‘Other People’s Babies’ make us stronger; Steve King makes us weaker
It saddens me to discover that one of my favorite quotes is almost undoubtedly false – or ‘apocryphal’ as eddykated pipples like to say about lies when they like the lie or the liar. Mahatma Gandhi should have said, but didn’t, when getting off a boat to visit England in the 1930’s and being asked what he thought of Western Civilization, that he thought it might be a good idea.
Challenging the popular misconceptions around our American culture sounds like an early ’90’s Saturday Night Live Mike Myers skit – ‘Coffee Talk (“Coaffee Toauk”) with Linda Richman’, when he/she’d become ‘a little verklempt’ and instruct the audience to talk amongst themselves; “I’ll give you a subject: Western Civilization is neither Western nor a Civilization. Discuss!”
Because, of those two words, neither is true. Western civilization isn’t all that ‘western’, and ‘civilized’ is an argument with little evidence to support it.
Civilization, to the degree it has ever been in evidence in Europe and, applying guilt by association, the European infestation of the New World, began as the cultures developed in and around the mountain passes of the Himalayas spread into India, the Middle East, around the Mediterranean Sea and northward; and as I have argued elsewhere, that culture that seeded it was itself a development of all the cultures that existed at the beginning of the most recent interglacial period, around ten thousand years ago. The mongrel culture we know as the Aryans made, of all the cultures those extremely varied individuals came from, a melange of solutions to the dangerous environment they found themselves in as they took advantage of the trade flowing though it, the connections from the developing civilizations in Asia, Africa and Europe; and having made this powerful, practical culture, flowed out into India and the Mediterranean not as a conquering nation but as a powerful idea – the force of useful variety – giving a tremendous boost to the evolving cultures they encountered.
Thus from the very beginning, from the foundation of the Classical worlds of the Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, ours has been an inheritance with its roots deep in the most ancient cultures of Asia and Africa, influenced even by the earliest American native populations. At the very earliest moment, it was already a World, more than a Western, culture.
We choose, of course, to ignore the pre-Classical contribution, and so start with the Greek and Roman contributions. Even here, we err; the advancements those classical European cultures made depended to a very great extent on the cultures they had conquered, including those in Africa and Asia.
This brings us forward to the Renaissance, which would not have happened at all if not for that knowledge available to it from the Islamic cultures that had safeguarded the knowledge those Classical cultures had discovered, and considerably added to it, after the Germanic hordes had destroyed Rome and brought about the Dark Ages in Europe. Especially helpful to European cultural progress was the Moorish culture in Spain, before intolerant Christianity destroyed it. What we call ‘Arabic numerals’ are called that because they came to us from the Islamic world, though in fact they originated in India; and it took us pasty-fleshed a long time to understand the importance of ‘0’, which lack of understanding shows up in Gregory’s calender in the moronic absence of the year 0 which should have separated BC from AD, and the reason the first year of this century was 2001, not 2000.
Where would Western science have been without the decimal system? Without algebra – “al Jabr”, Arabic for ‘the re-attachment of separated parts’? The Arab world first proved that the planet was a sphere, and for centuries, the only place you could study geometry, mathematics, or any science, was in the Middle East.
Most of the racist Ohio Congressman Steve King’s racist fans would not include the Jewish world as part of ‘Western Civilization’. Little do they know – well, anything, but particularly that this marvelous technological world we’ve made could not have happened without the powerful, transformative contributions of both Hebrew culture and Jewish individuals. Because of the idiocy of Christianity, expressed through the Middle Ages money-making center known as the Vatican, free enterprise could never have evolved without Jewish lenders; the Pope, in order to protect Church power and wealth, decided that any interest added to loans constituted usury, and was thus not permitted. Talmudic scholars knew this was wrong, and so Hebrew wealth became the only source of the capital that nascent Capitalism needed. The Renaissance and the later Industrial Revolution would have been impossible without the development of what would become modern banking, but that development depended on lending, on the ability to use wealth as a resource in creating new industries; without interest, why would anyone lend money? Throughout the blossoming that was European cultural renewal, the Jewish world was the source of funding that made their persecutors rich.
And on and on. Gutenberg was only able to print his Bibles because of the Chinese invention of reusable block printing elements. Glass was first produced in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, as were iron implements; air-dried clay brick appears to have been an ancient Chinese invention, and kiln-baked (vitrified) brick in the Indus Valley; Sumeria (now part of Iraq), as well as India and China, first started making the copper alloy bronze; steel from Anatolia, now Turkey; paper from China; alphabetic writing, and the collecting together of such writing into scrolls and, later, books, from Egypt; astronomy from Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China and South America, as well as Greece; libraries from Sumeria and Egypt, with the greatest library of the ancient world, in Alexandria, destroyed by the Romans; it’s hard to find a single pivotal invention or idea of our ‘Western’ culture that wasn’t either discovered or helped in its development by the rest of the planet.
