Kenroy George

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10/09/14 Musings # , , , , , ,

The Human Guide to Life

This is my uneducated take on the state of the world based on the brief time I have lived on this earth. I also wanted to put my thoughts in writing before venturing into to the bowels of academia, and have it serve as a time capsule I may be able to look back on in case I forgot the reasons for this journey. They are observations from every part of my life whether from books, conversations, articles, or movies and I provide no solid evidence for anything. This is a summary of what I spend time thinking about.

“Learning without thought is labor lost” — Confucius

My later years were spent taking in as much of what is going on in the world around me without exercising judgement, which proved to be incredibly difficult. One theme that continuously arises is how much time we spend doing things that have little effect on our lives and almost ignore what I consider to be the most vital: our humanity and its connection to the world around us.

Nations and Their Government

The more I travel, the concept of a world without borders continues to force its way back into my thoughts. A world where people freely move as they see fit, void of national or state borders. Before this happens we must first prepare people to live in such a world. That includes minimizing prejudice and maximizing inclusion. Allowing us to be proud of our differences while celebrating our similarities. The hope being removal of physical borders will have the same effect mentally and it forces people to question what is out there given they have no lines to hide behind.

Those in power also have to understand that they will never be able to control the entire population; It is not their job to. Their duty is to create an environment where control is not necessary because you have a thinking and proactive group of people who are fully capable of taking care of themselves instead of being seen as dependent. If you continue to think of them as such they will eventually adapt to this way of thought and when it happens it will by no means be their fault. The irony of this situation is the current dependency of those at the top on those they should be leading. We are in a highly individualistic culture promoted worldwide through the media we consume and the things we hold dear are not what they used to be. We must also see people for what they are: fellow human beings. They all fall on a continuum and the combinations of characteristics are infinite. Let us encourage this and not continue our attempts to have them fit into boxes because we will hit the walls very quickly.

The traditional hierarchical structure.
The traditional hierarchical structure.

Society and Economy

Society at large is currently a reflection of those at the top. Though their followers may not know this they do take on the characteristics of their leaders. They are the role models of society. Those in power have given up the responsibilities their role entails; instead of serving they expect to be served. With changes in leadership and our willingness to admit to ourselves that there are many things that are not working, we need to find ways to set them straight. These two areas are shaped by those we have chosen, and sometimes not, to show us the way but with the unsuccessful mingling of many cultures we have lost track of why we first ventured out to build civilizations. Hopefully we’ve accepted that after many attempts it does not work when you force everyone to behave uniformly. This has always caused disruptions because inherently you are saying (whether explicitly or not) that one way is better than another.

Looking at how cultures function in particular regions alone one would see that it does not work. We need leaders who recognize this and are able to devise utilitarian methods to work together while being cognizant of the nuances of people and place. The exchange amongst these entities have been tried many times and we’re slowly coming to realize that there is not one-size-fits-all solution. Money and our value system needs to be revised taking into consideration the many aspects of all those involved. Though I remain optimistic, we seem destined for a reset/regression every couple hundred years when someone comes along and lazily tries to apply a one-sized solution to everyone. The arcane concept of GDP needs to go!

The People

School
We spend years here yet we are left feeling empty and unable to even deal with our most vital of human instincts. Critical thinking and creativity is not of the utmost priority. We are trained to fit into roles that are predefined by the “market” instead of how to to deal with any situation. This is the beginning of the path to specialization and dependency. After finishing school instead of building from a solid foundation we spend yet more time unlearning what we’ve gained during these years because they do not always pass the test on first contact with reality.

The socialization and collaborative skills that schools provide are excellent for kids and should supplement the lessons learnt at home. We should also not be spending our home time still working on school but left to interact with our families. We are getting to the point of questioning the effectiveness of having kids sit in rooms for hours with hopes that after years of doing so they will have picked up a skill when really we’re just wasting their time and killing their natural curiosity by telling them everything they cannot do while leaving very little room for personal growth as a human being and for exploration of their personal paths.

