It seems to be a rapidly accelerating trend these days to want to erase history or to reinterpret history in the light of current societal “norms”. Especially with the rapid pace of change, the liberal bias in the media, or the echo chambers of FaceBook, Twitter, and other social media, the number of instances of this almost boggles the mind as you try to keep up with it. Let me give just a few examples of the many in the recent news.
One of the most blatant is the current efforts to remove the statues or rename the streets of anything that recognizes slavery in the early centuries of this country. What started with the tearing down of statues of individuals such as Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis was quickly extended to anyone who had anything to do with slavery. Even men such as George Washington were not excused because they owned slaves. A CNN commentator recently stated, “I don’t care if it’s a George Washington statue or a Thomas Jefferson statue or a Robert E. Lee statue. They all need to come down.” (*1)
While it is true that George Washington owned slaves, and had since an early age, this commentator conveniently ignores the complexity of the issue in the late 1700s, 160 years before the Civil War. Not only is the commentator trying to project current attitudes toward slavery back into history, but he has obviously not studied the attitude of George Washington. (See *2 for what seems to me is a fair and detailed analysis of the situation.)
An even more recent example is something that I just read on Fox News this week that was headlined as “Americans who practice yoga contribute to white supremacy.” (*3). Really? Yoga began about 5000 years ago in the country we now call India. It really didn’t get a start in the US until about 40 years ago (*4). But now I’m supposed to believe that those who practice it are white supremacists? While those quoted in this article are correct that yoga is an example of “cultural appropriation,” those who engage in the practice of yoga are merely recognizing that those who “invented” it had some good ideas and that there are benefits to it. Why is “cultural appropriation” suddenly a bad thing? And why is that suddenly an example of white supremacy?
I could go on and on with other examples. But the above two are sufficient to make my point.
Change is seldom easy. But it is usually looking at new things in light of current thinking. I remember being 15 when the Beatles made their first appearance on US television (The Ed Sullivan Show). My parents, along with many in their generation, looked on them with a bit of disdain – these long-haired guys from England. But if you look back at them now (*5), you see four guys with buttoned up suits, white shirts and ties, playing music that had understandable lyrics and fairly sophisticated guitar chords. They are pretty tame by current standards, but they had hair which covered part of their ears and that was not acceptable to many in my parents’ generation.
But now, rather than looking at new things through the lens of current thinking, we have begun a trend of looking at items in our history through the lens of current, usually “progressive” thinking and condemning those things in our history that do not measure up to our current progressive ways of viewing the world.
While I do not think there’s anything wrong with re-examining our past and learning from prior mistakes (every generation makes mistakes), to label anything that does not match as evil and to try and erase this history does not make any sense to me.
Study our history? Definitely
Celebrate our advances? Yes
Learn from our mistakes and try to not repeat them? A good idea
Believe that my personal way of thinking is the standard? Don’t be so foolish
Erase anything that does not “measure up”? A recipe for future disaster
*1 - https://townhall.com/tipsheet/mattvespa/2017/08/17/tear-em-down-cnn-commentator-says-slave-owner-george-washington-has-to-go-too-n2370091
*3 - http://www.foxnews.com/us/2018/01/29/americans-who-practice-yoga-contribute-to-white-supremacy-michigan-state-university-professor-claims.html