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The Journey To...North America, Part Two

In writing these articles I have come to understand how many people are voiceless in the collective imaginary land that is role playing games. I hope that these articles make our hobby and industry a place where more people are welcomed and encouraged to become involved. Which brings me to North America, the part the second.


I spoke to a friend of mine and her words still resonate with me. I asked Susan what she might want in terms of how her people are portrayed in role playing. She replied that she would not want her people's traditions taken for granted. Sacred is sacred. In struggling to find a theme for this article, her words helped me focus in on what is important. So I will begin, before talking about the people, with my "How would I use this?" section.

It is not hard for those of us descended from European, especially Western European ancestry, to relate to the sacred. Stonehenge comes to mind. Beowulf and the legend of Arthur. Joan of Arc. The stand at Thermopylae. Rome at its best and at its worst. A host of cultural touchstones that help give us some common context and cultural language. They literally are sprinkled through our role playing; ideas from history and mythology that fuel how we play.


So if I were going to run a campaign among the North American native tribes, prior to European arrival, it would be heavily focused on those ideas that they found and still find as sacred. It would be an intimate campaign, with no Vecna or dragons or Sauron. Perhaps a band of folk who have suffered loss who wander from place to place, helping others and battling legends. The magic would be subtle and beautiful and full of mystery. It would deal with the idea of what is sacred and how the sacred shapes the lives of the characters. Of course this can be taken into science fiction as well and Shadowrun does some of this with its setting.

What is sacred to the native tribes of North America? A best we can generalize because there are over 500 recognized tribes in the United States, including many in Alaska. Susan mentioned a few things: The Dance, The Ceremony, The Animals, and of course The Land itself. In our modern times issues of land ownership and management have come up again as natural resources are found on tribal lands. To the native peoples, land is more than just a means of making a living or a sign of prosperity. It represents a means of preserving cultural history and identity. Indigenous folk see themselves as protectors of the land and everything associated with it. Equally important are the spiritual and religious aspects of the land and specifically sacred spaces. These sacred places are integral to the tribes spiritual practices and when the land is disrespected, this insults the people and their beliefs. They also believes it angers the land. This should be an important concept in any campaign run using native peoples.


I would recommend talking to native folk about their own tribes and tribal traditions instead of relying on just Internet searches. In general most scholars break the native peoples of North America, excluding Mexico (covered here) into ten different cultural areas. These are the Arctic, Subarctic, Northeast, Southeast, Plains, Southwest, Great Basin, California, Northwest Coast, and Plateau. These cultures had distinct lifestyles from one another, with some being agricultural and others more nomadic. Tragically some have been lost along the way and that is something we should never forget. If we as games masters and content creators can keep them alive in our games, then that is one way of continuing their legacy into the future.

​contributed by Sean Hillman
 
Sean Hillman

Comments

Great point. What they find depends on the level of fantasy and magic in the setting and how deep the historical change-point is. For a "realistic" game, I'd have them meet the Native Americans and I'd research the area to meld reality with adventuring. Perhaps, in 2018, the dominant population would Native American/Viking ethnic blending. Odin's sons might be Thunderbird and Coyote.

If I'm going for something gonzo, NA might look like something out of Thundarr. Filled with powerful sorcerers, strange mutants, and ancient tech. Maybe Princess Ariel's Native people have formed an alliance with Ucla's people?

If I'm going for more traditional DnD, I'd have ancient Native dungeons or ziggurats or earthworks, possibly blend North American and Meso-American history and ideas. Feathered serpents and thunderbirds would replace dragons. Perhaps bubgears or sasquatch crossed over from Asia and stalk the land. Depending on how deep I wanted to explore "good" and "evil" each group would have good reasoning for their enmity.
If I use any "ancient astronaut" theories, maybe orcs or goblins are extraterrestrial in nature. Duergar or Dwarves could take the role of Shaver's Derro.

Or finally, they might find "Manhattan Island" but it's not historically accurate in any way and I just world build from scratch.
Why Mexico? A visit to North America by the Vikings is like a visit to the late stone ages, a visit to the Aztecs is kind of like Ancient Egypt, the Aztecs also do human sacrifice, a paladin in the party is not likely to be culturally sensitive towards that.
 
