1. Brennan McPherson says:

    Very interesting.

  2. notleia says:

    I think it’s fair to say that America was founded on exploitation — to extract its resources and wealth for the benefit of the Europeans rather than the people who lived there. And slavery fits neatly into that idea.
    John Smith’s bit is more of an aberration in the wider trend. The Puritans were also an aberration that turned into a trend for getting rid of undesirables like Quakers (Pennsylvania) or Catholics (Maryland) or just white trash in general (Georgia or Australia).
    The book White Trash pushes back against the idea of America as a land of opportunity, because the opportunity depended entirely on your social status. It was an opportunity to be worked to death if you were a common poor. It was only an opportunity for money if you were the relative of someone who was granted land by the Crown.

    • Travis Perry says:

      Well, the Spanish colonies were more clearly founded on the idea of gaining money and power for Spain–but note that part of why that power was desired was to make Spain relatively stronger than rival nations. A lot was about inner-European politics.

      Though of course Spain could not just go out and conquer without the blessing of the Church–which at first turned a blind eye towards abuses as long as conversions took place. But church leaders like De Las Casas worked to change that dynamic…and had a little bit of success.

      Early English colonists would have loved to make money just the same way the Spanish did. But they couldn’t–where they landed, there were no stacks of gold already gathered up by native empires to take by right of conquest.

      So England was wondering what to do with their colonies. Shall we use them to get rid of undesirables? Shall we grow cash crops to earn money for international trade? Shall we let whole communities settle, then make money off them by selling them manufactured goods made in England? The British in fact did a little bit of all of the above.

      Of those aims, only the “let’s grow cash crops to earn money” was actually compatible with slavery. Though “let’s make money by selling manufactured goods” also came from a capitalist impulse.

      I’d say though the strain of early American life I represented by John Smith always had its element. In spite of numerous exploiters, cheaters, and land robbers in American history, there also were other strains. Those who paid Native Americans for their lands–William Penn and Roger Williams. Those who sought to establish peaceful farming communities, like the Amish and Mennonites. Those looking for a piece of land to farm and and opportunity to escape crushing poverty in Europe–or looking to escape religious persecution. There were plenty of those in American history.

      And also slaves, slavery, and racism in the South. Exploitative labor in manufacturing in the North. Killing Native Americans and taking their lands in the West. But not all of American history was these negative things–there were other elements. More noble ones.

      And the United States starts to look a lot better when you start doing some comparison with other expansionist regimes. The Romans were fascinating but it would not be fun to be conquered by them. Russia didn’t build the geographically biggest country in the world by being nice guys. The French were generally not racist–except Haiti was the worst slave colony of all slave colonies. The British brought lasting institutions of law and order with them wherever they went–but they sure did fight a lot of wars and eliminate a lot of people they didn’t like, long before the CIA was a glimmer in Uncle Sam’s eye.

      It’s almost as if…human beings have a sin nature and getting the majority of people anywhere to be nice is relatively uncommon… 🙂

      • notleia says:

        Have you tried not giving in to the urge to minimize it?
        Does it help an abused kid to know that other kids can/have suffered worse than them? Possibly yes, possibly no, but it’s not really something that observers can meaningfully weigh in on. A thing can still be bad even if something else is worse. It’s not like there’s a limited amount of suffering in the world.
        How long can you sit with the discomfort, to acknowledge it without trying to deflect it? [Insert meme about white fragility, also too.] Is this like that thing where that type of people can’t just sit and listen to someone’s feelings/problems and acknowledge them, that they have to explain how to fix it, maybe with a side of blame for the person having the feelings/problems? Like they have to trap and lock down the feelings with a schema? Do we need to teach them the Bene Gesserit litany against fear (and other assorted emotions)?

        Yanno, I’m tempted to post links to a crapton of Captain Awkward letters about family dysfunction and then be like, imagine this as society-wide and that’s what racism, classism, sexism, etc, is like (and why you’re sucking at handling it). I know some of y’all here have a hard time with ideas about systemic injustices rather than individual misdeeds, and maybe family dysfunction is a more bite-sized concept to introduce it with.

        • Travis Perry says:

          First off, I think I am presenting racism and slavery as bad things. I am not minimizing their evil–at least I don’t think so. But I’m asking questions that require some deep thinking that many modern people seem to have no patience for. They want clear, simple, easy answers. For many if not most Progressives, our ancestors were racists, 100%, and that explains everything! Also, patriarchy! That philosophy of why our world is the way it is that could be written on the back of a postcard. Or maybe a postage stamp even: past = evil, my vision of the future = good.

          What I’m really saying is the actual history is more complex than that. What I am trying to say nicely, word by word, line by line, is that neither the “true all-American patriots” who see America as nothing but great (with a few minor exceptions) nor the modern, cynical-about-the-past Progressives who see everything about America (with almost no exceptions) as bad–neither are right. History isn’t Manichean, all white or all dark. Yes, I believe in a human sin nature, I believe sin nature corrupts everything (which was my main point about talking about other places) but humans also do good at times–and always have. And some of the people doing good lived in the United States of America and the colonies that came before it (I KNOW, SHOCKING!!! 🙂 ).

          So stop being so simplistic about your view of history. You are not a dumb-dumb head–don’t act like one on this topic.

          ALSO–consider that the “woke” perspective on racism has no end game in sight that I can see. How will we eliminate racism, according to the view of the 1619 Project and similar exercises in modern Manichean thinking? It’s as if they are saying: “FIrst, we need to get everyone to admit that the past was 100 percent racist and racism dominated everything. Second, white people need to accept collective responsiblity. Third, we need reparations for slavery. And fourth, we will finally eliminate racism when we…um…well…um…we actually have no plan for what comes fourth…” (Yeah, I know some people do have plans, but I’m talking realistic plans.)

          I do have ideas of how to eliminate racism. Maybe my ideas would not work, but I am not without a plan here.

          But I’ll get to that in a future post. (What I have to say cannot be written out on a single postcard…)

      • I think one of the things that re-enforces what you’re saying (that slavery caused racism, not the other way round) is something you may have mentioned in one of the earlier articles: that the people selling Africans were other Africans. Clearly, they did not see themselves as inferior. Rather, they were conquerors in their own right, attacking and capturing people from other tribes, and they were exploiting the opportunities these Portuguese and Spanish and eventually English and American buyers presented.

        One of the things I think that might be interesting (and maybe you are planning on looking into it, I don’t know), is how apartheid came about in South Africa. Not that it speaks directly to racism in America, but as the concept of race and the idea of one race as better than others, developed it seems that concept was lived out dramatically in South Africa.

        At any rate, I think this series is a fascinating look at a hard issue, and it’s much needed, so thank you for doing it.


    • notleia says:

      Random crap related to the sense of scale I want to introduce into the language about tribalism/ethnocentrism: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/611152611925652602/
      Your functional “tribe” size turns out to be about 50 people. I guess that means ethnocentrism starts at around 55 people.

  3. Abigail Falanga says:

    Fascinating article! As someone interested in history, and especially early American history, I really appreciated this take.
    And, yes, it does give me ideas for speculative stories.

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