Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I knew it began with a V...

...but was it Vespucci, Valdini, Velconti, fuck me if I couldn't think of it, and my consternation in not being able to find it ruined the whole essay from yesterday, or most of it, I think.

So, it was the Vivaldi Divergence I was trying to think of! Goddamnit! And now I'm going to see if I'm the only that wrote anything about it, and apparently not, for there is a thread on the alternate history forum which at least documents the voyage of Vandino and Ugolino Vivaldi in 1291. They don't go where I thought it should go, chronicling a fictional voyage down the west coast of Africa, with a mutually beneficial trade to follow.
Cape Verde

I, on the other hand, knowing something of the winds and currents in that part of the Atlantic, know that if you wish to go anywhere south of Africa past Cape Verde, you must sail far to the west, and then the Guinea current and the NE trade winds will take you back onto the coast and so further south. To do otherwise is go no further than Dakar.

But, if you go too far west... which the brothers did not do, you are caught up in the Canaries current and fight the SE trade winds, and it takes you straight to the Caribbean, and thence up the eastern coast of North America.

And so, to quote myself (and is it me, or am I less lacking in poesy this past year or so, for it appears I was a more accomplished writer with:

"...had the brothers Vandino and Ugolino Vivaldi, in 1291, set sail from Genoa to find a route to India, stumbled upon North America. The brothers and their Majorcan crew, raving from starvation and thirst, barely recognizable as human, nursed back to health by Waccamaw natives. And then, of course, the Great Dying starts, as the natives succumb to smallpox, measles, influenza, bubonic and pneumonic plagues, mow down the peoples, spreading across the continent, and then southwards through South America, until finally, in mere decades 30 million people are dead. The New World depopulated, the Inadvertent Spanish Holocaust occurring 200 years earlier. And in Europe, as in our own world, the Vivaldis vanished, and forgotten, until Columbus arrives in 1491, to a renewed and resistant population of American Indians. Only this time, they do not succumb to disease. The Spaniards, the Portuguese, the English and French unable to gain a foothold in the New World. No Conquest. No colonies. Forced to trade on an equal basis, perhaps at a disadvantage, perhaps even enslaved, in their encounters with the American Indians, what a very interesting modern world that would be".

And there I left it. Pity. Because that is a very interesting scenario, of at least a dozen flavors.

So, back on track from yesterday, but a lot less melodramatic. Certainly the circumstances of a withered and powerless Europe would not be totally such as I had envisioned them. Certainly some parasitic, asshole-niche dominated form of corporate capitalism would be in place today as the System of the World.

Elizabethan England, with only a slightly modernized but still in many ways viciously medieval hierarchy, already had the first glimmerings of out current capitalist system. And by the time of James II, England already had significant holdings in both west Africa (along the Bight of Biafra) and eastern India (Bengal).  So, the Atlantic trade which boosted manufactures throughout the British Isles (and through the textile industries, the Industrial Revolution) is still in play. Coal is being mined for fuel all the way back in the 1100s, and so the Steam Age is inevitable.

But I've changed my mind on the impact a 'superior' technology will have with respect to interacting cultures. Humans are too readily adaptable to be cowed or impressed into submission for very long. The smug and smarmy revisionist historical accounts of the natives cowering in admiration of the "high achieving" European techno prowess just does not in any way jibe with the actual encounters.

We know that the New England Indians were only temporarily impressed with the gunpowder and "firesticks" of, from appearances, the pale, scrawny, flimsy, pockmarked, stunted little goblins from England. They appreciated the steel knives and iron pots and pans, but could as easily have done without (and on more than one occasion, made clear to the English they would prefer more goods than English). But the Indians were hardly impressed with the European peoples they encountered, (and, in fact, quite sophisticated and selective in the quality they were offered!) There was certainly no chance of any superstitious or supernatural feelings of inferiority towards the Europeans.

So, an Atlantic trade certainly, but more on the terms of the Indians than the Europeans. And highly, extremely doubtful there would be any of the allowed colonizing of the eastern seaboard of North America by European powers, given the actual histories of Jamestown and Roanoke.

Aside from that, I really have no idea how the rest of European or North and South American history plays out. Certainly completely alien as far the Western Hemisphere is concerned.

Still, I think a reasonable guess is, with Spain out of the picture, from lack of precious metals flowing in to fund Empire, you see France in an even more strong position than before. I think, because the internal societal trends were already there, Netherlands and Germany still head towards the Westphalian nation-state, and perhaps Germany, with a more formidable France to contend with, might actually unify sooner. But smart money says the establishment of absolutist monarchies (via the French/Swedish model) works it way pretty effectively throughout Europe.

Which probably means, given what we've seen with those model nation states's ownership of production over time, the state becomes moderated into some socialist or managed corporate system, because inevitably the peasants and peons get tired of all the crap.

Meaning what? I don't know, but we have to remember that charters for incorporation were controlled by either royal decree or through parliamentary fiat, so one can only assume that those in power would be incentivized to remain in power, and be unlikely to allow corporate capture of civil and state institutions.

Unless, of course, there was something in for them.

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