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Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Ireland: a brief history

Passage tomb at Newgrange

Ireland over the last 11,000 years:

  • -9000: Ice Age: covered in ice, part of mainland Europe
  • -8000:
  • -7000:
  • -6000: Stone Age: people arrive
  • -5000:
  • -4000: Neolithic: farming (-3500) arrives from Spain, forests cleared with stone axes; wheat, barley, sheep, goats, cows; walls, forts; passage tombs (-3200, pictured above)
  • -3000:
  • -2000: Bronze Age (-1800): bronze made with tin from Spain; gold jewellery, the wheel, oxen, weaving, alcohol
  • -1000: Iron Age: Celts arrive (-700), the first Indo-Europeans, probably from Spain; bog men, kings
  • +1: Christianity (432), flowering of Irish culture (500s), sends missionaries to Britain, Book of Kells (800), Vikings found Dublin (841).
  • +1000: Off-and-on British rule, starting in 1171, the Great Potato Famine (1845-1849), millions flee famine and poverty, going to the Americas and Australia.

Ireland over the last 1,000 years, century by century:

  • 1000s: Vikings overthrown at the Battle of Clontarf (1014)
  • 1100s: British rule (1171)
  • 1200s: parliament
  • 1300s: Scotland tries to take over (1315), fails but seriously weakens British rule, now limited to Dublin and the Pale, the region nearby
  • 1400s:
  • 1500s: British reconquest, particularly under Elizabeth I
  • 1600s: plantations: land taken from Irish Catholics and given to Protestant Ulster Scots, who become overlords; Catholics lose rights; Cromwell puts down uprising, hundreds of thousands die (1650); Battle of the Boyne (1690);
  • 1700s: Ireland screwed by British trade policy; many Ulster Scots move to North America where they become the Scotch Irish, settling especially in Appalachia.
  • 1800s: Catholic Emancipation: Catholics regain many rights (1829), the Great Potato Famine (1845-1849) kills a million while a million and more flee, mainly to America where they become Irish Americans.
  • 1900s: after hundreds of years of uprisings  the Sinn Fein overthrows British rule in the south (1922); Northern Ireland remains under British rule.

More on British rule:

In the 1600s the British government took land from Irish Catholics, made it into plantations and gave it to the Ulster Scots – English-speaking Protestants from Britain, mainly Scottish Presbyterians. In America they are called the Scotch Irish. They are not Irish by blood – just Scottish people who lived in Ireland for a time before coming to America. Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett and John McCain are Scotch Irish.

Meanwhile the Irish Catholics lost not just their land but their rights too: the right to practise their religion (Catholicism), speak their language (Irish Gaelic), to buy property, stand for parliament, teach school, serve in the army, etc.

On paper Ireland became part of the United Kingdom, but in practice it was a British colony serving British interests, complete with dispossessed natives. A model for America?

Ireland as an island full of unhappy Catholics made it a threat to Britain (Protestant) since a Catholic enemy state – read France – could stage an uprising, free Ireland and then use it as a base to strike at Britain. It came close to that in 1690, but the British were able to defeat the French and Irish led by James II, the overthrown Catholic king of Britain, at the Battle of the Boyne.

Despite Catholic Emancipation in 1829 Protestants remained firmly on top, possessing most of the wealth. The Irish had lost their language, now speaking mainly English, but not their religion.

– Abagond, 2010, 2015.

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Patroclus and Achilles from a Greek drinking cup, circa 500 BC

How white was Ancient Greece? There are at least three answers, two short and one long:

Answer #1: They were white, just look at them: There is plenty of artwork from at least 600 BC onwards that clearly shows that the Greeks looked white – just like the people in Greece now.

Answer #2: They were part black. Some say that Egypt sent settlers or that the Pelasgians, the people who were in Greece before the Indo-European Greeks arrived, were from Africa. According to one DNA testing company Greeks are 5% black.

Now the longer answer:

Answer #3: Calling them white is anachronistic: “white” is a Western invention used to excuse slavery and colonialism during the last several hundred years. The ancient Greeks certainly did not think of themselves as white: they divided the world not by race but by language: those who spoke Greek were Greeks, those who did not were barbarians.

