Rethinking history to console those it embarrasses

Rethinking history to console those it embarrasses. By George Case.

One term may sum up the entire range of modern advocacy around anti-racism, feminism, and gender more broadly than any other, and that term is the Reckoning. …

Today’s Reckoning is a multifaceted effort by educators, journalists, and political figures to re-evaluate the entire sweep of the Western narrative according to novel considerations of how deeply the story has been tainted by hitherto overlooked forms of discrimination and oppression. … The Reckoning, whenever it’s invoked, aims to remind everyone of what perpetrators (and their descendants) have chosen not to remember and what victims (and their survivors) can’t forget. …


What is routinely denounced as genocide now was, at the time, only a global expansion of something all cultures had always practiced regionally. It was Europeans’ unique opportunity to explore and exploit distant lands whose native inhabitants were in no position to reverse the process — their seafaring and other practices were just not sophisticated enough.

To colonizing nations, the “inferiority” of local peoples was self-evident, since they succumbed so readily to European technology, social organization, and disease.

If the Incas had landed in Spain, or if the Bantus had swept through Belgium, the world would be very different, of course. But that isn’t what happened, and that reality must also be reckoned with, along with the devastations wrought by Cortés and the ivory trade.

As much as the heirs of the colonizers may be shamed for the often brutal domination they exerted over four centuries, the heirs of the suppressed, the enslaved, and the colonized must equally bear the humiliation of their failure to counter it.



White supremacy is likewise held as an obvious, irredeemable bias that has permanently handicapped black, aboriginal, and Asian people in the US and Canada, from the 1600s to the present. But the waves of emigration from the Old World to the New, and the newcomers’ eventual westward settlement of the continent, suggest less unfair advantage than demographic default.

By the time of the US Civil War, the non-white population of the northern land mass (including free and enslaved African Americans, Native persons, and handfuls of Chinese and Japanese) was no higher than 20 percent of the total, gradually shrinking as yet more arrivals came from Ireland, Italy, Russia, and elsewhere in subsequent decades. Whatever’s happened in Canada and the United States since then, good or bad, most of it has happened to white people. That’s not supremacy, that’s proportionality. To assert that the entire North American success story — the railways and the Wright brothers, the breadbasket and the Baby Boom, Hollywood and Henry Ford, the Constitution and Confederation — was no more than a grand scheme to lord it over the BIPOC cohort, is to hugely overstate the relative significance of the cohort itself.


Women have another argument. For most of recorded history, half the members of the species have been relegated to secondary status: without legal or economic rights, objectified and targeted by male appetites, burned as witches, abused as wives, and disenfranchised as citizens. Not until very recently, we’re told, have we begun to acknowledge the long conspiracy to exclude, degrade, and dismiss women in every sphere of human activity.

Still, the blunt rejoinder to such grievances generally boils down to biology.

Women’s smaller average size next to men, their shorter terms of fertility, and particularly their vulnerability in childbirth led to a segregation of the sexes that prized women’s reproductive function and controlled it. Humans deduced early that, propagation-wise, males were expendable in warfare and other dangerous pursuits, while women were critical to the preservation of the line, the tribe, or the nation. Females of childbearing age were the special focus of males’ genetic drive. Treating them differently was a matter of collective survival.

As long as civilizations were built on physical strength, and as long as laws were enforced by it, few women were allowed to have authority they could seldom exercise effectively. Men denied women many things, not least of all the freedom to participate in social exchanges they were always likely to lose. …


Sexual taboos have varied across societies (against incest and adultery more consistently than homosexuality, perhaps), but same-sex eroticism, transgenderism, and other variants would have always been negligible fringes of the far more common procreative instinct. Some individuals may have had to behave, marry, or dress contrary to their innermost wants, yet for the greater number of people who have ever lived, the familiar rites of courtship and domesticity easily aligned with their physiological reflexes.

In statistical terms, any tendency besides heterosexuality was, literally, deviance. Enshrining and accommodating such tendencies, rare as they apparently were, was both impractical and unnecessary.

Political fantasies:

We have to allow that the conquest and dominance actually occurred. The Reckoning suggests that they didn’t; the Reckoning says that current inequalities are the products of ideology and indoctrination alone, and that without them, today’s disadvantaged or marginalized cultures would be as proud and as prosperous as any other. The Reckoning wants us to believe that a completely arbitrary hierarchy of social classes was invented and sold to us, in an historic swindle we can finally discredit.
The Reckoning claims to reveal the devastating truth that Might is not Right, it is Rigged.

There’s a quip sometimes attributed to French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, who, when asked in 1919 how historians would view the origins of the just-ended First World War, replied something like, “I cannot say for certain, but I am sure they will not say that Belgium invaded Germany.” His meaning seemed to be that, while there were a wide variety of interpretations which might be made, there was a limited set of confirmed data to back them up.

A similar restriction could be imposed on the Reckoning: yes, there are legitimate ways to rethink how our modern social order came to be, and some of them challenge easy assurances about democracy and enlightenment. But we cannot rethink history to console the people it embarrasses. …

Navigation, numbers, and nature — the evidence informing the outlooks whose inheritance is now in such dispute — were real. Notwithstanding the purported revelations of our contemporary Reckoning, it turns out that the Eurocentric, patriarchal, heteronormative versions of history are also the most accurate.

Get over the whole identity group thing. You’re an individual, responsible for your own life. You’re not your various identity groups, and the past is the past. Instead, be on the watch for people who spin you lies about the past in order to grab privileges in the present.