Work
This is what you’ve spent years working towards. You can’t blame anyone for being entitled at this point after the many promises. You’ve been schooled for years in order to get a good “job”. Some are lucky to successfully find a role for themselves but others are left with the previous feeling of emptiness and unfulfilled in a position they despise. When you’re asked to make sacrifices it’s wise to follow the line to who is the one truly gaining from said sacrifice. This would ultimately have a different meaning than it does now, where we see it as a thing we have to do for most of the day/week to keep ourselves alive.

We would probably move into a space where this could become nonexistent in our day to day because we’ve gotten rid of the busywork and our dependence on the financial system as it is. There’s a great deal of people doing things out of character because they are left with little to no options due to circumstances. With visionary and firmly-rooted leaders we can move in a direction that is beneficial for everyone and the resources that are now hoarded by a very few while others die from a complete lack.

Family
With the items above taking priority, for some, the family unit is relegated to whatever time is left. The irony is that the family is much more powerful than the previous two. We spend so little time with those who can make the largest impact in our lives but overtime schools have become the replacement to this vital area. With parents caught up with work and their own lives, we have little time for the imparting of lessons learnt overtime and the constant setting of examples for their children. The right use of time spent together can have profound affect on the members and can pay handsome dividends overtime. School has essentially become a large daycare network for children while their parents are at work. The love and care that family has can very rarely be replicated in schools. Teachers are required to follow curriculums and are so restricted in how they interact with the students that we are taking a gamble by leaving them in their care.

You
With your efforts focused on everything but yourself you are left to deal with a host of problems you have no idea what the sources are. You’ll spend 18 years away from your family, indoors most likely, sitting still for extended periods of time being funneled through “rigorous” lessons you’ll most likely be dispassionate about. This can stick with you for the rest of your life. You will try to make sense of the world around you but it will be filtered through the lens of books you’ve read which can hinder you from truly seeing the reality right in front of you. You’ll be dependent on instruction from others because your will to be self-sufficient has been crushed. You’re also scared to try new things out of fear of failing. You may later resort to numerous vices to fill that hole which you have no idea of its source. You’ll go see a psychologist who will recommend medication to compensate for it.

Conclusion
My hope is that all this could have easily been prevented if we followed our inner voice and walked the path that came most naturally to us. Unfortunately, we continue to send people through the meat grinder hoping that they’ll make it out tough enough to stay alive while their internal world is out of touch with the natural world and their humanity. The end goal is to get us to change our perspective on power and the role of leaders; To go from the top of the pyramid as rulers to the bottom as supporters and servants of the people they lead. They do not place themselves above the pack but create a solid foundation from those around them to move forward.

The decentralized structure of the future.
The decentralized structure of the future.

I know there will be many who continue the “well that’s the way it is” attitude but to you I remove my hat and say “carry on if you truly enjoy that feeling.” The fact that some of us have accepted suffering as the normal mode of being in this day and age is quite baffling given the knowledge we’ve amassed. It’s akin to watching a baby playing with live nukes. It would be understandable a couple thousand years ago when we did not have a full picture of the world we inhabit but today there are no words to truly describe how deplorable of a situation we live in but I guess one can say we did make some progress!

Let’s all make an effort to right our path together while we still have time. Of course it’s not going to be easy and there is no promise that it will work but here is one thing: you hold the power over the life you lead. With a couple perspective shifts you will come to see how absurd the things we do really are. We are at a point where we have made more than enough mistakes to decide what works and what doesn’t. We have enough information to forge a path that can lead us out of this living hell hole but don’t take my word for it — let’s do it together.

