Thursday, May 27, 2004

Colonial House and ‘modern’ attitudes.

PBS ran a ‘reality’ series called Colonial House that my wife managed to suck me into. The basic premise? Put a bunch of modern day people into a Seventeenth Century colony. Needless to say, they lived a rough, hardscrabble existence for four enlightening months.

The end of the series was a sequence of interviews and dialogues with the various ‘Colonists’ regarding their experiences. Carolyn Heinz, a Professor of Anthropology in California said something in her closing interview that I found, well, stunning. To paraphrase as best I can:
I wanted to go back to a purer time, a simpler time, to gain perspective on our modern life. But it wasn’t any more pure or true than now.

I think one of the problems facing people like Mrs. Heinz is that in our modern era many people live in a fantasy that the olden days things we’re simpler, purer, more moral – and when confronted with the greed, self-centeredness, aggression, and all of the other negative parts of humanity that have always has been with us, well they are quite startled by it.

Somehow, in their view, modern man has become venal and vile. Yet, we live in a time where we at least attempt to respect human rights and the rule of law. Anyone who has studied history can clearly demonstrate that man can be brutal specimen.

One of the other cast members expressed her difficulties in acting out ‘Imperialism’, and then reflected on how nothing has really changed.

News flash for all of you who were asleep in history class: We stole this land. Just like our ancestors probably stole their ‘home’ from someone else. After all, we don’t see all to many Saxons any more, let alone the Roman Colonists, or the Celts they displaced, or whomever they also displaced (maybe the Picts). And that is just the British isles.

I guess what I’m trying to say to all those agonizing over the evils of the past (and who would want us to pay reparations to the historically oppressed) is that we really can’t all go back to Olduvai Gorge. Really. No matter how unjust our journey as a species from there to here may have been. Nevertheless, what we can do is try to help as many people as possible achieve their rights to Life, Liberty and Happiness even if in the short term that sometimes means doing some rather unpleasant things. Opportunity. Opportunity to improve, to strive, to succeed. Opportunity is the first victim of tyranny.

If we are able to give others Opportunity to strive toward fundamental rights through our actions then I think we are doing the best we can, in spite of our venal nature. Or perhaps it is because we can see the potential abyss of our venality that we strive to make the world better. For me, the fact that Iraqis now have that opportunity is more than enough justification for both the bad and the good of the war.


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