More: “White” is based not just on looks – it is based on culture too. You see that with Arabs: in the Middle East they are  not seen as white by Americans, but if they come to America and take on White American ways, they are – like Steve Jobs and Ralph Nader.

In that sense, then, the Ancient Greeks were no more white or Western than the British are “Nigerian” or “Australian”. It is backwards thinking.

Thinking that leads to some strange and curious things:

  1. The West “begins with the Greeks”. Not because it does – despite the way some White Americans talk, civilization is not a white invention. Their civilization comes from Egypt and the Middle East by way of Greece and Rome. But they see it as starting with Greece because it was the first “white” country to be civilized. And it was first only because it was closest to Egypt.
  2. The Greeks seem to have amazing intelligence. Because Westerners are taught to turn a blind eye to the Egyptian roots of Greek civilization: the columns, the paper, the science and mathematics, etc, all came straight out of Egypt. Even before Alexandria became the centre of Greek learning, people like Plato, Pythagoras, Solon and Thales all studied in Egypt. “The glory that was Greece” was built not on some kind of amazing Greek grey matter but sailing times to Egypt.
  3. Ancient Greeks are seen as “universal”, not “ethnic” by Anglos, who play up what they have in common with the Ancient Greeks. They do not apply that kind of thinking to the Greeks of the past 1500 years, who they look down on as unimportant, even the Byzantine Empire.
  4. The Ancient Greeks were seen as white before Greek Americans were. Just as Jesus was seen as white before the Jews were. In the 1920s laws were passed to keep Greeks and other such undesirables from coming to America in large numbers – in part to keep them from destroying the country culturally and genetically.

Yes, this is another example of the white lens, of reading history while white.

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Is America still genocidal? According to the Teflon Theory of White History the answer is no: the last full-blown genocide was in the 1800s. That was too long ago, so it has absolutely no effect on the present. To prove your case you need to provide Recent Examples:

  • Because wiping out over a million people could not possibly affect White American ideas about race and human worth. Or be a sign of how screwed up they might still be;
  • Because enjoying the material fruits of said genocide could not possibly cause a serious case of Moral Blindness in which white people turn a blind eye to the very faults that led to genocide.

Genocide is a crime. And like with other crimes, those who have done it once are more likely to do it again. Sudan has carried out two genocides in my lifetime. Ethiopia and what used to be Yugoslavia are also repeat offenders.What about America?

Genocides unfold in eight stages:

  1. Classification: the division into “us and them”. Example: Asking an Asian American what country he is from.
  2. Symbolization: applying symbols to the them to mark them out as pariahs, as objects of hate. Examples: black skin, yellow stars, race or religion on ID cards.
  3. Dehumanization: seeing the pariahs as not truly human. Example: the word “nigger”.
  4. Organization: training and arming. Example: the Ku Klux Klan.
  5. Polarization: silencing the voices in the middle that still stand up for the pariahs. Example: calling whites who stand up for blacks “nigger lovers”.
  6. Preparation: separating the pariahs from everyone else. Examples: ghettos, prison camps.
  7. Extermination: mass killings. Example: the Holocaust.
  8. Denial: dispute the numbers, blame history, see it as “natural”, derail discussions about it, etc. Examples: The comments on this post?

The first step is “natural”, as Americans would put it, meaning it is common to all human societies. It is when it moves beyond Stage 1 that something is going seriously wrong.

White America has gone beyond Stage 1 not once but at least three times:

  • Stage 7: 1600s to 1800s: Native Americans
  • Stage 5: 1870s to 1950s: blacks
  • Stage 6: 1940s: Japanese Americans

Where different sorts of Americans are now:

  • Stage 0: whites
  • Stage 1: Asians, Mexicans, Muslims
  • Stage 2:
  • Stage 3: blacks
  • Stage 4:
  • Stage 5:
  • Stage 6:
  • Stage 7:
  • Stage 8: Native Americans ?

