Book Review: The Organic Machine by Richard White
Due to the ever-changing landscape of our planet, the human species has been able to travel far and wide across the globe. There are many examples of this, ranging from the great human migration, to the conquest of other lands by power-hungry nations. There have been innumerable instances in which both nature and mankind have had a substantial impact on one another. In the book The Organic Machine, Richard White shares this opinion, and demonstrates many examples of the impact that nature and mankind had on each other through situations relating to the Columbia River. The influence nature and mankind have over one another is demonstrated in Richard white’s book and in the world we live in today through circumstances related to race, and disease.
We live in a world in which even race, a biological factor, has substantial control over the history of many individuals up to this point in human history. White brings up an instance in which even the color of your skin had a lot of control over how you were treated when there was a lot of work going on around the Columbia river. “But the same machines that masked labor also created new opportunities for labor. Development along the Columbia brought in workers from all over the world: Chinese Norwegians, Italians, Finns, and others...White fishermen denied the river to the Chinese whose competition they feared...But many whites regarded Indians and treaties as archaic nuisances they shoved the indians aside when they could,”(White 38-39). In this situation, people of white descent had a great deal of control over the Columbia river’s best fishing Areas. They denied these areas from the many Chinese workers that had just recently immigrated. And, they broke the promises that they had made with the Native Americans as well. This is a demonstration of the difference the color of your skin made in your abilities at this time. The color of our skin is something that we have no control over and is only decided by nature itself. Due to nature and its effect on our skin color, the Native American’s and the many Chinese Americans were mistreated and were unable to do anything at the time as they were opposed by many Caucasian men that did not want to have any extra competitors. These types of racial problems still persist even in the society that we live in today. This is especially apparent in relation to African Americans in today's Society, “The typical non-Hispanic black household has accumulated only about one-tenth the wealth of a typical non-Hispanic white family. That gap stems in part from lower rates of home ownership and smaller inheritance among blacks,”(Luhby). African Americans in society today have a significantly lower median income then those of white descent. During the time of our society's economic boom in the 1900s, African Americans were basically not allowed to invest, or buy into real estate unlike other races. Race is something that we have no control over, and even in today’s society the racism that many races had faced throughout our history is still taking effect. People have no choice in what race they are born as, that is something that is only decided by nature, and this choice alone has caused many problems in the history of mankind that even persist in modern times.
The impacts that nature and mankind have on each other are apparent when looking at the effects of mankind's actions on the spread of diseases in our history. When colonists first came to America, they brought many diseases that would have a very large impact on the Native American population, “The Indians told Thompson that Kocomenepeca had told them that whites had brought the smallpox to destroy them, and “also that two men of enormous size are on their way to us...Disease did come, and big men would eventually come and bury the villages under earth and water...The smallpox had already struck twice, forcing the abandonment of entire towns,”(White 26). Diseases brought by colonizers devastated Native American villages and made it so that Native Americans had to leave their towns. Smallpox was a disease that had a very large impact on 18th century Europe, and when Europeans brought this disease over to America it then had a very large impact on the Native Americans that had not been able to build up any resilience to the virus, “the devastating effects of smallpox....That pandemic was part of a biological catastrophe that eventually wiped out an estimated 90% of native people in North America,”(Blake). The Colonization of America was a historical event that caused a natural disease to ravage through the entire Native American population. In present day, the actions of one nation brought a pandemic upon the entire world, “A new study that found traces of coronavirus in US blood samples from December last year is adding to the evidence that the virus was circulating for months before China announced its existence, casting more shadows over the truth about the pandemic and fuelling suspicions of a cover-up by Beijing...evidence proving the virus was all over the Western world weeks and even months before China declared the first cases to the world health organization on December 31,” (Blanchard). There is evidence that Covid-19 had actually spread much earlier than when China released the warnings in December. Their actions caused the Coronavirus to get to the point that it is at today. If they had decided to tell the world sooner; than millions of lives could have been saved. The two situations are fairly similar; if Europeans had not decided to colonize America then Millions of Native American lives would have been saved, and if China had not covered up the news of Covid-19 then millions of lives would have also been saved. The idea of a wide-spread disease has been shown to be caused by the actions of man. Thus, the spread of fatal natural diseases can be attributed to the actions of man himself.
Both in present times, and in Richard Whites book we see the connection shared between human history and natural history. This correlation is clearly demonstrated throughout the book and in our present day lives through mankind's contribution to the spread of diseases, and the inequality that still persists today due to race. Colonization has always been a common occurrence amongst the many different nations in our human-timeline, and with it many diseases were introduced to many unexpecting individuals around the world. We learned about the very large impact smallpox had on the Native American population, and this only occurred due to the actions of man. And, the cause of the now wide-spread CoronaVirus, was due to the actions of the Chinese government. Race has been something that has always seemed to separate us throughout our history; many individuals even today are still feeling the effects of the racism that they had to face in the past hundreds of years. Just like how the Native Americans, and the Chinese felt when it came to fishing on the Columbia River, even in today's society many African Americans are still feeling the everlasting effects of the racial discrimination that they had faced. Thus, when it comes to anything natural or historical, they will always have caused or have been affected by each other.