"Men are not blank tablets on which the environment inscribes a culture which can be readily erased to make way for a new inscription."
1. A World
2. Migration and Culture
3. Conquest and Culture
4. Race and Economics
5. Race and Politics
6. Race and Intelligence
7. Race and Slavery
8. Race and History
#1 A WORLD VIEW
The even distribution
or proportional representation of groups in occupations or institutions
remains an intellectual construct defied by reality in society after society.
Nor can this all be attributed to exclusions or discrimination, for often
some powerless or even persecuted minorities predominate in prosperous
occupations. Christians and Jews were explicitly second class under Islamic
law for most of the long history of the Ottoman Empire, but they predominated
in the commerce and industry of that empire, as well as in medical science.
In Russia under the czars, the German minority - about 1% of the population - constituted 40% of the Russian army's high command in the 1880s, just as German generals had been prominent in the high command of the Roman legions, and generals of German ancestry led the American armies in both World Wars of the 20th century, as well as in the Persian Gulf war of 1991.
Group occupational patterns, repeated in country after country, are one of numerous cultural patterns that follow racial or ethnic groups around the world. Differences among groups, and even among subgroup within a given people, are the rule rather than the exception, all over the planet - in matters within and outside their control. Fertility rates, alcohol consumption, performance and behaviour in school, suicide rates, and output per man-hour are just some of the indicators of behavioural differences among racial and ethnic groups, whether in the same society or in different ones.
People of Scottish ancestry have long been among the more prosperous groups in the US, but people of the same ancestry in the Appalachian region have also constituted one of the most enduring pockets of poverty among white Americans. As long as our view is confined to American society, it may be plausible to believe that 'objective conditions' in Appalachia, or the way people were 'treated' there accounts for the anomaly. Indeed, prevailing social science doctrines all but requires that approach. Yet, if the history of the Scots is viewed internationally, then it becomes clear that the subgroup which settled in Appalachia differed culturally from other Scots before either boarded the ships to cross the Atlantic.
Cultures are not erased by crossing a political border, or even an ocean, nor do they necessarily disappear in later generations which the language, dress and outward lifestyle of a country.
To say that mankind has advanced, if only in particular sphere, is to say that some ways of doing things - some cultures - are better in some respects than others, that they are more effective for particular purposes.
Arabic numerals are not merely different from Roman numerals; they are superior to Roman numerals. Their superiority is evidenced by their worldwise acceptance, even in civilizations that derive from Rome.
When European technology has been seized upon by peoples so different as Americans and Japanese - one the clear heir of the European culture and the other from a radically different culture and race - then it is clearly the cultural receptivity of different peoples which is crucial, rather than simply their initial similiarity to those in the technological vanguard. This suggests that th diffusion of technology is not simply a process of making information available or even transferring the embodied technology itself to other lands.
The 'brain drain' from the less developed to the more industrialized world is neither inevitable nor inherent in societal differences in technology or living standards. When Americans were learning British industrial techniques or when Japanese were learning Western techniques in general, this did not lead to a 'brain drain' of Americans or Japanese to Europe but led instead to a buildup of a technological elite in the US and Japan.
Cultures spread, whether by the assimilation of technology, the migrations of peoples, or the imposition of foreign cultures through conquest.
Cultural relativisim may be especially pernicious when technological or other backwardness is simply defined out of existence, instead of being overcome concretely in the real world. The remarkable rise of Japan from technological backwardness in the mid-19th century to the first rank of industrial nations by the late 20th century was made possible by a painful awareness of their own backwardness by the Japanese of the Mejii era, and the determined and enduring efforts they made to overcome it in the generations that followed. To have defined this backwardness out of existence would have been to remove the basis for their historic achievements.
One of the obstacles
to understanding what behavioural characteristics follow each group around
the world is the widespread use of the term 'stereotypes' to dismiss whatever
observations or evidence may be cited as to distinguishing features of
particular group behaviour patterns. But behaviour has consequences, and
when these consequences are the same for the same groups in disparate settings,
this is an empirical fact not to be waved aside.
It is understandable that Russians might wish to explain away the remarkable success of German farmers in their midst by citing special dispensations granted to German emigrants by the czarist government. But when similar success is found repeatedly among German farmers in Australia, Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, the US, Chile and Paraguay, then that theory cannot bear the weight of that history.
The political mobilization of envy has led to legal restrictions on productive groups, preferential policies for those unable to compete with them, mass expulsions, confiscations, and mob violence. Such responses have been common in the most culturally diverse societies - whether directed against the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Germans in Russia, the Japanese in Peru or the Jews in Germany.
