Dark Hearts of Humanity

From Chris Hedges at TruthDig:

[Joseph] Conrad saw cruelty as an integral part of human nature. This cruelty arrives, however, in different forms. Stable, industrialized societies, awash in wealth and privilege, can construct internal systems that mask this cruelty, although it is nakedly displayed in their imperial outposts. We are lulled into the illusion in these zones of safety that human beings can be rational. The “war on terror,” the virtuous rhetoric about saving the women in Afghanistan from the Taliban or the Iraqis from tyranny, is another in a series of long and sordid human campaigns of violence carried out in the name of a moral good.

Those who attempt to mend the flaws in the human species through force embrace a perverted idealism. Those who believe that history is a progressive march toward human perfectibility, and that they have the moral right to force this progress on others, no longer know what it is to be human. In the name of the noblest virtues they sink to the depths of criminality and moral depravity. This self-delusion comes to us in many forms. It can be wrapped in the language of Western civilization, democracy, religion, the master race, Liberté, égalité, fraternité, the worker’s paradise, the idyllic agrarian society, the new man or scientific rationalism. The jargon is varied. The dark sentiment is the same.

Conrad understood how Western civilization and technology lend themselves to inhuman exploitation. He had seen in the Congo the barbarity and disdain for human life that resulted from a belief in moral advancement. He knew humankind’s violent, primeval lusts. He knew how easily we can all slip into states of extreme depravity.

“Man is a cruel animal,” he wrote to a friend. “His cruelty must be organized. Society is essentially criminal,-or it wouldn’t exist. It is selfishness that saves everything,-absolutely everything, –everything that we abhor, everything that we love.”

Conrad rejected all formulas or schemes for the moral improvement of the human condition. Political institutions, he said, “whether contrived by the wisdom of the few or the ignorance of the many, are incapable of securing the happiness of mankind.”

He wrote “international fraternity may be an object to strive for … but that illusion imposes by its size alone. Franchement, what would you think of an attempt to promote fraternity amongst people living in the same street, I don’t even mention two neighboring streets.” He bluntly told the pacifist Bertrand Russell, who saw humankind’s future in the rise of international socialism, that it was “the sort of thing to which I cannot attach any definite meaning. I have never been able to find in any man’s book or any man’s talk anything convincing enough to stand up for a moment against my deep-seated sense of fatality governing this man-inhabited world.”

Russell said of Conrad: “I felt, though I do not know whether he would have accepted such an image, that he thought of civilized and morally tolerable human life as a dangerous walk on a thin crust of barely cooled lava which at any moment might break and let the unwary sink into fiery depths.”

Read the whole thing here


Wente & Canada’s “Savages”

Any time you’re aching for a dose of ignorance and (deliberate?) stupidity, head over to Margaret Wente’s column at The Globe and Mail.  I stopped reading Wente a long time ago because I felt I was in danger of stroking out.  Sometimes I miss important things though.

Last week, I posted about Dick Pound’s offensive comment to La Presse during the Beijing Olympics referring to Canada’s Indigenous people as “savages”.  In her Saturday column at The Globe, Wente “argues” that Pound’s comment was unfortunate, but correct.  I have to put the word “argues” in quotes because Wente wouldn’t know an argument if she ran into one.

Nevertheless, the woman writes for Canada’s national newspaper so I assume she does have some readers and that some of them may be affected by what she writes – they might think she knows something.  It makes me very happy to direct you to an article in today’s Globe in which Hayden King shreds Wente and points readers in a rational direction in his article “Indigenous cultures rivalled those of civilizations around the world”.  Here’s a bit:

Thomas Jefferson once remarked that those who don’t read newspapers are better informed than those who do, even as the former may know nothing, the latter only know falsehood and error. This brings to mind Margaret Wente’s recent column about Olympic official Dick Pound, who said, “400 years ago, Canada was a land of savages.” Ms. Wente’s Saturday column has likely set back the first nations’ campaign for an accurate representation of native peoples in the mainstream media by 10 years.

In fact, a brief survey of the original peoples of this continent illustrates an array of accomplishments that rival civilizations around the globe, including those in Western Europe. Yet today, in North America, the ancestors of those from both continents live side by side, separated by a canyon of misunderstanding. To gain insight, we need only turn to indigenous oral traditions, wampum belts, birchbark scrolls and Tsalagi and Aztec texts. In addition, scholars of all stripes from all corners of the globe have contributed to a greater knowledge of indigenous cultures.


