Thursday, May 05, 2016

A Voice from the Eastern Mountains



Over there to the left,
Against the sun
You see the smith god falling,
His big square hammer in his hand.
I've been watching him seven days,
And still he is falling.

Here on the right, the sea foam
Gathers into girl--
A sure sign somebody's lost his nuts.

A beautiful thing is about to happen;
There will be furies soon.
There will be a wedding, or a civilization,
Or a car chase, or a rhyme.

I condemn such prophecy and such trinketry
For it is an all-consuming fire.
I have learned to fear such beauty and such falling.

But I can do little, to help others or myself,
Pinioned to this solitary mountain

As an analyst battens on my guts.

-- Stephen K. Roney


On Promoting Aboriginal Languages



Not one, but two, good friends have posted on Facebook, to illustrate their approval, this blurb from “ourlanguages.gc.ca.” The Trudeau government has apparently launched an initiative to promote aboriginal languages. Sadly, they say, “these languages are spoken less and less, some are even at risk of disappearing. The federal government has therefore made this matter a priority by providing funding until 2017 for projects that promote Aboriginal languages.”

Let's step back a bit, shall we? What is the actual purpose of language? It is to communicate, right? It follows that a language with very few speakers, and the number of which are declining, is of little and declining use. It is doing people harm to ask them to preserve or to learn it. Mankind would be better off were it to die out. Sorry, but it is true, and people everywhere are voting with their tongues: mankind would be better off if everyone could speak English. In the case of Canadian Indians, preserving instead aboriginal languages is a tool of segregation. It cuts them off from the Canadian mainstream, and it cuts them off from the world mainstream.

Let us remember, too, that not one red cent of this money is going to Indians, who are often poor and perhaps could use it. It goes to wealthy academics and professionals, to fund studies and make “language tools” to put up on the Internet. Which any Indian who already speaks the language does not need.

Granted, this notion of language as only a tool for present-day communication is too simplistic. Some languages also enshrine a mighty literature. A communication with great thinkers of the past the subtleties of which cannot adequately be conveyed in translation. This is the case for philosophy, often, or for poetry, in which the beauty of the language is part of the allure. For this reason, people still often want to study ancient Greek, Hebrew, Latin. For this reason, languages other than English—let's give a shout-out to French here—are still viable.

But Canadian Indian languages were and are entirely oral. They have no literature. Long-ago Indians might have had great thoughts or spoken beautiful words, but no great thoughts or beautiful words are preserved, unless in French or English records.

So there is no point. It is a waste of our taxpayer money.

Or worse than a waste. For some language is also created and used simply to keep others out of the group—those, that is, who do not speak it. This is a use of language for evil. This is commonly the case for street slang, or for academic or professional jargon. This is literally the case for the word “shibboleth.” You don't say it right, you are disadvantaged.

As a matter of fact, this is the best way to acccount for the staggering diversity of languages among Canadian Indians. Differences were exaggerated over time to keep groups separate, promoting anomisity among them, and preventing the exchange of ideas.

Preserving and promoting dying Indian languages in modern Canada would do the same thing. Segregation is a good way to stay poor, misunderstood, and ignorant.

People are worth more than languages.


A Fate Worse than Death






General Sir Guy Carleton, sitting in his comfortable office at the Quebec Citadel in May, 1775, had a problem. He had just heard the shot heard round the world. Although Sir Guy was known for never betraying fear or concern, he knew well that Quebec, a vast territory stretching from Labrador to the present St. Louis, was in mortal peril. Thirteen of England's colonies were in open rebellion on his doorstep. Quebec, as a Catholic and Indian entity blocking their expansion westward, was one of their principal grievances. Perhaps the principal grievance, although modern historians prefer to focus on the nobler-sounding notion of “no taxation without representation.” Carleton had every reason to expect either invasion or insurrection, or both, and imminently. In fact, reinforcing the suspicion that Quebec was the main issue, the Yankees had already taken Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point, defending the main land route north to Montreal.

Carleton had only 800 regular soldiers under his command—to hold half a continent.

The French-speaking population of Quebec no doubt held no special feelings for the Crown of old England: of a different language and religion, they had been conquered on the Plains of Abraham only twelve years earlier. There was also, it is true, a small English-speaking resident population, mostly in Montreal. But they came almost entirely from the Thirteen Colonies. They were already frustrated at being allowed mere equality with the despised French Catholics, and were more than likely to retain allegiances to their southern cousins.

Luckily for Carleton, at that moment two delegations of Indians arrived to offer their support: Algonquin-speakers from the West, and a faction of Iroquois from upstate New York, under the command of Guy Johnson, intrepid British Indian agent.

Carleton turned them both down.

He asked the Algonquins to go home and stay neutral. He asked the Iroquois to remain in Quebec, where they were less likely to be caught up in the battle.

Carleton was an able administrator as well as a military man. These were early days, and positions had not hardened. The US had not yet declared independence. Sir Guy had reason to hope that reconciliation of Britain and its errant colonists was still possible.

But unleash the Indians and, given their methods of warfare, the breach was likely to become irreparable.

Carleton was right. When, in 1776, the Continental Congress did decide for independence, their Declaration included, as one of their justifications for the parting of the ways, “He [George III] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

This was just what Carleton had taken great risks to avoid. Unfortunately, later in 1775, two different American armies did indeed invade Canada—again suggesting the importance of this issue to the Continentals. It was a close run thing; Carleton held fast behind the walls of Quebec City until the Royal Navy could deliver reinforcements in the Spring. The Americans were then systematically pushed back, and, in a clash just outside Montreal remembered as “The Affair of the Cedars,” they ran into the Iroquois warriors.

According to the American accounts, after their surrender, the Iroquois tortured and executed American prisoners.

“The evening after major Sherburne was taken the Indians killed and scalped 2 of his men. Afterwards at different times they killed 4, or 5 others, one of whom was of those who had surrendered on capitulation at the cedars and was killed the 8th. day after that surrender. One other (as was affirmed by his companion now in possession of the savages and who saw the act) was first shot so however as not to kill him and then roasted. Others were left exposed on an island, naked and perishing with cold and famine, in which state they were found by Genl. Arnold’s detachment.” (sic; “Major Sherburne’s Testimony on the Affair at the Cedars” [17 June 1776]).

The British denied this; they claimed that the sheer terror of Indian torture led the Americans to surrender prematurely, and they then alleged actual torture to excuse their cowardice.

The Deah of Jane McCrea, as imagined by American propaganda, painted 1804

Either way, the incident may have been the fuse and powder that, in patriot propagandists' hands, finally alienated the Colonials. That, or the claimed execution by Indians travelling with British General Burgoyne of lovely young colonist Jane McCrea—although the Indians insisted she was killed by a stray Patriot bullet.

The Indians may or may not have committed actual acts of savagery in these particular instances. But at a minimum, we clearly see that they by this time had a solidly established reputation for such tactics. So solid that it was asssumed by the Americans as the rule.

And so we come to another rather discreditable element of traditional Indian culture, one that we may not want to endorse preserving. Yes, Indian war was constant. Yes, Indian ways of war produced massive casualties. Yes, they recognized no rights of non-combatants. But, as K-Tel used to say, wait, there's more. There was also the definite likelihood of torture if captured. They apparently knew nothing of the Geneva Convention. According to the early Jesuits, Indians in general believed that “those who go to war are the more fortunate in proportion as they are cruel toward their enemies” (Jesuit Relations 31, p. 29).

“Those who have been captured and led off to their villages,” Jesuit Father Jouvency continues in the Relations, “are first stripped of their clothing; then they savagely tear off their nails one by one with their teeth; then they bind them to stakes and beat them as long as they please. Next they release them from their bonds, and compel them to pass back and forth between a double row of men armed with thorns, clubs and instruments of iron. Finally, they kindle a fire about them, and roast the miserable creatures with slow heat. Sometimes they pierce the flesh of the muscles with red-hot plates and with spits, or cut it off and devour it, half-burned and dripping with gore and blood. Next they plant blazing torches all over the body, and especially in the gaping wounds; then, after scalping him they scatter ashes and live coals upon his naked head; then they tear the tendons of the arms and legs, lacerate them, or, after removing a little of the skin, leisurely cut them with a knife at the ankle and wrist. Often they compel the unhappy prisoner to walk through fire, or to eat, and thus entomb in a living sepulcher, pieces of his own flesh. Torture of this sort has been borne by not a few of the Fathers of the Society. Moreover, they prolong this torment throughout many days, and, in order that the poor victim may undergo fresh trials, intermit it for some time, until his vitality is entirely exhausted and he perishes. Then they tear the heart from the breast, roast it upon the coals, and, if the prisoner has bravely borne the bitterness of the torture, give it, seasoned with blood, to the boys, to be greedily eaten, in order, as they say, that the warlike youth may imbibe the heroic strength of the valiant man. … The rest of the crowd consume the corpse in a brutal feast. “ (Jesuit Relations 1, p. 269-73).

