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1. Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress 
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Post Re: 1. Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress
Howard Zinn revisits how the Americans dealt with the native population in Chapter 7. It makes for fairly depressing reading. Almost anyone reading about this shameful era would wish that we Americans had been better, though to wish that is also to wish ourselves out of existence. I mean that any such major revision of history skewers entirely the record of births that led up to the production of the particular person I call "myself."

Zinn doesn't argue against the term "American Exceptionalism," but clearly he argues against the same idea. His purpose is to point out that, contrary to the textbooks written for schoolchildren and the typical 4th of July rhetoric, America has plenty of the standard-issue flaws that inflicted other imperial nations. (This might be the only point on which Zinn and Donald Trump might agree. Trump said in 2013 that he disagreed with American Exceptionalism). Perhaps the major imperial flaw is to treat the current occupants as scourges to be eliminated. Now had America integrated rather than exterminated native peoples, maybe that would be a good case for claiming exceptionalism.



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Post Re: 1. Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress
DWill wrote:
. Almost anyone reading about this shameful era would wish that we Americans had been better, though to wish that is also to wish ourselves out of existence. I mean that any such major revision of history skewers entirely the record of births that led up to the production of the particular person I call "myself."

I agree that one must wish for better behavior, but not that the alternative would have been no "me" or "we". The most striking thing about the first chapter (all I have read so far) is the wanton nature of Columbus' mistreatment and exploitation of the Arawaks, by comparison with their simple innocence. It was a person striving to get power and glory in a system geared toward military ferocity. (The Inquisition against "converso" Jews was mostly about desire to confiscate their property. The war against the Moors was a war of expulsion, in the context of a struggle over who would dominate the peasants.)

It would have been understood by the Europeans of the time that dominance was the only way to BE civilized - poverty was just a horror show. You had to dominate the peasants to extract taxes, and you had to extract taxes to own the horses and weapons with which to dominate the peasants. The Scholastics, such as Thomas Aquinas, attempted to justify the position of the noble ruling class by saying they defended the land against even worse treatment by outsiders wanting to take the land, and there was some truth to that, but in general the peasants didn't do a lot better or worse if Carthaginians were replaced by Romans or Romans by Goths or Goths by Moors. The peasants were seen as a resource, like land or forest, and any who were not defended by military force were a free resource. Might as well take some home and sell it, or if you didn't have much space in the ships, kill them for sport. Their land would be taken anyway.

Is it true that that was the only way to organize a civilized society? No, of course not. It was just the way that worked out, given the difficulty of organizing an alternative. A "forced move" in Dennett's sense, but not one that culture could never have found a way around.

DWill wrote:
Perhaps the major imperial flaw is to treat the current occupants as scourges to be eliminated. Now had America integrated rather than exterminated native peoples, maybe that would be a good case for claiming exceptionalism.
That same question still persists, as has been observed. The Republicans of the 80s introduced "trade not aid" as an approach to the problem of less developed countries, and with Europe agreeing and Japan willing to go along, got a huge reduction in tariffs against developing country output, with enormous consequences for relieving poverty in the world.

That is how it looks for the poor to be "integrated rather than", in our case, shut out from a realistic chance of bidding for the scarcest resources. It still remains to be seen whether actual integration will take place, with both cultures learning from the other and each having a fair shot at defining its own future. Some are intent on still treating the whole business as a conflict between systems of, essentially, controlling the workers.

What is most striking to me is that we in the West believe there is an actual alternative to conflict. We have seen the possibilities unleashed by education and industry, and we no longer see history as essentially a nasty battle for domination. Among the many shocking developments is a leveling off of population, (likely to be clear and present in 30 years with the necessary decline in birth rates already in place)! Civilization has reached escape velocity from the poverty that made struggle for domination the only way to be civilized.

Our ability to look back on Columbus and Cortez and see their brutality is a sign of great hope.



