Don’t Hate Me ‘Cause I’m Human — A blast from the past post from 12/9/2010

*Yes, two blasts from the past today.  I have a head cold and I’m trying to finish a book.  Right now, though, I’m going to go back to bed and sleep a bit more.  It’s just a head cold, but it’s making me feel miserable.*

There’s this disturbing trend I’ve observed recently – okay, the last thirty years.

It’s part of what I was talking about yesterday, in a way. For a book to be considered serious, or introspective or relevant, it has to attack the past or western culture or civilization or tech or… humanity.

Not that there is anything wrong with attacking these, mind, to an extent. And they used to be shockers and a very good way to attract attention immediately. And I’m not saying the mindlessly chauvinistic “our people, right or wrong” was much better. For instance, the cowboy-and-Indian trope became really tired after a while.

I’m just saying that these days, by default what you hear is against-whatever-the-dominant-culture is.

I first realized this when I was studying for my final exam in American culture in college. The book changed opinions and contradicted itself but it was ALWAYS against the winners and against whatever ended up being the status quo. So, the book was against the North of the US, because the North… won. Even though it had before been against slavery. It was very much against modern US and raged against… embalming practices for three or four pages. (Because they divorce us from the Earth. Just SILLY stuff.)

And then I started noting this trend in everything, including fiction. Think about it. Who is to blame in any drama: the US; the successful; the British; the Europeans; the… humans.

Years ago when Discovery Channel put out its “future evolution” series, my kids and I were glued to the screen. We’re the family for whom the Denver Museum of Nature And Science is home away from home, the place we will visit if we have an afternoon free, the place where we have watched lectures and movies. I refer to it as “molesting dinos” and it’s usually my way to celebrate finishing a book.

So we were glued to the TV. Except that after the beginning, I realized the way it was going, and I started predicting it. Instead of taking a “what might humans become” the people who wrote this went down a path where first humans and then everything VAGUELY related to humans became successively extinct, till the only warm-blooded survivor was a bird, and then that too became extinct. In the end, tree-dwelling SQUIDS inherited the Earth.

Yes, you DID read that right. Tree. Dwelling. SQUIDS.

The contortions were capricious and often absurd, but you could predict where it was going.

It’s been a while since we had cable, but I understand there was a very popular series called “Life After US” about what would happen to the works of humans if we were suddenly extinct. And people watched it, fascinated and – from the tones of posts about it – a little wistful.

This is when you must step back and go “What is wrong with us?” “Is this a sickness of the soul?”

The answer? Yes and no.

Part of it, of course, is wanting to shock, wanting to revolutionize, wanting to be innovative… in safe ways – in (dare we say it?) politically correct ways. It’s easy and approved of to attack: males, America, western civ, humans.

People who select works at publishers and studios and all that are often liberal arts graduates and they come from this curious world where they still think the establishment is circa 1950s and that they’re telling something new and wonderful.

Part of it is, of course, that we do see problems in our own culture, in our own society, in our own species. Of course we do. We are an introspective culture. We examine our consciences, we find ourselves lacking, we try to improve. This is, in general a good thing – though perhaps a little perspective is also in order.

Part of it is politeness/sensitivity to other cultures, mingled with the consciousness our ancestors were often wrong. We’ve been taught the crimes of colonizers in various lands and most of those colonizers (and colonized, at least for most of us) were our ancestors. We’re conscious we’re big and others are smaller. It’s a peculiar form of noblesse oblige. We don’t want to trample others by pointing out faults in other cultures or other species. I understand this, because I learned to drive in my thirties and lived in a mountain town with lots of foot traffic downtown. I was excruciatingly careful driving through there, because I could crush a pedestrian and not notice. This is why we tend to turn our flagellation upon ourselves.

And part of it is sicker/darker. I notice this tendency every time we discuss a great figure of the past, from George Washington to Heinlein – as different as they are. I call it “counting coup.” George Washington? Well, he was slave owner. And he had wooden teeth. And Lincoln? Well, he was very ill, and besides, he was probably gay and in the closet. Heinlein? Despite all his efforts at including – for his time – minorities and giving women starring roles, he must have been closet racist and sexist, donchaknow? Because he doesn’t fit OUR superior notions of inclusiveness.

What is going on here – besides tearing at our own past, and thereby continuing the self-flagellation – is being able to prove we are “superior” to these high achievers. We might do nothing and achieve nothing, but we are superior beings because we’re more moral than they are.
Individually, none of these trends is really bad – or at least not for those of us who grew up with the opposite tradition.

