Mary Beth Writes

I read that today, February 17, is FACT Day!  I get excited about FACTS! You get enough genuine facts and you get a REALITY that works for humans. As opposed to a reality built on greed, drama, megalomania, injustice, and prejudice, which, as you may have noticed, makes life suck.  

Oh, you thought I was talking about the current administration?

Nope. Right now, briefly, let me tell you something I read a few weeks ago. My source, as ever, is Alan Taylor’s “American Colonies; The Settling of North America.”  This is history of Central and North American from 1492 until 1800ish. (Taylor won Pulitzers for other books he wrote.)

If you think I am reading this book slowly because I get bored, think again. I read an hour or two until my heart is racing and I am so angry and upset that I have to stick the book back down at the bottom of my pile. 

The indigenous people who lived in our hemisphere BEFORE the Europeans arrived? No day at the beach. There was plenty of war and bloodshed.

But what the Europeans brought with them was unintentional and intentional holocaust. Waves of disease wiping out 90% of the population. Enslavement. Massive beheadings in the name of Jesus. Babies skewered on swords. Rape upon rape upon rape.  Torture, cheating, and did you know the Maya had a library of 3000 books that the conquistadores burned? The cruelty and loss was stunning.

All in the name of wealth and power. 

You know what? Wealth and power eventually bites back.

Here you go:

The Spanish learned that there was gold and silver in America. They found small existing mines, enlarged them, and then enslaved tens of thousands of indigenous people to work these mines. The work was so dangerous, toxic, and relentless that most of these people died within a few years.

But for the Spanish, unbelievable wealth was shipped from the New World back to Spain, making Spain “phenomenally rich” (American Colonies, Taylor, pg 63) “Between 1500 and 1650 the Spanish shipped 181 tons of gold and 16,000 tons of silver.” One fifth of this went to the Crown, which became 25% of the total revenue of Spain throughout that 150 year period of time.  Spain became stunningly powerful and emerged as a superpower.

This is the story of what that wealth did:  

*Everyone wanted herbs, spices, and cool stuff from the Far East. Spain bought LOTS of that and brought it back to Europe to sell. This eventually glutted the market with formerly-pricey stuff, now it sold at less of a profit.

*Prices of necessities/food increased 5-fold because there was so much money.  Wealth increased faster than ordinary goods and services could be increased.  Example: If you have people who can afford to buy bread at $5 a loaf, you are not going to sell it for $1 a loaf. But if the wealth doesn’t “trickle down” into the great majority of your population that was already living at a subsistence level – then they can’t buy any bread at all. Starvation leads to loss of humans who could have farmed or manufactured stuff.  Eventually the ordinary people express their -- disloyalty and unrest.

*Wealthy Spanish could buy goods from anywhere, so they didn’t invest in local farms, production, or communities. The rest of Europe, not as afloat in the same incredible wealth as the Spaniards, WERE producing textiles, ships, tulips!, scientific endeavors, and growing new crops that fed more people more efficiently – such as corn, potatoes, cassava, and tomatoes from the new world.

*The wealth encouraged Spain to start wars in and against North Africa, Italy, and the Netherlands. Wars eat wealth. If the wars are not won, and often even if they are, there is no recouping the wealth squandered.

*Self-satisfied, sanctimonious, morality-spewing Catholic royals directed their conquistadores to “build Christianity” while they were raping and pillaging. A huge amount of wealth was spent to send missionaries and build missions.  

*Avast Pirates! Guess what ships filled with gold and silver attract? Spain had to defend her ships, which required INCREDIBLE expenditures.

*Sets a precedent. Because Spain was becoming so powerful and war-mongering, other nations felt threatened. The only way to protect themselves, most thought, was to sail to the new world to decimate the locals and start their own colonies. Which they did.

The Spanish stole stunning, incredible, monumental mountains of wealth from the New World into the wallets of Spain’s super-rich and into the coffers of royal Spanish government.  Within 150 years this wealth decimated the nation; they never recovered the power or position they once had.

Wealth and power used for personal and familial gain will ruin families and nations.

Obscene wealth and violent pirates. I think we know this story. 

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Not Admiring Duty

Duty without empathy and imagination is handsome.

And dangerous.

This is what Robert E. Lee said. “Duty then is the sublimest word in the English language. You should do your duty in all things. You can never do more; you should never wish to do less.” 

This is what I say. “Duty” is a clichéd moral value lobbed at us by men (sic) who seem to assume leadership is about getting other people to do the work and take the risks at hand.”

What's in that Museum?

Do you go to museums? I enjoy them, but I think they are more complicated than we give them credit for.

This past weekend Len and I and our daughters, plus Len’s sister and her teenage sons, spent the day at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. At 400,000 square feet, the MSI is a huge old place; the buildings were part of Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 that were re-purposed into the Museum during Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress. (An aunt once told me about seeing a black and white electrical show in a box at the Century of Progress. They called it television.)

Surprise Dancing Lessons 1/7/2018

This is almost a quote from Kurt Vonnegut. “Unexpected travel is a dancing lesson from God.” (Vonnegut said “Peculiar travel suggestions are…” or some such; I need to reread Cat’s Cradle.)

December Seen Things 12/31/2017

Happy New Year's Eve!

Here is the latest edition of Things Seen in December.

You need to click on the icon to open it. It's small. 

PDF icon12-31-17_vol_1.pdf

My New Year’s Resolution

I mentioned to Len this morning that this year I am going to make a New Year’s resolution. Usually I don’t make resolutions because I don’t believe people change (very much) by determining to “do better starting tomorrow.”  The person who works mightily to stop eating cookies tonight - while there are still cookies in the house - is probably going to become healthier than the person who is going to Stop Eating All the Sugar and Only Eat Roasted Brussel Sprouts … starting tomorrow.  Don’t ask me how I know.

A Request for More Readers

A Request from Me to You

I just finished the She Writes post about being more courageous and stubborn on my own behalf.

This fits right in. I’m asking you to consider doing something on my behalf.

Do you know a person who might like to read this website?  If you are here you already know I write about frugality, I write random essays, I tell you about places I went and books I’ve read. I am fascinated by colonial American history. I repost things I wrote ages ago. Sometimes I write short stories.

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