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The Political Animal

The GOP’s Media-Manufactured Messiahs

 

They might have learned something from the original breakfast flake of modern times Ross Perot. But the news media do not learn. They speculate, they trumpet, they pander, they shill – “It’s news! How can we not cover news?!”

And who made it news?

You’d think certainly they would have learned from Rudy and Fred Thompson, the real Law and Order and the fake. (The Army Corp of Engineers is still calculating the size, impression, and speed of Thompson’s 2008 face-fall.)

Their attention span is so short, that it took less than a week for the long-heralded Rick Perry, on the basis of one, by this point, SOP conservative gaffe-charge – the “treasonous” Ben Bernanke – for the MSM to begin fishing around for another savior: once more into the news-cycle breach Chris Christie. Et tu, Paul Ryan? Say, why not James O’Keefe? There must be a promising high school Young Republican who can “look presidential” if you squint.

But, they will protest, Karl Rove talked about it. How can we not repeat his talking points, float a trial balloon for him, claim the news cycle for him, shill for him, report the news? For today’s journalists, who skipped the training in editorial judgment and who present the truth and the lie as two sides of an argument, anything a pol says, no matter how false, manipulative, and self-promotional is news that simply must be reported. To remind, as well, as they signed up for the second coming of Perry, that the man consorts with an American turn on the Muslim Brotherhood and that he publicly titillated Texas crowds with talk of secession from the union – which last time, we will recall, produced a civil war that rent the nation and cost nearly three quarters of a million lives – well, this might be considered taking sides, and the media wouldn’t want to do that. Better, instead to function as megaphones for the real media masters.

Now the same mimickers of political-class drivel fuss over Perry’s extreme comments about Bernanke as if that’s news. And search again for the new messiah. Might they rather report on what is the real story – that the GOP has descended to levels of anti-intellectual ignorance, corporate plutocracy, chauvinism, xenophobic and racial hostility, and militaristic belligerence that have probably not been seen from a major political party in a putative democracy outside of the Balkans since the early 1930s? That it says something worth deeply pondering about the GOP that with so many candidates in its field, the party itself recognized that there is something somehow wrong? With Islamist-styled religious extremists (Perry and Bachmann)? With historically and naturally ignorant McCarthyites (Bachmann and Palin)? With self-righteous apologists for colonialism who cheat on and abandon their cancer-stricken wives (Newt Gingrich)? With religious fear mongers (Cain)? With crackpots who attract anti-Semites and white supremacists and who think there’s nothing wrong with the U.S. that 1927 couldn’t fix (Ron Paul)?

What’s the worst you can say about Mitt Romney, that he’ll tell you anything you want to hear? Swear that man in – that’s presidential.

But the MSM, which cannot, because it will not, think, will instead keep heralding, from week to week, the next great thing in GOP candidacy – and the heat of Perry’s campaign, under which they are the ones holding the match – claiming that Washington is broken, without making distinctions, and utterly failing to see they’re broke down themselves and completely blocking the road.

AJA

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Categories
Indian Country

The Open Mind I: Wrap Up

So I have posted, on the subject of Native America, “Call Me Irresponsible,” and ShrinkWrapped has riposted. His commenters have contributed in full measure. We’ve had a couple of other voices. Where do we stand?

One ShrinkWrapped commenter had some sage advice at the start:

let’s practice listening carefully to each other and asking clarifying questions when needed. So many arguments go down a rathole when we assume we know what the other person means, but those assumptions can be wrong. (I make this mistake all the time and am trying to learn to see my assumptions and translate them into questions!)

The commenter’s advice was not much followed. People state their position repeatedly. They try varied arguments toward the same end, and if it appears there has been an answer to an argument, they do not acknowledge it, but simply move somewhere else. The effort always is to hold ground and concede nothing. That way lack of progress and a sense of futile argument for argument’s sake lies. I tell my students that one does not persuade on matters of values at the time of argument, in fact, probably never, but that if one does, it is over time, with seeds of an argument that have been planted long before.