Oh, the constant and predictable chest-beating becomes boring. At least it does for me. Maybe it doesn’t for other people?

But think of (grin) the children. They have no perspective. All they hear is how their country, their culture, their SPECIES is evil. How things would be so much better without us… How things would – ultimately – be much better if… THEY hadn’t been born.

It’s not healthy. It’s vaguely disgusting. And the best it can do is engender the MOTHER of all backlashes and bring about a cultural chauvinism the likes of which you’ve never seen. The worse… well, one of the other cultures we don’t criticize because they’re small and we’re big becomes the norm.

And before you cheer them on, let me put this in perspective: Western civ has committed crimes. ALL human cultures throughout history have committed crimes. Slavery? Since the dawn of time. Exploitation? Since the dawn of time. Murder? War? Genocide? Yep, and yep, and yep. And many of those cultures STILL do all of those things and don’t feel in the slightest bit guilty, mostly because we handily and frequently blame OURSELVES for their behavior and they get our books, our TV series and our movies.

Such as it is, the West has brought the greatest freedom, prosperity and security to the greatest population.

Yes, there were crimes committed, but a lot of them were the result of a clash of world views – tribalism met the state. Look, it’s not that Native Americans or Africans lived in a state of innocence and harmony with nature. If you believe that, you need to study history and put down Jean Jacques Rosseau. And get out of your mom’s basement. And take the Star Trek posters off the wall. And the Avatar poster, too, while you’re at it.

To the extent the native were innocent and helpless, it was because of their mental furniture. What gave colonizers the edge was not their weapons or civilization (Oh, come on, back then, there wasn’t that much of a distance.) It was their mental furniture. To wit, they had overcome tribalism and organized on a large scale. Most of the colonized (excepting some small empires) hadn’t. So they would attack in ways that worked in tribal warfare: exterminate a village or an outpost. And the reaction of the colonizers (who by the way also didn’t understand the difference in mental furniture and therefore thought this made the native peoples’ “bestial” or “evil) was to exterminate all of a tribe or a federation of tribes. And it worked because westerners were united as a MUCH larger group. Which made them stronger. Western civilization started overcoming tribalism with the Romans. That was the real innovation.

If you think that we’re rich because of those acts, you must study economics. It doesn’t work that way. If anything those acts made all of us worse off. We’re way past any wealth we could plunder off others. We’ve created wealth. The whole world lives better than it did five hundred years ago.

And if you’re going to tell me the fact that all humans are flawed proves that we’re a bad species, you’ll have to tell me: As opposed to what? Dolphins are serial rapists. Chimps commit murder. Rats… Every species we examine has our sins, but none of our redeeming qualities.

Heinlein said it was important to be FOR humanity because we’re human. Beavers might be admirable, but we’re not beavers. He was right. But beyond all that, we’re the only species that tries self-perfecting. We exist – as Pratchett said – at the place where rising ape meets falling angel, but as far as I know, we’re the only species reaching upward. (Of course, we wouldn’t know if there are others and again, we have to assume we are it. The others have flaws too.)

We are part of the world and in it. To love the other animals of the Earth – or the hypothetical alien – and hate us is strange. Are we not animals? Are we not of the Earth? And who the heck can compete with sentients who exist only in the story teller’s imagination.

By all means, let’s protect the weaker. Let’s shelter the little. But let’s not beat ourselves because we’re bigger and stronger. Let’s USE our powers for good instead.

Am I saying that you shouldn’t tell these stories then?

No, I’m not. I would never repress anyone’s right to create, or anyone’s opinion. But I’m asking you to think. I’m asking you to pause and go “The west is bad… as opposed to? Humans are bad… as opposed to?” And tell your kids that, ask them those questions.

And then, perhaps, every now and then, try to imagine a story from the contrary view point. Just to wake things up. And to keep others thinking.

 

94 responses to “Don’t Hate Me ‘Cause I’m Human — A blast from the past post from 12/9/2010

  1. I do get so friggin’ TIRED of “modern is evil, technology is evil, the West is evil, WE are evil”. It’s dull. It’s tiresome. It accomplishes bupkiss. It gets us nowhere.

    I think a lot of it is, at root, because the Progressive/Socialist types are at least dimly aware that Socialism was the greatest evil of the 20th Century. They’re scared to death that somebody is going to call for an accounting, as if we had nothing better to do than chew over old soup. They want to paint EVERYTHING about the modern west as so bad that their schoolgirl pash for the likes of Stalin will go unremarked.

