Was the American Revolution a mistake?
July 4, 2015 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Was the American Revolution a mistake? A counterfactual examination.
posted by Marky (115 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
#SlatePitch #VoxPitch
posted by Xavier Xavier at 1:26 PM on July 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


I just quoted this article and Aunt Ruth cut me off from the macaroni salad for the rest of the day. Thanks Vox!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:32 PM on July 4, 2015 [26 favorites]


So this is yet another article about how awesome Canada is?
posted by GuyZero at 1:34 PM on July 4, 2015 [8 favorites]


FOR GOD'S SAKE JOHN SIT DOWN
posted by poffin boffin at 1:46 PM on July 4, 2015 [39 favorites]


In light of the recent phenomenon of a significant part of this country going apeshit over the recent revelations that the Confederate flag might possibly be associated with something other than hoop skirts and mint juleps, I have to say the author makes some good points.
posted by TedW at 1:46 PM on July 4, 2015 [16 favorites]


In the US we effectively have the equivalent of CCTV everywhere and the GCHQ and the NSA working together, hand in hand, to record our private lives. We goebbel up a mass media product that is effectively directed by a Commonwealth expatriate. In a sense, while Britain may have lost a battle or two, I wonder if they didn't really win the larger war. Interesting article, cheers.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:49 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


I join my Scottish friends in heartily saying "Fuck Off!"
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:51 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


We goebbel up a mass media product that is effectively directed by a Commonwealth expatriate.

Cute, but I think unwarranted.
posted by mhoye at 1:52 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


We goebbel up a mass media product that is effectively directed

Disgusting, and I think unwarranted.
posted by Xavier Xavier at 1:53 PM on July 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


If we're going to assume that every country would have developed along exactly the same lines as they have in our history, then maybe it would have been even better if North America had been settled by the vikings and the UK taken over by them too.
posted by Pyry at 1:54 PM on July 4, 2015 [26 favorites]


Oh boy, alternate history! That's where I'm a Viking!
posted by sobarel at 1:55 PM on July 4, 2015 [112 favorites]


Canada: They still committed horrible, indefensible crimes. Still, better than the U.S.

This is basically the Canadian attitude in a nutshell. Genocide? Ok, but... still better than the us's genocide, right???
posted by GuyZero at 2:00 PM on July 4, 2015 [14 favorites]


I think this all really does turn on the issue of slavery. If slavery had been abolished sooner (though had America still been a colony, it isn't so certain Britain would have abolished it as quickly) then it is seems indisputable that staying in the empire would have been a moral good. And then bonus points for not requiring a terrible civil war too.

I don't know about First Nations though. They hadn't exactly faired well in the years before the revolution and other commonwealth nations like Canada and Australia hardly treated the native populations well.
posted by boubelium at 2:02 PM on July 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


Was there a situation the Crown and the patriots would both accept? The Crown seemed entirely unwilling to negotiate.
posted by the bird at the bottom of the tree at 2:05 PM on July 4, 2015


If we hadn't declared independence, then slavery would've benefited Britain through its effect on output. How do we know therefore that Britian would have abolished it at the same rate as they did in our timeline?
posted by scunning at 2:05 PM on July 4, 2015 [12 favorites]


Ew.

And GuyZero, while I take your point, we didn't really do the whole slavery thing so there is that.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:08 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, what with all those Canadian cotton plantations, fffm. :)
posted by Xavier Xavier at 2:10 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


(I now regret including a smiley emoticon and the word "plantation" in the same comment. History is hard. Happy Fourth, everyone, if you celebrate it. Peace.)
posted by Xavier Xavier at 2:14 PM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]




I can throw in a couple more hypotheticals. Full integration into the British Empire would most likely have yielded significant economic benefits for both sides.

And America would not have been so hesitant about WWII in the early stages, possibly meaning an earlier victory in Europe with all that that entails.
posted by Segundus at 2:21 PM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Though a work of fiction, one interesting detail I noticed in O'Brien's well-researched Master and Commander series is how paths cross between the navy and trading companies whose routes the state establishes, defends and expands. If an alternative history unfolded where Britain retained dominion over the colonies, I'm not sure that abolition would have still taken hold any earlier. The kind of profitability that free labor adds to the marketplace might have been too powerful for an empire not to protect. We see that kind of pressure today in trade relations between China and the United States, where state-level compromises are made on human rights so as to protect sources of cheap labor. I appreciate that the author addresses this point, even though I am more skeptical of the hypothetical outcome, given existing relationships between military and trade in the early 1800s of the British empire.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 2:22 PM on July 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


Less slavery, more healthcare and better tea? Fire up the time machine!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:40 PM on July 4, 2015 [8 favorites]


settled by the vikings and the UK taken over by them too.

They did take over large parts of England, I'm not sure it's done us any good, they're most of the poorer parts of the country. You might even be able to show a good fit between the Viking parts of England and the old coal fields.
posted by biffa at 2:55 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


So in our world, we have a bunch of people that the author admits joined in the Revolutionary War because they were promised they could still own slaves, and the descendants of those people who fought another war because they were afraid they wouldn't be able to continue owning slaves. And yet, the author believes that the people between those generations would have been cool with abolition.
posted by Etrigan at 2:55 PM on July 4, 2015 [8 favorites]


A good article; I still remember the sense of scales falling from my eyes when I realized that one of the reasons for the Revolution was that the colonists resented British efforts to protect Native Americans from their rapacious expansion. It's kind of pointless to get exercised over whether the American Revolution was a mistake, but it's good to remind people of the bad things about it.
posted by languagehat at 2:57 PM on July 4, 2015 [18 favorites]


> And yet, the author believes that the people between those generations would have been cool with abolition.

Don't be silly. The whole point is that it wouldn't have mattered whether they were "cool with" it or not, because they wouldn't have had representation in Parliament.
posted by languagehat at 2:58 PM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think this is a question that can only really be debated in Steven vs. Stephen fashion:

NO!

YES!

NO!

