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Conversation Between Mikko Sandt and Daveman
Showing Visitor Messages 1 to 10 of 15
  1. Mikko Sandt
    11-04-2008 06:32 PM
    Mikko Sandt
    Since when we've been limited to 1000 letters per post?

    I really don't see how you've come to the conclusion that cultures cannot be ranked. Can you not say that a cultural trait that allows female genital mutilation is worse than a cultural trait that protects individuals from such violence? Or is western health care, a result of western rationalism, not better than eastern "health care" which is based on mysticism and superstition? We make value judgements all the time. If you're ready to condemn someone for mutilating a child (I'm sure you are) I see no logical reason why you should not be just as ready to condemn cultural traits that advocate mutilating children.
  2. Mikko Sandt
    11-04-2008 06:30 PM
    Mikko Sandt
    I never stated that the western culture is perfect. I simply stated that it is vastly better than other cultures. I never claimed cultures are static: I've for long acknowledged the evolutionary nature of cultures, now recognized as "memetic evolution". Cultures can adopt different traits from other cultures, such as Asians, traditionally collective, adopting western values via capitalism. This makes them more successful, just look at Japan or China which are both doing much better than without western influences.
  3. Mikko Sandt
    11-04-2008 06:23 PM
    Mikko Sandt
    I'm obviously not trying to cite Wikipedia in any school related work. I'm also not saying that if Wikipedia fails to mention something that something never happened. However, it's reasonable to assume that Wikipedia articles provide some kind of a consensus especially on major historical events. After all, it's constantly being checked by historians and such.

    Also, I never stated that imperial motives have never been materialistic, I was merely arguing against your claim that they always are. I also happen to study history (although with emphasis on contemporary history) and this is the view I have formed. I see no consensus supporting the idea that materialism per se has been the engine of imperialism. In some cases it has been, in some cases intangibles seem to have counted more.
  4. Daveman
    10-08-2008 09:17 PM
    Try citing Wikipedia in a college-level history course and tell me how it works out. Even on well-known historical events it's a really, really bad idea to use it as a source. And saying that "Wikipedia doesn't mention it" and therefore it didn't happen is a ridiculous claim. Not only is Wikipedia not trustworthy, it's not a standard location for amalgamated historical narratives to be compiled. I can tell you're smart but you're an economist and I'm an historian. I don't know if you'd trust Wikipedia for economics but it's sure as hell not reliable for history.

    And I'm not just assuming that motives for imperialism have been materialistic, historical scholarship (and the record itself) supports this. Believe it or not, history is a science and there's a lot you can glean from extant records, including motives. Yes, materialism has been the driving force in all kinds of nationalist expansion. In fact, I'm writing my senior thesis on how the Spanish drive for wealth came into conflict with (and overcame) Spanish ideas of race and purity in the New World.

    I agree that much of China's failure to expand and become a global power was its inward-focused culture. It's a really interesting case for anthropologists and cultural historians.

    I really don't think you understand what I'm getting at when I talk about value statements about cultures. Europe is not a perfect region. Hellenistic culture is not perfect. No culture is. It's difficult - impossible even - to say which culture is "the best" or "healthiest" because when you talk about how European culture is better than Native American culture, what Native American culture are you talking about? Are you talking about Native American culture before or after Europeans arrived? Saying that Hellenistic culture is good is even difficult because Hellenistic culture is constantly shifting according to who is adapting it or defining it for themselves. Culture is not an entity which can clash with other such entities. It's easy to think about it that way, but the thing you learn when you study history is that every easy generalization and mental image you thought you could make about the past is always a hell of a lot more complicated than you thought. Nothing is ever static, and culture is the same way. There is no "ideal" culture because "culture" is itself a generalized label of how people interact on personal, individual levels.

    tl;dr: Once again, I'm not saying that Hellenistic culture is the worst thing in the world. I'm saying that it's impossible to rank them in terms of "goodness". It's an absurd claim to make and it's entirely impossible to argue about it.
  5. Mikko Sandt
    10-08-2008 03:26 PM
    Mikko Sandt
    You're simply assuming that motives are always materialistic. I don't believe it was material gain per se that drove European rulers to imperialism. It was more likely national glory or some other collectivist purpose. National glory is, of course, pretty much always defined in terms of material wealth. (Not that there's anything wrong with that since the pursuit of wealth is perfectly in line with darwinism.) Cost-benefit analyzis (misguided or not) rarely drove European actors. It's not like things like national glory are tangible benefits.