Here is an attempt to state where we are.

Photograph by Julia Dean
Photograph by Julia Dean

Responsibility

Three major issues of division arose. The first was on the issue of “responsibility.” On the whole, conservative commenters responded on that subject with great umbrage, persisting in perceiving responsibility as “guilt.” To be told that the United States today should accept a responsibility for the historic treatment of Native Americans and the continuing effects of that treatment was, in their perception, to be assigned personal guilt for acts they never committed. Some even spoke of any present day policies to benefit Native America, out of the sense of responsibility I call for, as “punishment” to them. (Though I never raised the issue, and there are so many policies that might be pursued, many presumed I was calling for reparations and angrily rejected the idea.) Despite my own persistent efforts to direct conservative commenters to a much broader range of meaning for the word “responsibility,” the meanings I intend when I use the word in the context of this discussion – obligation, duty, care – I have been unsuccessful, and they continue, often, to use the word “guilt” despite the fact that it is not that idea that I mean.

It does strike me, however, that insisting on a meaning for the word “responsibility” that I do not intend, and which I have said I do not intend, “guilt” – there are multiple meanings for the word, and “guilt” is not one that I intend – makes it easier to reject my argument. I would reject it too if what was meant is “guilt.” As I have stated, I have no cause to feel guilt, and do not feel any. What I have done is used the rhetorical figure distinctio – I have defined the meaning of a word for the purposes of discussion in the context of a discussion I myself have raised. To reject, in part, my argument based on a meaning for the word I did not intend is not to reject my argument, but an argument I did not make.

Another aspect of the responsibility divide had to do with both the collective and temporal nature of any responsibility toward Native America. Conservatives rejected the collective nature of responsibility in several parts. One is that there is always an individual component to collective responsibility, and so an individual will be made to pay in some way – if financially, through the use of one’s tax contribution – as a manner of restitution, for a transgression one did not personally commit. This collective concern was intensified by the temporal concern: the farther back in time any hypothetical transgression, the less of any kind of personal responsibility – the manner in which conservatives frame the matter – conservatives were willing to consider. I am not unsympathetic to these concerns, especially to the extent that individuals are, on an actual individual basis, diminished in their situation or prospects in order to address what is conceived as a collective responsibility. I expressed this concern in Affirmative Factions and Finding Meaning in the New Haven Firefighters Case.

However, while the conservatives at times seemed blank in the face of my notion of a national-cultural collective responsibility, as if I were conjuring a fifteenth dimension beyond anyone’s ken – or pulling a rabbit from a hat – the reality is that this responsibility pervades the very concept of a national entity, and every aspect of the functioning of the state. With regard to taxes, people’s tax money is expended daily on policies they do not as individuals support – wars, health programs, educational programs, the very tax policies themselves. The social contract requires that individuals accept – to an always contested degree – that they have collective obligations (responsibilities) separate from those that arise from them individually.

I mentioned to one commenter the German reparations to Israel (a nation that didn’t even exist when the Holocaust occurred) as an obvious example of a collective national responsibility being enacted. The commenter rightly pointed out that those reparations have gone to “actual victims” of the Nazis. I remarked in return that the example at least demonstrates the principle of collective national responsibility for a national crime, even if particular individuals in the responsible nation were not themselves blameworthy. Another example is from the U.S. itself, where reparations were paid to Japanese-Americans – along with apology made – for the World War II internments.

The Japanese-American reparations established two precedents. The first is that many taxpayers, including me, whose tax payments funded the reparation payments, were not alive during the Second World War, and thus contributed financially toward amends making for a transgression they did not themselves commit. It was never suggested in the process of amends making toward Japanese-Americans that individual Americans, including those whose tax monies funded the reparations, were themselves individually guilty of any crime. Indeed to make such a claim without supporting through evidence the specific individual guilt of each individual would be to commit the fallacy of division – to distribute to the parts of the whole the attributes of the whole.

In addition, some of the reparation payments went to heirs, and not only to direct victims of the internment policy, which thus was a breach of a temporal barrier between direct victims and an act of rectification.

