Certain government workers and many members of the Italian-American community are taking today off in honor of Columbus Day, and we’ve decided to do the same by re-posting a four-year-old but still timely essay:
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Today is either Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day, depending on your preference as a freeborn American. We have nothing against indigenous peoples, and count some among our ancestors, but we’ll spend the day playing old records by Ray Charles in celebration of the fellow who set off the from the Old World and inadvertently found a new one.
To the more progressive way of thinking, ironically enough, Columbus is one of history’s greatest villains and his voyage one of history’s greatest catastrophes. If only Columbus had suppressed that dangerous human instinct to discover what is beyond the horizon, according to this progressive line of thought, the indigenous people would have been spared all the subsequent unpleasantness and the rest of the world have been spared the annoyance of modern America. This alternative history has a certain appeal, with its enticing promise of people living in perfect harmony with nature and bare-breasted women cavorting on the sandy beaches and all that, but it’s always struck us as high speculative. One must ignore the likelihood that the indigenous people would have inflicted all sorts of unpleasantness on one another over the past many centuries, as all people tend to do, and foregone all the life-enhancing discoveries that have resulted from that dangerous human instinct to discover what is beyond the horizon. One must also ignore many of the ways things have turned out with America, which for all its past sins and remaining faults is still arguably one of the greatest things has happened to humankind over the past five centuries, and perhaps even greater than what might have happened if everyone had just stayed put in their diversity-lacking homelands.
The late Flip Wilson had a very funny bit about Christopher Columbus in which the great explorer explains to Queen Isabella that “If I don’t discover America there’s not going to be a Benjamin Franklin, or a star-spangled banner or a land of the free and a home of the brave, and no Ray Charles.” In Wilson’s telling the queen panics at the thought of no Ray Charles, and immediately agrees to finance Columbus’ journey to America when he explains “That’s where all those records come from.” It’s a shrewd bit of anachronistic humor, and a sound rebuttal to all the Columbus-bashers who would rather celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Living in perfect harmony with nature would be cold in the winter and hot in the summer, the sandy beaches where the bare-breasted women cavort will always be far away, the rest of the of the progressive vision of history’s perfect conclusion sounds quite dull and lacking in adventure, and the part about no Ray Charles records is too horrible to contemplate.
We’ll continue to urge our government to do what it can for the indigenous people, but that will probably involve modern medical discoveries and other benefits of a rapacious and ever-evolving yet-still-imperfect technological economy and wide-open-to-anything-from-anywhere popular culture, so we’ll also take some time out today to be grateful that Christopher Columbus once brought some of that Old World’s admittedly troublesome know-how to this hemisphere. For all his undeniable faults Christopher Columbus was one of those rare men who refused to stay put and dared to find out what was beyond the horizon, and thus he discovered the land where the Ray Charles records eventually came from, and that’s well worth a day of celebration.
— Bud Norman