Debating Across the Atlantic: Rationalizing Conquest and Colonialism
Don’t imagine Indians, understand them – Anton Treuer, Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask
The story of conquest and colonization of the American continents has been told many times over. Yet in almost every version of this story, the voice of the Americans (you may call them Native Americans today) are erased from our narrative. Some blame the lack of written material, others merely lament that fact that more than 90% of them died away, and few even attempt to rationalize the brutal genocide by highlighting the silver-lining.
What is often conveniently ignored is that for a while, many of the diverse American groups had an upper hand to the Europeans without engaging in war or conquest: they simply told better stories. They told stories of equality and freedom coexisting, unlike the European ideal where equality and freedom are incompatible. Through missionaries, private merchants, or aristocrats, these stories tingled the imagination of the oppressed European civilians, which in turn threatened the nobility. Not by a gun at their head or a rampant disease decimating their friends and families, but by the idea that the social structure and culture they lived in, was in fact, terrible.
In my opinion, the Americans won the ideological battle that continues to guide our ideals today (although 99% of us do not know that these ideas are in fact inspired by various Indigenous groups like the Americans). They dealt with their death anxiety far better than the hierarchical, oppressive, and aggressive agriculturalists that came to their land.
But to admit that the “other” was right means that “we” were wrong; the European elite with an absolute view of the world could not admit to this. Hence, a debate began that spanned the entirety of the Atlantic Ocean, trying to hash out which story was in fact not only better but more true. And one of the ways humanity has “proved” their ideas is not by supplying evidence, but by annihilating the “other” entirely. This is one of those stories.
THE OVERLOOKED TERROR MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
In the fantastic book Worm at the Core by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Simon Pyszczynski, the authors make an incredible case for the validity of Terror Management Theory. However, the three TMT scholars seem to make one crucial error in their analysis of human behavior: they take for granted that humans are aggressive creatures. In the opening of chapter 7 titled “The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness,” they begin by telling the story of when Dutch and English settlers come into contact with an American group called the Lenapes. Their analysis is worth quoting at length:
When Dutch and English settlers arrived in the lower Hudson Valley in the sixteenth century, they marveled at the sheer beauty and prodigious natural bounty of the New World. They were also intrigued by the natives. The Lenapes, who had inhabited the land for thousands of years, were happy, peaceful, welcoming, and eager to trade furs for blankets and tools. Moreover, according to firsthand accounts by Dutch settlers, the Lenapes were “well-fashioned people, strong and sound of body, well fed, without blemish. Some have lived 100 years. Also, there are among them no simpletons, lunatics, or madmen as among us.”
At the same time, the Europeans found the Lenapes very unsettling. They lived in communal long houses big enough for a dozen families. They relocated seasonally. They traced their kinship through their mothers, and women had considerable power in communal affairs. They divided themselves into clans identified by animals such as wolves, turtles, or turkeys. They refrained from hunting excessively because their religion stressed that all life was interrelated and interdependent. They weren’t interested in enriching themselves beyond what was necessary to survive.
Eventually, the settlers felt that something had to be done to dispose of these “most barbarous” wilden (savages). So the Dutch and the English proceeded to exterminate the Lenapes and other Native American tribes. They had a good time doing it, too. In 1644, the director of New Netherland, Willem Kieft, “laughed right heartily” as soldiers tortured and butchered Lenapes in their villages. The soldiers took one captive, “threw him down, and stuck his private parts, which they had cut off, into his mouth while he was still alive, and after that placed him on a millstone and beat his head off,” while Dutch women amused themselves by kicking the victims’ heads around like soccer balls.
While it might be tempting to view the Europeans’ slaughter of the Lenapes as aberration, it’s in full accord with the long record of human barbarism. History has been marked by an ongoing succession of genocidal atrocities, ethnic cleansings, and brutal subjugation of domestic inferiors (128).