Why Mexico? A visit to North America by the Vikings is like a visit to the late stone ages, a visit to the Aztecs is kind of like Ancient Egypt, the Aztecs also do human sacrifice, a paladin in the party is not likely to be culturally sensitive towards that.
Because I find inspiration in all of North, Central, and South American cultures and it's a fantasy RPG. And the Paladins at my table would probably be sensitive to human sacrifice. This comes down to not just the DM's world but the stories the player characters bring to it. It may be legal to sacrifice a culture, but is it good? And there is story there if you want to explore it. Or maybe a Vengeance Paladin had a family member sacrificed and it enrages them? That's the beauty of our hobby. The endless stories we are free to tell if everyone buys in.
 

Over the Hill Gamer

Registered User
I was just thinking that if I were to create a campaign based on Native American culture it might be based on the premise that for whatever reason Europeans stayed mired in the 11th century while the Aztecs became an advanced seafaring people and their ships suddenly appeared off the coast of England looking for human sacrifices to appease their gods.

OR, even better, perhaps the Native American gods warned their peoples of the coming invasion of Europeans and the Native Americans spent decades preparing. The orc-like "European" invaders would perhaps be better armed but without the magic of the native peoples.

I hope no one is offended by these ideas.
 

TheCosmicKid

Villager
Like I said on Journey to Mesoamerica, society back then was extremely orderly, with most people never leaving the lands of their clan in their life. That society wouldn't see what we know as adventurers as something good, not even something normal. In fact they would be most likely seen as the bad guys, deliberately disturbing the harmony and balance of the world.
The same could be said of medieval Europe, yet here we are.

Yes, other peoples saw the Triple Alliance as oppressors for the onerous tributes they forced them to pay and for taking away their independence -yes they conquered, but didn't take the whole population as slaves-, but they weren't the bad guys more than the Romans would have been, and wouldn't have been seen as bloodthirsty barbarians -except at the very begining when they were still fresh from their nomadic roots as they were the last of the nahuatlaca tribes to arrive to the Central Basin-.
The Romans make great bad guys too. Although their human sacrificial practices we're considerably less prolific than the Aztecs' (and not really conceptualized as such by imperial times).
Oh and an important source of the exaggeration about human sacrifice? Turns out gullible tourists are more generous with tips the higher ther death toll. Tourist guides just tell them what they want to hear in order to earn better tips.
Archeologists have found and counted the mass graves. You can complain about exaggeration all you like, but the reality was horrible enough.
 
The Romans make great bad guys too. Although their human sacrificial practices we're considerably less prolific than the Aztecs' (and not really conceptualized as such by imperial times).
The Romans are like the original Nazis. The First Reich as it were. Very easy to turn them into epic bad guys, what with the whole Total World Domination and We've Enslaved Your People angles to play off of. Perfect foils for a barbarian campaign.
 
The Romans are like the original Nazis. The First Reich as it were. Very easy to turn them into epic bad guys, what with the whole Total World Domination and We've Enslaved Your People angles to play off of. Perfect foils for a barbarian campaign.
I think that was the Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire was a German Empire with pretensions of being a renewed Roman Empire, that was the First Reich, The Second Reich was the German Empire under the Kaisers, The Third Reich was Hitler's Empire.

The Roman Empire was a mixed bag, when applied to the standards of the times, yes the Romans had slavery, but then so did many of the kingdoms they conquered, the Romans had blood sports, but then so did many of the cultures they conquered.
 
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Tranquilis

Villager
I’m so looking forward to Monday’s article...

Yet another tidbit that makes me think we are all being played to an extent by the selection of some the articles highlighted here over the last several months or more.

Throw red meat out, and watch the comment section explode.
 

LuisCarlos17f

Registered User
In the History some horrible things have happened, and we have to face it, but we need the right balance between self-criticism and faith in oneself. We can't allow others use History to manipulate us by means of guilty feelings, but fogorten in the last centuries in the name of freedoom and the revolution more people was killed in shorter times (and fantasy+sci-fi fiction doesn't tell about this last).

We can use fantasy like a softer way to tell abou the reality. For example if speaking about the battle of Lepanto, Spain vs Otoman empire is today "politically incorrect", then this can be changed by fantasy races, aasimars vs hobgoblins, for example.

