Asked another way: If I say Columbus was wrong, then who was right?
Contrary to populari belief -- a belief caused by every American grade school textbook from An American Pageant to Prentice Hall Earth Science, no one in Christopher Columbus's time thought the earth was flat. It was established information, since the ancient Greeks, that it was a sphere. Eratosthenesii calculated the diameter to 10% accuracy back in 200 BC. Ptolemy (0 AD?) knew it was round, but thought the sun (another sphere) revolved around it.
And yes, even the Catholics believed it was round, too. St. Augustine knew it was round, his difficulty was accepting whether there were any people on the other side of the world -- how do you know it isn't all just water?
So the dispute was not whether the Earth was flat, but how big it was: most people thought that it was bigger than it actually was, and Columbus thought that it was much smaller than it actually was. Turns out even Columbus didn't really believe it was that small either, as he fudged the ship's logs so that the crew wouldn't know how far they'd actually gone, and mutiny.
Either way, the Dominican Republic was in the middle, and no one expected that.
So Columbus was wrong about how big it was. The prevailing estimates were closer to the truth.
Some of you might have assumed my initial question was of the variety, "Did Christopher Columbus discover America?" or "Did he think he made it to India?"
What's interesting about those questions is that they are not fact queries, but political alignments. It is a fact he discovered America -- he didn't know it was there. It is also a fact that others had been there before him, and people were indigenous to it, as well; but these are not mutually exclusive facts.
And people love to jump on the question, take sides: "no, no, he didn't discover it, Leif Erickson/the Chinese/Indians!!!" But they're not correcting misinformation; they're debating prejudices. They're not taking sides for something; they're taking sides against something.iii
Anyone who tells you Leif Erickson discovered America is unlikely to know any other fact about Leif Erickson. Not the date of his voyages, his country of origin (Viking is not a country)iv or what he was even doing that far west in the first place. Nothing. They don't care about Leif; they just want Columbus to be wrong.v
Why that is could vary: maybe it's a slap against the establishment, their parents, "everything my Dad told me is wrong!" as they take a deep drag from their only true friend. Maybe they want to appear smart. Or possessing of a trendy anti-european sentimentality.vi
What matters here is why such a meaningless debate is the one most people want to have; yet the other, more urgent one -- are we even being taught anything correctly in school? -- passes without even a thought.vii
So why is it we were taught that the prevailing opinion was that the Earth was flat and that Columbus's crew was terrified they would fall off the edge?
The most common answer is Washington Irving's (yes, that Irving) book The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, a fictional account, which assumes a prevailing belief in a flat earth.
Trouble is, most people have never heard of this book, let alone read it; to blame it for generations of misinformation seems, well, a stretch.viii
But the flat earth misconception does indeed appear in textbooks. The problem comes down to this: no one cares enough to fix it. Parents learned it; kids learn it; and even if you do discover the truth (e.g. now) it's simply not worth going back (to whom?) and fixing the source (e.g. the textbook.) The correct information becomes a novelty, bar talk. The factual information supposedly has no value.ix
Yet the debate about who discovered America -- that somehow matters. The incorrect knowledge makes medievalists look like religious idiots -- that's ok.x That it alters your hazy guess about what life was like back then -- no problem.xi That it supports the idea of history being divided between now and pre 1980 -- awesome. Secular humanism is the name of the game, and that also means no special place can be afforded to any Italian/Spanish explorers.
How do generations of Americans get the basic facts so horribly wrong? No one reads primary sources, and, worse, everyone relies on the same bunch of interpretations of primary sources. Then the debate is not about the the accuracy of the information, but the presence or absence of a political biases.
We got what little information we have about history from the same few sources; no wonder we don't know anything, and we all don't know the same things.xii Imagine if we all got our news from the same few sources, or our medical information from... oh, wait.
