The Open Sea

498px-Christopher_Columbus“In 1492,” they tell me, “Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” As a feat of science in the age of discovery, there is no doubt that this was an event worth celebrating. Over time, however, the luster has diminished somewhat. Although I can speak only for myself, I often feel that being a male caucasian is a decided liability. It certainly has been in my professional life. Although my ancestors were probably busy grubbing an existence from the soil as Columbus nobly stood on the forecastle, spyglass in hand and India in his heart, we are classed together. Attitudes toward divine destiny were much different then. The European powers that had made the world they discovered in their image could only see this as the will of the Almighty. That’s the liability of omnipotence. What happens is, by definition, God’s will. As technology led from success to success, Columbus set off to shrink his world. And get rich in the process. What’s so wrong with that?

The view among the displaced may be very different. People, if pagan, happened to be living in Canaan before Moses arrived, according to Holy Writ. They were, however, an annoying inconvenience to a God who had it all planned out. And since that torch had been passed to the Christian leaders of Europe, although contested by the Muslim leaders elsewhere, they had to follow their destiny to these sacred shores. Oh, I’m sorry! Were you sitting here? And those who march in the parades do it a bit more self-consciously while the majority of us continue to work in New Amsterdam as if nothing extraordinary had happened. As if a genocide hadn’t led to prosperity. As if, although God has disappeared, this wasn’t manifest destiny after all.

Humans can’t be blamed for being curious. It is part of our nature. I do wonder what will happen when we finally stop fighting one another and land ourselves on another inhabited planet. One where they haven’t achieved the technology that we have. Will we have learned anything from the St. Columbus Day massacre or will we still be guided by our confidence in lenses that can see billions of years into the past, see the havoc we’ve visited upon our own planet and still say, “it is good”? Even on the bridge of the Enterprise there is only one alien standing, and he is wearing earth clothes. Can we be disinterested observers when potential wealth lies below the feet of those we meet? We respect your culture, but hey, what’s that you’re standing on? Mind if we take it? You’re not using it. And once their voices have been silenced, we’ll seek other oceans blue to sail.

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