Who’da Thunk It? Democratic Early Civilizations in MesoAmerica!!

If you remember anything about ancient history from school or TV specials, you probably know that what we call democracy got its start in certain parts and eras in ancient Rome, Greece, and certain pre-literate Germanic or North American Indian tribes.

You probably learned that other than those places and eras, all of the known ancient civilizations were one form or another of rule by an aristocracy or imperial class. In all parts of the ancient world, the One Per Cent (in the form of emperors, pharaohs, chiefs, Inca, kings, queens, khans, priests and nobility) lived in tremendous luxury and were personally identified as gods. And the rest of the people endured a life that approximated slavery — just like we see in many parts of the world even today.

However, some very interesting research indicates that there were some other exceptions to this very common autocratic rule, located in what is now Central America. I will quote extensively from this article:

… Tlaxcallan is one of several premodern societies around the world that archaeologists believe were organized collectively, where rulers shared power and commoners had a say in the government that presided over their lives.

These societies were not necessarily full democracies in which citizens cast votes, but they were radically different from the autocratic, inherited rule found—or assumed—in most early societies. Building on Blanton’s originally theoretical ideas, archaeologists now say these “collective societies” left telltale traces in their material culture, such as repetitive architecture, an emphasis on public space over palaces, reliance on local production over exotic trade goods, and a narrowing of wealth gaps between elites and commoners.

“Back in the 1960s, Blanton’s teachers and peers didn’t think collective societies existed in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Premodern republics such as classical Athens and medieval Venice were thought to be a purely European phenomenon. Conventional wisdom held that in premodern, non-Western societies, despots simply extracted labor and wealth from their subjects.

Some Mesoamerican cultures do seem to fit the despotic model. (my emphasis. GFB)More than 2000 years ago in the Olmec capitals of San Lorenzo and La Venta along the Mexican gulf coast, for example, kings had their portraits carved into gargantuan stone heads and lived in palaces dripping with exotic luxury goods like greenstone and iron mirrors. Centuries later, Classic period Mayan kings in southern Mexico and Guatemala recorded their conquests, marriages, and dynasties in glyphs carved into stone. Meanwhile, commoners lived humbly in settlements dispersed around the city’s core of pyramids and monuments.

But as Blanton logged year after year of surveys and excavations in Mexico, he noticed an increasingly long list of sites that didn’t conform to these expectations. For example, Monte Albán, the capital of the Zapotec people in Oaxaca between 500 B.C.E. and 800 C.E., lacked the ostentatious representations of individual rulers so common in Olmec and classical Maya art. It also seemed to be devoid of palaces and royal tombs stocked with precious goods. Instead, signs of authority were more anonymous, linked to cosmological symbols and enduring deities rather than specific individuals.

Intrigued by such outliers, Blanton and three co-authors worked up a new theory, published in 1996 in Current Anthropology. Based largely on Mesoamerican examples, they laid out two forms that governments could take, which Blanton now terms autocratic and collective. Autocratic governments were based on the authority of an individual ruler and often supported by wealth acquired by monopolizing natural resources or controlling trade. Think of the Olmec, who controlled key gulf coast trade routes, or even present-day Saudi Arabia, Blanton says, “where the royal family controls the oil industry and uses that to fund the state’s activity. They don’t have to be accountable to the people.”

The candidate for political office stood in a plaza, naked, bracing himself against the punches and kicks. The crowd roared, pulsing around him like a beating heart. People for whom he had risked his life in war after war hurled blows and insults from all directions. The candidate breathed deeply. Trained as a warrior, he knew he had to stay calm to reach the next phase of his candidacy.

This ordeal, documented by a Spanish priest in the 1500s, was merely the beginning of the long process of joining the government of the Mesoamerican city of Tlaxcallan, built around 1250 C.E. in the hills surrounding the modern city of Tlaxcala, Mexico. After this trial ended, the candidate would enter the temple on the edge of the plaza and stay for up to 2 years, while priests drilled him in Tlaxcallan’s moral and legal code. He would be starved, beaten with spiked whips when he fell asleep, and required to cut himself in bloodletting rituals. But when he walked out of the temple, he would be more than a warrior: He would be a member of Tlaxcallan’s senate, one of the 100 or so men who made the city’s most important military and economic decisions.

