If Germany began celebrating Hitler Day every year to commemorate the rise to power of the murderous Nazi regime, the world would quite rightly be outraged. It would be unthinkable. And yet, every year, millions of citizens across the United States celebrate Columbus Day, commemorating the beginning of the greatest genocide ever witnessed in human history.
Columbus’ discovery of the New World in 1492 led to centuries of appalling crimes against humanity throughout the two continents of North and South America. In most regions, 95% of the original population was decimated within the first few generations. The majority of the hundreds of millions who died were most likely wiped out from the diseases brought by the Europeans to which the indigenous people of the Americas had no resistance, but that doesn’t discount the atrocious and continuous acts of murder, enslavement and brutality carried out by the Europeans against the inhabitants of the New World.
Columbus himself knew just what he wanted from his expedition: conquest and domination. Here’s an excerpt from his journal about the indigenous people he discovered when he first landed in Hispaniola:
They have no iron or steel, nor any weapons….They have no other weapons than the stems of reeds…on the end of which they fix little sharpened stakes. Even these they dare not use….they are incurably timid…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.
Our global values have come a long way since that fateful day in 1492. Nowadays we at least pay lip-service to notions of liberty and self-determination. While genocides still tragically occur, most of the civilized world reacts with horror, even if we generally do very little to stop them. So why do we still insist on glorifying a brutally ambitious murderer each year, and celebrate the beginning of unimaginable suffering for hundreds of millions of native Americans?
In my novel, Requiem of the Human Soul, there’s a terrorist group called Citizens Seeking Global Justice which detonates a nuclear bomb in Columbus, Ohio on Columbus Day in 2063, incinerating downtown Columbus and killing over a hundred thousand citizens. For this group, the symbolism of Columbus is irresistible. His day represented the continued domination of the rich world over the impoverished and disenfranchised masses who continued to be trashed by the sweep of globalization and progress. The nuclear devastation of Columbus sets off an extreme reactionary movement in the United States, leading eventually to constitutional amendments restricting individual liberties and the rise to power of the ominous Department of Homeland Security.
While I personally vehemently oppose any violence against innocent people for any reason, I think we owe it to the countless millions who died in the New World from European genocide and disease to question the premise of Columbus Day. Why do we celebrate such horrors? Why not turn the day into a celebration of the very cultures that were devastated? Why not observe the day in honor of those who suffered and died as a result of European aggression? For starters, let’s call it something else. How about First Nations Day? Or Native Americans Day? Anything, just not Columbus Day. And for that matter, not Hitler Day, either.
Humans fighting each other over filthy scraps of garbage just to stay alive. In my book, Requiem of the Human Soul, the hero Eusebio is disgusted to see this happening in the squalid dirt of Shaktigarh, a city in India in the late 22nd century inhabited by Primals, those humans who never got genetically enhanced and became the global underclass. In my novel, the human race has bifurcated into two human species by the late 22nd century: the Primals and the d-humans.
The future setting of the novel was partly designed to show where our global society is heading us if we extrapolate today’s trends out over several generations. But as far as the massive disconnect between the lives we live in the West and the squalor of the those who got left out of the joyride known as Progress, no need to look any further than this disturbing article in the New York Times from September 18, 2010, entitled “Left Behind in Venezuela to Piece Lives Together.” The dystopian future of my book is already happening in the slums of Ciudad Guyana in Venezuela.
Those who argue that globalization increases wealth across the board are offering a self-serving perspective that belies reality. What do historical trends tell us?
What do historical trends tell us? Since the Industrial Revolution, there’s no question that the disparity in virtually any measure – income, health, infant mortality, longevity – shows a massive increase between the West and the rest of the world. In the past couple of decades, the story gets a little more complex. The economic rise of China and Southeast Asia has improved the lot of billions of peoples, (both in absolute and in relative terms). However, the problems experienced in Africa have meant that the poorest people in the world are now even farther behind the wealthiest than ever before.
”] OK, but what do these rising income disparities mean? What’s the real difference today in lifestyle between the wealthy countries (destined to become mostly d-humans) and the poor countries (destined to remain mostly Primals)?
