Class Warfare Blog

April 12, 2020

The Words We Use to Protect Ourselves, Thus Doing Irreparable Harm

Filed under: History,language — Steve Ruis @ 11:35 am
Tags: , , ,

I was viewing and reading the other day and came across two rather extraordinary statements. Here they are:

The buffalo hunt was an instrument for opening the west to settlement.”

and

“(referring to the early civilizations on the Nile, Indus, and Yellow rivers) Bountiful agriculture produced grain surpluses to feed these ever more populous settlements, the rulers coordinating the labour of growing workforces to construct impressive civil engineering projects like expansive irrigation systems, roads and canals, to further increase food production and its distribution.

Do you see what they have in common?

Both are descriptions of brutal treatment of the majority of a population for the benefit of someone other than the population itself, using breezy language.

The phrase “opening of the West to settlement,” is fascinating. The “West” referred to is the American West and the entire history of the “settlement” of the American West is rife with Indian troubles. Every time “settlers” started “settling” they were attacked by Indians. Damned savages! If only they had been civilized!

Well, the reason the “settlers” were attacked is that the land they were “settling” was already settled by Native Americans. The Anglos were invaders, in the terms of a subsequent generation, they were squatters on other people’s land. There was no need for “settlement” as that had already taken place. There were already people living on that land and the march west, was nothing more than an invasion that generated a genocide of immense scale.

Settlers, my ass. Of course, as a youth I swallowed this bilge easily. By accepting the term “settlers” I was accepting that the land was not “settled” and so was “open for settlement” by brave god-fearing white folk, like me. I believed the “Indians” attacked because they were savage, war-like people. In college I realized that most of what I “knew” of Native Americans came from the myriad cowboy movies I had viewed. And formal history wasn’t much better because of these words that were chosen to salve our egos, words like settlers, instead of invaders or conquistadors.

And the second quote. Egad, talk about white washing.

“Bountiful agriculture produced grain surpluses” uh, exactly how did this happen? Hunter gatherers got together in a barn one evening and one of them convinced the others that this agriculture was going to be a really good deal for them, so they all switched over? Sedentary agriculture was a disaster for many, many people before it got going and even after. People had a major reduction in variety in their diets because instead of having different harvests of fish, game, fruits, plants, and whatnot with the seasons, they spent all of their time in a much more labor intensive practice: farming. Because they ended up eating mostly what they grew, instead of what Nature provided, their teeth rotted, their children grew up smaller, and their health deteriorated because of the disease pits formed when so many people lived so closely together. A drought, or flood, or poor harvest for any reason mean starvation.

Oh, but, “the rulers coordinating the labour of growing workforces.” I am sure were a great help, providing guards to make sure the workers didn’t run off and in acquiring slaves by capturing the populations of whole villages in the vicinity. The rulers soon found out that forced labor is expensive because of the numbers of guards needed, so they created the concept of god-kings to recruit invisible gods guards who worked for free. It is hard not to do a task a god or god’s emissary says you have to do.

And, oh joy, all of those “impressive civil engineering projects like expansive irrigation systems, roads and canals, to further increase food production and its distribution” were really helpful . . . to the workers? No, I don’t think so. The distribution network was taking the grain they produced elsewhere, to feed people like soldiers, that couldn’t be afforded before the imposition of forced labor agriculture. Thus, agriculture allowed the elites to make war for fun and profit, again not with any benefit to the workers creating the surpluses that fed the elites and their minions.

And, did you notice the phrase, that the grain surpluses were in part “to feed these ever more populous settlements.What was being settled? Empty land? Why? The ever growing populations were created by the grain surpluses and a biological law which says that the population of a species will expand to the limits of its food supply. If you didn’t have the grain surpluses or didn’t make them available to people, the populations would not grow. So, who benefited from this? Not the workers. There never was much of a benefit to the workers at all. Grain was a crop that could be dried and stored. Otherwise food preservation was quite difficult. There is some evidence of mastodon carcasses having been immersed in arctic temperature lakes as a form of preservation, but most food spoiled fast, so it was eaten as soon as it was harvested as a general rule (a whole mastodon being a bit of a challenge). There was no surpluses for hunter-gatherers as a general rule. But because grain can be dried and stored and kinda sorta will keep you alive if you eat it, it was something that the elites could tax . . . by force, mind you, that could be spent (in trade, as food, etc.) later. So, agriculture was by the workers for the grain the elites wanted and the elites didn’t care fuck-all for the workers. Most of them were slaves anyway and treating them well wasn’t necessarily an advantage, certainly not an economic one.

