Stop the Press! Let’s Take a Good Look at Our Common Ground

How History Shows Our Common Humanity

Adrian V. Cole

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Picture this: It’s 1492. A small group of Arawak Indians stand on the shore watching a collection of wooden boats rowing towards them. Approaching them is Death, in the form of dozens of filthy, hungry Spaniards whose germs, if not their swords, will kill them, maybe not today, but eventually, and all of them.

The Spaniards came in boats with dark sails. They rode giant “deer,” the like of which had never been seen in the new world, were followed by massive, slobbering hounds and sported hairy faces. The Arawaks, to Spanish eyes, were all but naked, pierced, tattooed, lived in huts, babbled incoherently.

The two sets of people could not have represented more different habits and approaches to the business of life. The way they dressed; the things they built; the gods they invented to worship. But that is all we are talking about here: culture. For all of the people involved in this little scenario were — well, people. What separated them was culture, not biology, and biology gave them much more commonality than difference, even if those commonalities did not save their skins.

We inhabit the earth today with a never-before-experienced global awareness, thanks to the process of globalization. And never before, because of our various environmental crises, has the urgency to recognize this been so great — all the action that needs to be taken requires unprecedented global cooperation.

And yet History often operates with difference as its default mode: Protestant-vs-Catholic, Muslim-vs-Jew, Han-vs-Mongol, Black-vs-White, etc.

But the simple fact is that we are one species, homo sapiens sapiens, and this means that we share almost all fundamental behavioural traits. The stories of history admit to remarkably few scripts — development from simple polities to ever more complex ones, struggles for power, resources, land; dynastic struggles, such as lie at the heart of India’s foundational epic, the Mahabharata, or wars over women, as in Homer’s Iliad (one of Europe’s foundational texts).

The familiar narrative arc of all societies are particularly visible in seven categories of human social life: Religion, politics…

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Adrian V. Cole

Writer of fiction & non fiction. Author of “Thinking Past: Questions and Problems in World History to 1750.” Politics Reporter at the American Independent