The Japanese-American reparations and apology were not without controversy, and so do not argue as a matter of course for my position on Native America. However, they do further establish that reaction to my argument as if it were the proposal of an outlandish, unheard of new conception – collective national responsibility – is without foundation.

Victimhood

This was a major focus of ShrinkWrapped himself, and did not become a fulcrum of the debate with commenters, though it did arise. It is too complex an issue to treat here, essentially from scratch. I do not disagree with SW about the culturally and personally debilitating character of self-perceptions entrenched in victimhood. However, that is not to say that there are not, in fact, personal and cultural effects of victimization on the scale of a culture – and potentially long-lasting, inherited psycho-social dysfunctions that can arise from centuries of slavery or conquest. Of course, this is a long-standing matter of dispute between liberals and conservatives, and manifested itself in the present debates in the “get over it” or “move on” argument.

The Artwork of San Carlos Apache Douglas Miles
The Artwork of San Carlos Apache Douglas Miles

Natural Selection/Cultural Superiority

A commonly expressed position among the conservatives was that a form of natural selection of cultures occurs through history. Human history, and the advance in power, variously considered, of civilizations, has been marked by not only extraordinary human accomplishment, but extreme brutality, even barbarism, as well. With this I agree. One commenter made the point, to which I acceded, that a distinction of the Western culture that ascended to predominance over the latter part of the second millennium CE is that it is primarily the originator of the humane values by which it is sometimes judged by others and itself. Beyond that, however, no consideration seemed to be given to the moral dimension of this historical evolutionary process. Is it appropriate to consider the competition among civilizations and cultures in no manner differently than that between pre-human, pre-civilized species and species of animals, no differently than competing physical adaptations or, as one commenter put, phenotypes within one species? Certainly, there are sociobiologists who argue for this amoral dimension to human evolution, even beyond that the evolution of civilizations. Such an argument, of course, is fraught with implications and dimensions that were not considered in this discussion.

An attempt to limit the amoral boundaries of the natural selection argument was made by distinguishing a morally unaccountable past with a presumably accountable present, whatever transgressions having been committed against Native America occurring, according to the arguments, in this proposed past. I asked questions intended to determine the temporal boundary between this past and the present, and the criteria for making the determination of the boundary. I received no replies. At what point in time national cultures become historically responsible for their collective actions, and before which time they get a “natural selection” pass, remained undemarcated.

There was also the dimension in this argument of a kind of statute of limitations on transgressive national behavior – it seemed based upon the lifetimes of those living in a nation at the time of any transgression, with accountability for the transgression passing with those lives. The implications of such an argument were not considered.

A profoundly embedded aspect of the natural selection argument, sometimes nearly explicitly stated, other times more implicitly so, was that survival through selection is evidence in itself of a form of cultural superiority. Some conservatives very directly accused Native American cultures – almost always addressed as if they were a homogenous whole and indistinguishable as are other cultures – of being debased cultures, with this debased character seeming to, in fact, offer justification for, and excuse from, the European and then American treatment of Native peoples. The argument that Western cultural superiority is demonstrated by the intellectual tradition and humane values it has developed, by which it judges its own behavior vis-à-vis other cultures serves as both a compelling and a contradictory argument. It is compelling, I think, because demonstrably so, but contradictory because the natural selection – if we are to consider it that – took place not because of those traditions and values, but through behavior and policies in direct violation of them: and conservative justification based on natural selection only continues the violation.

Except, briefly, by one non-conservative commenter, no discussion was had on the profound, indeed ultimate, question of what, other than Darwinian success, actually constitutes superiority in a culture: no consideration of what kind of society offers its members – psychically, spiritually, intellectually, and materially regarded – the most satisfactorily integrated experience, within themselves, within the society, and within the natural world. Nonetheless, conservatives did seem to argue from the stance that the victorious American culture possessed superiority to Native cultures (generalized as a single culture).

