Teach me your ways

By Matt Hose

Oh, the contradictions! The fabricated history! The false future-telling!

Like many other people, I came to college thinking that I would learn and understand more about the world around me. I thought that some wise mentor would take me under his wing as his protégé, would train me in his holy Socratic method to understand the cosmos and maybe even take me to the top of the Himalayas once or twice to have a good old-fashioned Buddhist vision.

The reality of college life has proven different. As I progress through my college years and learn more, I understand less. Or, as Socrates himself put it, “All I know is that I know nothing.”

So, why am I thinking of these things now? Well, the semester has gotten a few weeks deep. Everyone has developed a routine with their classes, with going to parties on Saturdays and with a morning blueberry muffin at Tú Mercado (or maybe that’s just me).

As all of these things occur, the contradictions of my classes begin to take shape. I start to realize that my teachers are not all-seeing, all-knowing demigods, but that they are at times just as confused as I am. I see that one class has several different theories and ways of looking at the course material. And, most importantly, I see that the content of two classes tell opposing stories about the world.

The most prominent contradiction for me this semester appears in an international relations course and a Spanish course involving Latin America.

In the international relations course, we are essentially learning about two different mindsets to have when approaching the subject: liberalism and realism. The former says that we should promote democracy throughout the world; the latter says that we should do whatever is in our best interest. However, what I have gathered from the few weeks of this class and from what I have read of 21st century writers, is that both liberalism and realism lead to the same conclusion: that America should be a big-brother state, holding the hands of backwards states while we plant the flag of democracy on foreign soil.

That all sounds peachy, and it makes sense to me in the context of that classroom and in the context of world politics. But then the Monday sun goes down, the Tuesday sun comes up and my Spanish class begins.

There, we learn about the conquista of Central and South America. Though history has euphemized this period in history with tales of the bravery of Columbus and the art of discovery, the truth is that the Spaniards brutalized, enslaved and often murdered indigenous populations for their resources.

The Spanish government then justified this slaughter through a document called the “Requerimiento,” which contains language as lofty as the Constitution. However, it essentially tells the indigenous populations of America to either bow down to the Spanish crown or witness the murder of their entire population, the rape of their women, and the blame for all of this placed on the murdered themselves.
Then, my Spanish teacher draws the comparison to the present, during which America is planting the flag of democracy on what we might call “barbaric soils.” Moreover, we assume that we know what is best for the brutes of those countries. We drop bombs from drones and somehow we think we are spreading the ideas of a better world. After seeing a not-too-distant history that looks remarkably similar to this present, it is difficult to say that we should invade the Middle East, let alone anywhere at all in the world in the context of this class.

The conflicting viewpoints of two classes present themselves on a chessboard in my head. The pieces move, hoping to get the upper-hand on the other side. But, alas! I am my own best opponent, and the match ends in a stalemate, with me none the wiser.