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29/11/13 Academic Paper # , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Labor Systems and the Growth of Colonies

European governments backed legal criminal enterprises on an international scale. There were few moral or ethical burdens that stood in their way of increased profits as well as forceful acquisition of land and resources through colonies around the globe. Their products included cash crops such as sugar, cotton, maize, tobacco, precious metals (metals freely available yet blood was still spilled for it), and humans. They were very generous with their sharing of diseases that decimated native populations at epidemic proportions. There were some positive side effects to most of this transoceanic activity: plants and animals were traded in what became known as the Columbian Exchange. This helped to feed and facilitate exponential population growth that made for a larger labor force. Another vital part of this exchange was religion, particularly Christianity, which further gave their exploration justification claiming that they were doing God’s will. Extricating land and the rights of many people were of little consequence when a higher power was backing up your decisions. This was a morally ambiguous time during which anything went.

Spain was the leader in these exploratory ventures. They were in a difficult position of not having enough cultivable land at home to provide for their growing population, they sought out greener pastures in Asia. Funding was low but eventually wealthy Italian bankers came to their rescue. Setting sail due west, the young captain Christopher Columbus thought this would be a much shorter and faster route to Asia than heading south around the tip of Africa then up through the Indian Ocean (the Portuguese followed this path a few years earlier with the trip of Bartolomeu Dias and later by Vasco da Gama). Instead, they had the fortune of landing on one of many islands of the Bahamas where he encountered the Lucayan people, a subset of the Taínos people who inhabited most of the Caribbean islands. There was grave disappointment in not having reached Asia but they could not return home empty handed. The initial lack of gold in these areas did not dull their appetite one bit and these Natives had the great fortune of being tasked to mine for it. In the process many either died or were brutally murdered when they were unable to procure any of the precious metal. By 1520, approximately 40,000 Indians were whisked away as slaves that lead to the entire population of Lucayan getting wiped out (Sauer, p. 159-160). This trip paved the way for Europe to have its way with the newly “discovered” lands; to exploit it and its people for all it’s worth (Traditions, p. 472).

Europe increased its efforts to explore this new region of the globe. When their own people were not enough they resorted to utilizing the manpower of other groups  whether through trade, coercion or full-on forced labor. Returning to the Americas with greater resources including more ships and men, the Spanish brought with them the encomienda system that allowed them to put the natives to work on farms and mines. In exchange for their “hard work” of teaching the Natives Spanish and indoctrinating them into the Christian religion, they were expected to pay tribute to the crown either through their labor or with gold. This was not so different from the mita system they adopted much later in Mexico with the Incas and employed which mandated that 1/7 of their male population contribute their labor for 4 months out of the year (Traditions, p. 534). Many died under the harsh conditions that lead to others attempting to circumvent the requirements by running away inland. There were protests against the disparaging conditions but those were quickly squashed with violent displays of decapitated human bodies. The system was built to make sure the leaders took care of their workers but the pay was not always enough to cover for their living expenses. Some took loans in attempt to make ends meet, this further trammeled them into a spiraling debt cycle. Those unfortunate enough to not repay became so permanently indebted to leaders that they never made it back to their families (Traditions, p. 536). This was the harbinger of darker times ahead that faced many non-Europeans in their shortsighted push for profit.

Pedro Alvares de Cabral made a short stopover in Brazil on his way to India but did not show much interest. It wasn’t until French and Dutch mariners visited the country that the Portuguese chose to colonize Brazil for it’s sugar production. The engenho, or sugar mill, consisted of everything necessary for the production of sugar and other sugar-related products on plantations in Brazil. Most of the labor force were made up of Africans brought in for that sole purpose. This contrasted starkly with other slave labor groups where the Natives and some Europeans were utilized. The Portuguese did attempt to force the Brazilian Natives into becoming laborers but they moved further inland similar to Incas to evade the Spanish. There was also the issue of smallpox and measles that decimated large portions of the population leaving the Portuguese with very little laborers to choose from.

