Exploration Friday: Russian in the New World, pt. 4/4

I only approve of wearing non-cute animals
I only approve of wearing non-cute animals

When we left off last week with Caughey’s History of the Pacific Coast, Vitus Bering and his men had heroically crossed Siberia twice, spent about 10 hours in Alaska, gotten stranded over winter in the Aleutian Islands, a bunch of them (including Bering himself) died of scurvy, and finally a few of them struggled back to Moscow. The result of all this human effort and travail was a rush to kill every last sea otter for their super soft and cuddly pelts.

As usual, I’m using “” instead of blockquotes for readability.

“Without waiting for authorization from the czar, traders scurried from Kamchatka to the Commander and Aleutian Islands. They sailed in most unseaworthy craft, small and crude, built usually of green timber, without iron, and consisting merely of a log frame covered with planks that were fastened with deer thongs and wooden peg and calked with moss and tallow for lack of pitch. … the willingness and eagerness of these adventurers to sail n such crazy craft over the stormy waters off Kamchatka testifies as to the profits in promise for successful voyages. …

“they went chiefly to the Aleutian Island, and did not visit the Alaskan mainland again until 1761. Shipwrecks occurred frequently, the estimate being one out of three… This was the period of unregulated hunting, characterized by the vilest outrages against the Aleuts, who suffered almost as much damage as the sea-otters.

Mikhail Tikhanov, Aleut in Festival Dress in Alaska, 1818
Mikhail Tikhanov, Aleut in Festival Dress in Alaska, 1818

“The Aleuts were depended upon for the actual hunting. The Russians hunted occasionally by long distance rifle shooting, but it was more convenient to utilize the natives. In calm weather they went out in kayaks and harpooned the sea-otters as they came up to breathe. Storm hunting on the kelp beds was more customary. In this wild work some of the Aleuts pursued the sea-otter in kayaks while others clubbed them as they came ashore. The danger was great, both in the fragile kayaks and on the slipper rocks. …

“the women of a village were seized as hostages and held until a satisfactory number of sea-otter pelts was brought in. This device lent itself to abuse and there were outrageous wrongs. The most spectacular concerned a ship which was blown back to Kamchatka with twenty-five hostages still on board. Rather than come into port with such incriminating evidence, the Russians unceremoniously dumped these women overboard to drown.”

Wikipedia has an interesting account of the far-reaching effects of this coercion:

Google maps would not give me driving directions for the route from the Aleutians to San Nicolas Island
Google maps would not give me driving directions for the route from the Aleutians to San Nicolas Island

There was high demand for the furs that the Aleut provided from hunting. In 1811, in order to obtain more of the commercially valuable otter pelts, a party of Aleut hunters traveled to the coastal island of San Nicolas, near the Alta California-Baja California border. The locally resident Nicoleño nation sought a payment from the Aleut hunters for the large number of otters being killed in the area. Disagreement arose, turning violent; in the ensuing battle, the Aleut killed nearly all the Nicoleño men. Together with high fatalities from European diseases, the Nicoleños suffered so much from the loss of their men that by 1853, only one living Nicoleña person remained. (See Juana Maria, The Lone Woman of San Nicolas, also known as Karana)

Back to Caughey: “By the middle 1760’s the Aleuts were aroused by these repeated atrocities to measures of retaliation. They met treachery with deceit and murder with assassination, and Russian blood flowed to atone for the slaughters of the Aleuts. This new sort of disturbance brought the region to the attention of the czar… A governor was sent out for the express purpose regulating this fur trade. … The Aleuts received but meager protection, and the czar’s revenues were not augmented to the extent anticipated. But during the period of government regulation there as an expansion of Russian fur hunting to Alaska proper. Kodiak was settled in 1783, and Shelikoff advanced to the Sitka neighborhood soon after.

