Neocon economic theory applied in Chile — an excerpt from the book “The Shock Doctrine”

Tonight let’s transcribe a little of Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, beginning with chapter three, page 75:

States of Shock

The Bloody Birth of the Counterrevolution

For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less.

–Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, 1513

If this shock approach were adopted, I believe that it should be announced publicly in great detail, to take effect at a very close date. The more fully the public is informed, the more will its reactions facilitate the adjustment.

–Milton Friedman in a letter to General Augusto Pinochet, April 21, 1975

General Augusto Pinochet and his supporters consistently referred to the events of September 11, 1973, not as a coup d’état but as “a war.” Santiago certainly looked like a war zone: tanks fired as they rolled down the boulevards, and government buildings were under air assault by fighter jets. But there was something strange about this war. It had only one side.

From the start, Pinochet had complete control of the army, navy, marines and police. Meanwhile, President Salvador Allende had refused to organize his supporters into armed defense leagues, so he had no army of his own. The only resistance came from the presidential palace, La Moneda, and the rooftops around it, where Allende and his inner circle made a valiant effort to defend the seat of democracy. It was hardly a fair fight: though there were just thirty-six Allende supporters inside, the military launched twenty-four rockets into the palace.

Pinochet, the operation’s vain and volatile commander (built like one of the tanks he rode in on), clearly wanted the event to be as dramatic and traumatic as possible. Even if the coup was not a war, it was designed to feel like one—a Chilean precursor to Shock and Awe. It could scarcely have been more shocking. Unlike neighboring Argentina, which had been ruled by six military governments in the previous four decades, Chile had no experience with this kind of violence; it had enjoyed 160 years of peaceful democratic rule, the past 41 uninterrupted.

Now the presidential palace was in flames, the president’s shrouded body was being carried out on a stretcher, and his closest colleagues were lying facedown in the street at rifle point. A few minutes’ drive from the presidential palace, Orlando Letelier, recently returned from Washington to take up a new post as Chile’s defense minister, had gone to his office that morning in the ministry. As soon as he walked through the front door, he was ambushed by twelve soldiers in combat uniform, all pointing their submachine guns at him.

In the years leading up to the coup, U.S. trainers, many from the CIA, had whipped the Chilean military into an anti-Communist frenzy, persuading them that socialists were de facto Russian spies, a force alien to Chilean society—a homegrown “enemy within.” In fact, it was the military that had become the true domestic enemy, ready to turn its weapons on the population it was sworn to protect.

With Allende dead, his cabinet in captivity and no mass resistance in evidence, the junta’s grand battle was over by mid-afternoon. Letelier and the other “VIP” prisoners were eventually taken to freezing Dawson Island in the southern Strait of Magellan, Pinochet’s approximation of a Siberian work camp. Killing and locking up the government was not enough for Chile’s new junta government, however. The generals knew that their hold on power depended on Chileans being truly terrified, as the people had been in Indonesia. In the days that followed, roughly 13,500 civilians were arrested, loaded onto trucks and imprisoned, according to declassified CIA reports. Thousands ended up in the two main football stadiums in Santiago, the Chile Stadium and the huge National Stadium. Inside the National Stadium, death replaced football as the public spectacle. Soldiers prowled bleachers with hooded collaborators who pointed out “subversives”; the ones who were selected were hauled off to locker rooms and skyboxes transformed into makeshift torture chambers. Hundreds were executed. Lifeless bodies started showing up on the side of major highways or floating in murky urban canals.

To make sure that the terror extended beyond the capital city, Pinochet sent his most ruthless commander, General Sergio Arellano Stark, on a helicopter mission to the northern provinces to visit a string of prisons where “subversives” were being held. At each city and town, Stark and his roving death squad singled out the highest-profile prisoners, as many as twenty-six at a time, who were subsequently executed. The trail of blood left behind over those four days came to be known as the Caravan of Death. In short order, the entire country had gotten the message: resistance is deadly.

Even though Pinochet’s battle was one-sided, its effects were as real as any civil war or foreign invasion: in all, more than 3,200 people were disappeared or executed, at least 80,000 were imprisoned, and 200,000 fled the country for political reasons.

The Economic Front

For the Chicago Boys, September 11 was a day of giddy anticipation and deadline adrenalin. Sergio de Castro had been working down to the wire with his contact in the navy, getting the final sections of “The Brick” approved page by page. Now, on the day of the coup, several Chicago Boys were camped out at the printing presses of the right-wing El Mercurio newspaper. As shots were being fired in the streets outside, they frantically tried to get the document printed in time for the junta’s first day in the job. Arturo Fontaine, one of the newspaper’s editors, recalled that the machines “worked non-stop to duplicate copies of this long document.” And they made it—just barely. “Before midday on Wednesday, September 12, 1973, the General Officers of the Armed Forces who performed government duties had the Plan on their desks.”

The proposals in the final document bore a striking resemblance to those found in Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom: privatization, deregulation and cuts to social spending—the free-market trinity. Chile’s U.S.-trained economists had tried to introduce these ideas peacefully, within the confines of a democratic debate, but they had been overwhelmingly rejected. Now the Chicago Boys and their plans were back, in a climate distinctly more conducive to their radical vision. In this new era, no one besides a handful of men in uniform needed to agree with them. Their staunchest political opponents were either in jail, dead or fleeing for cover; the spectacle of fighter jets and caravans of death was keeping everyone else in line.

