The Homogenocene

Published on Dissident Voice, by Kim Petersen, September 25, 2012.

In his epic 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, author Charles C. Mann presented evidence after evidence that the Original Peoples of Turtle Island had highly developed societies and had acquired intricate knowledge (especially, agriscience) and some had developed advanced cities before Europeans arrived looking for commodities they could trade for or plunder. 

Mann has followed up with 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (Vintage Books, 2012). 1493 begins with Christopher Columbus, who Mann refers to by the name he used at that time, Cristóbal Colón. The author does not deny the “failings” of Colón but amorally writes that the Genovese admiral initiated a massive globalization, much of it rooted in the crops produced by the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island. It was the beginning of the Homogenocene, as Mann defines it: “a new biological era … mixing unlike substances to create a uniform blend.”

Profit was a motivating factor for many seafarers, and trade was the means to profit. The desire for profit takes on a life of its own, and trade was often fraught with violence. As 1493 details, it was bound with slavery, exploitation, and warring. Corruption was also rife. Of the Spanish, Mann wrote: “To pay for its foreign adventures, the court borrowed from foreign bankers; the king felt free to incur debts because he believed they would be covered by future shipments of American treasure, and banks felt free to lend for the same reason.” The corruption within today’s financial world that precipitated a massive banking crisis points to the continuity of globalization forces.

The Columbian Exchange, as Mann narrates, connects potatoes, sugar cane, maize, tobacco, and earthworms, beetles, and mosquitoes with colonialism, slavery, exploitation, and commerce … //

… The Columbian Exchange also caused an “unprecedented reshuffling of Homo sapiens.” Capitalism and trade required labor. This led to the exploitation of labor (especially Indigenous peoples). It also led to enslavement of peoples. At its height, the slave trade saw 11.7 million captive Africans shipped to the western hemisphere – “a massive transfer of human flesh unlike anything before it.” In the western hemisphere the enslaved outnumbered their enslavers immensely. By 1565, Africans outnumbered Europeans seven to one. The Catholic Church was fine by this as it was a chance to bring Jesus to the uninitiated.

Europeans succumbed to their sweet tooth, and Africans were forced to tend the sugar plantations.

Mann points out that the racism of the early Homogenocene was of a different sort than nowadays, and there was much mixing of races. While genetic contamination was not feared, moral contamination was a concern.

It is a natural condition of most humans to desire freedom (albeit, a seemingly rarer desire in the case of wage slavery); thus, it was no surprise that slaves would escape when opportunity presented itself. This resulted in new communities, fugitive communities – – or “maroon” communities, in English. Mann tells the story of some of these communities, in places such as Brazil, Panama, Mexico, the US, Ecuador, Hispaniola, and Haiti. It is in Haiti that Mann describes how the “brilliant, charismatic, and dictatorial” Toussaint Louverture led a successful revolt against French rule and enslavement, leading Napoleon Bonaparte to sell France’s Turtle Island territories to the US. Mann concluded, “Much of the United States’ present territory is thus owed indirectly to maroons…”

Haiti was embargoed by the US and all of Europe for the offense of having secured the Haitian people’s freedom. Freedom would be fleeting for the former maroons of Haiti and their descendants. Mann also details how maroon (and Indigenous) communities in the Amazon continue to be expropriated and exploited today.

1493 is a riveting read that takes the reader around the world, through various epochs after Colón’s 1492 voyage. The book has its share of villains (?) from Andrés de Urdaneta y Cerain, Hernán Cortés, Julio César Arana, Henry Wickham, Vasco Núñez de Balboa, and Zheng Chenggong to Pope Alexander VI and resistance heroes (?) such as Catarina de San Juan, Juan Garrido, and Zumbi to Dona Rosario.

Class struggle is rife throughout the book. Mann’s narrative tells of royalty and capitalists profiting from the violence wreaked against the poor and the weak to enrich their masters. Resistance was often doomed by workers and slaves inability to unite and stay united, as well as compromising with their oppressors. Nationalism was used to propagandize and manipulate the masses of people against their better interests.

Is the Homogenocene just an outcome of capitalist accumulation and corporate globalization? Read the excellent account by Mann and find out.

(full text).

(Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached here. Read other articles by Kim).

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