Monday, April 14, 2008

Conquest: an All-American pursuit

Good evening everyone:

Having just finished the book, let me begin by saying that every bit of knowledge I have ever picked up or been taught before reading this book was not particularly fair; this book attempts to present things as they occurred, without a preference or bias for either. Since objectively looking at anything is impossible, the book still comes close via interesting methodology: the author examines both the conquistadors' and Indians' side of things, and goes further into detail by trying to present all contemporary points of view.

Near the end of the book, one of the author's points struck me as extraordinary for its level of insight into the ridiculousness that is humanity. The author explains on page 248 that the extraordinarily high level of success in Westernizing the previous colonies is paradoxically due to the European ability to identify with the other. This is one theme whose passage through the book I can easily follow, because each successive conqueror and/or priest came with their own specific take on one or two bits of Aztec and other Indian culture, which allowed them to make so much progress in their endeavors. Whether it was Cortes and his very clear understanding of the necessity to constantly evoke fear and awe in the Indians (causing his godliness in their eyes to take deeper root for a time) or Duran's insistence on learning the Aztec religion in order to erase it, each of these individuals highlight this paradoxical tendency to use one's ability to understand the other towards the end of converting/subjugating/conquering that same other.

A few pages later, on page 252, the author makes a point that made me think of The Sparrow, when he is talking about sacrifice versus massacre societies. I was thinking that the Jana'ata would be a sacrifice society, because their theology sets up the original twins for duogeniture and the allowance of the Runa to breed more frequently. The people of Earth, taken as an aggregate people (which isn't really doable, but for the sake of this comparison:) are much more of a "massacrifice" society as the author coins it; they both claim membership in religion and therefore have acceptable sacrifice of life, yet at the same time are capable of killing large numbers of each other off without any religious backing. This sort of fluidity to the concepts laid out in the Conquest of America seems to be a fairly accurate look at the mindset of the Western nations, and especially as additional back-history to Stephanson's Manifest Destiny: even before the North American continent was settled, the certain type of European that enjoyed pushing their values to the exclusion of everything [but gold] were already testing out procedures in South America; these types of operating methods later worked in the North, with a lesser loss of life, but still genocidal in nature. I cannot say that I am pleased to be subjected to more of why the history of the Americas was terrible, but I am glad to have heard such a balanced account of it (something I don't usually feel when reading accounts of North American subjugation of the Indians).


your fellow conqueror

-Mike

1 comment:

gcsilmoldor said...

Yeah, there did seem to be more balance. You usually just learn that the Spanish were after gold, thought it was there, and figured they'd Christianize the natives while they were looking.