The actions of the settlers were in “full accord with long record of human barbarism?” How about the long standing consensus among anthropologists and archaeologists that no large scale war or ethnic cleansing existed before the emergence of the Holocene? What about the numerous egalitarian, non-violent groups that have existed for millennia? Are we to disregard them as “outliers?”
Moreover, we see in the same story a response to the “other” drastically different from the violent Dutch and English. The Lenapes did not become aggressive or violent in the face of strangers, but were “happy, peaceful, welcoming, and eager to trade furs.” Clearly, they dealt with death anxiety better than the Europeans.
In accordance with insights from TMT, it was probably the fact that the Lenapes culture seemed “better” which unsettled the newcomers. To be shown that their culture, religion, and hero systems were lesser or “wrong” is not something absolutists do very well with. As we see through the story above, the Dutch and English were quick to derogate and annihilate in the most gruesome manner.
Yet, not all newcomers were as quick to attack as those who met with the Lenapes did. Many observed, learned the language, and accommodated/assimilated themselves into the new culture they had encountered, and absolutely loved it.
We learn from the records of concerned European officials how men and women were seeking to permanently stay with American groups. They found life among them so liberating, especially in comparison to the hierarchical modes of gender and class in European cultures, that many actually did stay. Benjamin Franklin, the famous Founding Father of the United States, also comments on such occasions in a letter:
When an Indian Child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our Customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and make one Indian ramble with them there is no persuading him ever to return, and that this is not natural merely as Indians, but as men, is plain from this, that when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoner young by the Indians, and lived awhile among them, tho’ ransomed by their friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them (Franklin 1961).
Is this any surprise? Many lower-class men and women had no real purpose in their lives other than slaving away in a field to make an extra penny, or serving an almighty god that could never guarantee their immortal salvation.
These stories of the freedom and equality seen in American societies were well documented from the early days of conquest and colonization. Yet these stories did not threaten the European nobility for some time and went largely ignored. However, through a series of seemingly unconnected events, the stories, ideas, and culture of the Americans spread across Europe and began to threaten the very core of the nobility’s worldview. So the Europeans had to counter, as not to lurk in their own fear and insecurity. Consequently, a slow and distant ideological debate ensued between the Americans and the Europeans.
Although the “debate” between the Americans and Europeans never actually happened in a formal setting, I will be presenting the arguments of each side in such manner. For each side, I will first introduce the speaker (and the messenger for the Affirmative), then their statement, and finally end the debate with closing statements and a discussion.
This is an unconventional style of writing, but I hope it can invoke your imagination to see how differently people viewed the world and each other. More importantly, I hope you can take this debate and their arguments to reflect upon your own worldview.
The Affirmative: Critiquing the hierarchical and oppressive European Society
Speaker: Kandiaronk of the Wendat People
The Messenger: Louis-Armand de Lom d’Arce, Baron de la Hontan of France. Or just Lahontan.
Introducing the Speaker and his people
The speaker who is critiquing European social structures and society is Kandiaronk of the Wendat Confederacy (also known as Huron or Wyandot). The Wendat are a group consisted of 4 separate peoples, who had come together as refugees from a rampant war occurring on the North American continent from the 17th to 18th century. The Wendat largely settled around Michilimackinac and later in the area of Detroit. The conflict was dubbed the “Beaver War”, as it erupted from the disputes over hunting and trading territory of beaver. A complex mix of American and European groups fought against each other to maximize the profits they could earn from trading beaver pelts that were in high demand.
The Wendat were a “complex foraging” culture and had strict gender roles. Women would mainly farm, while the men would hunt or fish to supplement their diet. Yet unlike other cultures with gender roles that focused on subjugating and minimizing women, this division in labor provided women with more power and political influence.
In accordance with what anthropologists now call “matriarchal societies,” the Wendat maintained a balance of power between people through 3 main avenues: marriage, sustenance, and democracy.
First, marriage. The Wendat — and many other American societies — have a custom where the man enters into the quarters of the woman for marriage (called matrilocality). Unlike many modern societies where women take the name of the husband and go live under the man’s roof, the Wendat practiced the opposite. Now, why does this support the power structure of the matriarchy? And moreover, how does this give birth to a far more egalitarian structure than our modern day?