And how could it be otherwise? Because humans really like sex, every culture on the planet, including ‘ours’, was constantly added to by peoples from other places. This is hard to believe for uneducated Americans – that we’ve always had Other People’s Babies added to our mix. So many of the markers we use to make distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘them’ depend on visible cues that are entirely undependable and meaningless. For example, it seems that symmetry of features is in every culture a marker of beauty, and its absence seen as ugly; this then would seem to have more to do with us as animals than as sentient beings.
Homo Sapiens is clearly a black-skinned species with local variations. All human beings are brown; since our brains are so powerfully focused on detecting small differences, the shades that Humanity come in seem hugely varied to us, but from the blackest to the whitest to the reddest to the yellowest of us – if you simply put all those colors on a chart of samples, as if selecting paint for your bathroom, you’d easily see they are just different hues of brown.
Skin color, as well as every other physical characteristic, is strongly influenced by ideas of beauty, which in turn are determined by signals of health. Light-colored skin is dangerous near the Equator because the direct rays of sunlight leads to cancers and other diseases of too-irradiated skin; but as cultures move north, dark skins lead to health problems brought about by too little Vitamin D, which is produced on the skin by sweat and sunlight.
Consider what modern science has discovered about one of the ‘proofs’ of evolution that Victorian England discovered. A species of light-colored moths that gather on the trunks of trees ‘evolved’ into dark brown moths as the Industrial Revolution turned the bark from light tan to dark as they were covered with soot; it wasn’t until something like fifty years ago that genetic studies discovered that that change was not evolutionary at all. The genetic makeup of those moths didn’t change – the species had always had light-colored and dark-colored individuals, but the increasing carbon in the air had changed the ratio of light-to-dark as birds increasingly found the light, rather than the dark, moths on their perches.
Let’s try a mind experiment. Let’s take the darkest Africans we can find and put them on an island in the far North, and the lily-whitest Europeans and put them on a similar island on the Equator. How many generations would it take for those populations to adjust to their new realities? In truth, not that many; the signs of ill-health among the dark-skinned in the North or the light-skinned on the Equator would be so immediate and so powerful that our perfectly natural tendency to see health as equating beauty would punish those showing skin problems in every generation by reducing the number of breedings they would produce. And yet these populations would not change genetically, beyond the normal ‘drift’ of any species of anything.
That explains some of those differences we think mean so much, and don’t – but that’s only a gross effect. More subtle are the ways cultures develop their own distinct concepts of beauty. The other thing we could say about our two islands is that, at least assuming we were isolating them, each would, for reasons both vital and insignificant, develop their own ideas of beauty.
Was Helen truly so beautiful, or did her particular facial features become themselves a definition of the desirable which started a selection process where those features became part of the Greek definition of beauty? Was there something that happened early in the Chinese culture that made that particular color of tan, and the almond-shaped eye, a desideratum? These sometimes-logical, often-random markers of what one or another culture thinks of as beautiful, or ugly, can rapidly have a determinative effect as power and beauty, or powerlessness and ugliness, come together. It may be that one culture’s constricted or limited environment shows up as a need to define beauty as having diminutive stature. It might just as easily be that great height quite accidentally becomes a desired thing.
So what the hell is ‘white’? Genetic studies show these many European cultures to be as variable as any other, containing markers from the entire planet; whiteness (let’s be honest here; wallpaper-paste-ness) of skin was continuously selected for no matter the source of the genetic contribution to any particular individual in those cultures – but not an evolutionary selection, simply a cultural one as ‘beautiful’ individuals did better than ‘ugly’ ones. Thus we peckerwood adopted as indications of beauty a whiteness of skin that could be achieved by any genetic contribution given only a few generations to show up; it has been well-established that a light-skinned or dark-skinned Brazilian is just as likely as not to have more of the opposite skin colored individuals in his genetic ancestry as similarly colored. After all, using height as an example from African, the very tall Watusi are most closely related genetically to some of the many peoples we call ‘pygmies’, while quite distant from others.
