Accidental Symbolism

I’ve a few times mentioned the ridiculousness of the seven-continent system that is taught in elementary school in the United States, and if you haven’t spent time doubting the legitimacy of the continent system you have been taught, I would recommend that you spend some time now thinking about what exactly defines a continent and note how difficult it is to actually formulate a reasonable definition of a continent that verifies all seven “continents” known as separate continents and excludes all landmasses that aren’t called continents, most notably a definition that explains why Europe and Asia are two separate continents and why Australia and Antarctica are continents but Greenland and Madagascar are not.

It turns out that the system frequently taught in Europe is no better. In fact, one of the original things that the five Olympic rings were supposed to symbolize were the five inhabited continents: Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and America. That’s right, the assertion was that North and South America were not separate, but Europe and Asia were. North and South America at least are geologically on different plates. Europe and Asia, as typical continent boundaries are defined, are neither geographically, geologically, or even canal-wise separate. The fact the we are taught about Europe and Asia being separate continents in school is another very egregious case of traditions dying hard: the Ancient Greeks were the originators of the doctrine that Europe and Asia were separate continents when they thought the Black Sea was an ocean (to be fair, the Black Sea is geologically an ocean) and did not consider the existence of land on the other side. But land actually being here on the other side of the Black Sea, like Sochi, show clear evidence that of those five rings, one can be justifiably removed.


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