Martyrdom of St. Isaac Jogues

Most famous among the victims of Iroquois torture were the “Jesuit martyrs,” of whom every Canadian Catholic schoolboy surely knows. We have Father (Saint) Isaac Jogues's own description of his torture. Captured in a party heading peacefully by canoe from Quebec to Trois-Rivieres, he recalls, “they [the Iroquois] fell upon me with a mad fury, they belabored me with thrusts, and with blows from sticks and war-clubs, flinging me to the ground, half dead. When I began to breathe again, those who had not struck me, approaching, violently tore out my finger-nails; and then biting, one after another, the ends of my two forefingers, destitute of their nails caused me the sharpest pain, grinding and crushing them as if between two stones, even to the extent of causing splinters or little bones to protrude” (Jesuit Relations, vol. 31, p. 25).

“They treated the good René Goupil,” he adds, “in the same way.” This, it seems, was just standard practice. Nothing personal.

The captives were then trekked back to Iroquois territory, thirteen days away. During this march, says Jogues, “the pain of our wounds,—which, for not being dressed, became putrid even to the extent of breeding Worms,—caused us, in truth, much distress” (ibid., p. 27).

On day eight, Jogues and his fellows were obliged for the first time to “run the gauntlet.” He describes the familiar procedure: “[T]hey set up a stage on a hill; then, entering the woods, they seek sticks or thorns, according to their fancy. Being thus armed, they form in line,—a hundred on one side, and a hundred on the other,—and make us pass, all naked, along that way of fury and anguish; there is rivalry among them to discharge upon us the most and the heaviest blows” (Jesuit Relations, vol. 31, p. 29). During the ordeal, Jogues passed out. To prolong the fun, the Indians cared for him tenderly until he revived, then resumed the torture. At this point, Jogues relates, “[t]hey burned one of my fingers, and crushed another with their teeth, and those which were already torn, they squeezed and twisted with a rage of Demons; they scratched my wounds with their nails; and, when strength failed me, they applied fire to my arm and thighs” (Jesuit Relations 32, p. 31-3).

“My companions,” he again adds, “were treated very nearly as I was.”

It was not, of course, only Europeans who suffered in this way. The bulk of the victims, we should recall, were now as always other Indians. “Among the Hurons,” Jogues reports, “the worst treated was that worthy and valiant Christian, Eustache. Having made him suffer like the others, they cut off both thumbs from his hands, and thrust through the incisions a pointed stick even to the elbow” (Jesuit Relations 31, p. 33).

During the thirteen day march, the captives were not fed. If they could snatch any wild fruits or berries from the trees and bushes as they passed, that was their sustenance. Eventually, they came to another Iroquois village, at which they were obliged to again run the gauntlet. This village, being near a Dutch trading post, was equipped with iron bars for the beating. The Indians, Jogues says, aimed for the shins.

It is, I think important to note one aspect of this torture ritual. All members of the tribe took part. Indeed, all members of the tribe seem to have been forced to take part. We see a repeated insistance that women and children, not just the brawny men, serve as torturers.

Why might this be?

People who are caught in an evil culture, I submit, always know perfectly well that what they are doing is wrong wrong; we all have a conscience, and morality is not relative to where you live. Were this not so, the Nuremberg Trials would have been illegitimate.

Because this is so, there is a natural eagerness to implicate others in any social crime. It is never okay for any member of the group to stand aloof. This automatically appears as a condemnation of the act, and the consciences of the original perpetrators cannot tolerate it.

At the same time, if you can implicate everyone in the crime from an early age, they are less likely to turn against the practice, or you, later. Doing so would then require them to face the fact that they themselves have done something terribly wrong. Guilt loves company.

So we see with Father Jogues. He reports, “An old man takes my left hand and commands a captive Algonquin woman to cut one of my fingers; she turns away three or four times, unable to resolve upon this cruelty; finally, she has to obey, and cuts the thumb from my left hand; the same caresses are extended to the other prisoners” (p. 41).

After this general cutting off of thumbs, a lesson for the little ones: “[T]hey made us lie down on pieces of bark, binding us by the arms and the feet to four stakes fastened in the ground in the shape of Saint Andrew's Cross. The children, in order to learn the cruelty of their parents, threw coals and burning cinders on our stomachs,—taking pleasure in seeing us broil and roast” (p. 43).

This is probably the worst thing about immoral cultures. They deliberately make it very hard for individuals to remain moral. They forever present them with moral dilemmas; they tempt and groom for immorality. This is why they need to be abandoned, claims of “cultural genocide” be damned.

In all, says Jogues, to continue the narrative, “we spent three days and three nights in the sufferings” on this particular scaffold (ibid, p. 43). Then their captors paraded the prisoners around to neighbouring villages in turn, each of which got a crack at them. During this time, “[o]ne of those Barbarians having perceived that Guillaume Cousture, although he had his hands all torn, had not yet lost any of his fingers,” no doubt a regrettable oversight, “seized his hand, striving to cut off his forefinger with a poor knife. But, as he could not succeed therein, he twisted it, and in tearing it he pulled a sinew out of the arm, the length of a span” (Jesuit Relations 31, p. 45).

“The young men thrust thorns or pointed sticks into our sores, scratching the ends of our fingers, deprived of their nails, and tearing them even to the quick flesh; and, in order to honor me above the others, they bound me to pieces of wood fastened crosswise. Consequently, my feet not being supported, the weight of my body inflicted upon me a gehenna, and a torture so keen that, after having suffered this torment about a quarter of an hour, I plainly felt that I was about to fall in a swoon from it” (Jesuit Relations 31, p. 47).

In normal circumstances, prisoners were tortured to death; this would properly have been the time to cut Jogues open and eat his heart. But a council of the Iroquois decided the Frenchmen were worth more alive than dead, that they might be bartered back to the Europeans for trade goods. Jogues was held as a slave. Eventually, he was bought by a Dutch trader, and able to set sail back to France.

In a few years he was back, volunteered for the Iroquois mission, and they finally finished the job.

There are many such stories in the Jesuit Relations. It seems pure prurience to tell them all; the outlines of the torture are usually similar. We cannot pass by, however, without retelling for the sake of fellow Catholics the case of the other most celebrated Jesuit martyr, Father (Saint) Jean de Brebeuf. It is told by a Huron witness, confirmed later by wounds found on his charred body. 

Martyrdom of St. Jean de Brebeuf

The Iroquois, on seizing and immolating with much slaughter the Huron village in which their Jesuit mission was located, seized two priests, including Brebeuf, “stripped them entirely naked, and fastened each to a post. They tied both of their hands together. They tore the nails from their fingers. They beat them with a shower of blows from cudgels, on the shoulders, the loins, the belly, the legs, and the face...” An Indian whom Brebeuf had catechized, now a captive of the Iroquois and no doubt hoping to improve his situation, a typical kapo, “baptized” the Jesuit mockingly three times with boiling water. Then they made their hatchets red hot in the fire, and applied them to his crotch and under his armpits. Then they strung the tomahawks into a collar, and hung it around his neck.

Either the Jesuit redactor, Father Regnault, or the Huron reporter, explains of this particular torture, “ you see a man, bound naked to a post, who, having this collar on his neck, cannot tell what posture to take. For, if he lean forward, those above his shoulders weigh the more on him; if he lean back, those on his stomach make him suffer the same torment; if he keep erect, without leaning to one side or other, the burning ratchets, applied equally on both sides, give him a double torture” (Jesuit Relations vol. 34, pp. 25-7). Another dilemma: the torture is both physical and mental.

“After that,” our source resumes, “they put on him a belt of bark, full of pitch and resin, and set fire to it, which roasted his whole body. ... To prevent him from speaking more, they cut off his tongue, and both his upper and lower lips. After that, they set themselves to strip the flesh from his legs, thighs, and arms, to the very bone; and then put it to roast before his eyes, in order to eat it” (ibid., pp. 27-9).

