fortune or its reverse the seldom-updated lackaff.net blog

7May/080

the enormity of the calamity

Cut short by Cortes, Mexica philosophy did not have the chance to reach as far as Greek or Chinese philosophy. But surviving testimony intimates that it was well on its way. The stacks of Nahuatl manuscripts in Mexican archives depict the tlamatinime meeting to exchange ideas and gossip, as did the Vienna Circle and the French philosophs and the Taisho-period Kyoto school. Their musings of the tlamatinime occurred in intellectual neighborhoods frequented by philosophers from Brussels to Beijing, bu the mix was entirely the Mexica's own. Voltaire, Locke, Rousseau, and Hobbes never had a chance to speak with these men or even know of their existence--and here, at last, we begin to appreciate the enormity of the calamity, for the disintegration of native America was a loss not just to those societies but to the human enterprise as a whole.

Having grown separately for millennia, the Americas were a boundless sea of novel ideas, dreams, stories, philosophies, religions, moralities, discoveries, and all the other products of the mind. Few things are more sublime or characteristically human than the cross-fertilization of cultures. The simple discovery by Europe of the existence of the Americas caused an intellectual ferment. How much grander would have been the tumult if Indian societies had survived in full splendor!

-Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus (2005)

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