People who have in
fact lost contact with their cultural roots, and who have shared liitle
or none of the social experience of their group, may not only 'identify'
with their group, but even do so in a highly vocal and exaggerated form.
Africans educated in Europe and America, and thoroughly Westernized in
their thinking and values, have been among the most extreme apostles of
pan-Africanism. The word 'Pakistan' was coined in Cambridge, England, by
Moslem students from the Indian subcontinent.
While 1st and 2nd generation Japanese in Canada, who personally suffered pervasive discrimination and then internment during WW2, showed little lasting resentment in the postwar era, the 3rd generation became very emotionally involved in these events that they did not experience.
Genuine continuity of cultural identity is seldom as strident or as dramatic as artificial revivals. The speaking of Yiddish among many modern Jews has seldom occasioned as much public bombast as the speaking of Gaelic among a handful of modern Irish, or the speaking of Swahili among a handful of American Negroes. Groups such as the Amish in Pennsylvania have preserved centuries old ways of life - almost as in a time capsule - without striking any defiant public poses about it. The principle that a culture is most stidently defended when it is irretrievably lost applies beyond issues of ethnicity. In the US, it was the generation of Southerners born after the demise of the Confederacy who glorified the lost cuase of the Civil War era and its aftermath.
#2 MIGRATION AND CULTURE
What matters is not how similar the groups may seem to outsiders but how different they seem to each other. At various times and places, differences in religion have been more important than differences in color or language, but other times and places the order has been the reverse. There is no universally paramount criterion of difference, nor any given objective measure of dissimilarity.
A common charge against
immigrants is that they take jobs from native-born workers. But there is
no fixed number of jobs, from which those going to immigrants can be subtracted.
More producers coming into an economy mean more output and more demand,
which in turn creates more jobs.
It is by no means out of the question that native workers may have more jobs available after immigrants arrive. Studies of the large influx of Mexican immigrants into southern California showed no adverse impact on either the unemployment rate or the labor force participation of blacks in that region, who might be competing for similar jobs. In fact, job trends for blacks were more favourable in this area heavily impacted by Mexican immigrants than in the nation at large. But while there has apparently been an increase in the number of jobs, there has been a correspondingly lower pay scale, as the large influx of immigrants has lessened the need for employers to raise wages in order to attract sufficient workers.
Where there are welfare-state
benefits available to low-income citizens, this means that the wage and
salary level needed to attract these citizens into the labor market is
higher than otherwise. Given this situation, it may well be true that immigrants
take jobs the natives reject at existing low wage levels. But this does
not mean these jobs would have been unfulfilled in the absence of immigration.
While immigrants bring demonstrable benefits to an economy, their hidden costs include the cost to the taxpayers of maintaining more native-born workers in idleness. Even if the immigrants themselves do not resort to the welfare state enough to offset their tax contributions - and studies suggest that they pay more into the public treasury than they take out - their indirect effects in keeping more natives idle longer can still impose burdens on the taxpayers.
It may be worth noting that countries with large wide-ranging welfare-state benfits, such as New Zealand and Denmark, are especially resistant to large-scale immigration. On purely economic grounds, it should not be surprising that immigrants are less in demand, now that they are much more costly to the receiving countries. In the era before the full flowering of the welfare state, immigration was much freer in many parts of the world, and a number of Western Hemisphere countries actually subsidized immigration.
The social consequences of immigration are even harder to estimate than their economic consequences. An influx of immigrant children into the schools may make it harder for young native-born children to learn to speak the native language of the country properly. Both crime rates and rates of childbearing may be higher among immigrants, simply because immigrants tend to be young adults, and young adults tend to commit more than their share of the crimes in all groups, as well as being more likely to produce children.
#3 CONQUEST AND CULTURE
"Now, if there be a fact to which all experience testifies, it is that when a country holds another in subjection, the individuals of the ruling people... think the people of the country mere dirt under their feet."
Before ancient Britain
was invaded and conquered by the Roman legions, not a single Briton had
ever done anything to leave his name in the pages of history. The contributions
of Roman civilization to Britain were perhaps even more dramatically demonstrated
by the consequences of the withdrawal of the Roman legions in the 5th century
AD. By the beginng of the 6th century, British towns were crumbling, with
buildings and statues in ruins.
Britain was not unique in its retrogressions after the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. On the continent aswell, cities declined and in some places even disappeared. An estimated 1,000 years passed before the material standard of living in Europe rose again to the level achieved under the Romans.
