SPINNING THE PRAYER WHEELS OF HISTORY
Say it with me.
It has a nice, mystical ring to it. It was the name of the other guy who conquered Mt. Everest in the year that I was born. The non-white guy. The schlepper. The one who knew the way.
Sir Edmund Hilary, the white guy, died recently. He seems to have been a good guy, unlike the battallions of megalomaniacal useless yuppies littering the slopes of Everest these days. Unlike most of them, Hilary dedicated his life to helping people like Tenzing Norgay.
Thanks to Rudyard Kipling and the English in general, we have certain images and attitudes in relation to the various "little" brown, yellow, black, red and tan people encountered, conquered and subjugated in the course of discovery, exploration, exploitation, colonization and empire over the last five hundred years. We're a decent sort of folk ourselves, so we heartily admit the good qualities of many of these wogs, though, of course, most of them are just bloody wogs to some of us: Worthy Oriental Gentlemen, niggers, spics, dagos, chinks, pineappleheads, etc. Though we've beat them and we've flayed them and we've cursed the god that made them maybe a few were better men than we were, eh, Tenzing Norgay?
In fact, these little wogs had a history and a culture of their own. Empires and conquests of their own. Those we subjugated have subjugated others. Even today, we read about horrific scenes right out of MacBeth or Hamlet in far-off Katmandu, on the fabled roof of the world: Almost five hundred years after Shakespeare, scenes of utter barbarism in what we had imagined were the halls of Shangrila.
What we need to remember is that Shakespeare himself represented the apex of our civilization, or the beginning of it. But he also represented the beginning of an age of cultural, military and economic domination of the world by an upstart nation no one had ever heard of before, in most of the world. A nation that was once dominated by empires, now come to dominate Imperial nations.
The Moghuls, the Ottoman Caliphate, Persia. The Mongols, Han China, Tibet. For thousands of years, these nations, these peoples rose and fell, struggled amongst themselves and against each other. And yet they were "discovered" by the Danes, the English, the French, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Italians, the Americans, suddenly, one day quite recently, as if they had never existed. Some had long since known the peaks of their civilizations, and fallen into decline. Some were a ways yet from reaching their peak. Others were at their own absolute apex.
This may have meant their arts and letters were flowering. But it also meant great bloody conquests and ruthless exploitations of their neighbors. Civilization may be a process of refinement and rationalization, acculturation and anti-barbarism. But it is built on a quicksand of blood, greed, hatred, fear, envy and lust for land, resources and power. Perhaps this is why every empire that rises must fall: Some might call it karma, others just payback: Balance. The swinging of the historical pendulum.
My point is that, even as mighty nations like Tibet become helpless victims, so we in America should expect our own fortunes to change, someday. And then we will be the funny little white people, kwai lo schlepping across the dry seas of Luna and Mars, behind some famous Chinaman.
Billy Bob Norgay,
Billy Bob Norgay,
Billy Bob Norgay.
Labels: WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND
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