The Iceman Inheritance by Michael Bradley was an eye-opening book for me. His theory on the origins of western racism, sexism, and aggression provides some important context in being able to grasp such heavy topics. Usually, when I read any writing from white people about white supremacy, institutionalize racism, white privilege or something related (Kivel, DiAngelo, McIntosh, Wise) the focus tends to be more towards the present and how whiteness interacts with the economic, political, and social systems created for its benefit. There may be some macro analysis intertwined with how it manifests itself on the micro level but nothing too far from the safe zone of what’s commonly expected from white educator/academics doing anti-racist work. They’re going to talk about privilege. They will mention fragility. They may even exasperatedly explain the hypocritical and inconsistent line of thinking from mainstream white America. However, Bradley takes it in a completely different direction all together and goes to the heart of these issues. This was a breath of fresh air. Although he wrote this book in 1978, everything that he asserts about western culture is still relevant today.
The introduction is written by Dr. John Henrike Clarke which is perhaps one of the best co-signs a (white) writer can get. If you’ve never studied any of his work, I highly recommend it. Here are some of Dr. Clarke’s quotes from the intro that I could not resist to highlight:
“Caucasians, in general, have an inferiority complex about their world position. If they were secure within their alleged superiority they would not have to shout it to the world.”
“Throughout their history, which is short in comparison to the history of other peoples, especially Africans and Asians, they have been astute record keepers, when it suited their purpose they have also been astute record changers. As a result the Europeans have caused us to read the history of the world in their favor.”
“Europeans have a tendency of proclaiming ideas to the world that they do not believe themselves and would not dare to live by if they are going to hold power over most of the people of the world.”
“The Christian Church was the handmaiden for the development of racism. While it propagated the theory that all men were created equal in the sight of God; in practice, it found all sorts of arguments to prove that non-European people, especially Black men, were inferior and could not be considered as men in the general sense.”
Bradley begins by illuminating how western notion of progress is actually detrimental for the entire planet. He provides three primary threats to humanity’s survival which has been directly connected to the west– nuclear war, environmental pollution, and resource rape. He ties this notion of progress with materialism. This form of progress allows the west to acquire more material objects and live in an extravagant manner compared to the majority of the world. What becomes noticeably clear is that within western culture there is an imbalance towards the material compared to the immaterial or spiritual. To live a good life is to posses material objects, “he who dies with the most toys wins.” For obvious reasons, you can see how this fundamental tenet of a civilization can be problematic when imposed upon everyone. He quotes Belgian anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, “…Our great Western civilization, which has created the marvels we now enjoy, has only succeeded in producing them at the cost of corresponding ills…” Sure the west’s conquest for natural resources have contributed to some of us having smart phones to catch Pokemon, luxury sedans to drive around in, and countless impulsive gifts for white elephant during Christmas but that price comes at the expense of making life on this planet increasingly unlivable for everyone. Is that really any progress that we want?
Bradley goes on to explain that the reason for this imbalance is because western culture has struggled with life’s paradoxes. He states, “Men of other races have shown themselves capable of accepting the paradoxes of human existence. We Caucasoids posses a [sic] uniquely inadequate psychology in this regard. We are unable to accept paradoxes and inconsistencies. For us, they become conflicts.” He goes on to say that western civilization can be characterized by this conflict of dualism. This is essentially the battle between the material and spiritual. He supports this claim with examples such as, the Christians against the Cathars, Protestants against the Catholics. The Allies against the Nazis. The “Free World” against “Communism.” He later writes, “We have achieved freedom of the individual only at the cost of natural knowledge of belonging in the world, at the cost of being alone in the cosmos.”
This dualistic intellectual conflict deeply embedded in the psychology of the west can be traced back to something unique to our species as humans Bradley writes. He posits that all humans experience this conflict but that it is much more pronounced within Europeans. This conflict is the Cronus complex. But before that’s explained let’s give some background. Many animals are territorial both in terms of geography and social positioning. Many animals will fight over these territories. Humans are similar in this regard. Furthermore, territory is often closely linked to identity, the area that you’re from many people attribute to a big portion of who they are. So if this territory is threatened that means there is a direct threat also to the person’s identity. However, what makes humans different from other animals, as far as we know, is that we are the only species that conceives time as another territory to be fought over and defended. That’s the Cronus complex. What makes this interesting is that if you’re fighting over the territory of time, that means your opponents are your parents and offspring.
You can see this manifest itself by the battle between generations. The older generation against the younger generation. Baby boomers vs millennials. The older generation will always be highly critical of the younger generations in various ways. Music. Leadership. Values. The list goes on. Conversely, the younger generations (by and large) are constantly striving to do better than the previous generations. Bradley states, “the past must be surpassed and the future must be held back.” Read Cronus myth.
Now if this form of territory is also to be fought over and part of the threat is coming from our children, why don’t people just stop having kids and then problem solved? Well that would work but then our species as a whole would cease to exist. Plus, nature was wise in making sex such a pleasurable experience. So now you can see this potentially psycho-sexual conflict right? On one hand we go towards sexual stimulation but on the other hand we try to avoid reproduction. Think of the opening lines to R. Kelly’s Bump and Grind.
Bradley explains that two factors that influence this conflicting behavior is environment and sexual adaption. Basically, if you’re from an environment that is rich with natural resources and you have a lot of sex then this Cronus complex will not overcome you. Now think about the environment where many people of color originate from? These regions are a lot closer to the equator. They have always been been abundant with resources. Then think about the value of sex from these areas. Many melanated cultures did not have the same strict and repressive views on sex compared to European cultures. If they do now, it’s only after the imposition of European colonialism.
So what about white people?
Well Bradley writes that Europeans evolved in a glacial environment. So being that Europeans spent thousands of years in the frigid ice blocks of Europe, where the natural resources were scarce, which had a direct affect on sexual activity, the Cronus complex impacted Europeans far greater than other people. Additionally, when you consider that this glacial environment made life very challenging and in order to survive such a harsh and hostile place Europeans had to be more aggressive. Bradley says that this was how white people adapted to their icy surroundings.They had to compete for everything. They had to fight to survive. Differences were distrusted. Fear of death was common. Individualism was important. All of these factors played a role in shaping western civilization and the psychology of white people today.
So if this complex is more pronounced in Europeans and they had to be extremely aggressive due to their environment, that means as a social group, they are more territorial with time than other groups. They are more so ready to fight over and defend their perceived temporal territory. Which means that generally speaking, there’s more internal conflict going on within Europeans compared to other people. This internal conflict has manifested itself in all other areas of life in the west. As we can see with the general direction that the world is heading (led by the west), this internal conflict of the west is leading everyone off of the same cliff.
I could write more about the book but I’ll leave it at that. This blog is already too long. Although it should be too obvious to mention, I’ll state it anyways, that this book was written in terms of generalities and not all white people are impacted the same by this behavior.
The biggest takeaway I got from the book was that it’s incredibly important to learn the history of white people. Often times people are exposed to history told by white people but not history of white people. That distinction makes a world of difference. Being half white myself, I find it imperative to better understand where I come from. Granted, Michael Bradley’s book is merely a theory about white people which must be kept in mind, but after learning it and then comparing it with the evidence of the world around me, it’s difficult not to give it some credence.