I’ve just been rereading parts of Thomas Sowell’s Black Rednecks and White Liberals. The material had resurfaced in my mind while having a discussion about a book called 1491 which I have not read yet but am locating a copy of (its about the extensive indigenous population of the Americas before disease struck, a lesser known past it seems). What my friend and I had been talking about what the commonality of all cultures in both good and bad. Sowell was the one writer I ran across to challenge the noble and peaceful savage myth so prevalent in our culture.
I was already primed for this book. I had always felt that humans were essentially the same the world over, and therefore their cultures as well. To be sure, there were differences but I knew that odds were pretty good that if my culture were rapacious; if it had enslaved or been enslaved, so had all other cultures. And it seems my instincts were on.
Sowell has a good chapter in the book about slavery and its an eye opener. Not only was this a global practice but rather than being a Western imperialist sin, the West was the first to discard slavery and the real force behind eradicating it. Britain used its power and resources without any recompense or any expectation of future advantage to force various nations to stop the practice. And in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, they were met with obstinacy and disbelief.
Now I suspect Sowell is no saint. I get the feeling that he’s a tinge defensive about Western culture but all in all he seems to be on the right track. Indigenous Americans were as violent and ecologically damaging as any tribal cultures the world over.
I always grated at the idea that Western culture was somehow more destructive than other cultures. Can anyone truly look the world over and think that? If anything it is one of the more respective cultures, certainly of human rights.
I also always had a problem when I heard complaints of either land appropriation or of ethnic disparities. I am non-Jewish Western European stock, and only two generations back my ancestors were the victims of pogroms, of massacres, and lost their properties. My grandfather watched his mother being put to the sword. Does this make me special? Not in the slightest. Its the way of the world. Dig into other people’s pasts, and the same sad story is there. Everyone gets their turn at the top and the bottom. Everybody’s land used to be someone else’s.
Sowell gets into a lot of interesting stuff in this grab bag of essays. One of his themes is the British origin of the Southern culture in the States. This particular culture was overly violent and indigent in the Isles and also in their new home. Lynchings apparently predated racial hatred as did cross burnings which came from burning Celtic crosses on your enemy’s property in the old country.
I love this kind of stuff because it flies in the face of common accepted knowledge. Part of the problem I have though is that this is an area I don’t know a lot about, so I have to accept his sources as face value. Yet, it seems to ring true.
I am planning on writing a post about common sense, at least in matters concerning epidemiology. General principles that can guide one through masses of complicated knowledge. Maybe tomorrow.