A couple of years back, we started a very interesting trend, and that was to begin to question our histories of numerous different events in our past. This sort of thing started happening (more frequently) back when I was in grade school, which means about the 1970s, as this was the first time I remember having a discussion on the simple premise that “Columbus discovered America”. Back then, I remember the teacher talking about how there were already Native Americans here, so, in fact, Columbus discovered an area that was already discovered, and thus, really didn’t do anything but reveal it to the rest of European society. Back then, in the 1970s, that was the extent of our reconstruction of history. We focused on the event, and we were told to question the facts. So we did. Now fast forward thirty years later, and we’re no longer just questioning the events, but we’re now focusing our attention on whether or not these events were for the good of mankind in the first place.
The discussion of Columbus today isn’t whether or not he first discovered America, which most people no longer believe, but now we seem to be heavily focused on the horrible atrocities that were conducted in his name, and mostly because of his “discovery” of the new world. Elias Isquith argues that Columbus was so bad that 5 historical monsters in history were less evil than he was. When you’re being compared unfavorably to Oliver Cromwell, dictator Francisco Franco, Suharto, Milosevic, and Saddam Hussein, you’re losing your positive spin on the minds of most people. Not to mention a scathing report that was delivered by Jonn Oliver asking how a Columbus holiday could still be a thing, well, let’s just say that the Columbus camp isn’t doing so well these days.
During a class last week, I was trying to introduce the concept of how Columbus was currently being ridiculed where he once was hailed, a student took offense at Columbus’s name and didn’t seem to even realize that she was making the same point my lecture was doing because she was so incensed at the atrocities the guy committed that she couldn’t understand how the mention of him shouldn’t cause her to stop thinking and just be angry, even though the point of the lecture was to point out exactly what she was trying to argue. Talk about a bad reputation. It would be a lot like saying you can’t about the bad things Hitler might have done because Hitler did bad things. Yeah, I know, bringing up Hitler leads to the end of the Internet, but it’s just to make a point. Right now, people see Columbus as that bad, and that didn’t used to be the case.
What I tend to see happening is a mass effort to deconstruct a lot of our past histories. Some years back (not too many back), there was a sincere attempt to ridicule Thomas Jefferson for owning slaves. This turned into an absurd argument because where it began as “Thomas Jefferson had slaves, so he’s bad”, it eventually devolved into “but he couldn’t be all bad because he did serve as the liberal voice behind the founding of the United States, and that’s gotta stand for something, right?” Then the debate turned into one of those “well, you had to understand the people of that time to realize why they did what they did”, which is always right around the corner from “we’re so much more enlightened today than they were back then” (even if we’re talking about something that happened fifteen minutes ago).
The simple logic should tell most people that everyone is flawed. Sure, while there’s a Sister Teresa for every several thousand people, the majority of people are Donald Trumps or Kardashians, who want to get rich, famous or, for simple vulgarity, just want to have sex with more people than they did the day before. We like to think that we’re evolved, enlightened and so much better than our forefathers, but we’re really not. We see that whenever we end up in a situation where government collapses, a cop kills someone of a different racial identity, the power goes out for more than a couple of hours, or any other number of events that remind us that we’re not that much more evolved than we’d like to think we are. Yet, for some reason, we keep coming away from these situations convinced that we’re somehow better than we were before, yet we keep following the axiom of not changing anything and always being surprised at the fact that history always repeats itself, including the usage of that phrase. The only thing we’re really actually good at is not learning, which is good because it’s one of the things that we do especially well.