YESSSSSS!

posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:58 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


This article is so fucking wrong, I mean America, dammit, is the ...

slavery would've been abolished earlier

... OK, I'll just be quiet.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:01 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


The argument seems to boil down to "Look at all the great things government can do when it doesn't have to listen the minority or, in some examples, even the majority of people".
posted by 445supermag at 3:04 PM on July 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yes, but in this case those things genuinely are great, and it's a genuine problem with democracy that it so easily enables things like ethnic cleansing.
posted by languagehat at 3:11 PM on July 4, 2015 [19 favorites]


Christ, that kind of rote snark is tiresome.
posted by languagehat at 3:19 PM on July 4, 2015 [20 favorites]


The article makes the point that presidential governments are less efficient than parliamentary ones.

Many people, though, will tell you that this is a feature, not a bug. There are many, many cases where the best thing a government can do is nothing at all.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:21 PM on July 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


Imagine if Columbus had, in fact, reached the Indies. The mind boggles.
posted by monospace at 3:21 PM on July 4, 2015


The whole point is that it wouldn't have mattered whether they were "cool with" it or not, because they wouldn't have had representation in Parliament.

Exactly.
posted by fuse theorem at 3:22 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Had the Revolution not occurred or failed, it seems inconceivable that anything remotely resembling the modern US, whether independent or as a colony, would ever have congealed. So many things, like the Louisiana Purchase, the annexation of Florida and Texas, and the westward expansion to the Pacific, seem unlikely to have happened with Britain running the show from across the Atlantic. Seems more likely that there would be three or four countries or territories or extensions of Canada and Mexico sharing the modern US map.
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:25 PM on July 4, 2015 [9 favorites]


Don't be silly. The whole point is that it wouldn't have mattered whether they were "cool with" it or not, because they wouldn't have had representation in Parliament.

Okay let's break this down.

1776: threat of abolition, no representation - secession
1861: threat of abolition, representation - secession

But somehow if the U.S. hadn't become independent, some time in the early 1800s the South would have just thrown up their hands and accepted it.
posted by one_bean at 3:30 PM on July 4, 2015 [14 favorites]


if only we could monetize alterna-history.
posted by Xavier Xavier at 3:33 PM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


But I'm reasonably confident a world where the revolution never happened would be better than the one we live in now, for three main reasons: slavery would've been abolished earlier, American Indians would've faced rampant persecution but not the outright ethnic cleansing Andrew Jackson and other American leaders perpetrated, and America would have a parliamentary system of government that makes policymaking easier and lessens the risk of democratic collapse.

So the slave states would have seceded earlier, had a better chance of winning, and had a better chance of preserving slavery longer.

France would have held on to the Louisiana Purchase, and been more inclined to fortify it against their British foes. Texas might have stayed independent, Spain's empire would have been maintained in the west coast, and the massive European wars would have been fought on American soil too.

Fun.
posted by kanewai at 3:34 PM on July 4, 2015 [22 favorites]


Metafilter: Best of the tsar at pol potting the stalin out of the atilla and mengeling the inquisition's mao.
posted by riverlife at 3:37 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


And America would not have been so hesitant about WWII in the early stages, possibly meaning an earlier victory in Europe with all that that entails.

World War II? What World War II? If you're going to assume a major historical Point of Departure 140 years previously, you really can't a assume that history will unfold in the same way- especially if we consider this with a "The French Revolution never happened" PoD. The differing patterns of colonization and resulting different patterns if influence in Europe is a Chaos Butterfly that will result in a very different Europe by 1914.

But then these alternate universe thought experiments are generally more about "Wouldn't it be cooler if everything was a monarchy" than any sort of thoughtful extrapolation.
posted by happyroach at 3:44 PM on July 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


Would it mean that the Ashes would be played between the US and England?
posted by stanf at 3:45 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


If the American Revolution hadn't occurred in 1776, and we presume that this wouldn't have delayed the Slavery Abolition Act of 1834, (and that they didn't get a temporary exception, like India) then it seems likely you'd have had a Southern Rebellion a few decades earlier. What would be the outcome?

The northern industries wouldn't have been as well established at that time, though they would have had British support to quell this uprising. Would 1834 be closer to 1812 than it is to 1861?
posted by RobotHero at 3:51 PM on July 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


Well, since English colonization was basically pretty much awesome everywhere in the world it makes sense it should have continued for some additional amount of time here too I suppose.

Duuuude. English colonization has continued in the United States til today. English colonization is the United States. The United States when it was founded--and in many ways up til this very day--did not break free of English ideas, it perfected them. The Petition of Right, the Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, John Locke, and so on and so forth. The United States was founded in England long before it was founded in America.
posted by Thing at 3:55 PM on July 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


When evaluating the question, are we supposed to imagine that the revolution was never attempted or that it was put down? If the former, are we supposed to imagine that the revolution was never attempted in virtue of some (which?) of the revolutionary leaders changing their minds or some (which?) of the leaders in Parliament changing their minds or both? If the latter, are we supposed to imagine that things went basically as before but that the revolutionaries lost some pivotal battle? Or are we supposed to imagine that the French refused to give their support? Or that the colonists who weren't especially supportive of the revolution took stronger steps to resist the revolutionaries? Or something else entirely?

I think we need to know what, exactly, we are supposed to be replacing the revolution with in order to know whether an alternative history is preferable to the actual course of events.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 3:59 PM on July 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh boy, alternate history! That's where I'm a Viking!


So... You're saying you're really good at alternate history, the way Vikings were good at things?
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:02 PM on July 4, 2015 [11 favorites]


The idea that the Brits were better on slavery seems incoherent to me. The colonists were Brits. The South were not the only British slave colonies.

Surely the biggest reason the British empire could forbid slavery was precisely that it had lost the largest den of slaveowners. Without the South, what the UK had was Caribbean slavery— which had very different logistics and demographics. In the early 1800s, blacks outnumbered whites 20 to 1 in Jamaica. Slave revolts in Caribbean states were no small matter. The 1832 slave revolt in Jamaica was instrumental in getting Parliament to abolish slavery.

I'm also not seeing how a UK administration would be actually better for Native Americans. Canada also ended up with sea-to-sea British colonization. The fact that the Crown in principle favored treaties and reservations for the Native Americans meant little when the white people on the ground did not.

As for parliamentary government, Vox has a point— but only if we're talking about the 20th century British system, not the 18th. Like it or not, American democracy was a radical and hopeful experiment in 1776, and had a big influence in France and Latin America. A world where the largest experiment in republican government had been put down might be far less democratic today. Loveable as Elizabeth II is, George III was a lot harder to swallow.