A Navajo Family
A Navajo Family, photograph by Julia Dean

In Closing

The most recent comment posted to this blog offers a perfect opportunity to close. It highlights a fundamental difference of starting point in a very honest and clarifying way.

By insisting that the acceptance of responsibility must come BEFORE any discussion of an actual problem, you are essentially demanding that I give up any right to logically analyze what problems Native Americans have, and what may or may not best be done about it.  You are demanding that I start the conversation by giving up my right to participate in the conversation.

For those on the left, this discussion (about historical transgression, not current policy choices) was long ago had, and its conclusions clearly reached. For the left, the nearly five hundred year history of colonialism, running through the 1960s, is well established history – there is no more firmly established history – as is the extended history of abuses, deceits, and, indeed, barbarisms committed almost always, perversely, in the name of highly articulated principles and values. Within this history falls the conquest of the Americas by Europe – not the discovery, but the conquest – and as part of that the atrocious record of not occasional, but constant brutality (however much returned) toward American Indians, and the unremitting record of broken vows, treaties, and dishonorable conduct. Even, for instance, the Southern tribes that became known as the Five Civilized Tribes – the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Seminole, and Creek (Muscogee) – who chose to, and made profound efforts and progress toward, assimilating as long as two hundred years ago, in agriculture, commerce, dress, education, and political organization and participation, were nonetheless consistently abused and betrayed over a hundred-year-long period that nearly destroyed, in fact, at one point, legally disenfranchised their communities.

All of this is the starting point for those on the left, no more arguable than the Holocaust, which is, and should be, beyond argument. When I made the single brief reference I did to Native America in my announcement of The Open Mind, this is the ground on which I stood. What followed followed.

None of this history determines without discussion the understanding of conditions and circumstances today or what policy choices might be made in consequence of understanding those conditions and circumstances. But that history is for the left, for me, the starting point.

If we have made no progress in reaching agreement during this debate – and who can know – I believe we have clearly progressed in delineating the differences.

AJA

Categories
Indian Country

The Open Mind I: Call Me Irresponsible.

Dear Shrink,

By this point I’ve enjoyed my long draft of Alka Seltzer (extra strength – and lemon-lime, to obscure that particular bitter taste), and brought up the deep grepts that expells the heavy load of indigestion.

I confess, I had hoped for a different beginning. But then I, according to some, am a liberal who, by definition, lives in a world of foolish hopefulness (and that is putting the best face on it). You, it appears, have some similar, non-defining impulse, too. You should check that in yourself.

The response of your commenters has changed the game.

I arrived home from an evening out and sat before the eerie glow of my laptop screen, my face bathed in a growing, fearful speechlessness. Not that Julia wished to talk about any of it.

When I wrote my introduction to our Open Mind experiment, I closed with a reference to Native America. It was, I thought, an obligatory – which is not to say unheartfelt – observation. To offer brief, equally heartfelt encomium, as I had just done, to our shared, founding ideals and not recall another, less flattering shared conception seemed impossible. After all, our blog claims in its subhead to report, above all, on our travels in Indian Country, before other terrains. Many take our blog title to be a reference to such reportage, though the About page tells a different story. This story, this Native story, is the guiding light of our travel. How could I, if only in passing, not?

Never anticipating.

Earlier in that day, I had conducted a long interview with Carrie Billy, a Big Water Clan Navajo and president of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, which advocates for the nation’s Tribal Colleges. One of the topics of conversation, as in all my interviews, was the widespread disregard among the general public of Native America, of its difficulties, of its uniqueness within the society, of the historic injustices, of the continuing injustices. Though I am well aware of darker sentiments – in the early 1990s, for instance, in Minnesota, during a period of dispute over fishing practices, I directly observed the non-Indians who wore t-shirts and baseball caps that declared “Spear an Indian, not a fish” – it was unconscious disregard I thought the relevant problem.

