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Rand on Native Americans (Question at West Point)

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I agree with you, but you and I both hold positions on this topic which are different from most Objectivists.

Sure, but at least in that war the primitive side is also the aggressor. By all things equal, I was thinking about when we could call both sides aggressors. Although in this case, the primitive-ness i

So basically, support the preservation of the more advanced society, and the assimilation of the less advanced society, while condemning atrocities committed by both sides? I agree with that.    

Some history from our family’s tribe,* the Choctaw:


The Choctaw are native to the Southeastern United States and members of the Muskogean linguistic family, which traces its roots to a mound-building, maize-based society that flourished in the Mississippi River Valley for more than a thousand years before European contact.

 

Although their first encounter with Europeans ended in a bloody battle with Hernando de Soto’s fortune-hunting expedition in 1540, the Choctaw would come to embrace European traders who arrived in their homeland nearly two centuries later. By the time President George Washington initiated a program to integrate Southeastern Indians into European American culture following the Revolutionary War, many Choctaw had already intermarried, converted to Christianity and adopted other white customs. The Choctaw became known as one of America’s Five Civilized Tribes, which also included the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek and Seminole.

 

Continued here.

 

Of Native Americans more generally, there was no genocide. Deaths were overwhelmingly due to infection from the Europeans for which Native Americans had no immune defenses. Nobody had our knowledge of that in those days. It was not a deliberate mass killing.

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She didn't hate the native race. She passionately despised racism as a particularly viscious sort of irrationality.

She hated the native lifestyle prior to colonization, and rightly so, because men aren't meant to scrape a living out of the mud with their bare hands.

So she rejected this supposed "right" to prevent anyone else from building factories on that mud.

The hatred isn't for Native Americans; it's for their ancestors' philosophy. You should see what she said about her own.

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Mr. Jodeit,

 

The takeover of Native American lands in continental USA was by many different sorts of treaties and methods, but it was not for the sake of building factories. My tribe and its sister tribes were hunters and farmers who adopted the better technology of the European settlers. It is false that those tribes and others merely "lived in the mud." The takeover was overwhelmingly for the sake transferring farms and other lands of the tribes to European settlers, which means European farmers and ranchers. Some land was taken for mining, but that was the exception. The rule was takeover for agriculture by factions of people having influence in the US government.

 

There can be no informed sweeping conclusion saying there were two sides throughout the new settlement of America, one of them always without moral title to the land they had been using, the newcomers always with moral title. That is the collectivist thinking you and I both oppose. Ayn Rand and the person who posed the question to her fell into that error on this occasion, error made possible by their ignorance of the history of the real people, beyond stereotypes.

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To Mister Boydstun,

I want to thank you for your response. It is insightful and holds true to what little I have studied about some of the facts and myths of the "conquest" of the Americas. It should be pointed out also that the Cherokee of Texas were cooperative with the government of the Republic of Texas. So much so that they owned African-American slaves, and, years later, fought for the Southern Confederacy. To be sure, racism, and/or ethic identities, were determining factors as to ones rights as a citizen, (or tribal member for that matter), throughout the known world of the 19th Century. We have the advantage of living in an age when people and their ethnic identity are viewed much differently. 

I recognized the challenge of dealing with the legacy of our collective past, and caution against those who would make claims of collective guilt. As for the quote from Ms Rand in 1974, she clearly favored constructive progress, in both ideas and industry, if the only other choice was the false security of mysticism and stagnation.

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Mr. Boydstun,

I'm aware that the situation was much more complex than I described, with good and evil individuals on both sides (if they're even concieved of as two sides). But Ayn Rand's statement was essentially that the natives had no right to exclude others from land they weren't using, which I agree with.

As for living in the mud, I'm not familiar with choctaw history, but the cherokee (and most iroquois nations, I think) lived seminomadically, farming one area for several years before moving to a new one and repeating the process again, in a giant circle, for one generation after another.

The same process, repeated throughout multiple centuries, without alteration. That's horrible.

---

Now, yes, both statements (not using the land and not living as men qua men) are massive oversimplifications. Many colonists didn't live any closer to man qua man and I have no doubt that many natives (like sequoia) were exceptionally rational.