I know a lot of people see the US as a big villain. But you know who had the role of Big Global Capitalist Villain before the US? The UK. All the interventions the US did in the 20th century, all the financial overlording, the Brits did in the 19th. And they generally did it with Maxim guns and settlers on the ground. Canada is a very nice country, but maybe ask Indians or Kenyans or Irish or Iraqis if they're so jazzed over the period of British rule.

(For that matter, Canadian history doesn't exactly attest to the benignity of rule from London. A common theme of pre-Dominion history is London favoring the US in US/BNA disputes. They had major investments in the US; they just didn't care too much about their subjects and remote relatives in the north.)
posted by zompist at 4:10 PM on July 4, 2015 [37 favorites]


The article is a hard sell for monarchy, correctly noting that the US Senate is useless though it is modeled on Parliament. It failed to note that laws restricting slavery were ignored by the South. Even after the importation of slaves was outlawed by a series of laws beginning in 1794 through 1820, the South imported hundreds of thousands of slaves through various shenanigans. There is no conceivable timeline for a passive handover of power, especially with those slave states facing an imaginary London abolition that was, in reality, routinely ignored from Washington.

So it seems that the American Civil War could simply have replaced the Revolutionary War against Britain, perhaps with victory for the South, who could have had allies in the North, instead of enemies.
posted by Brian B. at 4:12 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


You might even be able to show a good fit between the Viking parts of England and the old coal fields.

Are you suggesting coal comes from Vikings?
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:19 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Tell it to the Tasmanians.

Oh, wait.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:29 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think you guys poked holes in this pretty well, and an interesting parallel to consider is Brazil. If Brazil were under Portugese dominion, would they have abolished slavery earlier than 1888? Would their settlers have been more restrained about burning their way across the Amazon and murdering the natives?

No, because Brazilians would have been very upset that a distant king was trying to tell them what to do.
posted by shii at 4:33 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think a more reasonable scenario is that England treats the Americas as a cross between Ireland and Australia. Between oppression and bleeding the colonies for resources, there would probably be a series of brushfire rebellions interspersed with a steady flood if discontented colonists illegally streaming west. There would probably be a number if independent republics and kingdoms established in Indian territory, and a number of bushfire wars with Greater Mexico (which in this scenario includes the Louisiana Territory).

The abolition of slavery, here a major source of income for England, would likely be delayed, at least until 1850. Once abolition does happen, a major revolution would erupt-which at this point could even result in independence.

The upshot would be a war-torn patchwork North America, where the make industrial player would be a nation explicitly built around the idea of slavery. And with resources from the English Empire cut off, they would turn a covetous eye Westward...

Now if you'll excuse me, I'll get back to my AH scenario based around the Alien Space Bats initiating a major vaccination campaign in the Americas, circa 1490...
posted by happyroach at 4:46 PM on July 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


All I'm left with after reading this is the idea that leaving the natives alone would have probably been the best result all along. Zero European colonization still beats longer European colonization.
posted by dogwalker at 4:47 PM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wonder how many people who pontificate about the Declaration of Independence have ever read beyond the first paragraph.

For instance, this is one of the complaints against King George:
"He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."

And then there was this passage written by Thomas Jefferson but excised from the final version:
"He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it's most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidels powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. He has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce determining to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another."

Here Jefferson blames the British for forcing Jefferson to be a slaveholder and is upset that the slaves want to fight for their freedom on the side of the British.
posted by JackFlash at 4:50 PM on July 4, 2015 [16 favorites]


I think that zompist and happyroach are both right. Me, I got clued in that this writer might be taking the piss when he described Silvio Berlusconi's ouster as "shenanigans", as if, you know, that were somehow a bad thing.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:54 PM on July 4, 2015


All I see is that American colonists would have invented nukes in the 1800s, blown up London, and retreated to the moon.

So, all in all, not that different after all.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:14 PM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]




"He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."

It's worth noting that in case after case it's been shown that the atrocities that contemporary writers record as being inflicted by the natives were first inflicted upon them by the colonists. See also treaty-breaking and most hilariously backward of all, "indian giving".
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:26 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Up here in Canada, we didn't get responsible government until 1848, so you did get an extra 70 or so years of democracy by revolting.
posted by clawsoon at 5:55 PM on July 4, 2015


The American educational system has truly failed this man.
posted by bgal81 at 6:59 PM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cool Papa Bell: The article makes the point that presidential governments are less efficient than parliamentary ones.

Many people, though, will tell you that this is a feature, not a bug. There are many, many cases where the best thing a government can do is nothing at all.


However, if a government gets completely jammed up, it is likely to get swept away sooner or later by someone who can "get things done" - a dictator, a general, a strongarm president. The strong democratic tradition in the US has prevented it from happening there, but most of the countries which tried to copy the US system of gummed-up government weren't so lucky.

Hell, even the US didn't try to copy the US system of government when they imposed governments on West Germany and Japan that they thought would lead to the most stable, long-lasting democracies.
posted by clawsoon at 7:02 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Up here in Canada, we didn't get responsible government until 1848, so you did get an extra 70 or so years of democracy by revolting.

Sometimes it's said that the British government was willing to take that decentralizing step because they didn't want to lose BNA the same way they'd lost the States. So... maybe one way to have no American Revolution is to have the British learn that lesson a bit earlier, maybe by having lost some other colony, and make enough concessions to the States to keep the elites there happy.

But that leads to longer slavery, I guess, so it's not so optimistic a scenario.
posted by stebulus at 7:17 PM on July 4, 2015


1 reason it wasn't....Louisiana Purchase.
posted by OHenryPacey at 7:22 PM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


If there had been no revolution, the Brits would not have needed to find another place to dump their convicts. Thus the astounding voyage to New South Wales in 1787-8 most likely would not have taken place. The French, landing only days after the Brits in 1788 on not their first visit, would have increased their visitations to New Holland and Van Demon's Land (Australian mainland and Tasmania), and possibly lay claim to large parts of it.

Imagine that. French with an Australian accent. Sacre bleu, Blue.
posted by Thella at 7:53 PM on July 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


mettez les shrimp sur le barbé
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:59 PM on July 4, 2015 [23 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell: Many people, though, will tell you that this is a feature, not a bug. There are many, many cases where the best thing a government can do is nothing at all.

