Genocidal Ancestral Memory
Did Leaders with “Genocidal Memory” in their Ancestors’ Past, Help to Save Us?
I promised God, as you recall, after I got a second chance to be alive, that I would write the things I most feared to write. This essay is in that category.
We are in a time — a manufactured time, I would argue – in which it has become taboo to talk about, let alone explore, ethnic, religious, racial or national heritages. This is a change from the recent past.
When I was growing up in deeply multicultural, multi-ethnic California and attending a richly integrated public school system, the legacies left to us of the impact of Native American tribes, of Mexico and its long history of colonizing, and then of Mexican-Americans leading and influencing, our state; the histories of waves of Chinese, Jewish, Portuguese, Japanese, Filipino and African-American immigrants, all of whom shaped California’s economy, literature, music, schools, and other institutions; were studied formally from K through 12 and into college, and these legacies and histories often were celebrated.
We celebrated Chinese New Year; we learned about the Mexican Day of the Dead; we read testimonies from the founders of the Missions, and records of the enslavement of the Indians by the Spanish. We learned about the Ohlones and the Coast Miwoks, who settled San Francisco Bay. We read the letters of Jewish tradesmen who came to California in the Gold Rush, and we learned about escaped African-American men and women, formerly enslaved, who made their way to California then too, to establish new lives and communities. We saw photographs of the conditions of the Chinese immigrants who had come as indentured workers to build the railroads, facing great danger. We learned about the Japanese and Portuguese fishermen’s communities along the coastline, and about the internment camps in World War Two. We learned the tragic story of Ishi, the last of his tribe, the Yahi Indians.
We had wonderful days, too, when we would all bring food from home, from our respective different cultures, to share with our classmates.
When we studied the histories and legacies of these different cultures, it was not a divisive experience, though no doubt looking back one could surely locate some pedagogical flaws. We grappled, as a student body, with learning about painful histories of slavery and oppression, of systematic discrimination. But as public school students, we were positioned then as a unified community in studying these histories; we were not at that time asked to see ourselves as inhabiting a fatally and hopelessly divided set of racial, national-origin, religious and ethnic subcultures that could never ever meet, or ever even be in positive connection.
We felt that studying these different cultures and histories made us more American rather than less; more unified as citizens, as a national family. We felt that studying these cultures and histories helped us to understand one another a bit better, and that by exploring all of these beautiful ideas, achievements, holidays, and cuisines, as well as the histories of painful overcoming, the histories of surviving cruelties and of building nonetheless — we were all culturally wealthier than we would have been if we had lived in a society in which everyone looked the same and in which everyone’s story was the same.
Well, those days are sadly gone. I won’t rehearse here the well-known story of how a discourse of antagonism, dread, and cancellation has chilled any such speech or exploration of different histories and legacies, no matter how positively intended, in schools and universities.
Racism is real. Systemic racism, anti-Semitism, and other injustices, are all too real. I am not disputing that here. An anti-racist revision in pedagogy was indeed long overdue — but this effort, I feel, has been hijacked and made over by the same outside influences who hope that Americans will never be united, or even be able to talk productively to one another, again.
I don’t believe that the organic grassroots anti-racist revolution in pedagogy intended the outcome we have now, in which everyone is now scared to death to ask honest and respectful questions of everyone else, if there are racial, ethnic, religious or national-origin differences involved in the conversations. I don’t believe that a new orthodoxy in which admiring another culture, or being curious about another historical experience than one’s own ancestors’, would be damned as “cultural imperialism” or as a form of “micro-aggression,” was the original organic goal of reformers.
But I can certainly see that, in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural America, a new norm, or a new social etiquette, in which it has become absolutely terrifying to have any kind of discussion about different histories and legacies, would be fantastic at re-making our formerly robust, and, (even acknowledging its many systemic shortcomings), usually inclusively-aiming society, into a society that is fragile, brittle, isolating, rigid and easily fractured.
Having provided that anxious preamble, this is what I want to say:
The fact that we have survived the past three years, in which a small group of people have targeted us all with their genocidal and depopulation-oriented intentions, is disproportionately due to the alerts brought forward to the rest of us by leaders whose ancestors have actually experienced genocides, or have experienced systemic, sadistic forms of control of populations by elites.