I had for many year a very good friend who was born in Yakima, Washington. Though he was a third-generation American, he had a peculiarly pure genetic history. That area of the semi-arid West had been settled by immigrants from Germany – assuming I’m remembering correctly, from a small area in Bavaria; his parents, and their parents, were descendants of a group of Germans that had married exclusively with other immigrants from the same area. Thus he and his five brothers represented a ‘pure’ genetic history going back hundreds of years from one small German area. And on his wall he had a picture of himself with his exclusively-Bavarian brothers.
It was a fascinating picture, and I’d often look at it in amazement. There was dark skin, light skin, ruddy skin; every size from quite tall to relatively short; broad shoulders, narrow shoulders, sloped shoulders; black hair, red hair, blond hair, brown hair, straight and long, curled and short, kinky, wavy; fat bodies, muscular bodies, skinny bodies; and he had other pictures going back to his Black Forrest ancestors that show the same wild variation.
Hitler proved the point. He created select Army units, tall, broad-shouldered, blond, the very epitome of what idiot German researchers falsely thought of as ‘Aryan’, and fully expected they would lead their Army to victory. They were useless in the field; if you want to select for effective soldiers, you have to accept that every other characteristic will be random and widely variable.
So, again – what the hell does ‘white’ mean?
In America, to be ‘white’ has come to mean to unquestioningly assume privilege, to expect a dominant position to ‘non-white’. To avoid objective, rational thought in favor of ‘scenario thinking’, whereby the goal – such as proving one’s inherent right to rule – is reached by any means possible, no matter how contorted and illogical the path. Thus idiocy like “No nation can survive without secure borders” is an unexamined assumption; how did we ever come to create the American Century with borders like sieves for countless generations? How is it that those few nations that have managed to secure their borders – North Korea comes to mind as an excellent example – are such minor players on the world’s stage? Conservatives used to fear dictatorship; now they seem to revel in it, and to glorify its characteristics, like ‘secure borders’.
The histories of immigrant cultures and their contributions are well-known, well-researched. First generations of immigrants strongly tend to be law-abiding and hard-working, usually at menial jobs ‘whites’ won’t do. Their children powerfully adapt to the American way of life, and are driven to excel in it in any field open to them and to push against their assumed limitations, often developing great wealth and making tremendous contributions; their grandchildren may try to re-discover their roots, but just as often seem to want to forget them – and become as American as anybody. It’s only in the fourth and fifth generations – when they’ve become as ‘white’ as Steve King, no matter their ancestry – that this strong urge to prove their American-ness becomes the privilege-assuming, arrogant, condescending snideness we know as ‘white’.
And to introduce here an aspect of ‘white’ that infuriates and embarrasses me – to lose the simple, basic, essential ability to clap in time to the damned music! Jeeze, what a bunch of apes! Some dreadful polka starts up, the Colorless Clods start clapping immediately, and in two bars they’ve lost the beat! And this is the Master Race? Gag me with a spoon!
Here’s a truth you won’t like – beauty, as defined within any particular culture, almost ensures stupidity. The uncomfortable fact is that, unless a child is strongly influenced to use its brain, it won’t. Our brains, depending entirely on what you measure and how you define it, use from a third to two-thirds of the energy we take in. Not thinking very much or very hard thus becomes the norm, a wise conservation of energy that is its own reward. To be diverted away from this norm, the growing child must encounter some strong influence, some situation that drives it to use and develop its intelligence. Thus it is not surprising at all that, when you examine the lives of the creative among us, you always find some strong trigger that moves them to think; a disability, a difference, like poverty, or sexuality, or social constrictions – some situation in their upbringing, some difference from the norm, that forces them to use their brains.
Whereas the beautiful are seldom drawn to think. Why should they? The people who surround the Rich and Beautiful are always so willing to do as the Beautiful wish; their assumption of privilege is always fulfilled. What is there to think about? Why waste the energy? The Beautiful skate across a world created and maintained by the energies of the Different, the Weird. ‘Whiteness’ is too often the froth on America’s delicious latte, itself adding no flavor, empty of any meaning, not making any contribution – but always assumed to be there, on top, pretty, mindless, pointless.
So Representative King need not worry about ‘other people’s babies’. His wealthy backers will take advantage of newcomers’ economic slavery; Wall Street investors will jump at the chance to profit from those babies’ and their babies’ inventiveness and strong work ethic; McDonalds and Burger King will feed them lousy food and employ them at insulting wages; they’ll pay taxes so that King’s true bosses can avoid paying their share; and in only a few short years, these ‘other’ babies will be sitting on a porch in King’s district, with their tee-shirts barely covering their beer bellies, belching at the passing cars, listening to Country&Western music, complaining about ‘other people’s babies’ and voting for idiots like King.