The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Lesson of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving might be the most important American holiday, with only Christmas in competition. It’s become a very commercial holiday, and even here in Canada it seems every store has a “Black Friday Sale” sign up, which is odd, because our Thanksgiving is on a different date.

The story of Thanksgiving is that the Puritan settlers were having a hard time, and the natives helped them out, and they had a big feast together to celebrate the harvest.

Initial settlement in North America was hard. Settlements failed, and agricultural techniques imported from the Old World didn’t work well. The Puritans might well have died if the natives hadn’t helped them out.

Of course, what the Puritans and British colonists later did to the natives was basically wipe them out. And, in fact, Thanksigivng became a holiday when the scalps of natives were literally kicked around, and Thanksgiving was given for murdering them.

The… wages of charity. It’s hard to look at Thanksgiving and not think that the natives would have been better off if they hadn’t helped at all. Indeed, if they’d done everything they could to wipe out every European settlement.

But there is a twist to the story. The Puritans, of course, were religious fanatics. Their brand of religious fanaticism not being welcome in England, another brand of religious fanatic being in power (from the Reformation on, from a modern point-of-view, practically everyone was a religious fanatic), they headed off to a place where they could practice in peace and act like complete assholes to each other.

But the Puritans whom the natives helped, the Pilgrims who had that Thanksgiving dinner with them, it turns out they weren’t personally monsters.

Having figured out how to survive in North America, more Pilgrims came. These new Pilgrims became the majority, and they despised the Godless Natives. The old Puritans defended the Natives and objected to the bad treatment and were so stubborn about it that they wound up excommunicated, and excommunication, in Puritan society, was a big deal.

Charity and kindness, it appears, did work, but only with those who experienced it. And those people, alas, quickly became a minority and could not protect their native friends.

It’s hard to draw anything good from this, but I do find it encouraging that at least those who had personally received kindness were willing to fight and suffer for those who had shown them that kindness.

And that’s about as much good as I can find in Thanksgiving’s foundation myth.

As for the present, I hope American readers are enjoying their Thanksgiving, or at least the food. Whatever the past, we can try and make something good (I typed “food” originally, which seems appropriate) from the present.

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How Smart Stupid People Fuck Up the World


Open Thread


  1. Stirling S Newberry

    It is the best day to be alone, other than Christmas.

  2. Lizzie West, whose budding career was essentially derailed because of her anti-war sentiments*, never the less finds much to be thankful for.

    * think Dixie Chicks. “19 miles to Baghdad” is probably the song that most upset the MIC pooh bahs, and thus their cultural gatekeepers:

  3. Mark Pontin

    “Of course, what the Puritans and British colonists later did to the natives was basically wipe them out.”

    Eh. Not exactly true in the way you suggest. In fact, what it mostly was, was the biggest unplanned biological weapons attack in history.

    The pathogens carried by the Europeans — and with them by the couple of African slaves, and their fowl and pigs — were responsible for a contraction of the then-indigenous human populations of the Americas by maybe as much as 95 percent.

    Once you start digging into the accounts and what we can figure out at this historical remove, it’s quite striking. Whole villages and tribes were decimated by infections as they came into contact with the Europeans. The few survivors then fled inland away from the Europeans, but carried the pathogens with them and infected indigenous communities further inland so they, too, were largely wiped out before the European settlers even arrived.

    Hernando De Soto and his men marched through the Mississippi Valley in 1541, for instance, and recorded seeing substantial native townships and even larger population centers that they described as cities every one to five miles.

    In 1682, when La Salle, the next European explorer to visit the region and leave an account, he encountered a wilderness.

    (Although, yes, by the latter part of the 18th century, a few enterprising English officers had figured out you could give the Indians contaminated blankets and that would take care of them. Still, Galen’s miasma theory of disease was still what most of the European medical ‘experts’ believed in till halfway through the 19th century.)

  4. True enough, Mark, though after a couple generations immunities developed and then it was back to the tried and true off-with-their-heads, Battling gunni g villages, five dollar bounties on their “pelts”, women’s breasts for tobacco pouches, their vaginas cut out to protect hats from the rain…

    This is funnier than pig-shit: I just got kicked off of Zuckerberg’s Famous Pig (Facebook) for commenting “The stupid is deep here, goddamned white-trash”… in response to a bunch of goddamned white-trash calling the Obamas ni*****.

    What this country needs is a good lynchin’ party.

  5. Ten Bears

    Gattling guns, Gattling gunning villages, stupid smart phone.