Well, to quote a recent report by the World Health Organization , “A girl born today can expect to live for more than 80 years if she is born in some countries—but less than 45 years if she is born in others.”
Researchers J P Ruger and H-J Kim conducted a study in 1996 comparing the best-off nations, the mid-level nations and the worst-off nations. Here’s what they found…
Inequalities in child and adult mortality are wide and growing
The countries with the highest adult and under-five mortality have multiple deprivations:
- Fourfold higher percentage of people living on $1/day
- Twofold higher female illiteracy rate
- Less than 1/6 the income per capita
- One fifth the outpatient visits, hospital beds and doctors
Source: J P Ruger , H-J Kim. “Global health inequalities: an international comparison.” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2006; 60 :928-936.
Rising Inequality Within Nations
Things are changing as we enter the 22nd century. It’s not that the disparity is decreasing – it’s changing its form. Increasingly, the income disparity is growing within countries, rather than between countries. That means that figures showing poorer countries catching up in their GDP can hide another story: that within the country, the rich are getting richer but the poor are getting poorer.
Picture of Jakarta: shanty town on the river and modern high rise in the background
Glenn Firebaugh, Sociology professor at Pennsylvania State University, has described this new dynamic in his 2006 book entitled The New Geography of Global Income Inequality :
…a new geography of global income inequality… refers to the new pattern of global income inequality caused by the recent phenomenon of declining inequality across nations accompanied by (in many places) rising inequality within nations.
This phenomenon, which began in the last third of the twentieth century and continues today, results in a ‘new geography’ because it represents the reversal of trends that trace back to the early stages of Western industrialization…
Global income inequality…is gradually shrinking from inequality across nations to inequality within nations.
– Glenn Firebaugh, The New Geography of Global Income , Harvard University Press, 2006.
With these current perspectives, it’s disturbingly easy to visualize how, by next century, genetic engineering will finalize the job our civilization’s been working on for centuries, and establish the ultimate gap between rich and poor, establishing them as two separate species: Primals and d-humans.
According to the American military, 23 Afghan civilians were killed in February by a group of people sitting at a console in Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. How could that happen? Because these people were operating the Predator drones that have caused such controversy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Look out,world… this is the way warfare is going to be conducted in the future as increasingly advanced technology allows more sophisticated interfaces to be developed. The logic is powerful. Why should you risk the lives of your own people when you can accomplish the same ends by technology? It’s the same logic that leads to the use of robots when possible in examining and disarming suspected terrorist bombs.
But, sensible as the logic may be, we’re going to enter a world where the lives and deaths of civilians will ultimately be decided by the cost/benefit trade-offs of programmers working away in the abstract world of mathematics, completely divorced from the reality of the ground.
In my book, Requiem of the Human Soul, there’s a scene that portrays the face of 22nd century warfare. The troops fighting the terrorists are called GE troopers, (standing for GALT Enforcement – a 22nd century global treaty to limit human aggression by genetic means). They’re fighting the Rejectionists, people who reject this global treaty on religious grounds. And, plus ca change, the fighting is still going in the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, this time in a little community called Pannakot, in the Chitral Valley. But the GE troopers aren’t really there – they use virtual reality units (or VRUs) which they’re operating from the comfort of Nashville, Tennessee.
And it’s a lot more comfortable when you’re fighting from your home town. As one of the troopers tells the book’s hero, Eusebio:
Sure, pal, that’s where the whole 4-21 regiment is located. We have a giant virtual reality center outside Nashville. We’re all there right now, in our skins, hunting down Rejos in the Chitral Valley. It sure beats doing it in person. At the end of the day, we go have a drink with the guys, enjoy our kids at home. I’ve got a six-year old. I wouldn’t miss him growing up for anything.
Eusebio, is there with the GE troopers in the Chitral Valley virtually, wearing a VRU himself. He’s on a mission to see what is really going on in the sanitized world of genetically enhanced humans. And what he sees disgusts him. It’s the face of warfare in the 22nd century.