I’ve been thinking about “I was here first,” and all the world of trouble such a claim can bring when it’s not a true one.
It smacks of colonialism. Terra nullius, those native people don’t count because we can’t understand their political relationship to each other and how they are tied to the land, we the conquerers are the only ones who count. There’s a pride in it that makes me cringe, one taken in snapping up all the world, cramming it into greedy pink-lipped mouths. Where the lack of capacity is really in those who do not understand that not being organised on European terms doesn’t mean not being people. Here first to destroy, here first to assert that the presence of white people is what makes a country, a place, a history.
“I was here first” is also a dangerous assertion when it comes to ideas. Any number of inventions and theories have been taken from the originators by those in a position socially privileged enough to guard against retaliation. I’m thinking particularly of Rosalind Franklin, whose data and thinking were used by Crick and Watson towards the double helix model of DNA. This didn’t stop Crick and Watson taking the credit and adopting a very condescending attitude towards her, including, famously on the part of Watson, in his book The Double Helix ten years after Franklin’s early death. Flag-planting sends a simply and strong message that doesn’t necessarily stop for ethics.
What’s been really grating for me lately – hey, for as far back as we can go – is something that harks back to that colonialist attitude, the morality twist on being there first. We were the first to think rightly, one cannot properly remove oneself from our moral framework; adopt our thinking, and you will be correct/welcome/saved. The idea that there can’t be more than one way to properly think is self-evidently untrue, if one cares to examine the world. And evangelising of whatever kind is often about pushing a powerful way of thought on the other. We are the first ones to see rightly, and will obliterate any other ways and history, because we are the first ones to make it here.
There’s a lot to be had from history, and few journeys, of whatever kind, are original ones. We’re all human beings, and we’re all working with similar source material. I’m learning to be humble, having been subjected to this kind of rubbish myself, and recognise that I may not have all the answers or be the first one to have them.