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Thu Aug 03, 2017 8:47 am
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Post Re: 1. Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress
Harry Marks wrote:
I agree that one must wish for better behavior, but not that the alternative would have been no "me" or "we".
Strictly speaking that is a logical fallacy. To say I wish the past had been different is to say I wish I did not exist in my current form, since I am the causal product of past history. This issue of identity, causality and conscience raises the problem of moral assessment of depravity, and the causes and impact of the apparent total depravity of Columbus. I view it against the lens of Christian theology, that confession, sorrow, understanding, reconciliation and repentance can produce forgiveness, mercy, love and grace. But the problem is to say what is right and wrong. For example, Zinn implies that property is evil. Against that line, Locke held that property is the basis of sustained prosperity and growth. Until such basic moral questions are sorted, there is no prospect of reconciliation. A similar moral problem is about identity, with the balance between identity constituted as a free individual and as a member of society.
Harry Marks wrote:
The most striking thing about the first chapter (all I have read so far) is the wanton nature of Columbus' mistreatment and exploitation of the Arawaks, by comparison with their simple innocence. It was a person striving to get power and glory in a system geared toward military ferocity. (The Inquisition against "converso" Jews was mostly about desire to confiscate their property. The war against the Moors was a war of expulsion, in the context of a struggle over who would dominate the peasants.)
That frames the problem well. I think of it in terms of the evolution of metallic arms races in Eurasia, per Jared Diamond, which produced a moral framework that you aptly call ferocity. The shift of the Genesis mentality of dominion from stewardship to domination was at the ground of this steady alienation of European civilisation from nature, and hence its ability to utterly dominate indigenous cultures where natural identity was prized. Unfortunately this alienated domination for profit has gained the whole world at the cost of loss of soul, a result that Jesus cautioned against.
Harry Marks wrote:
It would have been understood by the Europeans of the time that dominance was the only way to BE civilized - poverty was just a horror show. You had to dominate the peasants to extract taxes, and you had to extract taxes to own the horses and weapons with which to dominate the peasants. The Scholastics, such as Thomas Aquinas, attempted to justify the position of the noble ruling class by saying they defended the land against even worse treatment by outsiders wanting to take the land, and there was some truth to that, but in general the peasants didn't do a lot better or worse if Carthaginians were replaced by Romans or Romans by Goths or Goths by Moors. The peasants were seen as a resource, like land or forest, and any who were not defended by military force were a free resource. Might as well take some home and sell it, or if you didn't have much space in the ships, kill them for sport. Their land would be taken anyway.
Yes, this pins the moral dilemma of western civilization, and reminds me of Gandhi’s observation in the context of the Raj that western civilization would be a very good idea. Domination is intrinsically barbaric, and yet the propaganda of classics has claimed the reverse, that barbarism is a quality of the savages outside the pale of the civilized. To civilise means to regiment into a productive secure hierarchy, conquering natural impulses in favour of constructed spiritual myths. Again, I think the fallen state of civilization is something well critiqued in the Gospels, and the twisting of Christendom to reinterpret this basic message of conscience into a blessing on domination is a key reason why Christianity is viewed with growing moral ambivalence and even repugnance in the secular world.
Harry Marks wrote:
Is it true that that was the only way to organize a civilized society? No, of course not. It was just the way that worked out, given the difficulty of organizing an alternative. A "forced move" in Dennett's sense, but not one that culture could never have found a way around.
I question the nuance of your ‘of course not’. The essential problem in what has rightly been called conquest of the world by Europe’s warring states is that their mutual competitiveness drove cultural evolution of domination which meant if the Spaniards had accepted the common humanity of subaltern groups they would have failed in their endeavours of imperial victory, and other more ruthless powers would have prevailed over them. The difficulty of organising an alternative is another way of saying that more civil and respectful attitudes were conquered by military power, so had no prospect of achieving state control. That helps to explain Marx’s theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat, that the only way to shift to a more equal society was paradoxically through centralised control of the state.
Harry Marks wrote:
What is most striking to me is that we in the West believe there is an actual alternative to conflict. We have seen the possibilities unleashed by education and industry, and we no longer see history as essentially a nasty battle for domination.
That is an essential point regarding the emergence of the material conditions required for the Christian principle that the last will be first. Such pie in the sky was simply impossible under the moral framework of domination by swords, and yet now with the rise of technological abundance the power of language is gradually becoming greater than the power of physical control. This is a slow meme, but global existence is steadily showing that dialogue and partnership are better sources of security than military power. That however is a millennial theme, and it is dangerous to imagine anyone can suddenly bring on the millennium by rejecting property and borders and armies and the other mechanisms of hierarchical control that ensure political stability.
Harry Marks wrote:
Civilization has reached escape velocity from the poverty that made struggle for domination the only way to be civilized.
No, civilisation has not reached escape velocity, although maybe it will soon. We still face the possibility of a Challenger disaster, a crash and burn before we reach orbit. Climate change is the biggest problem, that unless we remove the excess carbon from the air immediately we will face the collapse of civilization. But fixing the climate will be the decisive step to what you very usefully call civilization reaching escape velocity. This is where I take the strategic view that emission reduction can only lead to war, as confrontation with the alienated culture of fossil fuels will lose. Carbon removal is the only path to climate stability and sustained global abundance.
Harry Marks wrote:
Our ability to look back on Columbus and Cortez and see their brutality is a sign of great hope.
Some hope yes, great hope I don’t know. I still admire the pioneers and discoverers for their creative destruction, even if that is a morally complex position. The challenge in seeing brutality is not to take a simplistic moral position that condemns brutality as evil, given that the regrettable brutal history of conquest has sadly been a necessity in shifting the world into the conditions needed to establish a new unified global paradigm.