Jews I would put at 0.6, Muslims, at 1.8.

I am not sure if Native Americans are an 8: I put them there because in my experience whites are not comfortable talking about it and try to derail. If you cannot admit to a fault there is little chance of change. Like a drunk who thinks he is not a drunk.

But even apart from that, you still have blacks at 3. Deep down whites think of blacks as monkeys. That makes it easier to kill them or, what is most commonly the case, to stand by and do little when they die in large numbers, as during the heroin and crack epidemics and the high murder rates that followed.

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White Americans seem to apply special rules when reading about history or the news. Since I was not invited to the Secret Course on Whiteness, I have to piece together the rules and ideas based on observation of White Americans. This is very much a work in progress.

Rules & Important Concepts:

  1. Black people do bad things because they are black. When white people do bad things it is because they made a mistake, got passed over at work, had a bad childhood, need help or whatever. Apart from a few bad apples, it never has to do with race. Because whites are not affected by their race. But blacks are: they have dark, savage hearts that drives some of them to rape and murder and other cruel and senseless things for no particular reason. Because that is how black people are.
  2. Savage Black Rule: Africa is screwed up because blacks are incapable of self-rule. Look at Zimbabwe!
  3. Black pathologies: black ghettos are screwed up because black people are screwed up.
  4. The Teflon Theory of White History: Anything that took place over 30 years ago is Ancient History. It has Absolutely No Effect on the present. Unless it was something good like the light bulb or the Declaration of Independence. Otherwise white people are only affected by history through their families, nothing else, and for not more than a generation. So even Jim Crow is now Ancient History, just like the Battle of Thermopylae.
  5. Living in the Past: anyone who disagrees with Teflon Theory.
  6. Dead Indian Land: a place that it is bad manners to talk about and dangerous to think about.
  7. Basically Good – what white people are despite their ugly past. Because of Teflon Theory they are not only protected from the ugly side effects of genocide, Jim Crow and slavery (what black people call “racism”), but even from the Fall of Adam (what Christians call “original sin”). So when whites do something bad it is not evil – just a well-meaning mistake.
  8. “It was the times” – yes, white people did do some terrible things in the past, but since whites are Basically Good it must have been the times. Unless:
  9. “Arab traders did it too!” – It is a rule with White Americans that if Arab traders did something, then it is morally all right – or at least Not All That Bad.
  10. Just World Doctrine: America is basically just because it is run by white people who are Basically Good. That means they exercise power, both home and abroad, fairly and for the good of all.
  11. Love to Complain – what black people do despite the Basic Goodness of society (see Just World Doctrine) and despite the fact that it is Not As Bad As It Used To Be (over 30 years ago).
  12. White people understand racism better than blacks – because blacks Love to Complain.
  13. Read mainly White American writers. They are more fair-minded than black or foreign writers.

– Abagond, 2010.

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“It was the times!”

“It was the times” is an argument that says people in the past were not as evil and terrible as they seem to us because they lived in a different time when moral ideas were less advanced. We are judging them by the ideas of our own time, not theirs, which is unfair.

For example, most American high school history books downplay the racism of famous white people, so when people find out, say, that Abraham Lincoln said this:

I will say then that I am not, nor even have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races– that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; … there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.

At first they are shocked but then many will say, “Well, he was a man of his times – so it is not as bad as it seems. Everyone thought like that back then. It was the times!”

The same argument is used to excuse owning black slaves: the practice of keeping slaves goes back thousands of years, but our ideas about how terrible it is do not.

And so on.

To a degree it makes sense. For example, the ancient Greeks left baby girls in the woods to be eaten by wolves. That might seem shocking, but at the time they had neither safe abortion nor the Christian ideas by which to judge it as wrong and condemn it.

But the argument can be taken too far. It can be used to excuse great evils, to avoid facing up to an ugly past.

A good example is Jim Crow, the laws and customs in the American South that kept the races apart and blacks down from 1877 to 1967, featuring such practices as lynching and Klan terror.

As seen from 1810 it was revolutionary – the slaves were freed! As seen from 2010 it was cruel and immoral and profoundly racist. But seen from 1910 it was just the way things were – it was the times!