“Toward the end of the century government regulation was abandoned in favor of control through a trading company modeled after those  of the English. … Under the company conditions did improve. Missions were but slightly encouraged, but the natives received some safeguarding for the very practical reason that their perpetuation was vital to the continued profits of the fur trade.”

Saint Peter the Aleut
Saint Peter the Aleut

EvX: See my post on Kabloona, Religion and the Far Reaches of the World for more on Russian Orthodox missionaries to the Alaskan natives. Wikipedia notes:

After the arrival of Russian Orthodox missionaries in the late 18th century, many Aleuts became Christian. Of the numerous Russian Orthodox congregations in Alaska, most are majority Alaska Native in ethnicity. One of the earliest Christian martyrs in North America was Saint Peter the Aleut.

Continuing with Caughey, “Following an uprising of the natives, [Baranof] reestablished Sitka in 1803 and made it the capital of Russian America. Shipbuilding was one of his principal innovations; some fourteen vessels being launched in Alaska during his regime, 1799 to 1818. …

“Russian America’s insecurity was well revealed during the course of the inspection by Nikolai Rezanof in 1805-1806. … He found Sitka threatened with starvation because one of the supply ships from Siberia had not arrived. Scurvy had broken out, causing several deaths, and no prospect of securing supplies was apparent. He gave temporary respite by purchasing the American ship Juno with its cargo of supplies, but to develop a permanent source of supplies for Russian Alaska he decided to make a voyage to Spanish California. …

“Rezanof soon discovered that Spanish law forbade any traffic with foreigners and that the California official were not inclined to countenance trade with him. A battle of wits ensued in which he endeavored to conceal the dire straits at Sitka, …

EvX: Rezanof got engaged to the daughter of the Spanish commander of San Francisco, who convinced her father to convince the governor to let Rezanof trade for a shipload of food for the Russian colony. Rezanof set off for Moscow to report back to the Czar, but died on the way. His fiance, ever faithful, became a nun and waited thirty-five years for news of his fate.

“Besides the cargo of supplies, Rezanof carried to Alaska a very enthusiastic description of California. … Three years later [Kuskoff] returned to poach twelve hundred sea-otter skins from San Francisco Bay and to purchase from the natives enough land for a post. The price was “three blankets, two axes, three hoes, and a miscellaneous assortment of beads.”

“Kuskoff came again in 1812 with one hundred Russians and eighty Aleuts and established Fort Ross, a short distance north of Bodega Bay. … Agriculture and stock raising flourished. Eventually two hundred cows were milked, and butter and cheese could be sent to Sitka. …. Fort Ross served as headquarters for Russian fur hunting as far south as the Santa Barbara Channel.

The reconstructed Russian Orthodox chapel at Fort Ross, CA, photo by Introvert
The reconstructed Russian Orthodox chapel at Fort Ross, CA, photo by Introvert

“With the practical extermination of the sea-otter, Fort Ross’ value waned. …in 1841, the Russian American Fur Company was quite willing to dispose of the fort and its furnishings to Captain Johann Sutter, marking the termination of Russian control south of Alaska.”

EvX: The Russian presence in America, especially south of Sitka, was never more than a thread, thinly stretched, but it had a significant impact on the lives of the natives (and otters) they encountered. According to Wikipedia:

Prior to major influence from outside, there were approximately 25,000 Aleuts on the archipelago. Foreign diseases, harsh treatment and disruption of traditional society soon reduced the population to less than one-tenth this number. The 1910 Census count showed 1,491 Aleuts. In the 2000 Census, 11,941 people identified as being Aleut; nearly 17,000 said Aleuts were among their ancestors.[9] Alaskans generally recognize that the Russian occupation, while the colonists were limited in number, resulted in few full-blooded Aleuts today. Full-blooded Aleuts still exist and are growing in number, and there are also people who may be part Russian or other descent but solely identify as Aleut.

