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Monday, April 14, 2008

A death and a birth


A death:

Basque author Elías Amezaga has died at the age of 86. He was a prolific author in Spanish language that tried to adress Basque identity and dig in obscure subjects. For a complete list of works, including chronicles of the lifes of Lope de Agirre and Jorge Oteiza, see Basque Wikipedia: Elías Amezaga. Check also his website: http://www.eliasamezaga.com/.


Elías Amezaga

A birth:

Another Spanish-language author, Uruguayan, Eduardo Galeano, has published a new book: La Historia que Duele (The History that Hurts). A long excerpt is available today at Gara newspaper (in Spanish). Some less extense translations of my own are:

World Trade Organization.

It was necessary to choose the god of trade. From the Olympic throne, Zeus studied his family. He didn't need to ponder for long: it had to be Hermes.

Zeus gave him sandals with golden little wings and put him in charge of promotion of mercantile exchange, signature of treaties and the safeguard of free trade. Hermes, who later, in Rome, was known as Mercury, was chosen because he was who lied best of all.

News agencies.

Napoleon was definitively defeated by the English at the battle of Waterloo, south of Brussels.

Marshall Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, was honored with the victory, but the real winner was the banker Nathan Rotschild, who did not fire a shoot and was far away from there.

Rotschild was at command of a minuscle troop of carrier pidgeons. The doves, fast and well trained, carried the news to London. He knew before anybody else that Napoleon had been defeated, but he spread the rumor that French victory had been decissive, and deluded the market by selling everything that was British: bonds, shares, money. And in a rush all imitated him, because he always knew what he was doing, and at junk prices they sold all values of the nation they believed defeated. And the Rotschild bought. Bought everything for nothing.

That way England won in the battlefield and was defeatd in the stock market.

Banker Rotschild multiplied his fortune by twenty and became the wealthiest man in the world.

Some years later, at the middle of 19th century, the first press agencies were born: Havas, that is now France Press, Reuters, Associated Press...

All used carrier pidgeons.


15 comments:

Manjunat said...

Rothschild legend is believed to be anti-Semitic propaganda by French. Check Wikipedia.

Maju said...

Really?

Not sure what to think. Wikipedia is not good regarding issues of Zionism and presumpt anti-Semitism. I am a Wikipedia editor myself (under another name) and I know you can have difficulties with the Israel lobby inside Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is good for general reference and also for scientific issues but in historical and social issues it's (often) a battlefield behind the curtains.

I'd rather trust Galeano in this. Also Rotschild, Jewish or not, is the archetype of the capitalist banker - maybe it's just ani-capitalist propaganda?

Manjunat said...

Galeano's pigeon story is rather amusing. I am not much into popular counter theories. They are too fantastic to be true. Anti-Semitism around that time was common place. Therefore, I don't have to think otherwise.

Maju said...

I think there's a lot of hysteria among some people around supposed anti-semitism everywhere.

Rotschild was a banker and a speculator and the richest man in the world in his time. Who cares if he was Jew or Martian? He is the archetype of speculator capitalist like very few others are (maybe Rockefeller and Morgan but they are from a later time).

Associating all Jews with Capitalism is antisemitic propaganda, denouncing the maneouvres of a particular individual regardless of his ethnicity is something totally differen Or will it be now that when your opressor is a Jew, denouncing it is anti-semitism? Even Marx and Trotsky were antisemitic?

It's ridiculous! And it's devaluating the meaning of the term anti-semitism.

Manjunat said...

My understanding is that though capitalists Jews were always working class people in Europe. They were never part of the establishment.

Maju said...

That's like saying the same of Parsis in India (guess they are quite comparable).

Many Jews were working class surely, in some areas like Russia or Morocco even peasants - though this is maybe more rare because they were often barred from owning or renting land. But many were dedicated to liberal professions, trade and banking. The latter is because in the Middle Ages, it was considered a sin (and in that time that was a punishable crime too) that a Christian charged interest to another (or Muslim to Muslim - I think it's the same case), and also Jews were often not allowed to own or rent land, so they made up the special caste that could trade and offer loans, both in Europe as in Africa or Asia (of course non-Jews eventually also got into banking but Jews were prominent in many cases). They also benefitted from their extense ethnic network for trade, and more ease to travel between Christian and Muslim areas than the adepts of either faith.

