Monday, October 12, 2015

The Wonder of Plunder

No holiday is as quintessentially US American as Columbus Day, that grotesque combination of consumerism and parades and nostalgia for the good old days of colonialism and ethnic cleansing. And because fervid nationalistic myths die so hard, it is all the more refreshing to learn that several more cities have now coupled the pathological worship of a Renaissance vulture capitalist with their own Indigenous Peoples' Days.

From The Guardian;
As the US observes Columbus Day on Monday, it will also be Indigenous Peoples Day in at least nine cities, including Albuquerque; Portland, Oregon; St Paul, Minnesota; and Olympia, Washington.Encouraged by city council votes in Minneapolis and Seattle last year, Native American activists made a push in dozens of cities in recent months to get local leaders to officially recognise the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day. Their success was mixed.
The campaigns say the federal holiday honoring Christopher Columbus – and the parades and pageantry accompanying it – overlooks a painful history of colonialism, enslavement, discrimination and land grabs that followed the Italian explorer’s 1492 arrival in the Americas.
The indigenous holiday takes into account the history and contributions of Native Americans for a more accurate historical record, activists have argued.
If Columbus Day is quintessentially US-ian, then so too is false equivalence. Five hundred years later, activists find themselves having to argue over the historical record, as though history were debatable. Facts are such controversial things.

As  Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz explains in An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, "Origin narratives form the vital core of a people's unifying identity and of the values that guide them. In the United States, the founding and development of the Anglo-American settler state involves a narrative about Puritan settlers who had a covenant with God to take the land. That part of the origin story is supported and reinforced by the Columbus myth and the 'Doctrine of Discovery.' According to a series of late fifteenth century papal bulls, European nations acquired title to the lands they 'discovered' and the Indigenous inhabitants lost their natural right to that land after Europeans arrived and claimed it."

And from the quintessential Howard Zinn:
To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to de-emphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves- unwittingly-to justify what was done. My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all)-that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly.
The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks)-the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress-is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders. It is as if they, like Columbus, deserve universal acceptance, as if they-the Founding Fathers, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, the leading members of Congress, the famous Justices of the Supreme Court-represent the nation as a whole. The pretense is that there really is such a thing as "the United States," subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests. It is as if there really is a "national interest" represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, the decisions of the courts, the development of capitalism, the culture of education and the mass media.
It is no accident that Columbus "discovered" America at the same time that the Spanish Inquisition was in full throttle, and Ferdinand, Isabella and Torquemada were also busily expelling or converting Jews, and deporting Muslims, and burning heretics at the stake. Subjugation of peoples around the globe is still very much in the DNA of the ruling elites. Columbus Day will be abolished over their cold, dead, pampered bodies.

Not for nothing has the image of Columbus been transgendered into a beneficent goddess in paintings, sculptures, and corporate logos. An Ivy League university is named after a plunderer. So too is a sportswear company and a space shuttle. "Hail, Columbia" is the entrance march for the US vice president. CBS, one of the six major media conglomerates, is the acronym for the Columbia Broadcasting System. Columbia Pictures is a major Hollywood studio. And so on and so forth.

Columbia Pictures Logo

And not for nothing is the power center of the US imperium located in the richest, most corrupt place in the entire country: Washington, District of Columbia. The goals of the 21st century ruling class are still so essentially Columbian: globalization for the purposes of extracting slave labor and mineral wealth. The Columbian spirit is very deeply embedded in the top-secret plunderous pages of both the Trans-Pacific and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnerships. 

President Obama (Columbia-'83) let his own inner Columbus shine through in his latest weekly address
With this Trans-Pacific Partnership, we are writing the rules for the global economy.  America is leading in the 21st century.  Our workers will be the ones who get ahead.  Our businesses will get a fair deal.  And those who oppose passing this new trade deal are really just accepting a status quo that everyone knows puts us at a disadvantage.
The Spanish royals used much the same line as they sent forth Columbus and their subsequent armies of conquistadors to rewrite the rules of the global economy. Isabella remained a popular ruler as she held her own weekly audiences with her subjects. Meanwhile, Spain went so deeply into debt via global colonialism that its empire declined and fell, as empires always do.
Still, Columbus must be writhing with pleasure in his grave as the parade of capitalism marches on and on, heedless of the global havoc it wreaks.

And conservative Catholics are still pressing the cause of his sugar-mommy  Isabella for sainthood, a movement that collapsed during the 500th anniversary celebrations of the "discovery." Apparently the queen has been unable to perform the requisite miracles, such as revising history as successfully as US textbook writers and politicians.