    Somebody really needs to tell them that if they would just move on and stop dredging up their darkest fantasis of everbody’s past, nobody would much CARE.

    Socialism was a bust. It sounded all happy joy joy, but in practive it alsays seemed to allow vicious thugs to take over. So sad. But not really that mich different from the Divine Right Of Kings. Throw it on the ash heap and try something else.

    Only, I suppose, they have so little in the way of talent that they can’t come up with anything new.

    *sigh*

    • Ascher Goodrich

      Socialism is a wonderful, noble idea and , like most such ideas, it doesn’t work(not by itself anyways, I do enjoy having a police and fire department etc…). The road to hell is paved with good intentions and all that. The problem is, there is always some arrogant ass who says,”Yes, it didn’t work before but…”. One would think one-hundred million dead was enough.

      • What’s so noble and wonderful about the idea of concentrating all the ability to make decisions in the hands of a tiny oligarchy?

        • Because it’s for THE PEOPLE.

        • Ascher Goodrich

          Socialism is partly based off the idea that everyone is equal and that if everyone works towards a common goal equally, anything can be achieved and everyone can be happy. This is obviously a noble concept and that is part of the reason so many people are duped by it.
          Don’t misunderstand me, socialism doesn’t work, and has arguably been responsible for more deaths than any other cause.

          • Socialism is nothing more nor less nor other than the doctrine that the government gets to make all economic decisions — which is to say a tiny oligarchy gets to make ’em. That’s the very reverse of equality. That they try to muffle it up with rhetoric doesn’t change that they aim for the opposite of equality.

            • Ascher Goodrich

              Yes there are always going to be people who manipulate and abuse a system. Socialism is so inherently vulnerable to this, it almost seems like that was the main goal of the idea in the first place. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. That isn’t to say the idea itself isn’t noble. It is when one reads between the lines that evil rears its head.

              • The idea is that the government gets to make all the economic decisions. What is noble about that idea?

                • Ascher Goodrich

                  I admit my last answer was obtuse and, as you pointed out rather er…rhetoricy. I’ll do my best to be intelligible this time. In theory it protects people from being abused by the owners of a private-owned business and regulates the economy so it doesn’t fluctuate rapidly. This would prevent a lot of human suffering. I don’t think it is unreasonable to say the idea is noble.

      • Systems that not only don’t work but result in poverty and economic decay and have been shown to be such over and over are not wonderful noble ideas. Socialism is an evil, tyrannical horror.

        • Ascher Goodrich

          Look, you are preaching to the choir. I think from my previous comments it is obvious I don’t approve of socialism. Socialism is a noble idea. In practice not so much. There is a vast difference between a concept and practical application.
          It is possible to recognize the merit in an idea while not approving or agreeing with it, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”, and what not.

  2. It’s one thing when a person who knows and cares about his own people and culture points out either mistakes or mistakes in the making. That sort of thing is done out of love with the aim of cleaning up a mess in one’s figurative back yard, or even preventing it.

    It’s something else entirely to strut around brandishing an impossible, other-worldly standard and denouncing everyone who fails to live up to it. That’s the mindset of the SJWs, a noxious breed that infests nearly every society, but seems to have proliferated here in the Western world.

    • “the idiot who praises, in enthusiastic tone, all Centuries but this, and every country but his own”

      • I’ve got a little list …
        Sigh – this is why I started writing HF. I started having the conviction – round and about 2006 when I started on the first one – that we had to reclaim our history and see it as something to be proud of. It was such a strong feeling, almost an intensely religious conviction. I felt that there were hard times coming, although I didn’t know exactly what form those hard times would take, and that particular mission was my own part of fighting back against something malign and formless in our current culture.

    • Denouncing everyone? Hardly. Denouncing whomever they wish to.

      Does anyone on their side ever denounce the perpetrator when they find a hate crime was a hoax?

      • lonejanitor

        They’re more like David Irving. They perpetrate the hoax themselves, then blame someone else if they get cornered enough. Otherwise, nope, the hoax isn’t a hoax because Bush was evil, so Guam tipped over.

        Think I got the right island/nation, this time.

  3. I’m not disagreeing. I just think it’s also an excuse to be lazy. Lincoln and Washington accomplished something big. And even they needed foot soldiers.

  4. Because they divorce us from the Earth.

    Well, it does.

    Kinda the point— who wants to wake up after burial? (And anybody who tries to claim that with our technology, there’s no way that could happen, needs to look around a bit of the “news of the weird” articles and educate themselves that yes, even now people wake up in the morgue.)

