You could say I come from a failed history, both personally and intellectually. Personally, I failed at many things. But I want to talk more about the intellectual failings. The times “my guys” didn’t win.
Throughout our dismal western history, there have been a few shining lights. I want to talk about two of them: Bartolome de las Casas and Roger Williams.
I spent a lot of time–years and years!–studying Native history and philosophy. These days, I don’t proclaim to be an expert on those matters, though.
De las Casas and Williams are two men who stand out to me. Each of them interacted with indigenous people and took a wildly different view from what they learned from indigenous people than what was the prevailing views at the time.
Neither of these men are perfect, of course, and each revised their views over time–something that is admirable.
De las Casas (eventually) opposed all forms of slavery in the 1500’s. Yes, the 1500’s! He didn’t just think this and write about it, though. He actively went out and worked against such things for 50 years. He is known, in the western world, as one of the first people to advocate human dignity for all.
Some of de las Casas’ ideas took hold at the time. But, as we know, the prevailing view was to kill, maim, conquer, rape and enslave indigenous people. That’s what went down in our history books. That’s the reality indigenous people live(d) with.
Roger Williams was one of the first abolitionists in the 1600’s. Yes, the 1600’s! He is known for his staunch views on the separation of church and state. The concept of this separation is enshrined in our Constitution. But it came about from Williams’ interactions with Native people, who he saw as humans, who were good and decent, but who happened to have a different religion than he did.
Of course, American History shows us that Williams’ view of Native Americans did not win at the time–or for hundreds of years after. (And, arguably, still today.) And that’s what’s in our history books. That’s what Native Americans live(d) with.
We know in philosophy that the minority view is not always the incorrect view. That’s why we, hopefully, appreciate freedom of speech and liberty of conscious.
Don’t be afraid, then, to not follow the pack. Don’t be afraid to consider the assumptions of your time and place and think for yourself. Don’t be afraid to fight for what you know is right. You may lose. You may be an outcast. However, hundreds of years later, you may have someone writing an ode about you and remembering your legacy.
I come from a failed tradition as a westerner. However, my tradition is proud. My tradition is strong.
My tradition is gaining hold.