Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Worship of the Present

I am back from visiting Ben in Houston, where I took notes of what I was thinking, in between cutting and burning brush and small trees and other tasks about the house he has neglected to accomplish the half-dozen years he has lived there. The large master bedroom and bath remain unused, for example, stacked with books and framed art on the floor.  The trim is taped as if someone is going to paint the walls someday, and there is plastic over the carpet to catch the paint that isn't there.  However, he has a serious girlfriend who is taking some matters in hand herself and impressing upon him the need to take others in hand himself.  I liked her very much, not only as an enjoyable person to talk with, but how she matches with my son.

On to the matter for observation.

The 1619 Project is only the most visible attempt to reinterpret the past. Reinterpreting the past is always necessary, as we understand ourselves better by looking through the archives of humanity.  However, this does not mean that all reinterpretations are equally valid or equally useful.  Even the wrongheaded ones have some use, for they at least capture a little something. Yet in this case I think there is a dishonesty right out of the gate. Many current reinterpretations, including 1619, are not actually about the past.  They are an attempt to change things in the present, using the past as a weapon.

While this immediate application of the past to the present is what we have always done, even before we were literate and had historians, this is a more direct line and skips important steps.  The past must be studied first for its own sake, without thought of its current application. We might approach the past with love or with hatred, but we must first try and find out what it is.  Modern readers will object that this is never possible.  Everything is interpretation, every reading of history makes selections and neglects other data, we would say in our era. We cannot even notice much of what occurred, because our assumptions blind us. I find this reasoning merely silly.  Of course we can know.  We only know poorly and approximately; we bring enormous biases; we must constantly revise, all this is true. If one squints hard enough, we are capable of making anything look like anything.

Next, worrying about climate change is supposedly about the future. It is not.  If it were about the future then the worriers would have at least passing concern about the future of the economy as well.  They would care at least some about the future of our institutions and culture.  It might be about the near future, an extension of the present where they will live their next ten or twenty years, but it is not about what will happen in fifty or one hundred years.  As with the weaponised past, this is the weaponised future, used to make the world look as they wish right here and now. The future is an even more open canvas than the past, on which clever artists can paint images of destruction to their hearts content.

I prefer the images of the future that we had in the past, myself.

10 comments:

Sam L. said...

The 1619 Project is merely ONE of the reasons I despise, detest, and distrust the NYT. (The WaPoo, too.)

Aggie said...

The 1619 Project is a wonderful example of how susceptible Americans are to misinterpreting their place in the context of history and completely missing the effects of nuance within the world picture. There was an article on Powerline recently that discussed / referenced the transatlantic slave trade database and put hard numbers to the history of slavery in the New World. Having lived in the Caribbean for many years, the legacy of slavery is in many ways more prominent in modern sensibilities and behaviors. The US engaged in less than 5% of that trade, and it continued in South America long after the US Civil War had been decided. And of course all of this pales when compared to the African slave trade that still exists to this day.

Korora said...

"And of course all of this pales when compared to the African slave trade that still exists to this day." Thing is, we're not supposed to grasp the concept there.

In the intro to one of his growing-up-in-Africa stories LawDog explains that part of his aversion to hippies stems from the fact that in Nigeria, those Peace Corps volunteers who happened to be hippies were more likely to assume that the way things had been since time immemorial was a Recent Phenomenon Wrought By Colonialism and make things worse; he cites, sans details, an instance where one such nearly started an intertribal war (and of course made tracks upon realizing that the manure was starting to collide with the rotational air displacer). Plus ├ža change...

RichardJohnson said...

In the intro to one of his growing-up-in-Africa stories LawDog explains that part of his aversion to hippies stems from the fact that in Nigeria....

nigeria @ lawdogfiles

Sam L. said...

Thanks, Richard!

Sam L. said...

Thank you VERY MUCH, Richard!!!!!

RichardJohnson said...

Korora
In the intro to one of his growing-up-in-Africa stories LawDog explains that part of his aversion to hippies stems from the fact that in Nigeria, those Peace Corps volunteers who happened to be hippies were more likely to assume that the way things had been since time immemorial was a Recent Phenomenon Wrought By Colonialism and make things worse;

That reminds me of my time in Latin America. I had absorbed the "progressive" narrative on Latin America, for example, that that its problems were primarily the result of US exploitation. Family friends who gave me a copy of C Wright Mills's Listen Yankee- and who knew Mills from their college days- got me started on the "progressive" view of Latin America. Living in Latin America showed me the "progressive" narrative on Latin America did a poor job of explaining the facts on the ground. The Yankeecentric view of Latin America, where Latin Americans are victims and not their own agents, ignores a lot of inconvenient facts. Such as the coup against Allende- which was preceded by a Chamber of Deputies resolution, that passed by a 81-47 vote, which practically begged the military to have a coup.

Glad to please, Sam L. Thanks also to Korora. The story about the gecko was a howler.

james said...

Look at africa @ lawdog

Try one about pilots

ErisGuy said...

If America, its Constitution, and the Founding Fathers are totally disgraced by slavery, as the 1619 project supposedly asserts, why isn’t socialism completely disgraced by National and International Socialisms’ slavery? We need a 1917 & 1933 project.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

This has bled over into all anthropology as well. The belief grew up (in the 1970's?) that it was civilisation, and white westerners in particular, which had taught violence and warfare to the generally peaceful hunter-gatherer tribes. Lawrence H Keeley came along in the 90's with his War Before Civilization and blew up that theory, to great resistance. I posted on it in 2013. https://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com/2013/07/war-before-civilization.html

He makes much of Napoleon Chagnon's experiences in the Amazon. That controversy re-emerged when Chagnon died recently.