To attempt to add up
a total of the net advantages and disadvantages of conquest would be a
staggering task. Two learned authorities on the history of colonialism
declare : 'It is hard to make general statements with regard to even a
single territory under the saw of any one colonial power'. When anither
scholar referred to the Germans as having produced in their colony Cameroon
'numerous public works' and 'numerous acts of brutality', he was saying
something that could be said of many colonial powers, from ancient to modern
What is somewhat clearer is that those peoples conquered longer and more thoroughly subjected to the cultural hegemony of the more adavnced societies have tended themselves to excel in the economic and cultural realms in which the conquerors have had an advantage.
Different groups among
the conquered have responded very differently to the new cultural and economic
opportunities created by incorporation into a larger or more advanced union.
Wales, Ireland and Scotland all advanced economically after being incorporated
into the United Kingdom, but only Scotland developed its own entrepeneurial
amd technological class, rather than having Englishmen fill these roles
in its economy.
What was said of the ancient Britons in Roman times was much more widely applicable , that these Britons 'learnt from Rome not the lessons she was able to teach but the lessons their previous training enabled them to learn.' In short, conquered peoples are not a blank slate on which the conqueror's culture writes its message.
In a later era, after the conquest by the English and the English language and culture, the Scots did not simpyly imitate the English but themselves forged to the forefront of British culture and world civlization in many fields in the 18th century, producing such landmark figures as David Hume, Adam Smith and James Watt.
There has been no single pattern for the cultural diffusions which occur as a result of conquests. Sometimes it is the conqueror's culture which prevails, sometimes that of the conquered, but seldom does either prevail unmodified. What is clear, however, is that such diffusions are common, widepsread, and historic in their consequences. One small sign of how thorough these consequences can be is that few, if any, words survive in the English language today from the language of the ancient Britons whom the Romans conquered, while words of Latin, Germanic and French derivation abound in English.
Successful conquests that put an to years of sporadic marauding across a vulnerable borderland can make a major contribution to economic activity in places where no one would have dared to farm or build before. Even after the European conquerors in Rhodesia took over large amounts of the best land for themselves, the Africans nevertheless had more land to use than before, since they could now live in places where it would have been suicidual to settle when intertribal hostilities raged.
Conquests have been
undertaken to exploit the natural resources of other lands, to extort tribute
(including slaves) from the conquered peopels, to settle part of the conqueror's
population in conquered lands, to establish strategic military bases abroad,
or for a variety of other reasons.
While economic objectives have long figured among the principal causes for conquest, the reductionist notion that economic motives can be automatically inferred behind conquests of the modern capitalist era is ironically applied to a period - the 19th and 20th centuries - when noneconomic influences were especially strong, particularly in the case of the conquest of much of sub-Saharan Africa.
European officials responsible for the public treasury were often opposed to the development of a colonial empire in Africa, which they correctly saw as having little capacity to repay the cost of conquest - except in unusual situations, such as the Congo or South Africa, with their valuable mineral resources.
Europe's economic impact on Africa was far greater than Africa's economic effect on Europe. In the early 20th century, Britain's investments in Canada alone were larger than its investments in India and Africa put together. On the eve of WW1, Germany exported more than five times as much to a small country like Belgium as to its own colonial empire.
Many factors went into
the decisions to acquire colonies in Africa, with the economic factor not
necessarily being dominant in either the acquisition or maintenance of
those colonies. In the case of Africa, powerful missionary lobbies in London
pushed the British government into more and more involvement in African
affairs, often over the opposition of colonial and treasury officials.
What made all this possible, not only for Britain but for other European
colonial powers as well, was that the resources required to take over large
areas of Africa were relatively small compared to what was available to
the European governments.
When maintaining control of African colonies became more costly as independence movements there gained momentum after WW2, the continent was abandoned as swiftly as it had been conquered. In short, there was little to suggest that African colonies had sufficient economic value to the imperial nation as a whole to put up a real fight to hold onto them.
The impact of Europe on Africa, for good and evil, was relatively brief as history as measured - about three generatiosn, as compared to the centuries in which the Romans ruled Britain or the Moslems ruled parts of Europe. Just as the 1880s saw the beginning of the European 'scramble for Africa', so the 1960s saw their massive withdrawal.
Much as the withdrawal of Roman rule from Britain led to widespread retrogressions, so in many parts of Africa the departure of the European rules was followed by technological breakdowns, failing economies, and political chaos marked by military coups.
Conquered peoples have
acquired their freedom in a wide variety of ways. A fundamental distinction
must be made between those countries which wrested their freedm from a
determined and vigorous colonial power, as the Americans did, and peoples
to whom freedom came largely as a by-product of political decisions made
by others elsewhere.
It is one thing for a colony to achieve nationhood as a result of its own internal economic development, military strength, and political cohesion. It is another for it to find itself free without these achievements.