“It was the times” excuses the way things were no matter how evil. It allows historians in 2900, for example, to look back at the millions killed in the 1900s by Stalin, Hitler and Mao and say “it was the times!” When evil becomes commonplace it is still evil. Just because everyone does it does not make it right.

Nor do moral ideas advance as much as people seem to think. Nearly 2,000 years ago Jesus Christ said to do unto others as you would have others do unto you – the Golden Rule. A simple idea known throughout the West down through the ages – and one that is enough to condemn racism, slavery, Hitler and all the rest.

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What do they teach about racism in American high schools? In “Lies My Teacher Told Me” (1995) James W. Loewen looked at 12 history books commonly used in American high schools. One of the things he looked at is what they teach about racism. Very little, as it turns out.

Most history books do not even have the word “racism” or “racial prejudice” in their index. None of the 12 point out out how racism grew out of the practice of keeping black slaves. Not one. The closest any of them get to the cause of racism is this:

[African Americans] looked different from members of white ethnic groups. The color of their skin made assimilation difficult. For this reason they remained outsiders.

Nothing more! And this was in the 1990s, not the 1950s! As if racism is completely natural, as if white Americans do not now or ever had screwed up ideas and feelings about black people!!!

It used to be worse: before 1970 they took the white Southern view of the Civil War and the Reconstruction that followed – like what you see in the Hollywood film “Gone With the Wind” (1939)!!!  You know, like everyone in the South – black, white and presumably Native American – was happy and the North went and destroyed it all, that it had little to do with freeing the slaves, that the North ruled the South after the war just to get rich.

Now they teach that being a slave is terrible – well, 10 out of 12 books do – that the war was about freeing the slaves and that the North tried its best during the 12 years of Reconstruction after the war to rule the South.

But even so they all underplay the racism of Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and any other white person they choose to make into a hero. None point out that there must be something sick and very wrong with white Americans for wanting to own black slaves.

All 12 history books underplay white American racism after 1877, both North and South. They all leave out stuff like:

  • What blacks themselves said, like Ida B. Wells or Richard Wright, about how it was to be black in America then
  • Sundown towns: thousands of towns in the North and Midwest where blacks had to leave by sundown
  • The Tulsa race riot in 1921
  • Ota Benga, an African who was shown behind bars in the Bronx Zoo in 1906.
  • That major league baseball forced out blacks in 1889
  • Violence against blacks who became successful

Only two books said blacks faced discrimination in the North! Even Loewen himself never uses the term Jim Crow!

The history books do point out examples of racism during this period, but the overall picture is one of white indifference, not white hatred. High school students are left to assume that if blacks fell behind the Jews and Italians who came to the country after the slaves were freed, it must be their own fault. Because, you know, racism is not a big deal.

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The following is based on the 13th and last part of Jacob Bronowski’s BBC series on the history of science and invention, “The Ascent of Man” (1973):

The human brain is three times larger than it was two million years ago. But almost all that growth took place in just three parts of the brain, those that control:

  1. The hand
  2. The tongue
  3. Foresight

Which allows us to build, to talk and to imagine our future far more than any other animal.

In addition, our minds are very plastic: most animals are wired to act just in certain ways, humans are not. We depend on knowledge, not reflex. That means a long childhood. And, even after we are grown, we must think and prepare before we act, we must balance short-term and long-term, our needs and those of others.  That in turn leads to ideas of justice, of right and wrong.

Most civilizations, like those of China, India and even the Europe in the Middle Ages, as great as they were, limited the imagination of the young, of those with talent. The son did what the father did what the grandfather did and on and on. Only the talent of a few is ever used, the rest is wasted. The West does not do this.

One way is through a democracy of the intellect: its thought and knowledge is built by scientists and thinkers not by kings and priests. The lives of Erasmus and John von Neumann show this.

Erasmus was a monk in the 1500s. Against orders he read the Greek and Roman classics. It opened up the world to him. He became friends with Sir Thomas More, who, like him, cared more for truth than for power and authority – so much so that the king had More put to death.