Furthermore, the actions of a few men (general custer comes to mind) were downright evil, point blank.

But of all possible oversimplifications, I think Rand's is the nearest to being accurate.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
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There can be no informed sweeping conclusion saying there were two sides throughout the new settlement of America, one of them always without moral title to the land they had been using, the newcomers always with moral title.

You oppose collectivist thinking. And yet, you allude to your TRIBE having a moral title to land.
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.

Yes, I speak also of my company, my family, and my country. Yes, my tribe way back had rightful title to some farms in the South, rightly recognized at times by the US government, much like we recognize ownership of farms by large corporations today. Yes, today my tribe owns land and a casino in Oklahoma. 

 

In another recent post, a generous one to you personally, I told you what I thought about something in addition to agreeing to what you thought about it, then showed you, for the fine old language and entertainment, what Thomas Hobbes wrote on the topic, his view, not mine. You responded by spitting on the precious personal information I had shared with you in the first paragraph* and by distortion of my own express view and not as if I had given you a congenial smile, but a punch, and proceeded there as here to striking out at phantoms. You have demonstrated you do not benefit from my thought or information, and I'll not bother with you further.

Edited by Boydstun
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  • 1 year later...

I do not currently have enough knowledge about the history of the displacement of the Indians to judge whether or not the U.S. government's actions overall were moral. I think that everyone on here agrees that there were atrocities committed by both sides.

 

My impression is that most of the tribal leaders were interested in pursuing peace, but I may be wrong about that. I would also maintain that the white settlers had an obligation to respect the rights of tribes to land that they were using, as long as the Indians agreed to respect their rights. Even though the Indians may not have fully developed the concept of property rights, the settlers did have this understanding, and had a moral obligation to apply it to the Indians in a manner consistent with the philosophical underlying property rights as recognized within Western societies.

 

I also find Rand's comments to be making an unfair generalization about the Indians. While it may have been true that many of the tribes were primitive, and that their claims of sovereignty over much of their territory were unfounded, I think it is irresponsible to make blanket statements about groups of people.

 

And finally, I have a question about an argument which I've seen from a lot of Objectivists regarding primitive societies -- namely, that you should support any advanced civilization which is in conflict with a more primitive society for possession of territory, for the reason that they are more advanced. How far do you take this argument? Let's say that a bunch of people from Europe move to some African country and set up camp, and find themselves in a dispute with primitive tribes who also lay claim to the territory. Do they have the right to simply turn around and exterminate the tribesmen so they can build a modern Western society? If not, then why not?

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I also find Rand's comments to be making an unfair generalization about the Indians. While it may have been true that many of the tribes were primitive, and that their claims of sovereignty over much of their territory were unfounded, I think it is irresponsible to make blanket statements about groups of people.

Then don't discuss politics?

The fact is that everything we deal with in conceptual terms is a generalization (including this statement); that's just part of what thinking is. So when we discuss large groups of people we're going to make blanket statements about them (including every implicit reference to "everyone", when I just explained how the mind of every person who ever has lived or will live works).

Now, some generalizations are more accurate than others. One can categorize people according to the color of their skin or their own beliefs; they're the same type of action, but would you say that either could be used to make equally-accurate assertions? Not all generalizations are equal.

Blanket statements as such, however, are an inherent part of politics; if one is irresponsible then so is the other.

-- namely, that you should support any advanced civilization which is in conflict with a more primitive society for possession of territory, for the reason that they are more advanced. How far do you take this argument?

I can't help you with that one; I think that the concept of a society having territory at all is flawed.

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Then don't discuss politics?

The fact is that everything we deal with in conceptual terms is a generalization (including this statement); that's just part of what thinking is. So when we discuss large groups of people we're going to make blanket statements about them (including every implicit reference to "everyone", when I just explained how the mind of every person who ever has lived or will live works).

 

Then I should correct my previous post somewhat. I think that generalizations may be appropriate in some contexts, when you're trying to hold a particular group accountable for actions which are characteristic of a large number of people in the group. For instance, when discussing feminism I will lump all feminists into the same category in order to call out the aspects of feminism which I believe are immoral, and to hold feminists who do not believe in these aspects of it responsible for their failure to address them. I think a lot of people (Including Objectivists) do the same thing in critiquing Islam, and I also think that's fine if you think that Muslims aren't taking enough responsibility for the actions of violent terrorists.