It is a pity, because the fantasy fiction and the rpg could be a fabulous hook to study History and to know different cultures, but here we are creating a politically correct taboo about use other civilitations like source of inspiration for our RPG adventures.
 
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TheCosmicKid

Villager
We can use fantasy like a softer way to tell abou the reality. For example if speaking about the battle of Lepanto, Spain vs Otoman empire is today "politically incorrect", then this can be changed by fantasy races, aasimars vs hobgoblins, for example.
"And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight forever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)"

-- G. K. Chesterton

Lepanto gave the world a thing of inestimable value, and I wouldn't dream of cheapening it by depicting it in any way other than it was.
 
Are we defending human sacrifice? I understand studying it and seeking to understand their customs and practices, knowledge is power and understanding history is important, but human sacrifice should be something that we can agree is not socially acceptable.
Bernard Williams wrote about the "relativism of distance". There is about as much prospect of me jumping to the moon than there is of Aztec-style religious practices being revived; hence there is no real need to take up a moral standpoint towards those practices.

In the context of a historico-fantasy RPG, I would find a game in which non-Aztec paladins wage holy war on Aztecs a little too close to apology for my taste. There was recently a thread about Achilles on this board, and while there was some debate about his alignment no one seemd to think it relevant that (among other things) he enslaves women as war booty. In many contexts we ignore or romanticise these features of the histories and cultures that we roleplay. Just as I play RPGs in which heroic characters have an attitude towards the permissibility of interpersonal violence which is very different from my own (given my place, time and outlook), but which gets read through valorising treatments of it (King Arthur legends, 4 colur comics, children's tales of Greek and Norse myth, etc); so if I was going to play an Aztec game I would rather approach the Aztecs through a similar lense, including with a degree of romanticisation if that's how it plays out.

Most of us play adventurers who, essentially, kill things and take their stuff. We are those culture dark points in many ways.
I think it's actually very uncommon for RPGs to present these ultra-violent heroes as immoral. The default presentation is quite the opposite (eg player characters of this type are typically described as "heroes", and not ironically).

I am deeply aware of the decimation that Native Americans went through, however, I would hazard that nearly every ethnicity has histories that they are certain are filled with similar atrocities. Look at Australia's Aboriginal experience, how Native South and Central Americans fell to the Spanish, the history of the Polish, Rome's presence in England, the Jewish plight throughout recorded history, Japan's treatment of China, etc.
I don't know where you live. I live in Australia. I will confidently assert that the British conquest of Australia is a live rather than purely historical event in a way that the Roman conquest of Britain is not.

If one turns to the subsequent Germanic and then Norman conquests, I'll let the Welsh speak for themselves; but as an outsider I do notice that they have a degree of self-government and official recognition of the Welsh language. That already marks a significant difference from the Australian situation. Furthermore, for Welsh fantasy gaming, we have the Mabinogion as one possible starting point.

I think part of the point of the point of [MENTION=6853809]SMHWorlds[/MENTION]'s article is to encourage looking at American First Nations cultures through that sort of lens, rather than eg as exotic people one might meet if one were a Viking sailing to Manhattan.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Yet another tidbit that makes me think we are all being played to an extent by the selection of some the articles highlighted here over the last several months or more.

Throw red meat out, and watch the comment section explode.
If you had the fastest idea how sick moderating makes me feel, you'd know that couldn't be the case. It's by far the part of my job I dread.
 
Sooo... what you're saying is that there were some other cultures. And the Romans conquered them. And they did this many times.
Empires are a vehicle for their Emperors to gain power, mostly the other cultures that were conquered were every bit as tyrannical as the Romans were, its just that they were smaller. The benefit of the Roman empire was that it kept the peace for those living within it. If you replace a bunch of smaller kingdoms fighting for territory with a much larger empire, the wars one experiences are much fewer. The Emperor doesn't want competition to his power, so he keeps the peace, and not all emperors were as bad as Nero. Rome build roads, encouraged commerce between the various parts of the Empire, new ideas travelled around on the peaceful roads. The Romans kept down banditry, and unless there was a civil war, most wars occurred in the periphery with the empire expanding into new territories and other nations and tribes fighting to keep their independence. Under Rome Christianity flourished, and their were worse things than the Romans, for example the Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan, that was mostly a bandit kingdom, they didn't build roads or make civic improvements, they just pillaged and plundered. The Third Reich was more like the Mongol Empire than it was like the Roman Empire.
 