The fact that a number of leaders whose ancestors have experienced different forms of state-organized sadism, meant that, whether these memories were consciously informing their freedom movement work or not — these leaders were somehow able to understand what was happening before the rest of us could, and thus were able to help to save us.
In the freedom movement, I’ve noticed, though leaders come from all heritages and all walks of life, there is a disproportionate number of leaders whose ancestors are likely to have endured genocides, or state sadism aimed at the control of populations on a massive scale.
I am going to suggest a timespan I call “ancestral memory.” I will say this is made up of six generations. A grandparent can tell a grandchild stories, or can be part of conversations with other adults that the grandchild hears or overhears; then when that child becomes in turn a grandparent, those stories, or at least that awareness — that sometimes terrible things can happen to a whole society — survive, to be transmitted to that grandchild. I have noticed that many of the leaders of the freedom movement have ancestors who have experienced genocides, or sadistic population control, within that timespan.
Many of the leaders in the freedom movement, for instance, are of Irish descent. The Irish people, in “ancestral memory,” experienced a systemic form of oppression and sadism that is a superb foreshadowing of what we are experiencing now. The English in the mid-19th century systematically attacked, via government policy, the starving Irish people’s food supply. (In other policies, the English elites attacked the language, culture and self-determination of the Irish.)
Though the starvation of the Irish between 1845 and 1851 has been ascribed to a series of blighted potato harvests, in fact the famine was worsened by sadistic and deliberate policies of the British Parliament. First, Britain created a two-tier society, which prepared conditions for the catastrophe: Irish Catholics could not enter the professions or even own land.
During the potato famine, food grown by the Irish was exported under military escort, and in 1846, British government food relief efforts were deliberately curtailed, even as another potato harvest showed signs of blight:
“[Charles] Trevelyan [Assistant Secretary to the Treasury], and Charles Wood, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had decided that in the second failure there was to be no government importation of food from abroad and no interference whatsoever with the laws of supply and demand ; whatever might be done by starting public works and paying wages, the provision of food for Ireland was to be left entirely to private enterprise and private traders. […]”
Another account explains how British government policy drove millions to starve to death:
“More than 1 million people died between 1846 and 1851 as a result of the Potato Famine. Many of these died from starvation. Many more died from diseases that preyed on people weakened by loss of food. By 1847, the scourges of “famine fever,” dysentery, and diarrhea began to wreak havoc. People streamed into towns, begging for food and crowding the workhouses and soup kitchens. The beggars and vagrants who took to the roads were infected with lice, which transmit both typhus and “relapsing fever.” Once fever took hold, people became more susceptible to other infections including dysentery.
Little, if any, medical care was available for the sick. Many of those who tried to help died too. […]
Many Irish believe that the British government should have done more to help Ireland during the famine. Ireland had become part of Great Britain in 1801, and the British Parliament, sitting in London, knew about the horrors being suffered. But while the potato crop failed and most Irish were starving, many wealthy landlords who owned large farms had large crops of oats and grain that they were exporting to England.
But stopping food exports was not acceptable to the Whig Party, which had taken control of the British Parliament in 1846….The Whig Party also shut down food depots that had been set up and stocked with Indian corn. …
The government also established a public-works program. The program was supposed to be run by local committees that would employ laborers to build railroads and other public-works projects. The British government advanced money for the projects, but the local committee members had to sign a contract promising to repay the British government in two years (plus interest).
The projects were too few to support the hundreds of thousands of desperate families that needed help. Most of the workers—including women and children who were put to work building stone roads—were malnourished and weakened by fever, and many fainted or dropped dead as they worked.
In early 1847, about 700,000 Irish worked on projects, but did not earn enough money to eat. Between March and June of 1847, the government shut down the public-works projects. In their place, Parliament passed the Soup Kitchen Act in January 1847. The Soup Kitchen Act was intended to provide free food in soup kitchens sponsored by local relief committees and by charity.
Free food was desperately needed. In July 1847, almost 3 million people were lining up to get a “vile soup” or a “stirabout” porridge consisting of Indian corn meal and rice. For most of the poor, this was the only food they had each day, and many were still dying of starvation. By September 1847, the local relief committees that operated the soup kitchens were almost bankrupt, and the government shut down the soup kitchens after only six months. With no more soup kitchens to feed starving people, little hope was left.”
