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June 26, 2013

A New Take on Columbus

When I was in grade school in the Thirties, we celebrated the birthday of Christopher Columbus on the 12th of October and everyone regarded him as a hero for having "discovered" America after convincing the Spanish Monarchs to provide him with three ships, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.

A few days ago, late night TV carried a recently made documentary on the fourth voyage Columbus made to the "new world" he'd discovered. While the film leaves us with little doubt that Columbus became the most famous European to sail to the Americas, it also portrays him as a person who would now be considered obsessive-compulsive, greedy, cruel, and driven by delusional ambition. In fact, I found that impression far more believable than the myth I'd been exposed to in childhood.

Columbus was certainly ahead of his time as navigator and seaman, but his greed and ambition undid him in the long run. He also shared the geographic ignorance of his time in that he had no idea that an even larger ocean (The Pacific) was just a few miles overland from where Taino Indians were describing it. He never did find the shortcut to Asia he was seeking and could not have known that a nation, named in honor of another Italian, cartographer Amerigo Vespucci, would eventually construct a canal that turned his dream into reality.

Perhaps the real message from Columbus' epic adventure is that individual humans; especially those driven by completely erroneous delusions, have had an enormous impact on history.

If we hope to improve the lot of modern humans, it probably behooves us to take a more accurate and unbiased look at our own times. In that respect, it's probably significant that the Panama Canal the global economy relies on so heavily is now too small for a majority of modern ships. If one takes the time to read the cited article in the Boston Globe, we are already committed to its expansion. Even worse; the work itself- to say nothing of the investment it entails- will inevitably result in the expenditure of increasing amounts of energy at the risk of further extreme climate change.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at June 26, 2013 05:59 PM