conclave27

Villager
I think they are using "Sacred" instead of respectful and stereotype. The sad part with non-European cultures across the world is that the period of exploration and colonization by national powers and the Christian faith destroyed many cultures in the Americas (Africa too). From a scholastic point of view there have been a few large nations of Meso-Americans which most people can name from Mayan, Aztec, and Incan peoples....but there are 10,000s of smaller tribes and cultures that were wiped out...many with only a few historical artifacts. What we have today are groupings of forgotten cultures lie Southwest, Plains, Northeast, Pacifc Northwest, and Southern North American Indian Tribes... which even that is not the greatest classification. And I am not excluding the Eskimos either.....

So far a few companies like the 7th Sea 2E did a fairly good example covering this issue. White Wolf's Werewolf the Apocalypse line also was very respectful too.

In the end nothing should be held "sacred", honored perhaps...but when you want to put that moniker on it...it is going to be lost and forgotten in a "tomb". If you want something to relevant and revitalized, let it out even if it is steroetyped at first.... it promotes an interest which then you can work on bringing a more accurate portrayal.
 
We can use fantasy like a softer way to tell abou the reality. For example if speaking about the battle of Lepanto, Spain vs Otoman empire is today "politically incorrect", then this can be changed by fantasy races, aasimars vs hobgoblins, for example.
Please don't do that. That kind of substitution only encourages the self-righteous busybodies who love to declare dumb things like "Orcs are an analogy for black people! Orcs are racist!" Let Aasimars be Aasimars and Hobgoblins be Hobgoblins.

You can't deal with the people who decide what is and isn't "politically correct," which these days is mostly a very small group of San Francisco elites, by trying to appease them. Because the whole idea that any of this is about "respect" or "concern" for the dignity or well-being of others is a giant lie.

It's about power. You can see the exact same thing happening with Christianity. Do you think the people who castigate homosexuals and decry liberal progressives as the tools of Satan actually care about the souls of those they hector? Of course not. It's about power. It's about creating a sociocultural base of power which they stand on top of, and from this vantage can make demands of everyone else. Christianity stopped being about loving thy neighbor about ten seconds after Jesus got nailed to the cross, and it became about controlling thy neighbor, just as all religions do. In this modern era, the grip Christianity has had one Western morality is loosening fast, and more and more people simply don't care what the actual priests say about anything. That's create a vacuum, a space for moral scolds and manipulators of fear, anxiety and guilt to insinuate themselves.

What the mavens of political correctness really want is a new religion, with them on top as the new priest caste. They want all of us to live in a state of constant fear and anxiety, worried that we might "offend" some vague, nonspecific body of people. They want us to be confused and unsure about our own moral reasoning and afraid to follow our own conscience. The ultimate goal is to create in us a need for them to tell us what to think, what to say, how to live.

That's why the "rules" of political correctness change constantly. Twenty five years ago, En Vogue released the anti-racism hit "Free Your Mind," with it's catchy refrain of "Free your mind, and the rest will follow. Be colorblind, don't be so shallow." Being color blind was a positive, it was progressive. Now, "color blind" is a "racist term" that is only used by "bad people."

Or look at the way they've made "people of color" into a thing. "Colored people" is totally racist, but if you turn it into a postpostitive adjective, "people of color," then it's "correct." What's hilarious, of course, is that the "reasoning" given for this is "people first," i.e. the idea that the "person" should come first to emphasize that these are people we are discussing. Yet if you watch closely (actually I'm kidding, you barely have to be observant at all to catch this), you'll notice that it's never "people of whiteness," but always "white people." This is because "political correctness" is really all about using white guilt to control and manipulate white people, so the people who advocate this nonsense don't actually have to be consistent in any meaningful way, because it's not really about the things they say, it's about exercising power over others.