In 1942, during World War II, Japanese forces occupied Attu and Kiska Islands in the western Aleutians. They later transported captive Attu Islanders to Hokkaidō, where they were held as prisoners of war. The United States government evacuated hundreds more Aleuts from the western chain and the Pribilofs during WWII, placing them in internment camps in southeast Alaska, where many died. The Aleut Restitution Act of 1988 was an attempt by Congress to compensate the survivors.

It is often amazing just how small–on the grand scale–these first movements to reach around the globe really were. Even now, only 12 men have ever stepped foot on the moon.

It’s also amazing that anyone at all managed to survive in the Aleutian islands.

Exploration Friday: Russia in the New World, pt 3

Welcome back. Today we are continuing with Caughey’s History of the Pacific Coast, Chapter XI: Russian America. (Parts one and two are here.) When we left off, Vitus Bering and his crew had struggled (twice!) across the expanse of Siberia, built a boat, and set out in a futile quest to fin Joao-da-Gama-Land, which doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page. Bering’s quest, however, does:

The Great Northern Expedition … was one of the largest organised exploration enterprises in history, resulting in mapping of the most of the Arctic coast of Siberia and some parts of the North America coastline, greatly reducing the “white areas” on the maps. The endeavour was initially conceived by Russian EmperorPeter I the Great and implemented in practice by Russian Empresses Anna and Elizabeth. …

With over 3,000 people directly and indirectly involved, the Second Kamchatka expedition was one of the largest expedition projects in history. The total cost of the undertaking, completely financed by the Russian state, reached the estimated sum of 1.5 million rubles, an enormous amount for the period. This corresponded to one sixth of the income of the Russian state for year 1724.[1]

“Shortly after they foreswore hopes of finding this mythical continent, a storm gave Chirikoff [commander of Bering’s second vessel] excuse to separate from the St. Peter. He sailed east and sighted land on July 15th, apparently just off Latuya Bay. … Chirikoff brought the St. Paul as close to shore as he dared. He saw timid natives in two canoes, but they refused to come near. His only alternative was to sail for Kamchatka. On the way he skirted the Aleutian Islands, anchoring at one of them on September 9th These natives were almost as timid as those seen along the mainland, though they did bring some skins of fresh water. Scarcity of water and supplies and the sickness of most of the men necessitated returning to Avatcha, whee anchor was dropped on October 10th.

1966 Soviet postage stamp commemorating Bering's second voyage and the discovery of the Commander Islands
1966 Soviet postage stamp commemorating Bering’s second voyage and the discovery of the Commander Islands

“Bering, in the meantime, had wasted time and energy in additional search for Chirikoff and for Gama Land. Then he set his course northeast and then north, sighting land on the fifteenth or sixteenth of July in the vicinity of Mt. St. Elias. One day was spent taking on fresh water at a nearby island, while Steller the naturalist made a hurried study of botanical and zoological specimens and deduced what he could of the human inhabitants by examining a shellheap,the remains of a fire with bones scattered about, and an abandoned habitation. The general irritability of the entire group showed itself int he cross purposes of Steller and Bering. The naturalist had the better of the repartee, remarking “that this long and expensive expedition had been planned in order to fetch American water to Asia, and that ten hours of exploration corresponded to the ten years of preparation,” but the commander had his way and the return voyage was begun forthwith.

“Wet and stormy weather with the winds usually contrary slowed their westward passage. They spent forty days going from Kayak to the Shumagin Islands. Over Steller’s protest the boat crew loaded brackish water here, though good was available, and consequently the scurvy became more virulent. Beyond the Shumagin Islands the weather was still worse, with veering and uncertain winds, interspersed with wild storms from the west. According to their reckonings they were almost to Avatcha when land was sighted early in November.”

800px-a_new_and_accvrat_map_of_the_worldEvX: Note that this voyage, begun in 1741, occurred before John Harrison perfected his Marine Chronometer in 1761, and so Bering and his men had no accurate way to measure their longitude at sea. “Reckoning” here is likely dead reckoning–that is, an estimation based on speed and direction. This is a very difficult way to reckon your position across hundreds or thousands of miles of stormy ocean with any accuracy, as many a drowned sailor has learned.

