Saturday, November 20, 2010

Reflection #13

An interesting concept that was brought up in the podcast and in our readings is the idea of language. I’m not only referring to communication but the notion that our thoughts are limited to our vocabulary. There are theories that we can’t even begin to comprehend because we do not have a word for them. It’s not necessarily because we do not have the intellectual capabilities, but because we don’t have the means to describe them.

This came to mind during class today. What Cortes did (in my mind), of annihilating the Aztecs and other indigenous tribes, was inhumane and immoral. At the same time, the culture he came from had not established the concept and the word for genocide. In Cortes’s mind, what he was doing was accomplishing his mission, and if it involved killing humans, so be it. Other examples of words that were not yet developed but still had implications in everyday life are: acting ‘humanely,’ ‘humanitarian’ and ‘conquest.’ Since none of us experienced the culture of the 15th century, we are not privy to the mindset. Perhaps the notions of just and unjust killing were really there? Was Cortes capable of differentiating between these two types of killing, or was death solely an overarching concept?

As our world evolved over time, obviously new takes to an idea expanded as well. For example, take law. What started off as a king writing out a list of laws on a scroll has turned into a complex court system with international law, the UN, allies, treaties and much more. But what is interesting is despite these differences, the underlying idea is still there. Cortes recognized the need to work with La Malinche and Montezuma, though the phrase, ‘I need to make allies and treaties’ did not go through his mind. There were some forms of diplomacy back then (though not as complicated as today) which he chose not to use in order to peacefully accomplish his mission. The narrower language that Cortes was born into limited him, but he was still human. Vocabulary has changed, but human instincts haven’t. Murder has never been something societies’ readily promote. That is why I believe it is hard to defend Cortes for his actions because regardless of the archaic language and concepts, he is still human with human senses.

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