This is in response to the removal of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from the children’s book award, but it extends to the way we teach history these days.
I don’t care to read history, I find it depressing. But it takes only a few hours with a book of ancient history to find out something common to humanity: We’re not nice. Nice cultures die. The islanders who welcomed Columbus… you know what happened to them? Tortured to find the rest of the gold that they generously offered to the sailors, enslaved, killed.
This is what humans do:
- Find another tribe.
- Evaluate their relative strength, geography, and ownership of desirable goodies
- Trade with them if they’re equal/stronger
- Take the stuff if they’re weaker
And when I say “take the stuff” I don’t usually mean, ‘we just came and asked for the goodies’ … although that’s been known to happen, if the tribe coming in is SO strong that the weaker tribe knows they can’t compete, mostly how this goes is:
- Kill your adult males
- Rape your females
- Enslave the females and/or older children
- Take the stuff
- Destroy the rest
This tends to reduce the ability of the (now enemy) tribe to get revenge for how you just took their goodies. It took Rome awhile to completely destroy Carthage – but that’s how that cycle of war ended. Absolute destruction.
Sometimes folks just do raids. Vikings on the Irish would be a classic example. They just wanted goods and slaves, not land, not “winning”. So they took them.
Oh. Did someone mention that LAND is a goody? So I might do that ’cause I want to expand my borders or you have a particularly nice feature. (China and Japan are grumpy with one another right now over some islands with some nice features…. this isn’t a past-tense kind of reality).
Humans aren’t nice. We want. We kill. We take. Is that good? No. Is it Christian? No.
All the surviving human cultures in this world have done this. We’ve all killed, we’ve all enslaved, we’ve all tortured. Don’t play pretend. We ALL have done this. How much of this we’ve done is a reflection of how long we’ve been around, and how strong we are. We do this less now because we’re in trade agreements and have knives to each other’s throats. We don’t want to look bad, it weakens our position.
So, how do you get nice people to do horrible things? In the absence of direct threat or revenge, a great way to do it is to make the enemy sub-human. “They are less than us”. “They do icky stuff”. Whatever. This is called propaganda. And again, every culture on earth has used propaganda to create prejudice and hatred. Go find some WWII or WWI posters. I have a couple of children’s books from 1980s China that are stuffed full of propaganda…
And if you don’t think there’s propaganda running rampant in 2018, you should probably take the blindfold off. We ARE being encouraged to “other” people in our own countries. It’s not good, people.
So. In the LIW books, the family wanted to move to the Indian Territory… they were part of Manifest Destiny. How do you get people to do that? You tell them that the people who lived there weren’t really people. They weren’t using the land “right”. They had strange customs. They were dangerous. They didn’t wear the right clothes. They were OTHER.
And the Ingalls, being people of their times, fell for it. C’est fin. Opportunity to make a new life, have independence, see new horizons… at a cost that was *very carefully* concealed from their consciousness. They were told they were doing good things, and that’s what they believed. We can **learn** from that. Our children can learn from that.
We can **learn** from The White Man’s Burden, and how we have to “take care of” the lesser races. (blech) You know what that gave us? Liberalism. Putting my values on your head and patronizing you as a weaker person because you haven’t come ’round to my way of thinking – yet. But you will…. and only if you have my advantages and don’t have my values do I consider you my enemy.
Othering people gave us Auschwitz’s “hospital” and the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.
Othering people is how we start wars, how atrocities happen. “Those people aren’t my people”.
And humans have used that to get what we want since the dawn of time. “They deserved it”.
Stop pretending any of us have hands free of blood. Carthago delenda est. And it didn’t get there by itself.