Uncommon Sense

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.”


“(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.)

November 11, 2016

Like a Good Story? (You Shouldn’t)

We are all primed by evolution to enjoy a good story and stories are one of the primary ways we learn. Unfortunately, such stories need not have anything to do with the truth.

For example consider the Christian narrative about the history of Christianity. They refer all of the Bible stories and then basically indicate that the power of the ideas in scripture were so potent, that Christianity grew strongly, even through a period of persecution. Uh, hunh.

It makes a great story but there are a few holes in it. For one Jesus was clearly killed by the Romans occupying Palestine for criminal behavior. The “persecutors” of Christianity then turn out to be … Romans, of course. And then we end up with … wait for it … the Roman Catholic Church by the end of the fourth century. WTF?

The actual history of Christianity is that it didn’t spread like wildfire, in fact it barely survived the first couple of centuries and only did due to immense efforts to create new scriptures to support the movement. Early Christianity also was comprised of many, many sects, none of which agreed over much of anything.

The breakthrough came when a Roman Emperor saw that Christianity was a tool that could support the failing Roman empire, by supplying a narrative of hope for the future that none of the pagan sects did. Christians then began fighting tooth and nail to get as much as they could in the way of perquisites from the Roman administration and at the same time were warring with other sects to see who would have the Emperor’s ear (and bend it they did).

This process went on for decades and through several emperors until the Christian bickering just got to be too much (if you consider false testimony, beatings, murders, and lies bickering) and a bull was issued “Nullis  Haeriticis” (No Heretics). This sounds like something a pope would issue but this was issued in 380 CE by the Roman Emperor. This followed close on the heels of the Emperor defining true Christians as those who believed in the holy trinity, the fact that as many as half of all Christians were Arians not very long prior to this point notwithstanding. Arians believed Jesus to be the son of god and not god himself, just like it said in scripture. So, they had to go. The Roman emperor outlawed all heretics and defined Christian orthodoxy. (I guess the Catholic Church sold naming rights to the empire.)

So what did all of the “good Christians” of the time do … bleated like sheep I guess, because they let their former arch enemy define who they were and what they would believe. I turns out that the biggest persecutors of Christians were other Christians.

Now consider the election ordeal we all just suffered through. Yes, there are false narratives galore, but not the ones you think. The underlying narrative that no one is paying any attention to is the meme that states that the U.S. is a classless society, that we acknowledge no classes. This narrative has never been true and is not true now.

Americans tend to snigger when we are told that Australia was colonized by criminals. We don’t then turn to look at who was “sent” to the American colonies. We are “told” in school, that those people were fleeing religious persecution and came here to be free. Bullshit. The vast majority of the shiploads of English to America were considered, well, today, we refer to them as “white trash.” We were sent England’s “surplus population,” the indigent, the lazy, the criminal, “rubbish” they were called, human refuse. For them they were told the streets were paved with gold kind of things, while the elites were receiving reports of swamps and disease and hardships, the kind of place you want to send your refuse to.

We are told that the first settlers were fleeing religious persecution but they actually came as apart of a corporate effort (yes, there were corporations and all on the Mayflower were signed on to one) designed to exploit the natural bounty of the New World. (Yes, send gold back, please.) That a very large percentage of these “colonists” died from exposure, hunger, disease, etc. was sloughed off back home in England because their lives weren’t all that valuable. For Pete’s sake, look at the skill sets possessed by those on the Mayflower manifest; few had any practical value in surviving in a wilderness. America’s underclasses have been with us ever since.

So, in this day, we have the “deplorable” supporters of Donald Trump. (Jeez, Hillary, where did you learn politics? You just had to come up with your own 47% tag.) Guess who they are? They are the U.S. under classes … and a great many more. Several decades back the Democrats decided they didn’t need “working people” as the core of their constituency and so dumped them. The consequences? After unions helped get President Obama elected, for example, he couldn’t be bothered to help the unions with an effort to restore the old perfectly legal recruitment card system that conservatives in Congress had eliminated to undermine the unions. The GOP hasn’t done anything substantive for any of “those people” for decades and, instead, chose to fling social wedge issues their way as sops (without actually making any “progress on them, mind you) while supporting effort after effort to give huge benefits to the rich.

The Tea Party was unable to jar the GOP out of its rut and the Democrats were clueless at to what was wrong in their camp, and so the result is: a presidential candidate who is neither a Republican nor a Democrat gets elected. The sad thing is Mr. Trump was mistaken for a populist when there was a true populist available, one who had almost no baggage and a flaming passion to help America’s under classes, Bernie Sanders.

If a flaming Molotov Cocktail thrown through your front window doesn’t get your attention, what is going to happen next time if the needs of America’s under classes continue to be not met? (I will take bets at any odds that those needs will be ignored in the mad rush to get more and more benes for rich individuals and corporations over the next four years. Any takers?)


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