Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Cold in October

with 4 comments

This is going to be short and incoherent.  I-think-I’m-getting-a-cold has changed to I-definitely-have-one.  I came home from class yesterday feeling half dead.  And I arrived a bit with sweet tea and dinner, but not much.

This morning I just feel like my head is full of cotton wool.

I just wanted to point out that:

First, I was not justifying colonialism.  Nor was I suggesting we should go back there.

I was just pointing out that our attitude to colonialism (and imperialism) is an historical anomaly. 

We wouldn’t have felt this way about either if we had lived a couple of hundred years ago.  Many societies on this planet right now do not feel this way about these things, at least as long as the colonialism and imperialism are their own and not imposed on them by others.

And we wouldn’t have tried to justify ourselves by saying that we were doing “more good than harm,” although I’m willing to bet all Empires did in fact think they were.   It would have been a perfectly acceptable reason that Empire gave us a lot in terms of resources and higher standards or living. 

My point was that our present attitude to colonialism and imperialism is no less one sided and shallow than the old one.  We stare so long at the wrong we do here that we don’t notice the wrong being done there. 

And life, and history, are not that simple.

As to the comments–I’ll look back into the Sudan thing when I’m feeling better.  What I had heard was chattel slavery, meaning actual buying and selling, but given the general accuracy of all reporting, that could be anything.

As to the business of lack of immunity to European diseases–the idea that indigenous peoples in the Americas were wiped out wholesale that way was fairly well debunked a decade ago. 

The simple fact is that there was no large scale reduction in the native populations in the Americas after the arrival of the Europeans.  No evidence exists that any such large scale populations ever existed in North America and the Carribean, and in Mexico and South America–where there were actual civilizations or the remnants of them–native populations seem to have expanded after Spanish and Portuguese conquest. 

And yes, I’m sure that there were racists among the early English settlers, and English and American proponents of the idea that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

But that’s a far cry from saying that it was ever the policy–in theory or practice–to attempt to wipe out the Indians wholesale.

Which, again, is not the same thing as saying we treated them well, because we obviously didn’t. 

My interest, here, is in the need of some people to find genocide where none exists, and specifically to attach the crime of genocide to British and American history. 

Once back on RAM I had an argument with a woman–I think she’s actually a fairly well established S/F author–about whether or not some American army officer had ordered a massacre of Indians in the Southwest and said that his officers should just kill them all, because God would know his own.

I pointed out that that was in fact a direct quotation from a Medieval churchman made at the time of the Albigensian heresy.

She retorted that she didn’t care whether the American officer had made up the quote or just quoted it, it was still horrible.

What seemed to never cross her mind was that the whole thing was an urban legend.  No American officer had every said any such thing.  Somebody who knew the quote had simply floated the story, and she believed it because it was the kind of thing she expected to be true about American relations with Indians.

There’s a lot of this sort of thing going on, and if you think about it, it’s very peculiar. 

Robert traces the phenomenon of people taking satisfaction in smearing their own country and civilization to about WWI,  but although that may pinpoint it in time, it doesn’t explain it.

And none of the other explanations I’ve heard seems to me to be strong enough to account for it. 

The closest thing I’ve heard to an explanation that might cover it is the idea that Western culture in general and Anglophone culture in particular tends to the meritocratic, and meritocratic culture is especially hard on the psyche not of people who end up “losers,” but of ambitious and intelligent people who are afraid they’ll end up losers, or who define “loser” rather high on the scale of status.

And that, since they can’t “win” by their own standards or what they think are the standards of society, they retaliate by trying to destroy the credibility of the culture that is (they think) judging them.

Okay, by now it must be obvious that I think this is something of a neurosis.

But that would cover the raging animosity of so many in the chattering classes for everything their civilization stands for, especially at the upper end of the chattering classes. 

That upper end does very well by the standards of, say, working class people in Tuscaloosa, but by the standards of Bill Gates, or Stephen King, not so much.

I am, really, falling over there.  And the tea is nice, but it’s not exactly the elixir of happiness.

Or a cure for the common cold, either.

I’m going to go off and read a little before I have to go in and knock some sense into heads that would really rather be asleep.

Let me say just this:  I am reading, at the moment, P.D. James’s The Private Patient.

I like it quite a lot, but I realized something while I’ve been reading it.

I’ve read too many stories about people who have managed to make a success of their lives after surviving a childhood being beaten to a pulp by an alcoholic parent.

Such people are, in real life, admirable–but they’re getting to be something like a majority in detective fiction. 

And that makes my mind glaze over, to use the paraphrase.

Tea.  School.  Sleep.

Written by janeh

October 13th, 2010 at 5:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Cold in October'

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  1. Well, we can compare cold stories, as I too came down with one yesterday, probably contracted at a developer’s group meeting last Friday. Bleh. And I don’t even like tea. Headache. Runny nose. Fatigue. Sneezing.

