Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Archive for November, 2014

Civilization Spreads By Conquest…And Other Things We’ve Mostly Forgotten

with 4 comments

It’s Sunday, and I’m still reading Thomas Aquinas and getting agitated over on FB, which seems to me to be what FB is doing to me at the moment.

But right now, I want to go back to a different FB conversation, one I started on the day before Thanksgiving, and that sort of dropped off the radar.

Except that I’ve been thinking about it.

While I’m doing it, I have Anonymous 4 doing medieval Christmas music behind me (The Holly and the Ivy at the moment) and snow in the back yard.

My impossible world seems operational, at least for the moment.

In the possible world, this started when somebody posted one of those FB image cards with a quote from Ayn Rand on it, saying that the settlers in North America had been entirely right to move in and take the Native Americans’ land because the settlers had art and science and philosophy and whatever while the Native Americans “didn’t even have property rights.”

What ensued was a small hail of comments of the kind that make me hold my head and wonder how we’re ever going to survive into the 22nd Century.  Or even to next week.

These started with declarations of what an evil woman Rand must have been to think these things, followed by derisive comments of the “and she must be stupid too” variety–mostly chortling over the idea that “they didn’t even have property rights!” was a significant point in the argument.

It amazes me, really, that so many people these days seem to have NO idea what things were like in even the very recent past.

The idea that there was something wrong–never mind “evil”–in what Rand said in that quote dates back less than a century, and as a commonly accepted idea it dates back to less than half that.

What’s  more, even today, when we in Western Europe and the United States think that such an attitude to indigenous peoples is completely unacceptable, most of the rest of the world simply and emphatically disagrees with us.

As far as China, Russia, the Islamists and most other societies are concerned,  there are superior societies (their own) and inferior societies, and the superior societies have the right to conquer, occupy and control the inferior ones.

How we got to a place where we in the West think it’s wrong to conquer and control other societies is a long story, and not the point for the moment.

What got to me was this–it’s not as easy as people think to look at the history of this and say it shouldn’t have happened, that in every case the unambiguously right thing to do would be to leave the people as they were and not “interfere” in their cultures.

To begin with, cultures and societies are not only not alike, they are not even close to being equally capable of providing the people living in them with advantages, comforts, and the opportunity to live even a minimally decent life.

Contrary to the romanticization of all things indigenous and primitive, life in preliterate or nonliterate societies is not a romp of wonderfulness feeling one with nature.

Hobbes called it solitary, nasty, brutish and short, but even he underestimated the sheer awfulness of living through the daily grind in such societies–the nearly endless warfare, the deaths in childbirth that take almost half of all women, the epidemics, the famines.

And that’s just the problems brought on by impersonal nature.  Any unbiased investigation of such societies uncover evidence of practices that should make any modern Westerner cringe.

For instance, analysis of the skeletons of Native Americans (yes, even the Iroquois) shows the stereotypical brittleness found in the bones of people who do not get enough protein–but it shows that only in the women, who were considered to be inferior to the men.

The arrival of literate invaders bringing not just agriculture but rationalized methods of farming, reading and writing and figuring that meant that knowledge learned could be stored, and the protection of persons and property in codes of conduct and law almost always resulted in a rise in the safety, security and standard of living of those of the conquered that managed to survive.

Of course, not all the conquered managed to survive, and sometimes none of them did–but genocides and near genocides were not invented by literate peoples.  They have existed throughout history.  Before the people we call Native Americans arrived here, there was an indigenous people already in place in North America.  They were wiped out–completely.  No trace of their DNA has ever been found in any living person.

When civilizations spread, they open up possibilities that we don’t even notice any more, but that are crucial if we want people to lead materially decent lives, or spiritually decent ones, for that matter.

A society at peace and protected by law is one in which individuals with ideas can try out those ideas and disseminated what they learn from the tryouts–better, more reliable, more efficient ways to grow crops; the way the human body works and what that means for treating disease; strategies for defending borders against raiders looking for loot; strategies for conquest that, if successful, meant that your society could grow and prosper even more.

