Sunday, December 26, 2010

Memory and hope

Sounds like a theology book title from the 80's.

One difference between conservatives and progressives is that conservatives pay a lot of attention to memory and progressives to hope. A strength of conservatism is that while history is, even though contested, concrete, hope is always untried.

Conservatives can fall into the trap of romanticizing the past. I remember that big fat Baptist preacher from Virginia...what was his name?...Jerry Falwell...going on one day about how, until the 60's America was a wonderful and virtuous country. I recalled wondering how the slaves felt during that wonderful and virtuous time. You can overdo anything.

Progressives mostly use history to weave another narrative, the nightmare of the past. And so they create the dream of the future. Consider the recently defeated amnesty-by-increments Dream Act. The classic progressive line: Some men see things as they are and ask why? I see things that never were and ask why not? (Often there is a very good reason why not.) Progressives tend to demonize the past and romanticize the future. The untried.

Change always happens. Even in sclerotically traditional societies. Or it happens to them. One of my unPC attitudes toward the history of the New World is not to shake my head in shame over the misdeeds of my evil European ancestors --always exclusively The White Man, not the inclusive White Men and Women...funny how that works. What I see in the history of the New World is the fatal lack of adaptation on the part of the natives.

It would, to be fair, have taken an extraordinary vision on their part to have imagined the magnitude of what was happening to them. And recent history has shown the fatally devastating effect of epidemics on them, sapping them of vast numbers of people who might have resisted the invaders more successfully. But far too many of them carried on in the old way while the new situation engulfed them.

When I think of Darfur, I ask why no leader or leaders have arisen from within to alter the societies there which are subject to long-term predation by their Arab Muslim enemies? And this leads me to wonder, too, about the massive numbers of Africans taken as slaves by other Africans to be sold off to the Europeans or the Arabs. These patterns lasted for centuries. Why did they not adapt so as to prevent this?

So for this conservative, history is ambiguous. How could it not be, since it is the history of humans on planet Earth? But I prefer the analysis of things that have actually happened to the utopian dreams of things that never were, often, as I suspect, for good reason.

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