Monday, October 8, 2012

Rather than spending a day celebrating or denigrating this particular 15th century adventurer, I could wish for a "Colonialism Day" - akin to Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of reflection and atonement.  It should be a day to think on the human genius for exploration, discovery, exploitation and genocide.  

There are many things I value about our civilization and the civilizations we are sprung from -- but for all the glories draped upon their shoulders, each stands knee deep in blood and human suffering.  Pretending otherwise seems a dangerous and damaging delusion.  

This should be a day to reflect from our imperial heights - even as we each push in our own ways to make the world a better place - even as our nation's bombs fall in Asia - even as our policies ensure that the goods that flow towards us are wrung from the labor of the world's poor and vulnerable.

If we build our own standard of living on suffering and the stunting of others' lives, we should at the very least know that fact.  

Even if on that day the stale pleasures of consumerism turn to ashes in our mouths.


  1. That is a fantastic idea. And I love how you mention the light an dark sides - the genius for discovery as well as the knee-deep blood. Some things that spring to mind immediately as topics for reflection include the fact that however awful some of the ramifications, it is also true that the exchange of ideas, foods, animals, plants, and human genes has led to a great enriching of the human experience globally. Also: it is probably true that the conquistadors truly saw themselves as engaged in a noble endeavor vis-a-vis the natives, just as the manifest destiny crowd up here in North America (mostly) did. To what noble ideas are we ourselves currently in thrall? Looking at the history of colonialism with a cold, informed eye, what can we infer about which policies of ours today will not stand up to the march of justice over the coming centuries?

  2. Thanks Aimee. These are big, difficult questions, but they are central to our civilization, and I think that's why we should devote a lot more time and energy and spirit to thinking or debating about them - even if ignoring them seems more sensible.