Are we repeating what Europeans did to Indigenous People in the “New World?”


I have been blogging a lot about the incredible destruction by Europeans of Indigenous people of the western hemisphere after they first made contact. Lately I have wondered if the descendants of those Europeans, together with the immigrants who came from the west and their descendants have been unwittingly repeating the crime some 500 years later. Only this time they are doing it again to indigenous people but also to the rest of us. Are we doing it to ourselves in other words?

Kate Jones and her team of researchers found that 335 new diseases emerged between 1960 and 2004, and at least 60% came from animals. There is really nothing surprising about this. Many human diseases evolved from contact with animals. Europeans much more than people in the western hemisphere domesticated animals for centuries. As a result over millennia they developed immunities to many of those diseases. When they arrived in the “New World” and contacted people in the new world who did not have that long history of contact with such animals and as a result had on immunities to the diseases the Europeans brought with, they were devastated by the diseases. Within a century 95% of the indigenous people were dead according to some experts.

As John Vidal reported in the Guardian:

“Research suggests that outbreaks of animal-borne and other infectious diseases such as Ebola, SARS, bird flu and now COVID-19, caused by a novel coronavirus, are on the rise. Pathogens are crossing from animals to humans, and many are able to spread quickly to new places. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that three-quarters of new or emerging diseases that infect humans originate in animals.”

Kate Jones has discovered that these zoonotic diseases are increasingly linked to environmental changes caused by human activity. We disrupt pristine forests by logging, mining, and road buildings through remote areas without paying any attention to what we are doing. We think the world is ours for the taking. We see ourselves as lords of the universe with the divine right to do with it as we please. By doing that we bring people into ever closer contact with animal species we have never encountered before. As a result we have built up no immunities to any new diseases or pathogens they carry just like the Indigenous people of the Americans when the first European explores arrived. Could that happen again and basically for the same reason? Are we doing to ourselves what we carelessly did to the indigenous people of the western hemisphere? It’s beginning to look that way.

Maybe we need a new attitude to nature.

3 thoughts on “Are we repeating what Europeans did to Indigenous People in the “New World?”

  1. sir
    i believe you have made this appeal to a different “attitude” towards nature previously.

    it seems to me that the key matter is this business of domination, of nature, of inner self as in repression, and of others.

    certainly the torah’s original sense of things was that man was superior to nature and should use it, control it, etc.
    this was heavily reinforced by the enlightenment notion of reason and ultimately science. capital also reinforced this by viewing nature as a commodity to be exploited for material gain.

    this sense of nature is by now deeply ideological, embedded throughout society in ideas and practices. something rooted in at least 2000 years of history will not go away with a change in attitude.

    it is very difficult to see how this can really be turned around quickly enough to avoid the “apocalypse now.”
    certainly the mere recognition that hunting and gathering cultures had a very different view of how to live with external nature does not get us very far. implementing such will take god knows what.

    i suspect one of the things which will have to alter will be that women will have to begin to take over the direction of social institutions, of ways of thinking, and of practices just as a preliminary step. it is difficult to see how even this preliminary step can be taken, given the incredible narcissism and aggression of the far too many males.

    1. Yes advocating for a new attitude to nature is one of my recurring themes. Remember I meander. I will return to it. In particular I think indigenous people, though not perfect either, ah shown the way to a new attitude to nature. It is unlike the Judaeo/Christian attitude of dominance. It holds that we are all part of nature and what we do to nature we do to ourselves. Heidegger had the complicated notion of “being-in-the-world” which is also relevant. So too is Arne Naess and the Deep Ecology movement. I will blog more about and I recognize that it might be too late. Perhaps we are already doomed. But like Trump I hope we can solve this by Easter. Someone has to start the new way. Might as well be you.

      1. individuals are relevant, but system change is much more important, at the same being much more difficult.

        i am far from being a heidegger expert, but i would vote for max horkheimer, walter benjamin, william leiss, et al., in theoretical terms, much more readily.
        martin’s being in the world apparently included a soft spot in his heart for mr. sieg heil himself.

        but overall i don’t see how we overcome the overwhelming ideological domination of the last 500 years, certainly not within the immediacy of the need for a complete overhaul, and certainly not within the stranglehold that the digital landscape, never mind traditional media, have on the collective mind of the species at this moment in history, and finally, certainly not within the material context of that ideology in global capital formations.

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