It’s to the conquest and the growing and prospering that we owe things like the germ theory of disease, the principles of crop rotation; the understanding of such public health innovations as the scientific management of human waste; and a whole lot more.

To say that it was always and unambiguously evil when a more developed society conquered and controlled a less developed one is to say that such societies were always and ambiguously better off when their people starved half the time, were exposed to the elements and helpless in the face of natural disasters, and died in childbirth at rates that defy understanding.

To do this at least as much to deny the humanity of the people of the less developed society as conquering and controlling them is. 

It is to say that these people–unlike you and me, unlike everybody else on the planet–do not value comfort and security, good health and healthy children.

There is no indication, even now, that indigenous peoples, given the choice, would choose their traditional societies over material progress.

In fact, when they ARE given the choice, they ditch their traditional folkways with a haste that would make the Road Runner look slow. 

We aren’t losing the Amazonian rainforest because big, evil corporations are ravaging Mother Earth.  We’re losing them because the local indigenous tribes have figured out that clearcutting means money which means a better and more reliable supply of food, and education so that that modern medicine stuff can move in and stay and…

Indigenous peoples are not pets.  They want the same things we do.

And they’re not going to thank us for forcing them to be “authentic” in misery.

None of that, unfortunately, answers the question of whether or not it should be considered wrong for more developed societies to conquer and control less developed ones.

“It’s for your own good” is not a rationale I usually accept for initiating the use of force. 

Among other things developed and developing societies bring with them is religion, and one of the things this developed society brought with it was philosophy.

Religion and philosophy brought with them chances in the way we define the human and the understanding of the obligations we owe to our fellow human beings.

I think I’ve come to this conclusion:

In antiquity–really until relatively recently–conquest was the only way civilization COULD spread.

Capitalism didn’t invent the creation of wealth–successful agriculture is a way to create wealth–but it came damned close, and it is only after the rise of capitalism that any societies create enough wealth to lift the vast majority of their peoples out of destitution. 

If what you need to do to advance is marshall enough resources to allow a solid little segment of your population the leisure to think and invent and take risks, to acquire knowledge both practical and theoretical–if that’s what you need, and no wealth creating machinery exists to provide it, what you have to do is go out and conquer it.

I can’t say I’m sorry they went out and conquered it.  I am benefited by too much of what they produced as a result of their conquests–books, medicine, food all year round without ever having to worry about it, a rate of death in childbirth so low that nobody even thinks about it any more…

At the same time, we’ve gotten to the point where we can afford to worry about the ethics of the thing, and I think we should.

We don’t need to go out and conquer somebody to acquire the resources we need to find the cure for cancer or send a manned mission to Mars.

We also understand, in ways in which we didn’t before (and which societies like China and groups like the Islamacists don’t even now) the sense in which we are, as Mr. Jefferson put it, created equal.

So I think I would say, right now, that we should not be in the business of conquer and control, that we should leave other people to make their own decisions about how they want their own societies to develop.

But we should do that in full knowledge of the consequences of what we are advocating.

Decisions like this are not neutral.  They have immediate effects, and some of them are really, really bad.

There are, as we speak, societies in Africa whose governments deny their citizens polio vaccine and AIDS drugs–both considered plots by Western nations to render their men sterile. 

There are societies in Latin America that are truly “rape cultures”–the Yanamamo, for instance, treat gang rape as a sport for young men.

There are all those African Muslim countries where female genital mutilation is passed off as female “circumcision.”

Never mind the ones that execute people for being homosexual.

I have absolutely no compunction in saying that my society is not just different from these, but objectively and demonstrably superior.

To say that, though, is not to say that I have the right to go in and fix what’s wrong.

I admit that I think that, in the long run, if we can keep from committing cultural suicide, most of the people of the world will vote with us, one way or the other.