Landlords, many of them English absentee landords, wished to turn their land to the more lucrative cattle grazing or wheat production, but the starving Irish tenants were an obstacle to this; a sustenance policy designed to fail drove these “obstacles” off the land.
So as a result of these English efforts, that were in effect non-efforts, to feed Ireland, as well as an early form of globalist cruelty that exploited the desperation of communities by entrapping them into debt schemes and in other ways driving populations away, 2.1 million people, many of them in rags and in states of advanced starvation, emigrated.
I reprise this history of the Irish potato famine to show how leaders whose grandparents’ grandparents heard stories from this time, would be more likely to react early to what we are seeing now, and to fear that the worst might be possible.
A small group of elites — elites with a boasted level of cultural distinction and polish, and a great deal of self-admiration, like the elites of today – drove the Irish population off the land intentionally, systematically, and in massive numbers. They helped to starve another million to death. The effect was a depopulated Ireland that was stripped of millions of its Irish inhabitants, in a way that benefited a few English elites. Does anything sound familiar?
Many of the leaders of the freedom movement of today are of African-American, African-Caribbean or African descent. This is a heritage, of course, that knows perfectly well that human beings can be treated systematically as the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th century equivalents of Yuval Harari’s term “hackable animals” – treated, that is, without any sense that they are human; treated entirely, for centuries, as chattel. This is an historical legacy in which descendants know well that whole economies can be based, maintained and defended by elites, and sanctioned by high-status cultural mouthpieces, that monetize the suffering, of others, including monetizing multigenerational rape, child theft, and human trafficking.
This is an historical legacy in which descendants are likely quickly to recognize that when a modern society casts some groups into an acceptable, privileged class, and other groups into a class that is refused education, medical care, freedom of movement or even a voice, we are re-entering a dark and destructive unequal reality which America has already suffered for four hundred years, right up until the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Many of the leaders of the freedom movement are of Jewish descent. Of course in that “ancestral memory,” the unthinkable really happened. These are descendants who are likely to know full well that people can be depopulated by selection and at massive scale, in an advanced modern society, even as other “ordinary people” stand by or collude.
One of the leaders of the freedom movement is of Armenian descent. The Armenians, in “ancestral memory” — in 1915-1916 — were targeted by Ottoman forces in the Ottoman Empire with mass atrocities, genocide and deportations. “Sometimes called the first genocide of the twentieth century, the Armenian genocide refers to the physical annihilation of Armenian Christian people living in the Ottoman Empire from spring 1915 through autumn 1916. There were approximately 1.5 million Armenians living in the multiethnic Ottoman Empire in 1915. At least 664,000 and possibly as many as 1.2 million died during the genocide, either in massacres and individual killings, or from systematic ill treatment, exposure, and starvation.”
Many of the leaders of the freedom movement have ancestors from the Indian subcontinent. India too was colonized by a tiny group of elites from far away — the elites of the British Empire, again, with its layer of British and “native” colonial administrators. The inhabitants of India too, six generations ago, learned that people who may boast of high cultural and civic achievements, can act barbarously against entire populations, and can buy off leaders of local communities in a systematic way — the same tactic of social and cultural control that we are seeing in the US and in the West generally, today. The forebears of the leaders of today who are of Indian and Pakistani descent, would have seen that a massive, sophisticated population could indeed be controlled by a small, cynical group of outsiders, and exploited for these outsiders’ own purposes.
Indeed, theorists of oppression argue (and I agree with them) that Ireland in the 19th century was the laboratory, and that the British Empire exported to the rest of the world, including to India, repressive policies whose goal was to suppress and exploit large populations. Christopher Roberts, in “From the State of Emergency to the Rule of Law: The Evolution of Repressive Legality in the Nineteenth Century British Empire”, in the Chicago Journal of International Law, argues, rightly in my view, that the model of all modern repressive legality, started with emergency law (and martial law) and that it was developed and refined by the British Empire in the 19th century:
“Why are contemporary laws and techniques that state authorities use to crack down on political dissent so similar across countries? This Article argues that at least part of the answer may be found by turning to colonial history. …In the first Part, the Article explores the manner in which, over the course of the nineteenth century, the British deployed various different legal and institutional approaches in response to an Irish polity that consistently refused to submit to British authority. In the second Part, the Article examines the manner in which the approaches developed in Ireland were exported to other parts of the empire, in particular to India, South Africa, and Nigeria, over the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. […]
- I. Introduction
- II. The Irish Laboratory
- A. Suppressing Popular Uprisings
- B. Preserving the Peace
- C. Clamping Down on Unlawful Societies
- D. Suppressing Tumultuous Disturbances
- E. Combatting Crimes and Outrages
- G. Protecting Life and Property
- H. Protecting Persons and Property
- I. Preventing Crimes, Controlling the Press
- J. Conclusion: The Evolution of Repressive Legality in Nineteenth Century Ireland
- III. Global Dissemination
So understandably, people whose ancestors saw this pattern — a pattern which was tried and tested and perfected and exported by the British in the 19th Century to Ireland and India and elsewhere around the world — are likely to recognize what is happening when elites declare a state of emergency, restrict food supplies, crack down on press freedoms, control populations’ movements, drive people into poverty, normalize sadism, and crush people’s access to resources.
