I was really floored by Jack Weatherford's book, Indian Givers. I remember Neil Young singing "Cortez the Killer" over the years and thinking that it was really a great song. But I kinda feel slimy by not really recognizing the sentiment that the song is based on. I knew the conquistadors were horrible people, but I had never really acknowledged the incredible rape and destruction wreaked upon the peace-loving people and the land they lived on in Central and South America.
What immediately comes to mind is the incredible abundance of gold and silver that was removed from the Americas. The story of the Potosi Mine was one that was incredibly bleak and sad. All that silver. I have a hard time even realizing the proportions of such riches. Even sadder than the outright theft of these minerals from the ground were the conditions under which the aboriginal people were forced to work. I have traveled through much of Spain, France, England, and Italy, yet this book has changed my perceptions of what I witnessed when I was there. Especially in Spain, where I vividly remember the opulence of the churches and castles. I thought that the rulers got it from the people of their country, which is bad in itself, but it is even more distressing that these oppressive systems of ruling transgressed the boundaries of their own country and stole form others to fuel their systematic tyranny of the people of South and Central America as well as the people of their own country.
If one takes a look at the world economy, what would be the percentage of gold and silver that makes up the basis of the currency in all the countries that make up the tapestry of this earth? With this in mind, every coin that we use, every dollar, pound, yen, kroner, peseta, ad infinitum is blood money. The very act of using the mercantile system aids the continued advocacy of violence as tool for getting what you need.
Now the pragmatist in me goes nuts when I look at things from this point of view. I mean, how can one survive without the use of the monetary system? If I choose not to participate in this type of behavior, I would have to live far outside of society and barter for my needs instead of paying for them. Even the people who lived the old way up in the Hudson's Bay area had dealings with the outside world. Is this to say that we are stuck with what has happened and move on from there? I don't know.
The world would have been a very different place if Columbus hadn't sailed west. If he hadn't the question is: what outside culture would have come across the oceans to the Americas? Granted, there is evidence that other people have visited before him, but it was Columbus who really broke the story, as it were, since he revealed this land to a large group of people: Europe in general. What if someone from the Orient had sailed east? Could Ghengis Khan extend his empire to across the Pacific Ocean? Perhaps. One could say, regardless of who came, based on the behavior of the culture in that specific time in history, chances are that the Americas would have been exploited anyway. After all, the Chinese and the other countries of the Orient were also merchants interested in gold, silver, and other riches. In addition, I'm pretty sure that Japan was run on a feudal system until a couple hundred years ago. What kind of explorers would they have been? Based on Japan's lengthy war with China, I would say that the Americas would not have been left alone. Still, there is a certain reverence that Eastern culture lends toward beauty and art. This leads the optimist in me to believe that things may have been different. Then again, I don't know.
Whatever the outcome, it appears that the only people who seemed to have been capable handlers of the riches contained within the Americas were its first inhabitants. The secret to maintaining sanity in the midst of such gold digging, as well as knowledge gained by the application of technology, were the people indigenous to the area. It seems that they were able to succeed, where all others after them have failed, by holding the riches in reverential regard. They worshiped the beauty that these riches of gold and silver exuded and thus offered them up as a transcendental gift in which they were just stewards caring for the gifts provided to the gods that they believed in. Essentially they realized that gold and silver were not for possession. I think the real problem of wealth comes when people try to claim it as their own. Another way to put this is to say: when green gets involved, things go awry. One could look at the broader issue at hand and postulate that greed is the basis for the mercantile system of checks and balances that make up the monetary system.
Let's tie this in with the discussion that went on in class last week. To me, this comparison of greed and reverence is parallel to the stereotypes of cultural conflicts discussed in class. The aboriginal people operated within the leisure ethos and they believed, as mentioned above, in the spirituality of the riches. I also tend to believe that the mercantile system is one that stressed the individual worth of someone or something -- isn't this a way of settling on the worth of something, so they can sell it to someone else -- over the community worth of what is helpful to the community. Sure. The merchant is just another word for predator in my book. As a son of an insurance salesman, I know what I'm talking about. Granted, merchants don't kill their customers; however, they do suck money out of them. They justify this by saying that they are providing a service for those who pay them. But we know better, don't we? A used car salesman may be providing a service to his customers, but do the customers really trust them? Does a person trust anyone who tries to sell him/her something? No. This immediately put tension between the two parties, and I guarantee you that one of them comes out feeling like they have been deceived. Is this any way for people to interact?
This again brings up the theory leisure class and/or aboriginal people. It seems to be that things made much more sense back then than they do now. Not only do I like the lifestyle, but I think that people of leisure have more time to look at the spiritual matters that we all carry around with us in different ways. Though I have no facts to prove it, I bet you some of the blood money from Potosi Mines that the original people of the Americas didn't experience such modern day occurrences as mid-life crisis or bankruptcy. The American aboriginal people were the smart ones. They had the key to Pandora's Box and were able to keep that key away from the lock. Everything changed as soon as Columbus dropped anchor. The original Americans knew what they were doing. They were spiritually strong. Life was something that wasn't referred to as a "rat race." It was something to live and share, as opposed to selling the accouterments at a decent rate so "a guy can make ends meet." Now, I ask you, is this any way to live?
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