After another long conversation with my sociology professor, I end up late again for IHUM. Normally I wouldn’t mind, but today a crack has appeared in its intellectual grip and a little honesty has snuck through. Here, at the very end of the course, we get a paper showing the real John Locke. (Of course, such truth cannot simply be taught like all the falsehoods. Instead it is provided as one side of a “debate” for us to consider.)

Throughout the course, Locke has been touted as this great hero of democracy, the man whose revolutionary ideas we must study because they show us precisely how God wanted the world to be organized. Locke was the man of freedom and openness, persecuted by the tyrannical King and the centers of power. But now we learn that far from a thorn in the government’s side, Locke provided the intellectual justification for the genocide of the Native Americans.

Locke, the article explains, argued that since the Native Americans did not fence their land in from their neighbors, they could not be said to actually own it. Ignore the fact that the Native Americans knew quite well what was their land, ignore the fact that not even many Englishmen fenced in their land, and just ask yourself what kind of monster you have to be to decide you can destroy an entire civilization just because they don’t follow some arbitrary rules you made up on another continent.

Yet even this monstrousness was artifice. When it was discovered that some natives did fence in their land, fencing was no longer good enough. Native Americans, Locke explained, didn’t actually deserve their land even if it was theirs. Why? Because they paused every three years to let the crops and soil compost and fertilize the land. That’s right: by trying to preserve the land, Locke argued, the natives wasted it and thus weren’t “rational” enough to deserve it — after all, God clearly left the land to the rational.

This, presumably, is the same kind of economic “rationality” that makes it a moral imperative to spend millions of dollars running ads encouraging people to buy huge SUVs which guzzle large amounts of gas and pollute the air, pushing our world one step closer to crisis. After all, the crisis will be on our children’s shoulders, and they don’t have any say in the market. Trying to help our species survive would be irrational!

But Locke goes even farther down the depths of insanity. The Native Americans had a society that was somewhat democratic, with “the right to make peace and war resid[ing] ‘either in the people or in a council’”, not a king as Locke required. Since the natives ran their society democratically and settled their few disputes informally, Locke claimed they did not constitute a valid political society. And since they were pluralistic, not possessing a single language or culture, he said they could hardly be said to have a society at all.

All this is in the documents we were asked to read. A little extra research turns up more horrors.

Once the US was established on the natives’ lands, Locke was asked to write the constitutions for the Carolines (you know, North and South Carolina). His system, as you might expect, was completely in line with his great vision of people as free and equal: “Locke’s constitution set up a feudal-type aristocracy, in which eight barons would own 40 percent of the colony’s land, and only a baron could be governor.” (A People’s History of the United States, 47)

He also commented that he regretted the labor of poor children “is generally lost to the public till they are twelve or fourteen years old” and suggested that all children over three, of families on relief, should attend “working schools” so they would be “from infancy inured to work.” (73f)

And despite himself being persecuted for his political ideas, Locke did not believe that anyone else deserved to talk about the government. His Constitution outlawed those who “speak anything in their religious assembly irreverently or seditiously of the government or governors, or of state matters.” It protected “speculative opinions in religion,” but not political opinions. “Locke would not even have permitted people to discuss public affairs,” Leonard Levy observes. His constitution provided further that “all manner of comments and expositions on any part of these constitutions, or on any part of the common or statute laws of Carolines, are absolutely prohibited.”

Of course, this is not surprising from one who had commented that the “day-labourers and tradesmen, the spinsters and dairymaids” must be told what to think; “The greatest part cannot know and therefore they must believe.”

Our hero, John Locke.

At the end of its final lecture, IHUM receives some scattered applause.

But before IHUM is over, we have to complete a group project. Everybody else has friends so they form groups; I get assigned to one randomly. Amazingly, it’s precisely the three people I would have chosen. There is Sara (all psuedonyms), the cute girl from the courtyard, Jack, a scruffy surfer dude who seems quite smart but too beaten-up to show it, and Nathan, an adamant libertarian.

We meet outside the teacher’s office to discuss our project plan before we pitch it to the teacher. Sara, fidgety, sits on her skateboard. As we talk, she leans backwards while sitting on it, causing her tight, short shirt to rise up past her navel as her head hovers just above the ground. We agree on the idea of doing a poll about freedom of liberty, seeing what people think. We head upstairs. Sara bends down to place her skateboard on the floor. This time her pants ride down, revealing the top of her butt crack. We head inside. The teacher approves the idea. Now we just have to find a way to do it over Thanksgiving.

posted January 28, 2005 01:59 AM (Education) (1 comments) #


Stanford: Day 63
Stanford: Day 64
Stanford: Day 65
Quick Takes
Stanford: Day 66
Stanford: Day 67
Home: Day 1
Home: Day 2
Home: Day 3
Keeping Up with the Rosses
Stanford: Monday, November 29


Congratulations, Aaron: I believe you have become the only blogger ever to use the terms “genocide,” “aristocracy,” and “butt crack” in the same post.

posted by Adam at January 31, 2005 03:58 PM #

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Aaron Swartz (