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In which the History Wars go cross-continental May. 11th, 2009 @ 12:12 pm
So, one of the things that keeps being brought up in the discussion around Racefail09, Racefail the Thirteenth Child II is this:

The justification given for the deletion of the entire native populations of the Americas is this: in order for magic megafauna to survive, the natives need not to have moved in, because, it is claimed, "archaeology" says that the megafauna were rendered extinct by the hunting of humans.

As I quoted in my last post on this topic:

The extinction of megafauna around the world was probably due to environmental and ecological factors. It was almost completed by the end of the last ice age. It is believed that megafauna initially came into existence in response to glacial conditions and became extinct with the onset of warmer climates.

In temperate Eurasia and North America, megafauna extinction concluded simultaneously with the replacement of the vast periglacial tundra by an immense area of forest. Glacial species, such as mammoths and woolly rhinocerous, were replaced by animals better adapted to forests, such as elk, deer and pigs. Reindeers (caribou) retreated north, while horses moved south to the central Asian steppe. This all happened about 10 000 years ago, despite the fact that humans colonised North America less than 15 000 years ago and non-tropical Eurasia nearly 1 million years ago.

Source: The Australian Museum, factsheet on megafauna extinction.

This, then, is the actual current mainstream view. Now, orthodoxy is not automatically accuracy, but where the bulk of research is in agreement, a radically opposed view must bring the weight of evidence to bear in its favour.

The book that keeps getting cited on this is 1491, by Charles C. Mann. Allegedly a really convincing source; certainly, as it's the one that they all bring up, I'm going to treat it as a sufficient source for this argument, as far as pointing out why this is wrong goes.

First of all: Yes, it's a book. A published one. That doesn't mean it's right, doesn't mean it's not in fact purest excrement. David Irving writes books. Keith Windschuttle writes books. Not-even-slightly coincidentally, they're both racist revisionists.

One paragraph summary of Mann:

Setting aside Mann's political aim - which is, as I understand it, more about better land management than about writing the native populations out of existence, so don't judge him by the people who cite him - we have, as the central relevant claim, the idea that the various native American populations were vast and numerous before 1492 and European invasion. His contention is that up to 95% of the population were wiped out by European diseases, factional warfare, and overexploitation of available resources; the wild lands into which the colonists moved were much wilder than they had been.


1) There were tens of millions of native folk, but they all died around the 16th century of European plagues.

This argument? It is not clever.

a) If this were the case, the oral histories of the relevant peoples, which are not extinct and which record other instances of plague, would include it.

b) If diseases like smallpox (the one specifically cited) had ravaged the populace previously, subsequent generations, being descended from the survivors, would have an inherited resistance to it - they would not have been as susceptible to it the way they were when smallpox was being used as a biological weapon a few generations later.

c) Smallpox would have been extant on the continent. Diseases don't disappear. Even smallpox, the only disease now nominally eradicated by humanity, occasionally recurs in isolated areas, but it's not endemic, so it's kept in check. Without serious and advanced vaccination-based medical intervention, these diseases persist. Consider that, despite modern medical technology and the widespread availability of preventive vaccines, a landmass as isolated as Australia still only recently eradicated endemic measles. It wasn't. Nor were other European diseases.

d) Plagues just don't hit that hard. Consider that worse diseases than smallpox have not had anywhere near that kind of kill rate. The Black Death killed between 30 and 60 percent of the population of Europe - which, at the time, was living in conditions pretty much perfectly designed to maximise its impact. The 1918 flu pandemic didn't get anywhere near those kinds of kill rates. Nor did the plague of Athens in the Peloponnesian War. Zaire Ebola Virus, pretty much the deadliest disease in existence, doesn't get that high.

If your argument requires something to be deadlier than Ebola Zaire, you damn well better have some evidence. There is none - not historical, not epidemiological, nothing.

2) Those millions of native folk cultivated the land and modified the environment for their own benefit.

Okay. Assume they did. Why does this mean they exterminate useful animals? Remember, we are talking about the extinction of the megafauna - dragging in wider considerations of prehistoric living in the Americas is purest derailment.


The animals humans exterminate when we modify the environment to our own benefit are predators. Wolves, lions, tigers - they kill livestock and they kill people. The actual evidence is that native populations of the Americas hunted and ate large meaty beasts. This means that they have an active disincentive not to hunt them to extinction. The actual evidence is that they killed them if and when they wanted to - buffalo jumps aren't exactly the least wasteful way to bring down your dinner - but, as the actual evidence shows, this didn't cause buffalo extinction. Millions of buffalo were still wandering around North America after millennia of human habitation.

Please stop bringing Charles C. Mann into this.

Current Mood: tired
Current Music: Tongan Choir - 'Otua Mafimafi

Team Windschuttle And The Really Bad Rhetoric Mar. 25th, 2006 @ 11:38 pm
So, this evening I was reading Keith Windschuttle's article in the current issue of Quadrant: Why Australia Is Not A Racist Country.

And if I were having less success at being amused by it, I'd be absolutely outraged.

His argument is not only that Australia is not racist now (his assertion of a happy, multicultural nation fails to take into account the success of One Nation, such as it was, or the race riots in Cronulla, but then he seems to be very good at selective attentiveness), it never was.  While a critical reading of the article by anyone interested will, of course, provide many examples of why he sucks, and unless you care enough to read the article itself you probably won't care for an exhaustive breakdown written by me, there are a couple of particularly good examples I can't resist.

1) He cites as a reason for the non-racist nature of Australia society the fact that... Rudyard Kipling was popular.

Apparently in his world there was no racist content in Kipling.

Note that I think very highly of Kipling, and am a huge fan of such of his work as I have read.  However:

But despite his dirty 'ide, 'e was white, clear white, inside...

Nooo, that's not racist.  The fact that Gunga Din concludes: "Though I've beated you and flayed you, by the livin' gawd that made you, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din." does not mean there is no racist content.  (I may have the variant spelling and punctuation wrong, I'm quoting from memory.)

2) Where there is clear evidence of popular racist sentiment, he dismisses it; e.g. when referring to the strong concern of the governments dismantling the White Australia Policy that incautiously fast progress on that matter would cause them to lose office by provoking racist outcry by the public, he says that this fear was simply, "in [his] opinion, unwarranted."


3) "After the early gold rushes, the Chinese were largely excluded by the organised labour movement from the traditional skilled trades, as well as other unionised occupations such as shearing and wharf labouring.  Nonetheless, they found their own economic roles.  They came to dominate market gardening and eventually had an effective monopoly, growing no less than 75 per cent of the vegetables in the whole country.  This led them to become the principal hawkers of vegetables and to control about one fifth of Australia's fruit trade.  Chinese also found ready employment in the hospitality industry, especially as cooks.  Half the cooks in Australian hotels in the late nineteenth century were Chinese.  In the 1880s they dominated the low-cost furniture manufacturing industry, leaving the high-quality end of the market to European tradesmen."

Seriously, to me that reads as an argument in favour of the notion of widespread racism in Australia.  Discuss.

4) Windschuttle is a windbag, I suspect a racist, certainly a revisionist (worst of all), and something of an idiot, but he's also a hilarious elitist; more than once in the article he uses the phrase "the lower orders"; what he totally, totally means is, "the lower classes".  (But of course, Australia is supposed to be a classless society.  The obvious joke about how of course Australians have no class is hereby acknowledged.)  Because of course, only shabby proletarians are racist, the intelligentsia could never be so crude.

He's so bourgeois it's wonderful.
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