Doing Damage

Western arrogance has been the cause of untold suffering through the last few hundred years.  Longer than that, if you go all the way back to Rome.  But let’s just concentrate on the modern “west.”  Let’s start with colonization.  Traveling around and checking other places out is a pretty good deal.  It’s what we’re programmed to do as humans.  But dragging our civilization’s baggage around with us and inflicting it on peoples who have their own ways?  Reprehensible.  At least the Romans didn’t give a rat’s ass who you worshipped.  They just wanted levies for Rome and whatever they could squeeze out in taxes.  In exchange they got roads and a rule of law.

What the west did was declare its version of Christianity (whichever sect was ascendant at the time) the one and true path to enlightenment, and that the culture of its bearers–be they British or Spanish or French or what have you–was superior to all others it encountered.

We weren’t alone in such assumptions, but we sure seemed to be the ones who took most to heart the notion that everyone else needed our protection and guidance to become our version of civilized.  Other cultures might have looked down on “savage” cultures, but they didn’t feel obliged to turn them into little clones of themselves.  There is no non-European version of the “White Man’s Burden,” for example.

It is my contention that many of the cultures we encountered and tried to eradicate, pushing our version of the “Truth,” were quite possibly MORE advanced socially and politically than we were.  Technologically, perhaps not.  Maybe they remained in the stone age with regards to tool creation and use.  So what?  Many of the Native American tribes understood democracy better than the white man did.  They understood that life was about more than the acquisition of goods, and those who acquired wealth were made more wealthy in the sharing of it.  There were tribes that women ran, while the men performed most of the more physical tasks.

This is also true of African tribes as well.  Those who understood that they were in it together and that cooperation worked better than competition.

I think we missed out on many chances to learn some very important things from the “less advanced” cultures we conquered and subsumed.  And make no mistake… that’s what cultural appropriation is.  The assumption of rights to cultures we absorbed for our own purposes.

It isn’t “honoring” a people we did our best to destroy, culturally if not physically.  The Bureau of Indian Affairs was initially created with the express purpose of integrating the tribes into the whole and getting rid of the tribes altogether.  And while some accounts of the indian schools are exaggerated, some might say, there’s enough evidence of deliberate attempts to Christianize and otherwise erase the culture of the natives.

I can understand the anger some Native Americans feel when parts of their culture are mimicked by whites… be it a caricature or some new age misinterpretation of their beliefs.  I do understand it.  Particularly the former.  The latter I tend to see another way.  Some of us recognize some of the inherent truths in some of the belief systems we did everything we could to wipe out.  None of us were served by not recognizing the value of a connection to the land and waters.  If we fail to recognize that connection, we risk every living thing on Earth.