Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Sophistication of Native Americans

I've been reading an interesting book by Charles Mann called "1491". It's presented as an overview of the latest scholarly consensus regarding Native American societies. As you may suspect, much of what you were taught in grade school is wrong. The Americas weren't relatively desolate lands inhabited by few unsophisticated and disconnected peoples. Cities existed as large as London. Technology was different, but advanced in it's own way. Native bows were more accurate than guns, could shoot further, and could penetrate deeper through shields. Suspension bridges existed nowhere else but here. We're still not sure how corn was developed. The population of both North and South America was on the order of tens of millions, approaching 100 million.

Europeans were able to conquer the lands for one simple reason. Disease, which killed tens of millions. Europeans would encounter towns that had been completely wiped out by disease and would conclude that the race was unsophisticated and unintelligent on the basis of the appearance of the few surviving stragglers. It was as if American troops freed Jews in concentration camps, looked at their emaciated bodies, and concluded that as a people they were unintelligent.

A fun brief overview of some of these facts is located at this article. 6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe About the Founding of America.


Examinator said...
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Examinator said...

I found the book very informative an interesting. To me it emphasised how (if not careful)inclined humans are to use (national) myth creation as part of their 'motivated reasoning' to justify their (selfish and myopic) emotional behaviour.
Chad should take particular note that this propensity continues to-day and in the case of the political extremes almost steroidally.
The most egregious examples CURRENTLY come from the rusted on political rumps (the only partisan uninformed). Tragically this is currently encompassed the likes of The Tea Baggers, the religious Right and the ultra extreme (end justifies the means) party apparatchiks.
Indirectly it gives succour to both Lord Acton's quote about power and Dr. Samuel Johnson's quote about nationalism.
There is a clear link between the more dogmatic(both senses of the word) the view the higher it's reliance on its mythology e.g. Religiosity, social insecurity, AGW (sic) etc.