When a man enters into the family of his wife, he is essentially outnumbered when a dispute may breakout between the couple. Now isolated from his own family, souring relations with his wife’s family will ultimately undermine his own possibility to thrive. He depends on his wife’s family to provide him with food, shelter, and protection. Imagine if this situation is flipped (as it often is across the globe in patrilocal societies) and a women enters into the family of the man. She is outnumbered and must endure hardships if she is to survive. In this way, keeping the wife closer to her family provides women with more power. To make familial ties even stronger, the brother of the wife is considered more important to a son than the father among the Wendat.
Second, sustenance. As briefly mentioned above, the main job of the women in the Wendat culture is farming. The food produced through the women’s farming was the main way Wendat nourished themselves, making the work of the women indispensable for the group. Moreover, stories and knowledge of medicinal plants or cultivating plants were often shared among women, making men even more reliant on their work.
And third, democracy. Many American societies where the Wendat lived had similar structures of power and leadership. Although certain differences in wealth existed, this often did not translate to power as it does today. As observed by a Jesuit missionary in the mid 17th century:
I do not believe that there is any people on earth freer than they, and less able to allow the subjection of their wills to any power whatever -- so much so that Fathers here have no control over their children, or Captains over their subjects, or the Laws of the country over any of them, except in so far as each is pleased to submit to them. There is no punishment which is inflicted on the guilty, and no criminal who is not sure that his life and property are in no danger… (As quoted in Graeber and Wengrow 2021:41-42).
As seen in through this observation, the social structure was far different from ours today. So then, how did people attain influence? By catering to the needs of the people.
Chiefs or leaders were “elected” by their ability to provide what the people wanted or needed at the time. Great hunters could gain influence when people wanted to eat meat, but once they had it, their power would wane. And in the case of Kandiaronk, he gained influence because he was a brilliant orator, strategist, and intellectual.
During this time, the Wendat were swept up in an intense transcontinental political dispute. Each group — from the Haudenosaunee, Wendat, French, British, and more — all were looking to maximize their own interest and worldview. Some wanted more control over the beaver trade, others simply wanted peace, and a few pushed personal dreams to become prosperous. The Wendat — having just recently escaped from a rampant war — needed to manage these tensions for them to survive and prosper. In accordance with this need to manage the complex situation, the group allowed Kandiaronk to become their “spokesperson”.
Kandiaronk was so brilliant that a French historian in the 18th century said that he is “the Indian of the highest merit that the French ever knew in Canada” (Charlevoix 1900:12). Many people from all of these various groups are recorded to have invited Kandiaronk to debates and discussions because of his intellect and eloquence. It was one of such debates, echoed through one French aristocrat, that shook the European nobility.
Introducing the Messenger and the circumstance of his success
The person who spread Kandiaronk’s ideas across Europe was a French aristocrat named Louis-Armand de Lom d’Arce, Baron de la Hontan; or just Lahontan for short. Lahontan had lived in the Americas for a few decades in the late 17th century, participating and listening to many of the debates and discussions where Kandiaronk was present. Deeply influenced by the way of life of the Americans, and of course Kandiaronk’s eloquence, Lahontan published a series of books during his return to Europe. What hit the shelves of almost every European intellectual was his third memoir: Curious Dialogues with a Savage of Good Sense Who Has Travelled, published in 1703.
Although in this memoir the “Savage” is named Adario, there is substantial evidence to clearly inquire that Adario was in fact Kandiaronk. The most telling evidence is the fact that Lahontan himself wrote that the book was based on his conversations with Kandiaronk. So then, why did Lahontan change the name?