“To us, it was a revolution,” said Cristián Larroulet, one of Pinochet’s economic aides. It was a fair description. September 11, 1973, was far more than the violent end of Allende’s peaceful socialist revolution; it was the beginning of what The Economist would later describe as a “counterrevolution”—the first concrete victory in the Chicago School campaign to seize back the gains that had been won under developmentalism and Keynesianism. Unlike Allende’s partial revolution, tempered and compromised by the push and pull of democracy, this revolt, imposed through brute force, was free to go all the way. In the coming years, the same policies laid out in “The Brick” would be imposed in dozens of other countries under cover of a wide range of crises. But Chile was the counterrevolution’s genesis—a genesis of terror.

José Piñera, an alumnus of the economics department at the Catholic University and a self-described Chicago Boy, was doing graduate work at Harvard at the time of the coup. On hearing the good news, he returned home “to help found a new country, dedicated to liberty, from the ashes of the old one.” According to Piñera, who would eventually become Pinochet’s minister of labor and mining, this was “the real revolution . . . a radical, comprehensive, and sustained move toward free markets.”

Before the coup, Augusto Pinochet had a reputation for deference that bordered on the obsequious, forever flattering and agreeing with his civilian commanders. As a dictator, Pinochet found new facets of his character. He took to power with unseemly relish, adopting the airs of a monarch and claiming that “destiny” had given him the job. In short order, he staged a coup within a coup to unseat the other three military leaders with whom he had agreed to share power and named himself Supreme Chief of the Nation as well as president. He basked in pomp and ceremony, proof of his right to rule, never missing an opportunity to put on his Prussian dress uniform, complete with cape. To get around Santigo, he chose a caravan of gold bulletproof Mercedes-Benzes.

Pinochet had a knack for authoritarian rule, but, like Suharto, he knew next to nothing about economics. That was a problem because the campaign of corporate sabotage spearheaded by ITT had done an effective job of sending the economy into a tailspin, and Pinochet had a full-fledged crisis on his hands. From the start, there was a power struggle within the junta between those who simply wanted to reinstate the pre-Allende status quo and return quickly to democracy, and the Chicago Boys, who were pushing for a head-to-toe free-market makeover that would take years to impose. Pinochet, enjoying his new powers, intensely disliked the idea that his destiny was a mere cleanup operation—there to “restore order” and then get out. “We are not a vacuum cleaner that swept out Marxism to give back power to those Mr. Politicians,” he would say. It was the Chicago Boys’ vision of a total country overhaul that appealed to his newly unleashed ambition, and, like Suharto with his Berkeley Mafia, he immediately named several Chicago grads as senior economic advisers, including Sergio de Castro, the movement’s de facto leader and the main author of “The Brick.” He called them the technos—the technicians—which appealed to the Chicago pretension that fixing an economy was a matter of science, not of subjective human choices.

Even if Pinochet understood little about inflation and interest rates, the technos spoke a language he did understand. Economics for them meant forces of nature that needed to be respected and obeyed because “to act against nature is counter-productive and self-deceiving,” as Piñera explained. Pinochet agreed: people, he once wrote, must submit to structure because “nature shows us basic order and hierarchy are necessary.” This mutual claim to be taking orders from higher natural laws formed the basis of the Pinochet-Chicago alliance.

For the first year and a half, Pinochet faithfully followed the Chicago rules: he privatized some, though not all, state-owned companies (including several banks); he allowed cutting-edge new forms of speculative finance; he flung open the borders to foreign imports, tearing down the barriers that had long protected Chilean manufacturers; and he cut government spending by 10 percent—except the military, which received a significant increase. He also eliminated price controls—a radical move in a country that had been regulating the cost of necessities such as bread and cooking oil for decades.

The Chicago Boys had confidently assured Pinochet that if he suddenly withdrew government involvement from these areas all at once, the “natural” laws of economics would rediscover their equilibrium, and inflation—which they viewed as a kind of economic fever indicating the presence of unhealthy organisms in the market—would magically go down. They were mistaken. In 1974, inflation reached 375 percent—the highest rate in the world and almost twice the top level under Allende. The cost of basics such as bread went through the roof. At the same time, Chileans were being thrown out of work because Pinochet’s experiment with “free trade” was flooding the country with cheap imports. Local businesses were closing, unable to compete, unemployment hit record levels and hunger became rampant. The Chicago School’s first laboratory was a debacle.

Sergio de Castro and the other Chicago Boys argued (in true Chicago fashion) that the problem didn’t lie with their theory but with the fact that it wasn’t being applied with sufficient strictness. The economy had failed to correct itself and return to harmonious balance because there were still “distortions” left over from nearly half a century of government interference. For the experiment to work, Pinochet had to strip these distortions away—more cuts, more privatization, more speed.

In that year and a half, many of the country’s business elite had had their fill of the Chicago Boys’ adventures in extreme capitalism. The only people benefiting were foreign companies and a small clique of financiers known as the “piranhas,” who were making a killing on speculation. The nuts-and-bolts manufacturers who had strongly supported the coup were getting wiped out. Orlando Sáenz—the president of the National Association of Manufacturers, who had brought the Chicago Boys into the coup plot in the first place—declared the results of the experiment “one of the greatest failures of our economic history.” The manufacturers hadn’t wanted Allende’s socialism but had liked a managed economy just fine. “It is not possible to continue with the financial chaos that dominates in Chile,” Sáenz said. “It is necessary to channel into productive investments the millions and millions of financial resources that are now being used in wild-cat speculative operations before the very eyes of those who don’t even have a job.”