While the Dred Scott decision is justly reviled in the history of American jurisprudence, effectively overturned, in its principles, by the Fourteenth Amendment – and declared to be so by the Supreme Court itself in the Slaughter House cases – no similar revulsion attaches to Johnson v. M’Intosh, the 1823 Court decision that determinatively justified the European taking of Indian land, continued by the United States, by right of Discovery, claiming Indians to be “an inferior race of people, without the privileges of citizens, and under the perpetual protection and pupilage of the government.” Though citizenship was ultimately granted over a hundred years later, it is fair to say that the decision itself, and its historic significance, goes quite widely unknown. For most Americans, Native America is simply invisible. It is disregarded.

Life, however, about such beliefs, as in other matters, is self-correcting, a point of pride among many of your conservative readers – at least regarding conservatives.

That your readership – those among it that comment – is fiercely engaged, there is no doubt.  And they are readers, too, which should be a point of pride. Some, at your blog and mine, attempted to engage me, in gentlemanly fashion, on the issues. Some were congenial at the prospect of our exchanges. Others, however, having heard word that a liberal was coming to dinner, took that as permission from politeness to fart at the table.

Some did me the honor of visiting our blog and reading more of me, even going so far as to read “Aboriginal Sin.” If only they had done me the service of reading more closely, and better, and me, and not the straw man they reassuringly clutch to their chests, to spare them the effort of thinking – on each new occasion, with each new person – anew. With – what shall we call it – an open mind?

One reader perceived – not me, no, some moral grifter in his own mind – whilst I performed a duty to the current commitment of my life, as trying to “guilt-trip” you all. “I think I can sniff out a con game as well as the next person,” the reader said, “and I’m getting a strong smell of the long con here.” Surely, the acquired disability to recognize a genuine belief sincerely expressed, with a humane intent, is among the more regrettable losses of human affect.

Another, empathetic Canadian-based reader recognized in me and my views the reader’s self of twenty-five years ago. As my views, generally speaking – oh, yes, there has been evolution and alteration – are those of my own self twenty-five years ago, the anecdotal implication that conservative transformation is an evolutionary advancement of age seems properly, still, anecdotal and without argumentative force. Perhaps it was the Canadian Club.

Then there was the litany of smug stereotypes and condescensions

one thing that separates liberals from conservatives is that we conservatives are familiar with how liberals think whilst they have no idea what makes us tick…. We’re embarrassed that we once were impervious to facts, logic and evidence.

the only reason to talk to a liberal is to hone your skills at argument and deepen your understanding of what you really think….Talking to a liberal is something you do to strengthen your brain and remind yourself of the futility of it.

I like to think that we conservatives base our values on observed data, not on unfounded assumptions or utopian schemes.

In speaking with liberals it is not their ideas which are problematic but their absolutism. That their concepts are absolutely correct, that they must be universally adopted, that all disagreement is the true sign of a deficient lesser being and must be crushed.

Hmn. “Deficient and lesser being.” Why does that attitude seem eerily familiar? But let’s go on. One reader perceived in me, apparently, some morphing of the Red Coat into the Red Menace as he let loose this hysterical paean to Patrick Henry over coffee with Tom Paine

Compulsion on the other hand does not apply to me as long as I can still breathe and reload. I reiterate for the limited, I do NOT seek to overthrow anything or anybody, neither do I seek trouble with any man. But neither does my knee bend, not to ideology or man.

Whoa. And I didn’t even mention the NRA. Somebody get that man a Quaalude.

But all this is trifling. Really. It is trifling in the expression and in my consideration. I’ve smelled farts before.

The misreading and the misrepresentations among those so much more logical than I begin the substantive part of my disturbance.

Regarding the matter of guilt, I always say that while the crimes of conquest were being committed throughout the Western Hemisphere, my ancestors, including, theoretically, all four of my grandparents and my father were being raped and murdered by Cossacks in Ukraine. I feel no guilt. No one not involved in current injustice – and it exists – need feel any personal guilt. And I said this at the end of “Aboriginal Sin” (though perhaps that was too far to read)

We must do this not because we are personally guilty of the crime against native peoples. None of us lived when the genocide was committed, and in the United States most may not have ancestors who were even on the continent when these acts were took place. But if we are not familial, we are cultural descendents of those who committed this wrong, and like any people of conscience, we must accept the full legacy of that which we inherit, all that is so great and kind to us and all that is not.