    Cultural self-hatred seems to me to be compounded out of equal parts of survivor guilt, the smaller-world phenomenon, and a weakening of the kind of cultural self-esteem that used to permit empire-building.

    On the Native-Americans, I went a-googling, and found this: http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat0.htm#America which is a fairly balanced and cynical look at all the various estimates (from low to ridiculously high) of pre- and post-European NA populations. He does use the G-word, rather loosely, to mean “large numbers of deaths, whether by violence, disease or denial of sustenance.”

    But even the most conservative numbers account for the deaths of millions of native people in N & S America. In California, there are more than a few tribes now extinct, their last members dying alone, through the direct actions of Europeans. On a small scale, that is genocide. In the larger sense, it was empire-building, with a side order of ethnic cleansing.

    Along about WWI, as Robert pinpoints it, our western selves went out in the larger world in a way they never had before. They went to fight, and brought home personal tales of those foreign places and people. Isolationism died, and ever since, the world stage has gotten smaller and smaller each year.

    We’re intimately in contact with people all over the world, every day. Remember when a long-distance phone call was a big deal? It’s very hard to imagine that it would be okay to invade one of those countries to take their resources just because we wanted them, and to kill or dispossess or remove those who live there just because we want what they have. So it becomes increasingly more difficult to understand that in the past, empire builders didn’t know or believe the same of the people they invaded. And if they DID, and still invaded, what does that say about their guilt, and ours, for having benefited from their actions?

    Okay, the cold just caught up to me. More ramblings later, I hope.

    Oh, and I wish darn WordPress let me change my password to something I could remember, instead of a nonsense string I have to keep on file to re-log in.


    13 Oct 10 at 3:50 pm

  2. Several related but distinct points:

    I spent a lot of time with Tacitus in my undergraduate days, and a reasonable bit with his contemporaries and near contemporaries. They’re “good reads” and maybe nice people to spend an evening with, if you can imagine it. They might have believed that those who survived Roman conquest benefited from it, but the notion of conquest justified by that was utterly foreign to them. The strong took what they wanted, and that was that. A victorious conqueror might be generous to the conquered. He owed that to his own dignity. But he owed THEM nothing, and certainly did not conquer for their benefit. Read Tacitus some time praising Agricola for so managing a battle that the bulk of the casualties on his side were auxillia, who lived and died within the Empire, but who were not citizens, and not legionaires, who were.
    Christianity ought to change that sort of thinking, but the results even in the 16th Century or later are spotty. Setting aside the spiritual benefits of religious conversion, about the time empires are justified by the benefits to the conquered, empires start to go away.

    And yes, deeply as I love my country and the English-speaking branch of Western civilisation of which it is a part, we’re a little guiltier than most in our treatment of the natives. Our conflicts with the Sioux and the Commanche were only ever going to end as they did–if not worse for the losers. But we broke our own rules pretty thoroughly in dealing with the Stockbridge Indians in New England and the Miami and Cherokee in the forested west. The French would have been thrilled to have such subjects. The Spanish would have txed and regulated them to death–but then they taxed and regulated Castillians to death. And racists that they were, there was a place for everyone, if only as a peon. In the United States, there was no place, by and large, even for Indians
    who learned English, converted to Christianity and took up farming. I do not say there was ever an intention of genocide, but that the native population was being pushed to steadily worse land without any obvious stopping point, and that few people would have been concerned if extermination had been the result. Was it Bradford who heard about plague among the New England tribes, and remarked how God had thus cleared the title to the land?
    This may have to do with immigration. French settlers for Quebec were picked like astronauts. There could never have been enough Spanish and Portuguese settlers to displace the natives. But the British Isles sent all the discards, and there were plenty–enough that the Cherokee weren’t really needed for renters or tax-payers. But a reason for something is not a moral justification. Other nations have their own shames. That one is ours.

    “God will know his own” dates to the Albigensian Crusade? Hmmm. The earliest I’d traced it was 16th Century Spanish, sacking a town in the Counter-reformation. And I don’t hold with ascribing quotes to anyone based on what they might or ought to have said. But I will say that when I left the Service in 1997, I’d have had no trouble at all buying T-shirts reading “Kill ’em all. Let God sort.” They were a common commercial product. Sometimes a good story keeps getting passed on with fresh names, like Picton and the commissary. But sometimes situations and types of people evoke similar responses.


    13 Oct 10 at 4:24 pm

  3. Lymaree, I’m using Internet Explorer 8 and it remembers my password.

    I looked up virgin field epidemics in Wikipedia and was led to


    Its marked as a debatable article and has a link to the Talk page which is really wild – holocaust and genocide tossed around freely.

    As far as cultural self-hate goes, I refuse to feel guilt or shame for something that was done before I or my parents were born.


    13 Oct 10 at 6:04 pm

  4. Lymaree, look in the right-hand column above. See Meta? Click on Site Admin. On the Dashboard page, find Profile on the left? Click on that and then scroll down and you’ll find a place to change your password.


    13 Oct 10 at 7:30 pm

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