John von Neumann, who came up with game theory in the 1950s and did important work in understanding computers, took the other road. Towards the end of his life he worked for companies and governments, drawn to the centres of power. Science for the sake of power and money, not for the sake of truth. He wasted his great talent.

Likewise the West is in danger of throwing away its great promise:

I am infinitely saddened to find myself suddenly surrounded in the west by a sense of terrible loss of nerve, a retreat from knowledge into – into what? Into Zen Buddhism; into falsely profound questions about, Are we not really just animals at bottom; into extra-sensory perception and mystery. They do not lie along the line of what we are now able to know if we devote ourselves to it: an understanding of man himself. We are nature’s unique experiment to make the rational intelligence prove itself sounder than the reflex. Knowledge is our destiny. Self-knowledge, at last bringing together the experience of the arts and the explanations of science, waits ahead of us.

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The following is based on part 12 of Jacob Bronowski’s BBC series on the history of science and invention, “The Ascent of Man” (1973). This one is about genetics:

Gregor Mendel was a farm boy who became monk. He joined the Augustinian order in Brno, the second largest city in what is now the Czech Republic. They sent him to the university of Vienna to get a teaching degree. The university said he “lacks insight and the requisite clarity of knowledge” and failed him in 1853.

A few years later he began to do experiments on pea plants. People assumed that if you cross a tall pea plant with a short one you get pea plants of middling height. Instead of assuming Mendel tried it: he found that you get nothing but tall pea plants! And if in turn you cross those tall pea plants you get 75% tall pea plants and 25% short ones.

Why? Mendel said it was because each plant gets a height particle – what we now call a gene – from each parent. In the first generation of his experiment, each plant had a tall gene and a short gene, so all of them were tall. But in the second generation one fourth received two short genes and so they were short.

He had discovered the gene, one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science. It sank like a rock. Mendel was a nobody: the important science journals in France and Britain did not print it. In 1866 he had it printed in a Brno science journal and there it sat unknown to the top people in science till 1900.

The next big discovery was printed in Nature in 1953, so it was known instantly worldwide: DNA and how it works. DNA is what genes are made of. James Watson and Francis Crick beat out Linus Pauling in discovering how it works.

DNA is a double molecule, each half the mirror image of the other half. When the molecule splits in two, each half can create its missing half. But there is more: it is a long molecule that contains smaller molecules called bases: adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine. These become in effect the four letters – A, G, C and T – of the language that genes are written in, containing the instructions of how to build everything in the body.

But genes and DNA are not enough to account for life as we know it. You also need:

  1. Sex, which mixes genes in new ways. Till sex came along life did not progress beyond the level of pond scum.
  2. Human sexual selection, which speeds it up even faster: humans, compared to other animals, put far more thought into choosing who they have children with. They also have taboos against incest which prevents a few older males from getting all the females and lowering the rate at which genes mix.

As John Donne said:

Love’s mysteries in souls do grow
But yet the body is his book.

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The following is based on part eleven of Jacob Bronowski’s BBC series on the history of science and invention, “The Ascent of Man” (1973). This one is about quantum physics:

We used to think that science could give us a perfect picture of the material world. But we now know, because of quantum physics in the 1900s, that absolute knowledge is impossible. There is a limit to what we can know – even with the most perfect and most powerful instruments imaginable.

For example, with a high-powered electron microscope you can see atoms. Yet no matter how much you increase the power you will never get a sharp image.

Even something as simple and straightforward as the position of a star in the sky is not perfectly knowable: different human observers come up with different positions and even the same person repeating the observation does not come up with the very same answer each time.

Karl Gauss in 1795 noticed that the observations made a bell curve – the closer you get to the average position, the more observations there are. But you cannot even say that the star is at the average position – all you can say is that it is the most probable position, which is not quite the same thing as its true position.

Gauss lived in Gottingen, a small German university town. It was here, over a hundred years later, in the 1920s, that some of the leading minds of physics came on the train from Berlin to work out the physics of the atom and its parts: quantum physics.

