Lots and lots going on. I’ve really let the links stack up this time.
To begin, as we have seen in the news in recent weeks, ISIS has not only been sweeping across large swaths of land, seizing territory, murdering thousands, and just generally seizing power for their violent & extremist “caliphate,” but they have also been destroying numerous ancient and irreplaceable historical and religious sites. The blog Ballandalus provides in a recent post a nicely thorough description of the violently iconoclastic Wahhabist movement underlying The Islamic State’s (ISIS) Destruction of Shrines in Historical Perspective. As this post explains, however, “this is not merely the revival of an eighteenth-century phenomenon but, rather, is the product of a very modern jihadist mentality.” I have commented on this sort of thing before, as similar events took place in Timbuktu a year ago. It sickens and disgusts me. I scarcely even know what else to say.
Working on this post, I started writing something sort of culturally relativist, whinging about how perhaps it is not our place to judge which form of Islam is right or best, or to judge how Muslims / Arabs choose to do things. History and culture cannot be allowed to be frozen in place, and change has to be allowed to take place. Plenty of great structures have been destroyed over the course of history, and plenty of major political, cultural, and religious shifts have taken place – that’s the nature of history itself. But, you know what? Fuck these guys. This is not a popular movement, a peaceful shift or change amongst Islam as a whole. This is a tiny fringe group who, let’s just hope are just as despised by Syrians and Iraqis as they are by us in the West, and who are the worst sort of religious extremists, cutting a violent swath across the region, murdering thousands and thousands of people and imposing their particular brand of the religion upon a populace who does not subscribe to their religious or political beliefs. A fringe group, purely by strength of arms, does not have the right to decide for an entire people, for an entire religion over a billion strong, what to believe, how to believe, how to live their lives, and to decide to destroy precious, irreplaceable, historical and sacred sites. Centuries from now, when people look at the history and culture and architecture of the region, they will point to today, to 2014, and to ISIS, as the reason there is no longer anything to be seen of the historical architecture of these profoundly sacred and historically significant sites.
Sticking with politics, Salon recently published a great article by Thomas Frank on the history of attitudes about capitalism, free markets, and monopolies in the United States. As the headline puts it, Free markets killed capitalism: Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan, Wal-Mart, Amazon and the 1 percent’s sick triumph over us all.
This is, of course, a topic that’s been much discussed lately. I certainly cannot presume to be by any means the first to be bringing it up, or the only one. But it is something which has been worrying me lately, coming at it from a particular point of view, as my readings on the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom made me see frightening parallels between the ideologies and attitudes driving those events, and those (still) prominent today. As Frank writes,
The Sherman Antitrust Act was 1890. I’ve actually been reading the speech that Senator John Sherman gave in support of that act. And it is very clear that the fear that drove Sherman had nothing to do with higher prices, very little to do with the interest of consumers. The fear of monopoly, back in 1890, was mainly a fear that someone else would block me from doing my business.
We may think that our country is founded on “freedom,” but just what kind of freedom, and for whom? Freedom for entrepreneurs, sure. But freedom for consumers? Freedom for consumers from the predatory, exploitative, and dominating power of corporations? I am terrified, worried, and terribly saddened to realize/discover that not only is this truly not a fundamental part of American capitalist ideology, but that even more to the point, support for the freedom of the corporate sector to make profits regardless of the costs, regardless of who “loses,” just may be a truly core foundational belief of our country.
A key element to the haole (white) corporate takeover and overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, at least as my reading of the work of Michael Dougherty and Jon Osorio would have it, is the idea that corporate wealth or well-being equals the strength of the kingdom’s economy. Haoles pushed through many of the policies that they did by claiming that they were doing what was in the best interests of the kingdom’s economy; and even when the makaʻāinana (“peasants,” for lack of a better term) petitioned the government that these policies were severely harming their economic well-being, the haoles dismissed the petitions as unimportant, as totally peripheral to the matter at hand: establishing a policy structure for a political environment where corporations could enjoy the maximum “freedom” to make profits, including policies that ensured their freedom to exploit the land and the people in order to do so.
After a workshop some months ago on how to write and submit op-ed pieces (how, as academics, to be more directly engaged in public discourse), I began drafting something on this subject – talking about the looming, and quite possibly already too late, threat of a real oligarchic/plutocratic corporate takeover of American democracy, talking about Hobby Lobby and Citizens United and all the rest, from a somewhat novel angle, by saying that this isn’t new, and that Hawaiian history, generally quite marginalized and largely ignored in mainland US education and public discourse, can really do a lot to inform our understandings of American history and values, and their implications. But, then, at the end of the day, I am not nearly expert enough in either Hawaiian history, or the history of economic policy and economics ideologies in the United States, to do a proper job of such a piece. I’m still going to keep thinking about it, though.
On that note, speaking of Hawaii, and indigenous loss to American expansion, let me round out this Quick Links post with a link to a Hyperallergic article on the last Yahi Indian, who chose to live out his final days in a museum.
This is something I first heard about only a few months ago, in discussions in our Museum Studies seminar. And then, just a few weeks ago, Hyperallergic happened to post about it. A man called Ishi, who claimed to be the last Yahi Indian, is said to have “emerged” from the “wilderness,” “appearing” at the University of California’s Museum of Anthropology in San Francisco in 1911. When offered help relocating to a formal Indian reservation, he refused, and instead elected to remain at the museum, where he stayed until his death five years later. I don’t really know the details of just where he lived (slept, ate) during this time, or in what ways he was on display. Today, we might imagine someone walking around the museum like a docent, speaking of his experiences; but, in 1911, so-called “human zoos,” a practice at World’s Fairs and the like where colonized and/or indigenous peoples were put on display in, essentially, living dioramas, or “habitats” like zoo animals today, complete with replicas of their “traditional” architecture and “native” environments, were still rather current.
In any case, arrows belonging to Ishi are on display in an ongoing exhibition at the New York City (Bowling Green) location of the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian. You can read a bit more about it at the Hyperallergic link.