As we will see in the following section, Kandiaronk’s ideas were very provocative, and spoke out against the many institutions of European society and the Judeo-Christian dogma. These were big “no no’s” for a strict hierarchical society where their kings and aristocrats justified their elevated social status with “Divine Rights” given to them by god. To avoid being persecuted or censored by the church, many social critics utilized fictional “others” to bare the responsibility of the critique. A famous example is Enconium Moriae (1519) by Desiderius Erasmus which criticizes the church through the voices of nymphs and fake gods. Such traditions of proposing social critiques through “fictional” characters continued on well after Lahontan’s publication (we continue to see this today in TV shows like Squid Game or Game of Thrones). Of course, it is difficult to conclude that all of Kandiaronk’s statements in Lahontan’s memoir are “authentic”; but it is agreed upon that the main ideas and arguments are of Kandiaronk’s himself.
Lahontan’s book was widely successful, being translated into 4 languages and had many revised versions. His work also inspired many other forms of similar social critique, from more books to plays. But how?
The time Lahontan began distributing Kandiaronk’s ideas coincided with the Age of Enlightenment, a time we often celebrate widely today. The dawn of the enlightening period of Europe was slow, beginning as far back as the 16th century when Martin Luther spearheaded the Protestant Reformation against the Catholic Church. More intellectual and revolutionary works began to brew doubt and uncertainty in the minds of many Europeans, which erupted into the Age of Enlightenment in the beginning of the 18th century. Although there are many different ways in which people have seen this period, it can be succinctly summarized into three main developments:
- To challenge the authority and legitimacy of the Catholic Church and nobility.
- A new way of viewing the world (i.e. the scientific method, Protestantism, etc).
- Rise in literacy rates across Europe.
Most influential to the success of Lahontan’s books is the last point: rising literacy rates. Before the Enlightenment “literacy was… distributed among European people in a stratified fashion which closely resembled the hierarchy of wealth, status, and position” (Houston 1983:271). However, as the hegemony of the Catholic Church and the various nobility across Europe was being challenged, people began to organize educational circles independently of the state and church, which they were growingly skeptical of. Sunday schools, factory schools, to even people huddled around one literate person, became a place where people not only learned to read but a place to view the world from a different perspective. Such practices continued well into the 20th century, where even the renowned author George Orwell himself wrote of a custom of reading a newspaper aloud for those who could not read (Orwell 2019:588).
As such, people who would most resonate with the ideals of freedom and equality seen in Lahontan’s conversation with Kandiaronk were able to actually read and hear these ideas. Unlike a few decades before, when such ideas were available in the form of journals of Jesuit priests, where lower-class European citizens often did not have the opportunity to engage in these revelatory ideas that existed across the Atlantic Ocean.
With this background set, it is now time to hear from Kandiaronk and Lahontan.
Affirmative Statement: A Case for Equality and Freedom, and against the Church and Hierarchy
I have spent six years reflecting on the state of European society and I still can’t think of a single way they act that’s not inhuman, and I genuinely think this can only be the case, as long as you stick to your distinctions of ‘mine’ and ‘thine’. I affirm that what you call money is the devil of devils; the tyrant of the French, the source of all evils; the bane of souls and slaughterhouse of the living. To imagine one can live in the country of money and preserve one’s soul is like imagining one could preserve one’s life at the bottom of a lake. Money is the father of luxury, lasciviousness, intrigues, trickery, lies, betrayal, insecurity, — of all the world’s worst behavior… In the light of this, tell me that we Wendat are not right in refusing to touch, or so much as to look at silver?
Kandiaronk here is not only critiquing the idea of money, but the entire concept of private property and wealth. Having interacted and traded with the Europeans who value money throughout his life — as well as seeing how this led to the war that made his people into refugees — he is attempting to show how a concentrated accumulation of wealth leads to aggression. As seen in the opening chapter of this book, Kandiaronk’s analysis is in line with the historical tendency of societies who store wealth to become highly stratified and aggressive.
In response to this, Lahontan attempts to make a defense for the European way of life and society, but soon concedes:
There’s no point in trying to remonstrate with [the Wendat] about how useful the distinction of property is for the support of society: they make a joke of anything you say on that account. In short, they neither quarrel nor fight, nor slander one another; they scoff at arts and sciences, and laugh at the difference of ranks which is observed with us. They brand us for slaves, and call us miserable souls, whose life is not worth having, alleging that we degrade ourselves in subjecting ourselves to one man who possesses all the power, and is bound by no law but his own will.