Americans were quite capable of maintaining both the economic and political structures inherited from the colonial era, and eventually of developing both in new directions. No such capability had existed in 5th century Britain when the Romans withdrew to defend the threatened empire on the continent. The inability of the early Britons to maintain their economic and cultural level left by the Romans was paralled by their inability to maintain a national government, or to maintain a strong military defence against successive waves of marauders and invaders from continental Europe.
A number of nations in eastern, central and southeastern Europe likewise achieved independence after WW1 as a by-product of the dismemberment of the defeated Austo-Hungarian Empire by the victorious Western allies, rather than a result of their own strength or cohesion. While able to survive economically, often largely as a result of the skills of German, Jewish and other minorities, the were far less viable militarily, and later ended up being picked off - one by one - by Hitler in the late 1930s.
Austria and Czechoslovakia were taken over by military threat and internal subversion, even before WW2 started, and Poland collapsed almost immediately after the attack which began that worldwide conflagration. Any such threats or attacks on the Austrians or the Czechs in an earlier era would have encountered the formidable Austro-Hungarian Empire, rather than a series of small and individually vulnerable nations.
Those sympathetic to
the plight of conquered peoples have often tended to idealize them. But
this tendency to idealize conquered peoples sometimes has had the dangerous
consequences not only of over-estimating their economic, political or military
viabilitym but also of under-estimating their capacity for oppression and
violence against their own minorities. The history of newly independent
nations formed from the dismembered Austro-Hungarian Empire showed a general
pattern of escalating anti-Semitism.
A claim is often made, that national boundary lines drawn by conquerors have not coincided with cultural and ethnic lines, but have artificially divided peoples from their brethren who reside in adjoining territory made part of another nation. In much of the world, however, there are no lines that could possibly have been drawn that would have coincided with 'natural' ethnic, linguistic or cultural divisions.
#4 RACE AND ECONOMICS
Given that businessmen are in business to make money, rather than to promote particular social views, even highly prejudiced employers seldom persist in this costly kind of discrimination. Indeed, the entire social history of white-ruled South Africa was a history of white employers resisting and evading government policies mandating employment discrimination against blacks. There is no compelling reason to believe that these employers had radically different racial views from those of other South African whites of that era. What was different was that employers would incur large costs in carrying out the kind of employment discrimination which the South African government sought to impose. The net effect was that blacks were often hired in larger numbers and in higher occupations than permitted by law, even during the era of apartheid.
The 'cheap labor' cliche confuses earnings per unit of times and production costs per unit of output. Cheaper local workers may in fact be more expensive, in terms of what it costs to get a given task accomplished, even if their low pay causes observers to think of them as 'exploited'.
While government policy mauy intentionally or unintentionally increase racial discrimination, some government policies are intended specifically to reduce discrimination. Here again, intentions or rationales do not determine actual outcomes. Economic incentives are crucial for understanding economic results.
The constitutional and ideological limits on the role of government in the United States left vast areas of discretion to the private marketplace, with the net result that racist policies were less effective in stopping the economic rise of blacks in the US as compared to South Africa. Private discrimination, even when organised into employer and landowner cartels, proved far less effective than discrimination by government, with its ultimate monopoly of force.
Economically, these are not mere questions of 'perceptions' or 'stereotypes'. Where an underlying reality differs from the general perception, there are more lucrative profit opportunities for those with more accurate knowledge. But where the reality does not differ substansially from the perception, then different prices, interest rates, or credit availability can persist indefinitely, or until the reality itself changes.
Economics is a study
of cause and effect, not intentions and hopes. Those who judge policies
by their good intentions, or who presuppose that unhappy economic situations
are a result of bad intentions, often see economic adjustments to real
differences as simply racial discrimination. However, for the concept of
racial discrimination to have either anlaytical or moral significance,
it must be distinguished from the mere economic reflection of actual differences
among groups. That distinction often gets lost in political discussion
of discrimination - and sometimes even in scholarly discussions. If all
differences between the earnings, occupations, and employment rates are
simply defined as 'discrimination', then it is circular reasoning to say
that discrimination causes these differences, and compounded meaninglessness
to quantify these 'effects' of discrimination. The reiteration of assumptions
in the midst of statistics does not constitute evidence.
Once the possibility of economic performance differences between groups is admitted, the differences in income, occupational 'representation' and the like do not, in themselves, imply that decision-makers took race or ethnicity into account.
#5 RACE AND POLITICS
Government may also use its power to confiscate the wealth of some and transfer it to others, but this too is usually only a short-range benefit to the recipients and an overall loss to the country, as the plundered group usually reduces its production of wealth, whether because of the lack of incentives or because their wealth is hidden or sent abroad, or because they themselves leave for more hospitable countries.