“For some time Bering had been so ill that he was not actually in command. He urged that they struggle on to Avatcha, but the other officers and the men insisted upon putting in at this bay, convinced that they could sail or walk to Avatcha after the sick had recuperated. …

“A short foray inland convinced Steller that this was an island and not Kamchatka,…. Not all of the scurvy victims improved, and by January 8th, thirty lives had been lost including that of the commander.

“Bering Island, on which they were wintering, was quite bleak and dismal. … in the spring they attacked with zest the task of constructing a smaller vessel out of the wreckage of the St. Peter. … with prayers to St. Peter the forty foot craft was launched on August 8th, and five days later the forty-six survivors embarked. …

“They sighted the Kamchatkan shore after three days’ sail, but contrary winds delayed them another ten days in reaching Avatcha. their arrival was the occasion for great rejoicings, and the icon of St. Peter in the church at Petropavlovsk was adorned with silver by some of the saved men. It has been insinuated, however, that those who had given Bering’s men up for lost and had appropriated their belongings were not so elated over their return. …

“the Russian government kept the reports of his explorations secret, and as late as 1750 a scholarly paper was read before the Academy at Paris to prove that he had not reached America. Not until considerably later did extravagant admirers come to call him a “Russian Columbus.” But an immediate sensation was created by the make-shift fur clothing worn by the returned castaways. Chinese merchants at Kamchatka offered what seemed fabulous prices for these sea-otter pelts, initiating thus an interest in this fur trade. For a century thenceforth the sea-otter was to be the magnet attracting Europeans to the North Pacific.”

EvX: And cue the fur rush.

History Friday: The Russian Exploration of America (pt 1)

I’ve wanted to learn more about the Russian exploration and colonization of the Americas for ages, and while rummaging around in the attic of a 120 year old house I serendipitously happened across Caughey‘s History of the Pacific Coast, published in 1933, which has an entire chapter devoted to the subject.

One of the interesting things about the exploration of the North Pacific is just how late it occurred–even in late 1700s, we basically had no idea what was up there. Before the construction of the Suez and Panama canals, the north Pacific between modern-day Russia and Alaska was about as far away from Europe as you could get. By sea you might circumnavigate Africa, which offered little in the way of good places to take on fresh food and water–the Dutch had to send their own people to raise cattle on the Cape of Good Hope because the local hunter-gatherer population simply didn’t have enough food to trade for–and then circumnavigate Asia, making your way through cannibal (and probably pirate) infested waters along the way. Just getting to the Indonesian spice islands and back left a great many men dead of scurvy. Alternatively, you could round South America and brave the tumultuous, Antarctic waters around Tierra del Fuego–if you had permission to land at Spanish ports along the way. Alternatively, you could go by land–by trekking across Siberia and then building a boat, or by crossing the Atlantic, Lewis and Clarking it, and then building a boat. No matter which direction you head, it’s a long trek and you’ll probably die–and the Russians did it first.

How they did it is a tale in itself.

As usual, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes.

“Up to the middle of the eighteenth century the Pacific Ocean had been a Spanish lake, with English and Dutch freebooters intruding only occasionally. From Panama to beyond San Francisco exploration and settlement had been y the Spaniards, unchallenged and unaided. The opening of the North Pacific, on the contrary, was the work of several nations. Russians led the way under Vitus Bering, the Dane Spain sent expeditions to investigate the Russian activities, to check British aggressions, and to substantiate her ancient claim to the entire northwest coast. British traders came overland and by sea, and Americans likewise used a two-fold approach…

