In his provocative study of pre-Columbian AmerIndian civilizations (1491), historian Charles C. Mann discusses what he calls Holmberg’s Mistake.
Between 1940 and 1942, anthropologist Allan Holmberg went to live among the pre-historic Sirionó of Bolivia whom he described in a later best-seller titled Nomads of the Longbow (1950). According to Holmberg, the Sirionó were “among the most culturally backward people of the world” living in naked hunger under haphazard lean-to’s exposed to rain and vermin, without husbandry or agriculture, without religion or music and incapable of counting beyond three -- the very picture, Holmberg concluded, of “man in the raw state of nature” by-passed by 20,000 years of slow and painful progress.
As it turns out, Holmberg was completely wrong. Far from having glimpsed through the historical hour-glass at Man’s wretched and beastly prototypes, Holmberg had stumbled across the debased and degraded remains of populous civilizations wasted by epidemics and reduced to servitude by a predatory colonialism, aided and abetted by the Bolivian military. The Sirionó were not “wandering” in the forests but hiding from their abusers. “It was as if,” Mann writes, one “had come across refugees from a Nazi concentration camp and concluded that they belonged to a culture that had always been barefoot and starving.”
For some reason, I thought of Gaza. Contrary to the propaganda of our Times, Palestine had not been a “desert” but a fertile land of villages and orchards from whence the bourgeoisie of Europe obtained their olives, fruits and jams. Today, Gaza is a vast walled-in ghetto, steeped in its own sewage, enduring endemic shortages of water, electricity and food, its children suffering from chronic malnutrition. In such conditions, cultural and political cohesion necessarily fragments. Today, the Palestinians are increasingly incapable of concerted political action. They lack not only the wherewithal but, increasingly, the intellect and the will. They are, before our eyes, being reduced to a lumpen sub-proletariate capable only of primitive outbursts which are easily controlled and slapped down by their thuggish Jewish overlords.
But it is not just Gaza. Around the world we can witness instances of physio-social degradation as policy: the favelas of Brazil or Peru where ragged children sniff glue for breakfast and whore their bodies at night; the stinking garbage heaps of Mexico, India, Pakistan, China which --in place of rich and fertile earth -- form the “substrata” of existence. We see the policy at work in the blasted rubble of Iraq, in the squalid, leaky tenements of St. Petersburg and in what affirmative aktion and benign neglect have done to African Americans as to American Indians before them. Firewater and crack are worth legions of cavalry or booted SWAT teams.
More ominously (if that can be believed), we see the policy at work in the indignant austerity riots breaking out in Europe. What has to be realized is that the world’s banker governments are institutionalizing austerity so as to make scarcity and scrounging a permanent way of life for billions of human beings. This policy is no longer even spoken of as a temporary “belt tightening” -- as if being put on a healthy regimen of exercise and diet. The ever subserving press is subtly massaging the way we speak so as to induce an acquiescence of austerity as normal and natural.
In the United State, the regime has simply written off 40 million Americans. They are the “structurally unemployed”. They are, literally, no longer counted. As for the official poor which are counted, Romney’s disdainful answer was “they have their cake.” In times past, a remark like that would have cost Romney and his family brood their heads. Today it paves his way.
As for those above the official poverty line, they have their amusements and teeVees -- technologically complex devices which produce (mirabilis dictu!) the same stupefying effect as primitive rattles and drums.
An equally stupefied “educational” system inculcates people with a stuffing of half-truths, simplicities, and outright nonsense. What Americans are hardly aware of is that the moronization of culture applies equally to the country’s intellectual elite who are themselves careless of grammar (without which acuity is not possible) and ignorant of historical and cultural paradox (without which perspective is not possible).
In Europe, even Der Spiegel, which is hardly Die Zeit or Le Monde Diplomatique, chokes with disbelief on the sheer imbecility of U.S. political “discourse”. In contrast, the New York Times and WaPo report without a blanch, the beyond Dada inanity of the GOP debates. It is as if the press seriously reported on the hee-hawing of donkeys.
The collective mental degradation thus perpetuated is no different than Himmler’s notorious educational programme for occupied Russia. No need to teach the Slavs to count beyond ten, he said. The purpose now, as well as then, goes deeper than getting the oppressed to accept their overlords. It is rather to get them to accept their misery. It is to insure that when the time comes to toss more millions on the garbage heaps of society, people will be too goddamn stupid to notice. In fact, they will think they are well off, like the denizens of Stanislaus Lem’s Futurological Congress who inhabited a hallucinogenically induced happy, prosperous realité faux.
The sad thing is that there is a trip-line beyond which recovery is no longer possible. Like desertification, or acidification, Holmberg’s mistake teaches us that generational deprivation reaches genetic threshold past which the damage is permanent. One is left with a species that is itself little more than vermin. In fact, biologically speaking, vermin are better off. Who knows... perhaps spiritually as well.
©Woodchip Gazette, 2012