Christopher Columbus: Hero or Villain?

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Christopher Columbus: Hero or Villain? Empty Christopher Columbus: Hero or Villain?

Post by Chiasm Chicken on 5/20/2014, 17:21

This can be the sequel of a rather interesting discussion I shared earlier in the year which never reached a sound conclusion--let's hope it ends well here.
It can't be argued that Columbus had no good qualities, nor that he had no bad ones, so the real debate lies on which set of traits outweighs the other. I believe that Columbus was more hero than villain, even if he was not the same sort of hero we'd like people to honor today.
He was a persistent, persevering character, though dishonest, and did think of himself as superior than some others (but that isn't uncommon even today). He had good and bad traits like the rest of us, the same kind of jumbled personality that makes any of us a human being. Most criticisms of him are focused not on his characteristics themselves, but on the role Columbus played in slavery.
I don't think it's fair to say "ignore that and focus on the good parts" because you can't cover up evil with good deeds; no matter what good you do, you can never undo the bad. Instead I will attempt to, for lack of a better word, justify Columbus's actions. I don't support slavery and will not be trying to excuse it, just trying to show that it is not likely that Columbus fully grasped the depth of the pain he caused. As Simone Weil said, "Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty." Columbus did not view much of what he did as bad.
I honestly do not believe that, had anyone in our era been in Columbus's position, they would have done anything differently. I do not mean taking your current mind and placing it in a 15th Century body, I mean taking your personality and nature and placing it in a child, so that while your core would remain the same, your ideas and perception of the world and other races would match those of the time.
It is fine if you believe that Columbus was a bad person at heart. It's entirely possible, and it could be that someone else discovered the New World, they might not have screwed up quite as royally. But the nurture of Columbus definitely plays into his actions as much as his nature. If Columbus alone had had his views, the slave trade would not have taken off so spectacularly--in this way, part of the blame lies on society's attitude towards slavery at the time.
That's all for my "justification", but I'm afraid I have another card up my sleeve: sympathy.
The motive behind Columbus's actions is easy to understand. He set out to discover a land full of gold and would have returned with nothing had he not acquired the slaves. But it is important to understand the emotion behind the motive as well, which must have been, primarily, fear.
Columbus had been rejected for funding several times before he was sponsored by Spain, so a bit of his pride was on the line: if he had given up then, he would have proven those who turned him down to be right. Although he was not considered important by any countries, he would have surely lost a bit of personal honor had he returned empty-handed. If he had attempted anything like "No, no, but listen, I found a whole country!", he would have become a laughingstock.
This is mostly what makes me like Columbus, because of the sort of desperation he must of felt which caused him to capture the natives and kick off the Triangular Trade. But that's putting things out of perspective--making it sound like Columbus knew that he was doing something horrible which, as stated previously, I do not believe. At the time slavery was not considered bad in any way, and was in fact encouraged by some; it definitely was not anything negative. These people were not considered human, and they were not seen as suffering when they're families and lives were torn apart.
These people suffered major injustices and endured things we likely cannot imagine, but I do not think it is fair to place blame on one person alone, because, had any of us been alive during that time, we surely would not have done any differently.

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Chiasm Chicken
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