11 October 2010

A Comment on a Comment on Columbus Day

The night before Columbus Day, I read a comment on a social network that suggested each one of us celebrate the day by walking into someone’s house and declaring it ours, essentially kicking out the owners of the house. This post struck me as harmful for one reason in particular.

The comment reveals a belief that loathing history is more important to some than learning from the past. To think that Columbus – or Westerners for that matter – was unique in that his actions displaced indigenous people is contrary to reality. Indeed, throughout history the expansion of one people or country has come at the cost of another. There is a level of self-loathing, then, coupled with demonizing Columbus, his supposed ill-gotten gains being the beginning steps of the very country which allows folks to make comments on social networks. It is akin to despising the house in which one lives, declaring its builder and financer evil people, and yet refusing to move out of the house. Nevertheless, not a few Americans live within this contradiction. I see this condition as very unhealthy for the country because it seems to constantly point backward with a damning finger instead of seriously considering lessons which ought to be (and in some significant ways, have) learned and proceeding with greater wisdom.

On the other hand, the former is much easier and ideologically safer to do than the latter – which explains much. George Orwell wrote in 1984, “Orthodoxy means not thinking - not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” Thinking is a difficult business; it is human nature to avoid difficult tasks if they can be avoided. Orthodoxy provides the road. But, I think, it is healthier to question ourselves, our pasts, and our values not so that we can look critically backwards but so that we make a habit of carrying valid lessons forward.


Jarrod Bolin said...

I see the opposite extreme of this attitude dangerous as well: Hyper American Exceptionalism. To believe that we are better than other people simply because of who we are (especially when coupled with religious fervor and/or exceptionalism) means that we don't have to learn from the past, and we could very well make similar mistakes. After all, we're exceptional, and our potential victims are, by that definition, not.

Bob M. said...


I think what you call hyper American exceptionalism I would characterize more as an arrogant sense of entitlement. Exceptionalism is earned; entitlements are expected.

Jarrod Bolin said...

Ooh, I doubt that there is a line between. I mean, what earns exceptionalism? Muscle? Arrogance? We have more and more of each, but those criteria point to arrogant entitlement, in my opinion, than anything else. Exceptionalism is just another word (a more publicly acceptable word, since it feeds that egocentricity) than arrogance.

Bob M. said...


If you firmly believe that muscle and arrogance are both what America excel in and the core of arrogance, then your logic works. I would disagree with you; strength used well is what is proper and leads to exceptionalism.

As for arrogance, it seems that there is a drastic difference depending on point of view, and I think that my point of view is defensible. Your attitude - and I don't mean this as an attack, just an observation - regarding America is typical of those on the Left. On the other hand - and this is admittedly a conservative stance on my part - I look at those who feel entitled and I see arrogance, while those who have a healthy sense of American exceptionalism tend to want to work for it (though it is certainly not an end). I'm sure you can tell the difference between the two.

Here's something worth watching on the subject: http://www.prageru.com/index.php?option=com_hwdvideoshare&task=viewvideo&Itemid=53&video_id=7