Monday, June 23, 2008

“A serious lesson in history from ‘Lies My Teacher Told Me’”

Part of my “must do before I leave” list includes attacking the books and magazines residing on my bookshelf so I can donate them to the WT library and do not have to bring them home. I also have a few borrowed books I need to return to friends. I decided to attack those first, which led to my devouring “Lies My Teacher Told Me” by James Loewen this week.

My initial reaction was shock. I felt as though I had just found out I was “adopted” and everything I had ever learned in history class was an elaboration, misconstrued truth, or down right lie taught, no doubt, “to protect” me and my classmates from the truth. Now that I know Christopher Columbus was really a greedy, murdering paedophile (my words) who did not discover America or that the World was round but discovered gold and demolished entire indigenous populations and started a repulsive slave trade instead, I will never celebrate Columbus Day again. In fact, I might write a letter to the next President requesting we honor an actual American hero in his place.

The next topic to send my mind reeling regarded the Native Americans- the true “Americans” (again, my words). I knew a little of the truth from my high school AP English teacher who once asked us what the most devastating war ever fought on American soil was. Of course none of us got it right: the war against the “Indians” but at least he opened our eyes. Also, my previous knowledge was derived from being from New England and having part of my family’s heritage be Native American. However, the majority of the information I digested from this book was new. At one point, I put the book down because I realized, as I sat here in Quito, Ecuador, that I was perpetuating the first world imperialism the developed world so often disguises as “help”. By coming here to teach a developing population my language is another example of American “exceptionalism”. The worst part of the realization was that I didn’t even know what I was doing. I’ve also learned not to call countries such as Ecuador “developing nations”. However the greatest lesson I’ve learned by far is to invest in charity at home.

The book contains ten chapters full of insight that is bound to astound any uninformed American. I found the last chapter to be the most thought provoking, as the author introduces the question of American progress and our idea of “bigger is better”. I have always felt our idea of progress has led to widespread discontent because if one is always looking for better than nothing is ever good enough. If one is always striving for progress and better, than one is always looking to the future and never really is in the present. Of course progress is essential yet is our cut throat idea of it really the best way to approach progress or is it the most helpful to humanity and the environment? We’re usually portrayed throughout history as doing more good than harm but is that really true? Will our future be better than the past because we try to use optimism and blind ignorance to justify what happened back then, which unfortunately does not aid in analyzing how we can make changes in order to transform what we’ve done to create a better future.

This book was published 13 years ago and the author warns of many woes American society will encounter if it does not respect its truthful past. The cost of our ignorance and inability to critically analyze the present in light of the previous decisions takes away from our ability to learn from mistakes and triumphs. We are being robbed of our intelligence here. He discusses the impending issues of overpopulation, excessive consumption and waste, and the perils the environment will face. He also uses a quotation from Donita Meadows that shocking describes exactly what is occurring today, “in terms of spoiling the environment and using world resources, we are the world’s most irresponsible and dangerous citizens.” How humbling.

The author also brings to light our “vulnerability to economic and geological” factors especially in terms of dependence on foreign oil. Thirteen years later at $5 a gallon, we must wonder what it will take for us to realize oil is not the answer to our energy needs. Even Presidents Nixon and Carter were aware we needed to become independent from foreign oil. History shows the issues we are plagued with today could have been dealt with had we known the truth instead of being fooled to believe there were no crises.

We are plagued by all the issues he addresses in his book because we refuse to acknowledge we live in a finite planet with finite resources only highlighted by our issues with over fishing, food shortages, extinction of species, natural disasters exacerbated by climate problems, deforestation, pesticides causing death…”our economic development is silently killing the earth and making it impossible for other nations to prosper.” Great... Now what are we going to do about it?

Quit the sugar coating and tell us the truth so we can make the change from obsessive consumerism to conservation and sustainability. One does not need to have patriotism, optimism, and lies shoved down her throat in order to love her country. I can tell you first hand the shock of seeing your native land from another’s eyes is enough to open your own and start thinking about how to be better. One can love her country and be critical of it.


Ross Douglas said...

there are times when I think you may be the other half of me. (I have been known to be wrong on occassion though so fear not.)

cupcake said...

It is quite possible, amigo.