 

But when we're analyzing the actions committed by individual members of one group versus another, then making these types of generalizations only serves to shift responsibility away from individuals and onto the particular group being cast in a negative light. For instance, saying that oppression of blacks is justified because many blacks are living on welfare and committing violent crimes. These may be moral failures for which the black community needs to take responsibility, but that does not mean that all black people, or even all black communities, are inherently a bunch of welfare parasites and violent criminals. And this would be even more inappropriate as a response to someone pointing out ways in which blacks are mistreated, as it would be in effect condoning all racist actions taken by whites.

 

I have a problem with Rand's comments on the Indians for the same reason. I wouldn't have a problem with her arguing that the Indians should take responsibility for unprovoked attacks made against white settlements, but dismissing all of the wrongs which native people suffered because they were all a bunch violent savages is not an acceptable position.

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And finally, I have a question about an argument which I've seen from a lot of Objectivists regarding primitive societies -- namely, that you should support any advanced civilization which is in conflict with a more primitive society for possession of territory, for the reason that they are more advanced. How far do you take this argument?

I actually haven't heard anyone state this. Or at least, stated this way, it really isn't Rand's position. For Rand's position, I agree she made unfair generalizations of Native Americans, but her premise as I remember is that a sufficiently primitive societys has no sense of property rights. If they have no sense of propety rights, there are no property rights to violate. Any "invaders" are morally justified to claim territory, especially by being a considerably advanced society. I don't think it is meant to justify killing, just that property wasn't stolen or appropriated. It's not that one society or another has territory, though.

The important question is if they really were so primitive. Maybe some were, but as you say, plenty did have notions of property and/or rights, even if not fully developed.

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I think it is indeed true that the Indian tribes did have concepts of property rights. The historical record is very clear about that. Some tribes even had constitutions that clearly spelled them out. There are documented instances of tribes and settlers making contracts between each other, and even instances of them setting up neutral courts and arbitration of property disputes happening between a native and a settler. By the time you get to Andrew Jackson and the trail of tears, you have a pretty clear act of genocide and ethnic cleansing on the part of the USG. I think Rand was operating on some pretty outdated historical assumptions that the tribes were mostly just savages who objected to the very presence of white people, which is not borne out at all by the historical record.

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I actually haven't heard anyone state this.

 

I know that Rand made a similar argument about the conflict between Israel and the Arabs, that was based on the belief that we should unconditionally support Israel, because they were more civilized than the Arabs. That would imply that you should always support a more advanced civilization over a less advanced civilization, regardless of their actions.

 

I also got into an argument with another group of Objectivists on Facebook where they were making a similar argument, related to both the Indians and the Palestinians.

 

[Rand's] premise as I remember is that a sufficiently primitive societys has no sense of property rights. If they have no sense of propety rights, there are no property rights to violate. Any "invaders" are morally justified to claim territory, especially by being a considerably advanced society. I don't think it is meant to justify killing, just that property wasn't stolen or appropriated. It's not that one society or another has territory, though.

 

So she would have explicitly objected to killing Indians, then? Does anyone have a quote to support this?

 

 

The important question is if they really were so primitive. Maybe some were, but as you say, plenty did have notions of property and/or rights, even if not fully developed.

 

I think it is indeed true that the Indian tribes did have concepts of property rights. The historical record is very clear about that. Some tribes even had constitutions that clearly spelled them out. There are documented instances of tribes and settlers making contracts between each other, and even instances of them setting up neutral courts and arbitration of property disputes happening between a native and a settler. By the time you get to Andrew Jackson and the trail of tears, you have a pretty clear act of genocide and ethnic cleansing on the part of the USG. I think Rand was operating on some pretty outdated historical assumptions that the tribes were mostly just savages who objected to the very presence of white people, which is not borne out at all by the historical record.

 

Yes, I definitely think that is the case. I think that many of the tribes did have at least primitive concepts of property rights, although they may have seen themselves more as stewards of the land than as owners. Some of the tribes did also voluntarily agree to give whites ownership of their land, not fully understanding what that would entail, which is a failure of cultural understanding for which they bore responsibility. But if a tribe held sovereign control over land, and was making use of it to support their existence, then white settlers had a moral obligation to respect it as theirs.

