Thursday, February 2, 2017

Social Memory is So Malleable

The downtown Langevin bridge over the bow, named after a dead straight white male who did much good, is now being renamed in order to blot out his name, make him an unperson, at least as regards a bridge, like something out of Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell. I understand there has been some self-congratulation over the matter.

Besides the good he did, Langevin’s “crime” was to be involved in starting up Canada’s infamous residential schools for persons of aboriginal heritage. As Canadians know, these were boarding schools, not fancy like in Harry Potter, more like hasty drab World War Two buildings. The schools were run by religious people, but run abusively, even criminally.  

After the story ran in the newspaper, the next day another story ran that a school named after Langevin might be renamed too. This would be logical, if the original “un-personing” made sense. But did it? The news was that the parents and teachers were not immediately on board with changing… (I can’t truly know the sense of it, as I wasn’t part of the elite’s dialogue)

As it happens, my old girlfriend’s home was in a high-rise downtown called the Langevin building. Shall we delete the name of her home sweet home, for her own good? No.

Sometimes, as part of an elite, feeling good in a group with others, call it “happy herd think,” trumps your common sense. Yes, it’s nice to feel good, but in my humble opinion, if you’re a politician or other leader, then you need to be careful about believing that your little group, anchored in a precarious little ledge in time and space, is smarter than the rest of us. Society, down the years, has its own sensible wisdom, often surpassing that of the fashionable elite.

As for happy herd-think, before me is the Wednesday January 25 Calgary Sun, open to page comment 17. There are two articles, with no advertising on the page.
Earlier in the same newspaper, on page 8 News, I read that Brews, 34, has been charged by Edmonton police with assault and uttering threats, after an incident with a female reporter making a video for a conservative medium, The Rebel.

On comment 17, the top story by Candice Malcolm concerns an incident at a crowded women’s protest against President Trump:

QUOTE “…(New) Feminism has lost sight of its original goals, like the novel idea that violence against women is never permissible, never justifiable.

Some men—weak men like Dion Bews—use violence to intimidate and assert power over women.

And new feminism bizarrely enables this behavior, ironically, even at a rally for women’s rights. Both at the rally, and later online, many on the left have rushed to defend Bews.

…their true colours, …where a feminist man, even a violent one, comes ahead of a conservative woman. UNQUOTE

I think feminists have a right to change, to forget how what they think now is actually new to the feminism of the 1970’s. I’m not saying whether I agree with this particular change that Candice has noted, not when I have been involved in equality since before Helen Reddy sang. But I am saying it is their right, even if I grimace.

…The other piece is by Muslim columnist Tarek Fatah, who was in India listening to President Trump’s inaugural address:

QUOTE … I wasn’t alone. With me were a WASP Canadian, a former Wall Street Sikh banker who has taken up farming, a Columbia-educated Hindu environmental engineer and a Kashmiri pundit who is the assistant editor at India’s leading newspaper.

All of us looked at each other with that stare that says: “OH MY GOD! …What did he just say?”

We never expected to hear Trump’s words from any leader of the Western world, expressing sentiments that are usually uttered in hush-hush tones.

Trump said: “We will reinforce old alliances and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.”

…The next morning, was I in for a surprise!

No western newspaper I saw, other than The Independent, had Trump’s promise of eradicating “Islamic terrorism” from the face of this earth, on its front page.

Not the Wall Street Journal, nor the New York Times, certainly not the Toronto Star and unfortunately, not even my own Toronto Sun its sister newspapers across Canada.

… No reaction was sought from rulers of Islamic countries or the mosque establishment in Europe, North America or even in India (where I am right now). UNQUOTE

As Canadians know, Muslims over here believe “Islam means peace.” As for non-peaceful believers, if they now get a free pass, if the media and the elite and even a two-term U.S. president, who was known to never utter the phrase “War on Terror”— if all of society would prefer that, Nineteen Eighty-four style, we never think any incorrect thought-crimes about Islam, and we never utter certain words about non-peace, then I guess that is their right, even as I turn my head in disgust to spit. Is there a conspiracy, “cowardice and complicity,” as Fatah put it, among the media and the elite? I don’t know, but—call me a liberal—I admit that’s their right … And then I have the right to vote the elite out of office.

I personally don’t think the common people are ready to forget about fighting the war, at least, not without a “peace and closure” ceremony, since forgetting would mean their sons and daughters in Afghanistan struggled there for no good reason. (There’s no oil in that dusty country) But if they did forget, as I shake my head, then that is their right.