Let’s stop there for the night, on page 80.

People vs. the State vs. Major Corporations — What might the future hold in store for Americans?

“Is Government Inherently Immoral? Stefan Molyneux debates Tom Willcutts”:

Having watched this clip once already with plans to run through it a 2nd time, I have a number of thoughts to share at this time. While I’ve enjoyed several of Stefan’s videos on topics pertaining to childhood development, in this conversation I lean closer to Tom Willcutts’ views and will try to explain why.

Never completely understood the anarchist position despite trying many times in the past. They basically wish to abolish or somehow completely undermine and make obsolete any form of government, starting with the present one. And what seems to confuse people who do not identify as anarchists is that the message put forward typically says little about what will happen next. As in doing away with government being one step in a process, but then what? In the above debate, Stefan does attempt to address what he believes will occur, arguing that the “free market” could run and provide much of what’s currently being controlled by Government. The common Libertarian stance, or, more accurately, what I’ve come to plainly refer to as the neoconservative stance.

I’ve explored the Libertarian Party and libertarian political ideology for more than a decade now, giving up on the LP when Bob Barr was nominated as its presidential candidate in 2008. What I saw clearly happening throughout the G.W. Bush administration was that “Libertarianism” became all the rage, associated with everyone from Ron Paul to this country’s founding fathers to members of Bush’s Cabinet. Suddenly everyone wanted to identify as a libertarian of some sort. That’s all fine and good, except that the message being loudly promoted became one of “neoclassical” economic theory popularized by the teachers within the University of Chicago’s School of Economics (e.g., Milton Friedman, Gary Becker, etc.), which originally was informed by positions put forth by the Austrian School of Economics. My familiarity with Austrian School economics isn’t extensive, but I remain relatively open-minded to the debated ideas stemming from that camp.

It’s the Chicago School of Economics that I take greatest issue with, having learned enough about it to smell the rats involved. Milton Friedman was an egoist possessing little empathy, and his teachings reflected that in their calculating manner. He was part of the social engineering project, whether he clearly understood that or not (though I believe he did, as evidenced by his involvement in helping shape U.S. foreign policy in ways detrimental to countless persons living in countries in South and Central America — read Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism to learn more). What I personally witnessed around me was a growing number of people coming to parrot that neoconservative language taught by people like Friedman that political insiders and prominent businessmen in the 1980s onward repeatedly appealed to.

(Quickly, let me also say this: call it “neoliberal” or “neoconservative,” it doesn’t really matter much since both labels point to what essentially amounts to the same movement, confusing as that is. Apparently we in the U.S. refer to it mostly as “neoconservative” because of its militaristic approach, whereas outside of our borders “neoliberal” is the term used when the IMF and World Bank impose their new-age form of economic colonization. Language confusion certainly doesn’t help when people are first aiming to learn about these topics, but for whatever reasons that’s how it currently stands. To see a more detailed breakdown, check out this link.)

So taking this whole trend into consideration, which has been moving in this direction for several decades already within academe and political circles, now expanding into the American mainstream, we see a number of Friedmanite utopians running about today preaching the gospel of this version of the “free market.” The problem with this is the naivete involved, as if the corporate world were some sort of godsend intended to replace all forms of government for the betterment of humankind. But that is a fantasy narrative being peddled to members of the public severely disenchanted with our government’s shenanigans. Please make no mistake: I too am extremely disenchanted with my government and what it has devolved into throughout the 20th century. Americans have lost the reins and have a monster now in our midst that aims to control so much of what we do and how we do it, to the point of diminishing our quality of life. But the thing is that major corporate players have been involved and intermingled from day one in what’s become of the U.S. Government. Politicians apparently tend to be be very weak-minded and status-driven individuals who respond when money talks. Major corporations have played within markets and political spheres all across the globe for as long as they’ve been in existence.

The United States declared its independence the very same year that Adam Smith published his book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Adam Smith was considered one of the key pioneers of political economy, which for him spun off from his studies of moral philosophy, so we need to understand that economics as we think of it today was in its fledgling phase when our country was being formally founded. Or, more accurately, being wrestled out from under the control of Great Britain through engaging in the Revolutionary War, which lasted until 1783. While corporations technically have a lengthy history dating way back, what we think of as modern corporations got their start beginning in the late 1700s as well. While the United States was expanding its territories and figuring out how to manage this brand-new form of government, corporations continued ‘evolving’ over in Europe (as well as in the U.S., though stricter regulation existed in the 19th century to limit how corporations could be used, taking into consideration the ‘public good’). So we see our government coming into being alongside this evolving notion of corporations, and that’s very important because it wasn’t long before these entities came to increasingly intermingle and dramatically affect one another.

I’m not a historian and won’t pretend to be one, but these are thoughts that run through my mind when pondering what’s happened to peoples in the U.S. and abroad in modern times. Understand that history is absolutely relevant when any economic theory’s merits are being discussed. I personally need to ponder from the historical vantage point, to the best I’m able to understand times so long ago, because otherwise it’s too easy to take things for granted, as if it couldn’t be another way. People express that attitude all the time, as if nothing that came before matters today. We seem to think modern times sprang from a vacuum, as if the social realm is inconsequential compared against anything that can be measured and empirically observed and calculated. And that right there is a big part of the problem I take with neoconservative economics — dubbed as the “rationalist” approach.

