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The Expansionist
Sunday, May 02, 2010
 
Stephen Hawking, Idiot? Crippled British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking made headlines recently when he suggested that space aliens landing on Earth might want to destroy us, and made the comparison to Columbus landing on the shores of America and producing a catastrophe for "Native Americans". That is an astoundingly stupid pair of assertions, which makes me wonder if Stephen Hawking is actually a genius or just a fool that nobody understands and everybody pretends must be a genius because nobody understands his work.
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"Native Americans" is a preposterous term. For one thing, it suggests that one European, Amerigo Vespucci (Americus Vespucius) should be supremely relevant to the indigenous peoples of this wasp-waisted continent. I suspect that there is in fact no universally agreed term among those indigenes for all of them lumped together, in part because they do not lump themselves together. "Indians" ("indios" in Spanish and Portuguese, the dominant languages of Latin America) is a term that at least derives from a large region of Asia, which Columbus believed he had reached. English variations are "Indians", "American Indians", and "Amerinds". Contrary to what pushers of linguistic "political correctness" might have you believe, a lot of indigenes in the United States are perfectly happy with "Indian", and have even used it in the name of militant civil-rights and cultural organizations like the "American Indian Movement" (AIM).
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Putting that aside, we get to the next fact, that by and large the harm that aboriginal populations suffered from contact with Europeans was INdeliberate, such as the passing of diseases not indigenous to their region, to people who therefore had no preexisting immunity, and, in those primitive times, no vaccines, antibiotics, or antivirals to combat those infections. Would advanced alien visitors pay no heed to the possibility of US infecting THEM, or take precautions that would equally prevent THEM from infecting US?
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Columbus and the other Europeans who followed him in general did not willfully set out to eradicate the "natives". That's another problem with the term "Native Americans": "native" means only "born in a place", not present ancestrally for thousands of years. I am a "native American", because I was born on the American continent (New Jersey). Barack Obama is not a "native American" in a geographical sense, because he was born in Hawaii, which is part of Oceania, not the American continent. The "anchor babies" born in the mainland United States to illegal aliens are "native Americans", even if their parents are Pakistani or Nigerian.
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In any case, Spain did want to eradicate the hyperviolent paganism of, for instance, the Aztecs, which killed thousands of people every year in ritual human sacrifice. Good for Spain. Some Spanish conquistador(e)s wished not merely to take gold out of the New World but also to bring "the good news of our Lord, Jesus Christ" to the benited peoples they encountered. They were helped in this task by Jesuit and other missionaries who did their best to temper the racism and intolerance of some members of the conquering horde. Besides, a lot of the Spanish and Portuguese intermarried with local peoples: they reproduced with them; they did not kill them. Indeed, a lot more Spaniards married local women than did northern Europeans in the more northerly European colonies on the American mainland.
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Further, many members of indigenous populations benefited hugely from European conquest. The people among tribes conquered by the Aztecs, many members of which were then slautered by the Aztecs by having their still-beating heart cut from their chest with stone knives (and similar unfortunates victimized by the Incas) benefited enormously from being liberated by the Spanish from Aztec (or Inca) captivity and hyperbrutal colonial misrule.
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Many illiterate, backward peoples were brought into the "modern" world of the day by mission schools. The intertribal wars that regularly rent the various parts of what came to be known as "America", were ended. A common language, be it Spanish, Portuguese, or English, enabled tribes who could not earlier communicate, to speak to and learn from each other. And the geographic area they could safely travel without being enslaved or killed was multiplied many times. Europeans brought medicine, primitive at first, but advanced later. And "natives" who decided they didn't want to live an antique and stifling "traditional" life were free to move to other parts of the much larger nations of which they were now citizens, to live a life of their own choosing.
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Very few "natives" would now choose to return to the status quo ante the arrival of Columbus. So much for that bit of Hawking's idiocy.
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Now let's turn to the notion that advanced civilizations would treat intelligent creatures of other planets with viciousness, perhaps kill them off (and, some interpreters of Hawking's remarks have speculated, even eat them).
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1492 and 2010 are already worlds apart, and our attitudes toward other cultures are profoundly different from those of Columbus and the conquistador(e)s. We are nowhere near ready to embark on interstellar, manned travel, and by the time we are ready to do so, perhaps 100, perhaps 700 years from now, we will likely be much more civilized than we are now. Why on Earth — or elsewhere in the Universe — would Hawking assume that aliens capable of traveling light years in search of new, habitable planets, would be savages? The whole premise is absurd.
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Maybe Stephen Hawking is an idiot, and the reason people have trouble understanding some of his ideas is that they're nonsense, just as his speculation on the potentially disastrous consequences of alien contact with Earth is nonsense.
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(The current U.S. military death toll in Iraq, according to the website "Iraq Coalition Casualties", is 4,394 — for Israel.)



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