|the project of history and remembering|
by possibly noteworthy at 6:29 am EST, Jan 27, 2016
History is often hard to digest. But it must be swallowed whole to undeceive the present and inform the future.
I have spent the past two years somewhat concerned about the effects of national amnesia, largely because I believe that a problem can not be effectively treated without being effectively diagnosed. I don't know how you diagnose the problem of racism in America without understanding the actual history.
Andrew G. Celli Jr.:
We are not limited to a choice between celebrating historical figures uncritically and adding names and stories to the mix for "balance." There is always the option, indeed the obligation, of more speech about the people we have decided, for better or for worse, are worth remembering.
Why not leave the names of such "great Americans" on the buildings, but find the ways and means to tell the fuller, darker story as well? Every such building should include, in its lobby or near its entranceway, a prominent and well-sourced exhibit that explains -- not as a historical footnote, but as central to the story -- how and why the person honored with a naming failed to live up to our nation's highest ideals. No one should enter the Washington Monument, for example, and not be confronted with the fact that George Washington -- the "indispensable man" of the early Republic, and almost certainly our greatest president -- bought, sold, and owned human beings. Visitors need to know who those human beings were, what they suffered, and what Washington had to say about it. It is core to the project of history and remembering.
If we do not believe in decent behaviour, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? The truth is, we believe in decency so much -- we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so -- that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility. For you notice that it is only for our bad behaviour that we find all these explanations. It is only our bad temper that we put down to being tired or worried or hungry; we put our good temper down to ourselves.
It is disappointing, if not surprising, that [James Comey and Robert Hannigan] see a need for public debate only when new technologies may impair their ability to monitor us, and not when such technologies enhance their monitoring.