“Rational.” I’m growing to dislike that word because of how it’s used to dismiss that which can’t so easily be broken down into technical language and then quantified, which is what various schools of economics aim to do today, economics no longer being viewed as a social discipline (which it is). Anything predicated on human behavior and choices will be fickle business — unless, I guess, if it were possible to determine human behavior and shape people’s choices. Sound familiar? It should, because that’s what advertising and marketing has aimed for for nearly a century.

This issue is so much bigger than corporate power on its own precisely because our government has gone along with the schemes hatched by the business world. They’ve been attached at the hip for a long time already (though government has dropped the ball in regulating businesses in the 20th century, a task our government wasn’t originally set up to do and that few Americans can agree on how or if it’s even proper for lawmakers to attempt to do), and what this has done is it’s allowed select corporations to grow to never-before-seen size and scope and for the few largest to corner markets in the most important and popular sectors. What we eat comes from major corporations. How we farm today is decided by major corporations. As is where we shop and what is available for us to buy, and to a sad extent what we’ve come to value (as well as devalue). Heck, not even water is off-limits when it comes to corporate control. Government has allowed this to occur, but that genie is out of the bottle today and flexing its power across the globe, especially in poorer countries where governments easily cave to financial incentives.

People sometimes argue that if government were removed from the equation, we could contend with corporations directly. Well, we could contend with corporations right now, yet so few of us seem interested in doing so. Many (if not most) people are relatively content so long as they have a job and a home and tasty foods to eat and several creature comforts and toys. This topic goes back to my thoughts on human domestication, which I haven’t fully laid out a position on (not even sure that I’m capable of doing so just yet), though a couple of my videos broached a couple angles to that topic. So when talk begins about how we’ll simply do away with government, which is intended to be an organization controlled by the people, and on our own confront corporate power (that few people seem interested in taking on in a serious way, especially if it will result in them having to make major sacrifices, and it will), I have to wonder how we think we might accomplish this.

The libertarian, anarchist position put forth by a few people I’ve watched debate argue in favor of some sort of corporate utopia where we the people vote with our dollars and boycott companies that violate what we deem sacred. In theory I love the idea, but when burdened by practical concerns I become very wary. What might’ve been a decent idea back a hundred years ago or before might not translate so well into this new age where we the people have become utterly dependent on the Corporate State to provide us with what we need and want, younger generations not having been taught the skills necessary to produce our own food or clothing or shelter. A further obstacle is in place now because corporations own most of the materials we’d even need to get started, meaning they ultimately determine the price we wind up paying for anything and everything (nevermind their “free market” big talk — if it came down to the citizenry seriously challenging the Corporate State, we’ll find out how shallow that lip service really is). Then there’s the issue of Americans working for these corporations, dependent on them for income. Then we have to look at the property rights problem, because undoubtedly corporations claim more land than we realize and will likely buy up whatever is abandoned by government (another concern is foreign citizens and companies buying up American agricultural land and houses at a substantially increasing rate in recent years).

In a nutshell, there’s a lot here to consider, so assuming that corporations will be easier managed (and hopefully dominated) once government is out of the picture doesn’t delve into the complexities of this situation. Government, at least theoretically, is intended to be bent to the will of the people. Corporations are intended to be bent to the will of the market, but once a few dominate the market and have already successfully done away with most small business competition, how are people now effectively planning to go up against them? Dollars are their currency, not necessarily ours, because they do the price setting and they also determine people’s wages. We may possess the labor and skills they seek, but corporations can also rather easily draw from labor pools all throughout the world, effectively undermining rebellion in any one particular country. This is what we’re up against. We lack an infrastructure that isn’t corporate-dependent, and their executives are well-aware of that. We the people lack a means of feeding ourselves, doctoring ourselves, and thanks to so many citizens’ passivity we probably no longer have access to the weaponry needed to stand a fair chance at defending ourselves.

People want to talk about militaries and private security forces, believing we the people will somehow be able to afford that as well, nevermind that corporations stand in a much better position to be able to afford such defense. And again, they can draw from foreign paramilitary pools that we Americans cannot access, which then could potentially gain a united front of corporations access to sophisticated weaponry. (Think: Israel.) People don’t want to hear this, and I’m sorry, but I am trying to be realistic. That doesn’t mean I favor the government, especially not as it stands now, but I happen to know that corporations aren’t in any way by their design intended to be concerned with what is actually in the public’s interest. They are profit-driven, first and foremost, and shareholders of publicly-traded companies have also lost control of the reins, leaving so much up to the whims and desires of the executives and fat cats hidden behind these legal fictions. Corporations are an economic vehicle, and without any regulations in place to limit them they will grow, expand, dominate, and suppress competition whenever able. Kings of the concrete jungle, you might say.