“I’d like to see modern politicians do all that, just to prove they can govern,” says archaeologist Lane Fargher, standing in the shadow of one of Tlaxcallan’s recently restored elevated plazas. Fargher has led surveys and excavations here since 2007, studying the urban plan and material culture of a type of society many archaeologists once believed they’d never find in Mesoamerica: a republic. “Twenty or 25 years ago, no one would have accepted it was organized this way,” says Fargher, who works at the research institute Cinvestav in Mérida, Mexico.

“Blanton and his colleagues opened up a new way of examining our data,” says Rita Wright, an archaeologist at New York University in New York City who studies the 5000-year-old Indus civilization in today’s India and Pakistan, which also shows signs of collective rule. “A whole new set of scholarship has emerged about complex societies.”

“I think it’s a breakthrough,” agrees Michael E. Smith, an archaeologist at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe. “I’ve called it the most important work in the archaeology of political organization in the last 20 years.” He and others are working to extend Blanton’s ideas into a testable method, hoping to identify collective states solely through the objects they left behind

Back in the 1960s, Blanton’s teachers and peers didn’t think collective societies existed in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Premodern republics such as classical Athens and medieval Venice were thought to be a purely European phenomenon. Conventional wisdom held that in premodern, non-Western societies, despots simply extracted labor and wealth from their subjects.

Some Mesoamerican cultures do seem to fit the despotic model. More than 2000 years ago in the Olmec capitals of San Lorenzo and La Venta along the Mexican gulf coast, for example, kings had their portraits carved into gargantuan stone heads and lived in palaces dripping with exotic luxury goods like greenstone and iron mirrors. Centuries later, Classic period Mayan kings in southern Mexico and Guatemala recorded their conquests, marriages, and dynasties in glyphs carved into stone. Meanwhile, commoners lived humbly in settlements dispersed around the city’s core of pyramids and monuments.

But as Blanton logged year after year of surveys and excavations in Mexico, he noticed an increasingly long list of sites that didn’t conform to these expectations. For example, Monte Albán, the capital of the Zapotec people in Oaxaca between 500 B.C.E. and 800 C.E., lacked the ostentatious representations of individual rulers so common in Olmec and classical Maya art. It also seemed to be devoid of palaces and royal tombs stocked with precious goods. Instead, signs of authority were more anonymous, linked to cosmological symbols and enduring deities rather than specific individuals.

Intrigued by such outliers, Blanton and three co-authors worked up a new theory, published in 1996 in Current Anthropology. Based largely on Mesoamerican examples, they laid out two forms that governments could take, which Blanton now terms autocratic and collective. Autocratic governments were based on the authority of an individual ruler and often supported by wealth acquired by monopolizing natural resources or controlling trade. Think of the Olmec, who controlled key gulf coast trade routes, or even present-day Saudi Arabia, Blanton says, “where the royal family controls the oil industry and uses that to fund the state’s activity. They don’t have to be accountable to the people.”

Published in: on March 16, 2017 at 9:27 am  Comments (1)  

DC snow delay

DC teachers — what fraction of your students actually showed up today?

Published in: on March 14, 2017 at 6:13 pm  Comments (2)  

Fix D.C. public Schools 

From Valerie Jablow:

Sign This Now to #FixAllSchools

by Valerie Jablow

If you care that our by right schools are in decent shape for ALL children, sign this letter by March 19, demanding that Mayor Bowser and our other city leaders #fixallschools.
Ward 6’s education council, the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization (CHPSPO), is leading this effort to ensure that all DCPS schools are brought quickly to the same, modern, standards–and adequately maintained for future generations.
In a wealthy city in the richest country on earth, there are very few compelling reasons that any child in DC should attend a public school with pressing health and safety issues–and yet, we know this is the case here.
This new letter asks that city leaders
–Fully fund the Capital Improvement Plan;

