Michael Moore's Where To Invade Next

Arguably belongs in P&R…

I’m not a huge Michael Moore fan. I’m sure I side with him on more things than not but I concede he’s not adverse to playing fast and loose with the truth to make his point at times.

But I’m truly floored by his latest; Where To Invade Next? Didn’t know much about it going in and it wasn’t what I expected. His ‘bit’ in this movie is going around to several, traditionally white, European countries (and Tunisia), with the aim being learning about what they are doing different and better than the USA. There are looks at working conditions, paid vacation, hours and benefits. Health care. Education. Also crime (decriminalizing drug use) and incarceration. Women’s rights. And rather than coming off like he’s all over the map it’s really rather focused about how these other countries initially took their lead from the US, got good ideas, and then actually and completely implemented them rather than just a token nod or throwing the masses a bone.

Questions did arise in my mind about some of what he wasn’t talking about (like how racism/xenophobia, immigrant issues, unstable economies or unemployment might muddy up his picture in part) but it’s hard to ignore the big picture he’s trying to paint. For my money he didn’t spend enough time connecting the dots as to how in the aftermath of African Americans demanding their rights and the civil rights movement came the rise of the so-called war on drugs which for many happily incarcerated millions of largely young, black men which in turn also happened to deny many of them their right to vote in perpetuity. Or how our nation has systematically erased the stain of the genocide (native americans) and slavery upon which it was born and built.

I am not commenting on the movie but this last statement.

The genocide of Native Americans was no such thing and in fact is the wrong term. Genocide refers to the systematic killing and elimination of a group of people. It is estimated that diseases, the vast majority which were unintentionally transmitted, account for about 90% of Native American deaths. This is by definition not systematic and therefore is not genocide. While someone could point to Lord Amherst and the smallpox blankets, evidence remains sketchy that this was ever actually done moreover it is is an exceptionally small drop in a lake of fatalities. As for the other 10%, those were done in the course of warfare perpetrated on both sides with atrocities committed by both sides (though settlers/the US government committed the larger and more egregious acts). To summarize, the deaths of Native Americans was largely the result of the unintentional transmission of diseases that the population had no immunities to fight. It is absolutely tragic but even if the colonists had the best of intentions the results would have been largely similar.

As for the case of slavery, there is no doubt that this is perhaps the darkest chapter in the history of the USA. The country was rent asunder by this issue and it cost the lives of 600,000 soldiers in the Civil War. There is no defense. However, this issue was a holdover from the time when England controlled the territory as a colony and thus slavery was not born in the US but rather it was inherited from England. Personally, I find that the treatment of minorities after the Civil War until the 1960s Civil Rights Act is just as disturbing as this cannot be claimed as a holdover from the English colony days but rather a tragedy entirely created by post-war reconstructionism.

I think it’s probably still genocide if 90% of a people die of disease and then we hunt the remaining 10% for sport.

This is very PR…

I would guess you could make the case of looking at South/Central America, where despise the horrible treatment from the European settlers there (let’s not kid ourselves, Portugal and Spain were not exactly nice) still more fatalities happened due to sickness that direct killing. Like in North America. However, the end result (in the genetic prevalence of indigenous people in the overall population) is much, much different to that of North America.

Something different happened in the North. I’m not a historian, and I would be careful about using loaded terms like genocide in these cases, but there was a very different outcome that can not be explained just due to biology and points towards a different attitude towards the native populations long-term.

Here people say it’s probably the influence of the Catholic Church (which was somewhat more enlightened than the protestant churches in the areas of racism and superstition -although not on civil liberties, certainly-). But this normally comes from Catholic sources, so I’m wary of believing it.

My recollections from college and family (mother is Guatemalan) are that the indigenous peoples didn’t wind up being huge fans of the Catholics.

