Our theme of “Brave New Worlds” resonates through several of the texts we’ve read. One thing I found particularly interesting was the attitude of the authors toward the new worlds. It was interesting that Montaigne decided to tell us about the ways the people tortured their enemies, but at the same time pointed out that we should not look at them as barbaric. Instead he said,
“I am not sorry we note the barbarous horror of such an action, but grieved that, prying so narrowly into their faults, we are so blinded in ours.”
Here he points out that although the people of this new world have very violent ways of torture, we should consider how we, ourselves torture our enemies. In some ways, he implies that our methods might be just as barbaric or even more so.
Richard Handler describes this as the “notion that people always justify, or rationalize, arbitrary cultural concepts, taking what is relative and culturally specific to be absolutes of ‘nature’ or ‘reason’” (12). In the quote from “Of Cannibals,” Montaigne is obviously criticizing his own society. I think he was brave in his exploration of the new world in seeing the people in a different light.
Similarly, in Utopia, it says,
“All things appear incredible to us, as they differ more or less from our own manners.”
This again points out the exploration of new worlds and seeing how differences might seem scary to other people. Both these texts show a brave exploration and acceptance of the different people and lands they inhabit. They both could have justified and rationalized the new worlds customs as Handler describes, but instead they compare it the barbaric nature of their own culture. I think that is pretty brave of them to have such an open mind about the other worlds and see their differences in a better light.
Handler, Richard. "Of Cannibals and Custom: Montaigne's Cultural Relativism." Anthropology Today 2.5 (1986): 12-14. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 08 Sept. 2015.