Often the monarchs had Jews in charge of their finances. Things like that. And all this economic activity, and the relative good standing of many Jews, caused resentment among the rest, creating the stereotype of the usurary Jew, that in some cases corresponded to reality and in others not at all.

Of course there were many poor Jews but there were also many that had very high standing. Overall they made a sizeable part of what we could call the "middle classes", that were very reduced in that time, anyhow. There were also Jewish slaves and urban workers, of course, but the main fraction of the working class were peasants and these were very rarely Jews.

The decrees of "conversion or expulsion" that plagued Europe in the 15th century made many of them migrate, often losing their posessions but not their knowledge. In some cases, the countries that recieved them benefitted a lot from their arrival, in the sense that they dynamized the economy and science somewhat, while the countries that expelled them surely caused a brain drain upon themselves, damaging the economy possibly too.

I think that comparing them to Indian Parsis makes a lot of sense, though surely India has been much more tolerant than Europe, and has different traditions anyhow.

Manjunat said...

That's like saying the same of Parsis in India (guess they are quite comparable).

I think that comparing them to Indian Parsis makes a lot of sense, though surely India has been much more tolerant than Europe, and has different traditions anyhow.

I know your penchant for comparing class and caste. The fundamentals that guide them are entirely different. The caste is based on purity-pollution and class economic conditions. It is different matter that outsiders with better economic conditions got better caste positions. However, you should note that whatever the economic strength caste position and respect along with it didn't change in India. In fact, the Dravidian movement against brahmins and caste system was spearheaded by economically dominant but ritually considered Sudra castes. Parsis I am sure might have been treated like a merchant caste therefore might have enjoyed better social situations.

However, in the case of Jews eventhough they were economically well to do, I felt they might have been treated like working class because of religious reasons.

Now don't bring some obscure exceptions :-).

Maju said...

I know your penchant for comparing class and caste.

Both Parsis and Jews are ("were" in the case of Medieval Europe) outside the caste system: they are ethno-religious minorities that are outside the mainstream pseudo-religious classifications of caste. Parsis, like Muslims, are not into caste issues, at least in principle, right?

Like Parsis in India, Jews were not in any of the main castes: they were neither peasants nor lords (nor priests, at least not of the mainstream religion) - the three castes defined by Agustin of Hippo. They were mostly inside that outgroup that were the inhabitants of cities: traders, artisans, physicians. And like them, their ethno-religious social network, their special out-of-bounds place in society, together with relatively good education, made them quite frequently to be part of some "middle class" that had no name in Medieval Europe but that certainly was there as an outgroup, rather than the backbone of society.

The fundamentals that guide them are entirely different. The caste is based on purity-pollution and class economic conditions.

That's the ideology that justifies them not their fundamentals. Yourself, in your last post adress the formation of the social groups of Dravidian society from a very economic-angle, that I tend to agree with.

European castes were not (ideologically speaking) so much a matter of purity-pollution (we were not really that obsessed with such stuff - it's not in our cultural roots) but a matter of social ("divine") order and patriarchal "honor". A matter of blood and birthright. Specially for the upper caste of the aristocrats, that is.

But you are right on this:

However, in the case of Jews eventhough they were economically well to do, I felt they might have been treated like working class because of religious reasons.

They were often, in some aspects at least, treated worse than the regular peasant class - but more by their peers than the powerful.

Actually most monarchs had no issues with them and even favored them on their own interest (being an outgroup they needed more than anyone else the protection of the powerful, so they were possibly more loyal) but the common people and sometimes also the aristocrats despised them and started pogromos now and then on any pretext.

They were a handy scapegoat (maybe the only of its kind) in an otherwise homogeneous (and illiterate) society (Roma only arrived late in the Middle Ages and these were really a low status group that did not arise so much contempt - maybe because they were Christians).

In a sense, Jews were victims of the tolerance they found. No other religious minority survived Christian homogeneization in the Middle Ages: only Jews were allowed to be something different. And being the only thing different around, they became the target of all kind of paranoid unrest in the purest witch-hunt style.

...

