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Ch. 2 - 1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus 
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 Ch. 2 - 1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong - by James W. Loewen

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Ch. 2 - 1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus



Fri Feb 01, 2019 4:22 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - 1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus
Chapter 2: Columbus as Conqueror

Discussion Questions:

1. Loewen indicates he feels History is better served being treated as a series of questions rather than answers. Do you find it frustrating to learn what we don't know? Is the pursuit of fact better served by teaching the controversy and scholarly disagreements? Extrapolating a bit, how does this relate to a different kind of question around which there is a "controversy", like Climate Change? Is a controversy rightly called so even if a vast majority (more than 75% of the experts) on any question agree on a conclusion? What disadvantages are there to teaching something as controversial? Are high school and college students ready to accept there are no solid answers in many spheres of knowledge we require them to learn? Are you?

2. Loewen cites Columbus' "discovery" of America as a catalyst in galvanising Europe's view of itself, firstly as a continent, and secondly as something more than a collection of disparate city-states, possibly leading to the nationalism seen in the Enlightenment and Post-Enlightenment eras. Do you agree? How reasonable do you feel it would be to claim that galvanisation occurred as a natural result of the transition from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, where an ordered, clock-like universe became a belief with growing traction?

3. Syphilis is commonly believed to have been brought to the Americas by Europeans. However, recent research (Thoracic aortic aneurysm in a pre-Columbian (210 BC) inhabitant of Northern Chile: Implications for the origins of syphilis by Castro et al.) shows syphilis may well have been in the Americas in the pre-Columbian era, and when it arrived in Europe in the 15th century, it was regarded as new by Europeans (Sex, Science, and Sin: A History of Syphilis in America by Parascandola), suggesting the Europeans caught it from the Native Americans. If true, does this diminish Loewen's position on the damage wrought in the Americas by Europeans, especially through disease?

4. Does the author’s narrative directly address Whites? When he says “our histories” to whose histories is he referring? Americans of all racial backgrounds?

5. Loewen mentions cognitive dissonance as a logical fallacy that allows people to continue believing the inconsistencies in our primary sources surrounding Columbus. What other logical fallacies did notice you are used? Do you feel cognitive dissonance is a problem we deal with today in world events? In which cases?



Wed Feb 06, 2019 12:44 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - 1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus
You ask great questions, but missed a biggun: How do we reconcile Columbus as Heroic Discoverer with the Genocidal Slave Trader?

Quote:
Estimates of Haiti’s pre-Columbian population range as high as eight million people. When Christopher Columbus returned to Spain, he left his brother Bartholomew in charge of the island. Bartholomew took a census of Indian adults in 1496 and came up with 1.1 million. The Spanish did not count children under fourteen and could not count Arawaks who had escaped in the mountains. Kirkpatrick Sale estimates that a more accurate total would probably be in the neighborhood of three million. “By 1516,” according to Benjamin Keen, “thanks to the sinister Indian slave trade and labor policies initiated by Columbus, only some 12,000 remained.” Las Casas tells us that fewer than two hundred full-blooded Haitian Indians were alive in 1542. By 1555, they were all gone.


As I recall, we also covered this in A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. Ah yes, here's a link to that discussion.
zinn-on-columbus-t28504.html



Wed Feb 06, 2019 10:13 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - 1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus
capricorn152244 wrote:
Chapter 2: Columbus as Conqueror Discussion Questions:
I have not got the book, but will offer some responses on these interesting questions anyway. These questions are central to the Booktalk current fiction discussion of George Orwell’s 1984, especially his profound remark that whoever controls the past thereby controls the present and the future. That is why authoritarian regimes place a strong emphasis on censorship and mind control.
capricorn152244 wrote:
1. Loewen indicates he feels History is better served being treated as a series of questions rather than answers. Do you find it frustrating to learn what we don't know? Is the pursuit of fact better served by teaching the controversy and scholarly disagreements?
These questions about the purpose of History highlight the political conflict between the purpose of national identity and the purpose of understanding reality. In general, progressives are more aligned to understanding reality, while conservatives are aligned to national identity expressed through a dominant stable mythology.

But that dichotomy is not a simple clash between seeing critical understanding as good while disparaging traditional dominant identity as evil, although that is how some progressive historians depict it. Critical thinking tends to be negative and passive, while identity thinking is positive and active, seeking dynamic models for emulation.

