Learn Your History. Rinse. Repeat.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” ¬†George Santayana

The foreigners came from the sea, amazing us with their guns and ships and numbers. They only wanted one thing, a thing we did not value, and when we asked them why they wanted it, they said it made them rich, and if we helped them find it they would make us rich, too, but if we interfered with them they would kill us. So some of us died, and some of us got rich, with things we had never needed before, things that made life easier, but not much better. And then we ran out of the thing the foreigners wanted, and they went away, and then we could not spend their money that had made us rich, and we could not replace the things that had made life easy, and we could not remember how we had lived before, when we had been happy but not rich. And so more of us died, and the rest of us became beggars and drunks.

The speaker is imaginary, but his description of events is true. He was an American — an original one — and the rapacious foreigners were white Europeans maddened by the unbelievable profits to be made from beaver skins. For a hundred years, from the late 16th to the late 17th Centuries, Europeans unleashed the Horsemen of the Apocalypse on the northeastern quadrant of North America in service of high fashion (it was the popularity of beaver hats, a fad that started in Paris, that consumed the native, and beaver, populations of America).

That is approximately the span of time we have been doing the same thing to Arabia, for example, because cheap oil from under its ground allows us to either be rich or live as if we were.

The speaker might have been a Montagnais, a people ravaged by French fur traders on the St. Lawrence River beginning in 1584. Or one of dozens of other tribes similarly destroyed by French traders working their way up the St. Lawrence (we know about the Montagnais because French Jesuit missionaries were with them to record their fate) or by the Dutch operating on the Hudson. Then, when the beaver were gone from the eastern rivers and lakes, and the French and Dutch traders were working their way west toward the Great Lakes country, their agents — the Hurons for the French, the Five Nations confederacy, also known as Iroquois, for the Dutch — met.

What followed was something that had not existed in North America during ten millennia of human habitation: mass warfare for economic gain. The Iroquois, who had confederated to achieve peace, conducted a 70-years-long war for beaver that decimated and rearranged the populations of nearly half the continent. (The people later dubbed the “Shawnee,” or “people of the South” by whites who thought they came from the Carolinas, actually had lived in northern Ohio until the Iroquois kicked them out to get their beaver.)

The lessons are clear to all who read the history left by the dedicated Jesuits and others along the way. When natural resources are exploited for wealth, they run out. When the resources run out, the wealth disappears, and the sustainable way of living that was abandoned before everybody went crazy for wealth cannot be regained. War ensues. Famine ensues. The destruction of a people ensues.

Learn the history. Rinse. Repeat.

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