Scotch-Irish-L ArchivesArchiver > Scotch-Irish > 2001-03 > 0985589282
From: "Knut W. Barde" <>
Subject: [Scotch-Irish] Re: English Customs
Date: Sun, 25 Mar 2001 22:48:02 -0800
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Judging our ancestor's past conduct by current ethics.
At first glance it may seem enlightened not to judge slave holding ancestors and
witch burning forebears by our current views which abhor those practices. The
implied judgment is: They did not know then what we know now.
I think we need to carefully differentiate between scientific knowledge, biology,
anatomy, sciences of the mind, and similar areas where discoveries truly open up new
ways of looking at the world and human beings. However, bigotry, hate, torture,
etc. have been recognized as such by thinking and feeling people for thousands of
years. Justice and empathy are not the inventions of recent generations. It may be
true that majoritarian views on witches and slavery have changed, but the minority
has always been there agitating and teaching and exhorting. Just because a person
chose to join the majoritarian slave holders or witch burning mobs does not justify
the conduct. If that rule were followed, then any current atrocities that have
majority or government support in a particular place would thus be justified, either
because people "must" follow the crowd or people "must" obey government.
Buddhism and Christianity (at least if you follow the Gospel according to Jesus)
were practiced by people who preached brotherly love and compassion. If those
virtues were genetically not yet present in human beings then yes, let the
inhumanity of man towards man be excused. It may well be true that the scope of
inclusion has grown over the past 10,000 years from family, to tribe, to region, to
nation, to the world, to the universe. However, the ability to feel injustice, to
see the pain that others suffer, and to curtail hate was not invented on June 1,
1482 or any other time. The best that can be said for those ancestors that
affirmatively participated in inhumane conduct is to say that they ran with the
crowd. At no time or place is that an imprimatur of worthy conduct or an immunity
charm that forestalls judgment.
If one human being can see and verbalize why witch burning is wrong or slave holding
is wrong, then that one person is holding the mirror up to all those who choose to
believe differently. It is not that they couldn't know what we know now, they chose
not to see, feel, learn, question, certainly amply aided in that decision by the
structures of power that benefitted from limiting justice to the in crowd.
At the same time there is a saving grace in holding ancestors responsible for their
atrocities in that we escape the primitive idea that their conduct, and by extension
ours, is somehow racially, genetically, predestined. If we had to rely on random
genetic mutations for the invention of love, compassion, empathy, etc., then those
mutations took place during the many hundreds of thousands of years of our
prehistory, and not within recorded history.
If there has been a non-biological evolution of social systems towards a more
humanitarian society (and that is a big question) then that evolution has been
brought about precisely by those who as a minority have championed the rights of the
poor and of the oppressed, by all means available, including revolution. I'd
challenge anyone to demonstrate that the victims of the slave holding and of the
witch burning did not have a sense of injustice when they were snuffed out. How
come they knew, but their oppressors did not? Poppycock.