None of these people actually believes that saying "people" first is an actual meaningful act, otherwise they would have changed how they say "white people." It's just a way of confusing and controlling people by constantly shifting the language they are "supposed" to use so that they constantly have to turn to the mavens of political correctness to be told what the proper language is this week. Well, either that or the alt.righties are right and they really do just hate white people and continue to use "white people" because they are deliberately and consciously dehumanizing "people of whiteness," but even I think that's paranoid. Never attribute to malice that which can be readily explained by incompetence and stupidity. I think they use "white people" despite it conflicting with their reasoning for using "color of people" not because they are evil and hate white people, but because they are intellectually lazy and facile and don't actually ever bother to think about the ramifications of their arguments.

I'm getting lost in the weeds here. The point being is this: Ignore them. These mavens of political correctness are no different than any other kind of priest. You can just ignore them. They don't have any actual power. This latest iteration of the plague that has been with us since the dawn of time doesn't even make any supernatural claims -- there's no Hell for people who think "people of color" is a dumb, reductive term. There's no Politically Correct God watching our every movement, knowing the secrets of our hearts. They have literally no power beyond the power to whinge at people.

Put them out of your mind and enjoy your games the way you want to enjoy your games. If something you are doing troubles [your conscience, then listen to that voice. But if it's not, then don't let some busybody threatening to get offended at you make you doubt your own conscience.

User asked to leave. - Morrus
 
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LuisCarlos17f

Registered User
For me the orcs aren't an analogy of the Blackafrican community, but they are inspired in the European barbarians before the Middle Age.

A example of how fiction is a softer way to tell about reality is the honored matres from the Frank Herbert's Dune saga is (without spoilers) to tell us the slaves from yesterday can become the tyrants of the tomorrow.

We have to take care. If there is a RPG about the far west, we can talk about the stereotype of the Northamerican indigenous in the fiction. If we are talking about the action-live of "Assasin Creed" somebody can says Hollywood has told the truth about the reconquest of the Granada kingdom. We talk about History, one of the main source of inspiration for fiction, and RPGs, but we don't want to be having a hard time with controversies.

We aren't only in the internet age. Also we are in the cultural contrarevolution. This means a sector of public opinion is starting to rebell againt certains stereotypes from the main media, for example the character Joseph Seed, the main antagonist from the videogame "Far Cry 5".

I am Spanish and I live in Spain. I can tell the things from my own point of view, and I say from here most of people know about USA is (almost) only New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, because amost all the soap operas and high school teleseries happen there. We can't to point in the map where are Ontario, New Yersey, Idaho or Minessota, because here in the school we study the European capital cities. How to telling it politely? If you think the cartoon show "A family guy" or "Sourth Park" are offensive for Christian community, you can't imagine any covers from the satiric magazine "el Jueves". (the Spanish equivalent "Charlie Hebbo" or "MAD magazine"). Here the anti-clericalism in the media is very strong, and we have suffered some incidents. And now lot of people are wondering why nasty hostility againts Catholic church is allowed but the respect for Muslim community because we have to stop islamophobia.

Do you remember the sentinel robots from the comics of X-Men? This teachs us we can't trust who presents themself as defenders to the masses against those who have more power because they may be a worse menace. We can say mutant-hunter robots, but also we could say the same about who warns us againts the preachers like the (false) reverend Harry Powell from "the night of the hunter", but they may be the true wolves in lamb's clothes. Warning, the new Harry Powell now aren't preaching about God and the Gospel but about freedom and revolution. Do remember Robespierre's terror.

If you really want to help to stop hate and fanaticism, then you must defend the respect of human dignity. If we don't defend the human dignity, then Joffrey Baratheon with a crossbow can shot a tied woman, or Sansa Stark can send a hungry pack of dogs to devour her ex-husband. Without respect for the human dignity then we are tainted by the "dark side of the Force" and the monster-hunter becomes a monster too. Without respect for human dignity the rebel againts the oppression becomes a new tyrant, like the character Magneto, from the X-Men comics. "Friends of Humanity", other antagonist faction, suffer the same mistake, they are villains because they want to protect (some) innocents but they have fogorten their "enemy" too are being humans with rights and dignity. (And now the mutants haven't a very good relation with the new inhumans. It is curious, because it is the behavior than flatscans' in the past).