I am saying a society is like an individual, remembering and forgetting, down the years, as best serves the culture. For example, in the U.S. children have stopped being prejudiced against British children, stopped calling out, “The Redcoats are coming!” At the same time, Americans still remember General Benedict Arnold as a traitor, conveniently forgetting that Arnold was a good general who did not switch sides to fight for his king until the U.S. Congress screwed him around. Conveniently, because it serves their narrative of national unity. As a person of Canadian heritage, am I offended? Of course I am, but that’s how it goes.

One of my favorite TV shows is Star Trek. Remember the peaceful federation’s “prime directive”? Of not teaching anything to another culture? I think it’s safe to break the directive here, now, on Earth. Why? Because, with all due respect to the conservative idealists of Star Trek, when a society, or an individual, is not ready to learn, then it swiftly forgets what you say. But then again, to paraphrase the Buddha, I also believe that when society is ready, the teacher will appear.  

What if, at lunchtime, I taught some Yankees—by shouting, from a rooftop, the truth! People looking up from below would be surprised, and shocked …and by next morning they would have forgotten again. They may not shout, “the redcoats!” anymore, but they would still say, “Don’t be a Benedict Arnold.” That’s how it goes.

We live in a world where proud soldiers can serve at Calgary’s CFB Currie Barracks, (now Garrison Woods housing development) without ever caring to learn who Currie was. My elementary and high schools were both named after people, but none of us ever knew whom, and I don’t suppose our teachers did either. Their role was to ground us to believe what Canada officially believed, not to leave us drifting rootless in a void. We learned of heroes, but not of villains. Now that I am my teacher’s age, I agree: No one too young for college should know the word angst.

My schools were both at least two kilometers (one and a quarter miles) away. And the new mall was two miles. I walked, of course, right from grade one. (There was no kindergarten) The children in Langevin school, if their mothers let them happily walk the river bank, may walk several nice bridges, innocently, without ever caring to know whom any bridge is named after.  

Today the children won’t know of Langevin, or that, according to his honest society, of his time and space, he died known as a good man, having a good funeral. If my city elite want to do the “happy herd” thing then OK; “you guys have your fun,” as I grimace and spit to the side, but know this: It just won’t matter to the children. Nor to posterity.

Sean Crawford

My favorite web essayist, Paul Graham, says to use footnotes to contain digressions. OK then, here is one footnote, one sidebar and one afterthought:

Everyday examples of being “ready to learn” are when a husband says, “I get it!” and the wife wearily replies, “Yes, I’ve been telling you that for years;” or they buy a Prius, and they say, “Wow, all of a sudden we see lots of Priuses on the road.”

The courts agree: If a crime is committed in the past, then the accused today is to be tried according to the laws in effect at that time. A judge might say: If we want people of the past to respect us, then we must respect them, as we would in turn hope our grandchildren would respect us. We here today in this room are not magically Right For All Time.

I would agree with the judge. It seems to me, if we have a voting age of 18, then we can still respect our grandparents who innocently believed voting should be at age 21. And if tomorrow we outlaw war, then I would surely still respect innocent young soldiers of the last two world wars, even if by our new laws they would be—ahem!—wrong. 

Afterthought: As for our U.S. cousins, I guess it isn’t politically correct for me to give them advice for either of their ongoing wars, against drugs or terror, still:
If you will declare a war you won’t intend to win, where you won’t intend to both try hard and demonize the bad guys, a war you and your president intend to forget about, then I won’t label you losers, because I don’t think you would take responsibility to own the label.

But I will say you owe an apology to a lot of parents of dead sons and daughters.


  1. Interesting and important information. It is really beneficial for us. Thanks herbal spice online

  2. I am blown away that a quote of the magnitude stated was never picked up by the western press. I say this primarily since it seems anything "that man" says, especially if he can be shown in an unfavourable light gets printed.
    Maybe someone will see it here and alert the press. Always interesting, Sean.

  3. Say, maybe it was a Star Trek thing, where the media was not ready to face it, giving priority instead to easier things. Not so much a conspiracy then, as weakness.

    Just as the eastern elite may be genuinely clueless about the working class and folks in the armed forces. I was just reading where an elite lady in graduate school couldn't believe a fellow student was an ex-marine.