Sunday, June 03, 2007

Bart's Breakthrough


We drove from Halifax to Montreal, a 13 hour drive, and are just now in our hotel room. It's a long drive but it was a beautiful day and besides that we took a university course along the way. A couple years ago we discovered that you could buy cd's of lectures given at places like Oxford. So we took the 'Ideas That Shaped Mankind: A Concise History of Human Thought' class taught by some guy named Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. As we drove through the widerness of New Brunswick and Eastern Quebec he wove a history of thought.

Then he said something that made me really sit up and take notice.

He was talking about the Spanish invasion of South America and the wholesale destruction of cultures and peoples. Some guy, a Dominican Friar named Bartolome de Las Casas had an intellectual discovery, and according to the good professor was the first to say it, or write it down anyways. Up until this guy, humanity had no concept of ... well ... humanity. We were tribes, nations, races ... we were us ... and anyone else was them. The universality of the human condition did not exist as an idea or a thought.

So Bart, if he doesn't mind me being so casual, wrote something spectacular.

"All the peoples of the world are human."

This was an intellectual bombshell that set off a whole new way of thinking. His writings were tremendously popular in their day and helped shaped human conciousness in radical new ways. I sat in the car reeling from the simplicity of that statement. But then the lecture, as it had to, went on and we sank into the horrors of Social Darwinism, Nazi ideology and eugenics. The message of the good Friar was lost somewhere along the way, although the professor maintains there are still echos of the sentiment of the concept of the humanity of humans in our day to day discourse.

Would that some other great thinker come along to push the boundaries of Bart's thinking. He was talking about indigenous peoples.

But shouldn't we think of people with disabilities and differences as also being indigenous to the human condition? As being discovered precisely where we belong? As being a people?

And, therefore, the statement ...

"All the peoples of the world are human."

... applies ... we just need someone to remind us - every now and then - of that fact.


Belinda said...

I'm imagining this flock of readers with you on your journey, hanging off your car, listening in to the CD and enjoying the journey of thought too. Thanks for taking us with you! Bart was a great traveling companion and his simple thought so profoundly true--all the peoples of the world are human. That must have been--and still is--radical to some people.

Alyric said...

Instead we got Steven Pinker