There’s no crime in not knowing that something is wrong. There can be an expectation that morally we should know, but judgement should be tempered with the question what are morals. Morals are those fluffy things we think we can apply to everything but actually tend to change according to circumstance. Of course society can claim to have a moral code but that doesn’t always trickle down to the population and doesn’t always apply to every member. For example the country of the United States would claim to be a Christian country and that it’s laws have been based on and formed around Christian principles since it’s conception as a nation. This is blatantly not true because firstly there are large sections of the population who don’t wish to be identified as Christian and secondly because the founding fathers of this country wrote repeatedly that it was to be religion free in terms of government and the rights of its citizens. So the question becomes are we talking “Christian” morals or morals that are accepted as truth by humans on an innate level?
To kill another human in cold blood would be difficult for most people. There’s a natural repulsion in the act. That doesn’t need to be branded as Judeo-Christian morality to be a truth. After all people have been managing not to kill each other for millennia without having a picture of Moses clutching a couple of divinely etched paving slabs. We are in essence able to be moral and do “the right thing” without it being labelled as “new and divinely approved”.
The same could be applied to any number of other hot topics that seem to be bandied around as being inspired by some religion. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a personality trait which can be found on every continent and didn’t need a blond, blue eyed poster boy to say it. Yes sorry folks Jesus has blond hair and blue eyes and spoke Latin because thats what he has been marketed as to the world. Find me a body to do the DNA sampling on and I’ll accept the truth over the publicity material. After all there are pictures of him for hundreds of years and across the globe, and most of them showing he was Aryan. Do a google search for the word Jesus and even if he has brown hair he still looks painfully European. You can’t get a better marketing tool than that, getting people believing and thinking automatically that he looks like them in one place and in another stands as the ideal of mankind.
My point is this. Ignorance isn’t wrong. An African who has never heard of Christ would accept the picture as what he looked liked if presented with it by a missionary. Historically we can prove this to be true because across the globe people’s who don’t know what Bethlehem or the people that came from there looked like can be forgiven for accepting someone claiming to be an authority telling them this is so. A lie becomes truth because it is convenient and the person telling it looks similar. What is less forgivable is when we move from the realm of ignorance into the realm of willful ignorance.
The truth is as an Englishman I stand accused of having perpetrated countless genocides and having destroyed millions of lives. Every person who claims European lineage does. Over the centuries our ancestors chose to go out into the world and take what they wanted. This included killing men, women, and children to get the prize. If I accept the truth, look in horror and try to move forward modifying my behavior then I can feel morally at ease. I have chosen to move from willful ignorance to stand in the truth and be the change. On a national level though my change may be small but is still important.
To take an example look at the country I am writing in. The United States of America was built on the belief that the peoples here were savage and not human. The same is true in Africa, Australia, Canada, South America, in fact just about anywhere we could get away with it. The concept of taking what was there forgot to ask the question “what about the people who were there already?” In essence Europe fulfilled the old joke about beaches and German towels. We want it so we will find ways to justify claiming it.
In the 1400’s Europe was smart as paint for expansion. We had the technology, we had the means, we had the will, the trouble is that innate human traits like greed and morality got in the way. How could we justify the slaughter of thousands for land, the enslavement of nations to do our dirty work, the taking of resources and still feel that we hadn’t broken the code we claimed to represent? What happened, and is still happening, proves that Don Draper and all his Mad Men are pale failures in the world of social manipulation. Sell the idea that the Indian is savage and beastial with no soul and people can point a gun at them. Tell them that the African is no better than any other animal and you can take a child, put chains round it’s neck, and ship it half way round the world to die of abuse and get paid for doing it. Tell them that an Aboriginal living in the outback is vermin and they’ll clear the land for your sheep and cattle.
For the first settlers not knowing or understanding the cultures they met we can call it ignorance. They were so busy surviving that they didn’t have the time to stop and think “is what we have been told true?” They accepted it because winter was coming and they were in a strange land with little hope of survival. Ignorance was bliss. But what about once the harvest was in and the cabin was built? What of the second generation? Those earlier settler moved very quickly from being able to claim ignorance because they had time to acclimatize and time to learn about the people they inevitably would push out. We moved from ignorance to greed. The greed of Rome, of London, Paris and Lisbon, the greed of Madrid and Amsterdam. We moved beyond ignorance into something far darker. We chose to become willfully ignorant.
In the same way we want our chicken cheap and allow the marketing men to convince us that factory farmed can mean farm fresh we allowed and still allow ourselves to not want to think about the reality. We don’t want to think about the poverty that we have caused on reservations across the continent so we allow Hollywood to bath us in images of Indians as spiritual beings that don’t require the same rights or have the same human needs. Previous generations of movie goers and novel readers were taught that the Indian “needed” to be kill because he was stopping humanity from becoming better.He stood in the way of peoples rights to build farms and cities blast mine the land and run railroads across it….. how the f**k does anyone need to be killed for a golf course and an oil well? We taught our children to play cowboys and indians because it was fun, but were teaching them that willful ignorance about what one people was doing to another was better than opening a dialogue and be willing to do anything productive. How can we stop willfully accepting the marketing and tell the truth? One person at a time and by choosing to be respectful and help repair the damage. The work of four hundred years will take a long time to be stopped and then corrected. Can it be done? Yes. Will it be done? I just don’t know.
We listen to the story because stopping for one moment and thinking about the genocide is just too painful. In the end we have bred a nation so unable to think of the horror of the past and change today to ensure a more fair tomorrow that we tell the victims to “get over it!” The media, the church, and governments have crystalized the pain and suffering of millions down into three words and we repeat them as a mantra like good little boys and girls. “Get over it”. Get over the fact that you were wiped out, pushed to the margins to starve, that your land is now ours, that we have reduced you to cartoons and can’t even see that using those symbols for a football team could be offensive. “Get over it”. “Get over it because if you don’t we can’t sweep it under the carpet and hide the bitter truth that everything started centuries ago because kings, popes, and queens desired more gold and more land. We became and still are willfully ignorant to the truth because the lie is so much nicer.
If you don’t feel that you are willfully ignorant ask yourself this. How is it that pipelines are being forced across treaty lands at a rate of knots to leak their poison into the soil. Should they still get over it? Well yes because its the land we kindly allowed them to keep and it’s not leaking onto our land. We rename the battery farm a barn, the reservation a people’s heritage and everything is ok. They still have to get over it and we can fill our cars. The same willful ignorance that was happening centuries ago is still permeating our society. Instead of the Hudson Bay Company we have the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Keystone. Instead of Queen Isabelle of Spain craving emeralds from South America we have the Koch brothers willfully perverting democracy and destroying the planet because they have the money to do so. Because of our willful ignorance in demanding our leaders stand up for what they were elected to do and for laws that are fair we allow ourselves to believe it’s all for the best. And it is in a way. Our car is full and our shops are full of cheap food so we don’t have to think about the fact that it is always, always the first nation, the one who was here first who ultimately comes out dead, and if not dead physically then culturally. Whitewashed over so we can willfully do what the church and state have always told and taught us to do, fill their pockets.
It’s a fact that we still print pictures of Jesus as Aryan. It’s a fact that in our heart of hearts we know that justice will never be served to indigenous people unless we are willing to loose the willful ignorance and stop believing the marketing. What makes it worse is that we have the guts to say “Get over it!”