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Post Re: 1. Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress
Robert Tulip wrote:
Strictly speaking that is a logical fallacy. To say I wish the past had been different is to say I wish I did not exist in my current form, since I am the causal product of past history.
It's true, in wishing the past had found a way to be better, one is also wishing that the "me" which came from that past was also better. I don't find that problematic. Nor do I think it is the same as saying "there would not be a me."
Robert Tulip wrote:
But the problem is to say what is right and wrong.
More often, the problem is to do the right thing, knowing pretty well which choice is which.
Robert Tulip wrote:
For example, Zinn implies that property is evil. Against that line, Locke held that property is the basis of sustained prosperity and growth. Until such basic moral questions are sorted, there is no prospect of reconciliation.
The only point at which I remember Zinn implying such a thing is when he described the Iroquois society (in Ch. 2, I think). One view has it that such an idyllic (it probably wasn't) structure would be impossible with cities, division of labor, scarcity of farmland and commercial enterprise. I find that to be a post hoc fallacy, like saying that because the Chinese were more economically advanced (which they were until at least 1500) that civilization required a single dominant power, regular flooding which needed central coordination to control, and pictographic writing. What we have is not necessarily the best that could be.
Property is primarily a set of rules about certain uses of violence (theft) being unacceptable. The main benefits of restricting violence are certainly available in a common-property framework, as the monasteries of the Middle Ages demonstrated. One of the key innovations leading to the modern economy was the joint stock company, or limited liability, which was an ingenious modification of the apparent implications of absolute property. Other possible such institutions might have restrained abuses effectively while enabling more, not less, progress. I'll take Locke's analysis over Hobbes' any time.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Domination is intrinsically barbaric, and yet the propaganda of classics has claimed the reverse, that barbarism is a quality of the savages outside the pale of the civilized.
Barbaric life involved raids for property and women. Domination by violence was part of life, including within the life of North American indigenous people. Maybe the Iroquois had learned to tame it without Leviathan extracting the surplus - I don't really know, though it seems possible to me. Hiawatha was known as a lawgiver, somewhat like Solon, but I think mainly for engineering the pact between the five peoples of the language group, a sort of constitution. Wikipedia has it that he was the persuasive force in bringing to reality the vision of a spiritual leader, "The Great Peacemaker". (Note: creative does not have to be destructive in the sense of wanton cruelty and violent exploitation.)
Robert Tulip wrote:
To civilise means to regiment into a productive secure hierarchy, conquering natural impulses in favour of constructed spiritual myths. Again, I think the fallen state of civilization is something well critiqued in the Gospels, and the twisting of Christendom to reinterpret this basic message of conscience into a blessing on domination is a key reason why Christianity is viewed with growing moral ambivalence and even repugnance in the secular world.
And yet your definition, requiring involvement of hierarchy, buys into this morally repugnant blessing on domination by violence.
Robert Tulip wrote:
The essential problem in what has rightly been called conquest of the world by Europe’s warring states is that their mutual competitiveness drove cultural evolution of domination which meant if the Spaniards had accepted the common humanity of subaltern groups they would have failed in their endeavours of imperial victory, and other more ruthless powers would have prevailed over them.
Well, I think Putin would agree with you, and perhaps Xi Jinping. I accept the inevitability, given the current state of civilization, of arming for an effective defense. I do not agree that the most ruthless power automatically triumphs over those who organize based on reason and mutual respect. Three cases which, while near things, demonstrate the possibilities for mutuality to excel over systems of domination are the revolt by the Netherlands against the Spanish (1600), the defeat of the allied aristocratic powers by the army of the French Revolution at Valmy, and the Salamis and Plataea defeat of the Persians by the allied Greeks.
An even more interesting case is the effort by Charlemagne to enlist the Christian church in civilizing his empire even while they legitimized it. That is, domination for its own sake has the same problem of emptiness as consumption for its own sake in today's hyper-commercial world. When the fear goes away because the battles have been won, you still face the problem of making sense of life.
Robert Tulip wrote:
now with the rise of technological abundance the power of language is gradually becoming greater than the power of physical control. This is a slow meme, but global existence is steadily showing that dialogue and partnership are better sources of security than military power. That however is a millennial theme, and it is dangerous to imagine anyone can suddenly bring on the millennium by rejecting property and borders and armies and the other mechanisms of hierarchical control that ensure political stability.
Especially since nuclear arms mean that ruthlessness has little chance of achieving domination, but also that the fear never goes away. I don't expect any sudden rejection of hierarchical control, (nor, in most cases, would I likely prefer the alternative), but that doesn't stop us from using imagination to ask what an alternative might look like.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
Civilization has reached escape velocity from the poverty that made struggle for domination the only way to be civilized.
No, civilisation has not reached escape velocity, although maybe it will soon. We still face the possibility of a Challenger disaster, a crash and burn before we reach orbit. Climate change is the biggest problem, that unless we remove the excess carbon from the air immediately we will face the collapse of civilization. But fixing the climate will be the decisive step to what you very usefully call civilization reaching escape velocity.
I have said similar things to my economics classes - if we solve the climate problem (and possibly other environmental catastrophes waiting beyond that one), since we will have a level population, we will have reached the point at which the forces of entropy and chaos will not drag us back into poverty and barbarism. It is not an easy transition, from a Malthusian poverty trap to a civilization of steady state population and gradual cultural improvement, but so far the odds are in the favor of culture. It is possible that only the big boost in farmland from the genocide in North America allowed this transition to occur, but I can give potent counterarguments.
Robert Tulip wrote:
I still admire the pioneers and discoverers for their creative destruction, even if that is a morally complex position.
It is possible to see their accomplishments as signs of individual courage and skill without claiming a necessity of the brutal culture in which they operated. Obviously we can never really know what else might have been, and we have to, in some sense, forgive the past even while holding it accountable. Truth and reconciliation go together.



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Post Re: 1. Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress
Harry Marks wrote:
in wishing the past had found a way to be better, one is also wishing that the "me" which came from that past was also better. I don't find that problematic. Nor do I think it is the same as saying "there would not be a me."
The problem is the relevance of hypothetical situations to moral reasoning. Any scenario that begins ‘let us imagine the world was quite different from what we know it to be’, runs the risk of promoting fantasy and delusion.

The fact is, humans have massive embedded trauma due to what the world is like, and what our ancestors and their victims and oppressors did historically. Hypothetical imaginative history is a bit like thinking about multiverses and such like, interesting thought experiments of little practical value. Far better is discussing how people can be sorry and repentant for what actually happened.
Harry Marks wrote:
More often, the problem is to do the right thing, knowing pretty well which choice is which.
Disagree. A classic case of that error is the false argument from Karl Marx that philosophers have interpreted the world but the point is to change it. A lack of careful interpretation leads to a superficial theory of change that has harmful or wasteful results. For example, there is major moral dispute on the balance between freedom and equality, and until such questions are in a better state it is risky to say we know what is good.
Harry Marks wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
For example, Zinn implies that property is evil. Against that line, Locke held that property is the basis of sustained prosperity and growth. Until such basic moral questions are sorted, there is no prospect of reconciliation.
The only point at which I remember Zinn implying such a thing is when he described the Iroquois society (in Ch. 2, I think).
Luckily my kindle edition indexes the book, and it helpfully tells me that Zinn uses the word property 122 times. In the first use, at the end of Chapter One on Columbus and the Indians, Zinn states “behind the English invasion of North America… was that special drive born in civilizations based on private property. It was a morally ambiguous drive… the need for land was transformed into murder of whole peoples.”

The moral ambiguity of property is illustrated by the morality of money, which is both an enabler of activity and exchange and a source of grief, in the Biblical sense of filthy lucre as corrupting into selfish greed.

With even more vigorous emphatics, Zinn compares the arrival of British private property laws in the new world with Stalin’s Ukraine genocide and Churchill’s vindictive bombing of Dresden. In a later mockery of property as brutal and strange, Zinn quotes a Congolese leader asking if the Portuguese allow people to place their feet on the ground, indicating that the concept of property is simply an exercise in social control.