The ability to exert political power does not imply an ability to achieve what one wishes to achieve with that power, or even an ability to avoid overwhelming negative repercussions.
Law and order are not necessarily just. Their economics benefits depend more on their stability and predictability than on their evenhandedness. Groups clearly given second-class status in the law have nevertheless prospered in stable societies, where that law has protected their persons and property.
In many countries, perhaps most countries, the establishment of law and order over large regions was a long and arduous process. Yet those who today advocate that government's economic role is to preserve the essential framework of law and order, leaving more specific economic decisions to the marketplace, are accused of saying that government should 'do nothing', even though it took centuries to accomplish what is today called 'nothing' and that 'nothing' has brought widespread economic benefits to great numbers of human beings.
The apparently simple concept of democracy - majority rule - becomes not only complicated but confused when various desirable goals such as freedom or equality are made part of the definition of democracy. Whether majority rule will in fact lead towards such things in an empirical question rather than a foregone conclusion.
Democracy alone is not enough to indicate which way political action and government policy will affect racial and ethnic groups.
Political parties in ethnically diverse societies may play either a moderating or a polarizing role, depending upon the nature of the political competition. Major ethnic political parties are viable only where ethnic issues have already superseded class, ideological, charismatic, and other considerations, and where offending one group does not offend others outside that group.
Military forces are seldom ethnically representative of their respective societies.
If ethnic political
leadership were of major importance in economic advancement, then the more
prosperous ethnic groups should exhibit higher quality leadership. It is
by no means clear that they do. Prominent political leadership has been
rare to nonexistent among the overseas Chinese in various countries where
they rose from poverty to affluence.
Less successful ethnic are often richly endowed with leaders. Any well-informed American can readily name half a dozen black leaders, current or from US history, but would probably have difficulty naming a similar number of Jewish or Japanese American ethnic leaders.
The biggest story about slavery - how this ancient institution, older than either Islam or Christianity, was wiped out over vast regions of the earth - remains a story seldom told. At the heart of that story was the West's ending of slavery in its own domains within a century and maintaining pressure on other nations for even longer to stamp out this practice. Instead, the West has been singled out as peculiarly culpable for a worldwide evil in which it participated, when in fact its only real uniqueness was in ultimately opposing and destroying this evil.
A vast literature exists in which this same general ideological pattern is pervasive, whether the issue is slavery, racism, sexism, or other evils. In this literature, the sins and shortcomings of the human race are depicted as evils peculiar to the Western world, even when such evils have been demonstrably more prevalent or worse in regions of the world ignored during outburts of selective moral indignation.
One of the most used and least defined words in the comtemporary ideological vocabulary is 'racism'. The most straightforward meaning of racism is a belief in the innate inferiority of some race or races. But to some, every adverse judgment about any aspect of the behaviour or performance of any racial or ethnic group is 'racism'. To others, it is only adverse judgments on the behaviour or performance of a selected list of racial or ethnic groups which is 'racism'.
The political overuse of the word may destroy its effectiveness as a warning against a very real danger.
Many assume that racism
is a prerequistive for discrimination, or is virtually synonymous with
it. However, a generalized hostility or specific discrimination may be
directed against a particular racial or ethnic group, without any belief
that they are innately inferior.
Often groups have aroused resentment in other countries based on acknowledged superior performance.
#6 RACE AND INTELLIGENCE
In a 1981 study of Sholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores more Asian American students scored above 700 on the mathematical portion of the SAT than all the black, Mexican American, Peurto Rican, and American Indian students put together, even though more than three times as many students from these latter groups took the same test. Nor did these intergroup differences represent simply differences in socioeconomic background. Asian American students from families with incomes of $6,000 or less scored higher on the mathematics portion of the SAT than black, Mexican American, or American Indian students from families with income of $50,000 or more. Such patterns are not peculiar to the US, being reping observed in the British colony of Hong Kong.
The question here is not whether these differences are cultural or genetic in origin. The point is that they are *real* and that their consequences are real.
All differences between groups that are genetically different are not genetic differences.
Chinese, Puerto Rican, Negro and Jewish youngsters in New York have each had different profiles of mental test strengths and weaknesses, quite aside from different levels of overall test scores. Groups have their own distinctive patterns. Moreover, those from families at higher socioeconomic levels had essentially the same test score patterns as poorer members of their respective groups, but at higher levels.
There is no contradiction in the proposition that heredity may account for more variation within the general population, and environment for more of the variation between the general population and particular subgroups.
'Environment' is not so much an answer as a gateway to further questions. It is a catchall phrase for any of a vast number of unspecified, non-genetic factors. It cannot be confined to immediate surroundings, whether home, social or neighbourhood. To salvage the environmental theory of IQ differences would require a much broader conception of environment, including cultural orientations and values going far back into history.
