Maintaining a unique group identity can be perilous, no matter how necessary.
The necessity side, at its best, has to do with trying to make progress, improve justice and physical comfort, live healthier, counter the corrosive forces of status quo and lethargy, be smarter, and so on. Put it any way you want, things in general could be better, and even thinking something like that will set you apart from the status quo of broader society.
On the other hand, humans are social animals. We need others as family, friends, colleagues, cohorts. We even need them to share our stories, histories, songs, and place on this earth. Relax, right?
It’s a complex calculus, then, around the world.
What I started to see in researching my book on a Quaker community in New England, though, was a blatant arrogance within the Puritan wave of immigration. I suspect similar sides are apparent in the Spanish settlers to the south or the French to the north, or, well, back in the Old World, all the way to China. Even one tribe over another.
I’m trying to look at this clearly.
The English, of course, knew they were superior to the French, who I gather saw it the other way around. (Insert proper expletive and spit appropriately.) And they were both superior to the Spanish or Portuguese or Italians, according to this scenario.
Germans? Not really on the scene in earliest settlement in America, far as I can tell, though the Dutch of New Netherlands add their own twist.
Remember, the English also looked down on the Scots and Irish, as well as the Welsh and Cornish.
Sounds to me like the old game, King of the Hill.
The comedian Eddie Izzard has an insightful riff on this where he says it all comes down to a flag. If you have no flag, you have no claim to your country or land. So, here, I’ll stick mine in the ground and this place is mine.
That does make for a short ride on the papal Doctrine of Discovery. Look it up, if you must.
What I’ve seen in my research is how this air of superiority made equitable dealings between the Europeans and the Indigenous peoples impossible. There was no eye-to-eye even exchange. Even the concept of farming was viewed as more productive, and thus superior, than the Native hunting and gathering use of a piece of land.
Well, I could argue that God preferred a wild-game offering over grain in Cain vs. Abel, Genesis chapter 4.
You know, quality over quantity.
As for equality? We have our guns and Bibles.
Which points to another distinction: written language. I’m a writer and a reader. You expect me to not take sides here?
Still, in the New England story, the English weren’t shy about labeling the Natives as “barbarians,” “savages,” and “heathens.” Never mind many of the practices of the English and French, who not only offered bounties on scalps – Native and the other side’s European – but also indulged in the practice themselves. As for heathen? For the Puritans, with their Calvinist inclination of proclaiming themselves God’s Elect, most other Christians were also lumped in that group, perhaps at a slightly lesser degree.
Many of the consequences, however, have been tragic, for all sides.
In some theology, pride is a sin, right? Ahem. (Hopefully, in contrast to justifiable self-esteem.)
Well, as some among us might note, I’m proud to be a humble Quaker. Not that we didn’t fall into that trap of feeling superior, too.
There’s plenty of work for all to do on this issue. I’ll leave my end of the discussion at that, for now.