The ambiguity described by Zinn is shown in how the romance of communal ownership persists in the political left, in ways that resist logic and evidence, due to class mistrust of the power of money. Quantitative analysis, such as by the Institute for Liberty and Democracy in Peru, illustrates how the banking collateral unlocked by laws around private capital is a primary area of superiority of the rich nations of the world. It is a big challenge for some non-western people to retain cultural identity while also accepting the wealth creating ideas of property and money.
Harry Marks wrote:
One view has it that such an idyllic (it probably wasn't) structure would be impossible with cities, division of labor, scarcity of farmland and commercial enterprise. I find that to be a post hoc fallacy, like saying that because the Chinese were more economically advanced (which they were until at least 1500) that civilization required a single dominant power, regular flooding which needed central coordination to control, and pictographic writing. What we have is not necessarily the best that could be.
I don’t see a post hoc fallacy here, which occurs when two events which happen sequentially are wrongly assumed to be causally related. It is not a fallacy to say the emergence of cities, labour division and enterprise caused modern wealth. The issue here is whether communal tribal culture is compatible with modern commercial enterprise. There is a strong argument that communal practice destroys incentive and productivity, and that nations need to shift to individual private ownership structures to sustain economic growth.
Harry Marks wrote:
Property is primarily a set of rules about certain uses of violence (theft) being unacceptable. The main benefits of restricting violence are certainly available in a common-property framework, as the monasteries of the Middle Ages demonstrated.
Property is also a set of rules about borrowing money, providing the basis for the dramatic advances of modern capitalism and banking in the creation of wealth. Common-property frameworks are stagnant. The closure of the Catholic monasteries by King Henry the Eighth, ending their deadening effect on economic growth, was decisive for Great Britain’s shift to becoming a world empire.
Harry Marks wrote:
One of the key innovations leading to the modern economy was the joint stock company, or limited liability, which was an ingenious modification of the apparent implications of absolute property. Other possible such institutions might have restrained abuses effectively while enabling more, not less, progress. I'll take Locke's analysis over Hobbes' any time.
What is the alternative you are suggesting to limited liability? I doubt that any communal systems could have enabled more progress than capitalist methods have. What is the main problem you see in Hobbes? I find his concept of the state as the basis of stability to be important.
Harry Marks wrote:
involvement of hierarchy buys into morally repugnant blessing on domination by violence.
Yes, but the moral problems are complex. The history of civilization has been a process of bringing order and stability to chaos. Hierarchy has indeed involved what the Scottish chief said about Rome, that they made a desert and called it peace. However, we are deep in the lesser of two evils problem in looking at the morality of social structures.

We could all agree that equal societies are more morally just, but the problem is that equal societies are less robust and vigorous than unequal societies. There is a dialectic here between cooperation and competition. Inequality, including the hierarchical concept of rank, has been the great driver of economic production and military security. An unequal society with leaders whose words are obeyed functions as a social unit, and historically has defeated egalitarian groups who lack chain of command. Wistful nostalgia, like for the Asherah groves destroyed by the Mosaic hierarchy, as much as for the lost world of the Iroquois, often neglects the physical impossibility of a primitive stone and wood economy, with its social framework, competing against modern metal and paper.
Harry Marks wrote:
I do not agree that the most ruthless power automatically triumphs over those who organize based on reason and mutual respect.
My sense is that respect is more durable in terms of cultural evolution than ruthlessness, although ruthless conquerors can win short victories. The examples of Hitler, Stalin and Genghis Khan illustrate systems of extreme tyrannical ruthlessness which crashed and burned after appearing omnipotent for a short time.

On the larger stage of the conquest of the New World, the British settlers have largely established seemingly sustainable societies, even though their origins lie in genocidal ruthless elimination of previous cultures. The trauma for victors and victims from that conquest endures today, as a pathological source of cultural blindness and bigotry on the side of the victors, as a broad source of anomic meaninglessness and loneliness in society, with individualism not providing a story of belonging and identity, and with the despair of the vanquished.

My sense is that the weakness of western culture, including the epidemic of mental illness, is in large part an untreated and undiagnosed traumatic effect of the ruthless culture of imperial conquest that established the USA as the leader of the free world, including the pervasive disdain for indigeneity as infra dig. That is why I see the core Christian ethic of the last as first as so crucial for psychic repair, forgiveness and reconciliation, as a way to build a culture of mutual care and respect.
Harry Marks wrote:
Three cases which, while near things, demonstrate the possibilities for mutuality to excel over systems of domination are the revolt by the Netherlands against the Spanish (1600), the defeat of the allied aristocratic powers by the army of the French Revolution at Valmy, and the Salamis and Plataea defeat of the Persians by the allied Greeks.
Again looking at the Christian ideas, mutuality is central to the core teaching of love of neighbour. Jesus Christ in the Last Judgement says the criterion of salvation is performing works of mercy. To me this is a model of cultural mutuality as essential for human evolution, away from selfish domination towards mutual care.

But the challenge is to retain some of the robust ethics that have powered the stable fecund culture of domination, even while opening to more of the anarchistic liberty inherent in care as a guiding ethic.
Harry Marks wrote:
An even more interesting case is the effort by Charlemagne to enlist the Christian church in civilizing his empire even while they legitimized it. That is, domination for its own sake has the same problem of emptiness as consumption for its own sake in today's hyper-commercial world. When the fear goes away because the battles have been won, you still face the problem of making sense of life.
Yes precisely, what profiteth a man that he gain the whole world and yet lose his soul? Redemption depends on legitimacy, which depends on a social mandate.

Even before Charlemagne, the Roman sense of their own moral vacuity was central to the victory of Christianity, providing the temporary Constantinian social licence for imperial security, but in a highly unstable way, which is why Rome fell. That vacuum was very like the emptiness of the consumer culture today, finding senseless meaning in shopping.
Harry Marks wrote:
nuclear arms mean that ruthlessness has little chance of achieving domination
Now that has just a touch of post hoc, since there are other factors as well as atom bombs that constrain ruthless politics. The whole emergence of globalisation and communication makes concealment of oppression much harder, with the trade consequences able to isolate repressive regimes.