    Other effects like reducing the whole biohazard thing are a divorce from the earth, too….

    • Invariable, those who hold such views have never really been close to the Earth, or they wouldn’t be trying to embrace a “natural” existence. E.E. Cummings wrote probably the worst expression of it, pity this busy monster, manunkind, where he shuns technology (and, evidently, capital letters) as “eviiil.” Yet Cummings never moved to the wilderness to live in animal skins and knapping flint to slay his supper. The little sanctimonious hypocrite.

      All it takes is having to deal with carcasses in the South in the Summer to appreciate embalming. All it takes is actually deal with nature to appreciate technology. Of course, nature can be a rather strict teacher, and seldom allows “do overs” when you screw up.

      • eh, do remember at the time he was writing Progress was the excuse used by every form of tyranny. Progressives were chirping about how we needed to fall in line and let bureaucrats and experts rule us like those ever efficient Leninists and Fascists, or we would get buried. And above all else not let those fossilized concepts of the Declaration of Independence hold us back.

  5. Eamon J. Cole

    And then, perhaps, every now and then, try to imagine a story from the contrary view point. Just to wake things up. And to keep others thinking.

    Hm. Pursuant to this: Is growling in frustration and the throbbing head part of this process? ‘Cause that seems to be the bulk of my output, recently.

  6. As mentioned on another site, after a coed went into the PC spiel in class:. After class, while talking with the professor, a military vet said “I don’t WANT her on my side.”

  7. Going to have to sort of disagree with you about the USA not benefiting from driving out or wiping out the Native Americans.
    Yes, the colonists did benefit, in that they could farm in peace without having to deal with persons upset that their hunting preserves were being disturbed.
    That having been said, I don’t think, unlike many of my generation, that this makes us uniquely evil. Kentucky comes from “Cain-tuck-ee,” which I have heard means “Dark and Bloody Ground.” Doubters may also wish to inquire why Hiawatha was so famed for bringing peace to the initial Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.

    • Actually the Amerindians more than anything were genetically overwhelmed, which is why we have so many “blue eyed Indians.” Love was more lethal than war.

      • Hernando de Soto encountered a bearded Indian where there shouldn’t have been contact. One of the characters in American Gods summed it up nicely: People have been coming to America for a long time.

        • Yep. As we’re finding.

        • People had not been coming to America in substantial numbers prior to
          Columbus. Because they would have brought more biological stuff than their own genes.

          For instance, one reason Plymouth was settled so easily was that the locals had been devastated by a virgin-field epidemic. Brought by the cod fishermen. But if the fishermen had been doing it for centuries, they would have had it and then had time to recuperate.

          • Um, people had to come over in substantial numbers at some point prior to Columbus, or there wouldn’t have been anyone here to great him. As for the rest, they brought enough for bearded Indians and light-skinned Cherokee . . .

            And Roman Amphora found in Brazil in the 1970s, and linguistic similarities between Egyptian and a tribe in the Midwest, IIRC. One legend of Quetzalcoatl sounds suspiciously like a Viking who set up his own kingdom only to be run out of town. There’s also similarities between Solutrean culture in Europe and some artifacts on the east coast. All intriguing.

            • Nah, they had plenty of time to people the continents starting only with a handful. One also notes there would be genetic variation in the populations.

              • IIRC, there has been quite a bit of genetic variation found– it’s just usually in graves, rather than living populations.
                The most polite way I heard it explained was that each new “wave” pushed the prior population further down.

                Kennewick man is amazing for how very many people noticed the hostility to the one, eternal Amerindian idea, and the open abuse of political power, not for the suppression of rather important information. (And yes, I do consider destroying a site with literal tons of rubble and bulldozers, and attempting to destroy remains, as suppression.)

              • The “Clovis Police,” that faction of the archeological community that maintains Clovis culture must have been the first and who strive for the correctness of their idea, certainly thinks so.

                Then we have sites like this: 50,000 years old and on the East Coast, and messes up the whole narrative:
                http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/11/041118104010.htm

          • For instance, one reason Plymouth was settled so easily was that the locals had been devastated by a virgin-field epidemic. Brought by the cod fishermen. But if the fishermen had been doing it for centuries, they would have had it and then had time to recuperate.

            That’s the currently popular theory.

            The same one that, last time we went over it, required that these virgin field epidemics also had death rates that were beyond anything directly observed, human or animal, while also transmitting amazingly effectively considering the lack of population density and quick transportation.