–Ensure that 12 schools that have never had a modernization get into that plan; and

–Fund stabilization efforts.
The letter and signatures will be delivered to the mayor and all council members the last two weeks of March.
Please pass it on–and if you need inspiration, there is plenty here and here.
Valerie Jablow | March 14, 2017 

Published in: on March 14, 2017 at 3:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Valerie Jablow on D.C. Charters, DCPS renovations, and walkability…

Dispatches from Planet Pollyanna: Charter School Walkability Edition

Published in: on March 10, 2017 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Half or more of all Scottish teachers feel the stresses of their job have made them mentally ill

I don’t think the general public has any idea how stressful teaching is today. (If you know a teacher, ask them for stories explaining this! I don’t feel like stressing my own psyche by revisiting horrible events and stressors from my active teaching days to give you examples. But the pressures are relentless, coupled with being accountable to reach impossible and conflicting goals with no real authority or trust given whatsoever… and the workweek is often 60-80 hours or more.)

 This article discusses the apparently quite-similar situation over in Scotland. The comments include remarks like “Only half?”

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/nearly-half-teachers-struggling-mental-health-survey-suggests

Published in: on March 1, 2017 at 6:28 pm  Comments (3)  

How Poorly Distributed Wealth is, is simply Mind-Blowing

I just looked it up: The total amount of wealth (after debts) of all US households, individuals, and non-profits is right now in the neighborhood of $100 TRILLION. (The WSJ said $85 trillion, two years ago). Yes, you read that right, not 100 million, not 100 billion, but a hundred trillion dollars.

Are you impressed? It gets better! — or, at least, it could.

If we could somehow wave a magic wand and divide all that wealth equally among all 125 million US million households (source here for that #) well, after you cross out all those zeroes (or subtract exponents), then each and every single household would NET just about eight hundred thousand dollars.

$800,000 bucks for every single household.

Think about that!

A very large fraction of the population is in fact basically penniless – or they owe way more than they can earn in a year. Or are one or two paychecks away from eviction, foreclosure, bankruptcy, the whole nine yards. And I’m pretty sure this includes the black and brown immigrants who are cleaning and constructing our buildings, fixing our roads, driving our cabs, taking care of gardens and babies, and let’s not forget, picking our vegetables and fruits and slaughtering our meat. Yes, them, too.

I know there are going to be plenty of complaints that the poor and the underserving don’t deserve this, and when you give money to the poor, it’s all spent on booze and drugs. Well, if you let money sit in the hands of the super-rich, they simply cannot spend it all – one of the first things I learned from a very conservative Dartmouth College economics professor nearly 50 years ago. How many houses or yachts or cars can a single hyper-wealthy household actually USE?

Poor folks, on the other hand, spend it all immediately, so it gets transferred to other businesses (car dealers, furniture stores, clothing stores, and grocery stores) almost as soon as it gets into their hands.

Obviously my mental magic trick is never going to happen – but it’s sure fun to think about!

300 Scientists Claim There is no Climate Change …

But what type of scientists are they?

This rather funny article I found in The Guardian shows that almost none of them have any actual experience in the study of climate changes.

Here is an excerpt:

There many are other examples that list no degree, affiliation, or expertise, such as:

BEE, Roger: ();

BEETHAM, Barry: ();

I guess having a first and last name are sufficient to be included in this list of eminent scientists. Sadly, the list also includes William Happer, who is under consideration for the position of President Trump’s science advisor, and also a couple of fellows we know to be quite nutty.

Finally, how about the person who appeared to orchestrate this letter, Richard Lindzen? Well, he may be best known for taking contrarian views on climate change that are not substantiated by the research, and being wrong on all of them. In fact, he has put forward multiple studies that were shown to be incorrect or questionable by his colleagues in the field. 

A summary that I coauthored of his work is available here with links to all of the relevant studies so people can read for themselves. In fact, one of his studies was rebutted by three separate papers within a year of publication. This is astonishing – most papers are never rebutted. In fact, I would venture that most scientists never have a paper rebutted in their entire career.