An irony here is that it is precisely and solely the nuclear option that enables North Korea to be so ruthless to its own people. More broadly, the shift to an interconnected world is shifting the locus of legitimacy from elites to the masses, with the need for governments to apply policies that will secure democratic consent.
Harry Marks wrote:
I don't expect any sudden rejection of hierarchical control, (nor, in most cases, would I likely prefer the alternative), but that doesn't stop us from using imagination to ask what an alternative might look like.
The event that really shifted my thinking on this topic of hierarchy was the Tian An Men massacre in Beijing back in June 1989. Prior to that I was more of a utopian dreamer, but comparing the trajectories of Russia under Gorby and China under Deng gave me a view that stability must be recognised as a primary moral value. Deng prevented collapse of China into civil war.

Without political stability, grounded in hierarchical control, there is no capacity for economic growth, and without growth there is no human development or mutuality. So all the dreams of transcendental imagination of the kingdom of heaven have to be grounded in a harsh political realism to have any prospect of being achieved.
Harry Marks wrote:
if we solve the climate problem (and possibly other environmental catastrophes waiting beyond that one), since we will have a level population, we will have reached the point at which the forces of entropy and chaos will not drag us back into poverty and barbarism. It is not an easy transition, from a Malthusian poverty trap to a civilization of steady state population and gradual cultural improvement, but so far the odds are in the favor of culture. It is possible that only the big boost in farmland from the genocide in North America allowed this transition to occur, but I can give potent counterarguments.
Linking climate politics today to the American genocide is complex but important. My sense is that the genocide produced deeply embedded trauma in the American culture and politics, of the type the Ten Commandments describe as intergenerational (Exodus 20:5).

So now, looking at Trump, we see a Republican culture that exhibits a high level of nervous anxiety, as it seeks to maintain its powerful position of social control, with cultural traditions that are fracturing, contested and unstable. These traditions, strongly alienated from any sense of natural meaning, had their formative origins in the American genocide, seen in incidents such as the trail of tears.

But now, the enduring air-headed motto of that culture is drill baby drill, an idea which specifically excludes the moral science around climate, preferring instead the depraved antichristian idea that destroying the earth will make you rich. How to extract from this depravity its core values of productive investment, while shifting it to a sustainable ethic, seems to be a challenge that is religious in scope, in view of the apocalyptic threats of climate change and the paralysed inertia of the world in the face of these looming security and stability problems.
Harry Marks wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
I still admire the pioneers and discoverers for their creative destruction, even if that is a morally complex position.
It is possible to see their accomplishments as signs of individual courage and skill without claiming a necessity of the brutal culture in which they operated. Obviously we can never really know what else might have been, and we have to, in some sense, forgive the past even while holding it accountable. Truth and reconciliation go together.

We can know what might else have been, and the answer is nothing, since the past is the past. Speculation about alternative universes is nothing more than a game. That is not to say our decisions today are fated by deterministic physical causes, or that no mistakes were made, but rather that there is no real difference between observing that history occurred and saying things must have turned out as they did.

The brutal culture that conquered the New World was a product of the alienated European situation, lost in its wide and easy path of destruction. This recognition is important to see how to shift culture away from its brutal trauma towards more mutual love.

To hold the past accountable means to insist that people today understand history and are sorry for the mistakes that have produced ongoing suffering and trauma. Repentance is the primary condition for forgiveness, as John the Baptist told Jesus Christ. The truth will set you free.


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Post Re: 1. Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress
Robert Tulip wrote:
humans have massive embedded trauma due to what the world is like, and what our ancestors and their victims and oppressors did historically.
Interesting, but not convincing. Yes, we all learn to fear, as we grow up. But PTSD has specific triggers, and the trauma has to be actual and either severe or repeated multiple times. So, while I am not exactly sure what you mean by "embedded trauma" I think that goes only part way to saying what is in operation. There is also a calculating persona who sees that predation by others is possible and not easily restrained, and so looks out for ways to behave selfishly for personal advantage.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Hypothetical imaginative history is a bit like thinking about multiverses and such like, interesting thought experiments of little practical value. Far better is discussing how people can be sorry and repentant for what actually happened.
Democracy was not totally imaginary when the philosophes began to construct that hypothetical, but they worked out key details, in particular the separation of powers and checks and balances, while merely contemplating the possibility. I think there is a lot to be said for detailed exercise of the imagination - if Marx had not settled for "the state will wither away" in contemplating the biggest weakness of his analysis, we might have had a very different world.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
More often, the problem is to do the right thing, knowing pretty well which choice is which.
Disagree. A classic case of that error is the false argument from Karl Marx that philosophers have interpreted the world but the point is to change it.
I was speaking of moral decisions, which typically do not involve changing systems or making choices for others. Moral failure is actually quite common - almost every case of criminal law is created by it, and there is another 9/10 of the iceberg in transgressions which do not reach the level of needing intervention by the authorities.
Robert Tulip wrote:
[there is major moral dispute on the balance between freedom and equality, and until such questions are in a better state it is risky to say we know what is good.
Sure, on such issues of "public" or "governmental" morality, I agree.
Robert Tulip wrote:
In the first use, at the end of Chapter One on Columbus and the Indians, Zinn states “behind the English invasion of North America… was that special drive born in civilizations based on private property. It was a morally ambiguous drive… the need for land was transformed into murder of whole peoples.”

In a later mockery of property as brutal and strange, Zinn quotes a Congolese leader asking if the Portuguese allow people to place their feet on the ground, indicating that the concept of property is simply an exercise in social control.
I took it that much of this material was just to point out that simpler cultures do not generally rely on private property as an institution. In other words, it is possible to contemplate a world without it. He also points out, in the "drive" part, the impulse of upper class competition which was behind much of the exploitation of slaves and extermination of Native Americans.

