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Ch. 5 - Ruthlessness and the Origin of Civilization 
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Post Ch. 5 - Ruthlessness and the Origin of Civilization
This thread is for discussing Chapter 5 - Ruthlessness and the Origin of Civilization. You can post within this framework or create your own threads.

Chris O'Connor

"For Every Winner, There Are Dozens Of Losers. Odds Are You're One Of Them"




Sat Jul 03, 2004 9:47 am
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Post Re: Ch. 5 - Ruthlessness and the Origin of Civilization
Quote:
We are now living in a world where decent & sincere [people] attack the US for removing Saddam Hussein [and] condem [the President] for declaring a war on terrorism"


OVER SIMPLIFICATION. No body is attacking us for removing Saddam Hussein or for fighting terrorism!

I am not even going to explain this mess away, it should be obvious.

Mr. P.

P.S. Can anyone feel the level of my anger rising!

;)

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out ya seat and jump around - House of Pain

Edited by: misterpessimistic  at: 8/5/04 7:47 pm



Thu Aug 05, 2004 6:47 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 5 - Ruthlessness and the Origin of Civilization
Quote:
Who legitimizes legitimacy? The moment this question is permitted to be asked, the foundation of legitimacy has been swept away...Once you are no longer obeying those in authority from custom and habit, what do you substitute in it's place?


I Harris for real? My answer to the last question is: American Democracy!

This guy is incredible!

Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out ya seat and jump around - House of Pain




Thu Aug 05, 2004 7:27 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 5 - Ruthlessness and the Origin of Civilization
Quote:
When an old legitimacy collapses, or is pushed over the cliff, what takes its place is always the ruthless. (110)


hee...I am going to make a half joking statement here, so if anyone takes umbrage, you can only take half of that too.

Bill Clinton's legitimacy was under assault since he was elected. If you look at what he was charged with, not much was of any substance. So, did the Neo-Cons push our legitimacy "over the cliff" and thus, being ruthless, "Fight their way into the apparatus of power...precisely as the Nazis did"?

This leads to:

Quote:
What is so terrible about gang rule is not what happens while the gang rules, but what happens after it is gone...Where gangs of ruthless thugs have ruled, they have made it virtually impossible for anyone else to rule except another gang of thugs.


Many believe, as do I, that this is the status of our current administration and the neo-con crowd. The modus operandi of these 'thugs' seems to be secrecy (as we see in the push to seal presidential records and the reluctance of testifying or releasing information and/or records), character assassination against anyone who does not tow the party line or kiss the proverbial ass of the President now in charge and clandestine tactics of re-districting local congressional districts prior to elections and well before the allowed time frame for doing so (coincides with the census usually).

Ok...I am done...remember, this is HALF joking!

Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out ya seat and jump around - House of Pain




Thu Aug 05, 2004 7:42 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 5 - Ruthlessness and the Origin of Civilization
Dissident:

I do not say that American Democracy is the panacea for all societal ills, but the theory of American Democracy is a good one.

No, democracy is not strictly American, I simply referred to the American 'brand' of Democracy, which, again, is good in theory.

Quote:
The vast majority of Americans spend the vast majority of their lives working in situations where they do not elect their leaders, do not participate in the planning of production and goals of industry, are in constant conflict with their peers struggling to get up the company ladder, and oblivious to the ecological footprint their industry is staining the earth with.


I agree with you. As I have said before, it is the people who enact a theory that make it all fall apart!

Thanks for your input...I kinda knew you were going to bite on this one! ;)

Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out ya seat and jump around - House of Pain

Edited by: misterpessimistic  at: 8/6/04 10:33 am



Fri Aug 06, 2004 9:32 am
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Post Re: Ch. 5 - Ruthlessness and the Origin of Civilization
Mr. P,

I agree with your sentiment of aghast at Harris' seeming disregard for the best virtues of dissent and rebellion against illegitimate authorities.

I don't follow you all the way to naming "American Democracy" as the cure to his non-existent ailment.

As I see it, democracy is not American, or Swiss, or Bengalese...any more than Science or Literature or Mathematics. These capacities for human problem solving, communication, justice seeking, and moral living are not National treasures- they are precious human abilities that thrive across the planet.

Now, I think the major gist of your comment is that the virtue of democracy thrives best in an American context.

I think this is right and wrong: right when seen within our borders; but a terrible wrong when seen by way of our foreign policy. In other words, Nations can be nominally democratic on the inside, but terrifically despotic to outsiders.

Internal democracy is no guarantee of external democracy.