    Wikipedia is a good reference and an aggregator and I'm sure if there was significant scholar research backing up your claim of a wide-spread, intentional smallpox campaign it'd say so in the article.

    Europe's resources and geography would have been meaningless without the new advent of western ideas about individual liberty and reason. China was a world leader in many ways and had great potential but it turned inward and collectivist. Geography means shit if you're driven by wrong ideas. Europe was able to break free of its eastern past. The Hellenic ideas that resurfaced during the Enlightenment were originally European. Europe was able to rediscover herself. The same can't be said of other cultures since their pasts never had significant "Hellenic" periods.

    This is also why it could have taken centuries or even millennia for some backward regions (like America) to reach our stage of development had they been left alone. Europe is not to be blamed for the problems third world countries are facing today. After the second world war Europe abandoned collectivism relatively quickly and rebuilt the continent. We only had to look across the Atlantic for a model, a model Europeans first created and then abandoned.

    Despite opposition to the west in the developing world at least there exists a successful system that puts the individual and reason, not superstition, first. When they want they can simply just adopt the system instead of going through hundreds of years of crap trying to figure it all out by themselves.

    As for the HRE, it doesn't really matter what was the source of collectivism. If you go back to the message where I first mentioned the HRE you'll see the point was merely that the HRE was an entity that was governed by collectivist laws. Pretty much any country in Europe throughout the Medieval period was ruled by collectivist laws, mostly religious, not because of the fact that kings gave religious actors authority but because religion also provided legitimacy to kings. The point was that Europe was not governed by western ideals during the Medieval period any more than the Third Reich or the USSR was governed by western ideals.
  6. Daveman
    09-27-2008 11:56 PM
    Also, you're overestimating the extent to which religion was a genuine authority in the sense of controlling people's lives in Medieval Europe. The Church was influential and certainly had a huge cultural impact, but in terms of concrete power it was more important as an economic entity than a political one. The Papacy existed because the Holy Roman Empire, France, Spain, Austria, and the Italian states allowed it to exist. When people had a problem or needed to turn to an authority, they turned to the local political authority, not the church. A lot of this has to do with the fact that Rome was more concerned with maintaining doctrinal uniformity throughout western Europe than it was in asserting its own authority, so while priests were fairly independent, they operated mostly independently from appointed bishops and archbishops. So the point of this unnecessarily long response is that the church was not the highest authority in the HRE or any European country. Not even culturally. Most priests came from the local population and local religion reflected local beliefs and practices more than collectivist ideologies.
  7. Daveman
    09-27-2008 11:14 PM
    Fair point about the HRE and distinction between Hellenic and Medieval cultures.

    As for the imperialism point, I'm not of course arguing that Imperialism was a smart choice - culturally, economically, or anything else, just that it was the choice made for materialistic purposes. Of course it was an inefficient system of governance and economics. Hell, Europe's economy was built around a system of slave labor for almost 400 years, and it would've been more efficient economically to enslave Europeans, but they felt more comfortable going to Africa and doing it. The point isn't that people will do whatever is most efficient and brutal in order to save the most money, it's that people will do what they THINK is the most efficient to save money, and it will happen to be brutal. Of course worker productivity increases when employees are happy, well-paid, and satisfied in their jobs, but it takes people a long time to see long-term like that because frankly, people are stupid.

    Also, Wikipedia is not an authority. Try checking modern historical scholarship for a better idea.

    I really do think you're missing my point in what I'm arguing. I'm really not saying that Western culture is more violent, repressive, or greedy than other cultures. I think it's no more violent than any other culture. I'd say you're ignoring the extent to which Western culture was shaped in modern times by its power and spread across the globe. Whatever idealized Hellenic culture you might glorify, it's meaningless to most people who live in a culture that's been shaped by hundreds of years of expansion and economic dominance and who now very often have selfish, ethnocentric views of the world.

    The point is, any culture would likely develop the same characteristics given the opportunity, but Europe was given excellent resources and geographical features that allowed it to spread overseas and expand (with some cultural influence, granted). The problem is that making value judgments about any culture is a bad idea, both because it idealizes a culture that allows for violence or oppression to take place and because it's downright impossible to know just how much other cultures would have developed the same way given the opportunity.
  8. Mikko Sandt
    09-27-2008 03:50 PM
    Mikko Sandt
    You missed the point about the HRE. It was merely an example of a union where individuals were governed by religious laws that didn't recognize individual rights. I could have picked any "country" where religion was the highest authority. By western culture I don't refer to religious entities of the Medieval period but to the Hellenic past and the Enlightenment period. Hellenic and Enlightenment ideals found a refuge in the US early and in Europe after the Second World War. Communism and Nazism were anti-western, anti-individualistic ideals that wrecked Europe while western, individualistic culture flourished in the US. Fascist ideas were merely a continuation of the Medieval trend. Backward, religious and barbaric collectivism of today should not be tolerated any more than European (or Japanese) collectivisim was tolerated during the 20th century.