People like Stefan speak of arbitrators as if that will prove an effective alternative to the courts and juries of today. Much as our courts are screwed up and in serious need of an overhaul, hiring arbitration services won’t likely produce fairer results, especially not when corporations have the money to spend and we the people do not. They will form alliances with arbitrators and likely will come to decide for us, printed somewhere in their mountains of small print, which arbitrator will be used in the event of a dispute. You don’t want that, but how will you refuse if you remain in the situation as we do now where we are dependent on corporations for so much? Most people won’t be willing to accept unemployment as a condition of rebellion — keep that in mind, because they will become your snitching enemies, your competitors, they and various foreigners driven by desperation and/or blind desire for the “good life,” the so-called “American Dream.” Because of their support, the system will go on and will grow outside of the bounds of what we can imagine today (as scarily alluded to in the recording played back of Stefan’s vision of corporations cutting off people’s credit and bank access after being accused of a crime).  Don’t expect much pity from these people.

So what then is the solution? That’s a damn fine question. I do not know. How do we take on the corporate setup and bring it down to where it is manageable and answerable to the will of the public and its consumers? I believe this is where government can be worthwhile, depending on how diligently we manage it, which Americans have proven poor at thus far.

The question of whether government is inherently immoral troubles me. It nearly seems irrelevant when the bigger question is how to manage civilization. Because that’s apparently what people want, right, civilization? If so, a form of governance, however limited in scope and power, will prove necessary in order to allow this many people to all inhabit one geographical area in relative peace. Whether we like it or not, laws must be established, though I personally believe we have way too goddamn many and not enough that are clearly worded and of actual value to common persons. The rise of civilizations hasn’t wound us up to where we humans in general are rising up so much as a relative few have risen to extraordinary power that allows them (and the corporations they hide within) to exploit the many. The major difference between civilization today versus centuries ago is the incredible advancement in technological innovation and sophistication. That too is largely cornered and controlled by major corporations where not under the domain of universities and our government. In the absence of a government I believe it is naive to assume the government’s and universities’ share would be relinquished to the people. It would help to hear how people think they’d go about ensuring that did occur, because simply assuming and wishing and praying isn’t enough, not when major corporations wield as much power as they currently do.

This is an interesting topic, partly because it forces me to see the potential benefit in the role of government despite our failure at maintaining the project that’s been underway for over two centuries in this chunk of land staked off and named the U.S.A. It was a new idea and we did lose control over it, largely due to people being kept busy working and being easily seduced by the promise of easier living and being dazzled by the assorted offerings that have sprung into existence over the last 150 years (not to mention the propaganda generations have been raised up on via education curricula and media outlets), culminating in so many today being blinded by science to where they can’t see anything but technologies and petri dishes and mathematical concepts and statistics and other sorts of abstractions. We’re losing touch with reality, yet eagerly are chomping at the bit to refashion current reality into fitting some vague ideal claimed as capable of maximizing the “good” for the greatest number of people. A utilitarian’s paradise. Long on banter about technical in details, while short on appreciation for our social and psychological needs. This is what anarchism is showing me, and it disturbs me, because whether people like Stefan are able to understand this or not, they will play right into the hands of corporate power if they endeavor to go that direction without any institutional backing of their own.

There’s so much more that can be said on this topic, and I’d love to continue on, but I’ve tuckered myself out typing this at the moment and will have to leave it to be picked up another day.

Dangerous Knowledge (from the BBC)

This BBC film titled “Dangerous Knowledge” tackles some of the profound questions about the true nature of reality that mathematical thinkers are still trying to answer today.


Dangerous Knowledge (1/5) by xSilverPhinx


Dangerous Knowledge (2/5) by xSilverPhinx


Dangerous Knowledge (3/5) by xSilverPhinx


Dangerous Knowledge (4/5) by xSilverPhinx


Dangerous Knowledge (5/5) by xSilverPhinx

Interesting food for thought, even for those of us who aren’t particularly mathematically-inclined.

A slice of history — an excerpt from the book “A People’s History of the United States”

Today I’m going to transcribe the first few pages of chapter one of Howard Zinn’s book A People’s History of the United States: 1492 – Present:

COLUMBUS, THE INDIANS, AND HUMAN PROGRESS

Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log:

They . . . brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned. . . . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features. . . . They do not bear arms, and do know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane. . . . They would make fine servants. . . . With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.

These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.

Columbus wrote:

As soon as I arrived in the Indies, one the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.

The information that Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold? He had persuaded the king and queen of Spain to finance an expedition to the lands, the wealth, he expected would be on the other side of the Atlantic—the Indies and Asia, gold and spices. For, like other informed people of his time, he knew the world was round and he could sail west in order to get to the Far East.

Spain was recently unified, one of the new modern nation-states, like France, England, and Portugal. Its population, mostly poor peasants, worked for the nobility, who were 2 percent of the population and owned 95 percent of the land. Spain had tied itself to the Catholic Church, expelled all the Jews, driven out the Moors. Like other states of the modern world, Spain sought gold, which was becoming the new mark of wealth, more useful than land because it could buy anything.

There was gold in Asia, it was thought, and certainly silks and spices, for Marco Polo and others had brought back marvelous things from their overland expeditions centuries before. Now that the Turks had conquered Constantinople and the eastern Mediterranean, and controlled the land routes to Asia, a sea route was needed. Portuguese sailors were working their way around the southern tip of Africa. Spain decided to gamble on a long sail across an unknown ocean.