The atom is made of moving parts, such as the electron, and yet there is something very strange about them. Werner Heisenberg in 1927 found that you can tell what the position of an electron is but not its speed and direction – or, if you nail down its speed and direction, then you cannot tell its position. It is one or the other but never both at the same time. This is Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

Gottingen had something else: a collection of skulls. These skulls were used to support a racist view of the world, a view of the world that dealt in inhuman certainties. It came to power in the person of Hitler. The skies darkened over Europe, as they had in the days of Galileo. The great minds of Europe fled – or fell silent:

It’s said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That’s false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance, it was done by dogma, it was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.

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This is five minutes long, but well worth listening to all the way to the end. As a slam poet Chin always makes sure to save the best for last. The male voice you hear at the beginning is Howard Zinn, who just passed away.

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The following is based on part ten of Jacob Bronowski’s BBC series on the history of science and invention, “The Ascent of Man” (1973). This one is about the atom:

Dmitri Mendeleev played a game his friends called Patience: he wrote the chemical elements down on cards, one element on each card along with its atomic weight, and laid out the cards in different ways.

He found that if he laid the cards in order of atomic weight and yet put elements with like properties in the same rows, he could create a table – what we now call the periodic table of elements. He found that he could tell which elements had yet to be discovered and what their properties would be.

But what makes such a table possible? Why do properties repeat so that you can make rows in the first place? How can the different properties of an element, like density and colour, come from just a single property, atomic weight? The answer is: they cannot. Atoms must have more than just weight. Atoms must be made of parts.

In 1897 J.J. Thomson found the first part: the electron. In 1911 Ernest Rutherford said the atom is like a little solar system: the electrons go round the nucleus just like the planets go round the sun.

But Niels Bohr in 1913 saw that it could not be that simple: the planets are slowly running down and some day will fall into the sun. Not so with atoms. Bohr found the answer in Max Planck’s idea of quantum energy: just like matter comes in atoms, so energy comes in quanta. Therefore the electron can only be at certain energy levels or orbits. .

But what about the nucleus that the electrons were circling? That proved to be made of parts too: protons and neutrons, as James Chadwick found out in 1932.

All this, along with Einstein’s physics, made it possible in 1939 for Hans Bethe to work out how the sun shines. It does it by making two hydrogen atoms into one helium atom and, in the process, changing the left over  matter into heat and light. The sun is a young star, but older and larger stars, it was soon understood, turn helium into the other elements: carbon, oxygen, iron, gold and all the rest.

The stars evolve hydrogen into the elements while the earth evolves the elements into life. That is how nature works: one small step at a time.

That seems to go against entropy – the idea that the universe is running down, becoming more disordered over time. But entropy is a statistical observation. That means by and large it holds true, but it does not  always hold true.

Ludwig Boltzmann gave us our idea of entropy. He also championed the idea that matter is made of atoms. We take it for granted – partly because of him – but in 1906 there were still plenty of doubters. In despair, just before his side was about to win, he killed himself.

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Haiti was a land of the Tainos (Arawaks). But then one day in 1492 a white man named Columbus arrived from over the seas. He noticed they wore gold jewellery. He told them he would cut off the hands of any Taino over 13 who did not give him a certain amount of gold or cotton every three months. The Taino fled inland, but the Spanish followed, running them down with dogs and killing them, looking for the gold mines. They made girls into sex slaves. It got so bad that mothers were killing their own babies.

In two years half the Tainos were dead.  By 1555 they were all gone.

In 1505 Columbus’s son brought the first African slaves to the Americas, bringing them to Haiti. By 1519 there were already slave uprisings.

In 1697 France got Haiti from Spain and called it Saint-Domingue.

By 1789 Haiti produced three-fourths of all the sugar in the world, its black slaves producing more wealth than all of English-speaking North America. A third of slaves died within three years after arriving from Africa.

In the 1790s Toussaint L’Ouverture led a slave uprising that in time overthrew the French, making Haiti independent in 1804. The slaves were freed and the land divided among them. The 3,300 remaining French were killed and white was taken out of the flag, leaving red and blue.