Anyhow, here there is a dictionary definition of caste:

1: one of the hereditary social classes in Hinduism that restrict the occupation of their members and their association with the members of other castes

2 - a: a division of society based on differences of wealth, inherited rank or privilege, profession, occupation, or race - b: the position conferred by caste standing : prestige

3: a system of rigid social stratification characterized by hereditary status, endogamy, and social barriers sanctioned by custom, law, or religion

Aception 3 (that I bolded) is the most adequate in a general context. Indian castes fit in it but also other caste systems in other societies. Purity rules cannot be definitory where there is no (or a very weak and limited) concept of ritual purity - I guess you understand this, right?

European Medieval (and early Modern) castes had nothing to do with any sort of "ritual purity": they were the product of the late Roman laws that made trades compulsorily inherited, coated with some Christian social theology (specially Agustin's "the City of God") and reinforced by similar caste structure among Germanic invaders.

Basically caste is created when the conquerors are made landowners and, after some generations, this situation becomes rigidly inheritable. The two basic castes are always that of lords and that of commoners. Sometimes there are other castes: in cultures where religious office is inherited, priests will become a caste. Slaves (or serfs, originally the same thing) can also be considered a caste. Lords and commoners also often have subcastes, each one with their special legal status.

The case in India seems to be that castes have been around for too long without fundamental changes and that there is an unusual ammount of religious literature and traditions around them. But essentially they are not different from other realities: inherited social status.

Manjunat said...

But essentially they are not different from other realities: inherited social status.

You losing finer details in your overall view. Indeed there are castes based purely on social or economical realities (like agricultural serfs). However, how do you explain other occupational hierarchies? How do you explain dominant castes remaining Sudras? Who according to your explanation being ruling classes should have been aristocrats(there are exceptions which again reinforces the rule).

Manjunat said...

Basically caste is created when the conquerors are made landowners and, after some generations, this situation becomes rigidly inheritable.

By the way, what is this your obsession with conquerors? I can understand if female anthropologists suffering from Freudian snake dreams but why you? For that matter only South America showed some kind of 'caste' divisions but only for a short duration. Turkish movement hardly created such a caste society. So you can see the difference. But then you go on apply the generalized rule to priests becoming elite caste. Instead of considering it as a separate topic you mix it with your conquerors concept. With that same token Jews must have been conquered by Kohens/Levis just like brahmins conquered Indians. Probably, we should discuss why your arguments do not fall under false analogy.

You better go thro' Wikipedia and analyse why most of the biggest historical monarchs of India have dubious caste origins.

Maju said...

You losing finer details in your overall view. Indeed there are castes based purely on social or economical realities (like agricultural serfs). However, how do you explain other occupational hierarchies? How do you explain dominant castes remaining Sudras?

That's a good question and I am sure you know better than I the fine print about that.

Here in the Basque Country, specially in Biscay and Gipuzkoa, where feudalism almost never penetrated, we had the inverse situation: peasants became aristocrats. In our case, it was an adaptation of a (roughly) egalitarian society to surrounding feudalism. Hence by law everybody was a gentleman and heraldry became a national hobby (every family has a schuteon), the same that every family had a farm.

But certainly this anomaly is the exception rather than the norm. It was created to adequate a non-feudal society into a feudalist one (Castile), without us losing our rights.

By the way, what is this your obsession with conquerors? I can understand if female anthropologists suffering from Freudian snake dreams but why you?

No idea what you mean with the snake dream, sorry.

Guess they don't need to be foreign conquerors, they can also be internal conquerors (i.e. people who game the system until they are on top), but often they are foreign invaders anyhow.

In any case, it's a system that secures (more or less) the heredability of different rights and duties (normally more rights for the high castes and more duties for the low ones). In contrast, in a class society, status depends largely in one's personal achievements, even if the heradiblity of property limits that somewhat.

For that matter only South America showed some kind of 'caste' divisions but only for a short duration.

Do you mean colonial/post-colonial South America? May I remind you that in colonial Virginia the use of golden buttons, for instance, was strictly regulated and only certain "aristocratic" people could use them? That the French colonization of Canada failed largely because they tried to imitate the landowner/serf system of the continent, what wasn't attractive at all for French potential emigrants? That virtually all Europe was for centuries, maybe milennia, structured in castes (feudalism).

