The Pain Was Not Worth The Gain

December 20, 2017
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Thousands of innocent people stabbed. Hung. Shot. Dead. Their culture? Gone. If someone heard this on the news today, it is almost guaranteed that he/she would think that whatever benefits of these crimes are not worth it. All of these heinous acts occurred during The Age of Exploration when men from European countries set sail around the world, and they shaped how life is today. At first look it may seem as though advancements due to the exploration have improved people’s lives; although in reality, humanity is worse off because of the problems it has created. The effects of the Age of Exploration have negatively impacted people’s lives in the past and present, so ultimately it was not worth it.


The mistreatment of indigenous people led many of their cultures to be destroyed. In 1518, Hernan Cortez set sail from Spain to Mexico in search of power and gold. When he got there, he found that the Aztecs had already established their own community and way of living. Disregarding their way of life, he destroyed the Aztec  empire by killing thousands of people which led to the fall of their government system. Along with that, he also tore down almost all of their religious statues and built new ones that supported Christianity. Cortez’s desolation of the Aztec culture was selfish, and he took advantage of the power that he had. All of the violence, destruction, and commotion he caused was due to Spain’s interest in exploration and riches. Cortez was not the only explorer to poorly treat the indigenous people; Howard Zinn described Christopher Columbus’ interactions with them by saying, “When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged or burned them to death” (3). The native people were treated cruelly even though it was their land to begin with, simply because Columbus thought he deserved the land. He may have succeeded in getting what he was after, but it was at the cost of human beings. Along with their lives were their stories, customs, and traditions, all gone because of Columbus. Those early beginnings of using violence to achieve something portrays the idea that this is acceptable, when that should not be the case. It is no wonder that people are so used hearing on the news about kids and adults being murdered or shot; since that violence is how America became the country it is in the first place. Although, many people argue that the Age of Exploration was bound to happen at some point, which is why people should embrace it. Yes, the Exploration would have occurred eventually; although there was no need for such horrific acts like the elimination of cultures, religions, and people, to take place due to the selfish desires of European countries to be superior.


The Age of Exploration is responsible for the negative ways in which indigenous cultures live today. Part Time Indian gives powerful insight on what life is like for families living on an Indian Reservation area. A teenage boy, Arnold, dropped out of his school on the reservation and transferred to a public school miles away. The students and teachers referred to him as the “Indian” boy because he was the only kid from an indigenous culture among many white students. The treatment of Arnold is a direct effect of The Age of Exploration. Although the Native Americans settled on this land before many other people did, they are now seen as the minorities and are viewed differently by many people of the white ethnicity. Along with that, millions of people still refer to indigenous people, like Arnold, as “Indians”. This is because up until Vespucci realized Columbus had sailed to new land, Columbus assumed he had reached India. Hence the reason he named the people he met there “Indians”, when in fact they were not actually Indians. Unfortunately, this name for the indigenous people stuck even though it is extremely offensive to Native Americans because they are being misrepresented.  Many people are desensitized to the weight this word holds because it has become so commonly used. Although the use of this word should make people think of the hideous actions of the explorers, and remind them that these actions negatively impact the Native American's today. Arnold also gives insight on their ethnicity’s typical life by describing his mindset when saying, “You start believing you’re stupid and ugly because you’re poor and you’re poor because you’re Indian” (13). This is the harsh reality of the cycle of feelings Indians experience. Their culture is isolated from the rest of the world because of the after effects of the Age of Exploration, which is why they with problems like poverty and lack of self confidence. Some people say that it is the Indians own fault for the poverty and alcoholism they live in now because there is nothing the government is currently doing to prevent them changing their lifestyle. Although, they have been living this way for hundreds of years, and they can not just “get out of poverty” or “stop being alcoholics” in an instant. When children grow up living in poverty on the reservation, isolated from the rest of the world, they often grow up living just like their parents did. Other cultures besides the Indians were affected by the Age of Exploration as well. Hernan Cortez shaped the culture for the people living in Mexico because they currently speak Spanish and are predominantly Catholic due to the language and religion that was implemented there. Mexico is so better off with these changes that were forced upon them, but yet they carried on throughout their country to this day. The Age of Exploration not only impacted America’s culture, but it also drastically changed the culture of Mexico and indigenous groups for the worse.


Since the Age of Exploration, humans have made many new products and advancements. Although, people would have lived just fine without all of these things, and they created more problems for society. In Ishmael it discusses how Mother Culture put this idea in people’s heads that “Hunter and gatherers lived a grim life” and that “however bad things are they are still infinitely preferable to how they were” (243). In reality hunters and gatherers were successful and nourished with food because they learned how to manage their lives with what they had, and they didn’t know any better. Sure, the ease of being able to open a refrigerator or drive to the grocery store for food is nice, but why is it better? The hunters and gatherers lived for hundreds of years without having these abilities, and they didn’t feel like it was a burden to kill or collect their food in the woods. In many ways it was actually easier because it didn’t require the work of multiple people. The book discusses this idea when Ishmael asks how many people were needed to labor a can of yams at the store and the main character replies, “Oh, hundreds, I suppose. Growers, harvesters, truckers, cleaners at the canning plant, people to run the equipment, people to pack the cans in cases, truckers to distribute the cases, and so on” (241). It is difficult to even compare this number needed in today’s time to the number required in the hunter and gatherer age because back then it was one; the person killing an animal or picking a crop. Over time people thought advancements would give them more control over their lives, as shown with food supply, although they have really lost control. People now have to work harder to enquire their basic necessities, like food and water, because they rely on income from a job in order to get these items. Along with this, technological advancements are causing people to lose more control of their lives. Yes, they have solved many of people’s everyday problems, but long term they are only creating more conflicts such as pollution and global warming. A lot of people like to ignore this and push it onto future generations; although eventually they are going to catch up to with the world. This is why the hunters and gatherers lived a much simpler life since they didn’t try to manage aspects of their life, and it worked well for thousands of years.


During the Age of Exploration people and cultures were destroyed for no reasonable cause. Indigenous groups today reap the negative effects, and more problems for society were created. The way of life for millions of people changed; although this change was unnecessary. Due to these damaging consequences in the past and present, the Age of Exploration was not worth it.






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