For its loss France demanded payment of a crushing debt. France, Britain and America cut it off from overseas trade until it agreed to pay the debt. It took till 1947 to pay it off.

Like the Roman Empire, Haiti had no peaceful means for power to change hands. Often the government would be overthrown every few years.

From 1849 to 1913 America sent warships into Haitian waters 24
times to “protect American lives and property.”

Haiti was under American military rule from 1915 to 1934. Major General Smedley D. Butler said he hunted the Haitians “like pigs” and made Haiti “a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue in.” American troops practised “indiscriminate killing of natives” while the American press called Haitians “a horde of naked niggers” in need of “energetic Anglo-Saxon influence”.

America rewrote Haiti’s laws so that Americans could buy up land. They sent 40% of Haiti’s income to American and French banks to pay back debts.

From 1957 t0 1986 Haiti was ruled by the Duvaliers: Papa Doc and Baby Doc. They ruled by terror through the paramilitary Tonton Macoutes. America backed them and opened factories there.

Since the fall of Baby Doc, Haiti has gone back and forth between military rule and democracy, with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a country priest, as the star democrat. America sent in troops in 1994 to restore Aristide to power, but it seems likely they were behind his overthrow in 1991 and 2004.

Democracy was last restored in 2006. The government is backed by a UN force but it is still weak. On top of that Haiti was hit by hurricanes and tropical storms in 2008 that killed over a thousand and by an earthquake in 2010 that has killed 110,000 at last count.

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The following is based on part nine of Jacob Bronowski’s BBC series on the history of science and invention, “The Ascent of Man” (1973). This one is about evolution:

The theory of evolution was discovered independently by two men: Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace.

Both loved the English countryside, both loved beetles and both in their twenties found a way to make a living as a naturalist. There was a ready market in England for specimens of plants and animals from parts foreign. Both went to South America to pursue their profession.

Darwin went in 1831. For five years he served as the ship’s naturalist on board the Beagle, a survey ship of the British navy.

Wallace went in 1848 to the Amazon and for four years lived among the natives gathering plants and animals rare or unknown back in Europe. He set foot in a part of the world that no white man had ever seen before. He found 40 different kinds of butterflies in 40 days. But then, on the way home, the ship caught fire and he lost everything, the 40 butterflies, all of it, except for his watch, some shirts and a few notebooks – and his life. But two years later he set out for the Malay archipelago (Indonesia) and started all over.

Darwin saw the natives in South America as beastly while Wallace could imagine himself  becoming one, living the rest of his days in the Amazon where his children would be “rich without wealth, and happy without gold!”. To him they were not just a little above apes but just a little below philosophers.

Both Darwin and Wallace came back from South America persuaded that the species change: that lions and tigers, for example, were once just cats way back in time. But neither knew how the change came about.

Then one day Darwin read “Principles of Population” (1798) by Robert Malthus. Malthus said that more people are born than can possibly be fed, so some must die. That was it: only the fittest live to give birth to the next generation. That is how the species change.

In 1844, at age 35, Darwin wrote it all down in a book and told his wife to print it should he die and left it at that.

But then 14 years later, when Wallace himself was 35, lying sick on the island of Ternate in the Spice Islands, he read the same book and had the same idea. He wrote it up and sent it to Darwin for advice. Darwin’s hand was forced. He came out with his book, “Origin of Species”, a year later in 1859.

Neither Darwin nor Wallace had any idea of genetics. That came later. But in their time Louis Pasteur did prove that life is based on chemistry.

No one knows how life began but we do know that the chemistry that life is made from forms easily under the early conditions of the earth – and even, to a degree, in outer space where you can find, of all things, formaldehyde.

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rootedness

Note: The following is just me thinking out loud. It is not based on studies or anything.

Americans think in terms of race and class. Those things do affect people profoundly, but there is a third thing that affects them just as much: something I will call rootedness, meaning rootedness within the society at large.