Many of them already are.  That’s why we have an illegal immigration problem.   I spent half an hour the other day watching video of mothers and children marching steadily over bare ground to get to the Texas border, just walking, wearing backpacks, not knowing if it would work, not really knowing where they were going, only absolutely sure that they wanted something better and they wanted something else.

But while I’m waiting for people to choose voluntarily, there are people in the world today–right now today, right this minute–who will suffer at least in part for my fastidiousness.

There are girls in Africa who will have their clitorises sliced away by rusty knives, children in Southern India who will go blind for lack of beta carotene, women who will be stoned to death on mere accusations of adultery and gay men who will be beheaded for simply being themselves.

I think far too many of us get our kicks feeling morally superior to people whose politics we don’t understand and whose commitments we declare “obviously” wrong without ever having thought about it, or even tried.

But I’d like every one who wants to play that game–all cultures are equally valid! anybody who says one society is superior to another is an idiot! anybody who says superior societies have the right to conquer and control inferior ones is evil!–that the people they’re sneering at may have looked at the reality o n the ground and decided it might be even less moral to let all of that go on.






Written by janeh

November 30th, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Supporting Rapists

with 14 comments

So, it’s Black Friday, so named in honor of the mood you’ll be in if you try to go out and shop today. 

I did it once years ago, by accident, and it’s beyond my comprehension why anybody would want to do that, ever.

A bargain good enough to get me out into that mess again would have to be on the last few doses of a miracle cancer drug. 

And I won’t bother to go into the stuff about people trampling each other nearly to death in order to be the first ones at the Barbie doll display.

And yes, of course, there are people who need to save money if they are to have any Christmas presents at all, but–sheesh.

So let’s just say I’m not going out anywhere today, and instead I’ve got Anonymous 4 in the background, because I’m reading Thomas Aquinas.

The book I’m reading is a translation of Thomas’s commentary on Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, and all I can say is that I wish I’d had it back in college when I had to read the Ethics for a course.

And yes, I know, I read very strange books sometimes. 

But I really enjoy creating a world for myself that doesn’t actually exist but that I used to think must exist–welcome to my childhood–and that I still think should exist.

My need for an imaginary world waxes and wanes, but these days it’s been mostly waxing.

And as to the reason for that, you only need two words:  Bill Cosby.

I’ve been following the Cosby thing for several days now, and I’m starting to wonder if I’m the only one who find the whole thing eerily familiar.

In fact, I find it familiar on two counts:  the Duke Lacrosse case, and that mess with Paula Deen.

The correlation with the Duke Lacrosse case may seem easier to find, at least on the surface.

That, also, was an accusation of rape, and those accusations also lead to a cascade of consequences for the accused before any actual evidence had ever been established about anything.

In other words, it was completely unnecessary for the charges to be proved true for punishment to be meted out. 

The accusation was enough–in fact, even ACTUALLY proving the charges false (as in the case of Duke Lacrosse) didn’t solve much of anything, since a lot of people handing out the punishments (including the Duke faculty) insisted that those punishments were just EVEN IF the charges were untrue.

In the end, though, I think the Paula Deen cases has more parallels, because in the Paula Deen case, there was no involvement of law enforcement whatsoever, and therefore no venue in which the accused could defend him/her self.

But let’s look at this for a minute.

The present frenzy over Bill Cosby started a few weeks ago when a woman who had accused him of rape decades ago came forward to accuse him again. 

Her accusations were investigated when she first made them and determined to be lacking in enough basic evidence to bring charges, which is the best the accused can do in cases like this.

The woman then faded into the background for many years, until she surfaced recently to make the accusations again.

And now, of course, no investigation can be profitably undertaken–witnesses, physical evidence, anything that MIGHT be there (although it looks like it wasn’t) would be gone or corrupted.

But it’s a different time, and a different place, and it’s no longer necessary for the accuser to prove anything to get her what she wants. 