In return for bringing back gold and spices, they promised Columbus 10 percent of the profits, governorship over new-found lands, and the fame that would go with a new title: Admiral of the Ocean Sea. He was a merchant’s clerk from the Italian city of Genoa, part-time weaver (the son of a skilled weaver), and expert sailor. He set out with three sailing ships, the largest of which was the Santa Maria, perhaps 100 feet long, and thirty-nine crew members.

Columbus would never have made it to Asia, which was thousands of miles farther away than he had calculated, imagining a smaller world. He would have been doomed by that great expanse of sea. But he was lucky. One-fourth of the way there he came upon an unknown, uncharted land that lay between Europe and Asia—the Americas. It was early October 1492, and thirty-three days since he and his crew had left the Canary Islands, off the Atlantic coast of Africa. Now they saw branches and sticks floating in the water. They saw flocks of birds. These were signs of land. Then, on October 12, a sailor called Rodrigo saw the early morning moon shining on white sands, and cried out. It was an island in the Bahamas, the Caribbean sea. The first man to sight land was supposed to get a yearly pension of 10,000 maravedis for life, but Rodrigo never got it. Columbus claimed he had seen a light the evening before. He got the reward.

So, approaching land, they were met by the Arawak Indians, who swam out to greet them. The Arawaks lived in village communes, had a developed agriculture of corn, yams, cassava. They could spin and weave, but they had no horses or work animals. They had no iron, but they wore tiny gold ornaments in their ears.

This was to have enormous consequences: it led Columbus to take some of them aboard ship as prisoners because he insisted that they guide him to the source of the gold. He then sailed to what is now Cuba, then to Hispaniola (the island which today consists of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). There, bits of gold in the rivers, and a gold mask presented to Columbus by a local Indian chief, led to wild visions of gold fields.

On Hispaniola, out of timbers from the Santa Maria, which had run aground, Columbus built a fort, the first European military base in the Western hemisphere. He called it Navidad (Christmas) and left thirty-nine crewmembers there, with instructions to find and store the gold. He took more Indian prisoners and put them aboard his two remaining ships. At one part of the island he got into a fight with Indians who refused to trade as many bows and arrows as he and his men wanted. Two were run through with swords and bled to death. Then the Nina and the Pinta set sail for the Azores and Spain. When the weather turned cold, the Indian prisoners began to die.

Columbus’s report to the Court in Madrid was extravagant. He insisted he had reached Asia (it was Cuba) and an island off the coast of China (Hispaniola). His descriptions were part fact, part fiction:

Hispaniola is a miracle. Mountains and hills, plains and pastures, are both fertile and beautiful . . . the harbors are unbelievably good and there are many wide rivers of which the majority contain gold. . . . There are many spices, and great mines of gold and other metals. . . .

The Indians, Columbus reported, “are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone. . . .” He concluded his report by asking for a little help from their Majesties, and in return he would bring them from his next voyage “as much gold as they need . . . and as many slaves as they ask.” He was full of religious talk: “Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities.”

Because of Columbus’s exaggerated reports and promises, his second expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men. The aim was clear: slaves and gold. They went from island to island in the Caribbean, taking Indians as captives. But as word spread of the Europeans’ intent they found more and more empty villages. On Haiti, they found that the sailors left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a battle with the Indians, after they had roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor.

Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were “naked as the day they were born,” they showed “no more embarrassment than animals.” Columbus later wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death.

The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed.

Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death. Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.

When it became clear that there was no gold left, the Indians were taken as slave labor on huge estates, known later as encomiendas. They were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendents left on the island.

The chief source—and, on many matters the only source—of information about what happened on the islands after Columbus came is Bartolomé de las Casas, who, as a young priest, participated in the conquest of Cuba. For a time he owned a plantation on which Indian slaves worked, but he gave that up and became a vehement critic of Spanish cruelty. Las Casas transcribed Columbus’s journal and, in his fifties, began a multivolume History of the Indies. In it, he describes the Indians. They are agile, he says, and can swim long distances, especially the women. They are not completely peaceful, because they do battle from time to time with other tribes, but their casualties seem small, and they fight when they are individually moved to do so because of some grievance, not on the orders of captains or kings.

Women in Indian society were treated so well as to startle the Spaniards. Las Casas describes sex relations:

Marriage laws are non-existent: men and women alike choose their mates and leave them as they please, without offense, jealousy or anger. They multiply in great abundance; pregnant women work to the last minute and give birth almost painlessly; up the next day, they bathe in the river and are as clean and healthy as before giving birth. If they tire of their men, they give themselves abortions with herbs that force stillbirths, covering their shameful parts with leaves or cotton cloth; although on the whole, Indian men and women look upon total nakedness with as much casualness as we look upon a man’s head or at his hands.

The Indians, Las Casas says, have no religion, at least no temples. They live in

large communal bell-shaped buildings, housing up to 600 people at one time . . . made of very strong wood and roofed with palm leaves. . . . They prize bird feathers of various colors, beads made of fishbones, and green and white stones with which they adorn their ears and lips, but they put no value on gold and other precious things. They lack all manner of commerce, neither buying nor selling, and rely exclusively on their natural environment for maintenance. They are extremely generous with their possessions and by the same token covet the possessions of their friends and expect the same degree of liberality. . . .

In Book Two of his History of the Indies, Las Casas (who at first urged replacing Indians by black slaves, thinking they were stronger and would survive, but later relented when he saw the effects on blacks) tells about the treatment of the Indians by the Spaniards. It is a unique account and deserves to be quoted at length:

Endless testimonies . . . prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives. But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then. . . . The admiral, it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians. . . .

