Monday, February 27, 2017

Loaded Inheritance: The Human Condition

This may be our moment. It may be a moment in modern history when we can take a step back and really look at what we believe and where we are going. We need to be careful with this inheritance.

We all have inherited the societal situation we are in. We were plopped down here with no input on the matter. Our inheritance is loaded, too, like a powder keg. It can explode and create devastation, or it can burn with power, purpose, and direction. With our inheritance, we can do what is very good, what is very evil, or something in between.

Condemnation of history frustrates me. People criticize individuals, such as the racist N.C. governor Charles Aycock. They criticize the feudal world of the Middle Ages. They criticize the politics of the Vietnam War. They criticize the sexism of literature of every previous generation. They criticize the Europeans who stole a continent from militarily inferior Native Americans. And there is an abundance of criticism for the whole American institution of slavery.

Criticism of history is a lazy man’s self-righteousness. We can look so high and mighty when we point out the flaws of previous generations. But remember, we can’t change history. Of course it is flawed. Anyone can see that.

We can’t change history, but we can understand it. If we really want to understand it, we need to dig deeper to learn why people thought and behaved as they did. Why in the world would so many Southerners in 1860 support the institution of slavery? Were they that much more evil than we are? Were they just morally blind? How could they be that blind?

Once we understand the loaded inheritance of that generation, we can begin to make sense of their choices. Not that we would have behaved similarly, but that we can see how they got there. Critical looks at previous generations are most helpful to us if they do one thing: if they help us find our own blind spots.

I don’t want to defend any of those people, systems, or institutions. They were wrong. But those people inherited a world different from ours. In 100 years, many will look back at the early twenty-first century and wonder how we could have been so cruel and selfish. Every generation is blind to the wrongs of the world. If we don’t know any different, how can we think any differently?

Next time:
Loaded Inheritance: Exploitation

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