A critical academic outlook towards history will emphasise social identity and class analysis, valuing collective identity and the experience of subaltern groups, whereas a traditional propaganda approach to history will cultivate national pride, and in the case of the USA, focus on the individual liberty of pioneers, celebrating the heroism of leaders.

That debate taps the complex dialectic of freedom and equality and how the individual relates to the group, themes that are not amenable to any simple settled answers.
capricorn152244 wrote:
Extrapolating a bit, how does this relate to a different kind of question around which there is a "controversy", like Climate Change? Is a controversy rightly called so even if a vast majority (more than 75% of the experts) on any question agree on a conclusion? What disadvantages are there to teaching something as controversial? Are high school and college students ready to accept there are no solid answers in many spheres of knowledge we require them to learn? Are you?
Climate change is a key interest of mine. One feature of school history is that it does not address current politics, because recent issues are far from settled, so the curriculum only covers events up to about half a century ago. For example with climate change, it seems likely to me that neither emission reduction nor climate denial, the two sides of the current political climate controversy, will generate acceptable answers, so the politics remains fluid and uncertain.

The settled science of climate change has not generated equally settled answers about what to do about it, despite the propaganda efforts of advocates. Climate issues are complex, and teaching them as settled can generate a dangerous bigotry and polarisation, with acceptance of myths as fact, generating contempt for people with different views.

Looking at past issues, such as the European conquest of the world, teaching history as triumph or disaster generates social polarisation and a dangerous lack of respect for those who are cast on the bad side.
capricorn152244 wrote:
2. Loewen cites Columbus' "discovery" of America as a catalyst in galvanising Europe's view of itself, firstly as a continent, and secondly as something more than a collection of disparate city-states, possibly leading to the nationalism seen in the Enlightenment and Post-Enlightenment eras. Do you agree? How reasonable do you feel it would be to claim that galvanisation occurred as a natural result of the transition from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, where an ordered, clock-like universe became a belief with growing traction?
After 1492, the immediate events included the Protestant Reformation beginning with Luther in 1517, the high Florentine Renaissance led by geniuses like Leonardo, and then the heliocentric cosmology of Copernicus published in 1543. For all these events, the discovery of the New World was a disruptive and transformative core enabling factor, opening an empirical attitude that cast doubt on traditional flat earth authority and encouraged innovation.
capricorn152244 wrote:
3. Syphilis is commonly believed to have been brought to the Americas by Europeans.
Really? I have long understood that the reverse is the case, since the appalling effect of syphilis was first documented in Europe in 1495. But https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_syphilis shows that there is some uncertainty, even if the Columbus theory is most plausible.
capricorn152244 wrote:
5. Loewen mentions cognitive dissonance as a logical fallacy that allows people to continue believing the inconsistencies in our primary sources surrounding Columbus.
The main dissonance in this case is between achievement and suffering. Traditionally, Americans were proud of the pioneering achievements that built the greatest nation on earth, and saw the destruction of indigenous culture with all its torment and trauma and tears as a necessary and inevitable casualty of economic progress. Columbus is the great hero of the age of discovery. I am not sure what you mean by believing inconsistencies, but generally the problem is that people do not like hearing bad stories about people they admire.
capricorn152244 wrote:
What other logical fallacies did notice you are used? Do you feel cognitive dissonance is a problem we deal with today in world events? In which cases?
Climate denial is the greatest cognitive dissonance, since it involves the belief that technology can deliver economic growth while rejecting the scientific method upon which technological progress is based.

The next worse dissonance in my view is the idea that emission reduction can restore a stable climate, when in fact emission reduction is likely to remove less than 10% of the dangerous carbon from the air. Other methods are needed urgently to get rid of the rest of the global warming potential but investment is constrained by the dominant myth of emission reduction alone.

The climate of disharmony generated by these rival dissonances is generating a rising tide of hysteria.


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Post Re: Ch. 2 - 1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus
Quote:
As soon as the 1493 expedition got to the Caribbean, before it even reached Haiti, Columbus was rewarding his lieutenants with native women to rape. On Haiti, sex slaves were one more perquisite that the Spaniards enjoyed. Columbus wrote a friend in 1500, “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”


To import a question from Howard Zinn, why do we perceive that barbarity, genocide, and progress must be intertwined?



Sun Feb 10, 2019 12:57 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - 1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus
Here's the section on cognitive dissonance.

