Re: Europe and the Americas

thomas w kavanagh (tkavanag@INDIANA.EDU)
Tue, 20 Feb 1996 19:24:34 -0500

Dwight Reed makes two points and a conclusion. Taking them out of order
(point 1, conclusion, point 2):

In the first he responds to my characterization:

> "This is not to argue the basic point, which is not that "the" Americas
> were 'ahead' of "the" Old World (too much lumping there), but that at, say
> ca. 1000 AD *most* of Europe and *most* of the Americas were on the same
> basic cultural level--minus a few technological materials (wheels, iron,
> etc.)--local level political organization with some chiefdoms, local level
> production and some long distance trade in prestige goods."

by noting that there is a

> problematical assumption. By arguing that "new
> world cultures" were at the same level as, or more advanced than, "old world
> cultures" of the same time period, the assumption is being made that there IS
> a scale of "advancement" along which cultures can be measured or ranked.
> What constitutes this scale?
<snip to conclusion>
> [The problem] is not the relative status of "new world" versus "old
> world" peoples, but that a comparison is used which is fallacious in its
> framing--not in the misuse, wrong use, false use,
> and incorrect use of factual information.

I am sorry if I offended Reed with the unspecified concept of "cultural
level." I should have said something like relative degree of
socio-political/socio-economic complexity, and then given a scale. My
non-scalar point was that except for a few places such as Chang'an,
Damascas, or Constantinople, at ca. 1000 AD, and indeed at 1492 AD, most
of the people in the "Old" world lived in very similar political and
economic circumstances as those of the "New" world.

But Reed seems to be saying that the very act of comparing cultural
systems is invidious. Let me just say that any human act, whether it is a
wink, or a comparison, can be used for invidious political purposes.

Dwight Reed's second point is somewhat different:

> Further, suppose that it were the case that from time of entry into the
> americas until 1492, all indigenous peoples were living a lifeway basically
> unchanged with respect to say, resource base and general form of social
> organization (e.g., all folks continued to be, say, small scale
> hunting/gathering societies). Would this in any way justify the assertions
> made in the quoted text from the web page? I think not,

Nor do I. The argument quoted from the Ayn Rand webpage is an old one, and is
essentially based on Genesis, that the Natives were not developing the
potentials of the land, and therefore had no right to it. However, most of
the arguments which use that approach have the basic facts wrong, not
only those of Native land use patterns, but also those of European land
use. This goes back to Reed's conclusion, and to my original question re
Inuit Ivory in the Incas:

> [the problem is] not in the misuse, wrong use, false use,
> and incorrect use of factual information.

But that is just it, the problem *is* in the misuse, wrong use, false use,
and incorrect use of non-factual information.