There are three main kinds of rootedness:

  1. the transplants: those who come to America willingly to make a better life.  Most join the middle-class within a generation or less through education and hard work. Newspapers hold them up as proof that America is fair and just. Examples: Koreans, West Indians, Jews, Italians; in the 1800s: Germans, Scots.
  2. the rooted: those who are fully part of the mainstream culture. They are not seen as “other” by those who run society. Examples: White Americans; in the 1800s: WASPs.
  3. the uprooted: those who have been forced from their homeland. In America they tend to experience high rates of unemployment, imprisonment, substance abuse, broken homes and dropping out of  school. Examples: Native Americans, Black Americans, Laotians, Cambodians; in the 1800s, the Irish.

When I read about the Sioux Indians I noticed how much they were like Black Americans: high rates of imprisonment, substance abuse, etc.

When I read about the Maori in New Zealand it was much the same. And then when I went to New Zealand I noticed they held the same position as blacks in the States: working fast food joints, becoming famous through sports, being blamed for their poverty, etc.

Whites often blame race or culture – but what in the world would the Sioux, Maoris and Black Americans  have in common? The only thing they have in common is trying to live in white racist Anglo society.

But it is not just racism alone: when West Indians and Africans come to America they do much better than Black Americans even though they face racism too and are foreigners on top of that.

Koreans also do better, though the racism against them seems weaker. But then there are Asians who are stuck in poverty too and have high dropout rates and all the rest: Laotians and Cambodians.

So something besides just race is at play. And something besides class too: most West Indians who come to America are not middle- or upper-class but poor.

It is rootedness: the Irish, Laotians, Black Americans and Native Americans belong to four different races and yet all lived in poverty in America longer than newspaper editors would expect. What they have in common is that they were all were uprooted from their homelands – by famine, war, chains or conquest.

The Irish have moved from uprooted to rooted; the Sioux have not. Rootedness seems to require assimilation into the mainstream culture and race is part of that.

The Jews were uprooted way back in Roman times but have been that way for so long that they have become, in effect, perpetual transplants. The same with some overseas Chinese.

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The following is based on part eight of Jacob Bronowski’s BBC series on the history of science and invention, “The Ascent of Man” (1973). This one is about the rise of industry:

In the late 1700s there were three revolutions: one in France, one in America and one in England. In France and America they overthrew their kings and said that all men are created equal and born with certain rights. In England they did not do that, they did something even better: through the rise of industry they gave the man in the street a degree of wealth and freedom that in the past belonged only to kings and other top people.

We are still in the middle of that Industrial Revolution – or we better be because there are still plenty of things to get right. But despite all of its evils, the old days were far worse: many died of the plague or childbirth, ordinary people did not have soap, cotton underwear or glass in their windows – things we take for granted. We feel we can make of our lives what we want of them – in the old days it was hard work from sunup to sundown. Where would most of us be if we were born before 1800?

The revolution was made by men who thought in just that way:

  • that life is what you make of it: we are not ruled by the stars or fate;
  • that inventions should be useful for the man in the street, not just playthings for the rich;
  • that science is not just about the truth, as it was for Newton and Galileo, but about making society better.

A man in America in those days who was just like that was Benjamin Franklin. The Industrial Revolution began in Britain and not, say, in France, because it had far more men who thought that way and acted on it. Men like Josiah Wedgwood, Charles Darwin’s grandfather, who made china sets for queens and then made the very same thing (without the patterns) for the British midde-class.

These men did not go to Oxford and Cambridge. Partly because most of them could not: they did not belong to the Church of England. But also because the kind of men that Oxford and Cambridge produced did not think like that and would have never made an Industrial Revolution.

But the Industrial Revolution was more than just a certain way of thinking or even a bag of inventions, as important as they were. There were also changes in how people worked. For example, before 1760 craftsmen worked at home in villages at their own pace; after 1820 the common practice was to bring workers into a factory to make things there, working with machines.

It also led to a new view of nature that the Romantic poets wrote about. Wordsworth put it this way in 1798 in “Tintern Abbey”:

For nature then…
To me was all in all – I cannot paint
What then I was. The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion

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