By now, Father Brebeuf was visibly weakened almost to the point of death. His tormentors, seeing this, proceeded to the denoument. They made him sit down on the ground; “and, one of them, taking a knife, cut off the skin covering his skull. Another one of those barbarians... made an opening in the upper part of his chest, and tore out his heart, which he roasted and ate. Others came to drink his blood, still warm, which they drank with both hands” (Jesuit Relations 34, pp. 29).

You get the general idea of how these things proceeded. We could give more examples. Both of our cases have involved Iroquois, but do not suppose the practice was limited to that tribe. This is more an artifact of our sources being French and Jesuit, and the Iroquois long being their sworn enemies. Father Regnault, in reporting the death of Brebeuf, adds, “I have seen the same treatment given to Iroquois prisoners whom the Huron savages had taken in war” (ibid, p. 31).The Jesuits also record it among Neutrals. Champlain, returning from his first joint raid upon the Iroquois, observed quite similar tortures by Algonquins, Montagnais (Innu) and Etechemins. From Champlain's journal:

“our men kindled a fire; and, when it was well burning, they each took a brand, and burned this poor creature [an Iroquois captive] gradually, so as to make him suffer greater torment. Sometimes they stopped, and threw water on his back. Then they tore out his nails, and applied fire to the extremities of his fingers and private member. Afterwards, they flayed the top of his head, and had a kind of gum poured all hot upon it; then they pierced his arms near the wrists, and, drawing up the sinews with sticks, they tore them out by force; but, seeing that they could not get them, they cut them. This poor wretch uttered terrible cries, and it excited my pity to see him treated in this manner… After his death, they were not yet satisfied, but opened him, and threw his entrails into the lake. Then they cut off his head, arms, and legs, which they scattered in different directions; keeping the scalp which they had flayed off, as they had done in the case of all the rest whom they had killed in the contest. They were guilty also of another monstrosity in taking his heart, cutting it into several pieces, and giving it to a brother of his to eat, as also to others of his companions” (Voyages, vol. 2, ch. 10).

Next expedition, and a new batch of prisoners was observed being treated in the same manner:

“They took the prisoners to the border of the water, and fastened them perfectly upright to a stake. Then each came with a torch of birch bark, and burned them, now in this place, now in that. The poor wretches, feeling the fire, raised so loud a cry that it was something frightful to hear; and frightful indeed are the cruelties which these barbarians practise towards each other. After making them suffer greatly in this manner and burning them with the above-mentioned bark, taking some water, they threw it on their bodies to increase their suffering. Then they applied the fire anew, so that the skin fell from their bodies, they continuing to utter loud cries and exclamations, and dancing until the poor wretches fell dead on the spot. As soon as a body fell to the ground dead, they struck it violent blows with sticks, when they cut off the arms, legs, and other parts; and he was not regarded by them as manly, who did not cut off a piece of the flesh, and give it to the dogs. Such are the courtesies prisoners receive. As to the other prisoners, which remained in possession of the Algonquins and Montagnais, it was left to their wives and daughters to put them to death with their own hands; and, in such a matter, they do not show themselves less inhuman than the men, but even surpass them by far in cruelty; for they devise by their cunning more cruel punishments, in which they take pleasure, putting an end to their lives by the most extreme pains” (Voyages, Vol. 2, Ch. 10).

Similar stories are recorded of almost every North American tribe. John Gyles, taken from his farm on the Saint John River in 1692, reports his own torture and that of his companions by the Malecites (Algonquin speakers) in his Memoirs of odd adventures, strange deliverances, etc. published in 1736. According to a memorial plaque on the site, his brother and fellows were “tortured by fire, compelled to eat their noses and ears, and then burned to death at the stake.” Susannah Johnson, captured in a raid on Charlestown, New Hampshire by the Abenaki in 1754, was forced with her companions to run the gauntlet, although in this case it seemed mostly pro forma (Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. Johnson, 1834, p. 47). Mary Rowlandson, captured in a raid on Lancaster, Massachusetts by the Narragansetts in 1675, told of a companion slowly burned to death with her infant child (Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, Fourth Remove). Mary Jemison, taken by Senecas in the 1750s, wrote “we passed a Shawnee town, where I saw a number of heads, arms, legs, and other fragments of the bodies of some white people who had just been burned. The parts that remained were hanging on a pole, which was supported at each end by a crotch stick in the ground, and were roasted or burnt black as a coal” (James E. Seaver, The Life and Times of Mary Jemison, 1824, ch. 3). So too with the tribes of the plains. Gregory and Susan Michno, restricting themselves only to accounts from Texas in their book A Fate Worse than Death, decribe torture by the Sioux, Blackfoot, Comanche, Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Lakotas, Shoshones, Bannocks, Mojaves, Yavapais, Crow, Kiowas, Kickapoos, Utes, and Chiricahuas.

Native Americans scalping and roasting prisoners.

The “captivity narrative,” almost always including accounts of torture, even became a recognized genre of American literature, and reports stretch all the way from first contact up to the final closing of the American frontier in the 1890s—when Mounties and Texas Rangers finally galloped onto the scene to end it.

Revisionist historians in recent years, it is true, have cast their doubts on just how widespread Indian torture really was. Believing devoutly, no doubt, in the innate sweetness of the noble savage, they argue that, “captivity narratives” having become a popular genre, there was an obvious incentive for authors to fake details, to make them as lurid as possible. Sells more tabloids, after all. What we see here, they also sometimes argue, is a clash of cultural values; no doubt the Indians similarly found some of our European ancestors' behaviour barbaric. Their final point is that, as propaganda, such stories might have been useful to justify settlers encroaching on Indian land.

These objections, I submit, really do not hold up well on close inspection. To deal with the last first, if the local Indians were not brutal, the settler reaction shown here would seem pretty far over the top. Why would they be so set against Indians as to invent such slanders? If farming the land might have put a crimp in Indian hunting practices, Indians simply following their traditional hunting practices did not really much interfere with farming the land; especially for these early settlers. Having Indians nearby could, on the other hand, be useful, so long as they did not enslave or torture: for showing what local plants were edible, explaining how to survive the local winter, to trade for mutual profit, and so forth. Land envy just does not seen sufficient to account for the evidence.

Most offensive is the idea that this is simply a clash of cultural values, and the Indians are entitled to their own whether we like them or not. Morality is absolute, or it does not really exist at all. Just because you live in Nazi Germany does not make it okay to kill Jews. Accordingly, cultures really can be more or less moral, just as can individuals. Torture is immoral. To suggest it isn't is apalling. There might be circumstances in which dire necessity might be used to justify it, but even so, where is the dire necessity here?

As for the yellow journalism charge, it is on its face more plausible. But note that the accounts we selected so far are mostly from early Jesuits, who already find the practice of torture widespread and in a variety of tribes. It is a bit hard to believe that either they or Samuel de Champlain, writing well before there was any established genre of captivity narrative, are already playing to the cheap seats. Moreover, it defies belief that men who have sacrificed everything to their faith, homeland, family, and life itself, would at the same time casually disregard one of its clearer tenets, that one ought not bear false witness against one's neighbour.

Finally, there is the matter of clear physical evidence. It is fairly easy to see if a thumb really has been cut off, or if a heart is missing. In many of these cases, it is not just one man's testimony: we have multiple witnesses, of unimpeachable moral character.

It might also be observed that those who knew the Indians best, the earliest settlers and those on the frontier, were those most inclined to believe these stories. Detroit's inhabitants, at the time on the far frontier of settlement, wrote in 1811 this poetic resolution pleading for government protection: “The tenderest infant, yet imbibing nutrition from the mamilia of maternal love, and the agonized mother herself, alike wait the stroke of the relentless tomahawk…. Nothing which breathes the breath of life is spared … It is in the dead of night, in the darkness of the moon, in the howling of the [wolf] that the demoniac deed is done” (Detroit public meeting resolution, December 8, 1811, quoted in Taylor, loc. 3985). Modern historians now and those back home in Britain then are and were most likely to doubt the tales; not those in the best position to know.

Even were all this not so, the tales of torture are so universal, it lends credence on the simple principle that where there is a choking smoke, there's apt to also be a fire.

Just as Indian torture played a role in the American War of Independence, it seems to have been crucial, fortunately and unfortunatley, in the sequel, the War of 1812.

It is an abiding mystery, on the statistics, how timid little Canada emerged from that conflict intact. The numerical advantage held by the Americans, after all, was overwhelming. The situation was little better than that outlined for Carleton's time. The US had 7,500,000 citizens; Canada had 500,000. Jefferson said it would be “a mere matter of marching.” Canadians still congratulate themselves on the remarkable “victory.” That's victory, of course, in traditional Canadian terms: for “victory,” read “survival.”

