Civilization, Slaves, and Twins

This page written circa 11 September, 2000.

Arriving home to an empty house, I have responded to the unaccustomed peace and quiet by finding myself some salted nuts and making myself a martini of Citadel Gin, and sitting quietly in the library. (When in Pleasantville do as the Pleasantvillains do.)

I am currently reading a very incisive history of America. Based upon its contents, it is safe to say that the most stupid thing America has done has been to have a civil war (wastefully and viciously prosecuted), and the most uncivilised has been the near-extermination of Indians (again an avoidable waste). Now I am with Abe Lincoln on the slave question---I would not have slaves but I would not fight to free them either---but then the war was not really about slaves but about keeping the nation of manifest destiny unified, versus maintaining certain rules for distributing wealth, which were closely tied to the use of slaves.

The acceptance of the dollar as the scoring standard is a constant in American history. European observers reported this before America became independent, both sides accepted it in the civil war (even if they disputed over the rules for scoring), and even though Monopoly is now mostly a game, it symbolises what seems to have occupied most of the people for most of the time. So if everybody was agreed, what went wrong? Had the USA agreed to differ on slaves and been less aggressive with the Indians it would have both a better reputation and even more power than it does now.

Of course there is no short answer to that, but fear, self-righteousness and meanness of spirit all contributed. These are traits that abound in Americans.

Last week we watched the Robert Winston series on twins, most kindly provided to us by Lynne's Video Service. It yielded at least one quite staggering piece of information: Belief in God is most likely a heritable trait.

(As an aside, I instantly recall an event many years ago: I went to the airport to meet a friend who was returning to Australia suddenly in response to the illness and subsequent death of her father. I did not know if her sister and husband would also try to pick her up, and I knew she was not expecting either them or me to be there, so I was at pains to sweep the arrivals lounge frequently. I had never met her sister or the husband, but I did know them to be excessively religeous. As I roamed rapidly about the airport, I passed a man and remarked jokingly to myself that he looked as tight and twisted as any church-fanatic I'd ever seen, and that he fitted the level of creepy self-righteousness with which my friend had described the husband. In the hundreds of milling people, he turned out to be the said husband. But I digress.)

You gotta worry. It would be easy to believe that the tight-arsed masses in America are hereditrarily so. Bred from Puritans the English were glad lose and people willing to take great risks in search of wealth, you might expect to get just what you see: Recurrently self-righteous, greedy and violent people. Still, there must be a few civilised immigrants or the martini would not have risen to such prominence.

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