people or dolphins? and the conquest of the Americas

The other day I encountered this quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, excerpted in Angrist & Pischke’s Mostly Harmless Econometrics:

On the planet earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars and so on – while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time.  But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man – for precisely the same reasons. (MHE, p11)

which is funny and clever.  Then I read this quote in Luís Fernando Veríssimo’s Borges and the Eternal Orangutans:

Rotkopf…said that he did not understand the modern lament that the conquest of Latin America had been a cultural violation.  There had been no conquest, the natives had won, and the indolent, fatalistic culture still dominated the continent.  They merely allowed the whites to think they were in charge in order to expose them to constant frustration and ridicule.  (B&EO, tr from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa, p15)

which reminded me of the HGG quote except for the massive body count of indigenous persons (as well as the racism of Rotkopf’s initial evaluation of native culture).

Of course, the dolphins have had a pretty massive body count at the hands of humans as well, so maybe Adams was wrong after all.

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