Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christopher Columbus

"From here one might send, in the name of the Holy Trinity, as many slaves as could be sold, ... If the information I have is correct it appears that we could sell four thousand slaves, who might be worth twenty million and more"

- Christopher Columbus, Journal Entry for September 1498

"For it's the end of history
Its caged and frozen still
There is no other pill to take
So swallow the one
That made you ill
The Nina The Pinta The Santa Maria
The noose and the rapist
The fields overseer
The agents of orange
The priests of Hiroshima
The cost of my desire
Sleep now in the fire"

- Rage Against the Machine, "Sleep Now in the Fire"

Who the heck WAS Christopher Columbus?
I've heard hero, I've heard monster, I've heard a product of his time, I've heard explorer, I've heard businessman, I've heard it all. I always struggle with this, at an early age, I was taught that he was a hero. He discovered America, he found it, no one knew it was here until he landed here. People told him he'd sail off the edge of the world, and barked back "screw you! I'm looking for a continent that might not exist!" It was romantic, it was epic, he was an adventurer in an uncharted frontier, he was Captain Kirk!
Then, roundabout middle school or so, people began to not like the smell of the bull that was being fed to them. Now wait, if he discovered America, what about all the people who were here first? you know them, they're called the Indians! But wait a second, this isn't India! Where did that name come from? Oh! Columbus wasn't out to "discover" America, he was looking for a secret passageway to India, and he did this by traveling WAST, even though India is to the EAST! So he landed (crashed) in America by accident, right? No wait, he actually crashed in Cuba, and the Bahamas, not technically part of America, granted it's off the coast of the South American continent, but it has nothing to do with the United States! So why all this patriotic attachment to Columbus? He didn't discover a thing, at least nothing attached to us! What's worse is that when he got here, he totally brutalized the population! Some claim that stories of him being such a huge bastard are greatly exaggerated, but it's very well documented in his own journals of his expeditions!
Why would Columbus talk so freely about such violence? And so nonchalantly for that matter? He was able to articulate his disgusting plans, his nefarious deeds, all with utter dis-attachment to the reality of his crimes. Some might hear this and call it the modus operandi of a sociopath, but I see something else, something that is simultaneously far more, and far less terrifying.
I read this and I see a man who is a product of his time. The reason he could slaughter these people en masse, rob them and bring the survivors back as slaves, is because to him, these people were not human whatsoever. You can't enslave people, that's a given, that's a basic human right! But these aren't humans, and it's okay. They shouldn't be wearing all these fancy stones and metals anyway, it's shameful! They should be adoring the greatly appointed garments of the monarchs! This wasn't a hard decision for Chris, because it was his way of life to begin with. It's awful, because it almost robs him of credibility and accountability. We know now, being the 21st Century Schizoid Men that we are, that this is deplorable behavior, and Columbus, his men, and the corrupt system that hired him should be reviled and hated, his holiday should be stricken form the record! But the sheer reality of this, the reality that makes this jagged little pill even tougher to swallow than it ALREADY IS, is that this was not a war crime, this was not a nefarious plan set forth by history's greatest villains, this was just... business as usual! Was Columbus a bad man? HE certainly didn't think so! His royal investors certainly didn't either. Columbus had done what no Spanish man had done, and he had brought back the goods to prove it, rich resources, precious stones and metals, and sub human slaves! If somewhere down the line, the world somehow adopts vegetarianism as a universally accepted truth, and way of life, will the dreadful butcher Oscar Meyer become a reviled and hated figure in history? Will Chef Boy Are Dee become public enemy number one? Don't even get me started on Ronald McDonald! My point is, are these characters inherently wicked, and vile? They represent a business, and that's what they do, they kill animals so we can eat them. From our perspective, this is not a crime, it's not even a thing that should be considered a crime. But if over the next 600 or so years, if our perspective changes drastically, then could it be possible that Wendy's founder Dave Thomas might suffer the same wrath of history that Christopher Columbus has? do these two people even deserve to be compared? Let's hope not.

1 comment:

  1. 30/30 Well, that was certainly an entertaining read...who was Columbus, indeed. I hadn't previously considered Ronald McDonald as the answer. But I "get" you point.