Why DO Liberals Hate Columbus Day?

Posted: October 12, 2015 in Braak, Politics
Tags: , , , ,
Was Christopher Columbus a handsome dreamer? Or is this mere propaganda?

Was Christopher Columbus a handsome dreamer? Or is this mere propaganda?

So.  There I was, tooling around in my electric-hybrid Prius, sipping on my $5 a cup organically-grown locally-sourced free trade latte, generally just thinking about how superior I am to the god-bothering gun-snugglers of real Hillbilly America, and looking for a gun-free church vestibule where I might conduct this Samhain’s pansexual Mexican blood orgy, when I came across this absolute hum-fucking-dinger of an article:

Why Do Liberals Hate Columbus Day

Some in the Catholic Church would love to canonize Christopher Columbus as a saint, while Liberals and Native Americans seek to depict him as a brutal xenophobe.

The truth is quite a bit more complex, but we shall explore the absurdities attending the Liberal hatred of the controversial Italian explorer.

That is how it opens right there, and for as much as the author (DJ Pangburn, I don’t know if “DJ” is his name or it’s a title because he spins fire mixes with this hot takes) would like us to believe that the truth is more complex he spends several paragraphs showing that SPOILER ALERT no, it’s not.

After spitting my expensive liberal latte all over my expensive liberal car, I decided to sit down and, with an air of affected intellectual superiority, engage with the text of the article, perhaps even confronting my own absurdities on the way — in the interests of my smug magnanimity, I have chosen to share with you the results of my investigation, you lucky people.

The article’s many sections consist of multiple parts — the first part explains something about why Liberals don’t like Columbus, then the second part explains why that position is incorrect (and presumably why Liberals should like Columbus, though I got to admit I find the arguments somewhat less than compelling).  Here’s the first one:

1. Columbus’ expedition virtually wiped out the Taino natives

It’s a pretty bad thing to annihilate any kind of a population I would say.  Let me reach out my hands in a manner of friendship to my compatriots in Hillbilly America, surely whatever differences we might have, we can all agree that the utter destruction of an entire people is what you might call a bad thing, and if a person were in some measure responsible for that, that sort of person might be understood to be a bad person.  Yes?

But maybe not!  Here’s DJ Pangburn’s sick remix of history:

Certainly the Spanish under Christopher Columbus’ governorship acted brutally in some instances, but they could not know that the Taino were not immune to Small Pox, which the Spanish sailors had unwittingly carried over as hosts from Europe.

Well, fair enough!  In the 15th century no one new how germs worked, there was basically no way to know that smallpox was going to destroy most of the population, and there’s no real evidence that Cristobal Colon actually purposefully infected natives with smallpox (unlike some of the people who would swing by in his wake), so IS it really fair to blame him for the Taino genocide?  If the people were entirely wiped out by smallpox…oh, wait, what’s this?  Here, in the very same paragraph?

Many would have us believe that systematic Spanish genocide and slavery caused the population decline (which was a factor), but just as Small Pox had ravaged Europe, it wreaked havoc on the New World where the natives had no immunity.

Hold on, let me highlight the important parts in case you, like the person who actually wrote them in a line together, missed them:

Many would have us believe that systematic Spanish genocide and slavery caused the population decline (which was a factor), but just as Small Pox had ravaged Europe, it wreaked havoc on the New World where the natives had no immunity.

So, hold on my friend!  You’re saying that the Spanish DID commit genocide, and DID enslave many, many natives (also, as the modern descendants of the Taino and their Spanish conquistadors will tell you, raped them), and that this was a factor in the destruction of the Taino people, but that we should not blame Columbus for it?  Because most of the work was done by smallpox, which he is not strictly at fault for?

You’re right, that IS an absurdity!  Imagine, blaming someone for the genocide of an entire people, when in fact he was only responsible for PART of the genocide of an entire people!  Now that you’ve put it that way, I am starting to rethink my opposition to Columbus Day, and actually while we’re at it, maybe we should start erecting statues to everyone who only committed Partial Genocide.

After all, it’s like they say — “It’s only genocide if your systemic slavery, murder, rapine, wholesale theft and cultural destruction completely eradicates a people: if a bunch of them happen to die from diseases that you coincidentally just brought with you, you’re in the clear!” (I couldn’t remember the saying exactly, but I know when my grandma taught it to me it rhymed, so.)

2. Columbus inaugurated the Age of Slavery in the Atlantic and Americas

Get ready to CHOKE on your absurdities with this one, LIE-BERALS:

There is a degree of truth to this assertion since Columbus did bring hundreds of Taino’s back to Seville in 1495, and African slaves were soon brought to Columbus’ colony to work the gold mines.

Oh.  Well, okay, so…so this is okay then?  We can hate a guy for being a slaver?  That’s…that’s something we can all agree was bad?

