Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Jan. 28: How we got here..

News media rarely tell us why things happen. When they reported on the Paris shootings, the stories began with the shootings. They covered a few days. That was it. The result was shock, sorrow, anger (and, on some sides, glee) from people who had not the faintest understanding of why it happened. Nor do the news media have enough knowledgeable people - or time - to explain why it happened. In fact, commentators and op ed writers frequently gain popularity by simply expressing the uninformed public outrage - and so making things worse.

As a result, the whole world is now in a crisis which has been building for centuries.

At one time, we had a world of quite distinct civilizations characterized by distinct religions, customs, governing structures - all those things we, rather glibly, call cultures. Western Europe developed as a Christian civilization, ruled by an aristocracy of birth and, several centuries ago, began developing an economic system called capitalism - which was quite disconnected from any religion.

China was quite different. Its government system was based on the writing of Confucius. Even the civil service was based on Confuciansim. Every year, candidates for the civil service wrote exams to qualify for their work - and the exams were tests of their understanding of Confucius.

There was nothing that could be called an industrial sector. Most people lived by farming or fishing or crafts. As a result, there was a strong sense of permanence and community in their lives.  And it was pretty successful. That system lasted for some 3000 years of generally effective government.

There were civilization in the Americas, some with cities and massive architecture, some agricultural with social and political institutions quite comparable to those of Europe. (The Iroquois tribes were developing a form of United Nation centuries before Europe even thought of it - And they had a status of women that was far higher than that in Europe.)  Others lived by hunting - an economy that forced them to be highly mobile. Together, they developed technologies that became essential to European survival - the toboggan, snowshoes, birchbark canoes. They also taught European immigrants how to farm in the Americas.

All over the world there were human societies with methods of government, social customs, religious beliefs, communities.....  But from 1500 on, that changed, a change that happened with the development of the ocean-crossing ship by Europeans.

Among the first to feel the shock of that were the native peoples of the Americas. When they were in the way of the Europeans, they were simply killed. More would be moved, often to areas to which they could not adapt their former economies And there was social and religious disintegration as communities were destroyed. Everything that they had been and had lived was under attack. All over the Americas, including Canada, they were murdered by gunfire or starvation to exterminate them. The peak of it was reached with government programmes to build residential schools which would create western Europeans out of native children by removing them from the familiarity of family and community.

Nothing has changed, really. Canada does not recognize native peoples as equal members of Canadians society. Nor have native people recovered from the shock that began centuries ago.

Some native people in the Americas were made slaves.But it didn't work well. It was too easy for them to escape into the wilderness  and, anyway, they didn't live long as slaves -  usually just to their early twenties.

But ocean shipping came to the rescue with African slaves. There had to be a lot of them because so many millions of them died on the way. They were sold all over Europe, Canada, the US, and Latin America. In fact, the US economy was dependent on slavery until close to 1860 and the civil war.

Again the pattern was brutal treatment, destruction of communities, customs, religions and families - and short lives It was degradation, humiliation, hopelessness. The slaves were freed in the US after 1865. But there still has been no recovery of what was lost.

China got hit, mostly by the British, in the early 1800s. As with slavery, the force that motivated the British was capitalism. There was money to be taken from China, foods, resources, cheap labour.......And all they had to do was to destroy the society first.

So the very efficient Chinese civil service was destroyed. Whole communities and even families were split up to be moved to factory farms. That meant the destruction of communities, a central and stabilizing factor in Chinese life. The specialization of factory farming made it vulnerable to fluctuations in the market, in the weather - and what might and did happen then was regional starvation with masses of dead that nobody bothered to count.

In India, one of the special crops was opium. A treaty forced on China by he British required China to buy huge quantities of opium every year. If it fell short in sales, it had to pay British capitalists millions of dollars in compensation. One result was something like a hundred million opium addicts whose lives became simply opium. But if you read British fiction, like Sherlock Holmes, the addiction is always seen as the result of Chinese weakness.

