The Spanish and the Aztecs were selected as an area of study in Grade 8 Social Studies in order to examine what happens when two dramatically different worldviews come into conflict. Students are meant to question their basic historical views of good and evil in an effort to understand the complexities of getting two juxtaposed worldviews to coalesce in such a way that would not lead to violence.
In Spain, we have a representative of our modern western worldview, a nation built upon the foundations of the Renaissance and demonstrative of the nascent ethical framework that we live in today. In the Aztecs, we have a completely separate worldview of a communal society centered on the dominance of a pantheon of gods and the need for sacrifice to appease them. Both the Spanish and the Aztecs came from violent and expansionist civilizations. Conflict between the two powers arose immediately, leading to the complete decimation of the Aztec Empire between 1519 and 1521.
So, what do we learn from this episode in history? Are there still conflicts in the world today by contrasting worldviews?
Some interesting modern parallels include conflict between the militant Islamic worldviews and those of the West. These are explored in depth in a PBS Frontline article/episode found here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/muslims/themes/west.html
Other current events involving contrasting worldviews include totalitarianism versus modern democracy (the case of North Korea), a strong central government versus free enterprise (Russia and the United States) and even liberal versus conservative. Can differences be resolved peaceably… should they be? One question posed to the class was the following. Should we come across a civilization that was not a direct threat to us, but held a worldview that believed in strong central authority, racial division, a powerful military, expansion into neighbouring territory and a lack of regard for the basic human rights of segments of their population, should we intervene? This situation exists today in many parts of Africa and the Middle East, and is even the situation that existed in 1930s and 40s Germany. Is violent conflict inevitable? Is it necessary?