LETTER: Let’s have more nuance in our discussions about history

From reader Charles Jeanes

It strikes me as so very odd, this history blame-game that leaves historians on the sidelines. Being a historian, I suppose I’m more sensitive to it.

What game? The popular game among “The Woke” of excoriating past events and selecting historical individuals [removing memorials, names of places, etc.] to be attacked for societal attitudes. Also off-target: claiming accountability against vulnerable institutional targets [church, government].

Colonialism. Why isn’t there more nuanced conversation? What can one do with history one wishes hadn’t happened? Apparently, many think the answer is to identify individual evildoers in the present and hold them responsible. But it’s a collective sin: Europe as a whole society/civilization in the 19th century was sure it was better than others. Its elite was happily culturally ego-centric in its superiority complex. That’s straightforward fact. How does settler-civilization compensate for that?

This needs constantly to be made prominent; Europe wasn’t unique in this egoism. Most societies of the past are guilty of “othering” strangers – the people not inside. That Europe and the USA until recent times upheld racialist views, is no cause for celebration — but neither is it cause for shame just for being descended from that civilization. Racialism eventually lost respectability. We self-corrected.

Finding villains, making symbolic gestures — this is good policy? Demand governments, or churches, or some unit smaller than the whole of past society, must pay up – this makes sense? Think deeply on this, please. The assumed superiority of all things present to all past, is wrong; people of the past aren’t inferior because they thought differently. Relativism is imperative here.

I put my political weight and activism behind slogans like “Land Back!” and “Honour Treaties!” — rather than “Shame on settlers!” or “Decolonize your mind!” Symbolism or concrete gain? My bias is for the latter.

Charles Jeanes


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