There’s nothing like having your own ignorance brought to your attention to make you start thinking of the implications of that which caused your lack of knowledge. The first thing I do after being corrected or being informed is try and figure out why it was I didn’t know that information.
Usually it’s something as trivial as not having been exposed to the knowledge; I can live with that, because it is something that can be easily corrected. Other times it’s because of prejudice on my part, where I’ve let my political beliefs colour my judgement. That pisses me off a lot, because I like to think that I don’t let ideology cloud my thinking.
But as far as I’m concerned neither one of those are a big deal when compared to the third reason. Either studying or giving other ideas closer consideration easily corrects those two problems. No, the one that bothers me the most is when my ignorance is born of circumstances created by the forces of history and other events beyond my control.
I suppose I should cite an example in order to clarify what I’m talking about. The simplest thing to do would be to use the circumstances that made me think of this.
For the past few months I have been a member of a Yahoo group called Epic India. This is a group that was formed to discuss the works of the Indian author Ashok Banker. Mr. Banker has taken upon himself the mammoth task of creating modern English adaptations of all the great Epic stories of India.
He has finished work on his first effort, a six volume retelling of the three thousand year old Ramayana (all six volumes are in the hands of the publishers more or less, with volume five in the stores now and six to be released in the near future). His next project, which he has already begun work on, is to be a ten volume retelling of The Mahabharata.
In a recent e-mail to the group, Ashok gave us a link to see a map of what he said was somewhere named Bharat during the time period of The Mahabharata. Being the observant fellow I am, I noticed the inclusion of the word Bharat within the title of the epic. Hmm I wondered, is there a connection, and if so what?
Bharat is the Indian word for India. India is a mispronunciation of Sindhu, which was the name of the great river that the British mispronounced “Indus” and later adopted as the country’s name, India …Maha means ‘great’. So the epic’s name literally means ‘Great Bharata’… Ashok Banker letter 2006
Hands up everybody who is not of Indian heritage who knew that the British had renamed the country by mispronouncing the name of a river? It’s things like this that have inspired Mr. Banker’s attempts to retell the stories of India from an Indian perspective instead of the one that dominates the history books of the world.
In an interview he gave in August 2005 he said: “Yes, of course, I wish to reclaim Indian history. Not only for Indians, but for all to read… I’m merely staking my claim to a right which has unjustly been denied me and other Indians ever since the East India Company banned the translation of Sanskrit and other edicts and scriptures into English two hundred years ago.”
This of course got me thinking of all the peoples throughout the world who have had the same thing happen. Whose name has been taken away from them either accidentally or as a deliberate policy. The most obvious example for North Americans is the people who were here before the Europeans showed up.
Those people, who we now lump together under the title of First Nations instead of the original misnomer of Indians, were never a single bloc of people as Hollywood and history books would have us believe. The various language groups and peoples were as distinct from each other as Germans are from French and Italians from Russian.
In how many countries around the world has the pattern been repeated? People living in a country that carries a name bearing little or no relationship to who and what they are. It’s no coincidence that almost the first thing that most African nations did upon achieving independence from their colonial overseers was to change their names.
The inheritance of the arbitrary dissecting of Africa amongst the colonial powers has been the distribution of peoples outside their traditional tribal territories. This has led to some of the worst incidences of mass murder in recent years. How many of us can claim to know where these people’s homelands were prior to them being displaced?
We live in a world composed of huge lies. We see everything through the filter of history that was written by the conquerors. Even though we are aware of this, as a society we make little attempt to adjust our attitudes and feelings of superiority.
“Why should we care about others when we are the best” is the attitude that trickles down to us from our leadership. Our God, our lifestyle, our way of choosing leaders, our everything is so much better than anything they could possibly have. Look at how many of them want to come here, to the “Land Of Opportunity”.
Well of course there’s been immigration. Those countries have been the scenes of so much poverty caused by the exploitation of their resources and labour force during colonial periods that they are only now beginning to recover. Perhaps you need to start watching something besides CNN if you haven’t noticed that countries like India have become economic powers in the last few years.
Why is it that so many of us cling to the misconceptions of the past? What is it that we are so afraid of that we must bluster on about being the best of everything? Or even worse, expect everyone to be like us. What does it really mean when our leaders say things like our values can be an example to the world?
Why is it whenever I hear someone use the word values I have the feeling they want to impose their way of thinking on the rest of the world? They never say what those values are, but everyone assumes it’s what they personally believe in, so that’s okay. The whole world should be just like me.
What is so wrong with people being different? Why can’t we just accept that others believe in different things than us and stop trying to impose our way of life on them? Whether it’s extremist Muslims, Christians, Hindi, Capitalists, Jews or Communists, none of them seem to understand that our diversity is what makes humans so unique.
Instead of trying to fit everybody into one mould, we should be celebrating what we can offer each other. Even within our own culture there is diversity of belief, and opinion that makes our lives more interesting. If all of us thought the same, this site would be damn boring.
When we continue on with the past traditions of being ignorant of other people’s beliefs, and continue to espouse our superiority, we increase the chances for conflict. Colonial attitudes have proven unwieldy in the past and have caused nothing but trouble; don’t you think it’s time we tried something different?