In fact, these days, it can get her more than she ever dreamed possible when she first made the accusation–not only can she be sure that Cosby is punished (evidence or not), but she can turn herself into a media heroine, interviewed on cables news and invited to give speeches to women’s groups.

Once she started on the media round, though, she got company–I think we’re up to fifteen other women making similar claims. 

In the media narrative as it now exists, the emergence of these other accusations is supposed to make it more likely that the original charges against Cosby are true.

For me, the emergence of these other charges make it LESS likely that the original charges are true.

Maybe it’s the suspiciousness of the mystery writer in me, but I can’t help thinking that we’re about to see a slew of lawsuits, making it possible for these women to charge Cosby with rape under a much lower standard of proof (“preponderance of evidence” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt”).

Such cases are much easier to win than criminal cases.

And that’s why they exist–before the 1960s, criminal charges and civil charges were more strictly defined, so that it was most often the case that you could not bring a lawsuit against somebody for what would normally be a criminal charge.

We changed that because, during the civil rights movement, all white Southern juries were refusing to convict white guys who killed or otherwise harmed civil rights activists.  See Cheney, et al.

The results of this innovation have been almost completely negative.  In many cases, the process of trying criminal complaints as torts has led to the complete collapse of the protection against double jeopardy. 

And that’s just for starters.  The far worse thing is the fact it gives the patina of due process to what is actually a form of mob rule.

So I think there are going to be lawsuits, and Cosby is going to be out a lot more money than he is even now. 

And I think that this is, in fact, what this is about.

But even if you believe Cosby’s accusers, you shouldn’t like what’s happening here.

Because what’s going on here really IS mob rule–pure and simple.

Bill Cosby has been accused of some heinous things.  But those things have NOT been proved, and they have NOT been supported by ANY material evidence.


And yet, he has lost his endorsements, had his work jerked out from under him, had his alma mater repudiate him–he could not have been more severely punished if he’d been captured on video murdering a baby.

And there is, at this moment, no way for him to fight back. 

And every single male in the public eye who is perceived to have enough money to loot–or even not in the public eye, even every small town big fish–is in danger of being in the same position, anytime, anywhere, if somebody decides she wants to go for him.

For ANY reason.

All you need is to wait enough time so that your accusations cannot be definitively proved to be untrue.

And, after all, the US government itself says that we should skirt the protections of criminal trials in cases of “sexual assault.”

Colleges and universities who want to receive any money at all from the Department of Education–including money from Pell Grants, and guaranteed student loans–are require to try sexual assault allegation on campus and to stick to a preponderance of the evidence standard.

In fact, the DOE positively advises AGAINST turning sexual assault allegations over to the police.

And it’s not hard to see why.  The police and the courts will provide the accusaed with due process protections.  They will not prosecute nonsense.  And you always run the danger of finding that the charges CAN be proved to be untrue.

See the Duke Lacrosse case, where the alleged victim identified as one of her rapists a kid who actually appeared on timed surveillance video at a bank ATM several miles away at the time the rape was supposed to have occurred.

And the Duke faculty, of course, refused to retract its denunciation of the kid, because–well, because all men are rapists.  Or something.

Observing due process in criminal accusations sometimes gets us results we don’t like–Darren Wilson, Casey Anthony, George Zimmerman.

They do, however, limit the occurence of something much worse than a (possibly) guilty person going free–an innocent person being condemned.

Cosby has been afforded no such protections.  His life has been destroyed because of accusations alone.  And I’m willing to bet you anything that if he actually manages to refute any of these allegations, the response of the media and academic will be:  well, maybe, but we still excoriate him.

I hate to use the phrase, because too many people get too damned self righteous when they do (although on other subjects):

But this is not my America.





Written by janeh

November 28th, 2014 at 11:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Well, Damn

with 17 comments

I am sitting here on a day that feels like spring, a little groggy from having stayed up late to watch the election results–except it turns out I didn’t stay up late enough, because I went to bed assuming that things would go as they had been and the Republicans wouldn’t get a majority in the Senate until after the run off election in Louisiana, and I woke up to find that the Republicans had pretty much swept the field.