Yeah, this is oft-repeated but I'm not sure it's as true in practice as it is in theory. I remember reading somewhere that a cross-party U.S. government (President and Congress controlled by different parties) spends more, not less. It's just that what it gets done is less planned and more piecemeal pork projects resulting from negotiations and compromises between the parties.

I think we never do get a government doing nothing at all. All we get from an "inefficient" government is one that does a bunch of stuff half-assedly. What, apart from our separate political histories, differentiates Canada's way of building a national health care system from our own?
posted by traveler_ at 8:06 PM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


The arguments are pretty weak. It's not that you can't construct some arguments for why staying in the Empire might have been a net good, it's just that in each of the three arguments that the article makes, it basically assumes that if the American colonies had stayed a part of the British Empire, that the Empire would have behaved the same way that it did without them.

That doesn't make a ton of sense. If the British had wanted to keep the American colonies and prevent the Revolution, then their policies would have had to have been different. In short, they would have needed to be more along the lines of what the colonists wanted anyway. And there were a lot of people, and a lot of latent political power, in the colonies (that's why they wanted, and eventually got, independence). They might have been able to swing the pendulum pretty far on issues of great importance to them.

Abolishing slavery, once the colonies were lost, didn't cost Britain much. Had Britain still owned the American south, they might have found themselves capable of more ...conveniently nuanced views, of the same sort that many non-slave-owning Americans found themselves capable of for decades following Independence, until the American Civil War.

Similarly, I find it a bit hard to swallow that Britain's policy on indigenous peoples was that much more enlightened than the US's when significant amounts of money or land was at issue, given their behavior in situations where it was in the Empire's best interest to wipe someone out (e.g. the Tasmanian Aborigines). Had Britain, rather than the US, had the opportunity to acquire the American West all the way to the Pacific (which... okay, you have to really mess around with the timeline a bit to come up with a situation where the Louisiana Purchase would have been offered to the British Crown, but let's run with it), the same motivations that made indigenous occupation of that land inconvenient for the American government certainly would have occurred to the British colonial one(s). Particularly since, in order to quash future independence movements, the governments in North America would have necessarily had to have more leeway and independent power in our alternate timeline than they did prior to 1776, since that was a major cause of the Revolution.

Simultaneously, we should in fairness consider the effect that the successful American revolution had on the process of decolonization in other places. The failure of the colonial system, of empires generally, seems to us today a sort of natural thing, an obvious systemic failure. But in the timeline where the American colonies' revolution was stamped out, and Britain retained control of North America into the 19th century, it's not impossible that things might have played out differently in other parts of the world. What effect that might have had on the 20th century — particularly on the World Wars (if they would have even occurred? Maybe there would have just been one), on the occupation of India and the European colonies in Africa — is really interesting to speculate about, but it's certainly a mixed bag at best.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:26 PM on July 4, 2015 [15 favorites]


Let's talk about Opium!
posted by clavdivs at 9:42 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Imagine that. French with an Australian accent.

Also, India would have remained Dutch.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:16 PM on July 4, 2015


The whole point is that it wouldn't have mattered whether they were "cool with" it or not, because they wouldn't have had representation in Parliament.

Sometimes Americans see Britain at the time as being monolithic, but there was an intense and closely-fought conflict in Parliament between the factions that supported or opposed the American grievances. Edmund Burke's proposed six resolutions were:
  1. Allow the American colonists to elect their own representative, thus settling the dispute about taxation without representation;
  2. Acknowledge this wrong and apologize for grievances caused;
  3. Procure an efficient manner of choosing and sending these delegates;
  4. Set up a General Assembly in America itself, with powers to regulate taxes;
  5. Stop gathering taxes by imposition (or law), and start gathering them only when they are needed; and
  6. Grant needed aid to the colonies.
So, a peaceful resolution would probably have involved some kind of American representation in Parliament.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:17 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


which... okay, you have to really mess around with the timeline a bit to come up with a situation where the Louisiana Purchase would have been offered to the British Crown, but let's run with it

France cedes Louisiana after one or another of Napoleon's defeats if the Revolution still happens, or after some entirely made-up war if it doesn't.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:03 PM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think something that is elided in this whole conversation is the lack of basic education of the colonial era in the States.

My mother is a physician and also has a phd, and yesterday I made (ok, long time ago, not too soon) joke about pressganging and she had no clue what that was. Then when I explained and my sister chimed in she said "no way! That's slavery!" leading to her getting on Facebook, of course.
posted by syncope at 11:11 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


From the article, with regard to Native Americans: "But American-scale ethnic cleansing wouldn't have occurred."

Well...yes it would have because, early American barbarism aside, what actually caused the genocide-scale destruction of the native peoples was disease - smallpox mainly, but also cholera, typhoid, measles, etc. that was transferred through trade.

The Trail of Tears, as shameful and awful as it was, was small fries in terms of decimation when compared to just smallpox alone. In 1639 the Huron were hit by smallpox and 9,000 persons died in one year alone. The plains tribes were similarly hit in 1837. There are literally tribes that once existed that were wiped off the face of the earth, with not one member remaining, due to disease epidemics brought by European conquerors and facilitated by trade.

Without an American revolution, the ravages of these diseases would still have brought about a genocide...but I suppose overall there would have been less suffering at the direct hands of Europeans.
posted by jnnla at 11:37 PM on July 4, 2015 [11 favorites]


Johnathan Livengood has read his David Lewis, clearly!
posted by persona au gratin at 12:46 AM on July 5, 2015


r/badhistory's take on this article. It didn't go over well. In general, counterfactuals and history don't mix, and it's usually considered a pseudoscientific waste of time by historians.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 1:24 AM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ugh, this was terrible.

However, if a government gets completely jammed up, it is likely to get swept away sooner or later by someone who can "get things done" - a dictator, a general, a strongarm president. The strong democratic tradition in the US has prevented it from happening there, but most of the countries which tried to copy the US system of gummed-up government weren't so lucky.

Hell, even the US didn't try to copy the US system of government when they imposed governments on West Germany and Japan that they thought would lead to the most stable, long-lasting democracies.
"

The adoption of parliamentary or presidential systems has been shown to have very little, if any, effect on the survival rates of governments. Ironically, under the metrics that Dylan Matthews uses (and it's obnoxious that he simply cited other articles he wrote to 'prove' his assertions) higher spending would be seen as a signal of a better government.

