I suppose that most Americans are somewhat ignorant of their own history. While that is no excuse, it is about time that elsewhere in the world, we recognize that the history we should be ashamed of occurred elsewhere as well.
And by that, I mean things like slavery. I am something of a modern man, which means I really do not have the ability to understand where the idea of slavery came into accepted thought. And by that I mean when I see someone who does not look like the image I see staring at me when I look in a mirror, I do not think that person is anything other than a person. I cannot grasp the idea that it would ever be acceptable to treat a person as anything other than a person.
I do accept judging a person by their actions and words, but I do not accept judging a person by their simple outward appearance. Sure, I find some people attractive, while I find others repugnant. But I do not equate “unattractive to me” with anything other than “well, they’re not my preference” – I don’t assume that because I do not like their outward appearance, they’re something less than I am.
But somewhere in history, someone decided because someone was on the losing side, they could be owned by those who won whatever it was they were fighting about. I’m fairly certain that was the initial root of what we now call slavery. Because your side lost, you must be a lesser human, therefore I, as one of the winners, have every right to mistreat and abuse you and the other survivors, goes the thinking.
And as that’s probably the root of it, I guess that it somewhat makes sense that it continued for so many years. But when we finally stopped accepting things as simple truths and began looking at them critically, it should have been fairly plain that it was wrong. And yet today we still fight this battle about who is better than someone else. And yes, I understand that there are people who simply prefer to deal with people who look like them. That is their choice, certainly, but it does not mean that they are better or worse than the rest of us, nor are the people whom they choose not to accept as equal any less equal.
So what the heck am I going on about, you’re wondering? It seems that like many other intelligent places in the world, England is now struggling with some of the episodes of their own past. And in that, their history is getting a little more light shined into the corners than apparently some would prefer.
And I get it. As I watch the decline of America, in part due to the present leadership which is utterly unqualified and incapable of leading, and in part due to our inability to accept that in this day and age, it’s about damned time we start looking pretty seriously into our long-held beliefs and doing something about improving the systems we’ve assemble. But I can understand some of what England is experiencing as I have friends who live there, and I have some sympathy for those who are about to experience another great upheaval which was brought about through sheer stupidity.
And yes, I understand that even stupid ideas need to be examined. What is going on in Britain right now is pretty much the equivalent of an entire economy slicing it’s own jugular. This is coming about thanks in part to the whole “Brexit” mess, which for those of you who’ve spent the last decade or so under a rock, has come about because the small-minded British mouther-offers who refused to accept membership in a greater community for greater advantage managed to convince a number of people who did not understand the implications that this idea of leaving the European Union would bring back the good old days.
I am not English, I have never been there, lived there, or am likely to go there. I’m not a big vacationer, and I have a very hard time justifying an expensive trip for “fun” with my limited means. I mean, I am doing much better economically than I have been doing pretty much ever. I’m still not making the kind of money I once did, when I was fairly successful in my previous IT career, but I am making enough to permit me to buy groceries, pay the bills, and at the end of the month, there’s very little “which bill gets pushed to next month so we can keep X on/running/going.”
That said, both of my parents were very much “Anglophiles” who enjoyed a great deal about Britain and British history. And while I am something of a fan of some of British history, I’m no where near the student I should be in order to appreciate much of their history, but I know and see enough to understand that Britain was once the greatest power in the hemisphere, and the things they did when they were that great power are inevitably coming back to haunt their present. Much like their present leadership is setting them up for the undoubtedly ugly exit to their experience in European unity, and I fully expect that, in twenty years or so, more intelligent, more thoughtful, and more capable British leadership will bring the people of Britain back together behind the idea of joining a community that is seeking to insure that everyone manages to survive and continue to get along, economically and in many other ways.
But to get back to the whole point, I found an article on CNN which had a number of people upset with the fact that the British National Trust took a look at history. As I understand it, the National Trust is something of an historical society which looks about the country for pieces of history which it feels should be retained. Now, let’s keep in mind that here in America, most of our history is written within the last two to three centuries. It does not mean that there’s not more history we need to explore, by any means, but we need to understand that when it comes to the land we think of as England, they’ve had people living there and recording their histories for easily ten times as long as we have.
Or in other words, I’m currently living in an older home in my neighborhood. It was probably built in the 1950s or 1960s or so, which makes it between fifty and seventy years old. A friend of mine once lived in a house in London where the building itself went back easily three centuries. Here, the very few things we have that are that old aren’t in regular use any more if they were in regular use for three centuries. And most of that comes from survival. That is, the people who originally pioneered and settled this land did not bring on their backs giant bags of supplies. They didn’t carry the stone mason tools they were going to use to build a castle – they carried the axe they were going to use to cut down some trees and build some simple shelter, and a gun, which they were going to use to catch some game and keep them alive.