This time, unlike during the Revolutionary War, the British had no particular need to restrain their Indian allies. The rift with the Americans was already irreversible. 

And so, Tecumseh and his united warriors were a major factor. Several of the most important British-Canadian victories were wrought from sheer American fear of being tortured by natives. 

Begin with Brock's miracle of taking Detroit, almost the first action of the war. Hopelessly outnumbered by the Americans under General Hull, General Brock had the Indians parade in a circle outside the fort, passing repeatedly through a clearing into view, making their numbers appear much larger. He sent a note in to his American adversary: “It is far from my intention to join in a war of extermination, but you must be aware, that the numerous body of Indians who have attached themselves to my troops, will be beyond control the moment the contest commences” (Alan Taylor, The Civil War of 1812, loc. 3250). That did it. Almost without firing a shot, after taking some time to ponder, General Hull struck his colours. A mixed group of 1,300 under Brock took prisoner two thousand five hundred Americans, and their well-positioned fort, gateway to all the upper lakes.
Similar scenarios played out many more times. On May 29, 1813, a boatload of frightened American troops rowed out to Captain John Richardson, commanding a British warship on Lake Ontario, under a white flag. They petitioned to be allowed to surrender and “claim our protection as prisoners of war against the savages on the shore” (Taylor, loc. 3968). The Americans, he noted, were all well-armed. They were followed by a second boatload making the same request. In the summer of 1813, there were stories among the Americans of a raiding party that had been found “most shockingly butchered, their heads skinned, their hearts taken out and put in their mouths, their privates cut off and put in the places of their hearts” (Taylor, loc. 4011). It was discouraging.

And then there was the celebrated Battle of Beaver Dams.

Laura Secord reports to Lieutenant FitzGibbon

You have probably heard of Laura Secord, who walked her weary cow through 20 miles—sorry, 32 kilometres--of rough and wild terrain to warn the British of an American attack? 

Have you heard the rest of the story? Whom she reported to, and what he did with this information?

The officer's name was James FitzGibbon, as much as Secord a hero of Canadian history. FitzGibbon, forewarned, asked a few hundred Mohawks (250) in the area to wait in ambush. They waylaid the American column where the main road was flanked on both sides with forest. The Indians were heavily outnumbered, but, hidden in the trees, the Americans could not fire on them effectively, and could not see how many there were. The sound of the war-whoops was terrifying. 

FitzGibbons then boldly marched his own scant band of regulars, in plain view, to block the American retreat. This was a brash and purely psychological move: although he did his best to mask their small numbers, had the Americans charged his line, they would easily have overwhelmed it. But the bluff worked. The Americans now thought themselves surrounded by Indians, and cut off.

FitzGibbon then cooly approached the Americans under flag of truce, and demanded surrender “in order to avoid unnecessary bloodshed,” saying he could not possibly control the Indians for more than another five minutes (FitzGibbon, A Veteran of the War of 1812, p 87). At this time, unknown to the Americans, the Indians were already retreating, feeling they could accomplish nothing more.

Nerves shattered, the American commander agreed to surrender if FitzGibbon's would guarantee, on his honour as a British officer, they would not be harmed by the Indians. FitzGibbon promised, if necessary, to give his life in their defense. With a force of 46 muskets, plus 250 Indian irregulars only loosely under his command, FizGibbons achieved the surrender of 554 American officers and men, two cannon, two cars of ammunition, and the regimental colours. 

Were American fears unfounded? Surely not. The Indians in these cases outnumbered the British themselves. Accordingly, the British did not dare press to impose any restraint on their Indian allies. There are many credible reports of real Indian atrocities during this time, some of them witnessed by British officers.

And that, perhaps, was really how and why little Canada survived the War of 1812. It was American fear of Indian torture.

Let us make one final thing clear. It is wrong to blame these atrocities on “the Indians,” as individual human beings, or suggest we would not behave about the same in similar circumstances. For one thing, Indians were most often the victims as well as the torturers. A poisonous culture puts every individual in an impossible moral quandary. We have the example of Nazi Germany, where “civilized” Europeans behaved almost as badly. We have the famous Milgram experiment, in which American grad students mostly acted as ready torturers so long as they thought they were being asked by someone in authority. 

It is clear some Indians disliked what they were asked to do. They knew it was wrong. Almost every account of torture also includes an account of one Indian or another secretly bringing aid or succor to the victim. Mrs. Johnson reports her Indian captor eventually said, through her interpreter, “'I could not sleep last night… She may have her child! I cannot withhold it from her any longer!'” And, with the returned child, she also gave clothing and several presents (Johnson, p. 56). 

Of course, it is also possible that only those captives lucky enough to find unusually compassionate Indians survived to tell the tale.

In any group of people, there are some good and some bad, probably in about the same proportions. But just as people are not all good, neither are societies. As with Nazi Germany, or Sodom and Gomorrah, some societies can be thoroughly bad.

One remarkable thing about Indian torture is how little practical justification for it there seems to have been. This, of course, makes it harder to justify. It was not done, like waterboarding or the Spanish Inquisition, to extract information. One can imagine that it might work as a force miltiplier—if only one tribe did it. It seems to have been just that in the War of 1812. But that was only possible when there was another non-torturing party alongside, here the British regulars, to play “good cop.” In inter-Indian conflict, there would be none. The chance of torture after capture was surely just as likely then to convince opponents to fight to the last man and the last breath rather than surrender.
So Indian torture seems to have been done just for fun.

How did it happen that almost every Indian group seems to have done it?

Some people are bullies. You grew up with some of them, back in the state of nature that is childhood. Some kids love to tie tin cans to doggies' tails, swing cats, or blow up frogs with firecrackers. A certain percentage of people everywhere are psychopathic. They derive pleasure, perversely, by inflicting pain. 

Now, in any small group lacking a solid government structure designed to prevent it, the bullies are naturally going to take control. This is because they want it more than anyone else, and because they lack any morals in achieving their goal. 

Indian bands, as the early Jesuits observed, or as Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel) would attest, lacked much government. They were “sans roi, sans loi, sans foi.” For the most part, aside from the influence one individual could have with another, everyone did just about as they pleased.
In this “state of nature,” without effective government, there is nothing to stop the bullies from taking charge: no primogeniture, no democracy, no first estate. It will happen, as in Golding's Lord of the Flies, sooner or later, probably sooner. Once they have it, the bullies will take pains to implicate everyone else in their crimes, ensuring their habits and their power are maintained.

Hence, hell on earth. And for many in the afterlife as well.

Preserve or revive native Indian culture? We owe it to ourselves, especially if we are Indian, to do whatever is possible to ensure that we are never again placed in such a situation.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A Song of the Mad Prince Wolsan


Autumn night on the river; ripples sleep.
No fish want my bait;
Only moonlight--
The boat returns empty.

- translated from a poem by the 15th-century Wolsan Taegun, for whom Toksu Palace in Seoul was built. He was twice passed over for the Korean throne on the grounds that he was insane.

-- Stephen K. Roney


Again with Atttawapiskat


Traditional Ojibwe and Dakota homes.

Tristin Hopper writes an op-ed in the National Post to explain to us ignorant white folks why it is that Cree might not want to leave the blight of Attawapiskat. We cannot understand, because we are descended from immigrants, who of course did move for a better life.

Yeah. Unlike the Cree Indians, our ancestors had to give up our land. So we owe them something because theirs didn't?

Speaking of Europeans, she explains, “The gospel of 'just pick up and leave' is extremely foreign to your typical European.--be they Serbian, French, or Irish.”

Odd—if we are “white,” weren't our ancestors European? How did all those Europeans, 400 million or so at last count, get over here to North America, with nobody actually leaving Europe? How did we get to be descended from immigrants,, if there were none? One of life's little mysteries.

Famine Memorial, Dublin

My own ancestors are mostly Irish. Ask the Irish, if you will, about “just pick up and leave.” Within a space of ten years in the middle of the 19th century, about one third of the Irish population was obliged to do just that. Most of the rest just died in place. Anyone here heard of the Great Hunger? And the emigrant flow from Ireland to elsewhere has been thick and fast before and since.

But Hopper needn't ask the Irish. She could ask the Cree.

Hopper laments on behalf of the Attawapiskat Cree that they “share a country with some of the most fanatically nomadic people in human history.”

