The other day I had a good chuckle at someone's unintentionally hilarious statement. It was from a teachers' union and their declaration that they wished to have John A MacDonald's name removed from schools.
"Perhaps it is our awareness of history that makes us more sensitive to this," their spokesbeing began.
I couldn't complete the sentence for laughter. Their understanding of history? They understand no such thing.
The study of history itself has a long and convoluted history- some take this approach, others find a different way to go about it. Broadly speaking- very broadly speaking- until fairly recently history was taught along the lines of Great Man/Great Event. The flaw in this method is fairly obvious to any modern individual who thinks about it for five seconds: the Great Men are almost always, well, men, and the Great Events are almost always European. Other parts of the world didn't actually exist until a white man showed up and had a look around. Between the two, only a tiny portion of humanity ever qualifies as historical or has anything written about it. It is as though they never actually existed.
As a corrective to this style of history, the more modern approach is to study social history, to try and examine the lives of, well, no one in particular but of everyone more or less in general, or as much as can be subdivided into groups. It is the study of percentages, and of 'forces' in history and nameless, faceless people who existed within certain categories and parameters.
The old way tended tell the story of the great men, but, generally speaking, he would have his foil, the villain of the piece. Heroes and villains are not the stuff of the social history: the heroes are gone. The categories are too simplistic for the complex modern scholar, we are told. Rather, they have a different set of categories: broadly speaking, oppressors and oppressed. The bad guys without a hero, and their victims.
It is here that the difference perhaps becomes most telling. The old style of history, for all its faults and weaknesses, did have a virtue and a strength: it was practical. The aim of teaching this style of history was to come out in actual practice, to give the students a model and a guide by which to live their own lives. In our time we have those who ask themselves 'what would Jesus do?' An educated man of the past would have asked himself 'What would Julius Caesar do? or Pompey? Charles Martel? Scipio? The Duke of Marlborough? Washington? Lincoln?' They had a host of people living in their minds after whom they could frame themselves, who could guide them at times of trial and confusion.
The new system is the opposite of this: For all its strengths, it has a weakness: it is impractical. First of all, no one really acts in this history: it is just forces travelling in this direction, or perhaps that. It gives no model to follow, it grants no actual agency. Between its categories of villains and victims, the only one worth being is the victim, and perhaps for this we now have the spectacle of people arguing who is the greater victim or the real victim, who has the greatest claim to victimhood. Not that they have done anything, only that worse things have been done to them. Action is not to be taken as an individual, but only has meaning when done by a group, preferably those on the right side of history, also their creation, also as meaningless and pointless as the rest of it.
Be a hero, said the old system, not a villain. But we have torn our heroes to shreds, now. We cannot stand the heroes of the past any longer. It matters not what great thing they did, or how right they were about this or that, they were unforgivably wrong in something else, perhaps even anything else. So we erase the good they did, and pretend it doesn't matter because it was completely overshadowed by their ill. Be a hero, we say now, and have your name dragged through the mud. We cannot stand heroes now.
Be a victim, says the new system. Only victims are pure. Victimhood is a sanctifying grace which removes all sins. For now.