Dear Dirty America


The Corrupt Money System That Killed Paradise: Columbus’ Quest for Gold

April 12
14:00 2012
Los Angeles

As I write this first introductory paragraph to this essay, I feel embarrassed to be reiterating what many people (including myself) already know on some basic levels. I feel naive. I knew the Spaniards were not heroic, wholesome discoverers, and I knew Christopher Columbus was not altogether a great man. But I had no idea how gruesome and ugly the tale really is:

It was the corrupt mercantile capitalist, hard-knock system in Europe that drifted over like rickety death in a triad of boats in 1492, and shortly thereafter sliced open the skin of an Edenic habitat, removed every last immaculately clean working organ from within, found there was nothing of trade and monetary value (gold), so, as a result, laid waste to the entire system with Old World poison, and then set the stiffened, godlike carcass on fire.

After reading Howard Zinn’s the People’s History of America, I’m appalled at how the Americas were invaded by Columbus, and his money-minded, self-serving, greedy prerogative, that was really just a product of the major, modern nation state system he came out of. Spain.

It’s not hard to understand. Columbus had to make a living too. He was a merchant’s assistant — somebody to spit upon, really. He was given the opportunity of a lifetime (just like someone living in America today might get the nod from Pres Obama to hold a major position in government, and that nod would relieve that person’s sorry financial state, and be the catalyst for a prosperous life). Columbus persuaded the Spanish royalty to let him sail to Asia and explore the lands. He would bring back gold, spices, and anything else of value to pay for his trip. There was honor involved, also.

The queen said, whatever you find, Christopher, you get to keep 10 percent of it. So when Columbus’ modest fleet rammed into the unknown islands of the Bahamas, he didn’t know where he was on the globe, but he did know beneath all the exploration and excitement, he was looking for treasure. That’s the capitalist system, that’s the monetary system. We all need to make a buck. Most people don’t have time to explore the seas, or even their own level of consciousness. We’ve got to spend our time earning or finding gold.

What Columbus did find was the Garden of Eden, teeming with people who seemingly had a very real grip on their collective conscious. He found 60,000 Arawak people living in large communal huts. A civilization that didn’t know about weapons, or objects sharpened to maim or kill people. When the Indians were shown the Spanish explorers’ swords, they cut themselves by grabbing the wrong ends. Columbus chalked up this kind of reaction as one of people who had shit-for-brains.

Also, another startling aspect of the natives was: they were naked! For God’s sake! They didn’t know they were naked. God hadn’t told them yet, apparently, and for good Christians such as Columbus was, this was a mark of savagery. The Indians looked at their nakedness in the same way a person living in a major American city looks at evidences of homelessness: unfazed.

This is where I was strangling Christopher Columbus with my long, powerful fingers, and hoping to snuff him just in time to halt the coming catastrophe. This is the part of the story where I imagined Columbus’ blood on my hands, because to save tens of thousands of innocent, honorable people from the horrors of one is a chance rarely taken, and a priceless one at that.

The history books are missing a lot of reality, but goddamn it how I wish there were a line or two stating: “…and from the back of the bumbling crowd of Spanish explorers stepped forward a haggard twit named Luebke. We’ve only got his initials inked into Columbus’ ship log. Apparently the admiral was wary of him: ‘A M Luebke is suff’ring a bout o’ stir crazy ship fever. We must watch him.’ As Columbus eagerly eyed the natives with gold nuggets in his eyes, his ship hand Luebke jumped on his back and ended up straggling the admiral. After that, the Spaniards went home and never came back.

But of course we know the rest of the story. The white man would come back. And come back in force. Nothing could save the Indians of the Americas. The Universe had it planned that way, and nothing could stop it.

Instead of seeing how marvelous and advanced a society without weapons was, Columbus saw them in a cold, hard, capitalist way. How can I profit off of this? How can I get that gold? How can I make myself rich? What if Columbus had been so blown away by this Edenic world he stumbled upon, that he spent the rest of his life exploring it, trying to understand it, and using it as a touchstone for his own mental and spiritual progress?

And when other explorers, and eventually settlers zipped over in their creaky toy boats, Columbus taught the Arawaks how to use muskets, swords, and knives, and they booby trapped the entire island and fought off the invaders one shipload at a time.

Either way, the game was over. When one dominant culture comes in contact with a less technologically advanced culture, the dominant one consumes the other every time.