Right. And the Cree were not nomadic? Reporting to their French superiors in the early days of New France, Jesuit chroniclers noted that Cree villages were dismantled and moved at least every six weeks. I think the Cree once knew something about moving.

Drew Taylor, Indian playwright, is quoted as saying, “Cree communities are not RV parks, ready to uproot at a moment's notice.”

That's exactly how traditional Cree communities always worked.

Stewart Phillip, Indian political leader, is quoted as saying “We're not bison. We shouldn't be herded around on the whims of a racist nation.”

That's exactly what traditional Plains Cree communities did—moved with the bison. (And, of course, Canada is probably one of the least racist countries on earth.)

Joseph Boyden, Indian author, is quoted as saying “this idea of forcing people off the place where they've lived for thousands of years is not the way to move forward.”

Which place would that be? In the hundred years or so after the Hudson's Bay Company set up its first trading posts at James Bay, ancestors of the Cree spread from the area of Attawapiskat all the way to Peace River.

This is all an example of an eternal truth: when people commit to lie habitually, they tend to end up saying the exact opposite of the truth. This is because the truth becomes a danger to them. Always staying as far from it as possible feels like safety.

A guilty conscience also makes them tend to contradict themselves. As if subconsciously they wanted to be found out.




Again with "Gender Identity"



Was Marcel Duchamp a prophet?
Ths is the latest post I was forwarded on Facebook about the North Carolina 'bathroom bill."


https://emilycheath.com/2016/04/27/on-restrooms-gender-and-fear/


If the author would only open her mind a smidgeon, she would see in that new light she was arguing against her own interests. She is a woman who looks like a man. Currently she gets embarrassed, and risks being physically ejected, she says, when using the women's rest room. The current North Carolina law would solve the problem. It sets an objective test. “Looks like a woman” is too ambiguous, as she points out. What is she supposed to do—drop her knickers? But under the new NC law, she need only show her birth certificate if questioned.

There is another simple solution to her present problem she could apply anywhere, even under the pre-NC laws. If, as she says, all she really cares about is going in and peeing, why not simply use the men's? She claims to look so much like a man that people think she is one when she enters a women's washroom. Very well—then she also looks like a man when she enters the men's room, and nobody is going to challenge her. Problem solved. Even if she is wrong, even if she does not look that much like a man, in the real world, nobody is likely to challenge her. Men do not care, as men do not worry about being raped or about being looked at carnally by a woman.

You object? Why? Why does she? QED. Obviously, something about doing that concerns her. Odd shre does not mention it. But there is no need to figure out what it is. Whatever it is, in advocating for rest rooms effectively unsegregated by sex, she is demanding that every women, not just herself, face the problem she faces here: all would then have to share the washroom with random men, the very thing she cannot bring herself to do. She would not even be helping herself. She would lose any opportunity to avoid doing likewise.

She even ends by pointing out the darkest possibility of the alternative policy, of letting everyone use the toilet they “self-identify” with. Some innocent transgender person, like her, is liable to get shot. Extreme and unlikely, perhaps, but this is her example, not mine. At best, the problems she now identifies, with being suspected of voyeurism and sexual molestation, would intensify infinitely.

You want chaos? You got chaos.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Sun on High Park



The sun glances off the pond,
Cascading diamonds,
Each duck seems to dive in pools of light.
-- Stephen K. Roney


The War of All Against All




Nuclear test, Bikini Atoll, 1946
I remember the Sixties.

They say, of course, that if you remember the Sixties, you were not really there.

Nevertheless, I think we all agree that something happened then. There was a tectonic shift in Western culture. There was some existential earthquake of major magnitude. Why?

There were many factors, no doubt; but let's not underrate The Bomb. In the Fifties and early Sixties, “The Bomb,” as we called it then, was new. We lived in constant fear of thermonuclear war, and “mutual assured destruction.” Eminent philosopher Bertrand Russell opined at the time that, all things considered, it was better right now to surrender to the Soviet Union than to run the risk of atomic war, whoever won. North American cities, on the model of London in the Blitz, set up systems of air raid sirens. Everyone built a bomb shelter in their back yard. Even Diefenbaker had his Diefenbunker.

Main conference room, Diefenbunker

Now we are all more sanguine, perhaps without good reason. But back then everything smelled of Armageddon. Add that recollections of the Second World War and its carnage were still fresh, Korea and Vietnam had quickly followed, and the First World War was still within living memory. It all left us with a general impression that civilization, technology, and the grand sweep of history were herding us lambs to the slaughter. More civilization simply led to bloodier and more frequent war year upon year, as nations got bigger and weapons more powerful, until, inevitably, the entire species was annihilated. Along with every other species. George Orwell's 1984, composed in 1948, accordingly forecast a future of constant war.

Orwell's imaginary world in 1984, showing areas of constant conflict among the three great powers.

So if civilization and progress were a dead end, what was our alternative?

Enter, stage left, a familiar dramatis persona, a stock character of stage, screen, and bodice-ripper: the Noble Savage. We began to imagine, as Europeans traditionally do whenever Europe is caught in war, that North American Indians, relatively untouched by civilization, were a contrasting model of peace, tolerance, and general human happiness. “Little Big Man,” the anti-Western released in 1970, outlined the basic narrative; although not in as extreme form as the notion of primal innocence later became. In that film, Indian war is shown as a sort of shadow play: victory consists in touching the enemy, then retreating unharmed. The poor, good-hearted Cheyennes in the movie are unable to comprehend the reality of modern war, and die like lemmings. At another point, the European protagonist, as a boy, lands a punch on the chin of an Indian antagonist. The native lad, nonplussed, just stands there, not knowing how to respond. He knew nothing of fisticuffs.



Right. Nice life, if there is not an angel with a flaming sword blocking your way.

Sadly, some of us have recently been rudely awakened from this Samoan vacation of the mind by the archaeological record. As Stephen Pinker (The Better Angels of Our Nature) and Lawrence Keeley (War Before Civilization) have outlined in recent books, if wars in the Twentieth century had generated the same mortality rates as the typical wars among hunter-gatherer societies, by 2000 there would have been two billion dead (Spengler (4 July 2006). "The fraud of primitive authenticity". Asia Times Online, citing Nicholas Wade). In the close encounters characteristic of tribal war, Keeley says, casualty rates run to 60%, against 1% among combatants in a current war. On average, tribal wars are 20 times more deadly than that trouble Hitler started. Nor were they as uncommon as modern war: The Economist estimates that two-thirds of hunter-gatherer societies worldwide are at war constantly, and 90% go to war at least once a year.

Apparently, Canadian Indians were a bit on the pacifist side. Keeley's data from North America suggest that, among our First Nations, only 87% enaged in war at least once a year. That's 3% less bellicose than the mean.

A notable excavation at Crow Creek, South Dakota, has uncovered the skeletons of 500 men, women, and children, all, by the marks on the bones, dead by violence, scalped, and mutilated, a century and a half before Columbus sailed. No polluting influence of European civilization here. This was 60% of the estimated population of that village. Mostly missing, interestingly, were the bones of young women. That might account for the other 40%--carried off for future considerations, probably of a largely sexual nature.

This actually should not come as a shock to anyone. It conforms well with the historical record, and the historical record has always been clear. When Columbus disembarked, he found the Indians of San Salvador on alert against raids from nearby islands. John Smith, kidnapped by the Powhatans, was briefed on the local situation: “Hee [the chief] described ... upon the same Sea, a mighty Nation called Pocoughtronack, a fierce Nation that did eate men, and warred with the people of Moyaoncer and Pataromerke, Nations upon the toppe of the heade of the Bay, under his territories: where the yeare before they had slain an hundred” (A True Relation of Such Occurrences and Accidents of Note as Hath Hapned in Virginia, 1608). The Stadacona Indians at Quebec told Cartier on his first visit of a recent successful raid by their neighbours resulting in 200 deaths, out of a population of a couple of thousand. When Champlain came by eighty years later, of course, all the Stadaconans, and even any trace of their language, were gone. As Champlain and his arquebusiers landed, the local Indians promptly tried to recruit them in their ongoing war with the Iroquois.

