We live in a culture of convenience. Convenience both in the availability to get almost anything we desire within a short time frame and convenience in our quick-shifting morals. One is just the side-effect, or perhaps main effect, of cultural and technological evolution – it’s easier to get the things we want because we have developed ways to get those things more quickly and easily. The convenience of our morals is a different story though. Our morals are always in motion, always changing, and always under construction. This is an effect of an ever-expanding view of the world and of the human race and human experience. Knowledge is the driving force, usually. There are times though when we get so caught up in the moment that we lose the long view. Times where our momentary outrage fuels us to raise the war banners and to figuratively (and sometimes literally) march against the ‘system’. This is far from a bad thing, it’s a necessary thing. We need the checks and balances to keep things centered and not leaning to one side or the other too much. The middle may be boring but it gives you a pretty clear vantage point to see both sides of an issue. Some issues demand you choose that side but most don’t, we often just choose the side which we think makes us look best and when it comes to social media’s cult of righteousness most of us try to steer clear of the mess or try to get on the side of the issue that we mostly believe in…and which makes us look best.
The fact is that most of us want a fair, a just, a safe world. We want people to be happy and healthy and to have opportunities to reach their dreams. We also don’t want to look stupid, or wrong, or bad ourselves. With the shifting sands of cultural morality it isn’t always easy to stay in the middle and often we start to fall into quicksand if we move too far away from that safe place. Ah, but life isn’t always about safety, is it? Nor is it always about the short view.
Our American culture seems to forever be at odds about what we are and how we were formed. America has a lot of blood on it and we have built our modern society on top of a lot of bodies. You can’t ignore that, and you can’t wish it away. The first people came to America looking for a new home, castaways, but they and their children and their children’s children became tyrants and slave owners while they forged what they saw as a wild nation into an image that better mirrored what they had known before. The American people will always, always have that blood on our hands. And yes, absolutely this is a burden that white people share more than any other race because we were and still are the holders of most of the power in this nation. There comes a point though where all Americans must shoulder the burden of blood. You can choose whatever burden you want to bear, and point your finger wherever you want but the fact is that our country and how it is at this moment came because of the oft-times violent and bloody history that forged it. We can’t wish the nation had come together differently. We can’t wish that away. We can’t step aside and shirk that blame. But this sort of blame is an ethereal thing that isn’t about your hands being bloody but more about your feet being bloody. You can deny it all you want but we live in a world built from the spoils of wars that were waged in our name whether we liked it or not. The Future, always the Future, and now that future is us, and the Future will soon be our children and onward so what do we do?
We work to do better.
When faced with the overwhelming sensation that wrongs have been committed, things worse than the word wrong, crimes against our very humanity, we can shut down. We can dig ourselves into the ground and bury our heads in the dirt so that we are face to face with the skulls of our cultural and societal ancestors. Some of us will take those same bones, the foundation of our country, and will build palaces, eschewing any sense of responsibility or debt to the past and watching the rest of the world from thrones made of skulls. But maybe there’s a third option that most of us try to live without seeing it. Perhaps we can build a modest world atop the past, a world that remembers them and honors all that was lost, all that sacrificed, and all that was stolen away. Perhaps we can build a world that examines where we are and why we are here and keeps asking if we are better than we were.
It’s not a perfect option but it’s the option that lets us move forward.
Because we have to move forward.
There is no changing the past and what happened so all we can do is to remember it, honor it, and do better than it. The fact is that this is a world fed by blood and built by bone. That is humanity. We have built ladders from the bones of our enemies and those we thought were weaker to reach higher and higher and this is where we are now, in an era that affords us the opportunity to re-examine how we got here and how we chose to get where we are. Many of our holidays, our memories, and our many of the things we honor are built on half-truths. So what do we do?
We find our own truth. We make our own traditions, and we find ways to make the established ways reflect our changed perceptions. We have developed a very convenient habit of pointing to the past and proclaiming ‘SEE, see how evil they all are!’ when that isn’t the case at all. It isn’t fair to judge every person and every time by modern standards. It’d be swell and awfully convenient if we could but unfortunately that’s the growing pain of cultural evolution – it takes time and it takes mistakes to really understand the ramifications of our actions. Some things are clear, some issues easy to see the Right and Wrong side of, but that isn’t always for us to tell people what they should have done and believed. Again, some things are universal, but we live in a world of gray where the shifting sands of morality can bury people who were once revered. We need to look to the past to educate ourselves on where we came from, what we have done, and how we can do better. We need to keep it as a warning but also as an inspiration because we cannot damn all people and all times when great things have been achieved without harming people or destroying their culture. We can’t look at everything we hold dear now and damn it because we feel it’s tainted. Culture evolves and with it so do our holidays and traditions. Columbus Day should disappear. Thanksgiving shouldn’t. Thanksgiving is born out of misrepresented history, much like most holidays, but not out of a harmful lie. It’s the story of the Native Americans essentially rescuing the Pilgrims when they were going to starve to death. The truth of it is not quite so convenient, nor is the legacy that came from it, but we cannot damn the core of it for what came after. It’s not fair to the past, and it’s not fair to us. YES, remember the genocide, but remember that that day is meant to give thanks, to one another, for what we have. Not a lot of evil in that. If you want to take that as a day to teach about the Native American genocide that was perpetrated, or the lies of the past, or just to spend time with family and friends and eat and be merry then so be it. How dare anyone try to dictate how we should celebrate it though? With Columbus Day it’s different. We are celebrating a man’s myth that has been perpetuated so much that we think it to be true. Columbus was a product of his time but that does not wash the blood from him or his crew and celebrating what they did serves no one save for an outdated agenda from those that began the holiday in the first place. Columbus was no hero. He was a voyager who became a conqueror and while we shouldn’t forget him, we sure as heck should not revere him publicly either.
We make our own reality and we make our own truth. It’s not unfair to tell people how to think and act, it’s wrong. We have to find our own paths and we do that from learning from our collective pasts and our individual pasts. We do it over time. I’d love to say that I had a broad, intelligent view of the world when I was a kid, but I didn’t. I said and did things that I am not proud of now but then as an adult I have done things and said things that my younger self would be ashamed of as well. We learn. We grow. We evolve. As a culture and as people. If someone is bold enough to lay their personal history bare to the bone, good, bad, ugly, and beautiful, for all to judge, then have at it. We can portray ourselves however we like to the people around us but our history speaks for itself. The same goes for this nation called America. We have done a lot of bad things and continue to do bad things but we have learned, and we are still learning and as such there is hope. We cannot hide from our past. We cannot pretend that there is not an ocean of blood beneath our cities. But we can learn from the past, we can remember it, we can honor it, and hopefully we can start to earn this land that was taken. How about we spend less time pointing our fingers at one another and telling each other how wrong, and evil we all are and we start finding the common ground that we share and find ways to learn from one another? How about we get off all of our soapboxes and teach one another and stop preaching at one another? We have a lot to learn from one another, and from the past, and the sooner we start to remember that the sooner we can start working to make a world we can all be proud to be a part of.