The Importance of Spices

Spices – cinammon, pepper, cardamon, ginger, etc. etc. – are a very historically significant thing. Their nature – luxurious resources with great local variation – made them ideally suited as a good to be traded over long distances. For thousands of years the carrying of spices back and forth between Europe, Africa, and Asia, i.e. from one end of the mega-continent to the other, was a major component of international trade.

This served as a stimulus to the development of trade routes, and was a major factor in motivating voyages of exploration – such as that which led Europeans to go around the cape of Africa, to discover the Americas, and to circumnavigate the globe.

This expansion of trade and tying together of different parts of the world – the beginnings of the ‘world market’ – was a key component of the rise of capitalism. Similarly, the parts of Europe that, for a long time, were most attuned to capitalistic needs – Renaissance Italy, especially Venice, with their growth in scientific free-thought and financial innovations – held that position partly because they controlled the flow of spices coming into the Mediterranean from the red sea.

So spices – dried or powdered plants added to food in non-nutrititive quantities to affect flavour – played a key role in the rise of capitalism, and more broadly were a key pillar of ‘capitalists’ for most of history, even when they were merely merchants at the periphery of non-capitalist societies.

Just FYI

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance day. I won’t add my voice to those saying how barbaric, how atrocious, how hideous and criminal and horrifying the Holocaust was, though of course it was. Rather, I want to suggest something else: it was pathetic.

This is important because I doubt many prominent Nazis would have been much bothered by being told how horrifying and immoral their actions were. Indeed I imagine they might well have been pleased to hear such things. In a wartime novel, Arthur Koestler makes a philosophical Nazi give the following speech:

“We have embarked on something – something grandiose and gigantic beyond imaginination. There are no more impossibilities for man now. For the first time we are attacking the biological structure of the race. We have started to breed a new species of Homo sapiens.

We have practically finished the task of exterminating or sterilising the gipsies in Europe; the liquidation of the Jews will be completed in a year or two. Personally I am fond of gipsy music and a clever Jew amuses me in a way; but we had to get rid of the nomadic gene, with its asocial and anarchic components, in the human chromosome.”

How pointless would it be to tell this person that what they were doing would go down as the greatest single crime in human history? Indeed, it would probably thrill him. Eggs and omelettes would no doubt be mentioned. The violation of every ethical principle is not a source of shame but of pride. It is by breaking ‘the rules’ that you prove how powerful, how truly liberated you are.

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Iranian Racist Accuses Israel of Racism: Western Racists Outraged

This isn’t really a post about racism, as much as one about the idea of an ‘artificial’ state. According to the Iranian state, Israel is “an artificial creation of the West”. It is an alien entity with no right to exist in Arab land.

Now this is, in a sense, true. Israel was created by a sort of ‘artifice’. But it applies equally to Iran and every other state in the region.

What would be a viable criterion of ‘artifice’ vs. ‘nature’ in the formation of political set-ups? As in many areas, we have to move away from external impressions, judgements of naturalness that come from looking at the region and feeling something – that it is ‘natural’ for Christians to live there but not Buddhists, Arabs but not Turks, theocracies but not secular dictatorships, etc. Everyone can give a different judgement of that, we would never be finished.

An objective criterion of artificial/natural would have to come from the experiences of the people involved. And I can think of no better criterion than violent/voluntary change. A political change that results from people doing what they themselves want to do is a natural change, while one that results from people being compelled to do what they don’t want to do by the threat or reality of violence is artificial. Do we not often speak of sudden unexpected events as ‘violent’?

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