Jesuit chroniclers, often first at the frontier, and trained scientific observers, also noted this state of perpetual war. Father Jouvency, S.J., says of the Indians of New France generally, “They engage in war rashly and savagely, often with no cause, or upon a very slight pretext” (Jesuit Relations 1, p. 267). “One tribe hardly ever has intercourse with another, either distant or near, except such as may arise in the prosecution of offensive or defensive warfare” (Jesuit Relations 2, p. 199). Of the Algonquins and Iroquois, the early Jesuits explain, “There has always been war between these two nations, as there has been between the Souriquois [Micmac] and Armouchiquois [modern identity unknown; possibly wiped out by the Micmac]” (Jesuit Relations 1, p. 103).

There really was, in fairness to “Little Big Man,” a practice among some plains Indians (only) of “counting coup,” getting boasting rights by touching an enemy and retreating unharmed. However, this was in addition to, not instead of, war as we know it, with all the blood and gore and stuff. There is no question real Indians would understand the difference. “Although military historians tend to reserve the concept of 'total war' for conflicts between modern industrial nations,” Mark Van de Logt writes of these same tribes of the plains, “the term nevertheless most closely approaches the state of affairs between the Pawnees and the Sioux and Cheyennes” (Mark Van de Logt, War Party in Blue. Pawnee Scouts in the US Army. University of Oklahoma Press, 2012. p. 35). “To take one another's scalps had been for ages the absorbing and favourite recreation of all these Western tribes,” Francis Parkman concurs (Parkman, A Half Century of Conflict, vol. 2, p. 21, speaking of the Outagamies, Winnebagoes, Sacs, Sioux, and Illinois). Horace Greeley reports, from the Nineteenth century frontier, “[T]he Aarapaho chief, Left-Hand, assures me that his people were always at war with the Utes—at least, he has no recollection, no tradition, of a time when they were at peace.“ (Horace Greeley, “Lo! The Poor Indian!” An Overland Journey from New York to San Francisco in the Summer of 1859).

It is also true enough that Indians, as shown in “Little Big Man,” did not box. But a real Cheyenne would not have responded only with shocked inaction if struck with a right hook. Father Biard, in the Jesuit Relations, reports just such a circumstance: “they do not understand boxing at all. I have seen one of our little boys make a Savage, a foot taller than himself, fly before him; placing himself in the posture of a noble warrior, he placed his thumb over his fingers and said, 'Come on!'”

“However,” the good Jesuit immediately adds, “when the Savage was able to catch him up by the waist, he made him cry for mercy” (Jesuit Relations 3, p. 91).

No wonder Brazeau lost. Image courtesy Globe and Mail.

Nor was this non-stop aggressiveness simply a matter of young men needing to prove their mettle, while life went on more or less as always back home among the tents and longhouses. This, as Pinker, Keeley, and Van de Logt point out, was total war, in a sense the world wars of the Twentieth century really never were. “Noncombatants were legitimate targets,” Van de Logt notes. “Indeed, the taking of a scalp of a woman or a child was considered honourable because it signified that the scalp taker had dared to enter the very heart of the enemy's territory” (Mark Van de Logt, War Party in Blue. Pawnee Scouts in the US Army. University of Oklahoma Press, 2012. p. 35). The object of any war was, ultimately, total extermination of the enemy. They were, after all, not human.

The Indian way of war was familiar enough to early colonists. In the raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts, during Queen Anne's War, in 1704, for example, one Joseph Bradley's wife was taken captive, and later gave birth to a child in captivity. The assembled Indians, mostly Abenaki, with a sprinkling of French, quickly killed the child by throwing hot coals in its mouth when it cried (Francis Parkman, A Half Century of Conflict, vol 1, p 91). They also killed Mercy Sheldon, age two, by dashing her brains out on the door-stone (ibid, p. 115). Mariah Carter, five years old, was killed because the Indians did not think her fit for the march of captives back to New France (p. 117). For that was their plan for prisoners: to bring them back to their villages along the St. Lawrence for either ransom or servitude. Later, on the long trek with their human booty, they killed a nursing baby (p. 123). Soon after, in a fit of drunkenness, they killed a negro serving man (p. 124). A Mrs. Williams, who had recently given birth, was tomahawked when she fainted along the way (p. 126). Next day, they killed another infant and a girl of eleven (p. 126). Another day, and they tomahawked another woman. The day following, they slaughtered four more. In this case, at least, woman and children were seemingly killed first, on the grounds that they were not strong enough to survive being taken as captives.

Indian women were apparently hardier, or more desirable as captives. When an assembled force of their enemies overwhelmed the Outagamies outside Detroit, according to Parkman, “The women and children were divided among the victorious hordes, and adopted or enslaved. To the men, no quarter was given. 'Our Indians amused themselves,' writes Dubuisson [the commander of the French forces], 'with shooting four or five of them every day.'” (Parkman, A Half Century of Conflict, volume 1, p. 497).

Iroquois expansion during the Beaver Wars.

You want to accuse Sir John A. of “cultural genocide”? This was real genocide, of real people. All Indian wars were genocidal. You may have heard of “the last of the Mohicans”? Blotted out by the Mohawk. Recall too the Stadaconans who greeted Cartier. Gone, as noted, eighty years later. The Dorset people, “skraelings,” who fought off the Vikings? Gone a few hundred years later; only archeological evidence remains. The Pocumtuc, prior residents of the Deerfield of which we have recently been speaking? Wiped out by the Mohawks in the early 1660s. The Yellowknives from the region of Great Slave Lake and the Coppermine River, the largest tribe in the great Northwest when Samuel Hearne passed through in 1774? Obliterated by the nearby Dogrib Indians soon after, in the early nineteenth century (Keeley, pp. 67-9).

In the “Beaver Wars,” the Iroquois Confederacy exterminated the Wenro by 1638, the Hurons by 1649, the Neutrals by 1651, the Eries by 1656, and the Susquehannock by 1677. They drove the remnants of the Shawnee west beyond the Mississippi River.

“Before French or English influence had been felt in the interior of the continent,” writes Parkman, “a great part of North America was the frequent witness of scenes ... of horror. In the first half of the seventeenth century the whole country from Lake Superior to the Tennessee, and from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi, was ravaged by wars of extermination, in which tribes, large and powerful by Indian standards, perished, dwindled into feeble remnants, or were absorbed by other tribes and vanished from sight” (Parkman, ibid., pp. 498-9).

In 1638, Jesuit missionaries were present to see the remnants of the Wenro Indians straggle in to Huronia, their own villages and most of their people having been wiped out by the Iroquois: “Notwithstanding the help that could be given them [by the Hurons], the fatigue and inconveniences of such a voyage —of more than eighty leagues, made by over six hundred persons, of whom the majority were women and little children —were so great that many died on the way, and nearly all were sick when they arrived, or immediately afterwards” (Fr. LeJeune, Jesuit Relations 17, p. 25). Eleven years later, Jesuits were present when the same fate befell the Hurons themselves. “[N]otwithstanding the many alms that we gave, ... we could not prevent hundreds and hundreds of them from dying in the winter by hunger. In the summer, many had rather postponed death than prolonged life, by living either in the woods on a few bitter roots and wild fruits; or on the rocks, on some little fish ... It was a frightful thing to see, instead of men, dying skeletons, walking more like shadows of the dead than like bodies of the living; and feeding themselves on that which nature has most in abomination, — exhuming the corpses (which we buried with our own hands, the relatives of the dead often lacking the strength to do so), in order to nourish themselves therewith, and eat the leavings of foxes and dogs” (Jesuit Relations, vol. 40, p. 47).

Long before the Noble Savage strutted his hour upon the stage, there was another Indian familiar to Europeans, based more closely on actual encounters. Horace Greeley, the author of the adage “Go West, young man,” himself went west, and wrote of his discovery of the untrammeled Indian, “I have learned to appreciate better than hitherto, and to make more allowance for, the dislike, aversion, contempt, wherewith Indians are usually regarded by their white neighbors, and have been since the days of the Puritans. It needs but little familiarity with the actual, palpable aborigines to convince any one that the poetic Indian—the Indian of Cooper and Longfellow—is only visible to the poet’s eye” (Horace Greeley, Lo! The Poor Indian!” An Overland Journey from New York to San Francisco in the Summer of 1859).

Frontidspiece to Hobbes's Leviathan, one of the most famous bits of book illustration ever.
Thomas Hobbes, the original author of the idea of a “social contract,” grew to young adulthood in the days that England, his homeland, was starting its first settlements at Jamestown and Plymouth Rock. Far from endorsing the Noble Savage image, Hobbes argued that man in a state of nature lived a life that was, now proverbially, “nasty, brutish, and short.” The state of nature was, as indeed Darwin later saw it, a “war of all against all.” Government, then, was man's great effort to escape this hellish condition, and so to protect his rights to life, limb, and liberty against some stronger neighbour. To Hobbes, even the most authoritarian, undemocratic, autocratic, oppressive government was more desirable than this awful possibility of a state of nature. “Hereby it is manifest,” he writes in Leviathan, “that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man” (Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 13).

