Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Thoughts on... The Revision Of History

One of my favorite comedians is Bill Maher. He has a show on HBO called "Real Time with Bill Maher". In the latest ep of the show, he mentions an article about someone releasing a "revised" version of Mark Twain's novels, removing the "N-word" and other politically incorrect terms. Now, I'm someone who enjoys getting things in the form they were originally intended by their creator. I want my books the way the author wrote them at the time they were published, not some revised version. And why in the name of all that's holy, is modern society so fixated on white-washing our history??

Anyone who knows anything about History knows that, at best, History is suspect. After all, the records we have are written by those who survived whatever events they are writing about. And that colors the perspective of what is written as "this is the way it was". Of course, we can't really do anything about it because we only have what was recorded. Plus, the problem gets worse the further back into our historical records we go. And if that wasn't bad enough, now we have to worry about people going back and fixing it to make it more palatable?? And, it's not just this guy revising Mark Twain, it's also the push to digitally remove "offensive" items from movies (cigarettes/cigars from old Bogart films, or the guns from E.T., for example), or revising the Holy Bible to make it more politically correct. What is going on, here?

In an earlier post, I quoted the philosopher George Santayana's statement, "Those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." This implies that by seeing the mistakes we have made in the past and how or why those mistakes came to pass, we can choose different paths to take and become better. But how are our children to learn anything if we wipe out all evidence of our mistakes? How can we teach future generations about who we are and who we were if any record of our real lives is redacted and/or modified to what is considered pleasant? 

Humanity has a great capacity for self delusion. As a species (let's be honest and admit as individuals, too), we don't want to deal with or even face uncomfortable issues of any kind. And what's worse, we want to hide our children from it. That guy wanting to revise Mark Twain has his heart in the right place, since the books he's revising are banned in a large part of this country because of some of the language in it. We don't want to face the uncomfortable truth that we denigrated an entire race of people in this country because we thought it was right. We don't want our children to see us as the flawed individuals we are or the even more deeply flawed people we were.

But we aren't perfect, and we weren't perfect in the past. The world as it stands now, is a DIRECT result of it. Our fuck ups and their aftermaths, our successes and their consequences, all of that leads to where we stand now. We are responsible for the world as it is now. That is the true lesson of history. And for our children to understand that lesson, they have to see all that we have done. So they can understand where they are and the challenges that they will face. It's the only way they can truly be prepared for their future.

Yet as harsh as this sounds, there is another angle to this. You see, dear readers, we have changed. As a direct result of some of the darkest chapters in our history, we have become better. And, our history, as it stands without revision of any kind, shows that. It shows future generations that we worked on our problems and came up with the best solutions we could. We don't know exactly how our actions will play out for them, but our history shows that we are trying. Why take that away? What is the point in hiding our efforts? Why would we handicap ourselves like that? Why can't we see that in the end, we are only hurting ourselves when we revise our past to suit our present?

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