Maybe I’m not using this word right but I’ve written a lot on the conservative pov and the counterpart to that, the obverse, is what I’m getting to here. General James Mattis recently said that the problem with our society is the history taught in our universities. Deep for someone affectionately called “Mad Dog”. What did he mean by that? Not enough American exceptionalism, City on the Hill, America Right or Wrong? Or expose the sins and praise the accomplishments?
Notwithstanding the lack of clarity, or perhaps taking advantage of it, what I see and hear missing in the way people in general address the major issues in our society is this vantage point of cultural history. We don’s start by asking questions like who’s on top and why and how? An eye-opener for many has been Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. While I learned a great deal from that book, there were any number of things in there I already knew or at least had an inkling of, e.g. the deliberate, clever and even subtle propagandistic way the propertied class in 17th century British America set about creating a White identity. The latter is what made Mark Lilla’s diatribe against the Democratic Party’s embrace of s0-called identity politics so ludicrous; in the face of three and a half centuries of domination by White identity politics of the worst kind – genocidal – we have to watch our Ps & Qs around identifying groups who have been devastated by White identity politics or the Great White Mass might not vote for us?
What could shift this centuries old juggernaut? You often hear that the older generation steeped in that sort of identity is dying off. Those marchers in Charlottesville did not look too long in the tooth to me. They were the extremists, but let’s look at what’s out there aside from those willing to shave their heads and get lots of tattoos. They come out of our schools, both higher education and lower education. Loewen’s book gets to the latter by examining many high school textbooks while Mattis’ critique, whatever side it falls on and as unspecified as it was, deals with the former.
Besides the facts, which Loewen enlightens us with, another level, one necessary for interpreting contemporary events and personalities, might be found in the current educational establishment’s emphasis on critical thinking skills. While that establishment often picks up fads which disappear after time, this one is so well-founded I would hope some of the materials for educators remain accessible. The so-called “science based strategies for critical thinking” are #1 challenge all assumptions, #2 suspend judgment, #3 revise conclusions based on new evidence, #4 emphasize data over belief, #5 test ideas in a neverending manner, #6 see mistakes as data, #7 earnestly consider possibilities and ideas without (always) accepting them, #8 look for what others have missed.
Not bad. Keeping these in mind, and delving into very personal experiences in the sense of idiosyncratic, let us look at some of the ways people get way-laid on their way to critical thought. Last night I heard a lecture on evangelical Christianity, as good a place as any to start examining the place of belief – faith, in a religious context – in being the citizen of a fully functioning society. A good many people are given to understand that America in the sense of the Thirteen Colonies turning into the United States came about as some people called the Founding Fathers plumped for a democracy. (I just learned that “plump for” does not mean, as I thought, promote or boost, but to suddenly decide for something after not knowing what to do). Clearly, those founders had taken a long route to the concept of democracy. To this day, we argue over whether we even are one, many preferring republic. Clearly, we are a representative democracy but just what do those who insist on republic have in mind? A republic is often contrasted with a pure democracy where citizens gather to vote after discussion and the majority wins, disregarding the interests of the minority. Yet in my personal experience, those insisting on ‘republic’ regard with distaste some of the features of democracy. Anyone reading extensively in political science relating to the U.S. might be able to confirm that.
As it is taught, American history begins in earnest with Grover Norquist leading a tax revolt and throwing tea bags into Boston Bay….. or something like that. It is very clear (there’s that word again) that in the popular mind those exorbitant taxes came due on April 15 every year. No wonder the Colonists took up arms!
Here is where critical thinking skills come handy: if the Colonists won, why do we still have to pay taxes on April 15? Keep in mind, the issue is not how high the taxes are but simply that there are taxes. If I get a paycheck for my work, I should be able to keep all that money for myself. If I decide I want electricity or sewage service, I can just go out and buy some or put it all in myself, purchasing everything at Home Depot. You laugh, but Burton Barr, one of Arizona’s premier leaders in the legislature, opined that there is no need for a Registrar of Contractors to reduce fraud because if a man can’t check himself to see that his roofer is doing the job properly, nobody can help him. So my advice is: watch that flashing, make sure it’s in right.
So what does all that have to do with Evangelical Christianity? The Evangelicals under Falwell, Robertson, Jones, Viguerie, and the like folded such policies as low taxes into a religious context: the free market, states’ rights, deregulation, and so on became supported by carefully excerpted biblical verses, and the speaker offered some examples, most from the Old Testament, not so many from the New.
Nonsense aside, I would like to weigh in at this point with something much heavier, very heavy, going back to the speaker last night (and I’m adding this paragraph to my earlier post, The H word……. is it time? Ask Beto (
He took a breath and plunged on, knowing he was on thin ice. He laid out the trajectory of Hitler’s rise to power, admonishing the audience to bear in mind he was talking about 1933, not 1943 with a world war and the Holocaust in the picture. 1933 is where we are in his opinion and he drew on some chilling statistics like the percentage of Germans who voted for Hitler, in the 30s. It does not take much for the church leaders to fall in line, the CEOs, the party leaders, as opposing groups are first vilified as enemies of the people (did I mention what happened to the Media?), then major institutions are staffed with toadies and true believers who are then encouraged to put pressure on opposition groups, then no longer outright opposition groups but groups that do not wholeheartedly support the Great Leader, then the raids begin, the harassment in courts with judges friendly to the administration sitting on the bench……… you get the picture. Show trials, disappearances, all this has happened in many countries but Nazi Germany remains the gold standard.
Oh, I realize it is a long, long way to the ovens but cages for children are a good start.