Where did Hobbes get such a misanthropic idea? Such a dark and sinister view of human nature?

As it happens, Hobbes is explicit:

“It may peradventure be thought, there was never such a time, nor condition of warre as this; and I believe it was never generally so, over all the world: but there are many places, where they live so now. For the savage people in many places of America, except the government of small Families, the concord whereof dependeth on naturall lust, have no government at all; and live at this day in that brutish manner, as I said before” (ibid.).

Hobbes, in short, was informed by contemporary reports from the American colonies.

This state of eternal war explains, to Hobbes' thinking, why Indian society had remained so materially undeveloped.

“In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short” (ibid.)

If innate conservatism were not already a central feature of Indian cultures, this alone would be enough to ensure they did not develop. It does not, of course, explain why Indian cultures since this condition ceased have still not produced very much.

Interestingly, then, the Indians of America are ultimately responsible for our current system of government: not just, as has often been said, for parts of the US Constitution, but for parliamentary democracy, for the idea of popular sovereignty, and for the doctrine of human rights. Hobbes's defense of absolute monarchy has long fallen out of favour; we have guillotines for that. But his essential insight of the social contract was built upon by John Locke, and liberal democracy was the result. Government is a pact we make to protect our rights. As part of that pact, we retain essential sovereignty, and have a right to always be consulted.

But Indian society was not the model: it was the counter example.

Living a life that was nasty, brutish, and short cannot have been nearly as much fun as it looks in the movies. But do not blame the Indians. They were its greatest victims. In said state of nature, each group faced a problem. Without some overarching authority to enforce it, laying down the tomahawk and seeking to live in peace with one's neighbours simply left one open to conquest, enslavement, and bloody murder. Everyone was a tiger with another tiger by the tail.

Enter, happily, the British and then Canadian government with their treaties. For the “white” authorities, these were all about land, about clearly, decently, and honourably “extinguishing aboriginal title.” The Indians, with no concept of land ownership, probably did not attach so much importance to this. Especially since they were still allowed to hunt. Whatever… For them, the treaties were about learning to assimilate, learning a new and better way to forge a living. But they were also, perhaps even more so, seen by the Indians as general peace treaties. Not so much peace treaties with the Canadian government: treaties of peace among the Indian tribes, with the federal government, and the redoubtable Mounties, reassuringly there to preserve it. Cree chief Sweetgrass sent an appeal for a treaty to Lieutenant-Governor Alexander Morris in 1871. He cites the need to learn farming, but also writes, “We made a peace this winter with the Blackfeet. Our young men are foolish, it may not last long. We want you to come and see us and to speak with us” (Alexander Morris, The Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the NorthWest Territories [1880; reprint, Saskatoon, Fifth House, 1991], pp 170-171). The Blackfeet, his antagonists, sent a similar message, calling for a treaty while complaining, inter alia, that “the Half-breeds [Métis] and Cree Indians in large Camps are hunting Buffalo, both summer and Winter in the very centre of our lands” (Treaty 7 Elders and Tribal Council. The True Spirit and Original Intent of Treaty 7 [Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1995], pp. 276-277).

A common rap against Locke's theories, and by extension against the philosophal underpinnings of liberal democracy and human rights, is that the original “social contract” is entirely a theoretical construct; that at no actual moment in history did any group of people actually, literally enter into any such contract, delegating some of their rights and powers for the sake of forming a government. It follows, then, if so, that governments are not legitimate. There was no deal.

But in fact, we have just such a historical example: the Indians of Canada, signing the numbered treaties.

Perhaps the greatest peril of the current, wildly romantic notion of a Noble native Savage living in an Edenic garden, is that Indians themselves now get most of their notions of “traditional Indian culture” from the popular media. Such misinformation encourages the Indian young in particular to try to return to a purely imaginary state. Such efforts cannot end well: even if it were possible to return to a state of innocence after knowledge, to crawl back up into your mother's womb and suck your thumb forever--before Jamestown, in all likelihood, is only Jonestown. Many modern Indians are left undermining the wisdom of their wisest ancestors.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Canadian Hostage Beheaded in Mindanao



My wife is Filipina. Indeed, her home town is in Mindanao, on the main road to Davao from the north. We plan to move to our home in the Philippines this summer. This has caused Canadian friends to express concern, given the recent beheading of Canadian hostage John Ridsdel by Abu Sayyef.

I wish I could reassure them by saying Ridsdel was taking unnecessary risks. We all like to believe that those who suffer great misfortune somehow brought it upon themselves. This calms our outraged yearning for justice, and reassures us that the same thing will not happen to us. We won't make the same mistake; we're smarter than that. But Ridsdel, an old Filipino hand, apparently did nothing foolish or reckless. He was kidnapped near Davao. Davao is in Mindanao, and parts of Mindanao are unsafe, but Davao is in the less remote and non-Muslim eastern part of the island, not the dangerous West, and is itself by reputation extremely safe. I have never been to Davao, and would worry about taking the road in, but my wife and I were actually talking of moving there not long ago. Partly because it is supposed to be the safest city in the Philippines, or even in East Asia.

In the end, any Third World country is dangerous. If government and police were reliable and effective, it would not be Third World. It is especially dangerous for anyone who looks European or North American. The typical Third World criminal, when he or she sees European or North American, sees money. If wishes were horses, I would not be moving to the Philippines. But, unfortunately, money is an object.

The only useful thought I think I can add in the present case is that it would be wrong to blame Muslims as a group or Islam for this. This sounds like a cop out, but I think it is not. This is not about Islam; that is a cover, a self-justification. The Philippines are a relatively poor country. Young people have trouble finding jobs. People actually starve to death. If you are poor and Muslim, the temptation is to join Abu Sayyef. If you are poor and non-Muslim, and female, prostitution is an option. If you are male, it isn't. Much like your Muslim neighbours, you similarly join the New People's Army, a Maoist organization active on the eastern side of Mindanao, and in most other remote regions. Given the vast ideological disparity, and the fact that you find something similar in just about any Third World country, the real issue is unlikely to be ideological. The point is money. It is a rough living, but it is a living.

For this reason, you cannot usefully negotiate. You cannot usefully acceed to any non-monetary “demands.” As the Philippine government well knows from experience, if you make a peace deal with one group, a new one will simply emerge to take their place. At the same time, it would have been a bad idea to pay the demanded ransom for Ridsdel; the Philippines government is right to counsel against this. It might have saved Ridsdel, but it would have guaranteed a rash of further kidnappings, of equally innocent foreigners. The surest way to prevent this sort of thing is to convince the miscreants that there is no money in it.


Of course, there is some slight chance I might find myself in the same situation as Ridsdel. If I did, I would probably, just like him, plea to be ransomed. Let the next guy leave his head in a ditch. There are no easy answers here.

The Coming of Rain



Storm-grey sky and cloud-foam--
The sea itself capsized,
And we below.

-- Stephen K. Roney


The North Carolina Bathroom Wars



He or she needs to pee.

Readers are probably aware of the ongoing North Carolina Bathroom Wars. My Facebook feed is full of it. Major celebrities are cancelling appearances in the state. Not to mention protests and pullouts by many large corporations, notably Target stores.

This time, it seems, it's total war.

And yet, this is all about a law that changes nothing, and should be common sense.

Traditionally, men are restricted to men's public rest rooms, and women are restricted to women's. The current North Carolina law would simply continue this practice, which was and is under threat from new ordinances in places like Charlotte. All it adds is a regular, legal method of checking in case of dispute that does not violate anyone's privacy: by the sex shown on the birth certificate. It does not call for any new enforcement procedure: only that a sign be posted advising everyone which washroom to use.

Back in the 1970's, the feminist movement pushed for an “Equal Rights Amendment.” It failed, primarily because, given the logic of recent “separate but equal” decisions by the US courts, openly requiring equality of treatment before the law between men and women in the US Constitution would logically require integrated toilets. It was obvious then, and went without saying, that this was not in women's interest. Surely the reasons are obvious? As it happens, men and women are actually not the same. If nothing else, women can get pregnant as a result of sex, and men cannot. Ergo, women's interests in any encounter between the sexes need to be protected. Enforcing unisex washrooms amounts to an open door, literally, for rapists, sexual molesters, pederasts, and voyeurs. Equal rights in this case are a violation of women's rights to privacy, security of the person, and (for example, for those, such as orthodox Muslim women, who still believe in the virtue of modesty) freedom of conscience.