Assessing the prospects of human beings has never been a science.
Faced with massive evidence that applicants who score low on entrance examinations generally perform less well as students, some critics of standardized tests claim that this is still no indication as to the ultimate criterion - performence in later life. Almost never are such assertions accompanied by empirical evidence of greater predictability of later life performance from alternative measures of ability.
Even if minority students are able to meet the normal standards at an 'average' range of colleges and universities, the systematic mis-matching of minority students begun at the top can mean that such students are generally overmatched throughout all levels of higher education. Youngsters who could have succeeded at San Jose State University may be failing at Berkeley, while youngsters who could have succeeded at a community college are failing at San Jose State.
The predictive validity of a given criterion is an empirical question, not a question of plausibility or of demonstrated causation.
These who criticize tests as culturally biased often argue for the creation of 'culture-free' tests. But if cultures are particular ways of accomplishing important human functions, then it would be an incredible coincidence if all cultures were equally efficient in all things. Moreover, since there are no culture-free socieities, all performances will be performance in some given culture, so that attempts to predict performance are therefore attempts to predict what will happen within a particular cultural context.
The relevant comparison is not between the actual and the ideal, but between one predictive device and its alternatives.
Whether MIT students who score 775 on the mathematics SAT do appreciably better than those who score 750 (the school average) is not a crucial indicator of predictive validity, just as measuring the performance of basketball players who are 7 feet tall against that of players who are 7 feet 2 inches tall will not prove whether height is important for basketball players.
#7 RACE AND SLAVERY
"Slavery until recently
was universal in two senses. Most settled societies incorporated the institution
into their social structures, and few peoples in the world have not constituted
a major source of slaves at one time or another."
- David Eltis, American History Review, 1993
Although slavery in the United States was referred to as a 'peculiar institution', slavery was in fact one of the oldest and most widespread institutions on Earth. Slavery was 'peculiar' in the United States only because human bondage was inconsistent with the principles on which this nation was founded. Historically, however, it was those principles which were peculiar, not slavery.
Although slavery has come to be identified with the enslavement of Africans, that too ignores the long history and vast scope of the institution. The very word 'slave' is derived from the Slavs, who were enslaved on a massive scale and were often sold into bondage all across the continent of Europe and in the Ottoman Empire.
Over the centuries, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 11 million people were shipped across the Atlantic from Africa as slaves, and another 14 million African slaves were taken across the Sahara Desert or shipped through the Persian Gulf and other waterways to the nations of North Africa and the Middle East.
Although slaves were subject to the virtually unlimited arbitary power of slave owners in many societies, many slave owners nevertheless found it expedient to use other incentives than force, including money, autonomy, and even the granting of civil or military power, to get slaves to carry out responsibilities of a higher and more demanding nature. Nothing could more clearly indicate the limited ability of even unbridled power to accomplish all its objectives.
Power is inherently limited by knowledge.
While 100% pure, unmodified slavery may never have existed, any more than 100% pure capitalism, socialism or feudalism ever existed, the concept is a useful starting point. Moreover, for many of the slaves who toiled in the sugarcane and cotton fields of the Western Hemisphere, what they experienced was in fact painfully close to 100% pure slavery.
In ancient Rome, individual Romans might be reduced to slavery as a punishment for transgressions, but ordinarily slaves were non-Romans captured in battle or acquired for trade.
The choice as to which outsiders to enslave was not a matter of racial ideology, but was based on pragmatic considerations as to availability, including both the military and legal obstacles to their enslavement.
The consolidation of nation-states around the world reduced the number of places from which people could be captured and enslaved.
Although there was no religious basis for racism in the Islamic world, the massive enslavement of sub-Saharan Africans by Arabs and other Moslems was followed by a racial disdain toward black people in the Middle East, but this disdain followed, rather than preceded, the enslavement of black Africans, and had not been apparent in the Arabs' previous dealings with Ethiopians. In the West aswell, racism was promoted by slavery, rather than vice versa.
Economics often had much more influence on the treatment of slaves (than laws).
In West Africa, the traditional practice among some warrior tribes of slaughtering male captives and enslaving the women and children - a practice common among other conquerors in other places - changed after the development of a European demand for male slaves for use in the Western Hemisphere made the enslavement of males profitable, with the traditional practice resuming after the supression of the Atlantic slave trade.
Slavery was ultimately destroyed morally, though the chief instrument of this destruction was the overwhelming military power of the West, combined with the prestige of Western civilization, based at this juncture in history on its economic, scientific and technological achievements.
