Had we lived then, and we are talking some 140 years ago, we would have had woolen clothing. Max would have been a soldier, he says. Lulu, a mother. Maybe she would have been the soldier’s mother. Or wife. The clothes, though, would have been plain and scratchy. That much we know.
How novel the simplicity seemed to them. I may have imagined it, but it almost seemed like they were relieved. You get one color. Once choice. You will be a soldier. Or mother. You would probably be that one thing very deeply; more deeply than we nowadays can be any one thing. And that would be comforting. You’d know just who you were and where things stood.
There is something to be said for that. Because now we accumulate so many things that just when we’ve got an interest in one of them, something newer and shinier piles on top of it. My children say that they want this. But then you look at them in those scratchy clothes and you think, well, I’m not sure they wouldn’t have been just as happy back then. I mean, providing they survived this long (which was far less certain back then).
At the ranger station, we are told not to judge the people then with our standards now. I wanted to subscribe to that line of moral thinking, mostly because it would (presumably) also apply to people 140 years in the future. I am rather sure that from their point of view we are leading horrible rotten kinds of lives. But we are really not so bad, you know, if you think like we do now and not like they will later, in the future, that is.
Still, though, wasn’t that a genocide or at least a violent and under-handed bit of ‘settler colonialism’? And isn’t that the sort of thing we want to consider wrong in a universal, a-historical kind of way. Maybe some of ‘my’ standards are not just the latest trend in moral fashion but actually, well, true. Then again, if Max had been a soldier and it had been this cold back then and he had orders to shoot and the other guys were known to be blood-thirsty at times and Lulu would love him even though (or because?) he shot…could I condemn them?
We are here now because men took those shots back then. They had two Gatling guns at the fort. We looked at them briefly in the cold, reading about how they frequently jammed. Heavy sons of bitches too. All the loot we have now was, in the beginning, the stuff of pillage and plunder. Should we, if not judge, at least cringe? That cannot be undone without doing the wrongs all over again.
I think they call this the identity problem: had anything, even the slightest fart, happened differently in the past, then we would not presently exist. So, don’t judge. Because your life depends on everything that happened before. Be grateful…unless you prefer non-existence (which I am not sure makes sense, given that having preferences is something that only existing kinds of things can do).
Here we are, great-grandchildren of the victors, of the ones with better weapons and better (though scratchy) clothing. The grandchildren of manifest destiny, whose western wave has sloshed against the furthest coast and washed back this-a-way. Here we are, children of a father who had thought for a moment of condemning history but decided instead to take our picture in these old-timey rags. And then we got something hot to drink.