In Columbus’ journals, he mocked how naive the Arawaks were, and how they shared everything with his men, without any trouble or hesitation. “When you ask for something they have, they never say no,” Columbus reported (Zinn, 6). These people would make perfect slaves, and that’s exactly how Columbus used them.

He went back to his homeland and reported how stupid and silly and easily manipulated the natives of the land were, and if he could only go back, he could get as many as possible and force them to show the way to the mountains of gold. They wore small golden pieces in their ears, after all, so they must have a source of the shiny stuff somewhere, or so Columbus was convinced.

He sailed back to the islands and, in 1945 went on a “great slave raid”, and brought back 500 Indians to Spain. Two hundred died on the way. The slaves were sold to the public by the local archdeacon. These must have been exciting times for all Spaniards that heard the news. People like animals from a land previously undiscovered. And each of them naked!

The next time Columbus sailed to the New World, he and his men forced tens of thousands of Indians into slavery, mining mountains, rivers, and hills to find gold. The Indians worked until they died. The women planted large fields of crops while the men tore apart rocky landscapes. Those people must have been so confused and appalled to be under the gun and sword of a bunch of lazy cruel men who knew not the spirit of giving, loving, and living.

The Spaniards loved it. Natives fanned them with giant leaves, and held the stalks high to block out the hot sun. There was raping and pillaging, and probably good food.

How could the Indians ever imagine a system set up to make people toil at the hands of others more powerful, for the sake of a substance, in this case gold, that must have seemed wholly arbitrary in their minds. The brutality is nauseating. Zinn uses one Spanish priest’s account of the genocide to show how Satanic and backward the Spanish explorers were.

They cut chunks of flesh from the Indians’ bodies at random to test how sharp their blades were. They cut off the hands of Indians who didn’t find enough gold. Those natives died from loss of blood. How could a good and wholesome universe that is purported to supply each and every human with exactly what he or she needs to subsist, allow this travesty? Or the kind of cut throat society from which these monsters came?

There had always been small skirmishes among the local Indian tribes, but mostly it was between two offended parties, and not conflict between tribal leaders. The women, when becoming pregnant, were reported to have worked until the very last day before giving birth, and then go into labor silently and seemingly without pain. Immediately after delivering the child, they washed in the river. And that was that.

If she didn’t want to have another child (or if she’d been raped by a Spanish demon), there were leaves the Indians ate that would cause a stillbirth.

The native peoples held no sexual jealousies or lovers’ feuds. They had no marriage rites (which horrified the good Christian explorers), but simply mated and bonded with a man or woman, until one of the pair decided to leave for another lover, without any spite or hatred.

This is Eden to me. Paradise on earth. And it was all spoiled for the pursuit of gold. Of money. Of getting rich. The natives knew nothing about money, but simply lived. They grew food for the community. They hunted for the tribe. They had shelter, blankets, and tools for the good of everyone. They were so in tune with their bodies, the earth, and life, that the lower energies –hate, jealousy, selfishness, and pain — were mostly wiped away.

None of this working eight hours a day to earn your paycheck, and then spend it on getting your daily genetically modified bread and a colorful new sports jacket, and then going back to the same menial labor to earn it all over again.

One of these systems seems natural, and aligned with the universe, and the other seems inefficient, man made, and far from satisfactory. The Spanish, mercantile capitalist system from which Columbus hailed, is just a more primitive version of what we’ve got today. Our runaway industrialism has largely stripped the land looking for more loot. Has polluted our air, rivers, soil, and our entire system of food and drinking water.

So every Columbus Day, remember to celebrate the greedy, money-driven man who took significant risks to make it big, and in doing so kicked off a rather impressive genocide that left one million or more people dead. This wasn’t a decimation, either, it was a complete extermination. And not just any people, but those who gave you anything they had, knew nothing of personal possessions, knew no jealousy, and were so pure in thought they’d never conceived of a sword, much less guns or gunpowder.

All for a little bit gold.

Those are the violent vibrations running through our DNA and heating our blood. We’re products of Columbus’ system, and, as the beat poet Gary Snyder wrote, in this modern world, we don’t quite realize what we’ve lost.

See also: Capital’s Exploitation: A Reserve Army of Mass Human Material and
the Elite must stop living off the labor of the masses

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