Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.George Santayana
On my drives to work, to look at spreadsheets and trying to imagine what re-opening the university is going to look like, I have taken to listening to podcasts to pass the time and occupy my brain. I listened to Winds of Change by Patrick Radden Keefe, an exploration of whether or not the CIA had a part in writing the song of the same name to help hasten the fall of the Soviet Union. I sometimes listen to Alan Alda in Clear & Vivid. He waxes poetic about the challenges that this thing life can present, and how connecting to our true selves as well as others helps us to overcome and grow past them. And I am now listening to Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman in their excellent podcast called Now and Then. An exploration of American history and how it relates to today. Hence why that quote appears at the beginning of this little post.
In my slightly formative years of high school, I was always a fan of history and social studies classes. I enjoyed the snippets of knowledge that came forth in dribs and drabs. Mr. Burns in grade nine with Canadian history and it’s place in the world, circa 1982. The transplanted American, Mr. Vendrig, teaching, you guessed it, American history. America didn’t lose Vietnam and Jim Morrison will be back in short time. His words, not mine. Mr. Schepis and the happenings of the world through the 1800’s to the Cold War. And my personal favourite, Mr. Raso, the rebel, sounding off on the inequalities around us in the form of oppression in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua et al. What I loved about these classes were the connections that you could make; say how Napoleon stupidly attacked Russia and how Hitler, despite warnings against it, followed suit. I cared not for memorizing dates but for I loved the way some of these teachers brought to life the past. How one could see the very embodiment of what history could and should stand for.
Making a relief map of de Soto’s journey around the Gulf of Mexico in grade five pointed to the allure of exploration but did little to open the eyes to the abuses and exploitation that came with the Spaniard. There was only one side of the story at that age for me. Maybe that’s all we were supposed to know or maybe that’s all that anyone wanted to remember. Regardless, a large part of the story remained untold to the assembled grade five class of Mr. Reid. Whether it was a take on the old adage that history is written by the victors or we simply weren’t yet able to understand that the stories being told had more than one side. You get the feeling that it happens a lot? I know I do. This morning’s episode of Now and Then delved into the current mock debate in America over Critical Race Theory (CRT). In my humble opinion, it is a specious and fallacious bunch of nonsense being spouted off by so called republicans, who really should be calling themselves Kluckers for short.
Kluckers and wannabe Kluckers are claiming that “libtard” liberals want to indoctrinate their children into hating themselves. That white people are all racists. Oh, and by the way, America isn’t racist anyway. It would be funny if it wasn’t dangerous. Funny only because it is hilariously sad that Republicans are coming out and saying that anyone that supports CRT is racist. Pretty rich from a bunch of jackoffs trying to gerrymander districts and restrict voting for people that usually don’t vote for them. Namely people of colour. We have, in our formative years, been fed bullshit stories about the founding of America as much as we were fed the same bullshit about our own founding. Sir John A MacDonald, our visionary cobbler of alliances that through sheer force of will established Canada. Right. The drunk that hung Riel and had a hand in establishing residential schools. Or perhaps we can look at Thomas Jefferson, a founding father of America and it’s third president. We were taught to think of him with reverence, after all, look what he accomplished in his 83 years. Owned over 600 slaves and managed to, at the same time, forge relationships with Native Americans and work to assimilate them and drive them off of their lands. Nice, right?
And CRT is simply an attempt to try and see the whole story and how it may be affecting the institutions that are being used by us all. A scholarly approach to where and how our systems may be limiting some of us. But it has become a dog whistle for the right to distract people from the fact that they don’t actually have any policies past giving tax breaks to the rich. I guess the phony outrage over Mr. Potato head wasn’t cutting it.
The point here is that we are a messy species, we are complicated and often times infuriating, but we shouldn’t let any of that stop us from the continued search for the truth, as uncomfortable as it may be. Both of those men did great things and both of them did horrible things. How you judge them is up to you, but you can’t make any sort of assertation one way or the other without knowing the fuller story. White washing over the ugly parts because it doesn’t fit your idea of what the final story should look like might make for easy reading but it ain’t the truth.
I guess I bring this all up because it is troubling to see what is going on in our world, especially south of the border. Six months ago we witnessed an attempted violent overthrow of an democratically appointed government by a bunch of radicalized terrorists. In a country that has painted a narrative of believing in the rule of the people and peaceful transfer of power, we had gallows set up to lynch Mike Pence. I don’t like Mike Pence. I wouldn’t offer Mike Pence my hand in friendship because it think he both despicable and dangerous, but I wouldn’t want to see him killed. By people purporting to believe in the same things he believes in. In the hours and days after this insurrection you had people like Moscow Mitch and Flip Flopping Lyndsey Graham, in no uncertain terms, lay the blame at Trump’s feet. Six months later? They can’t even bring themselves to agree to talk about the idea of launching an investigation into what happened and why it happened. This is unconscionable pure and simple. And it worries me that the death knell of democracy is growing louder.
Learning from this moment by trying to discover all the facts shouldn’t be about retribution, even though it almost certainly will, the greater objective should be to learn why it happened. So that the underlying causes can be looked at and addressed. Right or wrong, and I think they are very wrong, these MAGA hat cladded people came to this place of behaviour through a combination of frustration with the world and their place in it, a concerted effort to displace facts and science with conspiracy theories and exchange neo liberal ideals with puritanical dogma. All fanned on by grifters and power hungry twits. It is looking like, more and more, that reason and sanity has left the building. Why should we study history? So we can learn from it. Hitler staged a coup attempt that failed. And he came back after prison to launch us into unimagined destruction because of sheer lunacy. Don’t think it can happen again? Think again.
I’ll leave on this note – I loved the movie Good Will Hunting. Robin Williams was sublimely perfect, and his bench speech to Will is a thing of beauty. This particular part of that quasi soliloquy relates to what I have been thinking about.
I look at you; I don’t see an intelligent, confident man; I see a cocky, scared shitless kid. But you’re a genius, Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine and you ripped my fuckin’ life apart. You’re an orphan right? Do you think I’d know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you?Sean (Robin Williams)
We can’t look at one thing or two things when trying to understand the nature of what we are looking at. We need to not be afraid of seeing and hearing the whole of what is in front of us. Let it all in, differing views and hard to handle truths. Don’t erase history, learn from it.