When the total cost of Britain's naval and military efforts against the slave trade for more than a century are added up, they are comparable to all the profits ever made by Britain from the slave trade in earlier times.
Appalling as it may be to think of untold millions of human beings sacrificed for no larger purpose than the transient aggrandizement of others, that is what the historical record suggests.
Slavery can neither be forgotten nor forgiven, certainly not by those who never suffered it personally, and certainly not in exchange for money or other benefits. Such a political deal would rank with the cynical sale of indulgences in the Middle Ages.
One of the incidental
but revealing aspects of the attempt to project current attitudes and assumptions
back into the past has been the practice among some American blacks of
changing their family names as a means of rejecting a heritage of slavery
and the 'slave names' supposedly given to their ancestors by their owners.
In reality, slave owners in the antebellum South not only did not give
surnames to slaves, but actually forbad slaves to have surnames. Surnames
implied a set of family relationships which had no legal sanction.
Far from having surnames given to them by slave owners, slaves in the United States gave themselves clandestine surnames with which to identify and dignify their forbidden family relationships.
Depsite the desperate efforts of freed blacks to educate themselves after the Civil War, and to find family members who had been sold during slavery and sent elsewhere, a segment of today's black and white intelligentsia excuses contemporary blacks who disdain education as 'acting white' or who abandon their families - both patterns being represented as being a 'legacy of slavery'.
For many critics of Western society, exempting blacks from the requirements of civilized life is a way of striking a blow against the West, regardless of its consequences for the black community. Whether forbidden to achieve higher levels of civilization during the era of slavery or excused from achieving those levels in the late 20th century, blacks have been handicapped either way.
#8 RACE AND HISTORY
"In history a great
volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future
wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind. It may, in the
perversion, serve as a magazine, furnishing offensive and defensive weapons...
and supplying the means of keeping alive, or reviving, dissensions and
animosities, and adding fuel to civil fury."
- Edmund Burke, "Reflections on the Revolution in France"
A history which spans thousands of years, encompassing the rise and fall of empires and of peoples, makes it difficult - if not impossible - to believe in the permanent superiority of any race or culture. Equally, such a history - full of cultural diffusions, transmissions, imitations, influences and inspirations from one society to another - makes it hard to believe that all the different ways of meeting human needs are equally effective, when those involved have gone to such trouble to seek better ways of doing things from other lands and other peoples.
A numbering system originating in India has displaced all sorts of other numbering systems among all sorts of people on every continent.
Some may regret seeing traditional local drinks replaced by carbonated sodas, or indigenous musical instruments put aside while people listen to American popular songs on Japanese-made portable radios. Those who deplore such things are also deploring the very process of cultural diffusion by which the human race has advanced for thousands of years. It would be contrary to all experience if there were no losses accompanying the gains.
To demand that human beings be right on the first try in each individual decision is to demand that they not be human beings.
Cultural competition has been an integral part of the history of racial and ethnic groups around the world.
Patterns in history do not mean that everything is the same, that nothing is unique in any way. But even to know how things are unique, they must first be compared. History offers more sweeping comparisons, across far more varied circumstances, than those of the contemporary world.
Facts are the foundation of history, but an understandind of causation is the structure that rises on that foundation, and for which that foundation was built. 'With all your getting, get understanding,' was the Biblical injuction that still strikes a chord after 2,000 years and in a secular society.
Jewish and Italian immigrants arrived in the United States during the same era, equally destitute, and often lived in the same run-down and crowded neighbourhoods, while their children sat side by side in the same schools. Yet they responded very differently to the educational system, including the availability of free higher education in New York City, and they rose up the socioeconomic ladder at different rates, through different occupational channels and different industries.
The backwardness of isolated peoples has had as its counterpart the remarkable historic achievements of the Jews, a relatively small group of people, spread thinly around the world, and yet so prominent in so many countries and in so many fields that it hardly seems credible that there are fewer Jews in the entire world than there are Kazakhs or Sri Lankans.
Groups less able to achieve in fields in fields with large cultural prerequisites may channel more of their talents and energies into fields (such as sports or entertainment) where purely individual abilities are decisively important. While there are also great individual feats in science, technology, or other fields of higher culture - so that Edison, Einstein or Beethoven were not mere creatures of their environment - nevertheless their genius required a major cultural foundationon on which to build.
Intellectuals have often seen language issues, like other issues, in largely invidious terms - as implicit assertions of the 'superiority' of English to Spanish or French, or of one people to another. But language, like other features of a culture, exists to accomplish some purpose, not merely to be symbolic or invidious. A more widely diffused language accomplishes its purpose more fully, regardless of the relative merits of various languages as such, or of the peoples among whom those languages have arisen.