“From our perspective the overrunning of Siberia was a preliminary to Russian expansion in America; from the Russian standpoint Siberia far outweighed Alaska. But whether regarded as the tail or the dog, the eastward movement across Asia must be recognized as an epic achievement, comparable to the American westward march to the Pacific. “A century sable hunt half round the world” labels it succinctly. It was a century more or less; from the Urals to Okhotsk the Russians were only sixty years, to Bering Strait a century and a half. Sables were the chief incentive, but salt works, escape from the czar’s rule and his justice, silver mines, mammoth ivory,and exploitable natives were supplementary attractions. Half round the world is only a mild exaggeration. …

Yermak Timofeyevich, born sometime between 1532 and 1542 – August 5 or 6, 1585
Yermak Timofeyevich, born sometime between 1532 and 1542 – August 5 or 6, 1585

“Stroganof’s salt mines in the Urals served as the point of departure, and Yermak, quondam tracker along the Volga and more recently a river pirate, actually initiated the movement. He came to the salt mines in 1578 with almost a thousand Cossacks, a fugitive from the justice of Ivan the Terrible. For years Trans-Ural tribesmen had been bringing in valuable furs to trade, and Stroganof used this as a lure to speed the departure of his guests. He provided guides to conduct Yermak to the Ob with its reputed riches in sables.

EvX: “Yermak” is sometimes spelled “Ermak.”

“The Tatars resisted courageously. But except that they had horses and fought customarily as cavalrymen, they were at a disadvantage as great as that of the Aztecs against Cortes. Field artillery, firearm, arquebuses, and suits of mail gave the Cossacks victories over forces ten or even thirty times their number. After several battles Yermak captured Sibir, a Tatar village whose name was to be extended over all Siberia. His position was insecure, however, and gift of foodstuffs from non-Tatar tribes were very welcome. A present of sables was sent to the czar, who thereupon forgave these erstwhile river pirates, commissioned Yermak his agent, and sent him reinforcements.

Surikov's "The Conquest of Siberia by Yermak"
Surikov’s “The Conquest of Siberia by Yermak”

EvX: According to Wikipedia:

The Khanate of Sibir, also historically called the Khanate of Turan,[1][2] was a Turco-MongolKhanate located in southwestern Siberia. Throughout its history, rule over the Khanate was often contested between members of the Shaybanid and Taibugid dynasties; both of these competing tribes were direct patrilineal descendants of Genghis Khan through his eldest son Jochi and his fifth son Shayban (Shiban). The Sibir Khanate was itself once an integral part of the Mongol Empire, and later the White Horde and the Golden Horde.

The Sibir Khanate had an ethnically diverse population of Khanty, Mansi, Nenets, Selkup and Siberian Tatar people. The Sibir Khanate was the northernmost Muslim state in recorded history.

EvX: “Muslim” probably misrepresents the extent of conversion away from traditional steppe shamanism. The Khanate of Sibir only lasted for about 100 years, from 1490-1580 (khanates come and go.) The last Khan of Sibir, a fellow by the name of Kutchum, (or Kuchum) sealed his own fate when he decided to raid Stroganov’s trading posts, resulting in Yermak’s expedition.

But back to Caughey:

800px-ob_watershed“Old blind Kutchum Khan, in spite of frequent reverses, was still in the field against the Russians. On a stormy August night in 1584 he sent his cavalry against Yermak’s camp on the Irtysh. Completely surprised, this group of fifty Cossacks was annihilated. Yermak fought his way to the river, and seeing no other chance, plunged in, attempting to swim to the boats. His heavy armor dragged him to the bottom, where the Tatars discovered his corpse a few days later. They are said to have inflicted great indignities upon it and then to have buried it with equally great honors.

“Yermak’s defeat and death disheartened the Cossacks. They voted to abandon Sibir and retreat to Russia. A reinforcement met them on the way and they faced about toward Sibir, but Tartar forces prevented its reoccupation, and instead, Tobolsk was founded (1587) as the capital of this frontier.”

