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Culture Wars

Equivalency - The Stigmata of Meaning Well Feebly

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, April 19, 2000.

One of the great unargued topics in what we are calling a war against terrorism is that of cultural equivalency. This was raised locally by all the predictable sources on Columbus Day, where we are to celebrate the Noble Savage and condemn the advance of European civilization, so called, to the Eden that was America. Given that our war against Terrorism is really a war against inferior culture, this is something that needs to be yelled about. I tell you to your face that you are a coward if you do not subject your thinking to harsh scouring, because most of you will pay the penalty if this odd war, however defined, is lost.

Let me say up front that the loss of Native American culture is no more of a regrettable horror than that of the Sumerians, or of the Vikings. As cultures go, it was varied in superficialities but pretty basic and not unique enough to overvalue. These were all warrior societies whose codes of conduct could not quite be called law because they were enforced against different social classes differently. Women, outside of the wives of the powerful, were beasts of burden. They cheerfully enslaved and slaughtered each other, and as Mesa Verde shows, were as prone to cannibalism as Alferd Packer or anyone given the right impetus. But it would be hard, for example, to overvalue the civilizations of ancient Egypt, or of Greece, or of Persia, or of Confucian China, or of the Enlightenment, because we get the concept of agreed-upon law and its malleable enforcement from them. We condemn Columbus for slavery and enforced hegemony of religion and outright greed, but the fact is that what killed most Native Americans was disease innocently brought, if not always innocently utilized, by the Europeans. This is unassailable. If you read Lewis and Clark's diaries, as opposed to viewing or reading stories about Lewis and Clark's diaries, and then compare them to the post Civil War histories of the American West, it's like they're talking about two different areas of the world. That is because in the sixty years between the two eras, entire tribes that played an important part to Lewis and Clark were, essentially, gone. The Mandans, the Pawnee, the Arikira, all slaughtered by the pox. Only the Sioux were still large and powerful.

This offends many. We are told that all civilizations, ratcheted down to the term all cultures, are equal and must be respected. Sorry, I don't buy it. Most cultures do not deserve the spit of their slaves, however beautiful their bone carvings with their heroic genitalia look on the mantels of the wealthy.

What would have happened if the Chinese under the Mongols, or the Afghans, or the Huns had found a way to establish a prolonged contact with the New World before 1492? It is hard to argue but that the ears of Native Americans would have filled the ships of the Orient as testimony to the slaughter that would not only have occurred but also been encouraged and celebrated. No gooey goals of converting the souls to another religion or any concern whatever. Absolutely no reservation or money for their survival. For that matter, what would have been the fate of Europe or Africa if the Aztecs had developed the wheel and ocean going ships? These were horrible, bloody, and patriarchal societies to their own citizens. For that matter, what would have been the fate of Europe if Massasoit and his children Wamsutta and Metacomet had developed gunpowder and a navy? Don't know who Wamsutta or his brother were? Don't argue with me until you do, because they came the closest to repelling Europe.

Technical incompetence and cultural inferiority does not necessarily mean, as the Babylonians have tried to insinuate through the millennia and Islam tries to present now, that the conquered have a spiritual superiority and therefore a right to exist as always but at the conqueror's expense. Buddhism may be an exception. Further, even if that were true, so what? Spiritual superiority has tended to be defined as something to be marketed to the conquering culture as an exotic diversion. Welcome to Boulder.

Native Americans, who I admit were screwed every which way by our various governments, have tried to have it both ways: they want to be admired and compensated for their supposed spiritual values but compensated by our undoubted values of cash and power. Which is to say, they want all the benefits of being conquered by European civilization, with its traditions of restrained compassion, without, actually, admitting defeat, or surrendering the powers of their clear clan-first mentality.

So when Boulder's eyes get moist and its throats constrict for the demise of other cultures, bear in mind that most of these other cultures would, given control, take a flame thrower to feminism, egalitarianism, and artistic experimentation. Never mind the vote. How's the excavation at the Afghan, Mayan, Sioux, and Viking Centers for Peace and Justice going? Well then, how's the correspondence going with the Chinese, Afghan, and Cuban Societies for Free Elections?

In the words of another patriarch from an entirely different mind set, meaning well feebly is a source of disgust everywhere but in the supposedly evil West. This is Dark Cloud.