranoid, unguardable U.S. Can the United States be considered safe in a globalized world, with our myriad shopping malls and power stations, even if we turn every public gathering place into the airport? Can anyone doubt that the response to global colonial war will be global blowback?

Just as the rich have created this breaking world, so too can they heal it — by standing down. I'm not sure that's in our future though, since our future is still in their hard and grasping hands.

World-historical thoughts as we ponder the next ten years.


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At 8:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, but look again to history for clues.

When the rapacious few create enough hunger and misery, it SOMETIMES end with the heads of the rapacious few on pikes or dangling from bridges or burning in a pyre. France, Russia, Italy, Germany, Cambodia... Probably others.

It is never the rapacious few who stand down. It is the raped masses who finally stand up. Sometimes they had help from outside. Not always.

Point is leaving the rapacious few alive never fixes anything.

Also, what comes after the masses rise up isn't always, or even often, better. It's just different. And soon another caste of rapists rise up to take their place.

At 7:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Changes the way one perceives the meaning of "wage slave", doesn't it?

It is not a coincidence that the corporation arose out of Europe at the same time as colonialism. It was easier for a collection of wealthy merchants to convince the sovereign to "invest" the assets of the nation, especially its military might, in the effort to secure private profit.

There is no such thing as a sovereign nation anymore. Corporatism has bought all of the pertinent agencies which facilitate the pursuit of profit, and are now using those agencies to facilitate the replacement or elimination of any government power not useful to the owners - especially mere mortal humans.


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