An informal symposium, a small gathering of friends of a friend, the latter not present except by his absence. The absence of someone is a kind of presence because it is felt, it is recognized as a lack which is a want which is a supposed to be which is a longing which is presence in mind thought imagination reflection an activation of memory on the present, what is now but an in-perpetuity moment conflicted by ever changing minutia that do affect the present moment if only ever so minutely, and that is the acknowledgement of someone’s absence, what it does, how it affects everyone’s thinking, everyone’s unconscious movements? They are gathered at Jules Bistro on Saint Mark’s, they are enjoying more than one bottle of Gigondas, the second having already been opened.
What do we mean by the history of history? Is it closer to the history of historiography? The history of history writing is an important history to be told, yet the focus on historiography has often been asserted, in recent decades anyway, to imply (for no inference is clear) that history is only the writing of it (the telling) and that there is no possible objective truth of history, and that there remains a perpetual ambiguity about the past, one that leaves opened for all examiners of the past to chant the more comforting mantra, anyone can say anything? I do understand the idea that all ideas competing for acceptance must have no censor. But is this what we have when everyone everywhere must say something about anything that arises as a trend? It is not only the fact that everyone must form some sound bite bit, in a new social grotesque, for our ears to chew (and yes, our ears do chew up the truths of our history), but that we must entertain whatever inanity exits the mouth of the many who do have nothing to say; that is, if we were to be honest about people’s thoughts and not be bound by a new and psychopathic sense of politeness that forces us to consider things said by others far longer than is necessary.
I remember when some people everywhere would say, Who’s to say? We do love rhetorical questions, and this who’s to say? was set in opposition to just about anything said that required inquiry, examination, research, thought, the tranquility of sober reflection, any of these independently, or all of them collectively. Any or all of them were too much for any of us to think we wanted to devote our time to such matters or manners. The rhetoric was positioned to reinforce the idea that anything like the fore mentioned devotion was unnecessary. We had better, yes, more important things to do. Our time was precious, especially when devoted to spinning our wheels. You do see that we have abandoned acumen, devotion, dedication, unless these are subsumed by marketing and messaged through the media, advertising being one medium of many media outlets . . . and this subsumming becomes how can we package the idea of dedication without the substance of dedication, sell the idea that we need to be dedicated, without actually doing anything that would show dedication or devotion; that is, how to talk about it and talk about the need to talk about it on and on and on over and over again without gain.
Who’s to say? was a question posed by those who did not know and had no determination to find out, and so pretended that no one could say anything about what they had no patience to learn. The horror of our existence–one of them, anyway–was that this crept into not just the public schools in the matter of teachers teaching–necessitating that the teachers become more bureaucratically correct rather than educated at the university level, actually learning a discipline and knowing something. We had to lower standards in the matters of teacher achievement to include more people who could become teachers. They did not have to know as much in the matters of knowledge, actually qualitatively expressed, and instead only needed to jump over a few more low standing hurdles in a counting exercise for bureaucrats. Anyone who wanted to be a teacher could have these bureaucratically conceived requirements totaled on a check-list. As the check-list was filled with checks, the final analysis left a person a teacher. A license was offered and the person made bureaucratically correct, verified by addition. This of course was closer to what the Wizard does for the Scarecrow at the end of The Wizard from Oz (itself an anti-intellectual critique). We needed a pedagogy that could align itself with the just add water, just add milk lives we were living. Instant something became instant anything in turn becoming the need for instant everything. Bureaucracy managing everything including our epistemology–the horror.
There were significant and detrimental side effects of our culture persisting in this need for instant gratification, a necessity to undermine values of achievement while insisting on revising standards to include more people in matters considered intellectual and academic, believing all the time that we were spreading democracy more broadly by deflating previously established and unnecessarily elitist standards of intellectual achievement and academic investigation–another form of America’s love affair with anti-intellectualism. The idea that there are no experts spread as people clamored for the attention once denied to them because they in fact did have nothing to say on so much of what they now had an opinion about; and the reason there were no experts was because expertise was lie (itself the greatest lie in our contemporary epistemology), therefore mostly unnecessary to pursue. We could reduce standards of achievement to make lesser minds more comfortable, and anyone was then able to say anything because opinions had only quantity, not quality, something both the Bolsheviks and the Nazis taught the world. We do forget and thus relive the horrors of history.
Repeat any lie enough times and it gains validity, momentum, yes, believability, of course. Something can be valid and not believed. Our media manages to get most people on board with programmatic behavior and thinking in a way the Nazis would have loved to have achieved; that is, the way the media manages both its advertising and its propaganda–and America id rife with propaganda. If anyone gets enough people repeating a lie, it will gain believability faster than if you alone continued to repeat the lie, which of course also gives some validity to the lie, at least from the point of view of how advertising or propaganda works successfully. Revisionism ad nauseum is what we have in the academy, lies and more lies repeated not only about facts from the past which would always need reexamination–and in fact were reexamined throughout successive stages of historiography–but the idea that there is no Truth at all, or that there are no absolute values, or even minor ‘t’ truths is something that has had a profound on our theory of knowledge, of what is knowable.
Of course, what we now have is a new brand of the will to power, and those who go along are carried by the force of the new Truth as power, or by arithmetic, the addition of dollars or of people as popularity. This is the magic additive power that makes mediocrity a success, and transforms ethics into accounting, The rich getting richer is the first and last in our social ethics, espoused by President Obama as he convinced us we had to save the rich to save ourselves. Something like this happened on the Titanic when steerage was told there were no lifeboats for them, and that they should wait patiently to drown in the icy Atlantic waters, comfortable in knowing that societies betters were going to be saved. (Long live the British, and of course this is a prime example of white privilege at work–wait! No. It was a power elite managing the lives and deaths of white Irish in steerage. A Titanic today in the American scheme of things would drown white and black poor and save the white and black rich.)
Social media help reinforce this idea of additive truths amounting to something–or, as has been apparent for sometime, at least over the last quarter century, Truth itself, if ever we see or feel the residue of this upper case Truth, is a matter of a special addition, the kind of facts and figures that get managed by our media or our State Department or Presidents or Governors or Mayors in America–all of these side effects of the bottom line of everything being the bottom line. Could America’s Book of Life be the ledger? Perhaps it will become The Good Book, the only book, keeping accounts is not what history is, but the business of business and how business is managed and recorded has affected what we do with history, to history, for history. Facts, facts and more facts, added, subtracted, kept in lists of facts like numbers entered in a ledger to keep accounts of one’s money, all about accounts payable and receivable–this is all we have of history, facts and dates without articulation, without argument because we believe that facts speak for themselves, that the pursuit and the keeping of facts is an asceticism to be maintained–it will cleanse us.
All of us have become Mr Gradgrind.