What is the takeaway message? As I’ve said many times, the science is settled. Human emissions of greenhouse gases are causing the Earth’s climate to change. It’s practically impossible to find a reputable climate scientist who disagrees, or a climate scientist who can support an alternative view. It is also very difficult to find a scientist who thinks that the warming isn’t a problem, or isn’t significantly caused by humans. But, this isn’t a lack of trying on their side.

When the folks denying human influence on climate can only generate the type of signatures attached to this letter, it shows that while they are good at getting press, they are not good at climate science.

Of course, press may be all they ever wanted in the first place.

Published in: on February 28, 2017 at 1:17 am  Comments (1)  
Tags:

How ‘Zero-Tolerance’ Policies Harm All Students

See:

Image result

The author, Derek Black told Jennifer Berkshire that “…some of the charter schools you’re referencing actually take it to one more level. They say ‘you don’t think we can? Just watch us. We’re going to have suspension and expulsion rates higher than anything you’ve ever seen before.’

“I think the difference between the charter system and the public system, which is really what my book is about, is that the public system doesn’t really get rid of its students; they come back. The charter school doesn’t have the responsibility of serving the community and all of its children, so that what it’s trying to do is sort of slash and burn.

“I suppose that one can slash and burn all of the low achievers and the troublemakers until there is no one left. It’s not that they’ve made the students who are left perform better, but that they’ve lopped off their low performers.”

How to re-segregate public schools, improve test scores (by hiding “those” kids) and make a nice profit all at once

This is from Wonkette. It’s brilliant. Please read the link, and then figure out how you and your friends and family can stop it.

Vouchers aren’t so great

Reposted:
Once again, Arizona’s public education advocates find themselves in battle against those in the Legislature seeking to commercialize our district schools. The worst threat this year is a replay of last year’s failed attempt to fully expand Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) to all Arizona students. This, despite the fact that vouchers will cost the state more…at least $1,000 more per student. This, despite the fact that according to the Pro-voucher Friedman Foundation, 58% of AZ ESA recipients have incomes ABOVE $57,000 (39% over $72,000 and 19% between $57,000 and $71,000.) And, only 15% of families that use vouchers have an income lower than $28,000. Not surprising actually, when the average private school in Arizona costs $6,000 at the elementary level and $18,000 at the high school level. A $5,200 to $5,900 voucher just doesn’t go far enough for those without means.
And, as if that isn’t enough, the New York Times (NYT) just reported, “a wave of new research has emerged suggesting that private school vouchers may harm students who receive them.” An examination of an Indiana voucher program which grew to tens of thousands of students under then Governor Pence, produced significant losses in achievement in mathematics on the part of voucher students who transferred to private schools. There was also no improvement in reading.
Then in Louisiana in early 2016, researchers found “large negative results in both reading and math” for those students on vouchers. The NYT quoted Martin West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, as saying the negative voucher effects in Louisiana were, “as large as any I’ve seen in the literature.” He wasn’t just comparing voucher programs, but rather the Louisianna voucher experience against “the history of American education research.”
Likewise, in June of 2016, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and school choice proponent, looked at a large voucher program in Ohio. They found that, “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.”
Maybe the schools “were unusually bad and eager for revenue” posits the NYT, but that just shows that “exposing young children to the vagaries of private-sector competition is inherently risky. I love the NYT’s explanation of how ”the free market often does a terrible job of providing basic services to the poor – see, for instance, the lack of grocery stores and banks in many low-income neighborhoods.” Why should we expect it to be different for education? I can see it now. Gourmet grocery stores and boutique bank equivalent private schools in affluent areas and the Circle K and payday loan operation version of underfunded public schools where people have no other real option. I know there are plenty of people who see nothing wrong with this scenario (many of them work at the state Capitol), but it IS wrong and it is not in the best interest of our people, our communities, our state, or our nation.

Published in: on February 24, 2017 at 12:53 pm  Comments (1)  
%d bloggers like this: