So I’ve been reading this mystery. Yes, yes, “It came from KULL” [kindle unlimited lending library] I know, but it’s actually decent. I mean, it’s not exactly setting my world on fire, but it’s pleasant enough. Until…
The book is set in the nineteenth century. One of the characters is reading her father’s diary, and her father was a scientist/explorer (who has disappeared. This is sort of the background to the whole series, not the mystery) and she’s enthralled by his adventures, until…
Until his party is attacked by neighbors, and they fight back, killing a bunch of the natives. The author then refers to this as a “massacre” and proceeds to act as though this tarnished the main character’s view of her father forever.
Then to make things clearer, this woman’s bone-headed brother in law comes in to say that the savages should be glad we bring them civilization even if we have to kill them. And in case you know, the reader might be tempted to sympathize with this opinion, blusters about how men and women shouldn’t work together, because they might become — horror of horrors! — friends. Then he huffs off, shedding straw as he goes.
[Sarah puts thumb and forefinger on either side of the bridge of her nose, closes her eyes and inclines her head.] Where to begin?
Let’s start with the fact that the attitude of the main character is seriously a-historical. A woman of the time might be horrified by the “barbarous” doings, but would certainly not think it constituted a massacre. To consider this a massacre takes knowing that in these clashes the white men would ALWAYS win and were disproportionately equipped to do so, and KNEW they’d survive and kill all the others.
Reality check, okay, even in this book that’s given the lie, since her father was almost certianly killed by natives. But beyond that, the world is strewn with the corpses of scientists/explorers, even those way better armed than hostile natives, but at a disadvantage in the landscape.
Then there’s the brother in law’s opinion that colonialism is good for you. You know… for most of human history it was. Now, it wasn’t particularly good for INDIVIDUAL humans. Being invaded and more often than not reduced to the position of serfs or slaves purely sucks. But when the colonialists bring with them a higher level of production/wealth creation/security… well… I’d hate for it to happen to me or my kids, but in the long run future generations might be much better off.
Now this isn’t always true, of course. Colonialism, like other Marxist buggaboos, has no existence in itself. It is the abstract isolation of a phenomenon that can be good or bad or indifferent, depending on who is colonizing whom. (It is also not, btw, a characteristic of white men. All humans colonize. Which is why there are humans on every continent.) Europe being invaded by the Moors might very well, on the whole, have redounded to the worse. Some things were gained from the invasion, sure (almonds and the artesian well were among the ones we were forced to memorize in school) but had it not been thrown off, the level of individual happiness and wealth would probably have ended up lower (as it did in Africa) and it can be argued it left behind habits of mind that are at odds with modernity (which they didn’t know would come) as well as regressive treatment of women. It’s far more complex than that, though, since each invading civilization brings both good and bad, and also changes while it’s occupying the land.
That change, btw, accounts for a lot of the disastrous effects of European colonialism in much of Africa: as Europeans embraced Marxist thought, the leading minds of Africa came to Europe to study it. What communism, socialism, and its cousins have done to Africa doesn’t bear contemplating.
The author, btw, as though aware she’s being crazy and imposing her crazy on the story, goes on about how her father was “trespassing” and that’s why these young men attacked.
[Does sinal salute again.] She never actually tells us what moral behavior in those circumstances would be. Letting themselves be slaughtered when they were attacked, even though they aren’t doing anything wrong (objectively) but merely looking for specimens?
Look, I’ve described this type of encounter between western civ and tribal mind set before. To an extent our current confrontation with Islam is that, writ large. There is a tribal mind set that is very old, is probably built into our genes, because we were tribal long before we were anything else, and which goes something like this “strangers in our territory” (however defined, since most tribes lacked the concept of land ownership.) “We’ll commit atrocities against them, so they leave us alone. The greater the atrocities, the less trouble they’ll be.”
Unfortunately western civ interprets/ed atrocities as “these savages can’t be tamed/integrated. Kill them all and let G-d sort them out.”
This is a problem, because in the language of violence (and violence, between human groups is a language, intended to convey a message) what is “said” and what is “understood” are completely different. And it will escalate violence until the stronger civilization destroys the weaker one.
It’s a tragedy, but it’s unavoidable. It’s been happening for centuries or millennia — alas, Cartago! — and absent the ability to telepathically communicate with a tribal civilization to make them back off, I do not know what the author thinks could be done to avoid the “massacre” of people who were trying to kill a scientific expedition.
But more importantly, speaking to the mindset behind this, the mindset that thinks colonialism is somehow evil, and can only exist from whites/Europe versus everyone else, and also that SOMEHOW Europeans are so powerful that when they kill EVEN PEOPLE ATTACKING THEM it’s always a massacre:
1- All humans are colonialists. All humans are territorial. Before we had anything as complicated as tribes, if our understanding of our nearer evolutionary relatives is right, we had family bands, who had territories. Clashes occurred at the bands of these territories. The band that was successful in taking over the territory and aggregating the other band, eventually became a tribe. The tribe most successful in conquering others, eventually became a nation. You can beat your chest and cry, but it doesn’t matter We’re not angels. We’re uppity apes and this is how we function. All your scolding won’t change it.
2- Violence will always happen when two very disparate civilizations meet. Why? Because even when they talk, even when they learn each other’s language, the concepts will be different. Take martyrdom. In Christianity this means entering the Arena singing Hymns and acting happy, because overtime that will convert the spectators. In Islam it means blowing yourself up killing the infidel. You can talk martyrdom, but it doesn’t mean the same thing on either side. Violence is also a language, and when even your violence is misinterpreted, it means you don’t have a language in common. And violence WILL happen and someone will win. If you feel that your civilization should never be the one to win, there might be something wrong with you.
3- Someone will win from this violence. All the scientific/exploration parties that died and disappeared means that sometimes the tribal humans win over those who are contributing to the species knowledge of the world. Those are sad occurrences, but they count for nothing, except that it encourages other tribal humans to fight and die trying to take down something they CAN’T take down. It’s an escalation of tragedy, if you will. In the end, killing the tribal band that first attacks you (instead of what? Lying down and dying, to expiate ‘privilege’? In a land where the privilege is obviously with the natives?) is the best thing you can do. It sends the message “fighting is futile” and will encourage the local tribe to try to protect itself by other means, be they negotiation or trade.
4- In a clash between civilizations, if you decide that your morals require you not to fight/lie down and die, you’ll be the one colonized.
There is no option between human civilizations for ‘we’ll each go to our little territories and stay there’. That’s not how humans work or ever have. Population pressure; desire for goods; desire for a certain land; conviction of one’s superior civilization, will keep us fighting and trying to expand (and btw, that last applies to ALL human civilizations. Yes, Islam believes they’re superior to and more powerful than the west. They have Allah on their side, after all.) Your choice is never “let’s all live in harmony.” Your choice is colonize or be colonized. Think carefully of where you’d rather live, and which mind sets and conditions you’re willing to encourage.
And stop mouthing pieties about “massacres” when someone fights in self defense. Western Civilization is not always the winner, and will not always be the winner.
The fatal oikophobia you’ve been taught is the worm gnawing at the heart of the civilization that’s lifted most humans out of poverty. Examine carefully how you’d like to live before your throw your weight behind the supposed victims. They’re just another set of aggressors. And if you wouldn’t like to live under their rules, that’s not the side you should be fighting on.
No humans are angels. Some are just more accomplished warriors than others. That doesn’t make them bad. It all depends on what you’re fighting for.