Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Q+A: How can Columbus be said to have "discovered" a continent which had been lived in for millennia?

"The real victim of the incessant attacks on Christopher
Columbus is Western civilisation itself."
~ Thomas Bowden, author of The Enemies of Christopher Columbus

Today, America marks Columbus Day, the 528th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America.

I can already hear your questions ...

How can Columbus be said to have "discovered" a continent which had been lived in for millennia? Answer:
The answer is that Columbus discovered America by virtue of being the first member of Western Civilisation to learn of its existence and make its existence known for the first time to all the other members of Western Civilisation.
How does one gain membership in Western Civilisation? Is it because one is born there? Answer: No.
Western Civilisation is a body of ideas and values, capable of being accepted and made their own by people everywhere, irrespective of race or ethnicity.... Membership in Western Civilisation is achieved by anyone who makes it his intellectual home and sees the world from that perspective.
    This includes descendants of the natives Columbus encountered, who have been educated and integrated into Western Civilisation. The descendants of savages are routinely members of Western Civilisation. Indeed, we are all ultimately descended from savages...
    Everyone who identifies himself as a member of Western Civilisation should acknowledge the greatness of Columbus. He brought the Western Hemisphere into the orbit of Western Civilization and thereby correspondingly increased the civilised area of
the earth’s surface.
And what is this body of ideas? 
[T]he intellectual substance of Western civilisation is nothing other than the highest level of knowledge attained anywhere on earth, in virtually every aspect of every field.
    If the purpose of education is to impart knowledge, then its purpose is to impart Western Civilisation.
    Those who denounce Columbus are not members of Western Civilisation. They have renounced Western Civilisation and fallen to the status of the “indigenous people” Columbus encountered. In other words, they are now savages or well on the way to savagery.
    Some of them can be seen smashing windows, looting stores, burning down buildings, and beating and killing people. The root of the problem is a racist educational system that identifies civilisation and savagery as emanations of race, just as did the racists of the past.
    The only difference is that today’s racists prefer savagery.
So how should we evaluate Columbus then?
Columbus is one of the greatest men in the history of our planet. 
How so?
He played an essential role in the development of capitalism, with its science, technology, and industry that eliminate perpetual tribal conflict over scarce land and natural resources by making it possible for the earth to support everyone, ever more abundantly. He helped make it possible for the average person in every First-World country to live at a level surpassing that of kings and emperors in the past. The same would be true for the average person everywhere if Western Civilisation and capitalism existed everywhere.

But, but ... isn't this just racism? Answer: Yes, at one stage it was ... at one stage many believed that civilisation and culture were racially determined...

In earlier centuries, men of European descent observed the marked cultural inferiority of the native populations of Africa, Asia, and the Western hemisphere, and assumed that the explanation lay in a racial inferiority of these peoples.
    In passing this judgment, they forgot the cultural state of their own ancestors, which was as much below their own as that of any of these peoples. Even more important, they failed to see how in accepting racism, they contradicted the essential “Western” doctrine of individual free will and individual responsibility for choices made. For in condemning people as inferior on the basis of their race, they were holding individuals morally responsible for circumstances over which they had absolutely no control.
    At the same time, they credited themselves with accomplishments which were hardly their creations, but those of a comparative handful of other individuals, most of whom happened to be of the same race and who, ironically enough, often had had to struggle against the indifference or even outright hostility of the great majority of the members of their race in order to create civilisation.

And today? Well, today it is the critics of so-called "Eurocentrism" who have become the racists.

    Today, the critics of what has come to be called “Eurocentrism” rightly refuse to accept any form of condemnation for their racial membership. They claim to hold that race is irrelevant to morality and that therefore people of every race are as good as people of every other race.
    But then they assume that if people of all races are equally good, all civilisations and cultures must be equally good. They derive civilisation and culture from race, just as the European racists did. And this is why they too must be called racists.
    They differ from the European racists only in that while the latter started with the judgment of an inferior civilisation or culture and proceeded backwards to the conclusion of an inferior race, the former begin with the judgment of an equally good race and proceed forwards to the conclusion of an equally good civilisation or culture. The error of both sets of racists is the same: the belief that civilisation and culture are racially determined.

So, are civilisation and culture racially determined? Answer: No. 

A culture is not an emanation of the blood, it is a body of ideas and values. As Thomas Sowell reminds us, “Cultures are not museum-pieces. They are the working machinery of everyday life. Unlike objects of aesthetic contemplation, working machinery is judged by how well it works, compared to the alternatives. The judgment that matters it not the judgment of observers and theorists, but the judgment implicit in millions of individual decisions to retain or abandon particular cultural practices, decisions made by those who personally benefit or who personally pay the price of inefficiency and obsolescence. That price is not always paid in money but may range from inconveniences to death." 

Yes, some cultures are racially exclusive, and we should judge them for that. But Western culture in particular, Western Civilisation, represents a body of ideas and values that is capable of being accepted and made their own by people everywhere, irrespective of their race or ethnicity. 

There is a reason even today that many millions of people risk life and limb to seek sanctuary and a new life in the birthplaces of Western civilisation. By their judgement, the civilisation that Christopher Columbus helped spread around the world is one worth risking their lives to join. By that choice, they are more fully members of Western Civilisation than all those who take the time today to denounce him. 

NB: This post is based on several posts made by George Reisman at his blog, to which I've linked.

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