Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Failure of Imagination

The following is an excerpt from a novel-in-progress called An American History.

The more I traveled through time, the more I came to believe that the worst mistakes and tragedies of history were not simply moral failures, but also failures of imagination.

One of the reasons a man like William Wolfskill could so mistreat the natives of California was because he'd forgotten, or never learned, to use his imagination.  He could not imagine, for example, that the Indian he shot and captured had an inner life that was as rich and varied (probably more so) as his.  He could not imagine the gods Chinigchinich or Weywot.  He could not understand the dance of the moon, or how the ocean was actually a living thing.  He could not imagine this Indian as a father, brother, or son whose love for his family was as deep (probably more so) as his.  I suppose you could also call this a failure of empathy.

In my travels through time, I came to see that morality, imagination, and empathy were not separate categories.  They were, like the religion of the Indian, deeply connected to the people and the world around us, all the time.

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