Then again, we have the Church to thank for a lot of our modern knowledge of Mayan religion. They taught the peoples they, erm, “bettered” (/enslaved) to write so that they could transcribe Bibles. . . and then they secretly used the knowledge to copy Mayan holy texts into languages we can read now, as their own had been more or less banned as savage. (this latter’s from a college course and could absolutely be misremembered)

The spin here (and remember, it might be a spin, and I’m not going to defend this, just putting it out there, lacking an specialist historian in our midst) is that Catholicism (the Church, really) certainly destroyed native culture (denying that is nonsensical). However, they did so by trying to convert/integrate the natives into the population, rather than keeping colonies and societies European-only. That didn’t make the process pretty or non-violent, but resulted in more native people not dying/being able to reproduce. By converting/acknowledging natives had souls, they protected them legally from the most extreme abuses of the colonists. Since this is a film thread, that’s basically what The Mission is really about (a movie Catholics love).

Even if this spin is true, I could see native populations not being fans of the process. Being less horrible than a more horrible alternative does not make it not horrible. Having your culture destroyed by force is probably something that won’t be deleted from people’s memories in many generations.

I’m just curious about why the different outcome in genetics.

Yeah, no, I don’t mean to imply it was as bad as it was further north. That there are more-or-less indigenous traits present on almost every face in Central America certainly paints a different picture than we have in the US–my own epicanthic folds included!

I think it is often a mistake that many people make that the U.S. killed off the Indians in some sort of long reaching campaign of genocide. Nothing can be further from the truth. What happened was awful, but the issue isn’t black and white, and that view paints the Native Americans as a people with a lack of agency. Which is not correct. Atrocities were committed by Native American and Americans alike. You have the Greek tragedy of the Cherokee people, who attempted to become American, but were never accepted. In the west, you had the fierce Lakota (Sioux) who fought tooth and nail with the U.S. (and pretty much everyone else for that matter) for pretty much the entirety of their existence. To say these people were slaughtered like sheep does shame to the memories of the warriors, women and children who died trying to protect their traditions and land, and paints them as ignorant savages, which is not too far off from how the people back then thought of them.

I think it is easy, for us as Americans, to be ashamed of our history and the horrible tragedy of the Native Americans in the 1800s. To brush things off with common refrain of “The Americans of the past sucked, and we today would never do that!” allows people to forget the lessons learned in the past, and is somewhat a tragedy in itself.

This is P&R now, and I am not calling anyone out! I too thought the same way before making Native American history and 1700-1800s American history a bit of a hobby of mine. (All I read are history books lately) The Fist in the Wilderness - David Lavender is a book I am reading right now. Life of Black Hawk (Which is the dictated memoir of Chief Black Hawk) is also a special read.

That’s interesting Rowe.

It makes me wonder: Do you think maybe the difference could come from the different speeds at which “colonization” (loaded term, I know) progressed in the two parts of the continent (that is, that in Central, South America the process of colonization was faster, thus taking away the ability of the native populations to maintain State/cultural structures powerful enough and maybe thus defusing some of the long term conflicts that arose in the North)?

Have you read anything about why the difference in outcome might have happened? It is obviously due to both the nature of the colonists and the natives being different, and it’s something I have always wondered about (but most of the literature about it that I’ve found is extremely biased one or the other way, I think historians in the anglosphere are normally much more even in their treatments).

Well, to be quite honest, it is really a bit of a pickle. The U.S. wanted the Indians to become citizens in some ways. You have situations like the Cherokee, where the Americanization process was quite extreme. And you also have the Native populations as somewhat of a wild-card. They were often used in conflicts against the U.S., or fought alongside the U.S. against the Spanish. It seems like nobody really knew what to do. The Native American population was often seen as a useful tool, and there are many instances of friendly tribes helping settlers and trappers quite greatly.

But, the real issue, is that with any tribal culture, there is no centralization. Which is what the U.S. couldn’t deal with. The U.S. couldn’t wrap their minds around how tribal society worked. How can you deal when this group of Winnebago is friendly and beneficial to fur trading companies, when another group attacks a fort for some perceived (real or not) slight with the militia there. This way, the U.S. was quite kind to the native populations in some ways (much more so than the spanish in south america), trading them horses and rifles. Which greatly helped their daily lives.

Like any seemingly alien life, typically foreigners were greeted with skepticism, but not outright hostility. So, often, in the vastness of the west, there was no need to deal with the Native American population. The land seemed endless, and we could just move to some area they aren’t using.