Understandably, people whose ancestors were kidnapped, enslaved, raped, forced to bear children, had their children stolen and/or enslaved, people who were treated for four hundred years as chattel, will recognize what is happening when elites start to manage the bodies of others and deny access, for some, to society as equals.
Understandably, people whose ancestors were put on boxcars and whose ancestors’ skin was turned into lampshades and whose ancestors were lined up and fed into ovens, are likely to recognize early on what is happening when history starts to reprise itself with “little” humiliations, confiscations of property, and with sadisms that are socially encouraged.
Since this article was posted, my readers have reminded me of other traumas within their families’ ancestral “DNA”, including those massacres endured by the Huguenots, the horrors of Stalin’s enforced famine, the Clearances in Scotland which preceded and provided a test case for later atrocities (and which seeded America’s Scotch-Irish in the Appalachians and elsewhere with distrust of government); and of course the atrocities of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. They say that those stories and ancestral memories helped them too understand early what was happening to us now.
Just because someone descends from genocided ancestors, this does not, of course, automatically make one a saint. There are evildoers on the other “side”, of course, from all groups, including from these groups, as well.
But that does not undermine my larger point here. We owe a great deal to the leaders in the freedom movement from all backgrounds, but it is especially powerful to acknowledge that those with genocides or with mass population control in their ancestral memory, are likely to bring special gifts of discernment, if bitterly won — an early warning system in the consciousness, when the environment becomes dangerous — to humanity’s table.
The problem with history is that it has not happened before in just that way. Meaning, just before people were put into boxcars and murdered, you would have sounded crazy if you had said, I am afraid people will be put into boxcars and murdered. Before the English set up inadequate “soup kitchens” with “vile soup” that made the dysentery of a targeted population worse, and hastened their departure from the land or hastened their death, you would have sounded crazy if you had said, I am afraid the British government will subvert the “feeding programs” they are deploying in Ireland, in order to get troublesome tenants off of the land. Before smallpox was used as a bioweapon in an effort to depopulate Native American tribes, in a way that could serve to “Extirpate this Execreble Race” in the words of General Jeffrey Amherst, you would have sounded crazy if you had said, Smallpox is being used as a bioweapon to kill Native Americans.
This is one reason why those who seek to intimidate others with hurtling the pejorative “conspiracy theorist” at them, are really trying to keep people from acquiring the habit of assessing new dangers in their environment for themselves, or from learning from others with historical knowledge of, or with experience of, dangerous situations, instead of relying on the assurances of elites and gatekeepers. Elites and gatekeepers require the ignorance and credulity of “ordinary people” in order to get their dirty deeds — if they are set on harming or exploiting populations — done, without facing mass resistance.
History repeats, yes; but it repeats always in a new guise.
So many of us can be slow to realize what is happening to us. Those who do not have genocides, or massive social control by a small group of elites, in their “ancestral memory”, may think that the people who are sounding the early alarm, are crazy or hysterical. But in genocidal times, a slow or fast reaction means the difference between destruction and survival.
That is why we should be especially grateful to our leaders of the freedom movement who have the “ancestral memory” of genocide in their heritages. These men and women have, often at great risk and loss to themselves, brought, whether consciously or not, historical lessons about genocidal possibilities to their task of informing us of danger — in our own genocidal times.
By doing so, so bravely, they have helped to save us.
One of our country’s most important freedoms is that of free speech.
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