Letter: We still hold the values of Columbus's time

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The Independent Online
'HARVEY MORRIS berates those who lay all the ills of the West at one man's feet' ran the strap to the profile of Christopher Columbus ('A good thing, even', 11 October.) But it wasn't true: Mr Morris didn't berate anyone. He raised a few mild-mannered objections, but his overall conclusion was that none of us nowadays really has the right to berate anyone about anything. The reason being that the vigorous values of Columbus's time are hopelessly missing in ours. Mr Morris identified five such values, and was wrong in just about all of them.

Discovery. Men of the 16th century discovered the shape of the world, but the men of our century have discovered the shape of the universe it hangs in.

Expansion. It is true that the men of Europe did go out into the world in the 16th century, but there was no increase in population. In our time we have filled the whole world with men and women. Populations have migrated in their millions.

Inquiry. This is a joke. In our century we have inquired into the history of ourselves, of all life on Earth, and into everything that has happened since the Big Bang. We have made philosophical inquiries of matter and it has given us the Unified Field Theory, relativity, quantum mechanics, and the mathematics of chaos. Communism was a huge inquiry. Egalitarianism, feminism, multi-culturalism and market forces still are. We have inquired into the stuff of life itself, have modelled DNA, and are presently engaged upon genetic engineering and mapping the entire human genetic code.

Moral debate. You can't get away from it on radio or television] We're full of it. The dilemmas of doctors and life-support machines? Environmental conferences of 100 world leaders in Rio de Janeiro? Ethically-sound investment opportunities?

Optimism. Ah, Mr Morris, you could be right there. And yet we had it in our century. It lasted from 1900 to about 1970, when political conservatism set in. But the same thing happened at the close of the 16th century as people began to assimilate all that they had found.

Finally, Mr Morris was wrong when he described Columbus as an explorer. He would not have thought so himself, for he was an adventurer who didn't turn north or south as every other captain before him had done, but headed west instead.

Bob Hewett