EvX: For thousands of years, horsemen have boiled out of the steppes, overwhelming, massacring, and raping the farmers of Europe and Asia. Wave upon wave of Indo-Europeans, (aka Yamnaya,) Tatars, Turks, Mongols, Khazars, and others conquered everything from the shores of Spain and Britain to the coast of China, from the tip of India to the frozen north of Siberia. Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes may have killed 40 million people in a single lifetime.

Finally the Russians conquered them back, and even–during the Soviet era–occupied Mongolia.

To be continued…

Degeneracy of Type

If “evolution” is a word that comes up a lot in the late 1800s (even before Darwin,) “degenerate” is the word of the 1930s and 40s.

In Kabloona, (1941) an ethnography of the Eskimo (Inuit) of northern Canada, de Poncins speaks highly of the “pure” Eskimo, whose ancestral way of life remains unsullied by contact with European culture, and negatively of the “degenerate Eskimo,” caught in the web of international trade, his lifestyle inexorably changed by proximity and contact with the West.

In Caughey’s History of the Pacific Coast, (1933) he writes:

The Northwest Coast Indians felt the ill effects of too much contact with British, Russian, and American traders. The rum of the trading schooners was one of several factors contributing to the degeneracy of those not actually exterminated.

In Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, (1939) Dr. Price argues that modern foods are low in nutrient value and inferior to many native, ancestral diets, and that the spread of this “white man’s food” caused an epidemic of disease, tooth decay, and skeletal mal-formation, which he documents extensively. Dr. Price refers to the change in appearance from one generation to the next, coinciding with the introduction of modern foods, as “interrupted heredity.” The parents represent “pure racial type,” with strong teeth and bones, while the children, bow-legged and sick, suffer physical degeneration.

(This kind of language that Dr. Price uses sometimes confuses us moderns, because we flinch reflexively at phrases like “racial type” when in fact his argument is the inverse of the racist arguments of his day.)

From SMBC--there's something wrong with this comic. I bet you can figure out what it is.
From SMBC–there’s something wrong with this comic. I bet you can figure out what it is.

Now, there is something twee about anthropologists (and historians) who long for the preservation of other peoples’ cultures when the people within those cultures seem to prefer modernity. Igloos and teepees may seem fun and exotic to those of us who don’t live in them, but the people who do might genuinely prefer a house with central heat and a toilet. Obviously the whole anthropologist schtick involves people who really like studying cultures that are distinct from their own, and if the people in those cultures adopt Western lifestyles, then there just isn’t much to study anymore.

(Imagine if we found out tomorrow that all of what we thought were variations in human DNA turned out to be contamination errors due to local pollen, and vast swathes of this blog became moot.)

It is easy to write off such notions as just feel-good sentimentalizing by outsiders, but these are at least outsiders with more first hand knowledge of these cultures than I have, so I think we should at least consider their ideas.

The degeneracy described as a result of contact with the West is not just physical or cultural, but also moral. A culture, fully-fledged, is one of humanity’s greatest technologies, a tool for the total transmission of a group’s knowledge, morals, and behaviors. Your ancestors, facing much the same environment as yourself, and armed with similar tools, struggled to obtain food, marry, raise children, and survive just as you do. The ones who succeeded passed down the lessons of their success, and these lessons became woven into the tapestry of culture you were raised in, saving you much of the trial-and error effort of reproducing your ancestors’ struggles.

picture-144Some people claim to believe that all cultures are equally valuable and important. I don’t. I think cultures that practice things like cannibalism, animal sacrifice, and child rape are bad and I don’t cry for their disappearance. But virtually every culture has at least some good features, or else it wouldn’t have come about in the first place.

Cultural lessons stem from the practical–“Ice the runners of your sled to make it run more smoothly”–to the moral–“Share your belongings in common with the tribe”–to the inscrutable–“don’t eat the totem animal.” (Some of these beliefs may be more important than others.) Throughout all of recorded human history, most of us have passed on bodies of moral teachings under the name of “religion,” whether we believe in the literal truth of mythic stories or not.