But really, it's just a monarchy sycophant demonstrating an amazing ignorance of early American history. Like, the Native American thing — Britain may have decreed rights in 1763, but that was specifically about rewarding the nations that had backed the British against the French, often at the expense of other nations (see tensions between Choctaw, Creek and Cherokee over war spoils).

Other folks have scuppered the abolition argument (England backed the Confederacy in our Civil War, so it's hard to pretend they would have ended colonial slavery earlier), and his arguments for parliamentary systems make a ton of unwarranted assumptions (like democracy is better served by more elections).

In short, the American Revolution may or may not have been a mistake, but this article certainly was.
posted by klangklangston at 2:06 AM on July 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


klangklangston: The adoption of parliamentary or presidential systems has been shown to have very little, if any, effect on the survival rates of governments.

The academic literature I've seen says the opposite, but I'll admit that I haven't dug deeply into it. Who has shown that it doesn't make a difference? Given the literature that says it does make a difference, wouldn't you at least say that there's a debate on the subject?
posted by clawsoon at 4:46 AM on July 5, 2015


I don't know US history indepth and I haven't read the article, but from our comments it is obvious that a number of us know some of the non-US effects of the revolution itself. That stuff, the shape of the world created by the repurcussions of the dissolution of British rule in what is now the United States, is incredibly fascinating. That's an alternative history (game?) I'd love to explore.
posted by Thella at 5:02 AM on July 5, 2015


In short, the American Revolution may or may not have been a mistake, but this article certainly was.

Maybe the author is negative crowd-sourcing their research for an alternate history novel.
posted by stebulus at 6:02 AM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sometime between Canada Day and the 4th, I got into conversation with an American friend where they also speculated about whether it would've been better to be Canadian after all; and I just wanted to give them a hug. You guys have a nice country! You did some shitty things, but so did we.

As others have noted, I don't think abolition would've happened sooner under a British regime nor would the First Nations people have been treated better. I do think that the French Revolution would've been less likely. if it did happen, it may have triggered another rebellion in British North America, which brings us back to the original thread with maybe a 20 year delay on American independence.

All the same, I would be intrigued by an alternate history scenario where the French Revolution either doesn't happen or happens differently such that the great wars of Europe in the 18th and 19th century wasn't a war of survival for France that morphs into a crusade for European nationalism. If not for America, would the French have morphed into a constitutional monarchy like England? Or was the revolution always going to end in the overthrow of the monarchy?

And if we did get the latter: a vision of modern democracy and republicanism that was defined by the French getting there first instead of America, what would that look like?
posted by bl1nk at 6:24 AM on July 5, 2015




MetaFilter disappoints me yet again. The entire point of the article was to remind Americans that their glorious Revolution was in part an attempt to preserve slavery and the ability to freely rob and kill Native Americans, and almost everyone is treating it in Comic Book Guy style, trying to pick holes in it as if it were a piece of code. Whatever floats your boat, I guess, but sheesh.
posted by languagehat at 8:26 AM on July 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


Fucking Redcoats. That notion of somehow we would've become more moral earlier in our history if we'd remained part of the British Empire rings pretty hollow when one looks at the history of the Crown's colonies elsewhere in the world.
posted by ph00dz at 8:44 AM on July 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


The entire point of the article was to remind Americans that their glorious Revolution was in part an attempt to preserve slavery and the ability to freely rob and kill Native Americans

Buh? No, the entire point of the article was that without independence slavery would have been dispensed with sooner and the Native Americans wouldn't have been fucked over, and the disagreement mostly boils down to "But the same people who were assholes in real life would still have been assholes and the way that Britain retains the colonies is by making concessions to those very assholes" mixed with "The actual history of the British Empire post-1783 shows little concern for native peoples, so maybe not so much." Certainly I haven't seen many people disagreeing with the author's assertions about bad motivations.

If the entire point of the article was to point out bad motivations for independence, the author could have done that without any of the alternate history trappings by simply describing the bad motivations. But he didn't.

It's alternate history. Nitpicking is one of the primary reasons alternate history exists and is ~popular.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:07 AM on July 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


The entire point of the article was to remind Americans that their glorious Revolution was in part an attempt to preserve slavery and the ability to freely rob and kill Native Americans...

You left out "...and to assert that neither of these things would have happened if there wasn't a Revolution, because monarchy prevents slavery and genocide." That is a somewhat higher bar for the author to reach.
posted by Etrigan at 9:34 AM on July 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter disappoints me yet again. The entire point of the article was to remind Americans that ...

1. What was the author trying to do?
2. How well did they do it?
3. Was it worth doing?

Maybe you'd find it helpful to try looking at the "Comic Book Guy style" discussion as falling under #2. This author used a specific technique to achieve their aim. Shall we not discuss how skillful their use of that technique was?
posted by stebulus at 9:45 AM on July 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


I always get a kick out of the 'Degeneracy thesis':
"In the mid- to late-eighteenth century, a theory emerged among some European intellectuals that the New World landmasses were inherently inferior to Europe. The so-called "degeneracy thesis" held that climatic extremes, humidity and other atmospheric conditions in America physically weakened both men and animals.3-19 American author James W. Ceaser and French author Philippe Roger (fr) have interpreted this theory as "a kind of prehistory of anti-Americanism" and have (in the words of Philippe Roger) been a historical "constant" since the 18th century, or again an endlessly repetitive "semantic block". Others, like Jean-François Revel, have examined what lay hidden behind this 'fashionable' ideology. Purported evidence for the idea included the smallness of American fauna, dogs that ceased to bark, and venomous plants; one theory put forth was that the New World had emerged from the Biblical flood later than the Old World.Native Americans were also held to be feeble, small, and without ardor...The theory originated with Comte de Buffon, a leading French naturalist, in his Histoire Naturelle (1766). The French writer Voltaire joined Buffon and others in making the argument. Dutchman Cornelius de Pauw, court philosopher to Frederick II of Prussia became its leading proponent. While Buffon focused on the American biological environment, de Pauw attacked people native to the continent. James Ceaser..."

WTF, Voltaire.
posted by clavdivs at 1:09 PM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


That notion of somehow we would've become more moral earlier in our history if we'd remained part of the British Empire rings pretty hollow when one looks at the history of the Crown's colonies elsewhere in the world.