Lahontan here emphasizes Kandiaronk’s critique of French society. He highlights the lack of conflict and hierarchy among the Wendat, which stands in stark contrast to the French monarch who controlled everything and often engaged in war.
Continuing his commentary on the French, Kandiaronk turns to the Church and Judeo-Christian dogma, who in his eyes further perpetuates and drives this unequal and unfree society:
[H]aving thought long and hard over the course of a decade about what the Jesuits have told us of the life and death of the son of the Great Spirit, any Wendat could give you twenty reasons against the notion. For myself, I’ve always held that if it were possible that God had lowered his standards sufficiently to come down to earth, he would have done it in full view of everyone, descending in triumph, with pomp and majesty, and most publicly… He would have gone from nation to nation performing mighty miracles, thus giving everyone the same laws. Then we would all have had exactly the same religion, uniformly spread and equally known throughout the four corners of the world… Instead, there are five or six hundred religions, each distinct from the other, of which according to you, the religion of the French, alone, is any good, sainted, or true.
This exclusivity to the truth and knowledge was in fact one of the key methods in which the Church practiced its power over their people. Kandiaronk saw this as deeply flawed and incomprehensible:
It is illogical that “an all knowing and all-powerful being would freely choose to entrap himself in flesh and undergo terrible suffering, all for the sake of a single species, designed to be imperfect, only some of which were going to be rescued from damnation anyway” (53).
As such, Kandiaronk aptly critiques three fundamental pillars of European society. First, he shows how the institution of private property and wealth (i.e money) lead to hierarchical and violent societal structures. Second, Kandiaronk highlights how truly depressing the lives of those without wealth or property are. He brands them as slaves and miserable, especially in comparison to the people of his own society. And last, he critiques the Church and their dogma, as in his eyes, it is in fact the Judeo-Christian teachings that attempt to justify and rationalize this inequality and horrid lifestyle.
The Negative: Defending the hierarchical and oppressive European Society
Speaker: Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Baron de l’Aulne. Or just Turgot, of the French aristocrat class
The Messenger: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, and many contemporary speakers who adhere to this logic
Introducing the Speaker
The speaker defending the European societal structure is a French economist named Turgot. After engaging with works that supported the ideals spread by Lahontan and Kandiaronk, he began to construct a defensive logic against the American ideas and way of life.
Turgot was born into an aristocratic family with wealth and prestige. He went onto be educated through the Church and his dissertations as a seminary student continues to exert its influence today. Although Turgot did admire and insightfully studied the Judeo-Christian dogma, he later leaves the church in accordance with the general tide of the Enlightenment.
Turgot is greatly influential in modern economic and social theory, although he is a secondary referent to those more famous such as Adam Smith or Jean-Jacques Rousseau. His main contributions to the scientific literature are:
- The idea of social progress as a developmental process from “lesser” societies to “greater” societies through means of social surplus.
- The method of historical and social inquiry now called the “comparative method”, which compares different societies (in time and/or space) to gain insights on both realities.
Some scholars show how Turgot’s ideas even predicted the American Revolution and contributed to the famous ideas in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.
In other words, Turgot was the European counterpart of Kandiaronk, and the one who offered a counterargument to his ideas. Let us now hear from Turgot himself.
Negative Statement: A Case against Equality and Freedom, and for the “Development” of Humanity
The procession of mankind… gives us from epoch to epoch an ever-varying spectacle.
Yes, Turgot admits, each epoch and society have their own advantages. But, Turgot ponders, why is it that “geniuses” develop more often in some societies and not in others? Moreover, how does this connect to the different economic and technological “progress” various societies make?
Turgot first contemplates if such discrepancies are biological or climactic: could some societies just simply produce more “geniuses” as a product of their innate superiority? No no, Turgot contends:
[T]he inhabitants of barbaric countries are no less capable than others.