In other words, it's the same way we practice medicine and pick our Presidents -- More of The Same vs. Less Of Everything. And it doesn't seem likely to change.———
- It's really neither popular nor even common anywhere outside ESLtardia, the pantsuit reservation. [↩]
- Thales and his shadows math is probably worthier of mention. [↩]
- While it's very much the case they're not "correcting misinformation", whatever that is, but debating prejudices, it's nevertheless not at all the case the difference is "that some are for something and the others against something". Both political and scientific activity exist in the positive as well as negative, the people taking sides take sides against things just as well as for things, and the people trying to figure shit out figure shit's one way just as well as they figure shit's not some other way. The particular misconception Ballas belabours here is very much specific to people who have some scholarly exposure which has been veheheeery carefully tuned to avoid math. In most other disciplines of thought, the so called "positive sciences" (or if you prefer "empirical" something-or-the-other) the net result of intellectual labour is some sort of afirmative -- "yes you can fly with objects heavier than air, the relative weights are not the important part really, it suffices to have a foil to the wind thus and therefore to be able to lift this-and-so much weight" etcetera ; or "yes you can float iron on water, just make a watertight volume hollow inside by this and so ratios" and so on. By contrast, the result of intellectual activity applied to math is almost in the negative, "that line will never cross that point" or "that curve will never touch that line" or "the left side will never be larger than the right side" (which, if you insist, can even be put in the affirmative but it'll stay "negative" regardless.
In the end, what he'd expect to be "his valuable intuition" here, the poorly vocalized inkling at an ethics he's trying for, something along the lines of "the good is positive and the bad is negative", rings hollow and stands worhtless. Things... well, they're not that simple, sorry. [↩]
- And is "the ancient Greeks" a country ? Because people living thereabouts thenabouts very pointedly didn't think so. Was this Euripidocles or whatever from Lacedemonia or was he rather from Atina ? Beotia ? Pointlessposmagia ? What do you mean Pointlessposmagia ain't a place, you ever heard of the Parakoimomenos ? No ? Well, they were from Turkey, so there! [↩]
- Occasionally you'll run into some weirdo who thinks he's "ethnically viking" and related to Leif as a party / picking up chicks gimmick. Though granted, not since they went quarantarded. [↩]
- Wait, the Vikings weren't a place that also wasn't from Europe ? This is progressing nicely... [↩]
- Seems a foregone conclusion at this point. Water is wet and US schooling a joke, what's to debate. [↩]
- No it doesn't. Because... [↩]
- Rather, the culture long abandoned any semblance of meaning. [↩]
- It's not just okay. It's absolutely needed by the tin women society of morons. Here, listen to this sample of out and out imbecility :
America's reckoning with slavery and white supremacy is focused thus far mainly on Confederate monuments. But there is also an ongoing discussion about the Founders who owned slaves, How should we remember them? What should be done with their monuments?
The Supreme Court will at some point confront this question about John Marshall. When you tour the Court, a statue of the Chief Justice dominates the exhibit hall downstairs. When new Justices are formally given their place on the Court, they sit in John Marshall's chair during the ceremony.
The problem is that John Marshall owned people. In fact, he owned hundreds of enslaved people. Paul Finkelman's recent book on that fact (called Supreme Injustice) is well worth reading (at least for the portion about Marshall). In writing my biography of Bushrod Washington, I was struck by Marshall's terrible record on slavery and on race (including various comments that he made in letters). Much of this record was not known until recently, which partly explains why the Chief Justice has escaped the criticism that the other Founders from Virginia now justly receive.
Does this change my opinion of Marbury or McCulloch? Not at all. But do I think that Marshall should be singled out for special recognition within the Supreme Court building? Not anymore.
Posted 9:24 AM by Gerard N. Magliocca
Bushrod Washington had slavery issues too. Shall see how the book (which sounds interesting) will cover them.
I figure we will be seen as pretty bad in 2220 too [a lot of people today think we are pretty bad] & in various ways they will be right, but I'll probably be dead.
posted by Blogger Joe : 5:21 PM
The inflationary crowd holds "its views" for no other reason and towards no other purpose than the very obvious direct : to make room for themselves, and more of themselves. Why discuss politics in terms of the politicians are all stupid [and in any case much stupider than I am], let's see which one is also '''a racist''' ? It... simplifies things, doesn't it ? It truly makes it so much the fuck easier to hold on to that cherished "I too could" delusion. The pointless esltard herd wants to believe they's got the drop on John Marshall for the obvious reason : they very well fucking don't, nor in another century or fifty thousand centuries ever could. Not at the rate they're going. So... hey, did you know Newton was a racist ? And a good thing he was all that, too, because that way "we" don't have to figure out gravity (or for that matter alchemy). Yipee! [↩]
- Aaactually... [↩]
- Or rather : don't know the same things in the same ways. [↩]