1493 – Uncovering the New World Columbus Created
by Charles C Mann
Spanish cruelty played its part in the calamity, but its larger cause was the Columbian Exchange. Before Colón none of the epidemic diseases common in Europe and Asia existed in the Americas. The viruses that cause smallpox, influenza, hepatitis, measles, encephalities, and viral pneumonia; the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, diphtheria, cholera, typhus, scarlet fever, and bacterial meningitis – by a quirk of evolutionary history, all were unknown in the Western Hemisphere. Shipped across the ocean from Europe these maladies consumed Hispaniola’s native population with stunning rapacity. The first recorded epidemic, perhaps due to swine flu, was in 1493. Smallpox entered, terribly, in 1518; it spread to Mexico, swept own Central America, and then continued into Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. Following it came the rest, a pathogenic cavalcade.
The Columbian Exchange had such far-reaching effects that some biologists now say that Colón’s voyages marked the beginning of a new biological ear: the Homogenocene. The term refers to homogenizing: mixing unlike substances to create a uniform blend. With the Columbian Exchange, places that were once ecologically distinct have become more alike. In this sense the world has become one, exactly as the old admiral hoped.
The Homogenocene? A new epoch in the history of life, brought into being by the abrupt creation of a world-spanning economic system? The claim seems grandiose. But imagine a thought experiment: flying around the earth in 1642, a century and a half after Colón’s first voyage, threescore and ten after the first Chinese silk from Manila arrived in Mexico. Think of it as a round-the-world cruise at 35,000 feet of a planet in the first stages of a great disturbance.
From today’s vantage the story seems more complex. the goal of the Virginia Company had been to integrate Virginia, an thus poor England itself, into the rich new global marketplace. Although [John] Ferrar never recognized it, the company had done exactly that – with “Smokey Tobaco,” the first American species to disperse into Europe, Asia, and Africa Fun, ,exciting and wildly addictive, tobacco was an instant hit around the globe – the first time people in every continent simultaneously became enraptured by a novelty. N. tabacum was the leading edge of the Columbian Exchange.
In the textbooks, government appears mainly as an outside factor that imposes tariffs, quotas, levies, and so on, influencing the outcome of private trae, often reducing the net economic benefit. But the state does this becuase trade has two roles: one highlighted in economics textbooks, where private markets allow both sides to gain economically, and one that rarely appears in those textbooks, in which trade is a tool of statecraft, the goal is political power, and both sides usually do not win.. In this second role, the net economic benefit of trade is much less important than the political benefit to each side, and the government interventions that seperate economies can be useful, even vital tools to achieve national preeminence.*
*In practice, the picture is complicated by business’s attempts to manipulate government for their own ends, often to the detriment of state policies, and by groups within the state that use power for private gain Nevertheless, the distinction between trade as a private exchange between willing parties and trade as a tool of state aggrandizement is useful. Indeed, one reason for the conflict between today’ free traders and anti-globalization activists is that the former regard the first role as paramount whereas the latter think in terms of the second.
[Hernán Cortés’s] was dreadful. As he followed the court, the king was talking with Bartolomé de las Casas, a fiery Dominican priest who had just completed Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies, an indictment of Spanish conduct that remains a landmark both in the history of human rights activism and in the literature of sustained invective. Reading his first draft before the shocked court, Las Casas branded the conquest of Mexico as “the climax of injustice and violence and tyranny committed against the Indians.” He denounced Indian slavery as “torments even harder to endure and longer lasting than the torments of those who are put to the sword.” Troubled by Las Casas’s lurid descriptions of cruelties committed in the name of Spain, Carlos V had asked the congress of deputies to investigate the nations policies towards Indians.
Scuffling in the streets, struggling to pull strings in the government, uneasily cooperating in the military, Mexico City’s multitude of poorly defined ethnic groups from Africa, Asia Europe, and the Americas made it the world’s first truly global city – the Homogenocene for Homo sapiens. A showpiece for the human branch of the Columbian Exchange, it was the place where East met West under an African and Indian gaze. Its inhabitants were ashamed of the genetic mix even as they were proud of their cosmopolitan culture…