You mean like the colony to your immediate north, which started abolition in 1793, outlawed everywhere in the Empire by 1834?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:35 PM on July 5, 2015


...and by 1839 we have the first Opium war. Nothing celebrates ending slavery like killing 20,000 people and addicting a good portion of the population.

God Save The Queen!
posted by clavdivs at 1:43 PM on July 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


The entire point of the article was to remind Americans that their glorious Revolution was in part an attempt to preserve slavery and the ability to freely rob and kill Native Americans ...

The entire point? The entire point. The whole, complete, total point was to remind us that the American Revolution was partly an attempt to preserve slavery and abuse Native Americans ... ?

Okay. Then why did the author start off with the claim that we should be mourning the fact that we [Americans] left the United Kingdom, as opposed to, say, mourning the fact that the revolution against the United Kingdom had some immoral motivations or acknowledging that the revolution was not the pure, virtuous act that it is sometimes painted as being?

Why does the author give the aforementioned problems of slavery and mistreatment of Native Americans as reasons for the thesis that the colonies should not have split from the United Kingdom?

And why does he even bother with his third reason for thinking we would be better off as part of the United Kingdom today? Do you think that the fact that we now lack a parliamentary government has something to do with the fact that our revolution was partially motivated by desires to preserve slavery and to continue murdering Native Americans?

If you are right in thinking that the entire point of the piece is to remind readers that the revolution had its dark side, too, then the author is very bad at saying what he means--burying his real goals inside two of the three reasons he explicitly gives in support of a rather different claim--and has chosen a very ineffective way to make his point.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 1:57 PM on July 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


their glorious Revolution was in part an attempt to preserve slavery and the ability to freely rob and kill Native Americans

Oh come on. Was there any attempt by PM North to eliminate slavery in the American South? Note that the Brits occupied Georgia and South Carolina, and Loyalist sentiment was stronger in those colonies than in the North.

Also, it's widely thought that the British lost in part because they put more effort into defending their holdings in the Caribbean. What were those holdings? Lucrative slave colonies.

And 1834 is not 1776. Things changed, including the American and French Revolutions, the loss of Spain's colonial empire, and the revolution in Haïti. Perhaps more importantly, the economics of slavery had changed, and not in the right way. Tobacco plantations were inefficient, and educated opinion in 1776 was that slavery would fade away. The industrial revolution created a huge demand for cotton in Britain, and the cotton gin made it possible to satisfy it. Cotton slavery became immensely profitable. An awful lot of that cotton was sold to Britain.

Finally, a position that Britain was resolutely anti-slavery is confounded by British policy during the Civil War. The British maintained a policy of neutrality, but considered recognition of the Confederacy, or offering to "mediate" which would have resulted in Southern independence. And for that matter, they sold warships and blockade runners to the Confederacy— resulting in a successful US claim for reparations after the war.

tl;dr Slavery is a huge stain on American history. And just as much on European history.
posted by zompist at 2:25 PM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


You mean like the colony to your immediate north, which started abolition in 1793

Slavery is one crime and its a fair cop to hold the US to account for it. That said, Canada's record with colonizing the land of indigenous peoples is almost as ugly as that of the United States — and has gone on longer. Recent cultural genocide is as much a form of genocide as physically killing locals. Perhaps worse, in a way, since it leaves the survivors without their own history, but keeps them around for further exploitation.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 2:31 PM on July 5, 2015


"The academic literature I've seen says the opposite, but I'll admit that I haven't dug deeply into it. Who has shown that it doesn't make a difference? Given the literature that says it does make a difference, wouldn't you at least say that there's a debate on the subject?"

Not really. The primary study finding presidential systems having a negative effect on government survival rates was from the '90s (Weaver & Rockman, IIRC), which had two major methodological flaws: The over-representation of presidential systems in Latin America and the overgeneralization of parliamentary systems, which show significantly more variety than presidential systems. (The OP article tries to obscure this somewhat by asserting Westminster, then giving data from all parliamentary systems.)

In the following 20 years or so, we saw a significant number of new governments emerge, and it looks like the Latin American governmental failures are better explained by the relationship between the army and civilian government, and that the success of parliamentary systems has been overstated (e.g. Iraq). Ultimately, the consensus has backed away from arguments that parliamentary systems offer superior survival and toward the position that there are advantages and disadvantages to both parliamentary and presidential systems that may make one or the other a better choice for any given polity, and a lot more research has been done into distinguishing between different parliamentary systems (with Arend Lijphart doing some of the best work, and coming out strongly for what he calls "consensus democracy," which is easier to set up as a parliamentary system but can also be presidential or, like Switzerland, neither presidential nor parliamentary). I tend to favor structuralist/institutionalist explanations for a lot of political behavior, but this is one of those things where a lot of strong institutionalist effects were claimed without having properly distinguished confounding factors.

Lijphart also does some pretty good work in debunking some other claims commonly made about democratic systems, e.g. the swings taken against strong bicameralism in American (and older Westminster) legislatures, pointing out that e.g. the European Union's strong bicameralism helps ensure a more consensus decision making process. (Which brings us back to my gut — though I haven't done any sort of real research to see whether this is justified — that the institutional question tension is less between broader forms [president/parliament] and more between the agility of majoritarianism and the equality of consensus.)

ROU_Xenophobe or anotherpanacea might have more well-read opinions on the issue.
posted by klangklangston at 3:23 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


> If you are right in thinking that the entire point of the piece is to remind readers that the revolution had its dark side, too, then the author is very bad at saying what he means--burying his real goals inside two of the three reasons he explicitly gives in support of a rather different claim--and has chosen a very ineffective way to make his point.

Yes, because everything must be written in outline form with thesis clearly laid out as if for fifth-graders. Surprising approach? Deprecated. Rhetoric? Forbidden.
posted by languagehat at 3:40 PM on July 5, 2015


"I always get a kick out of the 'Degeneracy thesis':"

Jefferson's pique over that was a part of why he established the Lewis and Clark mission.

