There are lots in the world, I can, like the Dude, Abide. It’s not like I want everyone to agree. That’d be boring and there’s plenty of boring without me adding to the quotient. But sometimes people like to simplify things where they’re complex and also hold dear things they learn, even when the learning has been superseded. Rather spend all day challenging people to duels I thought I’d consider some of them here.
Not a flat earth!
- If anyone believed the earth was flat, it was only a few of them. Most likely few people thought about it at all. They were busy. Of those who did think about it, they worked out the world was a sphere pretty early on. I think this modern belief about flat earthers comes from ancient maps. Maps were symbolic representations (and remain so). No one actually understood them to be actual exact simulacra of the world around them. Often, they represented their total place in the physical and spiritual cosmos. They were hierarchical and metaphorical. And back then people had eyes, with them they could see the curvature of the earth, especially at sea. Ancient Greeks like Apollonius of Perga calculated the earth was a sphere. What it comes down to is an uncritical view that people who went before were dumber than people now, and somehow I can’t abide that. Which leads me to my next point.
- I believe people have always been a mixture of intelligences. Of course people 300 years ago were ignorant of 3D glasses and iPhones – they didn’t exist – unless a certain Renaissance Genius Ninja Turtle had some drawings stuffed somewhere. But it didn’t mean people couldn’t lead useful, productive and intellectually stimulating lives. It depends on perspective. An 11th century stone mason’s idea of a worthy life is very much different to post-post modern Western ideas of success or wealth. Or perhaps not. I find just as much of interest in the past as right now. Historical shouldn’t equate to stupid or simple. Sometimes this is my worry with Steampunk, where artists of all kinds find solace and wonder in the past but also feel a need to jazz them up with aspects of post-modernity – most usually technological, but also societal. I wonder if this is a disservice to the past, or skews our appreciation for what went before, this need? As a writer, I often sift through history for stories and I don’t dislike Steampunk, I just wonder what it means.
Empowerment didn’t start yesterday
- I believe there were inspiring women of achievement throughout history and predating history, who were strong and open-minded enough to live independent lives, run households, spiritual institutions, and workplaces and even nations or tribes. Every time someone says to my face a woman couldn’t have done that at a certain then or been a particular way at a particular time or place, a part of me dies. It’s not that they didn’t or couldn’t it is just that generally, we are ignorant of it. Just read Mothers of the Novel or Medieval Women: A Social History of Women in England 450-1500. Or try Daughter of the Desert, a biography of Gertrude Bell, an English woman who founded Iraq amongst climbing mountains, being a spy and an archaeologist. Her accomplishments bested that of TE Lawrence, a colleague, and pre-dated those depicted in The English Patient – in fact they based their explorations on Bell’s maps. Or you can wait for the film about her life. It should be fully as epic as Lawrence of Arabia. Hypatia comes to mind too but there are thousands more who lived their lives and made contributions small or large, celebrated or unremarked.
- I wouldn’t want to be without my modern comforts and especially medical science and technologies, only last year I had particular cause to really appreciate them, not once but twice. However, neither do I want to discard past ways of life because so much has changed. Also, sometimes I think the world hasn’t changed too much. Consider the aforementioned Hypatia, murdered because she was woman, an intellectual who challenged the religio-politico powers that be. And yet that still happens. Women are murdered, or ignored or put into house arrest or otherwise attacked for exercising their minds and voices and hearts.
Culture is not a competition
- Everyone is enmeshed in a culture and it takes an open mind to see the flaws of the culture you’re a part of and the benefits and beauties of the cultures around you. I’m fairly certain there’s not a culture entirely bad or entirely wonderful. When people bang on about how wonderful ‘western culture’ is or how awful others are, I would love to point out the achievements and inventions of China (paper, pottery, gunpowder, printing, the novel and the compass with beliefs and practices that predate recorded history) and the intellectual contributions of the scholars, poets and scientists of the Muslim Golden Age 1000 years ago. Evidence of their achievements is to be found in how many English words are derived from Arabic words (see an earlier post). And they are just two examples. Humanity is so much more the same than different, so much more complex and rich than we can measure and our achievements so much under estimated.
Every now will be history
- As much as I am a part of this world and live in the everydayness of technology, communication and information, with the benefits of just existing at this particular time and in this particular place, I honour the past. It’s where we’re all from. One day we’ll all be past tense. I will be no more or less of a joke to the future than any person or type we care to mock or underestimate from past times now.
By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept
An Anatomy of Trade in Medieval Writing