            Was it here or over a DarwinCatholic’s place where digging into a purported 100% fatality rate turned up that the observation consisted of a child’s memory of “well, they use to always camp there, and now the buildings are all fallen apart and nobody camps there?” No bodies, only one or two graves she didn’t remember.
            (If I heard that the village over by the place was having up to 25% of their people dying from disease, I wouldn’t go there anymore, either.)

            I think it’s much more likely that there was some lack-of-exposure making the sickness worse, dietary issues, and also some behavior related higher-rate-of-infection problems.
            It’s really amazing how different the assumptions between cultures can be, where one defaults to “staying in one place with food source” and the other defaults to “moving after food source.”

      • That site referred to above also had an Amerind professor saying the white man took our land, and gave us God – we got the better of the exchange. That was an interesting perspective.

        • *gets the giggles* I wanna buy that man a drink of his choice– that is both charming, and rest assured to make all The Right Peoples’ heads spin around while fire spits out.

          • Davie Yeagley – last I saw, he was teaching at an Oklahoma college. The site that had the comments was badeagle-dot-com.

      • Perhaps even more important, you can develop disease resistance by having the herd culled for millennia, as the whites had, or by interbreeding and getting their genes.

        Mind you, even the Spanish Influenza hit harder for them than for anyone else, so it takes a while.

      • I happen to know a couple of registered Cherokee (they estimate their heritage as roughly 1/3; they’re not certain about their mom.) Dark hair and brown eyes, yes, but aside from awesome tans in the summer, they visually blend in to “white.” (Actually, the brother—who is a fabulous professional tenor—can do generic “Arab” quite convincingly.)

        At any rate, yeah, they know the history, but their attitude is closer to “that was a sucky move, don’t do it again” than “I will resent that past action forever.” IOW, they’re just people like any other people, and pretty nice people to boot, not professional victims.

        And now that I think on it, T. is about the furthest pole from “professional victim” that I can think of. Heh. Mama Bear for sure.

  8. This stuff goes back along ways. Some of it was around before the American Revolution, courtesy of the “Nobel Savage” mem. A Frenchman who’d name I can’t recall skewered that nicely with his account of living among the Creeks. Some of it is a reaction to a portrayal of figures in US history as practically saints, but that cracked during the counter-culture years of the late 1960s – early 1970s, and, of course, tinted a bit through socialist glasses. It gets old. Granted it’s entertaining to hear of Jefferson appreciating relaxing with a pipe of hemp, but there was more to the man than wacky weed and Sarah Jennings. We seldom hear that the Indians called Washington The Devourer of Villages by some Indians because most kids find that sort of thing very cool. Interesting the things that get left on the cutting room floor.

    It’s particularly schizoid when it comes to the US Civil War. On the one hand we have the Cult of Lincoln, who is possibly the most over-rated president in US history when it was arguably Grant who saved the Union, On the other, the Confederacy had slavery, and were Southerners, and the latter is an allowable prejudice among SJWs. The end result is they sort of mealy-mouth their way through that period, to the detriment of teaching much of what actually went on in that time.

    Perhaps I’m being harsh. It could also be a result of the abbreviated “Europe in a Week Tour” survey of American History. If all someone knows are the highlights, then they’re missing much of how people thought and why they thought and acted as they did. All too often, history books reference other history books instead of going to primary sources. And it shows.

    • Disagree on Lincoln vis a vis Grant as savior of the Union. As near as I can tell, Lincoln spent the entire war trying to find a general like Grant to lead the armies. Lincoln also had the good sense to tell William H. Seward to go jump in a lake during the Trent affair.
      Meanwhile, despite the war, he also spent a good portion of his time preparing for the future–the Homestead Act, the Morrill Land Grant Act, and the Transcontinental Railroad.
      I realize that in many ways he paved the way for the modern regulatory state, but if we’re going to back that far we might as well blame Washington and Madison.

      • Yes, the thing about Grant, love him though I do, is that he needed a Lincoln to keep the assorted political parasited from having him relieved. He was just SO not what a General was “supposed” to be.

        I feel something of the same thing about the WWII frontline Generals and Eisenhower; all Patton did was fight the enemy. Eisenhower kept Patton from shooting Montgomery, and Churchill from strangling DeGaul.

        • Montgomery was not the only general who needed saving from Patton–Hodges comes to mind.

          • Patton simply could not get it through his solid biscuit head that a battlefield commander HAS to get along with the rest of the command structure.