It also can not all be about the physical environment/climate as other scholars such as Montesquieu hypothesized during his time. So if it isn’t a biological or climactic difference, then could it be a social/cultural one? Turgot finds his explanation.
Turgot asserts that a society and culture that “lay a high premium upon change, mobility, and variety of ideas” (Nisbet 1975:220) are the ones that produce more geniuses and therefore develop into a greater civilization. Again, Turgot does not believe that any one society has more geniuses per se, but some have a social structure that shines a light on those diamonds “which, in total darkness would be confounded with the meanest stone.” Now, how does such a culture emerge? And moreover, through what means does a society “develop?”
Turgot emphasizes the importance of the meeting and mixture of various cultures; even through the means of war. He writes:
It is not wars which retards; it is indolence and routine.
The French man focuses his attention on how war shakes things up within a culture through the mixing of ideas and language, which Turgot believes gives birth to innovation and technological progress. However, much more important to Turgot’s formulation is that this innovative schema gives birth to more stuff, a social surplus.
Through the means of social surplus, Turgot sees that human societies develop through 4 large stages in a linear fashion: Hunting, Pastoral, Agricultural, and finally, Commercial. To break it down, Turgot asserts that when a hunting society can gain more stuff, it can then invest that surplus towards their geniuses to think and innovate a way to progress into a pastoral society. The same process is done to develop into an agricultural society, then at last, a commercial one.
Turgot believes that this “forward progress” is crucial, which he celebrates like a religion. Sure, he contends, through this surplus, economic inequality emerges and many lower-class people with less wealth lose much of their freedom, but that is just how it needs to be.
Turgot was a strong advocate for technology, art, and wealth, which he thought was only possible through the economic development into a commercial stage, shining a light on the diamonds that have been hiding in the dark for so long. Turgot merely shrugs his shoulders and relegates the ideals of inequality and lack of freedom as a necessary evil to provide for the geniuses of humanity.
A society like Kandiaronk’s is a tragic reality for Turgot, who is compromising the “development” from a hunting society to a commercial one for the sake of freedom and equality.
Closing Statement: The Affirmative
I find it hard to see how you could be much more miserable than you already are. What kind of human, what species of creature, must Europeans be, that they have to be forced to do good, and only refrain from evil because of fear of punishment?…
Over and over I have set forth the qualities that we Wendat believe ought to define humanity — wisdom, reason, equity, etc. — and demonstrated that the existence of separate material interests knocks all these on the head. A man motivated by interest cannot be a man of reason.
Closing Statement: The Negative
The inequality of nations increases [with development through time]; here the arts start to develop; there they advance with long steps toward perfection. In one place they are arrested in their mediocrity; in another the primal darkness is not yet wholly dispelled; and through these infinitely varied inequalities, the present state of the world, in presenting every shade of barbarism and civilization, gives us at a single glance all the monuments, the vestiges, of each step taken by the human mind, the likeness of each stage it has passed through, the history of all ages.
In accordance with this, colonial movements are actually doing a favor for those “barbaric” societies stuck in “primal darkness”. Turgot asserts:
Colonies are like fruits which cling to the tree till they have received from it sufficient nurture; then they detach themselves, germinate and produce new trees.
These trees provide for more ingenious people, technology, art, and progress.
CLOSING THE DEBATE AND DISCUSSION OF MODERN ISSUES
Now that you have heard from both sides, it is time to discuss and close the debate. Who do you think had a stronger argument? If this debate was put to a vote on how to better structure a society, who would you give your support to?
To guide your thoughts, let’s compare what each debater has proposed in reflection of general social problems we tackle today.
One of the greatest problems being discussed today is economic inequality on various fronts; from the inequality between nations, social groups, all the way down to individuals. Famous statistics show how only 10% of the population in the United States owns close to 70% of the net worth of the entire nation. Another statistics shows how the richest 1% of the globe have more than twice as much as 7 billion people combined. Many other problems in the world are also conceptualized in terms of economic inequality: the wealth gap between races and ethnic groups, between gender and sexual orientation, or even between age groups. What do our two transcontinental debaters say about this issue?