You seem to be watching only the post-revolutionary reality of Europe and America but some 220 years ago everything was still largely feudal, and even more if you go back in time before the Swiss independence... The great changes happened specially in the 19th century: European and American societies were put upside down almost literally. And the 20th century ratified the changes, as the dialectic evolved from aristocracy vs. brugueoise class to burgueoise vs. working class, leaving the old caste titles and privileges erased or as mere historical remnant.

Turkish movement hardly created such a caste society.

Islam was less caste-structured than the Christian post-Roman society probably. Still the Ottomans relied initially largely in their sipahi and timariot castes (often confused), that were much like European knights (landowners and mounted warriors). Later, as infantery became more important, they could not really modernize this aristocratic corps and had to rely in a very special class (eventually evolved into a caste - or nearly so): the janissaries. In Egypt, Mamluks were also a separate foreign caste that did not mix with common Egyptians. Even if their origins were humble (slaves), they became a warrior caste and monopolized power in Egypt for many centuries, even under Ottoman rule.

Warrior castes are maybe the more common everywhere: they wield naturally a very decisive power an tend to perpetuate themselves and to accumulate richess, often in form of land.

But then you go on apply the generalized rule to priests becoming elite caste. Instead of considering it as a separate topic you mix it with your conquerors concept.

I didn't mean to. I just find the priestly caste a peculiarity of some societies and not a central element in caste societies. I didn't mean to evaluate their origin.

When you compared the Norse mythology with the Rg Veda, you noticed surely that in spite of all similitudes, the Nordic legend had no reference whatsoever to any priestly caste (that was not known among them). I think that the peculiarity is in India for this case and it might be a remnant (at least formally) from IVC times. This doesn't mean that the priestly posts did not change hands and only the theory (the myth and the ritual) surrounding the caste survived.

Maybe when IEs arrived to India, they found that religious status was more profittable than mere military lordship. Maybe then they decided to become priests. I really don't know for sure.

With that same token Jews must have been conquered by Kohens/Levis just like brahmins conquered Indians.

In a sense. If I'm not worng Cohens are supposedly descendants of Moshe's brother, who was the leader of the pack even before they conquered (and largely assimilated) the Canaanites. Not sure about Levis right now.

I'm pretty sure neither of them is descendant of the people the small* (but fierce and fanatic) Hebrew tribe conquered in Canaan (now Palestine).

*Small: they could not be so many if they had to live for decades in the desert.

You better go thro' Wikipedia and analyse why most of the biggest historical monarchs of India have dubious caste origins.

Maybe. They surely made them less dubious upon ascending to the throne, right?

The problem with castes is that heredability causes accomodation, if not in this generation, in some later one. And naturally there's always new (lowly) blood showing to be more effective and demanding the privileges of the hereditary elite. In most cases, monarchs would do the necessary adjustments, naming these new rich baron or something, so the formal aspects of the caste system would not be altered. I don't know how this worked in India but I am sure that such arrangements happened too.

A more radical solution is a flexible class system, like the one we have now, where Mr. Nobody Gates can become the richest person of the World and the Earl of Whatever is likely to be just average (unless he lives of his image like any commoner pop star). There's some burgueois "aristocracy" anyhow (the Bushes, for instance) but it's not formal in any case.

Manjunat said...

All I can say you like to apply the term caste everywhere. When in fact, class remains the subset or subunit of caste. But caste remains even when classes become irrelevant.


Islam was less caste-structured than the Christian post-Roman society probably.


You probably meant to say class structured. Anyway, I hope you'll appreciate the fact that there could be multiple models for classes and entirely different model for caste. Also, please check if your definition of caste (as a social barrier sanctioned by custom, law or religion) is applicable to those Turkish 'castes' or were they just a quirk of history.

Maju said...

All I can say you like to apply the term caste everywhere.

Excuse me. The word "caste" is an English word (or Latin origins), not an Hindi or Dravidian term. Generally, the term caste is understood not just in the specific context of India but many others. Jati and Varna are terms of specifically Indian dimension instead.

English "caste" directly derives from Portuguese "casta", that is exactly the same word as in Spanish. It's ultimate root is Lat. "castus" that means "pure", "chaste".

In its Iberian aception, colloquially it's used to mean lineage (i.e. "jati") but in the sociological/anthropological/historical sense, it's used to mean hereditary status and the groups these form - what in other times was said by the words "estaments" or "states". The words naturally change along time and languages, so it can be messy.