That is why there wasn’t any sort of swift colonization, there was just too much landmass, and too much foot-dragging from the federalists fearing the real issue was a British counter-attack, which would happen, in 1812, to be fair. The West was seen as unnecessary indian lands. And, with the British using a lot of the Native Americans for raiding parties in the war of 1812, we began seeing the Indians as enemies more than a neutral 3rd party.

It was a real mess and a half. That is a really interesting thought experiment, about how a swifter “colonization” could have happened, and how different things would have been.

The patterns of colonization were different:

  1. Many if not most of the Spanish conquistadors were the younger sons of Spanish nobility or of only minor nobility who would inherit little in Spain. They came to Spain with the idea of setting up feudal estates, with most/all of the workers being Native Americans. They did not desire to work the land themselves (that was beneath them), they wanted to live the life of petty feudal nobility. So they needed Indian labor. I’ll also note that Indian populations in certain parts of Central/South America were denser than those of North America, many of who were hunter/gathers or mixed hunting/gathering with farming. So it was a lot easier to do this in Central/South America even after the huge population losses due to European diseases.

  2. Settlers to North America were largely English yeoman, not nobility. They were interested in farming, actually working the land themselves, or setting themselves up in trades, or as merchants. They had no interest in having large number of Indians working the land for them, and the populations weren’t dense enough to support that sort of system anyway. I don’t remember reading of much of the English nobility coming to live in the New World.

That’s my take from what I’ve read. There was a good book about Pizarro’s conquest of Peru/Incas a few years ago that explained this dynamic (at least the Spanish part). After Cortez’s conquest, all the conquistadors, including Pizarro, wanted to emulate him and set themselves at the top of a largely Indian population with themselves as the feudal lords. All they could think about was being another Cortez. I don’t think it really had much to do with the speed of colonization but the nature of it.

Well, little interest in having large numbers of Indians (or Native Americans), certainly, but half the original colonies had much of the labor done by Black slaves. I’d be interested in reading/learning more about how things differed in the US territory vs. Brazil (which also had legal slavery, IIRC), and how the different cultures evolved.

I think the centralized church likely played a significant role, as did racial miscegenation (which was frowned upon in the US but seems pretty common elsewhere, based on the prevalence of mestizos in much of Central and South America.

We are fully P&R now.

But, I wonder how much it hurt the Native South Americans that their society and poplution was so centralized around larger cities. Made things much easier to conquer. Much easier than trying to conquer thousands of individuals scattered over thousands of square miles. Nomadically moving with the herds/seasons.

Less than a third of Southern households owned slaves, and most of those owned just a few. Large importation of black slaves came later as first tobacco and cotton came along and need large work forces. By that time, there weren’t enough Indians to supply such labor if that had been the desire.

I always thought in the Europeans in Central and South America “integrated” with the natives much more than here in North America. The Spanish and Portuguese married natives while here that never really happened. Here we fought them and then segregated them. In Central and South America you fought them and “civilized” them. Were there reservations in Central And South America?

I think you can credit the church - Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias did a lot to change how the Spanish operated.

??? I don’t know where you have read this, but AFAIK early Spanish emigration to the Americas was centered on the poorer states of the society. There was nobility going there to be nobility in the new territories, but the vast majority were peasants/soldiers/sailors, at least going by what academia says here. I mean, yes, Pizarro wanted to be a feudal lord, but what about all the other people that came with and after him?

Wow was this derailed. :-)

For the record, in case anyone thinks that the treatment of Native Americans and African Americans was in any way the theme of this movie… it wasn’t.

But how this conversation started with someone taking objection to the use of a trigger word in describing what clearly is a national embarrassment / borderline crime against humanity is actually pretty much what the movie ends up being about. How people in the US are way to comfortable digesting our own foibles and failings while at the same time deriding the rest of the world for theirs and how “they don’t get it”. The preoccupation with so many people (and politicians) that We, the United States of America, are The Greatest Country in the World and the world is lucky to have us so shut up and sit down. That, in a sense, IS what the movie is about. That we need to get over being too proud or too fearful to look within, be critical of ourselves, and perhaps agree that in many ways it is the rest of the world that is getting it right.

That has never been Michael Moore’s strong suit. That dude is more convinced he’s right than all of Team America: World Police.

Certainly, relative to the part of the world currently occupied by Michael Moore, the rest of the world is certainly getting it more right as regards documentary filmmaking.