    It’s becoming increasingly clear it’s either the oligarchs or us. The oligarchs have said, loud and clear, I dare you to knock this off my shoulder. They’re shoving it in our faces. This transcends the Clintons or the notion of any deep state. This is about oligarchy. The legislation is written in support and perpetuation of oligarchy and the Clintons and deep state are to that end. The oligarchs use us and abuse us and then throw us to the curb. They do it to our children and all we hold dear. They are evil incarnate. If anything is evil, it is them. Electoral politics is not the solution precisely because the oligarchs own the process lock, stock and two smoking barrels. The criminals, consciously or unconsciously, work for the oligarchs and, like the police, help keep you in line. You won’t step out of line because if you do, the police will throw you in jail with their counterparts, the criminals, where you will be raped and tortured for your moral and ethical stance against the oligarchs. Unless MOST EVERYONE marches en masse on the estates and mansions of the oligarchs, wherever they may be, there is no chance to mitigate this slow motion but ever quickening trail of tears.

    Let us pray. Dear Lord, give us the strength to collectively come together and collaborate in solidarity in deposing the oligarchy. Give us the strength to do what is necessary to save humanity and the living planet you bequeathed your creation like so many talents. Give us the strength to cast these evil demons into the hellfire of the abyss without mercy or remorse for these inhuman creatures who torture, maim and murder in service to their two-headed false deity, profit and power.

    As we recite this most important prayer, it’s important to conjure proper imagery. Imagine Mark Zuckerburg being marched to the end of a long plank extending over an active volcano and falling to his fiery fate thousands of feet below. It’s metaphor, of course, but metaphor is powerful. Facebook experienced wide outages yesterday on America’s farcical day of thanks. Let’s hope those outages continue and deepen further. Let’s cheer it on. Let’s support and enable the entire shut down of Facebook rather than waiting for the oligarchy-controlled government to regulate it which will never happen. Facebook isn ‘t liberating, it’s incarcerating.

  7. ven

    The extent to which plutocracy will go to maintaining power and privilege in the UK – smearing a long-time anti-racism campaigner as anti-semitic. In the past it would have been anti-war / lack of patriotism / economic mismanagement – but this is no longer really tenable today.

    Superb dissection:

  8. different clue

    Many people still cook a turkey for Thanksgiving. In the past, the final carcass left after all feasible meat had been cut off would then itself be simmered for stock. But nowadays most busy people/families throw the final carcass away. I have learned that some people will bring the final to-be-thrown-away carcass to me instead if I ask for it. So I can make stock.

    First I simmer the carcasses for the good flavored stock itself, which I then set aside. Then I pressure cook the bones till I can break them up with pliers and hammers and pressure-cook the bone-pieces some more. Between more pressure cooking and crushing, I get it down to a bone paste which I extract every feasible bit of soluble or suspensible protein, mineral, etc. from . . . and mix that back into the first-run stock.

    And then I throw the final irreducible bone-sand into the garden.

  9. Stirling S Newberry

    “I’m glad we had this little talk.”

  10. Eric in Kansas

    @ Mark P. above; Not exactly. You are correct that most of the natives died from infectious diseases, but those plagues had already swept through Massachusetts by 1620. And that was probably the deciding factor that caused Massasoit to choose to ally with the Pilgrims (against his rivals, the Narragansetts).

    As for religious freedom, most of us misremember the Pilgrim story. The Pilgrims left England to escape religious persecution, and they gained freedom to worship as they chose – in Holland. Many of them stayed in Holland.

    The Pilgrims who came to North America came here to get rich. That transatlantic voyage was never about religious freedom. See Nathaniel Philbrick\’s \’Mayflower\’ for details.

  11. Stormcrow

    About the virgin field epidemics: See Charles Mann’s summaries of the state of Americas archaeology around 2010.

    Every successive time the archaeologists revisit this subject, with sharper methods, the estimated percentage of the Native American populations these ground under rises. When I was a schoolkid, it was 2/3. A couple of decades ago, it was 90%. More recent estimates are at 95%.


    It’s hard to look at Thanksgiving and not think that
    the natives would have been better off if they hadn’t helped at all.
    Indeed, if they’d done everything they could to wipe out every European

    Probably wouldn’t have made any difference in the long run.

    The “Aztec” Triple Alliance came as close as any NA polity did, in “La Noche Triste“.

    And it just wasn’t good enough.

  12. Guest

    I believe the thanksgiving pilgrims were Separatists or Congregationalists. Puritans were Church of England, of which the pilgrims chose to be independent, whatever their theological differences or similarities. And like the Quakers in Pennsylvania, they had much less much less conflict with the natives than other English settlers.

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