        • There were a couple of reasons Grant wasn’t particularly popular. He didn’t care much about his losses, as long as he inflicted losses on Lee. Time and again he would order direct assaults against Confederate breastworks that would repeatedly fail (off the top of my head I can’t think of an instance where a frontal assault dislodged a properly dug in force, something the WWI generals should have paid attention to) so he would sidle left and march south until Lee got into another blocking position. Rinse and repeat until Lee was in the Richmond-Petersburg works. Of course this strategy used up men faster than the Union could replace them, so Grant supplemented his troops by pulling the heavy artillery garrisons out of the Washington forts and making them infantry. This was doubly unpopular with the DC set because of the widespread fear that Lee would get around Grant and attack Washington, and postings to the Washington fortifications were seen as a safe billet for the sons of politically connected families in exactly the same way that line infantry wasn’t.

          • Actually, twice the Union forces routed entrenched Confederates during the war.

            I also note that when Democrats tried to talk to soldiers of the Army of the Potomac about voting Democratic, they reported back that the soldiers said that if McClellan had let them fight as Grant was letting them, they would have won the war a lot earlier.

            • Battle in the Clouds?

              • Arrrgh – Above the Clouds.

              • Chattanooga and Nashville.

                • Missionary Ridge? Where Confederate artillery was set too high to offer support?

                  • Yes, and the riflemen had lousy fields of fire because the ridge was too steep.
                    Nashville, in the meantime–Hood had lost a large portion of his army a few weeks before, Thomas had pulled in men from all over the place, and Forrest had been sent off to raid.

                    • As the song goes (sung to the tune The Yellow Rose of Texas:
                      “Now I’m going southward,
                      My heart is full of woe,
                      I’m going back to Georgia
                      To find my Uncle Joe.
                      You can sing about your Beauregard,
                      Or sing of Bobby Lee,
                      But the gallant Hood of Texas,
                      Played H*** in Tennessee.”

                  • I said that they routed entrenched riflemen. They routed entrenched rifleman.

                    Battles often turn on enemy stupidity.

      • Rob Crawford

        “I realize that in many ways he paved the way for the modern regulatory state…”

        Lincoln was such the source of the regulatory state that it took fifty years — coincidentally when the Progressives arose — before it bloomed.

        Wait. What?

    • The US Civil War has been poorly taught for decades. When I was in school it was presented as a very close thing, where the superior Southern soldiers were swamped by the more numerous Northern armies. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned that Lee was the only Southern general who was consistently successful against the north, and that was largely because the Army of the Potomac had preternaturally poor luck in commanders (it was also the Union army most subject to political influence, I’m sure that’s just a coincidence). West of the Shenandoah valley the Confederates faced a nearly unbroken string of losses and setbacks. The only consistent success they had was in cavalry raids on Union supply lines, but those were insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

      • I like Shelby Foote’s trilogy on the Civil War; the man knows how to tell a tale. He does, however, give the impression that it was a contest to see which side was beset with more and worse prima-donnas.

        • Yes, Foote is among the most readable of the Civil War historians.

        • Like that book about the British in WWI entitled _The Donkeys_, from the German comment that the British were lions led by donkeys. A fascinating account of how not to lead/order men.

      • (Nods) The reasons the Confederates lasted as long as they did in the West were as follows: A. Henry Halleck hated Grant’s guts; B. Don Carlos Buell had no idea what he was doing; C. George Thomas was mistrusted due to being a Virginian; D. Braxton Bragg couldn’t lead men, but he could make sure they were supplied.

      • It depends on what you mean by “superior.” The South was more rural than the North, which meant it had enlistees who knew how to shoot where the North had to train men with little to no experience with firearms. It made enough of a difference that after the war a group of Union officers got together and created an organization to promote peacetime practice and training with firearms. It was called the National Rifle Association.

        Arguably, this, along with horsemanship, was a wash when faced with Union soldiers with similar backgrounds. Where you have men on equal footing, the huge issue should be officers, logistics, and the means to supply an army in the field. The South failed at the last two. Officers may have been a wash as well.

        Still, it’s perhaps notable that the Union did post-war interviews with former Confederates. Can’t recall all of that, but one of the things that shook out was that nice, shiny brass buttons made nice shiny, targets.

        • One notices that when Sheridan was given freedom to use the cavalry to chase down J.E.B. Stuart, it went very hard on Confederate cavalry.

