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Spano

Colonization

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I have always been bothered by the argument that America's success came at the expense of the orginal inhabitants. It is basically a question of property rights; I rarely hear anyone argue in favor of the physical violence that sometimes accompanied westward settlement to subjugate the natives. Now, what I know is from public school, so I take it with a grain of salt. We know that people lived in the US far before Europeans settled. When Europeans arrived, the claims of the natives to the land were swept aside due to the belief in either the racial superiority of whites or the religious attitudes of "manifest destiny." I disagree with the constant guilt movement, but I can't help thinking that in some ways, the native americans got screwed over.

From what I understand about Rand's view on property rights, it seems that in the case of a conflicting claim to land, it must be settled by first come first serve and by some sort of production, ie a person must be using the land he claims to rightfully claim it. In this way, the land becomes another form of earned or produced property. The natives used the land, they hunted and gathered as well as had agriculture, notably in the southwest. When the Europeans arrived, they were herded up and sent to reservations on otherwise useless land.

For me, there is a conflict here. The modern achievements of countries like the USA and Australia came with the expropriation of land. I hold these achievements in high esteem, yet I do not want to think that kicking people out of the way was the only way it could have been achieved.

So, my question: Is colonization moral? Was kicking people off the land a necessary evil or was there an alternative? What if the natives "didn't want to sell", what then? Or have I been indoctrinated with public-school guilt?

Thanks for your thoughts.

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When Europeans arrived, the claims of the natives to the land were swept aside due to the belief in either the racial superiority of whites or the religious attitudes of "manifest destiny." I disagree with the constant guilt movement, but I can't help thinking that in some ways, the native americans got screwed over.
First of all you need to keep track of the proper chronological order of events as the context of the different actions towards the Indians is important. Colonization of the New World was done almost entirely by the Spanish who were the only ones to confront relatively advanced civilizations and to conquer them. English settlement, was much more disorganized and it was guided by different principles. Indians didn't really claim land per se, they claimed hunting rights, wherever the animals went they claimed the land the animals were on for hunting. Although this varied by tribe. The English settlers usually bought the land they originally settled on, or it was abandoned, i.e. Roanoke. The famous example is Peter Minuit's purchase of Manhattan Island, but this famous episode was not atypical of English settlement of North America. Wars began to break out among the English settlers and the Indians soon enough over a variety of reasons, mainly cultural ignorance on both sides, or some perceived encroachment by the part of the English. Whatever the reason, land gained through a just war is properly owned.

From what I understand about Rand's view on property rights, it seems that in the case of a conflicting claim to land, it must be settled by first come first serve and by some sort of production, ie a person must be using the land he claims to rightfully claim it. In this way, the land becomes another form of earned or produced property. The natives used the land, they hunted and gathered as well as had agriculture, notably in the southwest. When the Europeans arrived, they were herded up and sent to reservations on otherwise useless land.

Many Indian tribes were nomadic and produced nothing except goods that could be carried on foot, and later on horseback when those animals were introduced by the Spanish. Farming was rare among all North American Indians and when it did occur it was only to supplement nomadic hunting and gathering. No herding of Indians occurred until after America was founded and even then it didn't happen in any large way until after the Civil War, when reservations of land were set up.

For me, there is a conflict here. The modern achievements of countries like the USA and Australia came with the expropriation of land. I hold these achievements in high esteem, yet I do not want to think that kicking people out of the way was the only way it could have been achieved.
We're talking about a group of people that sat in great lands of plenty for 50,000 years. It took a little over 4,000 years to get from simple stone step pyramids in Ancient Egypt (which is where the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas got to) to the present day level of development. I say the Indians and Aboriginees had their chance to achieve something well in advance of European arrival. Besides, the Indians caused and/or participated in many many wars against the Europeans and failed, due to their lack of technological, philosophical, and cultural development.

So, my question: Is colonization moral? Was kicking people off the land a necessary evil or was there an alternative? What if the natives "didn't want to sell", what then? Or have I been indoctrinated with public-school guilt?

Colonization is not what happened in English North America, it is what happened in British controlled India. Colonization implies coming into an area and pacifying the natives and even gaining their cooperation in the colonizing effort. This never happened in America because neither side wanted it to. The Americans distrusted the Indians, rightfully so, and the Indians preferred their own cultures which were mystical and backward.

They had no right to the land as they weren't using it for anything productive aside from primitive subsistence, therefore they couldn't really be kicked off. Any land rights that were ever afforded to the Indians were granted by the Europeans as courtesies, i.e. the "selling of Manhattan" the Indians didn't own Manhattan, they just happened to be standing around and it was the advanced European Minuit who initiated the sale as it was the standard practise in Europe that when one wanted land they bought it. It is therefore irrelevant if the Indians didn't want to sell or not. The Europeans merely had to set up shop in the unused wilderness and dare the Indians to do anything about it, which, of course, they could not as they were backward savages with no cultural advantages at their disposal.

