One thing that was customary in the so-called Old World was the domestication of animals, whereas the New World specialized in the domestication and development of new species of plants. Plants like corn and beans and so forth. Most of them have the property of being herbal in nature. We seldom think of food as having--you know, being good for us, being food that cures.
Of course, in 1480, the--I don't know what you call them, "Natives," I guess--because America is just another Italian... Anyhow, whoever lived here were extremely healthy, they had a life expectancy much longer than that of Europeans at the time. On his second voyage, in 1492, Columbus bought 1,200 specimens of things: men, seeds, cuttings for planting chic peas, wheat, melons, onions, radishes, salad greens, sugar cane, and fruit stalks for planting orchards.
As far as disease is concerned--strongly, debate still goes on, regarding the origin of syphilis -- it is however the only ambiguous case of serious disease. All of the diseases transmitted from one continent to another, went Westward.
Smallpox, measles, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, cholera, diphtheria, plague, etc... This, now,--it mentions tuberculosis here but what causes tuberculosis? Is it the tuberculosis bacilli that causes it? Or is it poverty and malnutrition?
It doesn't take much thinking to decide that, ah, it's not the germs really. It gives you some idea how serious these epidemics were, at Mandan, which you may have seen George Tatlin's painting of, at the beginning of 1837, there were 1600 people. In July, only about 31 were left.
The Europeans also had other bad habits, such as associating physical labor with status. It was hard for them--you must remember that Cortez was a contemporary of Henry VIII. It gives you one idea why the Europeans were unhealthy -- they had so much clothing on.
In one famous formulation of this idea, of this kind of view, the amoeba and Einstein used the same method, which is trial and error.
If truth were equated with that which increases the probability of survival, then science would certainly be untrue because it increases the possibility of non-survival through various types of human or natural disaster. But, the Europeans had always been willing to exchange good health for cultural complexity. They would rather see a clock tick than live--ha ha, after they'd invented one--ten years longer. Their fascination with machinery is very strange.
Another thing that's typical of the Western hemisphere are the child training practices, that lead to theories on 'aggression' that Lorenz and Konburgen and Morris, etc, consider innate and universal. But this is untrue. Ashley Montague made an analysis of a great number of cultures, and... it usually revolves around people who are emotionally deprived. I don't have to go into this because you already know it.
[The above remarks are from an impromptu talk Mr. Smith delivered at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado in 1990 to a gathering of students, faculty and guests. The transcription is by Eric Malone.]
Harry Smith (1923-1991) was a filmmaker, ethnomusicologist, painter and 'underground', cultural icon of the last half of the 20th C. The photograph at top is by his good friend and patron Allen Ginsberg.