Erik Roth said...

"To those who followed Columbus and Cortez, the New World truly seemed incredible because of the natural endowments. The land often announced itself with a heavy scent miles out into the ocean. Giovanni di Verrazano in 1524 smelled the cedars of the East Coast a hundred leagues out. The men of Henry Hudson's Half Moon were temporarily disarmed by the fragrance of the New Jersey shore, while ships running farther up the coast occasionally swam through large beds of floating flowers. Wherever they came inland they found a rich riot of color and sound, of game and luxuriant vegetation. Had they been other than they were, they might have written a new mythology here. As it was, they took inventory." ~ Frederick Turner

Pearl said...

I remember as a child going to elementary school in the Depression in NYC, listening to teachers who taught us about history or current dogma and sensing that they were off base somehow. My father, a genuine Socialist, would have friends in to discuss the current affairs of the State of the Union which I listened to, and early in my life witnessed the divide between truth and self delusion.
Nothing has changed, and as a student in higher grades I would sometimes question the teacher about an item that I knew was false without of course saying so, but being gently rebuked. We as progressives, are questioning all the teachers who try to keep us believing and passing on the 'acceptable' dogma which is poisoning the political present.

Now we learn through Howard Zinn and other scholars that the broad concepts of U.S. history often had serious flaws in the reporting. Those of us who recognized these differences for various reasons are not surprised at what you are stating in your column, Karen, and I feel that we are living in an alternate universe from many citizens, yet still residing on the same planet.

Attacks on the likes of Bernie Sanders are not really personal, he frightens people who grew up on political fairy tales which they cannot relinquish. Perhaps his popularity especially among younger citizens indicates that this coverup is slipping away and the results we see around us are warning signs to start treading carefully. If nothing else, I hope during these debates, a door is opened to the possibilities of what he will try and offer regardless of his chances for reaching the Oval Office, and that his vision will encourage new directions for the country.

It is exhausting to try and make sense of the realities that exist today and our political and social environment is becoming more and more threatening to everyone.

Pearl said...

How Bernie Sanders Connects With His Crowds

At last, the NYTimes has a decent report about Bernie with interesting videos.
Even CNN has become kinder.

Stev-o said...

I think this is a good profile of Mr. Sanders.

I recall an article in the Grey Lady that addressed the role of Bernie and The Donald's New York Accent and having a comment approved and posted by the comment police and a reply from a reader in FL attacking me for being frivolous. It takes all kinds. Basically I was calling out the NYT for continuing its charade of refusing to recognize Sanders as a viable candidate and that readers/commenters were more than aware of the shenanigans. Bernie has a plan and it is working. I am traveling to Burlington today - UVM Medical Center for a 5:00 PM MRI. The drive to Burlington will be beautiful as all the trees in Vermont are displaying fall colors, it is my favorite time of year. My wife and I will then walk down to Church Street for a bite to eat and then stroll over to the National Headquarters and watch the debate. They are hosting a party! I will watch this one. I am sure today will be as wonderful as the day in May, in Waterfront Park, when he officially announced.

Pearl said...

Thank you for telling us about this article about Bernie Sanders as a populist prophet. It is a thoughtful intelligent picture of a real human being. It is surrounded by other articles about him in the same magazine as in other publications which follow the usual popular thinking line that that have no understanding of what he represents.
I hope he will connect with more Americans during these debates because we need a man like him around and hope he helps diminish the aura surrounding Hillary.

It will be an interesting experience for you to watch the debate in Burlington and talk to the local viewers. Let us know about your observations.

I hope your medical check up goes well.

voice-in-wilderness said...

Seems to me I saw a brief book review in the last few months that pointed out the whole history of the United States is built on a combination of genocide and slavery.

If I want to let myself feel sad, I sometimes reflect on what history would be like, what we would know, if the Spanish conquerors and priests had treasured the cultures of middle America and south America, instead of trying to obliterate them.

Valerie said...

I really enjoyed this essay, Karen. Thank you.

I think it is really important for teachers to help their students understand that history isn't necessarily fact and to use their thinking skills to ask, "What is the other side?"

Just as we have historically accepted that it was the God given right of those first settlers to take for themselves the Terra Nullus, I see a parallel in our attitudes about the oil in the Middle East. I think most Americans have a hard time getting their minds around the idea that if the government and people of a country don't want to sell us their oil, it is their right not to do so. We aren't entitled to another country's bounty simply because we want it. And of course, that goes for myriad natural resources we expect are our right in the Developing World.

Colonialism is evil - The sad thing is we are still doing it.