The last European conquests hit the Africa and the middle east, notably Egypt, Congo, South Africa. All involved mass slaughter (especially Congo). All involved savage attacks on regional government, customs, social values, religion.....in short, the effective destruction of whole societies.

In every case, those wars were fought to benefit the European wealthy. No other reason.  On the European side, the wars were fought by European soldiers who were held in contempt as the scum of the earth by the rich, and so paid almost nothing, and subject to extraordinary brutality and living conditions. In fact, the European working class got little - if anything - out of the whole experience.

By 1900, even earlier, US capitalists were getting into the empire game in a big way. The US itself, of course, was an empire built on murdering and displacing its native peoples. Again, it was an empire solely for the purpose of making some very rich people richer. By the turn of the century, it was moving in on The Phillipines as a starting point for control of the China trade. Like the other empires, it destroyed with mass murder and torture. (US troops seem to have developed the torture of "waterboarding" in the Phillippines War.)

At the same time, it moved in on Latin America, destroying societies, creating disorder, fear, and disorientation to get cheap labour and cheap land in order to loot resources and to build factory farms for the Dole's.

Rudyard Kipling, beloved poet of the British Empire, cheered the US for "taking up the white man's burden". Like most os us westerners, he saw this murder and brutalizing and pillaging as a part of our responsibility to spread civilization. It was really, of course, a mass destruction of existing civilizations.

(Kipling also realized that Europe wasn't strong enough to hold such empires by itself. Thus his enthusiasm for the US entry into the "great game".)

By the first world war, most of the world lived in fear, hardship, largely bereft of social institutions or a sense of security in community. There seemed a hope during World War One when leaders in Europe and the US said the war was being fought to bring freedom to the world. They were lying of course - all of them, just as they would also lie in World War 2.


This is the peiod when frantic colonies looked for some way to end the horror they live in. Some looked to their traditional religions. Some looked to communism. China, Cuba, Vietnam and a few others chose communism - but none of them actually followed it. Some looked to traditional religions, like Islam. All were desperate. Luckily for them, Europe had punched itself out in two world wars -and the US was not quite up to replacing Europe.

And where were the Christian churches in all this? Having pancake breakfasts and writing simple-minded sermonettes.

And where were our news media? Well, most were - and are - owned by wealthy families who support imperialism and destroying other societies for profit. So most of them feed us propaganda.

And that's why our news media say so little about Congo children working in the mines at age five - and nothing at all about the US killing people, mostly civilians, by the millions. And that's also why they rant about the evil of some terrible men who shot 12 cartoonists for drawing hate cartoons.

But words like good and evil have no real meaning in the scale of what we humans are doing. Us humans aren't good. And we aren't evil. We're just humans. And we're humans who have to deal with the relentless greed of centuries

But there is one difference. Our side has obliterated whole civilizations, whole societies. The other side has had to struggle to find a way to survive. Our side has also destroyed its own civilization. But we haven't noticed.

That's too bad. Because our side is the only one with the capacity to begin a healing process.



1 comment:

  1. For the first time in history, during the second half of the 20th century, human beings finally achieved, theoretically,an enlightened understanding of how to treat one another. The 1970's gave clarity to issues like gender equality, racial discrimination, slavery, abortion rights and capital punishment. Doctors in hospitals (in most enlightened countries) go through heroic efforts to save lives and to keep people alive through advanced technology.

    We attempted in 1989 to eliminate poverty, over time, and now with all our good intentions we really haven't managed to do a damn thing. To make it worse, globalization and unrestrained capitalism have taken all the enlightenment and good intentions that were mooted and turned them on their head.

    Now, in many ways, we are in a social situation as unequal as ever before with true prosperity (mental, physical, spiritual and material) nothing but an unrealistic hope for billions of people.

    Centuries ago people starved and suffered in small communities that had local economies. Now we have globalization to serve our needs and over 2 billion people are starving and malnourished.

    We understand the problems, have the means to resolve them and now, ironically, we are brought to our knees by a global threat so great (and self inflicted) that future generations are threatened with extinction.

    Hard to believe.

    ReplyDelete