Let’s begin with Kandiaronk. Kandiaronk may say something along the line of:
Well, what else would you expect! Money and private possessions divided between “yours” and “mine” can only result in such levels of inequality.
On the other hand, Turgot would assert:
Yes, these inequalities did emerge, but look at all of the amazing other things that came from it! Your smartphone, space travel, online shopping, NFT’s and more! You surely wouldn’t give up on such genius productions of progress just for equality would you?
Another major problem of today is the issue of anthropogenic climate change — which is just a fancy way of saying human induced climate change. Of course, the impact of climate change is unequally divided upon an economic basis, but it also shines light on the lack of freedom many people have across the globe. Why does a farmer in Madagascar have to suffer because of the consumeristic behavior of other people? Why is it not possible for a person living in an industrialized nation to fully eradicate their carbon footprint, because they contribute to climate change by just attempting to survive in that environment? Let’s turn to our debaters.
Starting with Turgot, he may say:
Oh yes, we have another problem for humanity, but it is just a step for us to overcome! We will eventually shine a light on that genius to get us through this problem and thrive. Progress needs time, remember that “men [learned] how to strike medals and, two thousand years later, they learn to imprint characters on paper; so difficult is it for men to advance the least step!”
To counter this, Kandiaronk may say:
Oh come on my friends! We have known about the devastating effects of greedy human action on our world well before you sailed to the shores of this land. Our practices are kept in check through our stories and social relations, making sure we live in reciprocity and respect with the beings who surround us. Your agriculture is to clear lands entirely of all beings — humans and others alike — just for an extra penny. How different would colonialism (making a place for agriculture) would have been if it was our definition of agriculture that spread across the globe.
Freedom for All
Freedom and liberty are broad concepts that have altered its meaning and application throughout the years. However, to apply it to the context of today, let us focus on the freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech refers to the ability to say/express a message within a given parameter of society without consequence. But this freedom is consistently being undermined through recent social movements on both ends of the political spectrum. Some parts of society want the parameter of society to expand so people can express anything without consequence; for example, grabbing a person by their genitals forcefully or threatening to shoot and kill them. On the other end of the spectrum, some are attempting to “cancel” anyone who says anything remotely “offensive”; from a thing they said 20 years ago to denouncing social scientific theories they know little about. What needs to be emphasized and widely understood is that both of these “poles” to the idea of freedom of speech are inherently rightwing ideologies.
Now, what do I mean by “rightwing” or “leftwing,” as these are words thrown about carelessly today. Our ideas of “left” and “right” come from the French National Assembly where politicians were physically sat on the left or right wings of the building in accordance to what ideologies they supported. To put it simply, the left supported more liberty and equality — eradicating or minimizing hierarchy on all levels. And on the right, were people who supported levels of hierarchy at the cost of individual liberty and equality. So then, how do our two “poles” in the debate for freedom of speech today support the rightwing ideas of hierarchy?
Those who want the ability to say anything rely upon the premise of an established hierarchy. Men over women, whites over blacks, employer over employee, etc. Sure, the adherents to this ideology may say “anybody — women, racial minorities, employee’s — can say anything!” But what they seem to ignore is the difference in power. For years, women and racial minorities depended upon men and whites to provide them with food, shelter, and safety — such as the patriarchal society we briefly looked at earlier. In this context, those without power can theoretically say anything they want, but what is on the line is their ability to eat, sleep, and live. We see this playing out in the workplace today, which oddly enough takes us to the pole who claim they are “leftwing”.