Another thing that's interesting to me about the degeneracy thesis is how it impacted views of celts and druids in Europe. Since (especially at that point) actual historical evidence on druids and celts has always been scanty, there's an interesting parallel between the European conceptions of American indigenous nations and their own pre-Christian/pre-Roman past. Druids were either noble guardians of the natural world or bloodthirsty cannibal savages, and both sides cited the customs of American indigenous nations as being analogous to celtic and druid cultures. Degeneracy was the explanation for some of the savage cannibal side's arguments about why Europeans had progressed from the celtic barbarians but Americans hadn't.
posted by klangklangston at 3:56 PM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Yes, because everything must be written in outline form with thesis clearly laid out as if for fifth-graders. Surprising approach? Deprecated. Rhetoric? Forbidden."

Dude, you're tubthumping for a pop-polisci hot take based on blithe and breezy Anglophilia and dubious counterfactuals. We can all agree that slavery and genocide were bad without embracing the challops of a Vox troll.
posted by klangklangston at 3:58 PM on July 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


Canada's record with colonizing the land of indigenous peoples is almost as ugly as that of the United States — and has gone on longer

'Longer' is arguable. Beyond that, our treatment of First Nations peoples is something that should have every white Canadian hanging their heads in shame every day.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:34 PM on July 5, 2015


Yes, because everything must be written in outline form with thesis clearly laid out as if for fifth-graders.

No, not everything has to have that form. But when something does have that form--as this piece does--one has to perform some amazing mental gymnastics to read it as doing something other than advancing its stated thesis by way of its stated reasons.

I frankly don't see how you can seriously think that the piece linked in the OP is even mainly aimed at reminding or informing Americans that the revolution against British rule was tainted by slavery and abuse of Native peoples, let alone entirely about that. It definitely does some reminding or informing. But what the article is about--what it is aiming to do--is pretty clearly not that. The reminding or informing is in service of the main thrust of the article.

And as has been mentioned above, it's not like anyone here is saying that the U.S. hasn't been abusive to lots of people or that the rebelling colonists weren't really defending slavery or that they were justified in doing so. Here is what I take to be a true counterfactual: If the article had been aimed at reminding or informing people that the American Revolution was not the perfectly good and just thing it is sometimes taken to be, then this thread would have gone very differently, with almost no one disputing the author's conclusions.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 4:42 PM on July 5, 2015


"...the savage cannibal side's arguments about why Europeans had progressed from the celtic barbarians but Americans hadn't."

Like the "noble savage" theory for white colonists. I see your point about the corps of "discovery". (Nathaniel Pryor is a distant relation of mine) I also think Jefferson began that before he was President. (His writing and educational endeavors)
I think he even tried to address his own sins, but something elusive about Jefferson makes one think of his motive and intent. (Was it naturalism or expansionism?)
Not just his slave ways but his judgement. (His misreading of the revolution in France) Perhaps that why Adams called him a shadow-man.

Also, a lot of Coups in Latin America support your data, I'm collating some stats from Luttwak. The Pronunciamiento is another aspect of sudden regime change that involves consensus in Latin America.
Ok, between 1946 and 1965, out of 22 countries listed for Latin America, only 8 have not experienced a successful coup, of the 8, four have experienced military revolts and two insurgencies.

Best 4th of July post ever.
posted by clavdivs at 5:05 PM on July 5, 2015


Jonathan Livengood, I disagree strongly with languagehat's opinion about the discussion in this thread, but I think his idea about how the form of the article relates to its purpose deserves more respect than you're giving it. Yes, the article announces that its thesis is that the revolution is a mistake, and it takes the form of a thesis/evidence essay, but that's hardly conclusive evidence that that's what it really is. There's oodles of art that presents as an instance of a standard form but is actually doing something else — satires, allegories, epistolary novels, faux-found-footage horror movies, etc. The idea that this piece's thesis is just a bit of provocative attention-grabbing, and that the thesis/evidence essay structure is follow-through on the conceit, while the real message is something else, doesn't require "amazing mental gymnastics" any more than does, say, the idea that Welles' War of the Worlds is fiction.

Your point that the stuff about parliamentary vs presidential democracies doesn't fit languagehat's reading seems strong to me, though. I wish you'd just done that.
posted by stebulus at 5:12 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Tubthumping the Vox Populi.
posted by clavdivs at 5:13 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


"'Longer' is arguable. Beyond that, our treatment of First Nations peoples is something that should have every white Canadian hanging their heads in shame every day."

Yeah, I'm wondering if it's even kinda tonedeaf for a buncha whiteys to be arguing over the difference between 80 and 75 percent completely fucking appalling. Though my recent interest in the North American theater of the Seven Years War has kinda led me to believe that history is the documentation of how humans are unrelenting assholes to each other. I really do think that the Western European bias of historical documentation has led to a diminishment of both diversity and agency of indigenous nations in historical narratives.

The other thing that's interesting about this debate is how the implicitly anti-imperialist Jeffersonian democracy led to just as much (if not more) imperialism than the British Empire. A big part of creating the difficulty in action for the federal government was the notion that this would lead to a system of devolving power to local control, something that was supposed to explicitly diminish both the capability and interest in colonial adventure that had led to British control of the colonies in the first place. But, to be fair, Jefferson was full of amazing ideals inconsistent/hypocritical implementation (liberty vs. slavery; liberty vs. censorship; liberal democracy exploration vs. imperial Indian Peace Medals).

There's also the question of foresight: The economic interconnectedness of the international and national economies of the world has meant that a stronger federal government is a lot more effective, but the thinking at the time was profoundly out of scale with modern life. Jeffersonian democracy sounds amazing for societies from Athens through early Virginia; it breaks down when you need environmental regulations for both Peoria and Portland — the lack of scaling capability was supposed to be a check against imperial ambition, but Jackson's triumph was turning local democracy into imperial ambition (not a coincidence he was a genocidal asshole). But that same progression shows why the "originalist" SCOTUS decisions are incredibly specious: The idea that the Framers could have foreseen the internet in any meaningful way is tendentious bullshit. (It's also obnoxious because the Framers themselves were deeply committed to an idea of scientific/philosophical progress that would have explicitly rejected the Pharisee "originalist" framing — they all thought of American liberty as an experiment that would be updated with further data.)
posted by klangklangston at 5:32 PM on July 5, 2015


"Like the "noble savage" theory for white colonists."