Quote:
Columbus’s own writings reflect this increasing racism. When Columbus was selling Queen Isabella on the wonders of the Americas, the Indians were “well built” and “of quick intelligence.” “They have very good customs,” he wrote, “and the king maintains a very marvelous state, of a style so orderly that it is a pleasure to see it, and they have good memories and they wish to see everything and ask what it is and for what it is used.” Later, when Columbus was justifying his wars and his enslavement of the Natives, they became “cruel” and “stupid,” “a people warlike and numerous, whose customs and religion are very different from ours.”

It is always useful to think badly about people one has exploited or plans to exploit. Modifying one’s opinions to bring them into line with one’s actions or planned actions is the most common outcome of the process known as “cognitive dissonance,” according to social psychologist Leon Festinger. No one likes to think of himself or herself as a bad person. To treat badly another person whom we consider a reasonable human being creates a tension between act and attitude that demands resolution. We cannot erase what we have done, and to alter our future behavior may not be in our interest. To change our attitude is easier.

Columbus gives us the first recorded example of cognitive dissonance in the Americas, for although the Natives may have changed from hospitable to angry, they could hardly have evolved from intelligent to stupid so quickly. The change had to be in Columbus.


Here's another reference.

Quote:
Readers need not concern themselves with the Indians’ ghastly fate, for American Indians never appear as recognizable human beings. Textbooks themselves, it seems, practice cognitive dissonance.

I expect this last quote is a significant part of the answer to Zinn's question above.



Sun Feb 10, 2019 3:12 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - 1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus
LanDroid wrote:
To import a question from Howard Zinn, why do we perceive that barbarity, genocide, and progress must be intertwined?

To me the obvious answer is that the barbarity was common before the progress, and that mutual deterrence was all that restrained it. Tales of rape as a side effect of war are very common, from the Bible to the extermination of the Albigensians to the Russian troops taking revenge on Germans, and of course to the present day.

Of course soldiers are notoriously bad at restraining aggressive impulses. (Is it something about being trained to stick sharp objects into the belly of the enemy? Or to burn him to death with chemicals? Not sure.) And Loewen makes the obvious observation that military technology had a lot to do with the Europeans coming to dominate other peoples. The world was not much restrained by chivalry or morality in the age of conquest, from the Assyrians to Nanjing. The role of progress seems to have been occasionally to unsettle the balance of power, leading one people to dominate others.

The more remarkable observation may be the lack of genocides. Domination has been, for a long time now, a domain of a small subset of society. The idea that they would wipe out the old residents to make room for their ethnic group is a fundamental misunderstanding - mainly they wanted the largest group of serfs possible, so as to have more bodies (often biological progeny due to rape) for their legitimate heirs to extract value from.



Fri Feb 22, 2019 8:09 am
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - 1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus
Robert Tulip wrote:
capricorn152244 wrote:
1. Loewen indicates he feels History is better served being treated as a series of questions rather than answers. Do you find it frustrating to learn what we don't know? Is the pursuit of fact better served by teaching the controversy and scholarly disagreements?
These questions about the purpose of History highlight the political conflict between the purpose of national identity and the purpose of understanding reality. In general, progressives are more aligned to understanding reality, while conservatives are aligned to national identity expressed through a dominant stable mythology.

But that dichotomy is not a simple clash between seeing critical understanding as good while disparaging traditional dominant identity as evil, although that is how some progressive historians depict it. Critical thinking tends to be negative and passive, while identity thinking is positive and active, seeking dynamic models for emulation.
This strikes me as interesting and useful, but maybe too limited. There are many active roles for history as taught. Looking back at Plutarch, Macaulay and others, we can see that "lessons" were part of the point of the writing. National identity might be one, particularly in times and places with a lot of divisions or centrifugal forces. But I could point to uses of history for analysis of effective policy, for pursuit of authentic religious experience, for emphasis on conflictual themes for purposes of 'building character', and probably more.

Of course you never said those were the only tensions between seeking accurate understanding and teaching instructive lessons. And of course one could turn the typology around (though I would not) to argue that themes of heroic individual achievements or admirable steps toward national unity are discernments of the truth in history while criticisms in terms of cruel effects on the weak are mere propagandistic distractions from what matters.