“Aboriginal Sin” at no point argues, and I never – as so many of your readers seemed to mistake – that we as individuals are in any way sinful because of the history that was its subject. The claim, which it seems clear many of your commenters equally reject, is that the sin – like slavery – is a national, a societal, a cultural sin. I expanded on this theme in Historical Identity and Cultural Responsibility. Some of your readers still in need of an expectorant might wish to read it.

Similarly, several readers attack the straw man of the idealized Native. I wrote in “Aboriginal Sin” that “indigenous peoples need not be idealized to recognize the wrong that was done them.”

I was charged with detonating somewhere (one never knows that precise location of a specter): “Marxist revisionist post-modern neutron bombs” and being “very entrenched in Marxist labor/use theory and liberation theology” – every one of those descriptors being dramatically, laughably inapposite. It was charged by the same reader that I am “[s]omeone who cannot keep himself from evangelizing about the heinous imperialistic slave owning knuckle dragging cavemen who founded AmeriKKKa in his announcement of a blog experiment.” I take that expansive adjectival rush into KKKness as something of a fit, and fortunately there is a doctor in the house, but I challenge any reader to go return to my single clause, alone or within its context, and find justification for that ludicrous mini-diatribe.

Indeed, in “Aboriginal Sin” I wrote

Other nations have no basis upon which to feel condescension and contempt. Racism and cultural arrogance are observable all over the globe. When the imperial nations of the colonial era decided out of practical necessity and a growing moral imperative to forswear slavery and, ultimately, recede from their colonies, they had the luxury of withdrawing into homogenous cultures and maintaining mostly symbolic ties. It is the nations born of their colonies that have had to struggle to face the consequences and obligations of the African diaspora produced by the slave trade, and of the conquest and genocide of aboriginal peoples. It is in the New World and its outposts that the great laboratory was incidentally constructed to test whether human beings can ever live together, heterogeneously, in the face of what they have done to each other.

“Then again, my reading of it all might be wrong,” offers the reader.

Ah, yeah. But then I’m just a liberal, not, judging by descriptions of them, really entirely quite human. Why engage me in a fair-minded and unrabid state?

Let’ s now, though, focus solely and finally on the truly important subject, SW, which is not me but Native America. And as I focus, I’ll be asking some questions that can clarify thought, and they all have to do with making distinctions, a fundamental aspect of clear thinking. Such avowedly logical thinkers as we have among your local commentarial will surely address them with ease.

In the comments there was fairly common talk of American Indians in generality, as if they are a single group. Not to recognize distinction, of course, is to make something disappear. We recognize distinctions in words. To have no word for it is not to think it. If we do not think it, it does not exist. A commenter wrote, “The American Indian was ALL about tribalism. Tribalism, by definition, devalues the ‘other’.” There is certainly no devaluation greater than disappearance. You cannot be more “other” than unnamed. In documented history, who has been more “otherized” for more sustained periods, more pervasively, and  to more devastating effect than the Jew, the African under colonial rule and in slavery, and the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere?

The term “tribal” is problematic. Often, used pejoratively, it is itself a form of “other” creation. Almost any negative practice attributed to groups commonly defined as “tribal” can be found in abundance among groups not so designated. Reference was made to inter-tribal warfare. Can any European perspective ever be offered that condemns or diminishes other cultures on the basis of the frequency, extent, or mortal effect of their war making? What is the distinction? Among anthropologists it is found that many cultures referred to themselves as did the Navajo, and it is argued that this is a demonstration not of any elevated propensity for “other” creation but of the ethnocentrism common to all peoples. It is in the integral nature of cultures to prefer themselves over others. I believe I saw evidence of this in the comments

And the best culture won, frankly, and I am glad of it.

