If Columbus statues should be removed, what about our behavior today?

March 3, 2022 by Joshua
in Nonjudgment

You’ve likely read that many places are taking down statues of Columbus. Here’s a CBS News story from 2020, Dozens of Christopher Columbus statues have been removed since June.

There are plenty of stories explaining why. The story above says,

Protests have targeted Columbus because he is accused of the genocide of indigenous people. A 2019 study published in the journal Quaternary Science Review estimated that between 1492 and 1600, about 55 million people in the Americas died. The Taíno people were virtually wiped out in the decades after Columbus first arrived on the island of Hispaniola, where Haiti and the Dominican Republic sit today. 

55 million people in over a century is a lot. Columbus didn’t kill all of them. He was part of a culture that supported his actions. If his culture condoned his behavior, to what extent do we excuse his actions, if at all? To what extent do we hold everyone in his culture responsible, if any? Did any people oppose actions like his contributions to that death and suffering? If so, do we excuse or even look up to them if they did their best?

I suspect many people today would say we consider what he did so obviously wrong that we don’t excuse him and we hold others in his culture partly responsible.

If so, what about us today? 55 million per 108 years sounds big, but it’s small compared to our culture today. 9 million people a year today die from breathing polluted air, a faster rate. We don’t need to pollute, as people lived without polluting for hundreds of thousands of years. We choose to pollute. And pollution kills in many ways beyond air pollution, so we’re killing many more, plus animal species, as you know. You’ve read the headlines.

Each of us pollutes. Even having reduced my pollution over 90 percent from slightly below the American average, and continuing my reductions, I’m polluting. If you make middle class or higher income and if you fly (around 95 percent of people have never flown), you pollute ten, twenty, or more times more than I do.

Do you hold yourself responsible similarly to how you hold Columbus and his contemporaries responsible? If not, why not? If so, what are you going to do about it?

What will future generations say about you and your behavior? What would you do in Columbus’s time? Would you work to lower those deaths? Do you expect that work would improve your life?

Are you working to lower today’s deaths? Wouldn’t you expect it would improve your life, especially after I write and say all the time that each stop of moving toward sustainability improved my life?

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