But, the truth is that Columbus no more introduced slavery to the Atlantic nations than Wall Street pioneered the concept of croney [sic] capitalism

I mean.  We don’t hate Wall Street because they invented crony capitalism, we hate Wall Street because they practice crony capitalism to the detriment of others.  Would you feel more comfortable if we didn’t say that Columbus invented the Transatlantic slave trade, just that he did it?  I guess you can make an argument that inventing chattel slavery is a degree worse than just being a proponent of it and practicing it in a notably brutal and disgusting fashion, but surely that degree of difference isn’t worth quibbling about?

Lagos, Portugal was the location of the first African slave market, opening its doors for business in 1444 when Christopher was a lad of six years old.

Yeah, dummy, but we don’t have a holiday celebrating Portuguese Imperialism.

Actually this is my favorite part, get ready for this one, the BEST argument for why you shouldn’t hate Christopher Columbus just because he was a bloodthirsty, brutal sociopath who lacked anything resembling human decency:

It should also be noted that Native Americans were not some cohesive group of utopian angels — a long lost remnant of Man before the Fall. They engaged in inter-tribal warfare and alliances long before Europeans set foot on the West Indies or the North American continent proper. The difference is that the Native American form of slavery was small scale and not dominated by the Western or Christian ideas of racial superiority.

Boy do I feel like a smug motherfucker!  Imagine, thinking that institutional slavery was wrong no matter WHO you do it to, when obviously it’s only wrong when you do it to cohesive groups of utopian angels!  Here I was, going around and thinking that a thing is bad or good according to the harm it does, when it turns out that a thing is only bad or good according to how bad the person is that you do it to!

(On a serious note, there’s not a lot that gets to me more than the tendency of people in general, and Americans in particular, to imagine morality strictly as a form of deserved punishments — as though, having committed a crime, you implicitly forfeit any natural right, any human decency, and protection against having harm done to you.  The eagerness that we jump at the idea of hurting “bad” people is sometimes appalling.  For fun, let’s play a game about statistics and morality:  during the Holocaust, Hitler killed 11 million people.  How many of them do you think actually were murderers, or thieves, or rapists?  How many of them abused their servants?  How many molested children?  Basic statistics tells us that their must have been some — it’s not like being Jewish or Roma or a homosexual or a Catholic or a Communist means you’re constitutionally-incapable of committing evil — so, how many would there have to be before the Holocaust was justified?

TRICK QUESTION MOTHERFUCKERS, no amount of evil could ever justify the indiscriminate massacre of an entire people!  This entire exercise is morally bankrupt!  And so was Christopher Columbus and any shitheel what means to defend him!)

3. Columbus was the pimp of the New World

Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it seems.  Even though Columbus very specifically admitted to giving girls as young as nine or ten to Spaniards for their service and letting his Lieutenants rape women as a reward, check this out:

Surely this behavior must have occurred to an extent, but was it systemic and carried out with great relish by Columbus?  No one can know for sure, yet the charge is leveled at Columbus by his detractors as if it is indisputable fact.

I mean.  I guess we don’t know for sure that Columbus enjoyed it, though I think if he felt bad about it he probably wouldn’t have bragged about it in a letter to his friend?  Also…and just consider this possibility…maybe selling girls of nine or ten into sexual slavery is bad whether or not you relish it?

4. Columbus and his men tortured the Tainos who resisted slavery

For some reason, this idea is refuted with a few paragraphs about Bartolome de la Casas, which I guess just proves that DJ Pangburn read the Oatmeal.  Aside from the fact that de la Casas criticized the bad treatment of Native Americans and (eventually) advocated for the elimination of slavery, I’m not sure what he has to do with anything at all.  Maybe de la Casas was making up all the terrible things he saw Columbus and his fellow Spaniards do?

But even if we grant that, I’m not sure how, “this guy was a slaver and rapist, but check it out — he didn’t TORTURE people as much as someone said he did!” is exactly a ringing endorsement of his character.

5. Columbus did not discover America

Or did he?

Yes, the Natives were well-established for about 12,000 years before Columbus weighed anchor, and Leif Ericson had a settlement on Newfoundland 500 years before Columbus arrived.

Oh.  No, he didn’t.

Without the hubris attending his expedition, the entire course of history might have been different. America would not exist as we know it: territories rearranged, no United States of America, no Thomas Jefferson and his transcendant ideals of democracy. No diffusion of those ideals across the world, for better or for worse.

If there was no Columbus to rape and pillage the New World, then surely there would have been someone else to take his place.  Some other name to act as a lightning rod.

A good rule about using un-historical anti-narratives to create nega-facts is: don’t, it is stupid.  You cannot in the same breath say, “if Columbus hadn’t landed in America, then American ideals never would have happened” as you say “if Columbus hadn’t landed in America, someone else just as bad would have and those parts would be the same.”  It is very stupid to say that the good parts of history are contingent on everything being the way it was, but the bad parts were inevitable no matter what — it is ESPECIALLY stupid to say it by making a bunch of shit up.