There are 562 federally recognized American Indian tribes. More, such as the Pamunkey, who were among the Powhatan Confederacy, present when the Jamestown colony was founded – and whom I have traveled now to see in Virginia – are State recognized. There are approximately 250 European languages in just 3 genetic units. Estimates are that there were as many as 1500 North and South American languages at first European contact. California alone has 74 indigenous languages, with 18 genetic units. Language is a fundamental designator of cultural identity. It is why the United States, through culture destroying Indian boarding schools, focused on denying the students forcibly removed to them their language. It is why so many in the United States care so much about the English language and resent claims of preference for others.

To deny the existence of cultural distinction – eliminate identity in difference – is to demonstrate The Dominating Mentality of Conquest. Readers may wish to engage it if they’ve some phlegm left to expel. Conquest has different forms. Domination is most profoundly exercised in the very blindness to it. The other isn’t even seen. For more, read The Honor of the Mascot.

One of your readers, commenting on the Mentality of Conquest, at the sad red earth (some utopian I!) took strong, disdainful issue with my reference to the Indians’ “inherent” right to be here in contrast to the “circumstantial” right of others. Now, you and I, so far, have identified one area of agreement – our resolute support of Israel. On what do you base yours? Mine flows in great measure from my identity as a Jew, but we both know that is no guarantee of the kind of support we both feel. Some assert a religious claim. The land was promised by the God of the Covenant. Not I. Nor most, I think. Jews have a right to a state, a homeland in Israel because of their historic connection to the land. It is an essential right, an intrinsic right, an inherent right, almost two thousand years later or not. To the point, anti-Semites, within the Arab world or without, will often attempt to deny the Jewish claim by absurdly denying the historical connection.

So we come to the argument your readers made more than once, that displacement of one people by another has been the course of human history. Interestingly, the first draft of “Aboriginal Sin” began on just that point. (But magazines have limitations in coverage and sharper focus was required.) But is there any distinction between migratory expansion, let us say, of early Homo Sapiens into Europe, because of any kind of sustainability or climatological impetus, through which it ultimately, evolutionarily, supplanted Homo Neanderthal, and a group enjoying the early or mid-level developments of civilianization – including codified behavioral norms – making war on another such group in conscious pursuit of material gain and the aggregation of cultural power?

Is there any difference between this second instance and a more advanced civilization – one with highly articulated religious beliefs, moral codes, and philosophical concepts, beliefs, codes, and concepts that would, by any measure, preclude and forbid it – engaging in the same behavior, and doing so with utter brutality?

Argued one reader

By our standards, that doesn’t make what the white man did right, but that is how everyone ‘played’ back then. And the operative ‘rules’ of the time are the only fair barometer in applicable judgment….It is in the liberal premise; that what is true for us now, should be the barometer of judgment for previous generations, wherein the dispute lies.

This question, then, is related to the last: when does “back then” cease to be “back then” and become now? What was the age – the year CE – of civilized majority at which national cultures became ethically responsible for their conduct and it was no longer acceptable to write transgressions off to some pre-moral, pre-responsible age of development? Did we reach it only with the Holocaust? Is that an acceptable Turkish defense for the Armenian genocide? Is 1890, the commonly designated end of the Indian Wars, the convenient demarcation?

This is not a matter, as one reader put it, of whether the European was an “outlier in history.” There was sufficient brutality, from the Spanish chopping off the feet of the Acoma Pueblo men who survived their attack, and enslaving them, to the pathetic concentration camp that for years was the San Carlos Apache Reservation, to the near extermination of the Pequot in 1638, to the display of the Wampanoag King Phillip’s head on a stake at the Plymouth Colony for twenty years.

There is among the comments an inclination, it seems, to defend the European conquest on the basis of its very success. That the American Indian could not resist the European advance is proof of European cultural superiority. That’s the way it was back then, and besides

thousands of years of human occupation of the Americas had not produced cultures that were able to both hold and defend the values in which Jay so deeply believes.