I would say that you still have to get over the guilt that public education attempt to hoist upon you on this matter. The descendents of the Indians are far better off now than they would have been if the Europeans never came for thereis no indication that the Indians were in any way moving beyond their impoverished way of life.

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So, my question:  Is colonization moral?  Was kicking people off the land a necessary evil or was there an alternative?  What if the natives "didn't want to sell", what then?  Or have I been indoctrinated with public-school guilt?

The question of establishing colonies is not really the issue: a colony refers to a relation between people in one country moving to a new place and establishing a political unit that is not an inderpendent country. That's why sci-fai can talk of a colony on the moon or on Mars. Colonization does not mean violating rights.

It is often assumed that all acquisition of land by white people in North America was accomplished by violently removing the native inhabitants, and this is historically untrue. It is a fact that serious rights violations did occur, that land was stolen, and that there was government complicity in these rights violations. Historical records are of course rather murky (or nonexistent) but it is a safe bet that the pattern of rights violation in the form of forceable expropriation of land has a long history in North America, involving among others the invasion of Iroquoian land by the Algonkians, the invasion of Algonkian lands by Iroquoians, the invasion of Athabascan lands by the Salishan, and so on. Similar patterns exist through the world. Everybody got screwed over by somebody somewhere back in history.

The question as you pose it (as it is given to you) inherently accepts falsehoods. "The Indians" cannot own "the land", and "Europeans" cannot take it from them. These are floating abstractions: there are no collective rights or actions. Some specific person can own some specific land, and that is the level at which the question should be dealt with. Quite often, settlers would arrive at some place and peacefully negotiate the right to co-exist on some piece of land. Not all land in North America was "owned" in any sense.

Questions of moral evaluation, applied to events of the remote past, are particularly difficult. Is a moral evaluation a statement about a person's character? Or about their knowledge? The concept of private property is not self-evident or universal, and the philosophical basis for private property has been reasonably well understood only recently.

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Spano,

The Native Americans had no concept of individual rights, or property rights-saying themselves that you can not own the land. Thus there is no conflict. The Native Americans did not have rights, which is why they were forced out.

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Thanks for the responses. I have a few comments, but they will have to wait because I will be away for several weeks.

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The Native Americans had no concept of individual rights, or property rights-saying themselves that you can not own the land.  Thus there is no conflict.  The Native Americans did not have rights, which is why they were forced out.

How is this different from claiming that it's acceptable to murder socialists and communists? After all, they have no concept of individual rights, right?

In any case, its not like the colonists had a particularly strong concept of rights either. The whole situation was the most primitive assertion of property claims imaginable - namely you took whatever it was in your power to obtain and defend. As it happened, the colonists had slightly more power than the indians, and hence claimed a far greater amount of land. It sounds like complete rationalism to say that they were somehow 'morally superior' in this regard.

edit: I'm not demonising all the colonists or to romantically portray the indians as enjoying some kind of blessed nomadic lifestyle either - it isnt like the colonists arrived there and systematically began a campaign of genocide against the peace-loving indians (although this did come later). I'm sure there were some colonists who wanted to live in peace, just as there were probably some indians who felt likewise. As a whole however, it was little more than a brute force struggle for territory between the two sides, which the indians lost. I would say that the later actions on the part of the colonists and their government are completely indefensible however.

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How is this different from claiming that it's acceptable to murder socialists and communists?

Where did I say murder? I said forced out.

Now, killing socialist/communist/etc. in other countries is fine-meaning, declaring war on these countries is fine. That is why it is not wrong of us to declare war on Iraq-or why it wouldn't be wrong for us to nuke Tehran.

The Native American people and the government they set up for themselves had no concept of these rights-the colonist did, and in fact were very advanced. Read up on your history, especially things such as the Virginia Company.

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Has anyone read Heart of Darkness? This is slightly off subject, but it deals with colonization. I believe that a lot of that book applies to the motives of the western justification for colonization. I was just wondering if anyone had any opinions on that.

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As a whole however, it was little more than a brute force struggle for territory between the two sides, which the indians lost. I would say that the later actions on the part of the colonists and their government are completely indefensible however.

Well, of course the Indians lost. They were attempting to defend primitive savagery against civilization. It was simply no contest.

As for our actions being indefensible, I don't agree. While there were certainly instances of injustice, even blatant and unjustifiable brutality, in general I think we were extraordinarily beneficent toward the Indians. Most cultures simply would have exterminated or enslaved them. We gave them vast tracts of land, reservations, where they could live in peace and do what they wanted. Incidentally, I think that was a mistake - and we are paying the price today with ridiculous Indian claims for the return of "their lands". They had no claims to lands. They were predominantly hunter/gatherers which doesn't constitute a rational basis for a land claim. Roaming through a forest and hunting deer doesn't constitute a basis for ownership of that forest. Their only basis is a primitive tribalistic argument of territory - which the Indians. well before our arrival, constantly fought over among themselves (so our taking it from them is hardly anything they could complain about.)

Fred Weiss

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