Robert Tulip wrote:
A critical academic outlook towards history will emphasise social identity and class analysis, valuing collective identity and the experience of subaltern groups, whereas a traditional propaganda approach to history will cultivate national pride, and in the case of the USA, focus on the individual liberty of pioneers, celebrating the heroism of leaders.

That debate taps the complex dialectic of freedom and equality and how the individual relates to the group, themes that are not amenable to any simple settled answers.

I would change this question around even more. The tension between freedom and equality is important and drives a lot of political choice, but in general it seems to be possible to have more of both. Going still further, it seems to be a matter of high level motivations to improve the lot of others, and thus inequality may be a sign of spiritual poverty more than a sign of excess freedom.

Thus the supposedly critical branch of historical analysis may actually be the dynamic one, seeking lessons to be emulated in the form of structures which successfully (rather than tyrannically) improve the lot of the many as a mode of increasing freedom. As usual I would give universal public education as the primary example. There is no reason why it need be the only one, or why it cannot continue to improve its capacity and effectiveness.
capricorn152244 wrote:
Extrapolating a bit, how does this relate to a different kind of question around which there is a "controversy", like Climate Change? Is a controversy rightly called so even if a vast majority (more than 75% of the experts) on any question agree on a conclusion? What disadvantages are there to teaching something as controversial? Are high school and college students ready to accept are no solid answers in many spheres of knowledge we require them to learn? Are you?
Well, first of all, controversy fills seats. As I am learning in trying to write a passable novel, conflict holds attention. Controversies within historical thought (e.g. did the Radical Republicans get ahead of the capacity of the people for treating African-Americans as equals? Is collective security a hopelessly utopian ideal?) draw learners into the questions, and engage attention on the factual issues which might be in dispute.

Second, no solid answers usually means no single answers. More than one thing can be going on at once. More than one force can be in play. Are we ready to accept a complex world in which it may be true that free trade improves the lot of the country overall while holding back those least able to cushion the blow? And if we aren't, does that say more about the world or more about us?

Robert Tulip wrote:
Looking at past issues, such as the European conquest of the world, teaching history as triumph or disaster generates social polarisation and a dangerous lack of respect for those who are cast on the bad side.
Yes, moral standards generate all kinds of messiness, from cognitive dissonance and resulting denial to artificially dualistic shaming of those who don't meet the standard. I think the trick is to learn to "love the sinner" while "hating the sin" which is far harder to do in practice than to say.
Robert Tulip wrote:
capricorn152244 wrote:
2. Loewen cites Columbus' "discovery" of America as a catalyst in galvanising Europe's view of itself, firstly as a continent, and secondly as something more than a collection of disparate city-states, possibly leading to the nationalism seen in the Enlightenment and Post-Enlightenment eras. Do you agree? How reasonable do you feel it would be to claim that galvanisation occurred as a natural result of the transition from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, where an ordered, clock-like universe became a belief with growing traction?
For all these events, the discovery of the New World was a disruptive and transformative core enabling factor, opening an empirical attitude that cast doubt on traditional flat earth authority and encouraged innovation.
Frankly, I think Loewen stretched the point to sell it, and so have you. I was glad to see him underline the role of Spanish gold from the New World, which Charles V spread throughout Western Europe with his obsessive opposition to Protestantism. Hume's analysis of the effect of increased quantities of gold, one of the most successful pieces of economic analysis before Adam Smith, owed its cogency to the experience of the 16th century. No doubt there were dramatic intellectual effects along the lines of the "discovery of ignorance" underlined by Harari. But the idea that, for example, Galileo decided to peer into the heavens because if there was a New World in the big empty spot in the map, what might there be in the sky, is just silly. Prince Henry was part of an on-going process of learning to discover before Columbus sailed, and if anyone deserves credit for opening European minds to the outside world it is the traditional character of Marco Polo that probably earned that place.
Robert Tulip wrote:
generally the problem is that people do not like hearing bad stories about people they admire.

Yes, feet of clay debunking is not fun for most of us. But there is some deep connection to our own internal dynamics, in which we shield ourselves from knowledge of our flaws in order to get on with effective action. Up to a point this can be given a rational justification, but when we begin to insist on untruth from others to shore up our self-image (and what examples could we give of that?) then we have passed over into despair and spiritual suffocation. When 'national identity' plays that role, then we have an illness in the public mind. Call it Magarhea or Maganucleosis. Just don't call it narcissism.



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