This all constructs an ages old theory of justice: might makes right. Thrasymachus argues in defense of it in Plato’s Republic. If your readers haven’t read it, I’ll recommend them to it. Socrates does a far better job of exposing the theory’s flaws than your humble correspondent could ever hope to do. And a good eighteen hundred years before the arrival of Columbus, too.

Some of your readers seem deeply perturbed that anything might be asked of them – responsibility for anything or anyone, and even money:

We’re supposed to feel guilty, yes, for things we had no responsibility for which happened long before we were born….But we can’t stop there, we have to do more to acknowledge our guilt and be redeemed: we have to give money. Reparations.

I’ve never said a word about reparations, and, of course, it is not for me to say. I will point out that the Black Hills of South Dakota, of which one reader wrote, were the subject of a suit that went before the Supreme Court. The Court, in fact, found for the Sioux, in 1980, and awarded them the value of the land in 1877, the year the land was taken in violation of the existing treaty. With interest, the amount came to $105 million. However, the Sioux do not want the money, but the land, and have refused the award, which today has grown to over $400 million.

But, as one reader wrote, “At the end of the day, people are just people,” all alike The Sioux just don’t seem to get that. Another deficiency, no doubt.

Here is a thought, though: let’s forget about reparations – some chance – and consider instead the two trust fund litigations, the Individual Indian Money Trust Funds and the Tribal Trust Funds, trusts that have been holding compensation to Native Americans for use of their land since 1887. Your readers can find informative links at the sad red earth. The former suit is now thirteen years old. In 2007 Alberto Gonzalez testified before Congress that the IIM monies could amount to over $200 billion. Not reparations, but the Indians’ money, which the BIA has misappropriated, and for which it cannot account. The case led Judge Royce Lamberth – a Republican appointee of President Ronald Reagan – to declare after ten years of presiding over Department of the Interior stalling over the case:

Alas, our ‘modern’ Interior Department has time and again demonstrated that it is a dinosaur — the morally and culturally oblivious hand-me-down of a disgracefully racist and imperialist government that should have been buried a century ago, the last pathetic outpost of the indifference and Anglocentrism we thought we had left behind.

Now there was an opened mind.

So, you see, no one needs to be responsible for the past, for anyone else’s actions. All we need do is be responsible for ourselves – I think we’re all in favor of that – and for our own actions, in the present. All we need do is give Native Americans what they are properly owed.

Well, now, for me, as I write, the hour is late, and this communication has been already two days delayed – and I’ve gone on very long. I want to close by offering you a series of quotes. Some are from among your readers’ comments, some are from the nineteenth century, from people who appear in the public record as, let us say, no friend to the American Indian. I have made some minor, cosmetic changes to the reader comments, altering verb tense and particular vocabulary that would be revealing of time period. Anyone is free to make comparisons to see if I have done anything unfair. I wonder if, without checking, you can distinguish them.

The Indians are children. Their art, wars, treaties, alliances, habitations, crafts, properties, commerce, comforts, all belong to the very lowest and rudest ages of human existence. … they are utterly incompetent to cope in any way with the Europeans or Caucasian race

Indians have no concept of mercy and compassion. Those concepts are entirely foreign to their culture. The proverbial ‘law of the jungle’ is fully operative in their cultures.

If they stand up against the progress of civilization and industry, they must be relentlessly crushed. The westward course of population is neither to be denied nor delayed for the sake of all Indians that ever called this country their home. They must yield or perish

As for ‘stealing the land’ from Indians…stealing is the Indian’s standard ‘modus operandi’. You can’t do the right thing and buy the land from the Indians in an honest trade for they have no concept of private ownership, nor of tribal ownership beyond that of ‘might makes right’.

Of all the groups in America I have seen and lived around, Indians are the most personally corrosive and socially destructive I have encountered, bar none.

The most vicious cowboy has more moral principle than the average Indian

Wherever they go, this inferior native population, as a result of amalgamation, and that great law of contact between a higher and a lower race, by which the latter gives way to the former, must be gradually supplanted, and its place occupied by this highest of races….

Open minds? Maybe with a forceps to the cranium.

Yours truly,

AJA