Yeah, explicitly. Both Rousseau and Locke (contra the original Vox article) were drawing deeply from European conceptions of the "state of nature," based on American indigenous nations. European projections onto American indigenous people were fundamental to political philosophy — the same political philosophy that shaped the American experiment.
posted by klangklangston at 5:55 PM on July 5, 2015


"I really do think that the Western European bias of historical documentation has led to a diminishment of both diversity and agency of indigenous nations in historical narratives."

In historigraphy, New Social History laid waste to the old narrative.
As hokey as people may find Ken Burns, his method adheres to Stones ideas as "...narrative has traditionally been the main rhetorical device used by historians. In 1979, at a time when the new Social History was demanding a social-science model of analysis, Stone detected a move back toward the narrative. Stone defined narrative as follows: it is organized chronologically; it is focused on a single coherent story; it is descriptive rather than analytical; it is concerned with people not abstract circumstances; and it deals with the particular and specific rather than the collective and statistical. He reported that, "More and more of the 'new historians' are now trying to discover what was going on inside people's heads in the past, and what it was like to live in the past, questions which inevitably lead back to the use of narrative."

A seminal work by Wilcomb E. Washburn, 'The Moral and Legal Justifications for Dispossessing the Indians' says the early justification brought forth for exploration/possession are "papal or royal grant" and rivalry between powers (Spain and Portugal) dividing up the new world through The papal bull of Alexander VI, 1493.

Damn good paper Klang if you haven't read it already.
posted by clavdivs at 7:33 PM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm wondering if it's even kinda tonedeaf for a buncha whiteys to be arguing over the difference between 80 and 75 percent completely fucking appalling.

For me, it's more like, as a Canadian citizen, I'm a little tired of hearing how superior Canada is to the US. Especially as a way to downplay our country's history. That's not kinda tone deaf. It is tone deaf.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 7:46 PM on July 5, 2015


I was not downplaying our treatment of First Nations people in any way.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:10 PM on July 5, 2015


For what it's worth, I didn't think that you were. I was just remarking on the narcissism of small differences in the relative treatment of indigenous American nations. I also think there's a reasonable tendency for anyone who's read about this stuff (almost entirely from the perspective of European colonists) to have that surprise at the depths of appalling shit — for Canadians, it seems like it's often, "And OMG, the US was even worse!" whereas for Yanks it's often, "OMG, the Conquistadors were even worse!" And it's like, well, yeah, the Conquistadors were lets say 95 percent absolutely appalling genocidal racists — as opposed to "just" 80 percent for Americans and 75 percent for Canadians. If you have to eat a shit sandwich, of course you'd "prefer" to eat the 75 percent one, but pretty much everyone would prefer not to eat the shit sandwich to begin with rather than quibbling over the dietary recommendations for grams of shit per serving.
posted by klangklangston at 8:27 PM on July 5, 2015


(Spitball theory: It's because of the human bias in evaluating quantities, with the easiest modes being move vs. less and the logarithmic scale of double/half estimations, so that the US was worse to indigenous American nations than Canada both provokes arguments that it's obscuring Canadian crimes but also pushback that the US wasn't twice as bad.)
posted by klangklangston at 8:39 PM on July 5, 2015


stebulus,

What you're saying is reasonable. Probably my "amazing mental gymnastics" line went a bit too far. I think I was intending to return what I perceived as languagehat's dismissive condescension, which was maybe (hopefully) not a representation of my best self.

Maybe I'm not giving enough credit to languagehat's reading. But really, honestly, sincerely, I don't see how that reading is plausible. It's true that a piece of writing need not be exactly what it appears to be. But then again, how often is it the case that a piece of writing isn't what it appears to be? How often do political opinion pieces--as this appears to be--turn out to be primarily aimed at reminding or informing readers of some but not all of the claims that to all appearances are reasons given in support of a thesis? More particularly, what should we think about Dylan Matthews' pieces published in Vox? Perhaps he is playing a prank here. Or perhaps I am very wrong in my impressions of Matthews and or of Vox, but my sense is that it is antecedently very unlikely that the essay is anything other than what a straightforward reading suggests.

Perhaps there is evidence that it is not what it appears to be. I am prepared to be convinced. But in the absence of any evidence--and as far as I can tell, languagehat has given none--I don't see any reason to think that the essay is anything but a straightforward argumentative essay. Do you?
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 9:10 PM on July 5, 2015


Failure analysis: quantity is a human bias upon observation. If by quantity, the native people possessed all the land depending on the nation. To filter the observation, the narrative account of early french settlers in the Saginaw valley. There are migratory patterns, this we know. From the perspective of native peoples, someone settling in one place in permenence is foreighn. Before this, it was quite common for traders to settle in and marry. Ironically, the first recorded murder in Michigan was by a native which caused quite a stir.
These early "settlers" did not seem to be rejected until our old friend agency rolled in flying Jesus and the mercantile Jack. Plus, we blur the lines of nations that existed way before we came and draw and redraw them through history mainly through natural boundaries. Thus making the logarithmic scale set to white man notion of quantity.
posted by clavdivs at 9:24 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I totally wunged that one.
posted by clavdivs at 9:26 PM on July 5, 2015


There's a really great alternate history book just waiting to be written that's basically: George Washington - Despot Warlord of the New World
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:58 PM on July 5, 2015


In general, counterfactuals and history don't mix

Strictly that may be true: but it means you're disqualified from claiming the Revolution achieved anything or did any good, as you can't tell what the world without it would have been like.
posted by Segundus at 6:09 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


> What you're saying is reasonable. Probably my "amazing mental gymnastics" line went a bit too far. I think I was intending to return what I perceived as languagehat's dismissive condescension, which was maybe (hopefully) not a representation of my best self.

Thanks, I appreciate that, and in return I'll admit that my rhetoric in this thread is also (hopefully) not a representation of my best self. I was not in a good mood for other reasons and should have just said "I think y'all are maybe overemphasizing the alternate-history aspect and not taking sufficient account of what I see as his main point" and left it at that. It's an interesting discussion, and as always I appreciate the impassioned and informed commentary here.
posted by languagehat at 8:17 AM on July 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Are you suggesting coal comes from Vikings?

Correlation only.
posted by biffa at 10:41 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


T.D. Strange: "There's a really great alternate history book just waiting to be written that's basically: George Washington - Despot Warlord of the New World"

It wouldn't have to be very alternate at all to write that book starring Aaron Burr.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:27 PM on July 8, 2015


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