As territorial expansion moved into the North Americas from the Caribbean, lead by the French, British, and the Dutch, the demands for able-bodied workers grew immensely greater. Interactions between the Native Americans and Europeans started off somewhat peaceful with exchanges in foods, animals and ideas until the foreigners pushed further into the Native’s hunting grounds. There were some initial revolts and fighting over land but it usually ended with the Natives being heavily bombarded due to advanced weapons wielded by the Europeans. When it came to coercing the Natives to work it was not as easily doable compared to groups in the Caribbean and South America due largely to their hunter-gatherer way of life. The ideas of settlement and land ownership were foreign to them. Though the Europeans attempted to create agreements, the Natives did not abide by them for long since they saw little value in them when it was necessary for their survival to move with the buffalo herds that provided them with food and clothing. This would change drastically once the fur craze reached the American shores. Massive buffalo herds and beaver colonies would be wiped out solely for their fur. Civil wars broke out amongst tribes due to their alliance with particular European colonies. The greatest example of this would be the decrease in the Huron Indian population during their spat with the Iroquois Indians.

Settlers would further the discord between the natives and themselves with their continued expansion into their hunting grounds. The usual European crops did not fare well in the Americas but it was because of the natives that they were introduced to maize (corn), animals and fish that helped them to survive (Traditions, p. 536). Even after this they still choose to separate themselves from the natives. Production took place on large plantations where laborers were initially indentured servants consisting of convicted persons, orphans and other unsavory characters who exchanged their labor for a new lease on life in the Americas. The natives did not give in to the pressures of doing the work of the Europeans even after their numbers were severely decreasing and were driven out of their lands. When the terms for these laborers came to an end the colonist resorted to cheap labor from Africa.

By the time 1750 rolled around, plantations comprised entirely of Africans slaves; 120,000 were assigned to tobacco and another 180,000 farmed rice (Traditions, p. 539). Cash crops (sugar, tobacco, and cotton) from the colonies were shipped back to Europe where they were made into finished products including (textiles, rum and other manufactured goods) that made their way to Africa in exchange for more slaves to head back to the Americas. This cycle became popularly known as the Triangular trade.

Olaudah Equiano, renamed by one of his owners Gustavus Vassa, gives a detailed account of the horrific journey from being kidnapped from Africa, brought over on the middle passage and the heart-wrenching stories he witnessed of families being ripped apart when sold to numerous slave traders in the Caribbean and North America. He was the son of an African chief from the kingdom of Benin (modern day Nigeria) who was allowed to read and write. He later used these skills purchase his freedom as well as work towards the abolishment of the slave trade by recording and sharing his own personal accounts of the ordeal. He succinctly summarized the psychological and emotional effects of the trade as “a new refinement in cruelty” (Shaping, p. 48) that further added to horrid nature of slavery.

To conclude, this business of colonization was brutal and tiring work by today’s standard. Many entrepreneurs and Europeans governments made incredible profits from their investments in exploration of the new work and their exploitation of numerous people and their lands. This drastically modified the global landscape in a multitude of unforeseen ways. Many generations of people are still rebuilding their identities and cultural narratives after being abruptly interrupted if not completely led to extinction. One can say the world gained immensely in knowledge, trade and cultural exchanges but there is also the story of those who died against their will. Slowly we have come to realize the lies we are told about the past and we have to come to terms with the stark realities and their long term effect for the period in history in which the main driver was profit and there was little concern for human suffering. If we are not mindful in taking personal responsibility for the things we do under the guise of government and religion it can and will be the end of us all.

References
Bentley, Jerry H., and Herbert Ziegler. Traditions and Encounters: Global Perspective on the Past from 1500 to the Present. New York: McGraw-Hill College, 2006. Print.

The Shaping of The Modern World: Brooklyn College Department of History Core Curriculum 1220. Boston, MA: Learning Solutions, 2010. Print.

Sauer, Carl Ortwin. (1966; Fourth printing, 1992) The Early Spanish Main. University of California Press.

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