Please read the rest here.

Many years ago, Wente wrote an article about fetal alcohol syndrome in which she stated that, unbeknownst to average Canadians, the majority of children born to aboriginal people in this country are born with FAS.

That would have been news to me, so I wrote to Wente and asked her to direct me to the research she used to support her conclusion.  She wrote back to me to say she had done no research but had a friend who was an aboriginal person and a social worker and she’d relied on him for her information.  ‘Nuf said.

Note:  In fact, judging by the number of articles she’s written on the subject, Wente is obsessed with the FAS issue.  I can’t direct you to the article I read way back because you’d have to purchase it to read it, but there are plenty more here.  Don’t pay to read any of them.

Meantime, here’s another Globe article, this time by Joe Friesen, in which we learn about one of the long-term consequences of European colonization:

The gap in high-school graduation rates for aboriginals and non-aboriginals has grown in recent years, while the percentage of aboriginal people with a university degree has increased only slightly compared with a massive boom among the general population, new research shows.

Both are troubling figures that indicate much more needs to be done in one of the great social-policy challenges Canada faces, according to a study published yesterday by the C. D. Howe Institute.

“Clearly, we’re not doing well enough, and clearly, we should be highly concerned about it,” said the study’s author, John Richards, who teaches public policy at Simon Fraser University.

“A marginalized community, such as aboriginals, living in a modern economy can only escape poverty through an educational transformation.”


Read the rest here

EDIT:  I had to come back to fix the link to Hayden King’s article – thanks Vesper!

F’ing Violence

Steve Pinker on the relationship between swearing and violence:

My new book, The Stuff of Thought, has a chapter on swearing. In my next book I will discuss historic declines in violence. To my surprise, the two topics may be connected. In all languages, taboo words refer to emotionally fraught concepts: the supernatural, disease, bodily secretions, sexual depravity, and social outcasts. But the particular curses vary. In traditional Catholic societies, swearing is religious: the standard profanity in Québecois French: is Accursed tabernacle! With the sexual revolution, the F-word is no longer such a big deal, but with our increased sensitivity to racism, the N-word can end a career. Centuries ago in England religious swearing gave way to our familiar sexual and scatological four-letter words. As the historian Geoffrey Hughes has noted, “The days when the dandelion could be called the pissabed, a heron could be called a shitecrow and the windhover could be called the windfucker have passed away with the exuberant phallic advertisement of the codpiece.” What does this have to do with violence? Contrary to the popular belief that we are living in horrifically violent times, rates of homicide in the West have plummeted ten- to a hundredfold over the centuries. The sociologist Norbert Elias noted that this pacification process, correlated with other changes in everyday manners. Starting in the Late Middle Ages, people stopped blowing their noses onto the dining room table, urinating onto curtains, defecating in public, and giving their eight-year-olds advice about prostitution. Taboos on speaking about excretion and sexuality were part of this development. Ellis lumps these trends into a “civilizing process,” in which the formation of states and complex social networks forced people to exercise their superego (today we would say their prefrontal cortex) to inhibit their first impulses. If this idea is right, it’s another example of how the walls between the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences are obsolete: Medieval history, word usage, and brain function are all connected.


On the subject of “what’s wrong with America”, some say America is wrong with America, or, the people of America are broken:

When I look at Dubya’s poll numbers staying absolutely dead-level week after week after week regardless of what he has fucked up this week, or how badly, I learn nothing new about George W. Bush. But A-B-Cs behind just about everything else I need to know about America stand painfully revealed. Those numbers confirm for me for the unmpteenth time that inside the mushy skulls of the 27%-ers there is nothing but a hatbox of junk machine parts, still twitching and clattering mindlessly along on corrupted software that was already obsolete before men walked on the Moon.

The 27%-ers are slugs madly fighting for the right to jump into the salt bucket and drag us all down with them, and any solution to the problems that vex us must begin with their grotesquely mutant versions of patriotism, economics, virtue and civilization being discredited, sequestered and driven into oblivion.

Our first, great, national problem is that our fellow citizens — in their millions — are damaged beyond repair.

And our second, great, national problem is that our media refuses to talk about it.

driftglass via Mike the Mad Biologist