Zinn also mentions the first large-scale intervention on behalf of property, which was the enclosure movement in which lords, i.e. hereditary nobility, took over land to which they had formal title and put the peasants out to fend for themselves on the road, so that the growing export of wool could make the lords richer. This competitive acquisitiveness reached a fever pitch when the fortunes made in sugar in the West Indies allowed ostentation to reach new heights in Britain. It was neither natural nor particularly productive, and if the traditional ethic of sharing had instead been followed, could have elevated the lives of many workers instead of providing for ornamental snuff-boxes and elaborate ball gowns for the rich.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The ambiguity described by Zinn is shown in how the romance of communal ownership persists in the political left, in ways that resist logic and evidence, due to class mistrust of the power of money. Quantitative analysis, such as by the Institute for Liberty and Democracy in Peru, illustrates how the banking collateral unlocked by laws around private capital is a primary area of superiority of the rich nations of the world.
Well, I also think much of the left has a romantic, impractical idea of the workings of property and the possibilities of communal ownership. However, there is definitely a downside to the hyper-competitiveness of the rich, and it is a great relief to have Gates, Buffett and others using their obscene wealth for the public good.

The study of effects of collateral by Hernando de Soto (also studied by Robert Klitgaard) turns out to be one-sided and the downsides (loss of the land to debt) overlooked. The theoretical benefits are clear, but in practice it delivers less than the promoters wanted us to believe. It was de Soto's other pet cause, the elimination of bureaucratic discretion, which makes the most difference.

And yet the modern corporation, which, as "The Visible Hand" and the work of Schumpeter pointed out, has delivered much of the benefits of the private economy, turns out to be internally bureaucratic and shuns property-like incentives to arrange for coordinated motivation. I remain unconvinced that such coordination could not have happened just as successfully in cooperatives (like Mondragon in Spain) or other communal institutions. Certainly the collateral damage to society would have been less.
Harry Marks wrote:
One view has it that such an idyllic (it probably wasn't) structure would be impossible with cities, division of labor, scarcity of farmland and commercial enterprise. I find that to be a post hoc fallacy, like saying that because the Chinese were more economically advanced (which they were until at least 1500) that civilization required a single dominant power, regular flooding which needed central coordination to control, and pictographic writing. What we have is not necessarily the best that could be.

Robert Tulip wrote:
I don’t see a post hoc fallacy here, which occurs when two events which happen sequentially are wrongly assumed to be causally related. It is not a fallacy to say the emergence of cities, labour division and enterprise caused modern wealth. The issue here is whether communal tribal culture is compatible with modern commercial enterprise.

Because industrialization happened with an economy based on private property, that does not imply it was the only or the best way that it could have happened. Our inference that it played a strong role is based primarily on comparison to traditional societies and to totalitarian Communism, as well as on theoretical considerations, but certainly European Democratic Socialism has an impressive record, as does the Japanese industrialization in which profit motive played an ambiguous part. There is a real possibility that Zinn's insinuation - tribal cultures could have evolved to a more humane system of industry and prosperity if left to their own growth path - is true.
Robert Tulip wrote:
There is a strong argument that communal practice destroys incentive and productivity, and that nations need to shift to individual private ownership structures to sustain economic growth.
Israeli kibbutzim continue to have an impressive record of productivity, including in competitive industrial enterprises. General level of education has more to do with development than incentive structures.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Property is also a set of rules about borrowing money, providing the basis for the dramatic advances of modern capitalism and banking in the creation of wealth.
Surely. Without innovative modern banking we could never have had stock manipulation, insider trading, Ponzi schemes, Collateralized Debt Obligations creating the Great Recession, leveraged buy-outs to break up profitable companies for asset-stripping, Trump University and other munificent gifts to modern society.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Common-property frameworks are stagnant.
My point is that there are a wide range of arrangements, and having a residual claimant who just happens to be using other people's money is not necessarily the wisest. The Great Depression was not created by common property frameworks.
Robert Tulip wrote:
What is the alternative you are suggesting to limited liability?
Limited liability is a form of common property. We simply don't know whether an innovative system of community enterprise might have done just as well as capitalism, but the Dutch invention of joint-stock companies was as much like common property as like private property. And it revolutionized commerce.
Robert Tulip wrote:
What is the main problem you see in Hobbes? I find his concept of the state as the basis of stability to be important.
In some form, yes. But the idea that it must be the strongest among the powers, subduing the others, rather than an agreement by consent of the governed, is patently untenable. Until global warming the world was doing very well without Leviathan imposing order between nations.
Robert Tulip wrote:
We could all agree that equal societies are more morally just, but the problem is that equal societies are less robust and vigorous than unequal societies.
But this is mere correlation, and it could be just the opposite, that societies which are robust and vigorous become, if not channeled effectively, unequal. The main question is whether we can sustain the effective channeling which we have created to date.
Robert Tulip wrote:
There is a dialectic here between cooperation and competition. Inequality, including the hierarchical concept of rank, has been the great driver of economic production and military security.
Or maybe education has been the great driver of economic production.
Robert Tulip wrote:
An unequal society with leaders whose words are obeyed functions as a social unit, and historically has defeated egalitarian groups who lack chain of command.
Military power was the original case of economies of scale. Concentrating forces has always been the prime dictum of military doctrine, unless you like hiding out in caves like the guerrillas.
Robert Tulip wrote:
On the larger stage of the conquest of the New World, the British settlers have largely established seemingly sustainable societies, even though their origins lie in genocidal ruthless elimination of previous cultures. The trauma for victors and victims from that conquest endures today, as a pathological source of cultural blindness and bigotry on the side of the victors, as a broad source of anomic meaninglessness and loneliness in society, with individualism not providing a story of belonging and identity, and with the despair of the vanquished.
Sounds like Marxism (just teasing).
Robert Tulip wrote:
the challenge is to retain some of the robust ethics that have powered the stable fecund culture of domination, even while opening to more of the anarchistic liberty inherent in care as a guiding ethic.
Stable? I don't think so. Caring as praxis is likely to be the next stage of civilization, but it is not easy seeing how corporations, which have become sociopathic, will adapt.
Robert Tulip wrote:
The whole emergence of globalisation and communication makes concealment of oppression much harder, with the trade consequences able to isolate repressive regimes.
Interesting observation.
Robert Tulip wrote:
The event that really shifted my thinking on this topic of hierarchy was the Tian An Men massacre in Beijing back in June 1989. Prior to that I was more of a utopian dreamer, but comparing the trajectories of Russia under Gorby and China under Deng gave me a view that stability must be recognised as a primary moral value. Deng prevented collapse of China into civil war.
Some truth to that, but the USSR collapsed mainly because of economic stagnation. The limits of centrally planned, quantitative (rather than qualitative) economic growth had been reached, and thus they lacked the glorious future of growth which China could anticipate as a way of maintaining party focus and motivation.