But to get back to the point of England, apparently there are some people upset because the National Trust flicked over a few rocks people had preferred not to look under because when you are a former great power with gigantic colonial holdings, you will discover that some of the folks who made you that great power also did some thing that we today consider terrible. Things like conquering entire populations, holding slaves, exploiting people whom they’d never seen before, and using resources in ways that today we frown at because we understand that the resources are limited. Back then, it was hard to understand that we were on a small blue marble in space. Back then, we lived on a vast, largely unexplored planet, which led some to believe that because they knew where they came from, they were civilized, and those whom they’d never seen before were less so.
And while I grant you that even today I have a hard time looking at a civilization which regularly sacrificed living children to their idea of a deity in order to insure an adequate harvest still qualifies as a civilization, I do understand that modern ideas of science, productivity, and survival are completely due to our own advances in knowledge – and that’s because we’ve had the luxury of a stable, reliable, affordable food supply.
Because if you look at history, much of the trouble we’ve managed to cause one another has come from the competition for resources – whether a true competition, or simply a concern that someone else might have more than we have because they look a little better off – so we want their – or if it was a true shortage, well, that’s for history to decide.
Our present differences in ideology and theology and general acceptance of one another will undoubtedly look stupid if we manage to survive into the future. But as we have now managed to perfect the weaponry available to one another, we are no longer a threat to the fellow next door, but a threat to each and every person on this planet. If some madman decides he must control the world, and is willing to do whatever it takes, let’s face it – we’re all dead. Between the simple invention of gunpowder to the nuclear weaponry all over the planet today, we also have the more terrifying specter of diseases and chemicals that will kill instantly. And while they are far more uncontrollable, they do exist in part because back in our own history, we fought one another so savagely that those tools were thought necessary.
And some of that savagery grew from colonial times, and built the great houses of Europe. You don’t build a castle because, well, you want to show up in the pages of Good Housekeeping. You build a castle to protect the most precious assets you have – mainly your own arse, and that of the others whom you love and you believe will continue to lead that which you have managed to protect in your lifetime. And you build it because there’s enough of a significant threat that it makes sense to pile up these rocks and stones because there’s someone out there who will walk right up to you and end you if you aren’t adequately protected.
So yeah, some of that idea grew out of a couple of brothers in caves not being able to figure out how to get along, but the simple fact that we have enough capability and resources on this planet today to feed each and every person on the planet and provide for their shelter and safety has gone long overlooked. Instead, we have people upset because someone reminds them that the folks who built this great looking home did so with spoils and profits which came from a population that was being under-used, in their sense, and they decided to exploit them before someone else got around to it.
History is not made by folks like me who sit behind a computer most of the day doing a job. It’s made by people who go out and try to do things to improve the place they live, the people they love, or the planet in general. And some times, that struggle is to oppose someone who is doing something we generally find unacceptable, whether it’s abusing resources, owning people, or exploiting something which we feel shouldn’t be exploited, it is what it is.
There are some truths I accept as basic human decency – a human should be permitted to live as they choose, as they prefer, and to do so in a way they continue to be safe from the threats of their environment. It is unacceptable to prevent that person from being able to do so – you don’t burn down their tent, their house, or whatever it is they live in because you do not like it. But I also think that if you are unwilling to work to provide what they need to survive to those people that which you are attempting to be a part of means you’re part of the problem.
But here, having wandered far from the initial premise, I find it rather sadly humorous that some folks in Britain are upset because they’re being reminded of their history. What makes them pathetic is the part which they decided to ignore their history and become indignant when reminded of it.
Look, I come from people who left central Europe in the late 1800s. Some left Switzerland, some left lands that are now part of Germany, Poland, and France. So it is entirely likely that some distant relatives of mine found themselves in Nazi concentration camps, and also likely that some of my relatives were forced to join the Nazi party. And even more repugnantly, some were undoubtedly ardent members of that horrific organization.
Does that mean I’m not horrified by what the Nazis did in Europe? Hell no. Does it mean I will ignore it? I will not. But what I am horrified about is the current Presidential election in this country where both the repugnant incumbent and the challenger seem to be willing to ignore the American Concentration Camps which were formed on the border, where parents and children were separated for coming to this country. That, I find utterly unacceptable and hope to find a way to make sure it never happens again.