Tuesday, November 12, 2019

O Pioneers!

I've mentioned Sarah Taber's writing just once before, but what a piece that was. Here's another one, not as closely tied to her field of agriculture, but it's in the ballpark:

So I learned something fun about the word "pioneer" today. It was originally a military rank in the late medieval period for...construction workers.

Specifically, construction workers who went ahead of armies to cut down forest, clear trails, build roads/bridges, identify fording spots, etc. so the REAL army could march through later. In other words, they were doing all of this in enemy territory while getting shot at.

So like this sounds super badass, right? That's the sentiment we attach to "pioneer" today. Except it comes from Latin "pedestrian," as in "not high-class mounted cavalry," aka broke-ass serf trash. It's from the same term as "peon" and "pawn."

"Pioneer" means disposable people who pave the way for invasion. The cannon fodder that goes in before the usual rank 'n' file cannon fodder.

Indigenous people talk about the growth of the United States as a military invasion. And, uh, we agreed with them. We openly used military terms to talk about what we were doing. It's only later that we romanticized it into forgetting.

This also slots into something I've been seeing with how we Euro-Americans settled the US: rank classism amongst ourselves, covered up with rose-tinted glasses. We openly acknowledged that the earliest settlers in an area were probably gonna get killed and the perks were all going to go to gentlemen coming in later. And OUR GOVERNMENT WAS MORE THAN OK WITH THAT.

We had inequality that created desperately poor people, willing to do anything for a chance to escape poverty— like invade Native land knowing there was a high and justifiable risk of being killed for it. We weren't just OK with that system. We deliberately weaponized poverty.

The US's refusal to enforce treaties allowed poor whites to squat on Native land. When they were evicted or killed, that was used as a pretense to formally invade Native land (because we're "hard on crime" I guess). And THAT's when land speculators were able to gobble up vast tracts. The land speculators couldn't make money without genocide AND the casual disposability of their. own. people.

I'm not saying this to claim we had it worse than Native people, who suffered actual genocide. White settler deaths never amounted to the numbers Indigenous people faced. But … settler "technological and logistical superiority" was really more about how it creates poor people and then treats them as expendable. Nothing is impossible when you have hordes of impoverished, desperate peon-eers to throw at the problem.

It's interesting to me how much Americans fear China for its real and/or perceived willingness to just throw human bodies at a thing until it's conquered because that's exactly what we did to Indigenous people.

Anyway, the most impressive piece of engineering to me is the social engineering we did to convince people that pioneering was awesome. Nowadays the word makes us think strong, virtuous, honorable, badass Paul Bunyan-type shit instead of, y'know, what "pioneer" really means. An underclass that cuts down trees and gets shot at so other people can ride in and take the goods.

This is just one reason it's important for white settlers to understand how much we've damaged *ourselves* with colonialism. Every phase of colonialism had its own set of broke colonists paving the way with infrastructure. Cutting down trees, to building roads and ferries, to building railroads. That work was always done by the dregs of our society.

In other words, colonial society NEEDS DREGS. The American invasion economy needed broke desperate people.

It still does. Because we still haven't figured out any other way to live, than by weaponizing poverty to get people to wreck themselves for the empire. It's also just one reason "it's all about class!" brocialism isn't good enough. Rich whites didn't pick on poor whites just for shits and giggles. They did it to weaponize us against other people. And it WORKED.

We can't repair that — or ourselves — by making it "all about class." That just keeps rich whites at the center of the universe instead of aligning ourselves with other people that they — and we, through our participation in colonialism — harm.

Welp that's a lot of technocolonialism and thoughts on how if the white working class is serious about living our best lives, we gotta get our heads out of the white upper class's ass, take responsibility for where we've been, and make some better friends.

happy Sunday
"It's interesting to me how much Americans fear China for its real and/or perceived willingness to just throw human bodies at a thing until it's conquered because that's exactly what we did to Indigenous people." That part especially.

And it made me think of Minnesota's Dakota War and the crap from white people that goes on about it to this day. Thinking of the white guy in the Minnesota State Seal as a pioneer through Sarah Taber's lens — as an expendable peon sent out by the rich — sure makes it feel different. Though the Native man riding by isn't any safer from the rifle leaning against the stump.

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