All posts filed under: Ethnography

Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia (Christina Thompson)

Interest in Polynesia is not much in fashion nowadays, except for using the islands as an exemplar of the claimed, always imminent yet never arriving, effects of global warming. Still, ever since the Spanish accidentally ran into the Marquesas, on the east side of the giant triangle that forms Polynesia, anchored on the southwest by New Zealand, the north by Hawaii, and the southeast by Easter Island, the islands have had an intermittent fascination for Europeans. In part this is the usual fascination with lands far away; in part a specific fascination with Polynesian culture, accomplishments, and, often, origins. It is this last Christina Thompson covers in this narrowly focused, but excellent, book.

The Samurai (Shūsaku Endō)

The Japanese author Shūsaku Endō is known primarily for his 1966 masterwork, Silence, about the persecution of Christians in mid-seventeenth-century Japan. The backdrop of Silence is the aftermath of the Shimabara Rebellion, a peasant rebellion crushed in 1638, which erupted in reaction to the vicious suppression of Christianity under the Tokugawa Shogunate, part of the turn of Japan inward. The Samurai focuses on events two decades prior, when Christianity was only partially suppressed, and the Shogunate still somewhat open to contacts with Europe. As with many of Endō’s works, The Samurai focuses on the internal struggles of its protagonists to live a Christian life in circumstances of extreme external and internal pressure and conflict.

The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894–1924 (Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi)

This book, a massive study by two Israeli historians, aspires to answer why and how Turkey exterminated its Christian population in the thirty years between 1894 and 1924. Usually this extermination, or part of it, is referred to as the Armenian Genocide, except by the Turks, who to this day deny their crimes, and so don’t refer to it at all. That usual term is misleading, however. As Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi document exhaustively, the primary target was all Christians, and the primary goal religious cleansing of the Turkish nation. Proving this is the object of The Thirty-Year Genocide.

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past (David Reich)

We have all heard of the fad for DNA ancestry testing. Being a paranoid, I haven’t joined the crowd, because all testing companies are happy to hand over the results to the police, and what if I need to keep quiet some heinous crime I commit where I leave my DNA behind? Not to mention, what those tests claim to reveal about you is limited, in many cases, by inadequate comparison data, which the companies fill in with lies. But that lack of comparison data is swiftly being remedied, both in the present, and in the past, which is the topic of this book.

Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (Christopher R. Browning)

It seems to me that we in the West are like men in a cavern, out of which lead many paths, none signposted.  Some paths lead to bright futures, but other paths lead to terrible ones, among them those where, once again as we did not so very long ago, we slaughter each other over ideology.  And the way back is closed, so we must choose one path forward.  The service of this book is that it illustrates Solzhenitsyn’s dictum, that the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.  Thus, reflecting upon this book may help us choose the correct exit from the cavern, and to that end, it is worth bearing the unease that comes over us when we read books like this. This book, a staple of Holocaust studies for twenty-five years, has recently risen to fresh prominence due to repeated mentions of it by Canadian psychologist, and superstar, Jordan Peterson.  His focus on the book arises from his own decades-long study of evil regimes, and his thought on how …

Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass (Theodore Dalrymple)

When I am dictator, which hopefully will be any day now, I am going to bring back what was once a crucial distinction.  Namely, the sharp separation between the deserving and the undeserving poor.  Theodore Dalrymple’s book shows both why that distinction is necessary, indeed absolutely essential, and why it has fallen from favor among those who decide society’s rules.  Moreover, Life at the Bottom offers a wide range of food for related thoughts, so many that I am afraid, beginning this review, that it is likely to go on for a very long time.  But at the end, I will solve all the problems for you.  Strap in.

Archeofuturism: European Visions of the Post-Catastrophic Age (Guillaume Faye)

I sometimes think of my project to pass Reaction through the refiner’s fire as beginning with the raw material of a simple stout tree, which has grown straight but has many branches.  My task is to examine and prune those branches, and to plane down the tree to its core, creating a smooth and solid piece of wood, to which can be fitted a forged head—a lance of destiny, we can call it.  This book, Guillaume Faye’s Archeofuturism, is one of those branches, and today we will lop it off, though perhaps some of its wood can be used to fuel the forging furnace.  That said, this book is mostly insane.  But not completely.  And, if I am being honest, it prefigures, in part, my own preoccupation with a future that combines the politics of Reaction with the technology of tomorrow.

On the “Dark Enlightenment,” and of Curtis Yarvin / Mencius Moldbug

My project here is to analyze, in the detail required for all necessary understanding, the thought of Curtis Yarvin, who wrote under the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug.  Yarvin is the most prominent figure of what has been called the Dark Enlightenment, one thread of modern reactionary thought.  My short summary is that he offers mediocre analysis with quite a few flashes of insight.  Even so, his thought is mostly worthless, because his program for political change is silly, since it fails to understand both history and human nature, and is ultimately indistinguishable from the program of the Left.  Overall I was very disappointed, and this write-up is shorter than I expected when beginning my project, since there is not all that much interesting to talk about. As I read and write on Reaction, I continue to divide its modern thought into three basic groups, at least as far as its American incarnation.  The first is those who endorse the Enlightenment and merely think that the American experiment has gone wrong from its ideal position, either in …

All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (Henry Mayer)

William Lloyd Garrison is one of those nineteenth-century American figures about whom most people know a little, realizing they are important to American history, but whom few can discuss with expertise.  Into that same category I’d put men like Henry Clay, John Fremont, perhaps even Stephen Douglas, and quite a few others.  Garrison is probably more neglected than those figures.  But this book is an excellent corrective, not only showing the importance of Garrison for his time, but showing us how his principles apply today in a similarly fraught moral climate, and offering lessons in how society’s powerful approach, or fail to approach, moral issues, then and now.

The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently . . . and Why (Richard E. Nisbett)

This is a short book with a sweeping thesis.  In essence, the thesis of The Geography of Thought is that many important cognitive processes dominant in East Asian (i.e., Chinese, Japanese and Korean) cultures are substantially different from those processes in Western (i.e., American and European) cultures.  This proposition explains a variety of dissimilarities in how people from each culture approach the world and each other, and it is also a partial explanation of the Great Divergence—why the modern world was created by the West, and by nobody else, to the lasting (so far) benefit of the West.  While the author, Richard Nisbett, goes to great lengths to not ascribe superiority to one type of cognition over another, his cultural analyses show why the Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolution could not have happened in East Asia.  As they say, though, past performance is no guarantee of future results, and perhaps the relative value of Western ways of thought has passed its use-by date.