Such breezy truncations of history, like the above, hide the incredible damage done by the elites of the general masses of people under their influence. And what about the poor buffalo which were hunted almost to extinction “to open the West to Settlement.” What a crock of bullshit. The buffalo were hunted to extinction to make a profit, for everyone in line from the frontier buffalo hunters to the wearers of buffalo hide garments in the East. No one hunted out the buffalo to win a “war” against the Native Americans, thus opening up the West to settlement. (See, no Indians here . .  well, left any way.)

By accepting such tripe we salve the wounds we should all feel when thinking back on our history. There is much good and much bad. Both encourage us to do more good in the future. By turning the appallingly bad into a “good” neither informs us of our capabilities or warns us of the dangers of certain paths we might take into the future. Ego protection should never be the watch word of history, but we have allowed it to be so in this country and are still working to massage the past to make us look better. (Look up debates over Texas school books for American history of late for examples.)

6 Comments »

  1. Much like the note in history books that such and such a place, thing, animal, natural wonder was ”discovered by” ….
    Of course, those who had lived there for perhaps thousands of years simply didn’t count.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Arkenaten — April 12, 2020 @ 2:53 pm | Reply

  2. We have this amazing knack for whitewashing history, erasing what really happened and completely rewriting it to favor the exploiters, the profiteers, slave traders, soldiers of fortune and other slime that did this. I spent a lot of time in college in history classes, and one specifically looked into the European exploitation of Africa during the 19th century and what really took place in Africa, what those people suffered at the hands of the Europeans can only be described as an abomination. Thriving civilizations were wiped out due to the introduction of disease, enslavement, outright theft of land and resources and flat out genocide.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by grouchyfarmer — April 12, 2020 @ 10:28 pm | Reply

    • And everybody took advantage of the ignorance of Black Africans. The Muslims were the primary movers in getting the global slave trade going, for example. And I wonder about the current interest China has in Africa, where they are investing a great deal of money and effort. I hope those efforts are to the mutual benefits of those countries peoples, but considering how authoritarian and corrupt those societies tend to be, I strongly doubt it.

      On Sun, Apr 12, 2020 at 10:28 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Like

      Comment by Steve Ruis — April 13, 2020 @ 8:54 am | Reply

      • The Arab traders decimated large parts of Africa with their slave trade back in the 1800s. I recommend reading the journals, articles and books written by Richard Burton (the 19th century explorer, not the actor) about his travels in Africa. He gives vivid and horrifying descriptions of what the slave traders were doing to people and the consequences of their actions.

        I am nervous about China’s attempts to influence Africa and SE Asia as well. Massive investments in agriculture and farmland, lending money for infrastructure to countries that will almost certainly never be able to pay the loans back. It is very worrying.

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        Comment by grouchyfarmer — April 13, 2020 @ 10:47 am | Reply

  3. I hope you are not suggesting that taxation by the powerful was a result of the formation of the agricultural societies. I am pretty sure that a similar part of taxation would have existed in the hunter-gatherer tribes as well, in the form of the chief or leader taking the biggest and/or tastiest pieces of food for himself – I don’t know if we have a direct proof of that, but many pack animals display that behavior, some with multiple ranks in hierarchy of who gets to eat first.

    Like

    Comment by List of X — April 20, 2020 @ 11:16 am | Reply

    • Agriculture was driven by the elites, not the hoi polloi. A good book on this topic is *Against the Grain*, which I reviewed.

      On Mon, Apr 20, 2020 at 11:16 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Comment by Steve Ruis — April 20, 2020 @ 12:15 pm | Reply


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