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Post Re: 1. Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress
This is very good conversation you're having. I hope I can read it more thoroughly when I'm back home. On the question of whether "I" am here writing this had my European ancestors come with an ethic we now view as humane, it's axiomatic for me that such a current would have taken events in a drastically different direction, radically altering the minutiae of history, such as the fact that "we" all were born. Even a trivial change in events, such as where my parents ate dinner on a certain date over 65 years ago, probably cancels me out. So in the case of a vastly more significant change--our listening to better angels 400 years ago--it's clear we wouldn't have come along, though that isn't important compared to the wished-for better result.



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Post Re: 1. Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress
Harry Marks wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
humans have massive embedded trauma due to what the world is like, and what our ancestors and their victims and oppressors did historically.
Interesting, but not convincing. Yes, we all learn to fear, as we grow up. But PTSD has specific triggers, and the trauma has to be actual and either severe or repeated multiple times. So, while I am not exactly sure what you mean by "embedded trauma" I think that goes only part way to saying what is in operation. There is also a calculating persona who sees that predation by others is possible and not easily restrained, and so looks out for ways to behave selfishly for personal advantage.
Coming back to this concept of ‘embedded trauma’ that you question, my point is that trauma can affect whole societies, and is not only a problem from individual shock in the PTSD model. People are traumatised by things that happen to people they know. There is a nice line about embedded trauma in the Ten Commandments, at Exodus 20:5, that God visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation. This is all about how trauma causes cascading effects, such as violence, drinking and dislocation, which traumatises the society. Native Americans still experience the trauma of European invasion of America, deeply embedded in their culture and psychology, just as modern American blacks continue to suffer from the embedded trauma of slavery. The world wars of the twentieth century deeply traumatised all the nations that were severely affected by them.
Harry Marks wrote:
much of this material was just to point out that simpler cultures do not generally rely on private property as an institution. In other words, it is possible to contemplate a world without it.
Well yes, but a world without private property would lack the financial investment that property law enables, and like cultures that lack individual rights would tend toward subsistence rather than complex trade. Perhaps we could also imagine a distant future world where humans have evolved beyond the need for private property, but my view is that at this stage of history, the formal economy has so many points of superiority to informal systems that we should encourage formalization with systems such as individual land title. I studied that a lot in Papua New Guinea, where the problem is that customary land ownership is considered a form of security and insurance in a world where modern systems look magical. I respect that view, but it is equally important to see that customary ownership without legal title is open to abuse and prevents economic development.
Harry Marks wrote:
Zinn also mentions the first large-scale intervention on behalf of property, which was the enclosure movement in which lords, i.e. hereditary nobility, took over land to which they had formal title and put the peasants out to fend for themselves on the road, so that the growing export of wool could make the lords richer.
I wonder if the ancient Roman latifundia are comparable? I think some of my Scottish ancestors emigrated to Australia in response to the Highland Clearances. The whole process of the building of the British Empire is quite horrific. I drew this comparison in my Bible Study group last week, where we are reading the Book of Judges. In the First Chapter, God gets totally pissed at the Jews because he wanted them to completely exterminate the Canaanites but most of the Jewish tribes only enslaved them. This imperial consolidation model for Israel provided moral support for land enclosure in Britain and its imperial possessions. Part of the point here is that the concept of Jesus Christ as King of The Jews rested entirely upon this genocidal ruthlessness. Similarly, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth could not have established their genteel politesse without the many hard men willing to do bad things celebrated by Churchill. As Conrad said at the beginning of Heart of Darkness, “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much." (p. 7)”
Harry Marks wrote:
This competitive acquisitiveness reached a fever pitch when the fortunes made in sugar in the West Indies allowed ostentation to reach new heights in Britain. It was neither natural nor particularly productive, and if the traditional ethic of sharing had instead been followed, could have elevated the lives of many workers instead of providing for ornamental snuff-boxes and elaborate ball gowns for the rich.
Edward Said explored that theme in Culture and Imperialism, including in his study of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, where the complete economic reliance on sugar slavery serves as a major hidden subtext, addressed only in the awkward silence of a topic that is entirely taboo in polite company.
Harry Marks wrote:
The study of effects of collateral by Hernando de Soto (also studied by Robert Klitgaard) turns out to be one-sided and the downsides (loss of the land to debt) overlooked. The theoretical benefits are clear, but in practice it delivers less than the promoters wanted us to believe.
Thanks, that does not surprise me, although I have not read such criticism of de Soto. It does not surprise me because my experience with formalization of land ownership indicates that the complexity of embedded cultural assumptions about the nature of land and ownership involve such a split between east and west that things which look theoretically simple in prospect to de Soto just will not work in practice.
Harry Marks wrote:
It was de Soto's other pet cause, the elimination of bureaucratic discretion, which makes the most difference.
The overall theme is impersonal rule of law, which will generate prosperity in inverse proportion to the strength of barriers to its presence.


