Thoughts on how we view the past, and relate to it.

I have been made aware that in a previous article my way of viewing my ancestors could be construed as perhaps a bit over-simplified or black and white. While this is not exactly how I meant it, I do believe my critic actually makes a very decent point so I believe I will elaborate on my ideas on the subject.

I have noticed that when it comes to thinking of societies of days past, people seem to have one of two approaches. People will either judge the past by modern standards and unfairly condemn their behavior without comparing it to others of the same era, or they will romanticize it; singing the praises of minor triumphs while forgetting to mention things that were downright atrocious. Even if you try to take an objective look at the past, praising or condemning anything will cause people to think you’re taking one of the former paths or the other.

Personally I see a lot of merit in old Norse society. Not for how they were, so much as where they were headed. In absolute terms in the modern scale of society you could easily argue they were horrible rotten people. Yes, they raped and pillaged, yes they turned their nose up at homosexuality and believed themselves better than all their neighbors. However these behaviors were nearly universal at the time so its hard to argue that they were really any more wicked than their neighbors.

The Norse did not necessarily treat their women well per-se. They were excluded from much, and even in the best cases of the most respected women were likely still treated with an air of “well, it’d be better if you were a guy but ok I guess…” One of the worst atrocities against women was that of infanticide being much more common with baby girls. But this was not a phenomenon known only to the Norse, or indeed even to the time period, as it is an issue in China and other parts of Asia and Africa to this very day. So, as dreadful as that was, it was quite normal by the standards of the time.

Women were treated as less than a man in the male dominated Norse society. While they had to work twice as hard to achieve the same goals, the avenue was at the very least, still open to them. Which is more than you can say for the middle east today. Modern women in American society still face that very issue. It wasn’t even until 1920 that women had a voice in society at all. While the Ancient Norse way of treating women was far from ideal, I feel as though we have no right to judge them for that considering we only caught up to even their standard as recently as 100 years ago.

The Norse also had an… interesting view on homosexuality. The rape of defeated enemies, be they male or female was something that was very much known in their society. Homosexuality was not expressly forbidden in their culture, or seen as something perverse and unnatural but rather as a form of submission or cowardice. In other words, It was ok to be gay, just not to be a bottom. The real issue was that if you were gay you would likely be uninterested in reproducing. Though it isnt explicitly stated, the suggestion is that as long as you were topping and making babies your homosexual behaviors and escapades were of little importance. Lesbians by contrast are barely if at all mentioned in any historical counts. However, though it is an assumption, I think it’s safe to say that since the main issue with homosexuality was with giving up your masculinity, this is not something that applied to women to begin with. Evidence to the contrast may come to light eventually, but the evidence seems to suggest that was the case. Compare that to Christian Europe where homosexuality was punishable by dismemberment and being burned alive and well, the “barbarian” vikings start to look like borderline hippies by comparison.

Easy as it is to judge from our modern high-horse, its important to view these things from a relative scale appropriate to the time we’re viewing. While viewed absolutely from our time, the Norse certainly seem to be of a conservative nature. Believing strongly in gender roles, the right to bare arms, a relative lack of distinction between religion and politics and staunch tribal nationalism. But one must also consider that such values were again, nearly universal to the time. Today one could say “Murder and stealing are bad” and even the most stubborn liberals and conservatives can agree on least that much. When compared to their fellow 8th to 11th century neighbors however, the fact that gays were ridiculed, but at least not burned alive, or that women were treated as second class citizens, but still citizens nonetheless, or the fact that they viewed themselves as superior but still respected strength and honor in an opponent does, in my view put them at least slightly on what we now consider the left of the political scale for their time. Such a political divide however did not exist then so really it’s all a bit of a moot point.

While not all may agree with me, I choose to honor my ancestors by evolving their legacy. Not by trying to be just like them, but by maintaining their relative position in global society. The Norse were deeper than their beards and axes, which is where I and many modern “vikings” tend to clash. I maintain my statement that a bad attitude and a beard does not make you a viking. The Norse people were tradesman, poets, politicians and philosophers too. I personally will not allow my pride of ancestry to turn me into a bigot, but I will also not allow people to view me as a bigot simply because I am proud. I firmly believe that white people as much as any other have every right to be proud of their heritage. Europe took a lot of things away from this world but we gave a lot as well. Looking honestly in the scope of history there are the weak and the strong, there are no heroes and villains. The descendants of the fallen merely view it that way. Yes, white people dominated the globe. Why? because we had the technology and the spare resources, we had a chance to do it first. Do you honestly believe that given the same chance, the Maori, the Aztecs or the Zulu wouldn’t have done the same?

When dealing with history and how it relates to us today, context my friends, is everything.

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