          • OTOH, even Joe Wheeler, who Forrest considered so poor an officer that he refused to work with him after one battle, continued operation, and then there’s a Mosby, who counted it a success when the Union had to expend manpower to protect from raids. There was also an officer I can’t recall at the moment who made a credible threat for a stunt raid on DC before election. He couldn’t have held it, which would have made it a stunt.

            • Jubal Early, 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign. It ended up backfiring, as that was what caused Lincoln to order Grant to put Sheridan on his tail and torch the Breadbasket of the Confederacy.

      • The thing is, the Confederates didn’t need to WIN the war. All they needed to do was refrain from losing it. That makes it a lot closer.

        • One miscalculation on the Confederate part was that the Union would have to conquer an area about the size of Europe, and no one had pulled that off before, not even the Romans or Napoleon.

          The story goes that one fire-eater who boasted the South could lick Yankees with corn stalks was goaded about his statement after the war. “D*** Yankees wouldn’t fight with corn stalks” is supposed to have been his reply.

          • The corn-stalk remark is actually of more recent vintage; at least the first this Southern boy heard of it was when Lewis Grizzard used it in a column,

        • Not really. The progress out west was pretty inexorably against the South. As major Southern cities like Vicksburg, Atlanta, and Mobile fell Lee would have ever-increasing difficulty in keeping his army effective, and as other Confederate armies fell Lee would eventually find himself completely surrounded. Sherman nearly pulled the last part off which triggered Lee’s dash out of Richmond that ended at Appomattox.

  9. Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus!: http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/

  10. There was a spate of what happens after people are gone books and TV documentaries a few years ago. I think it started with the book THE WORLD WITHOUT US by Alan Weisman (2007). The History Channel series, which ran to a feature-length documentary and two seasons worth of TV episodes, was called LIFE AFTER PEOPLE, and I quite liked it. From what I heard, some people were turned off by the fantasy-like premise of the entire human race suddenly disappearing from one moment to the next, but I suspect that was a producers’ decision to avoid the consequences of something like an incurable killer mutant virus wiping us out and having to show rotting corpses and then skeletons lying around everywhere. The reason I liked the series, besides its cheerful sensationalism, was that it was a quick course in how things fall apart for the would-be fantasy and science-fiction writer. One of the commonest tropes in both genres is the ancient civilization, and I’ve run into a few too many stories with suspiciously intact ruins. As this series brought out, without maintenance, buildings and other artifacts go fast. It’s worth watching the series to see how long it takes for things to collapse and what is likely to remain for explorers to find after a few centuries. The series was also worth it to me for just one sound bite from David Brin pointing out that the notion of the aliens watching I LOVE LUCY reruns sixty light-years from here is probably wrong — TV signals cease to be intelligible by a couple of light-years out, and poor Lucy never even got to Alpha Centauri.

    • Yes, that was what I liked about it. I also noticed that the last thing to go would be massive gravity dams such as Hoover, which would make a nice little story about space explorers finding a seemingly untouched world, and eventually discovering that an impressive waterfall has manufactured stone under it.

    • TV signals radiate in a sphere, but not through the earth so they are directional and the earth is spinning and orbiting. If you want to watch TV from a light year away, you need to fly in a spirograph path to follow both motions. Pretty much impossible, I’d think. Given the frame rate, you might be able to pick up a frame here and there.

    • In most cases surviving ancient ruins (intact ones) survived because someone came along before they dilapidated too far and used them for something else. This happened with many Roman ruins. Having a reason for the ruins to be not so dilapidated can be an interesting addition to a story (or a whole story in and of itself. what’s using it and doing maintenance? If it’s magically or robotically maintained where does the programing break down?)

  11. I don’t know, there’s a certain amount of interest around here in what would happen to our roads and bridges over time without maintenance. Certainly they wouldn’t last as long as Rome’s have! But that’s not really anti-human so much as it is “Why, oh why, is there a pothole right where I’m going to hit it every time I need to turn into my driveway! How long will it take before the whole road has turned into scrub?”

    • Based on a memorable “secondary” road I was on in Hungary last fall, I’d say one hard winter to break up the surface, and then however long it takes for the brush to grow to the desired size. :/

    • To find out how long roads last without maintenance, just come to California and look.

      If our weather was worse we’d hardly have paving at all.

      • There are places in Texas where the old highway route was optimized to take out section line following where you can still see the old road bed 80 years later. It takes a long time for plants to break up a well packed thick caliche roadbed. I bet a lot of our structures would last well over 2000 years as ruins.

        • Bits and pieces yes, but many of the ancient ruins we have, we have because later peoples/generations came along and used the stuff for other things. (Quite a few of the Roman ruins were preserved in this manner.)