Las Casas tells how the Spaniards “grew more conceited every day” and after a while refused to walk any distance. They “rode the backs of Indians if they were in a hurry” or were carried on hammocks by Indians running in relays. “In thus case they also had Indians carry large leaves to shade them from the sun and others to fan them with goose wings.”

Total control led to total cruelty. The Spaniards “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.” Las Casas tells how “two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys.”

The Indians’ attempts to defend themselves failed. And when they ran off into the hills they were found and killed. So, Las Casas reports, “they suffered and died in the mines and other labors in desperate silence, knowing not a soul in the world to whom they could turn for help.” He describes their work in the mines:

. . . mountains are stripped from top to bottom and bottom to top a thousand times; they dig, split rocks, move stones, and carry dirt on their backs to wash it in the rivers, while those who wash gold stay in the water all the time with their backs bent so constantly it breaks them; and when water invades the mines, the most arduous task of all is to dry the mines by scooping up pansful of water and throwing it up outside. . . .

After each six or eight months’ work in the mines, which was the time required of each crew to dig enough gold for melting, up to a third of the men died.

While the men were sent many miles away to the mines, the wives remained to work the soil, forced into the excruciating job of digging and making thousands of hills for cassava plants.

Thus husbands and wives were together only once every eight or ten months and when they met they were so exhausted and depressed on both sides . . . they ceased to procreate. As for the newly born, they died early because their mothers, overworked and famished, had no milk to nurse them, and for this reason, while I was in Cuba, 7000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation. . . . In this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk . . . and in a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile . . . was depopulated. . . . My eyes have seen these acts to foreign to human nature, and how I tremble as I write. . . .

When he arrived on Hispaniola in 1508, Las Casas says, “there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? It myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it. . . .”

Thus began the history, five hundred years ago, of the European invasion of the Indian settlements in the Americas. That beginning, when you read Las Casas—even if his figures are exaggerations (were there 3 million Indians to begin with, as he says, or less than a million, as some historians have calculated, or 8 million as others now believe?)—is conquest, slavery, death. When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure—there is no bloodshed—and Columbus Day is a celebration.

Past the elementary and high schools, there are only occasional hints of something else. Samuel Eliot Morison, the Harvard historian, was the most distinguished writer on Columbus, the author of a multivolume biography, and was himself a sailor who retraced Columbus’s route across the Atlantic. In his popular book Christopher Columbus, Mariner, written in 1954, he tells about the enslavement and the killing: “The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide.”

That is on one page, buried halfway into the telling of a grand romance. In the book’s last paragraph, Morison sums up his view of Columbus:

He had his faults and his defects, but they were largely the defects of the qualities that made him great—his indomitable will, his superb faith in God and his own mission as the Christ-bearer to lands beyond the seas, his stubborn persistence despite neglect, poverty and discouragement. But there was no flaw, no dark side to the most outstanding and essential of all his qualities—his seamanship.

One can lie outright about the past. Or one can omit facts which might lead to unacceptable conclusions. Morison does neither. He refuses to lie about Columbus. He does not omit the story of mass murder; indeed he describes it with the harshest word one can use: genocide.

But he does something else—he mentions the truth quickly and goes on to other things more important to him. Outright lying lying or quiet omission takes the risk of discovery which, when made, might arouse the reader to rebel against the writer. To state the facts, however, and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: yes, mass murder took place, but it’s not that important—it should weigh very little in our final judgments; it should affect very little what we do in the world.

It is not that the historian can avoid emphasis of some facts and not of others. This is as natural to him as to the mapmaker, who, in order to produce a usable drawing for practical purposes, must first flatten and distort the shape of the earth, then choose out of the bewildering mass of geographic information those things needed for the purpose of this or that particular map.

My argument cannot be against selection, simplification, emphasis, which are inevitable for both cartographers and historians. But the mapmaker’s distortion is a technical necessity for a common purpose shared by all people who need maps. The historian’s distortion is more than technical, it is ideological; it is released into a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports (whether the historian means to or not) some kind of interest, whether economic or political or racial or national or sexual.

Furthermore, this ideological interest is not openly expressed in the way a mapmaker’s technical interest is obvious (“This is a Mercator projection for long-range navigation—for short-range, you’d better use a different projection”). No, it is presented as if all readers of history had a common interest which historians serve to the best of their ability. This is not intentional deception; the historian has been trained in a society in which education and knowledge are put forward as technical problems of excellence and not as tools for contending social classes, races, nations.

To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize 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 us 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.

Let’s stop there on page 9. Just borrowed this book this morning and I’m unsure if I’ll be able to hold onto it long enough to finish it this time around, but it’s so far piqued my interest, having previously watched the film titled “The People Speak!” based on this book. If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch that, it’s powerfully moving.