For those of you who have no interest in the US elections, or who do but are always confused as hell about what is going on–which is most of us–this may not sound like a very big deal, but it is in fact a VERY big deal.

It is a big enough deal that there ought to be several of my friends running around with their hair on fire.

I don’t know, because AOL seems to be down this morning, so the only way I can get to my e mail is on my son’s phone, which is of minimal help.

I HATE touch screens.

That being said, a few notes on last night, and going forward:

1) Exactly how much trouble is the Democratic Party in if it couldn’t manage to unseat Sam Brownback as governor of Kansas?

Brownback honestly deserved to lose that election, not because of his ideology, but because his governance of Kansas has been a train wreck. 

Deficit up, jobs down, revenue flatlining–you name an indicator of how well a state is doing, and Brownback failed at it, and he failed at it in a way that can be traced directly to his policies.

He’s also been ideologically rigid to the point of silliness. 

One of the reasons former governors tend to do better as Presidents than former senators is that governors have to run what amounts to a small country, and you can look at what happened while they were in office and see what happens when they do the things they want to do.

Apparently, the people of Kansas didn’t care.

2) A fair number of the races that were supposed to be really close ended up not actually being close.

It was a little confusing, because a lot of those races were close at the beginning of the night but ended up as blow outs–Thom Tillis in North Carolina, Cory Gardner in Colorado, whoever the Republican was who took Georgia away from Sam Nunn’s daughter.

I went up to sleep and they started calling these things with really significant margins. 

3) The media, including Fox, spent half the night pretending that races that weren’t close were.  You’d look up at the screen and it would say R 66%, D 31% and wonder why anybody thought that race was too close to call.

And I do realize that it’s probably best not to call a race with only 23% of the vote in, but in some of these cases…well.

4) As I write this, the Senate race in Virginia is still up in the air.  The Democrat has declared victory, but the Republican hasn’t conceded, and the vote is close enough that this makes sense.

But that race WASN’T supposed to be close.  which means that even if the Republican eventually loses, this will still not be unalloyed good news for the Democrats. 

Virginia is the place where a great big whacking hunk of federal government workers live.

Democrats are in favor of expanding that workforce and paying them more money, while Republicans are not. 

A Democrat should be able to win in Virginia if he sleeps through the election.


5) White House spokespeople really, really, really have to stop going on the cable news shows talking about how this was not a referendum on the President.

The only way what just happened here makes any sense is if this election WAS a referendum on the President.

I’ve spent months reading about how the Republicans couldn’t hope to win anything on a platform that amounted to “we’re not Obama,” but they did.

Big time.

6) The Democrats (and Democrat-leaning news media) really, really, really have to stop saying that the election wasn’t a referendum on Obamacare.

It was for 23% of voters who went to the polls.  That’s only about half the number who put the economy as their first and most important issue, but it’s still a great big hunk.

7) There was no indication, one way or the other, that anybody cared at all about Ebola.

8) If the Democratic Party dies in the next few years–which a couple of friends of mine has worried it will–it will die because its supporters insist on “explaining” events like last night by the supposed “fact” that the American people are a pack of racist, sexist, nativist, homophobic idiots who don’t know their own best interests.

That nonsense had already started by the time I woke up this morning, and the truth is that it’s only likely to get worse.

9) In the run up to this election, the Obama administration deliberately delayed the implementation of several provisions of the Affordable Care Act–the most notable being the employer mandate–thought to be unpopular with the voters.

Having done that, however, those provisions are now set to go into effect in 2015, which means…

…right in the run-up to the 2016 Presidential election.

Which seems to me like very bad timing.



Written by janeh

November 5th, 2014 at 11:06 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Bad Behavior has blocked 236 access attempts in the last 7 days.