 

Apart from that, I think Rand's misunderstanding of the history behind interactions between whites and natives was an error of knowledge.

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So she would have explicitly objected to killing Indians, then? Does anyone have a quote to support this?

 

I wouldn't know. Whether it exists or not doesn't really matter, not stating an objection something doesn't always mean support. Arab-Israeli conflict is a different context where part of it has to do with war, not just territory. All things equal, a more socially advanced society deserves support. That is, if you had to pick sides in a war. As for two neutral parties with no conflict, I'd give greater moral support to the more advanced society, but it's not like I'd go around killing the inferior society. So, it's possible to separate support for a society from what you do to a society.

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Arab-Israeli conflict is a different context where part of it has to do with war, not just territory. All things equal, a more socially advanced society deserves support. That is, if you had to pick sides in a war.

 

The problem is that all things aren't equal in a war. At least one side is an aggressor, and in that context I'd say you should support the side which is defending itself. It's true that there may be cases in which there's ambiguity on both sides, but this still can't happen without the more advanced society bearing some responsibility for the situation, and any support in that case should be conditioned on them committing to conducting themselves in a just manner going forward.

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The problem is that all things aren't equal in a war. At least one side is an aggressor, and in that context I'd say you should support the side which is defending itself. It's true that there may be cases in which there's ambiguity on both sides, but this still can't happen without the more advanced society bearing some responsibility for the situation, and any support in that case should be conditioned on them committing to conducting themselves in a just manner going forward.

Sure, but at least in that war the primitive side is also the aggressor. By all things equal, I was thinking about when we could call both sides aggressors. Although in this case, the primitive-ness is just more reason to support the Israeli side. In any case, with Native Americans, there was no war. So in that sense, all was equal besides advancement, meaning I'd offer support and praise of the more advanced society, the Europeans. It doesn't follow that actions taken against the less advanced society is always justified. I'd say most Native Americans weren't primitive enough to justify saying they that none of them had property by their own standards. Primitive tribes in the Amazon are sometimes really so primitive that Rand's position fits it perfectly and I agree. But if we're talking about, say, the Inca, they really were sufficiently advanced that the Spanish should've paid attention to property and all that. 

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The discussion on this thread ignores what appears to be long forgotten history. When the Comanche’s roamed 50,000 acres of the plains striking fear into Apaches and whites alike, riding through farms, snatching babies and while riding at full speed smashing their heads against tree trunks some would take notice. While Caddo’s would weep over how they would miss you while preparing the stew with which to boil you and serve you up as a feast for the tribe, some would take notice. While some coastal tribesmen in Texas would take filets off of you and roast them, eating them before you so that you could see yourself being eaten, some would take notice. We are not exposed to frequent atrocities like this in our own neighborhoods so we seem to have no clue as to why history evolved as it did. Forgetting the constellation of crimes and remembering only the modern, perceivable fact that the various tribes were dispossessed of their lands, we reinvent causes that seem plausible but have no real historical basis. Go back and read newspaper accounts of what white settlers had to face and perhaps you might understand how Andrew Jackson could have an adopted Native American son and still bring about the trail of tears.

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I know that Rand made a similar argument about the conflict between Israel and the Arabs, that was based on the belief that we should unconditionally support Israel, because they were more civilized than the Arabs. That would imply that you should always support a more advanced civilization over a less advanced civilization, regardless of their actions.

Well, in that case (and any others that are comparable) I think that we should support the Israelis. Not actually unconditionally, of course, but in every particular dispute that I can think of.

For example, some Palestinians have said that Israel's colonization of certain territory is an act of aggression against them; an initiation of force. I think it's reasonable to dismiss any such claim, that to build structures for human habitation is really an act of violence, out of hand (unless they're building on top of their faces). Another example would be the collateral damage inflicted on innocent Palestinians, in the course of Israel's defense of its own citizenry (such as airbombing insurgents' missile stockpiles, along with the hospital they're being stored in).

It's OK to build things; it's not OK to blow other people up unless you have a very good reason to.

Do you see why I think we should support Israel, in general?

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
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