Forty or so years later, the left will no longer even listen to such counter-arguments. They want unisex washrooms. The N.C. bill designed to preserve separate restrooms, and titled, to make the intent clear, “The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act,” is instead always and only referred to in the mainstream media as the “anti-LBGT bill.” According to the left, it is rank discrimination if “transgender people” cannot freely choose for themselves which bathroom they use, depending on their own view of their “gender identity.”

This post is characteristic of the genre. It appeared of late in my Facebook feed:

http://uproxx.com/life/angry-dad-trans-bathroom-laws/

The irony here is thick as peanut butter. The article ends with an appeal for open-mindedness and tolerance. Yet it begins with a recommendation to un-friend on Facebook anyone who disagrees with you. If the author were at all open-minded, he would at least address the stated intention of the bill, clear in its very title, instead of imputing to its framers a different, unstated motive. The arguments and concerns of the bill's backers might be misguided, but honesty demands they be addressed in some way. To avoid accusing the writer and his original source of dishonesty—and the same goes for essentially every reporter and commentator on the bill in the mainstream media, and all those who repost this stuff on Facebook and elsewhere--it is necessary to assume an extreme closed-mindedness. They do not know the arguments for the bill, they never read it, and they do not want to know.

A Thai transsexual (male to female). Not a problem.

Note that the present bill would not affect transsexuals. They have always freely used rest rooms corresponding to their anatomical, not their genetic, sex. Nobody cares; most often, nobody knows. They would continue to do so under the present North Carolina bill. You use the rest room for the sex given on your birth certificate. Like most US states, North Carolina allows you to change the sex on your birth certificate if you have had “sex reassignment surgery.” This might be a bit of a hassle, but trivial compared to the surgery. And, in the real world, a transsexual probably would not need to bother. Nobody cares, and nobody with the new bill is going to be at the restroom door demanding to see your papers. If you look like a woman, why would anyone think to challenge you in the women's room? If you look like a man, most certainly, nobody will challenge you in the men's room. Where's the problem?

The problem, contrary to almost every piece of propaganda from the left, is not with allowing transsexuals, but with allowing “transgender people,” into the women's room. The left constantly uses this phrase, “transgender” but does not seem to understand what it means. They apparently think it means the same as “transsexual.” A transsexual is someone who has altered their anatomical sex with surgery. “Transgender” is a broader term. “Transgender” follows the feminist dogma that “gender” has nothing to do with anatomy or genetics, that it is a role assigned by society. The rest is just plumbing. Therefore, anyone can feel inwardly he is “really” a woman, or she is really a man, despite either genetics or anatomy.

Do you see the problem yet? 

The Rape of Lucretia. Problem.

Allowing such “transgender people” to choose which washroom to use, therefore, based only on their own claimed opinion as they state it to you, means in practice letting every man or woman choose for themselves which washroom to use at any given time. Yes, even at any given time. According to the politically correct definition, "transgender" includes "gender fluid." If challenged on entering the ladies' room, all anyone need do is say they feel like a woman today. And then perhaps file a complaint against the unadvisedly brave interrogator for discrimination on grounds of sexual identity.

Real transgender people, if they really exist, are of no concern here. Presumably they are not going to abuse this. But pederasts, rapists, molesters, and voyeurs certainly will. They cannot simply be held on their honour. If they were honourable, they would not be pederasts, rapists, molesters, and voyeurs. In effect, allowing “transgenders” free choice means the end to washrooms segregated by sex.

One response I have gotten, more than once, on pointing this out, is that there is no need to worry, because we already have laws against rape, molestation, voyeurism, and pederasty. But by this logic, we ought also not to waste good money on well-lighted transit stops, or police patrols. There is no good reason to avoid dark alleys, or certain districts of town. After all, we already have laws against anything bad that might happen.

Who cares if we have surrendered any good chance to prevent, apprehend or convict in court?

This may be the left's Waterloo. It is not just that they have jumped the shark. They have also now thrown women under the bus. It was all very well when they could make straight white males the villains. They are a minority. A little bit larger than the Jews, but still a minority. They can be pushed around. Also sacrifice the obvious interests of women, though, and you have doubled the numbers.

It only remains to be seen how strong the herd instinct is in keeping women in line. Or how long a ganeral closed-mindedness on the left will protect them from actual thought.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Hockey Memories


Roch Carrier as a young boy, wearing his shameful Maple Leafs sweater.

There is something forever about professional sports. They keep adding new teams; but you can generally ignore them. They start doing sissy things like wearing helmets. But even so, to watch a sports competition is to return somehow to your childhood. Like Christmas morning, or old Three Stooges shorts.

For me, of course, a Canadian, hockey is prime. The sound of a skate cutting ice; the red light behind the goal; the organ playing. I was recently reminiscing. What else can you do when you're bedridden? I started handing out imaginary trophies left and right, in the NHL tradition. But not to players. That would be boring. They'd all go to Wayne Gretzky. Besides, it's been done. To teams, on the PR front, rather than for feats on the ice.


Howie Morenz

Most iconic team: no debate here. It's like Wayne Gretzky. Montreal Canadiens, of course. Other teams have a certain storied history—Toronto, Detroit, Edmonton, Boston, NY Islanders—but no one else comes close. They may be in the same league, but they're not in the same league. The Canadiens are Harvard; and there is no Yale. They are Oxford; and there is no Cambridge. They are Eaton's, and there is no Simpson's. Actually, there's no Eaton's any more either.

Ottawa Silver Seven, 1905

Best logo: Chicago Blackhawks. An amazing work of art; it never gets old. Colourful, yet not garish. Not simple, yet not complex. Of course, they will probably soon be forced to retire it, because it shows an Indian head. Among other logos, the new Winnipeg Jets' symbol seems really classy to me. The St. Louis Blues logo is simple, but strong. New Jersey's is pretty cool. Buffalo's is elegant. 

Chicago logo.
Of the original six, the worst logo was always New York Rangers. It is really no logo at all. Can't afford a designer? More recently, Calgary Flames is pretty weak. The flame motif worked well with the letter “A” for Atlanta, but looks juvenile with “C.” Carolina Hurricanes is worst among newer teams. It looks like something from a cheap 1950s paperback cover when they could only afford two colours of ink. Pittsburgh Penguins' strikes me as embarrassing to have showing on your chest. Granted, Anaheim Ducks' logo also looks cartoonish, but that is okay, because it is intentional. I don't like the Ottawa Senators' logo. Too generic. Are they sponsored by Roman Meal? 

Gretzky as a Ranger.
The logo is not too bad, but Edmonton Oilers should take some sort of prize for the ugliest uniform. Really. It's not Hallowe'en. Vancouver Canucks used to rule this category, and Edmonton used to have a rather nice uniform. But then, they used to win hockey games. How can you take yourself seriously, dressed like a pumpkin?

My trophy for the best team name goes to Buffalo Sabres. That captures something. Chicago Blackhawks and New Jersey Devils are also pretty cool. They make rich references to local history and legend, instead of just naming another sports team after another mangy animal.



Worst team name: Columbus Blue Jackets. Is that a name, or just a description of the uniform? Of course, if the latter, it is wrong. Hockey teams do not wear “jackets.” I've also never liked “Edmonton Oilers.” Profoundly unoriginal, since they are predated by the Houston Oilers of the NFL. Anyway, whats an “oiler”? An Italian teenager getting ready for a date?

Most lamented team: Montreal Maroons. New York and LA. have multiple teams. Toronto and Montreal could certainly support them too. Could be great rivalries. In the old days, Montreal Maroons were the Anglo Montreal team, and the Canadiens were the French. Sadly, that tribe is mostly gone, and they would probably lack a sufficient fan base. But they would be my team, anyway. 

Nels Stewart, Montreal Maroons


I lamented the Minnesota North Stars' move, too. It was a great team name, and an obvious hockey market. Now, of course, they have been replaced in the Twin Cities by the Wild. The market is again served, but it is still an inferior team name. Quebec Nordiques were also a massive loss, for the sake of the rivalry with Montreal. I hope they are revived in the next expansion. Quebec was part of the NHL from the beginning. I also miss the Toronto Maple Leafs.

What, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still in operation? Who knew?