    As for smallpox, at least this Wikipedia article doesn't support your claim that infecting natives with smallpox was more than just a few isolated cases. And, as I said, there was no need for a large-scale deliberate attempt since smallpox wouldd have wiped the natives out anyway.

    Also, you're ignoring the enormous costs imperialism imposed on European nations. Concentrating on material wealth alone as the point of imperialism smells of a Marxist worldview where everything is due to class struggle, means of production or money. Imperialism was costly, far more costly than open trade with 3rd world countries. The fact is that 3rd world countries have never been even nearly as much important to the West as the West has been to them.

    Your obsession with Marxism also explains why you seem to think that everything is due to personal greed. Many nations were driven by collectivist, especially nationalist, ideals and many did pursue campaigns in colonies that sought to better the lives of native populations. Late 20th century British colonialism was different from Portuguese or Dutch colonialism. Idealist fervor rather than personal greed turned intellectual climate in Europe toward collectivist ideas such as viewing nations as organic entities where very individual has some common purpose. Professors, thinkers and teachers had little to gain from imperialism.
  9. Daveman
    09-24-2008 07:21 PM
    Saying that Smallpox was just an unfortunate accident completely overlooks the fact that as soon as the Europeans knew Native Americans were susceptible to smallpox, they took deliberate attempts to expose them to it. Genocide can be deliberate in many forms, and the historical record is quite clear that it was a very deliberate effort. And it's not hard to see, considering the fact that these same Europeans were also at the time deliberately subjugating or exterminating all societies they encountered. There's no defense for that. None. If they were culturally "superior" they would have taken control through nonviolent means, but the trend through all of Western modern and pre-modern history has been to subjugate violently or subversively rather than interact on a respectful level.

    And if you think the Holy Roman Empire was even an "entity" that could be collectivist you need to study more Medieval history. The HRE wasn't even a major player through much of pre-modern history because it was entirely disunified. The reason Prussia and Germany became such huge, frightening powers in the modern era is because political unification finally caught up with cultural unification, right on top of a giant area with a wealth of natural resources.

    Anyway, the point is Christianity and other collectivist have for a LONG time been used rhetorically to justify political, economic, or military action. The Spanish went to the New World for money while telling everyone they were doing it for the Church. Europeans of almost every nationality colonized Africa brutally in pursuit of wealth, while justifying it by saying they were "civilizing" the Africans. Apartheid is a construct of the "White Man's Burden" philosophy, which was itself a post-hoc justification for exploitation. It's the same as Europeans altering their perceptions (and popular depictions) of native Africans once the Slave Trade started to prove lucrative.

    You seem to be under the impression that "collectivist" ideologies have always been to blame for atrocities when in fact personal greed has always been a driving force in such things.
  10. Mikko Sandt
    09-24-2008 03:07 PM
    Mikko Sandt
    There was no genocide. Apparently you're unaware of what the term means. If anything the destruction of Native American cultures was a serie of isolated incidents spanning hundreds of years. Some incidents were caused by American Indians, some by white men. Smallpox was not deliberately introduced - it didn't have to be. Its introduction was a tragic accident. (I don't deny that there may have been isolated incidents where smallpox was used as a weapon.)

    Native Americans were given, at least in North America, a fair change to assimilate. A civilized country won't allow pockets of tribes to live according to primitive laws just as modern day Europe shouldn't allow Muslims to set up Sharia courts in France, the UK and so on.

    I really don't see how Communism, Nazism or some collectivist religion (Christianity, Islam etc.) is collectivist just in name. The Soviet Union, the Third Reich or the Holy Roman Empire, just to mention a few, were all governed by laws that didn't recognize individual rights as primary. They were barbaric, anti-Western systems of government just as any African or American tribe that still hangs on to the mentality that the rights of tribes, clans or families matter more than those of the individual. Sick, barbaric collectivist cultures allow killing family members if they bring shame to the family.

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