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Mon Aug 21, 2017 12:21 pm
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Post Re: 1. Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
while I am not exactly sure what you mean by "embedded trauma" I think that goes only part way to saying what is in operation. There is also a calculating persona who sees that predation by others is possible and not easily restrained, and so looks out for ways to behave selfishly for personal advantage.
Coming back to this concept of ‘embedded trauma’ that you question, my point is that trauma can affect whole societies, and is not only a problem from individual shock in the PTSD model. People are traumatised by things that happen to people they know. There is a nice line about embedded trauma in the Ten Commandments, at Exodus 20:5, that God visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation. This is all about how trauma causes cascading effects, such as violence, drinking and dislocation, which traumatises the society.
Okay, I think I am getting a clearer and more convincing picture. I guess I was concerned that what might be labelled "embedded trauma" could just be wariness against being taken advantage of in a cold world, but to some extent that is part of the trauma you trace.

One of the lessons learned by exploring game theory is that the prospect of future "win-win" outcomes from cooperation is by far the most important arrow in the quiver of enforcement. A society with as much future profit as America or Australia had, by bringing agrarian technology to a land populated by hunter-gatherers, could hold out far stronger prospects for cooperation than the traditional dog-eat-dog domination systems of the Old World. So I have a tendency to see the vision of the future as the major determinant of trust, rather than the vision of the past. Obviously they are more strongly linked than that.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Native Americans still experience the trauma of European invasion of America, deeply embedded in their culture and psychology, just as modern American blacks continue to suffer from the embedded trauma of slavery. The world wars of the twentieth century deeply traumatised all the nations that were severely affected by them.
Indeed, though that may have saved the world. A Russian submarine captain who remembered the trauma of WWII and therefore delayed following orders which were likely to trigger a nuclear exchange was probably the cutout that kept the Cuban Missile Crisis from perpetuating the trauma. It wasn't the relatively unscathed Americans who showed the wisdom.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Well yes, but a world without private property would lack the financial investment that property law enables, and like cultures that lack individual rights would tend toward subsistence rather than complex trade.
I have to admit that I have trouble imagining corporate enterprise and large scale financial investment without any private property at all. Yet the cooperative Mondragon has done as good a job of industrializing among the Basques as any purely private initiative. So I guess where I come out is that we probably made too much of private property, based on sensible considerations but also based on domination of the rule-setting by those with the most to gain from the extreme reading of property's importance. The Robber Barons chapter has some good material relevant to that.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Perhaps we could also imagine a distant future world where humans have evolved beyond the need for private property, but my view is that at this stage of history, the formal economy has so many points of superiority to informal systems that we should encourage formalization with systems such as individual land title.
Well I think Zinn's point is that we really don't know if that's a false dichotomy or not, because the domination system eliminated the alternatives. That rule by violence is the kind of system private property evolved within, making Hobbes insightful historically but not necessarily for the reasons given by his political theory.
Robert Tulip wrote:
I studied that a lot in Papua New Guinea, where the problem is that customary land ownership is considered a form of security and insurance in a world where modern systems look magical. I respect that view, but it is equally important to see that customary ownership without legal title is open to abuse and prevents economic development.
Counterfactuals are always tricky, and I am in no position to declare definitively that customary land ownership could have evolved the necessary flexibility to make it a basis for an economy of innovation and industry. Certainly the highlands of Papua New Guinea are not conducive to the kind of specialized exchange that led Adam Smith to discern the basis of modern development in a pin factory. "Specialization is limited by the extent of the market" is still the fundamental insight on which free market economics depends.
You discern the potential for abuse in customary ownership, and the received wisdom here in West Africa finds the same. But don't forget the abuse that Zinn documents in the unevenness of power between modern corporations and fragmented workers.
Robert Tulip wrote:
As Conrad said at the beginning of Heart of Darkness, “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much." (p. 7)”
Well, I think the minimum we can do is to observe and speak up, as Conrad did, and to grieve for the damage done. If we are also moved to make some reparations and some penance, that is not a bad thing.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
The study of effects of collateral by Hernando de Soto (also studied by Robert Klitgaard) turns out to be one-sided and the downsides (loss of the land to debt) overlooked. The theoretical benefits are clear, but in practice it delivers less than the promoters wanted us to believe.
Thanks, that does not surprise me, although I have not read such criticism of de Soto.
I have only read summary work, and mostly it is not very critical, but even the World Bank is backing off. DeSoto agrees with critics who argue that without a broader social policy approach the titling step by itself can harm as many users of "commons" as it helps among those who benefit by access to credit. The Journal of Economic Literature review by Woodruff claimed that DeSoto's experience in Peru did not justify claims of substantial benefit, but if I remember the review correctly, many other experiments have found enough net benefit to at least justify the cost.
Robert Tulip wrote:
It does not surprise me because my experience with formalization of land ownership indicates that the complexity of embedded cultural assumptions about the nature of land and ownership involve such a split between east and west that things which look theoretically simple in prospect to de Soto just will not work in practice.
Yes, informal systems can be surprisingly complex and sophisticated. Just because there are no law books and case law to document things does not mean the system is weak or incompetent.
Robert Tulip wrote:
The overall theme is impersonal rule of law, which will generate prosperity in inverse proportion to the strength of barriers to its presence.
I think a lot of converging lines of research point to that conclusion. The idea that abstract, formal institutions "look magical" is a good way to think about it. We take "impersonal" systems for granted -- I would argue that it is one of the key dimensions of membership in "elites". Somehow they are made to work by persons, who interact personally, but this relies on a shared set of beliefs in abstract arrangements as being "good" and a shared commitment to making those arrangements work the way they are supposed to. It is no small accomplishment.
I love to get into this subject of mysterious institutions relying on shared vision with students, who still have trouble believing that digital money can be legit. When I tell them that money which exists as legal arrangements and the resulting digital accounts in computers is not only functional but indispensable to a modern economy, they look at me as if I am some charlatan selling snake oil, which is of course the desired effect.



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