      • Well, you do have to admit that part of that is wear & tear; the right lanes of any major road—where the semis drive—are always in the worst shape. (They’ve been doing serious resurfacing in my area—stripping all the way down and resetting. I’ve gotten a bit spoiled, because we went to Monterey this weekend, and oh, 680 is just awful.)

  12. “I’m just saying that these days, by default what you hear is against-whatever-the-dominant-culture is.” No, it’s what they claim the dominant culture is, when it’s theirs that’s dominant. They’re complaining about the “not-progressive” people and what they did.

  13. If any of you have been over at John C. Wright’s blog for when Great Books have come up — we’ve started a Goodreads Great Books group:

    https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/158185-great-books

  14. Late to the party here as usual – but yeah, Hollyweird, and much of our credentials culture lOVES to slam humanity. Only the dark, dreary, depressing gray goo is “serious”

    Look at what won the oscars – Birdman.

    Trust me, don’t watch it.

    First line is along the lines of “what a sh*thole” – and it goes downhill from there. Narcissist trying to revive a feeling of relevance, goes into rages, cannot control himself, and pours everything into a play because he feels that his earlier glory days acting in superhero movies weren’t actually art, or something.

    I’ll say he was a contender for best actor, but what a crappy, broken person, surrounded by crappy, broken people, futilely (and that’s the important part) searching for meaning, grace, transcendence. In the end, the main character only finds it – and release – through at best, self mutilation, and at worst , killing himself.

    Compare this to Whiplash. Yeah, still – mostly – broken people, and a damn good question in “how hard is it too hard to push” – where does it cross into a abuse? Does the end justify the means?

    Excellently acted, awesome soundtrack and drumming, and it never cheated you of grace, transcendence. Glory, achievement. In the end, it is found, fleeting as it is, and not a rip-off, or a sham. The rug is not ripped out from under the protagonist.

    • c4c

    • The thing aboit the Oscars is that they are a competition WITHIN a trade. I’m. Ot sayimg you are completely wrong, but you have to factor in the “my God I would have loved to play that role” effect. I feel something related to that aboit Dustin Hoffman’s entire carreer; I completely understand why he would want to PLAY all those characters, I just don’t want to spend two hours in the same room with them.

  15. Rich Rostrom

    David Brin struck it in a brilliant essay some years ago: “The Dogma of Otherness”. He noted that in modern western culture, there seems to be a reflex to back or believe or embrace the outsider or dissenter or rebel, and to Reject Authority automatically.

    Examples: a French radical newspaper of the 1860s which supported the CSA because they were rebels fighting for independence; Mark Twain championing a biologist who claimed to have created synthetic life because “the consensus is always wrong” (more or less). Or jumping forward to the present – a web journalist for “independent journalism site” First Look was essentially hounded out of the organization. He had edited and helped write articles reporting that a convicted murderer was in fact guilty, despite the wildly popular NPR podcast “Serial” claiming the killer had been railroaded. But First Look was supposed to be always against The Man.

    It has been one of the great strengths of western culture that it is open to internal criticism; that it honors the just rebel or dissident. Internal critics brought down a vast array of oppressive entrenched institutions and beliefs. That allowed the West to become modern, acquire science, and dominate the world.

    But this valuation has morphed into an autoimmune disorder. Western “high culture” values attacks on the West, to the point where such attacks are given reflexive credence, and any defense is half-hearted and muted. Europe’s power elite seems determined to let Europe be taken over by Moslem Immigrants, for instance.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      There was a story about a modern High School class watching an old News Reel and cheering when they heard “the Rebels have entered the city”.

      The News Reel was about the Spanish Civil War and the “Rebels” were Franco’s people. Of course, “everybody” knew that Franco was this evil fascist but the students just thought “Rebels = good guys”.

      Note, IMO Franco has been unjustly painted as a “Bad Guy”.

      • In the Spanish civil war, there were no good guys.
        And interesting that Brin had that insight since he seems to be a manifestation of anti-western immune system.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Nod, I can accept “no good guys during that war”.

          However, Franco deserves credit for planning for “what happens after I’m dead”.

          There was a peaceful transfer of power after his death.

        • There’s a certain bitter humor to Orwell’s simultaneous insistence that there had been a revolution at the outbreak of war — and that the Republicans were still unquestionably the legitimate government.

          But when prominent politicians are kidnapped and tortured to death by police, without the police being punished, the peace has no good guys, either.