Please, we need nobody to make remember us what Torquemada did in the past, because now we are too busy reporting about capital punishment againts Asia Bibi. (Don't you know who is her?). Can you imagine how I feel when I see the new edition of the rpg "7th Sea" and I imagine Castilla and the Vatican Church according to the author's vision, with their possible predjucices? I don't forget this quote from the back cover of "los Vagos": a terrifying Inquisition drags innocent citizens from the homes". The real inquisition by the Vatican Church in the real-life Castilla didn't that. Who dragged innocet cittizens from the homes? The communists in Spain 30's. They were trying a genocide, and today in the facade of the church is written "¡ARDERÉIS COMO EN EL 36!" ( = you will burn like in (year 19)36!". You can write the phrase in Spanish languange in image google to find real photos of this words. Why have I to feel ashamed about what happened in "Castilla" centuries ago, but the anti-Christians don't worry about to fall "in the dark side of the Force"? Too I am angry with Games Workshop and the church of Sigmar from Warhammer Fantasy, with those cliché about close-minded clery who wants destroy all they can't understand (and the "church" from Warhammer 40.000. Other example about stereotypes with the clery are the "universal church" from the rpg "Fading Suns". I don't like the cliche "priests don't like science". Please! do you know the father of the teory of the Big Bang was a priest, George Lemaître?

In the fiction the atheist gives a speech againts the religious hipocrisy and bigotry, and he doesn't find an answer, but in the real life you can find a Christian who isn't like Ned Flanders, has readen Maria Valtorta's vision of the life of Jesus and tells you a lot of things you don't know, for example the brutal massacre in the region of la Vendée, Mao's cultural revolution, tortures in the chekas or about Madam Roland's last words ("Oh liberty! what crimes are commited in your name!").

How to say it softly? Do you remember the Technocracy from the rpg "Mage: the Ascesion"? Haven't you wondered any time maybe you are receiving a lot of propaganda againts anything because the true reason is it can't be controlled by them, or it's an obstacle againts their plans of social ingeneering? John Jonah Jameson says everytime Spiderman is a public menace, but you can't believe all is told by the Daily Bugle, can you?

* We love ancient Egypt, and this is a greate source of inspiration for fantasy fiction, but we know nothing about the Copt community, the true folk who built the pyramids. Can't we play Stargate SG-1 rpg because this may offend Egyptians?
 
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I think they are using "Sacred" instead of respectful and stereotype. The sad part with non-European cultures across the world is that the period of exploration and colonization by national powers and the Christian faith destroyed many cultures in the Americas (Africa too). From a scholastic point of view there have been a few large nations of Meso-Americans which most people can name from Mayan, Aztec, and Incan peoples....but there are 10,000s of smaller tribes and cultures that were wiped out...many with only a few historical artifacts. What we have today are groupings of forgotten cultures lie Southwest, Plains, Northeast, Pacifc Northwest, and Southern North American Indian Tribes... which even that is not the greatest classification. And I am not excluding the Eskimos either.....

So far a few companies like the 7th Sea 2E did a fairly good example covering this issue. White Wolf's Werewolf the Apocalypse line also was very respectful too.

In the end nothing should be held "sacred", honored perhaps...but when you want to put that moniker on it...it is going to be lost and forgotten in a "tomb". If you want something to relevant and revitalized, let it out even if it is steroetyped at first.... it promotes an interest which then you can work on bringing a more accurate portrayal.
Part of the problem is native American tribes did not have a written language with which to record their history, so their history went unrecorded. What if there was not a period of colonization and exploration? The only way I think that could have happened is if we stayed in the Dark Ages, and we would not be sitting here typing to one another on these computers.

There is a tendency to glorify the "small fry" when it goes against the big Empire trying to conquer them. But is small better than big? What is the likelihood of no one conquering the New World and the Native Americans being left alone? About the same as all the air in the room gathering in one corner and leaving the rest in a vacuum. Vacuums tend to get filled. technologically advanced cultures tend to spread at the expense of those less advanced cultures, their is a lot of good that spreads as well as bad. We moderns tend to take the good for granted and discount all the good that came with spreading Western culture. Stone aged tribes of hunter gatherers dominated North America for the past 10,000 years, if we allowed North America to stay in the stone age for another 500 years there would be no roads, no electricity, no cars, no planes, no computers, no advanced medicine, these things we take for granted.
 

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