Rapid cultural change–not the gentle sort that percolates slowly across generations, but massive variety precipitated by an industrial revolution or the sudden introduction of a few thousand years’ worth of technological advancement to a long-isolated people–outstrips a society’s ability to provide meaningful moral or practical guidance. Simply put: people don’t know what to do.

Take alcohol. People have probably been producing fermented beverages for at least 10,000 years, or for about as long as we’ve been trying to store pots of grain and fruit. The French have wine, Mongolians have fermented horse milk, the Vikings fermented honey and the Founding Fathers drank a lot of apple cider.

Alcohol has beneficial effects–few pathogens survive the fermentation process–and obviously harmful effects. Societies that traditionally produced large quantities of alcohol have evolved social norms and institutions to help people enjoy the beneficial effects and avoid the bad ones. France, for example, which in 2014 produce 4.5 billion liters of wine and consumed 2.8 billion liters of the same, is not a nation of violent, wife-beating, car-crashing drunkards. French social norms emphasize moderate wine consumption accompanied by food, friends, and family.

By contrast, in societies where alcohol was suddenly introduced via contact with whites, people don’t have these norms, and the results–like rampant alcoholism on Native American reservations–have been disastrous. These societies can–and likely will–learn to handle alcohol, but it takes time.

chart_of_gonorrhea_infection_rates_usa_1941-2007Our own society is undergoing its own series of rapid changes–industrialization, urbanization, post-industrialization, the rise of the internet, etc. Andean cultures have been cultivating coca leaves for at least 3,000 years, apparently without much trouble, while the introduction of crack/cocaine to the US has been rather like dropping bombs on all of our major cities.

The invention of fairly reliable contraception and the counter-culture of the ’60s and ’70s led to the spread of “free love,” which in turn triggered skyrocketing gonorrhea rates. Luckily gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics (at least until it becomes antibiotic resistant,) but it’s still a nasty disease–one internet acquaintance of mine caught gonorrhea, took antibiotics and thought he was in the clear, but then doctors discovered that the inside of his penis was full of scar tissue that was dangerously closing off his bladder. They had basically cut him a new urethra once they were done removing all of the scar tissue, and he spent the next few months in constant, horrible pain, even while on medication.

latestAnd to add insult to injury, everyone in his social circle just thought he was bitter, jealous, and trying to make his ex-girlfriend look bad when he tried to warn them that they shouldn’t sleep with her because she gave him gonorrhea.

Of course, gonorrhea is just the tip of the horrifying iceberg.

By contrast, the Amish look pretty darn healthy.

Degeneracy isn’t just a sickness of the body; it’s a falling apart of all of the morals and customs that hold society together and give people meaning and direction in their lives. You don’t have to waste years trying to “find yourself” when you already have a purpose, but when you have no purpose but to feed yourself, it’s easy to become lost.

I should note that Dr. Price didn’t just examine the teeth of Eskimo and Aborigines, but also of Scots, Swiss, and Americans. His conclusion–nutritional degeneracy due to contact with modern foods–was the same regardless of culture. (Note: nutrition and food production have changed since 1939.) Or as Scott Alexander recently put it:

I am pretty sure there was, at one point, such a thing as western civilization. I think it involved things like dancing around maypoles and copying Latin manuscripts. At some point Thor might have been involved. That civilization is dead. It summoned an alien entity from beyond the void which devoured its summoner and is proceeding to eat the rest of the world.

Well, that sounds a fair bit more dire than Dr. Price’s assessment. Let’s assume Scott is being poetic and perhaps exaggerating for effect. Still: massive cultural changes can sweep the normative rug out from beneath your feet and leave you injured and confused. It will take time–perhaps centuries–for society to fully adjust to the technological changes of the past hundred years. Right now, everyone is still muddling through, trying to figure out what will kill us and what will save us.