And, what do I mean by democracy? I think Michael Albert's quintet of virtues, as explained in his model of Participatory Economics PARECON, are a great place to start:

1. Participatory Planning
2. Self-Management
3. Diversity
4. Solidarity
5. Ecological Sustainability

As we begin to apply these virtues to all areas of American life, we see how little democracy there actually is...especially when we demand that they be implemented in the workplace and the marketplace.

The vast majority of Americans spend the vast majority of their lives working in situations where they do not elect their leaders, do not participate in the planning of production and goals of industry, are in constant conflict with their peers struggling to get up the company ladder, and oblivious to the ecological footprint their industry is staining the earth with.

Now, Harris argues that 'custom and habit' should direct the messy and imperfect world of democracy. His view of democracy is one deeply rooted in American history: Civilization is a protection of the opulent few against the vulgar masses.

If this is Civilization, who needs Barbarism?




Fri Aug 06, 2004 10:20 am
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Post Re: Ch. 5 - Ruthlessness and the Origin of Civilization
Did I ever tell you how much I appreciate how thorough your analysis is? AND verbose!! lol

I will be digesting your post when I find some spare time!

Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out ya seat and jump around - House of Pain

Edited by: misterpessimistic  at: 8/11/04 8:39 pm



Wed Aug 11, 2004 7:37 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 5 - Ruthlessness and the Origin of Civilization
Quote:
A civilization comes into being whenever a large number of people begin to feel visceral shock whenever they are confronted with the state of savagery.

Harris, p. 71

To Harris, civilization is a psychological phenomenon -- a product of imagination. Yet, it is not the imagining of possibilities that creates civilization, rather the limitation of imaginable possibilities that allows us to interact. Shame keeps us from thinking of the possibility of certain violent conduct and, therefore, assures peaceable interaction among members of the community (p. 71-72). For Harris, this is the "first and foremost" producer of human civilization that is forgotten by those engaged in the controversy of defining civilization.

The validity of this assertion is important because, through it, Harris argues that, "The limited definition of civilization being used here has nothing to do with high or low culture but only with the way people get along with one another... This definition of civilization offers a completely objective way of determining which of two cultures is more civilized..." While it may be true that this definition offers an objective measure, the question is whether we are truly measuring civilization at all. To give an analogy, if we measure the weight of two different people we have an objective measure, but that objective measurement is useless if we are trying to determine which person is taller. Therefore, it is important to determine if Harris' non-violent/civility measurement is a measurement of civilization at all.

To give a counter example to Harris' thesis, let's look at the example he gives on page 74. Harris gives us Rousseau's Discourse on the Progress of the Arts and Science as an example of someone arguing the benefits of living in a less civilized society. Here, Harris says that Rousseau argued that a society that pushes "civilized values" too far loses vigor. Harris sees that as an example of why someone might "prefer living in a nation that was less civilized." This is a misreading of Rousseau and one with important implications.

Harris sees that one might want to live in a less "civilized" nation because, "Getting people to practice sociability and to abstain from violence, while beneficial to the cause of civilization, if too successful, may weaken other important elements of character." These "important elements of character" to Harris is the ability and willingness to use force or violence in contexts that it is the best response, as illustrated by his example of the red-neck versus the cultured gentleman in dealing with someone like Ted Bundy.

Harris has completely misread Rousseau. This is surprising because what Rousseau was arguing is given right in the title of the work: Discourse on the Progress of the Arts and Science. Rousseau's primary interest is exactly that: the progress of art and science. This is where he sees that vigor is necessary in a society. For Rousseau, the level of the development of the arts and science are the measures of which culture is more civilized. So, Rousseau would disagree vehemently with Harris' statement that the more sociable and polite a people are is "beneficial to the cause of civilization". (An example would be the continual technological and artistic drive in Europe as compared to other civilizations that may have stagnated due to security, stability, and overall peacefulness.)

The question of concern is not which one of these two competing views is correct, just whether Harris, and his resultant objective measure, is correct. For that, we can look at his theory in isolation.

The mistake in Harris' theory is illustrated in his example on pages 74-75 of Eskimo and Tibetan politeness. It shows how he confuses the term 'civility' (i.e., politeness) with 'civilization' and 'civilized' (a quick look-up in the dictionary will show the difference). While it definitely is the case that a certain level of non-violent social interaction is necessary for the advent of civilization, is it this quality that produces civilization?

In his section "Defining Civilization", Harris says:
Quote:
Throughout this book the word civilization is used to mean not this or that culture but rather a quality of all cultures that have obtained to a standard of civilization... By civilization what I mean is a standard like this: one that can be applied across cultures and across history.

For Harris that quality is a sociability, tolerance, and hatred of violence within the social interactions of the community. If this is the case, then all communities that have this quality should develop a civilization or, at least, once this quality is shown in the development of homo sapiens we should see civilizations developing in some parts of the world. Yet, this is not the case.

As early as 10,000 B.C. we see archaeological evidence of villages as large as four to six hundred people (Jericho numbers in the thousands by 6000 B.C.); yet, it is not until approximately 3500 B.C. that something develops that anyone would call civilization. And then the change is fast: ~3500, Mesopotamia; ~3100, Egypt; ~2500, India; ~2000, Minoan; ~1700, China. So, why, if people have been living sociably for so long, did not civilization develop sooner? In fact, it appears that many pre-historic communities where more peaceable than many full fledged civilizations. If Harris is right, then how can this be?

The problem is that Harris' definition of civilization doesn't describe the important historical change that occurs in the organization of people that we call 'civilization'. Under Harris' definition, we would have to call those pre-historic ten thousand year old communities civilizations. But that's not what any of us mean by 'civilization' nor, if it was, would it be useful. To quote from my Webster's, civilization is, "any human society having an advanced stage of development in the arts and sciences and social, political, and cultural complexity." This is why we call the Egyptians, Chinese, Incas, or Aztecs civilizations but not the plains Indian tribes of North America. A civilization occurs when a certain level of complexity has been reached that allows totally new, and much more varied, level of human interaction and experience than even the most well-off primitive community. This does not mean I'd rather live in certain civilizations than that primitive community, as it is often more sociable and tolerant, just that sociability and hatred of violence does not equal civilization.

That primitive communities exhibited more peaceful interactions and "hatred of violence" than some civilizations demonstrates that this is nether a prerequisite nor defining characterization of civilization. The best that can be said about some cross-cultural quality shared by all civilizations is that they all required a certain level of technological advancement and resultant economic surplus that allowed them to release some cultural potential. No matter what, Harris' "civilized values" measurement does not appear to be useful in determining which culture is more civilized.

Nor does his reference to Gobineau's tribalism bolster his argument. Civilizations originating along tribal lines, or because of tribal domination, disprove Gobineanu (Chinese civilization under the Shang should be sufficient to cite). While it may be the case, as Harris says, that, "...those societies that have been able to transcend the tribal us-versus-them stage... have clearly been the big winners of history", it does not mean that this is a quality shared by all civilizations. Which brings Harris to the "Legacy of Sparta", where he seems to start to ignore or misrepresent history altogether.

Harris feels that Sparta invented a new social order based upon the "spirit of the team" which broke man's natural loyalty to kinship and replaced it with loyalty towards the common wealth. For Harris this was unique of Sparta and it revolutionized the world.

The first place to start is Harris' assertion of Sparta claiming an inheritance to their human lawgiver Lycurgus. His conclusions of the affects of having a human versus god-given law are very true, but this was in no way unique to Sparta. The majority of Greek city-states had a similar legend of a wise, ancient, human lawgiver. So why chose Sparta? This is especially confounding since, of all the Greek city-states, Sparta was the one that took the potential lessons of this myth -- that law was the "product of human reflection and deliberation" and therefore presumably changeable with time -- least to heart. The Spartans were horribly conservative in their laws and social structure (so much so that they would not even allow their laws to be written down). This conservatism, and refusal to adapt to an obviously changing world, is what eventually spelled the doom of their society.

In lauding Spartan achievement, Harris says that they are the only society that can claim to have never been conquered, ruled by a tyrant, or embroiled in a civil war for a period of nearly 500 years. But here, Harris is exaggerating, if not completely misrepresenting, the historical record. First look at Harris' claim that Sparta was never conquered or ruled by a tyrant until the 3rd century B.C. Harris wants us to forget Sparta's call for Persian help during the Peloponnesian War and their subjection to Persian policy in its aftermath. Harris also neglects to mention Macedonian hegemony over all of the Peloponnese starting about 337 B.C. But, while this might be nit-picking, Harris is simply misrepresenting historical fact in his claim that Sparta never suffered from civil war.

This is extremely poor history. From history, we know that the Spartiates numbered somewhere between five to six thousand. This makes them an elite minority. They were an aristocracy that governed the majority of there people -- serf-like helots. The helots were the one big obstacle that fettered Spartan foreign policy. Their fear of helot revolt became so extreme that they feared to put their army abroad for even a short period due to not having enough forces at home to quench helot revolt. To claim this is not civil war because the helots were not granted rights as citizens is like saying that the French did not suffer a civil war because the peasants were not part of the monarchy.

It gets worse as Harris starts to just make stuff up:
Quote:
Their [Sparta's] sense of loyalty to their own city-state transcended and trumped all other types of affiliation -- kinship, class, party. No one else in the ancient world managed to pull off this trick. The Athenians, with whom we prefer to affiliate ourselves, did not, nor did any of the other societies whose cultural and artistic achievements were infinitely greater than the Spartans'.

I guess we have to take this one at a time. Harris says, "This is why the case of Sparta is so critical, for it was here, for the first time, that the family was defeated." Well, let's look at Spartan government. Spartan government was shared between a council of elders (sounds kind of like a familial structure) and five magistrates, the ephors. This included the two kings, that had special military powers, in their dual kingship system. This dual kingship was HEREDITARY. These oligarchs were in the end responsible to the assembly of Spartiates which, as previously pointed out, only numbered a few thousand (loyalty to the Spartan citizen is loyalty to aristocratic CLASS). Now, let's look at Athens.

At it's height, Athens had a citizenship (those adult males granted the right of citizen) of approximately 50,000. In the 6th century, constitutional changes replaced kinship with locality as the organizing principle (although, this was rather general throughout all of Greece). By the mid 5th century all citizens could participate equally within the assembly, and class or family prestige was not an impediment to a rise in political power (e.g. the rise to power of Kleon) but was based on one's ability to persuade others. And let's not forget that it was the Athenians that invented the word demokratia, which translates into the sovereign power (kratos) of the citizen body as a whole (demos).

Harris' argument that the concept of the individual was not part of the world that Sparta was a part of does not hold up. One only need to look at the dialogs of Socrates and other Greek literature to see that the concept of the individual existed. Of course, Plato and Socrates were Athenians.

One final point to show that Harris is out of his depth. Harris says:
Quote:
The team is what Plutarch's translator John Dryden called "the commonwealth," the Greeks called polis, the Roman res publica, and what we call the common good or general welfare.

Unfortunately, polis means city, whereas koinonia translates into 'commonwealth' or 'community' (koinos, 'common, shared').




Wed Aug 11, 2004 8:21 pm


Post Re: Ch. 5 - Ruthlessness and the Origin of Civilization
What happens when there is a power vacuum as "When an old legitimacy collapses, or is pushed over the cliff, what takes its place is always the ruthless." as MrP brings up is a good one. The harsh truth is that:

The lesson we forget is that a power vacuum always has many groups that are sucked into the fight to fill the space. This fight is almost always extremely bloody and takes a terrible toll in the region(s) for generations to come. The only exceptions are the cases where one group swoops in quickly with some form of consent from the other surviving groups and destroys any opposition with overwhelming force.

What Philip Bobbitt called "The Long War of the Nation-State" in his book the Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History was what some call WWI, WWII, and WWIII (or the Cold War). For over seventy five years, the governments and peoples of the world fought over which of three systems was best for the Nation-State, Liberal Democracy, Facism and Communism. In over 3/4 of a century, hundreds of millions died. Now that which of the Nation-State systems is best has been decided, The Long War is over.

But now that the Long War is over, there is a vacuum. Not just because many a state collapsed in failure, but because we are leaving the era of the Nation-State and entering a new era, the era of the Market-State as Bobbitt has christened it.

I'm afraid that it took us over 75 years to settle the last war, and now we are in the new "Long War." In which case, we can expect the current instability and conflict to continue until someone has ability to and does impose a global order for the remainder of the era of the Market-State, likely as ruthlessly as is needed to do so.

www.amazon.com/exec/obido...89-9072704




Mon Aug 16, 2004 9:44 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 5 - Ruthlessness and the Origin of Civilization
oh, mr. P. My blood pressure is rising with yours! My logic error expose continues.....
Defining civilization
Quote:
Naive and unsophisticated multicurlturalists think that meters and yards measure different things, which explains how they accept the sophistical nonsense of cultural relativism
This is a really dangerous sentence. See how he mixes a fact (yards vs. meter) with his opinion, trying to say the opinion is true because of the fact? However, there is actually no relation between the two.

With all due respect to Mr Guiliani, who did the world quite a service on 9/11, I must correct one neo-con fed fallacy about his administration. Crime was decreasing in NYC BEFORE he became the mayor. In fact, it peaked in 1989, and he took office in 1992. It is true. Go to the NY State crime statistic web page. The decrease accelerated while he was in office, but to give Rudy the credit is just not accurate.
Gobineau's Paradox
What is going on here? Apparently, civility, or the overcoming of the us vs. them paradigm makes us weaker. But it gives us more strength because we can become a larger group? Which is it! Did you notice how Harris switches from biological groups to social/political groups without mentioning the switch? Very sneaky and they have different implications for his thesis.




Wed Aug 18, 2004 1:16 am
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Post Re: Ch. 5 - Ruthlessness and the Origin of Civilization
Hey Gino! This is in response to you!

Quote:

Naive and unsophisticated multiculturalists think that meters and yards measure different things, which explains how they accept the sophistical nonsense of cultural relativism

This is a really dangerous sentence. See how he mixes a fact (yards vs. meter) with his opinion, trying to say the opinion is true because of the fact? However, there is actually no relation between the two.


I agree...he tries to draw similarities between apples and oranges. He also uses this analogy of measurement in Chapter 7, when he states:

Quote:
"But to think your way is superior to the ways of others is to think that the two ways are commensurable



Wed Aug 18, 2004 7:36 pm
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MurdockThe Glass Bead Game: A Novel by Hermann HesseA Devil's Chaplain by Richard DawkinsThe Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph CampbellThe Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor DostoyevskyThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainThe Moral Landscape by Sam HarrisThe Decameron by Giovanni BoccaccioThe Road by Cormac McCarthyThe Grand Design by Stephen HawkingThe Evolution of God by Robert WrightThe Tin Drum by Gunter GrassGood Omens by Neil GaimanPredictably Irrational by Dan ArielyThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel by Haruki MurakamiALONE: Orphaned on the Ocean by Richard Logan & Tere Duperrault FassbenderDon Quixote by Miguel De CervantesMusicophilia by Oliver SacksDiary of a Madman and Other Stories by Nikolai GogolThe Passion of the Western Mind by Richard TarnasThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le GuinThe Genius of the Beast by Howard BloomAlice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll Empire of Illusion by Chris HedgesThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner The Extended Phenotype by Richard DawkinsSmoke and Mirrors by Neil GaimanThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsWhen Good Thinking Goes Bad by Todd C. RinioloHouse of Leaves by Mark Z. DanielewskiAmerican Gods: A Novel by Neil GaimanPrimates and Philosophers by Frans de WaalThe Enormous Room by E.E. CummingsThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeGod Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher HitchensThe Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama Paradise Lost by John Milton Bad Money by Kevin PhillipsThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson BurnettGodless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists by Dan BarkerThe Things They Carried by Tim O'BrienThe Limits of Power by Andrew BacevichLolita by Vladimir NabokovOrlando by Virginia Woolf On Being Certain by Robert A. Burton50 reasons people give for believing in a god by Guy P. HarrisonWalden: Or, Life in the Woods by Henry David ThoreauExile and the Kingdom by Albert CamusOur Inner Ape by Frans de WaalYour Inner Fish by Neil ShubinNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthyThe Age of American Unreason by Susan JacobyTen Theories of Human Nature by Leslie Stevenson & David HabermanHeart of Darkness by Joseph ConradThe Stuff of Thought by Stephen PinkerA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniThe Lucifer Effect by Philip ZimbardoResponsibility and Judgment by Hannah ArendtInterventions by Noam ChomskyGodless in America by George A. RickerReligious Expression and the American Constitution by Franklyn S. HaimanDeep Economy by Phil McKibbenThe God Delusion by Richard DawkinsThe Third Chimpanzee by Jared DiamondThe Woman in the Dunes by Abe KoboEvolution vs. Creationism by Eugenie C. ScottThe Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanI, Claudius by Robert GravesBreaking The Spell by Daniel C. DennettA Peace to End All Peace by David FromkinThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerThe End of Faith by Sam HarrisEnder's Game by Orson Scott CardThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonValue and Virtue in a Godless Universe by Erik J. WielenbergThe March by E. L DoctorowThe Ethical Brain by Michael GazzanigaFreethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan JacobyCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared DiamondThe Battle for God by Karen ArmstrongThe Future of Life by Edward O. WilsonWhat is Good? by A. C. GraylingCivilization and Its Enemies by Lee HarrisPale Blue Dot by Carl SaganHow We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God by Michael ShermerLooking for Spinoza by Antonio DamasioLies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al FrankenThe Red Queen by Matt RidleyThe Blank Slate by Stephen PinkerUnweaving the Rainbow by Richard DawkinsAtheism: A Reader edited by S.T. JoshiGlobal Brain by Howard BloomThe Lucifer Principle by Howard BloomGuns, Germs and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Demon-Haunted World by Carl SaganBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee BrownFuture Shock by Alvin Toffler

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