Atheism is Dumb

A really good talk by Eric Orwoll. I tend to agree with what he’s getting at, much as I remain ignorant and would never be able to word my ideas anywhere near as clearly as he is able. Atheism has always struck me as being too restrictive, like the flip-side to religion. Once upon a time I came to reject Christianity because I understood it’s a mythology, not something to hang a sense of certainty on. Atheism comes along and claims its own form of certainty, much of which is proposed as standing in stark contrast with Christian theology, basically disputing that the “Y H W H” deity literally rules the universe. Well no shit, atheists — it’s mythological narrative from 4000 years ago that we today have trouble even comprehending, having grown so far away from oral traditions and religiosity that Abrahamic religions sprang from. People today want to be literalists, and I see that applying just as much to atheists as to Christian evangelists. Fundamentalists, they like to call themselves, but it’s really just a label connoting a sense of certainty in a particular belief system. I have no such certainty and am open to the world of possibilities. Much as I’ve found room among atheists to move about in my sandbox of ponderings, frequently I still am checked and reminded that my attitude is “spiritual,” as though that were unacceptable or ridiculous to them.

I reject such limitations on my personal exploration and find those who dismiss people like myself to be rude snobs arrogantly believing themselves to know so much more. The truth is that we don’t know much, nor will we ever be able to know it all. The very notion of infinity sets up unsolvable paradoxes that man’s mathematics cannot unravel in a way we deem as intelligible. Such is the conundrum of living. Some run from this realization and cloak themselves with a sense of certainty derived somehow, because they are afraid to sit with the fear of the unknown. Perhaps because it points back to human frailty and insurmountable limitations — human weakness and smallness — or at least that’s how they tend to perceive it. But this also points to human greatness, or rather the greatness of consciousness, the glory of inquiry, the fascination of life’s mysteries. We are small, but we are not so small as to be completely inconsequential. These are deep philosophical and metaphysical questions that we humans are blessed to possess the ability to wrestle with, and yet we so often run from them and hide our eyes and ears, preferring to avoid the mental heavy-lifting accompanying inquiries of this magnitude. Much easier to reduce life down into blacks and whites, rights and wrongs, yes or no, true or false — oversimplified dichotomies that keep us polarized yet bring us no closer to understanding our existence and our role in the cosmos.

Religions can be considered political constructs, because that’s what they serve to do — to encourage people to behave in certain ways, to tolerate certain conditions imposed on us from on high (whether that be from nature, as was originally the case, or from powerful elites claiming to be specially backed by God, as became common during the reign of Abrahamic religions). Philosophy gets outside of that cage and explores wider terrain, which has the potential to upset both religionists’ and their atheistic counterparts’ applecarts alike. Because the social realm is designed BY human beings, albeit influenced at one point by natural phenomenon (though to a lesser extent as time rolls on). In other words, the debate so often centers around what humans once claimed, what humans once assumed, how humans once attempted to explain their understanding of this life. But human constructs aren’t the end-all/be-all to reality. What we can see, hear, touch, and test isn’t all there is to this life. We are limited on what we can directly experience. There’s no shame in admitting that and allowing ourselves to remain open and inquisitive.

I decided to record my thoughts expressed above in a video response:

Christina Hoff Sommers on Violence Against Women

Victims of violence are best served by the truth, I agree. It’s those same sort of statistics that pulled at my heartstrings in the late ’90s on into the 2000s when I embraced the label of feminist. And ya know, I don’t think it was an accident to put out false statistics of this sort. For as damaging as they are to men, they also serve the purpose of scaring women and eliciting sympathy from us for our “invisible” sisters who are dealing with what appeared to be a horrible societal “epidemic.” It used us by playing with our emotions and helped turn women against their brothers based on distortions of the truth.

I reflect back on my undergraduate studies when during the last 3 years my focus was on criminal justice, the plan having been at the time to pursue a double-major in that and social science. What I found in CJ textbooks and lectures was a refutation of these sorts of statistics, based on experience gleaned from law enforcement officers and federal bureaus. The criminal justice perspective implicated women in behaving violently in domestic situations, not only men, and of course we explored various criminal behaviors where women played an active role alongside their male counterparts. One crime that is almost exclusively carried out by women is Manchausen By Proxy, where typically a mother induces an illness in her children so as to draw sympathy and support from others to her own self. The more I explored that crime, the more that it became unavoidable seeing that women possess their own ability to behave very cruelly and that it isn’t only men one needs to watch out for. Many of us learn this truth early in life through admission into the School of Hard Knocks — no textbooks required.

And why doesn’t feminism say anything about this? Why did it gloss over women’s wrongdoings, sweeping them under the rug and downplaying them or finding a way to twist it into somehow being the fault of men or patriarchy? That bothered me, and it still does. Because I don’t need sugar-coating for the sex I belong to. I’m well-aware women aren’t little innocent lambs incapable of inflicting harm, so why does feminism attempt to perpetuate such a myth, as if it can stand the test of experiential knowledge attained through dealing with women? I don’t know. All I know is lies of this sort do more harm than good because they destroy not only feminism’s credibility but also that of women who’ve affiliated with and supported that movement. It’s a bad deal, a dishonest way to “help” people, if that were ever truly the motive (which I’ve come to doubt).

Toxic America: Obesity, Depression and Domestication

Another video podcast uploaded by Stefan Molyneux:

Appreciated that one.

Dialogue between Dr. Corey Anton and Stefan Molyneux (on Capitalism, Materialism, Freedom, and Death)

What a treat. Tonight I stumbled across this clip of Professor Corey Anton talking with Stefan Molyneux:

I’ve watched numerous videos posted by Prof. Anton and recommend his channel to others. Recently Stefan came back across my radar and now, lo and behold, I find these two are familiar with one another. And this is why I appreciate youtube.