Would there be no democratic ideals?  Well who fucking knows?  Without the Americas to colonize, maybe popular democratic ideals would have taken hold in Europe sooner; maybe Columbus’ voyage just served as a release valve that unnecessarily prolonged the monarchies of Europe and made violent revolution more likely and more necessary.  Is that a fact?  NO, it’s not a fact, this isn’t real, I am making it up which is what happens whenever anyone talks about what history would have been like if history hadn’t been the way that it was.

Oof.

Maybe This Is a Huge Joke to START THE CONVERSATION?

Look, I don’t know guys, I FEEL like this is maybe a joke?  Like it’s supposed to be satire by a dummy who misunderstands what satire is?  (Satire, incidentally, is criticism by imitation; it’s not satire if it’s just imitation, you have to make the critical parts obvious.)  Look at this thing that he says here, I want to try to get my mind around this:

Perhaps what Columbus’ critics see in the explorer is their dark reflection staring back at them from the abyss of human evil, and they want to exteriorize their own tendencies into a totem.  Exorcise their own demons as it were.  To suggest — if only to themselves — that America and the world have moved beyond such barbarity, when, in fact, they know that 518 years hasn’t lessened the peculiar shadow of the  human psyche manifested in wars both domestic and international, social and economic.

I mean.  Here’s the thing.  How would you know the difference between people who secretly would LIKE to colonize the Caribbean Islands and perpetrate a genocide on the people living there, robbing them of their gold and raping their children and cutting peoples’ hands off but they are “exteriorizing” their own tendencies and blaming it on someone who actually did all those things, and people who actually think those things are bad, and that we shouldn’t celebrate a person who did them?  if you, DJ Pangburn, are permitted to willy-nilly posit the undercurrents of my psyche as a way of dismissing my hatred of a guy who was demonstrably hateable, then how is anyone supposed to ever argue for a moral value?

If you’d said, “maybe liberals only focus on Columbus because it enables them to exorcise a sense of guilt at being the inheritors of a monstrous exploitative machine without actually requiring us to sacrifice anything that we enjoy as a consequence of that machine,” sure, that’s a reasonable criticism.  It has the same sort of problem as the previous question — there’s no way to tell the difference between someone who hates Columbus as a way of feeling better about themselves, and someone who hates Columbus because he was an actual bad person.

(Actually, this isn’t true:  the only people that you could legitimately make the first claim about are the descendants of white Europeans and, surprisingly!, that does not constitute the entirety of “Liberal” politics!  There are a lot of people who are not white, and who are not implicitly the inheritors of generations of colonialism!  I suppose DJ Pangburn’s laughable omniscience gives him some insight into those people as well, such that he can dismiss their hatred of Columbus — like, for example the Native Americans he mentioned at the beginning, surely they have some legitimate reason to hate Columbus besides “white guilt”? — but if there is, he doesn’t mention it.  As usual, the assumption is that we’re talking about White People first, and treating every other perspective as ancillary.

Another good reason to hate the idea of Columbus Day.)

If you’d said that, I guess that’d be an argument to at least reckon with, but that’s not what you said here, that’s not what the defenses of Columbus are — you could have very easily presented a litany of people as bad as Columbus or worse to point out that while it’s okay to hate Columbus, it’s not okay to ONLY hate Columbus, there’s an entire legacy of imperialism, theft, murder, and rapine to despise.  But you, DJ Pangburn, didn’t do that either.

So I’m forced to conclude that it’s kind of a serious article that posits that it’s not reasonable to hate Christopher Columbus or the day that we’ve set aside to celebrate someone who basically didn’t do anything except a bunch of pretty awful things.  And when the arguments are laid out like this, it seems to me that maybe a more important question is not, “Why do Liberals hate Columbus Day”, but “Why doesn’t everybody else?”

A HISTORICAL NOTE

Of course, the reason we have a Columbus Day in the first place is because of White Supremacy.  The Knights of Columbus — my old enemies, the same guys who went around giving statues of Jesus to people in the 50s — petitioned for its creation as  way of showing that Italians had always been part of the (white, European) American experience.  That’s because the US has always been racist as fuck, and when poor Italian immigrants came here, no one counted them as “white.”  Not until well into the 20th century, really.  So, they did what they had to in order to get respect — they petitioned to be included in the white supremacist hierarchy.

The Italians weren’t alone in doing this — my own Irish ancestors did the same thing.  Remarkably, despite being a liberal and therefore a hypocrite, I’m fully capable of both understanding why they had to, and also thinking that it was wrong.  The question, to me, of whether or not the Irish or the Italians should have petitioned to be counted as white instead of overthrowing white supremacy is something on the order of moot:  they didn’t, and here we are.  This doesn’t change the fact that white supremacy should be abolished, that the statues of Columbus should be torn down, that no one should hate the Italians, and — while we can keep the day off (we should ALWAYS keep the day off) — that we should rename it to something that encourages us to think long and hard about the people that we share this world with, about the ways that we’ve done them wrong, and about how we intend to manage this in the future.

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selfieChris Braak is a novelist and playwright from Philadelphia, and is the only living bird species that feeds primarily on bone marrow.

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