By the way, the Basque word for lineage or caste is "jas", from which more common "jaun" (lord, sir, master, now "Mr."), "jabe" (owner, master) and "jatorra" (of good caste or lineage, one of us, colloquially: "cool", "nice person"). In the Basque sense it just means (meant, as it's not really used nowadays) lineage or clan. I mention because it sounds a lot like "jati". It's probably just a coincidence but we can't totally exclude a common origin, maybe from West Asian Neolithic.

When in fact, class remains the subset or subunit of caste.

Class is totally distinct from caste: you can be upper class and a Sudra or Dalit (in Europe: the descendant of serfs or Jews or Roma...) and you can be low class and a Brahmin/Ksatriya (in Europe: the descendant of nobility, like it's partly my case). Class is just about how much money you have. If you don't have money, whatever your ancestry, you are a pariah (or proletary - or whatever word you want to use).

Castes surely originated as classes but were frozen in time eventually and, varying from place to place, sacralized by religion and ritual taboos. In Europe castes have been totally melted by revolutions, wars and radical reforms but in India the situation is still evolving.

But caste remains even when classes become irrelevant.

I tell you they eventually vanish. For long aristocrats have tried to keep their formal status but, without real privileges, it's just a historical note - and almost nobody cares about that anymore.

It may be more difficult in India as it's so intimately connected with religious practices and doctrine, but, if Capitalism is to have its way, they will be eventually erased: doubt it not. In fact it's already happening, as you probably know - though it's more real in cities than in the country.

Worry not: in the worst case, after some decades of Maoist rule, that will be solved. ;)

Manjunat said...

Excuse me. The word "caste" is an English word (or Latin origins), not an Hindi or Dravidian term.

Now I understand. "Caste" is not the most scientific terminology to describe Jati. Its limitation is reflected in your generalized usage.

Class is totally distinct from caste:

Okay, whatever you mean by that.


I tell you they eventually vanish. For long aristocrats have tried to keep their formal status but, without real privileges, it's just a historical note - and almost nobody cares about that anymore.

It may be more difficult in India as it's so intimately connected with religious practices and doctrine, but, if Capitalism is to have its way, they will be eventually erased: doubt it not. In fact it's already happening, as you probably know - though it's more real in cities than in the country.

Worry not: in the worst case, after some decades of Maoist rule, that will be solved. ;)


This is hilarious. I am talking from historical point of view and you jump into unknown future. May be it's my English. But this is not the first time you tried to move the argument from objective angle to personal angle (remember etymology of Sudra). I don't mind it but I doubt whether I can get into an objective discussion.

Maju said...

Now I understand. "Caste" is not the most scientific terminology to describe Jati. Its limitation is reflected in your generalized usage.

In fact I understood that you were talking of varnas, rather than jatis. We were always talking of brahmins, sudras, etc. Those are not jatis (lineages, clans, in European terms) but castes in the sense of estaments.

But certainly the term caste can be ambiguous. We agree in that.

This is hilarious. I am talking from historical point of view and you jump into unknown future.

You were talking of the present. When you say that castes remain no matter what, you are talking of the present. Ok, the past maybe too but, if Indian castes would have disappeared like in Europe, you would not make such claims, obviously.

Of course, the Maoist reference was kind of a pun. But the fact is that, Maoists apart, under the Capitalist system, caste structure and privileges has been eroded and made illegal. An that change is very noticeable AFAIK in the cities of India, where caste is not anymore as important as it used to be (you tell me if I'm wrong about this). I can easily compare this situation with 19th century Europe.

As people see their actual status depend, not on birth but on money, as more low caste people become somewhat affluent and some high caste ones become less so, the caste bondaries are blurred and eventually erased.

And I'm talking about varnas basically but jatis are surely also affected, even if more slowly, because they are probably older and more efficient. But Capitalism-induced individualism surely will erase them too with time. In this Europe and India are more different because clans (jatis) disappeared earlier, probably in the Greco-Roman antiquity, except in the wildest parts of Western and Eastern Europe surely (northern Europe was always more individualistic).

European serfs were individual serfs, not serfs because of being members of a clan that did not exist anymore. European lords were more attached to their lineages probably... but they were almost the only remnant of clannic life when modernity began. And with their detached heads that last remnant went away too.