"The mountains are
as a rule a world apart from civilizations, which are an urban and lowland
achievement. Their history is to have none, to remain almost always on
the fringe of the great waves of civilization, even the longest and most
persistent, which may spread over great distances in the horizontal plane
but are powerless to move vertically when faced with an obstacle of a few
- Fernand Braudel
The enormous importance
of rivers and harbors to economic and cultural development is indicated
by the fact that nearly all the world's great cities have developed on
rivers or harbors. This reflects in part the vast differences in costs
between transporting goods by water and transporting them by land. For
example, in mid-19th century America, before the transcontinental railroad
was built, San Francisco could be reached both faster and cheaper from
a port in China than it could be reached over land from the banks of the
Huge transportation costs shrink the economic and cultural universe.
Geographical settings which seem very favourable in presenting a spontaneous abundance of food, or lands and streams eadily farmed and fished, may prove to be less favourable in the long run than natural settings in which people must develop in themselves discipline, work habits and frugality in order to survive.
Parts of the Balkans isolated by mountains and lacking river access to the sea remained at Third World levels of development until late in history, when the technology of the rest of Europe was finally able to reach them.
In general, the Balkan mountains fractured the peninsula culturally as well as isolating it economically, thereby contributing to the tribalistic divisions and letha hatreds which have long characterized the Balkans.
What constitues a natural resource depends on what human beings know how to use. Even highly fertile land was often not usable at a time when farm implements able to turn heavy soils were not yet available, so that intrinsically less fertile land was in fact more productive when it was light enough to be farmed with the implements of the times.
What is a geographical advantage or disadvantage varies over time and depends on the cultural development that has already taken place in a given geographical setting. One continent or region has not been permanently optimal for human development.
THE MODERN WORLD CULTURE
Copernicus, Galileo, Harvey, Darwin and Einstein, among others, had to run a gauntlet of criticism and hostility for upsetting or destroying the familiar world inside people's minds. But once they succeeded in supplanting the old mental world with a new one, this new vision became that of educated people far beyond the confines of European civilization. At least a portion of every society became part of a worldwide culture.
To say that the modern vision or culture first developed in Europe is no more than to acknowledge its historical origins. To do so is not to be Euro-centric but to be world-centric about a common culture of the modern era.
THE MORAL DIMENSIONS OF HISTORY
Some seem to argue as if any historical or contemporary source of unhappiness which a government could have prevented is something for which it should be held morally accountable - regardless of whether the government or society created the source of the unhappiness. This ignores the crucial fact that what the government has the resources to prevent in isolation or seriatim vastly exceeds what the government has the resouces to prevent simultaneously.
The same approach which treats sins common to the human race as peculiarites of 'our society' often makes the fatal error of confusing victimhood with virtue, by lining up on the side of the victim, instead of lining up on the side of a moral principle. Nothing has been more common in history than for victims to become oppressors when they gain power.
It is difficult to survey the history of racial or ethnic relations without being appaled by the inhumanity, brutality, and viciousness of it all. There is no more humane or moral wish than the wish that this could be set right somehow. But there are no more futile or dangerous efforts than attempts to redress the wrongs of history. These wrongs are not to be denied. Wrongs in fact constitute a major part of history, in countries around the world. But while the victims of these wrongs may live on forever as symbols, most have long ago died as flesh-and-blood human beings. So have their persecutors, who are as much beyond the reach of our vengeance as the victims are beyond our help. This may be frustrating and galling, but that is no justification for taking out those frustrations on living human beings, or for generating new strife by creating priviliges or whose are contemporary reminders of historical guilt.
After territorial irrdentism
had led nations to slaughter each other's people over land with virtually
no value in itself, merely because it once belonged in a different political
jurisdiction at a time before any living person's memory, what is to be
expected from instilling the idea of social irredentism, growing out of
historical wrongs? What can any society hope to gain by having some babies
born into the world with a priori grievances against other babies born
into that same society on the same day?
The biological or cultural continuity of a people does not make guilt inheritable.
THE INTEGRITY OF HISTORY
Even the more modest claim that history should teach 'mutual respect' for different cultures is suspect. There is much in the history of all peoples that does not deserve respect. How much in which peoples' histories is a very large question that no one can answer for others with different values.
Ultimately the point of history is not immediate practical application, but understanding. History cannot solve today's problems, but it can expose fallacies which make matters worse, or which make resolutions harder to see or to achieve. Above all, history offers understanding - not in the psychological sense of maudlin patronage, but in the sense of a clear-sighted view of reality, its limitations and its possibilities. Nowhere is such understanding more important than among peoples from different racial, ethnic, or cultural backgrounds.
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