It is no news to hear today that someone got fired for saying the “wrong” thing online or at the workplace. Although this often is rooted in leftwing ideas (i.e not saying offensive things to minority groups), it seems to have been highjacked for the purpose of maintaining the rightwing hierarchy. This is for a simple reason: if someone/group can exercise power over an individual to do something they wish not to do (such as signing a diversity statement), that is a form of coercion born through a hierarchy of power. People who wield a certain level of power sit comfortably at the top of the hierarchy while claiming for equality and liberty, simultaneously punishing and firing anybody who does not adhere.
With this extremely brief overview of the issue of freedom, let’s turn to Kandiaronk and Turgot to imagine what they may say about this modern issue.
Kandiaronk may emphasize that freedom is unattainable precisely because of the inherent unequal distribution of power in our society. From a teacher who has power over the future of their students, an employer who can decide who will be eating steak or a can of beans for dinner, or to the homeowner who can evict/reject a renter for almost any reason. He will repeat “A man motivated be interest cannot be a man of reason.”
Turgot here may be sympathetic to Kandiaronk’s ideas of the coercion of power. He would argue that:
Yes, it is lamentable that there is an unequal distribution of power that withholds freedoms from certain people, but this allows for extreme progress!
Turgot would only object if the development of technology, art, and science seems static, which he believed was a vice that needed to be overcome (such as the Monarch and the Church).
Closing the Debate
So, who would you support and vote for? More importantly, what world do you wish to live in? The one imagined and lived by Kandiaronk or Turgot? Does your vote reflect upon this ideal?
The debate between the Europeans and Americans never was just the ideological battle I depicted above. The Americans were derogated, assimilated, and nearly annihilated for the name of progress and to grow the “trees of colonialism” Turgot so believed in, coupled with the Judeo-Christian dogma to “fill and subdue the earth.”
This European cultural tendency to derogate and annihilate the “other” had been nearly perfected by the time Europeans first traveled to the Americas. From the Roman fear and conquest of the Celts, the colonization of the Irish peoples, the “othering” of the Orient, the unrelenting colonial movements on the continent of Africa and the Far East, and into the conquest of the New World — all preludes and underlies this debate. Conquest and colonization was their go-to death management strategy; to kill off any “other.”
Although they had continuously “rationalized” these bloody conquests and attempted genocide of the “other,” the Americans posed a unique threat due to internal and external changes, most importantly the Enlightenment.
The growing literacy rates and dissemination of foreign ideas such as Kandiaronk’s created the need for the European elite to not only justify the conquest of “others,” but also the continued subjugation of those who slaved away in their fields and factories. In this sense, the new elite who were eager to overthrow the Church and the monarch simply continued on the absolutist view of the world the Judeo-Christian dogma preached. As Dr. Sheldon Solomon writes:
Belief in progress is a secular worldview derived from Christianity in that, like Christianity, it views humans as fundamentally different than, superior to, and with dominion over, nature and all other forms of life, and promises salvation as the end of history, albeit on earth in a globalized free-market economy (Solomon 2020: 410).
With this new hero system and method to achieve immortality, the Europeans continued to conquer and colonize any “other.” However, this method did not deal with their death anxiety any better, and still defaulted to the deeply rooted cultural method of annihilation — they only now killed under a different name and mission. As introduced in the opening chapter, eradicating the “other” serves to justify our own ideas of immortality:
If numerous individuals on the opposing side of the conflict are killed while one’s own group continues to exist, then by inference the beliefs of one’s own group must be correct. Massive casualties for the opposition imply that their beliefs were insufficient to protect them from the ultimate threat of death (Hayes et al. 2008:502).
And the Europeans did exactly that. They tried extremely hard to annihilate the Americans and their ideas, now veiled under the “leftwing” ideas of progress and development. They annihilated the animals and land they lived on, they separated families and forcefully assimilated the children to make them more “civilized.” The Europeans could not win the debate on an ideological basis, so they went to conquer, colonize, and annihilate.
Thankfully, the debate continues on today. The colonized fought and survived, continuing to tell their stories and keeping their ideas and culture alive. More consequently for those on Turgot’s side, people are still terrified of death. The story they forcefully spread across the globe is unable to answer the questions of death and provide meaning to our lives.