Sunday, April 15, 2018

History and stories

Holocaust remembrance day was last week, and recent polls shows a lot of young people don't know about that horrible event, and two thirds of them can not identify Auschwitz.

those who don't remember history are condemned to repeat it, as the saying goes.

But just "remembering" history is not a panacea, because it depends on how you frame the story.

One of the evil things (yes, evil) that President Obama did is to use identity politics to inflame minorities, so they would vote for his party. He didn't have to do this to get them to vote for him: They already were inspired to do so, loving this wonderful charismatic man.

But without the hate, they might not back his party in the future, hence the inspiring story of supporting a man who overcame many hardships and who would heal the divisions in America quickly morphed to demonizing evil "white" people, (which if you look closely includes spewing hatred of Ethnics, Hispanics, Afro American, East Asian, and South Asians, etc.who keep the rules and believe in God.)

And Trumpieboy, alas, sensed the resentment by "deplorables" of all colours who never had privilege, and indeed suffered economically or socially because of this meme, and exploited it.

Knownothing was the word for this type of demagogue in the days when the starving Irish hoards, not Mexican/Central American folks pouring in were the problem.

The irony, of course, is that Obama's mother's ancestors were slaveholders, although the lie that his father's tribe was involved in capturing local Kikuyu for the Arab slave trade has pretty well been debunked, nevertheless it is true that his father's family were never slaves.

One would suspect that with "identity politics" being pushed, folks would remember the stories of their ancestors, be glad their ancestors left those problems, and be happy that American gave them a second chance.

But that doesn't seem to be the case.

Instead, it is lumping folks into categories that have no meaning in memory: "White privilege" means little to families whose ancestors were denied jobs for being Jewish, or because no Irish need apply. And those prejudices were alive and well up into the 1960s, when my medical school finally eliminated their Jewish quota and started to accept women students for the first time.

I am old enough to have had teachers who had tatoos from concentration camps, or friends who hid out from the Nazis in a Catholic orphanage. Half our neighborhood were Jewish, the other half Catholic ethnics: and everyone had stories.

The original story "Roots" was about family stories, and was an eye opener when it was published, since the "experts" hadn't realized there was a Black community with it's own family stories that might not easily fit into the memes being pushed in the 1960s, including the marxist "Black power movement" that stressed only oppression.

All families have their stories. So the Irish remember the potato famine, the Polish remember their lack of rights under Russia, and the Italians fled because of severe poverty. The Chinese remember immigration laws that stopped them from entering the US, and the Japanese remember the camps during World War II. The Armenians remember their own holocaust, as do the Cambodians and Vietnamese, whose memories of the Vietnam war and the communist massacres and fleeing on boats and being attacked by pirates differ from the stories of the rich upper class American kids who continue to pat themselves on the back for pushing "peace" there, while ignoring the horrendous aftermath.

I find it sort of ironic that it is the "white" students who go around decrying "racism" and "white privlege", because they are clueless that maybe their ancestors fled the pogroms of religious persecution, the Highland clearances, or the famines and wars of 18th/19th/20th century Europe.

if they remembered their own family stories, it might lead to understanding of others. Instead, we have what some worry is a low level civil war between the elites who are manipulating the immigration problems to demonize the "deplorables" who just want a job and to be left alone by the nanny state, and alas the "deplorables" angry that their jobs for the last 30 years have been deported overseas, and now they have to compete for the few remaining jobs with illegals who are more easily exploited and paid substandard wages by employers.

So everyone has a story: but how you remember it and tell it does make a difference.

I remember visiting Dubrovnik before Yugoslavia collapsed into war. The tour guide told us that the island town was founded by refugees from the Roman colonies, and later the Slavs settled on the island in a different area... but that the town was still run by the ancestors of the Romans. A thousand years later, and the Slavs still resented this. So the memory was that of resentment, and it was not a surprise when the people who remembered centuries of wrong done to their ancestors tried to even the score.

But America always was the place to ignore the sins of the past, and accept people for who they are, not for what their ancestors did.

Intermarriage between ethnic groups was common: Bridget loves Bernie was the theme in TV/movies, but later it evolved to "guess whose coming to dinner" and "Mississippi Marsala", and now no body bats an eyelid at interracial relationships, either in real life or on TV.

The PC snobs hate the tune "God bless America", because they hate God and cherry pick the wrongs in America so they can hate others too. But a short google would find that the song was written by a Jewish man whose family escaped the pogroms of Russia and was happy to find freedom in a new land (married to an Irish Catholic bride),

so I guess it depends on who writes the story: do you emphasize the bad (as depressed and angry people tend to do), and hold grudges and learn to hate, or do you overlook the bad and pretend nothing is bad at all?

This is not political, you know: In these days of divorce and "ME ME ME", the need to understand and forgive is often personal.

I wonder how many "snowflakes" and SJW and sexual pronoun radicals are actually angry at their families but projecting the anger on a "straw man", because it hurts too much to face what they saw as rejection while growing up.

Or do you take the road of wisdom, and reframe the story to allow forgiveness and understanding?

That is the vocation of the bards and story tellers: To reframe the horrors to give wisdom.

Achilles learns compassion with Priam, and even today the Iliad is used to heal veterans sorrows.

In "Saving Mr Banks", the Disney character explains that by reframing memories, storytellers can give hope to others.

and in "Smoke Signals", the storyteller Thomas, whose parents died in an accidental fire caused by Victor's father, explains this.

so who is wise enough to reframe the story and preach forgiveness?

not the Pope, who seems to be busy projecting his own anger at "rigid" Catholics, and not his opposition, who seem to think Catholicism is a rigid 1950's American church.


related item: Garrison Keillor's essay on discovering the importance of story in Christianity.

I have not been good about passing the teachings of the Lord on to her, my grievous fault, due to my resistance to the damp airless religion of my youth, but nonetheless my fault. This fault is unbearable and so I’ve accepted the idea that all of us sinners will be accepted into God’s presence eventually. It’s a natural belief for a person in the field of comedy to hold.
Comedy is about surprise and contradiction and irony. And heaven will be an amazement. The last shall be first. This is a comical idea. It’s utterly simple to make a crowd feel bad, anyone can do it, but when they laugh, you feel the grace of God at work.

His family was biblical literalists, but of course, Catholics traditionally use stories/fiestas/statues etc., not bible quotes, to teach us about God's interaction with us.

as Father Greeley observed: Catholics live in a God-haunted world, and find evidence of his grace in everything:

Catholics live in an enchanted world, a world of statues and holy water, stained glass and votive candles, saints and religious medals, rosary beads and holy pictures. But these Catholic paraphernalia are mere hints of a deeper and more pervasive religious sensibility which inclines Catholics to see the Holy lurking in creation. As Catholics, we find our houses and our world haunted by a sense that the objects, events, and persons of daily life are revelations of grace.
so even sickness, sorrow and death don't win in the end:

and one wishes that Mr. Keillor would have had one of the Catholics on his staff to remind him that his view is very Christian, and would fit right in with the messiness that is Catholicism.

 Again, From Mr. Keillor:

At the end, the disciples ran away from the Crucifixion. It was just too much. I run away too. Someday I hope to understand. I don’t yet. The loaves and fishes is easier. So I’m not a real Christian. So shoot me. You do and I expect to rise again. The saints and martyrs will be there and also Mabel and Gertrude and Fern, our grade school cooks who fed the poor, and also the monks who were boiled alive by the cannibals but they didn’t taste good because they were friars, and of course Jesus, who hung on the cross and cried out to Peter who said, “Yes, Lord?” And Jesus said, “Peter, I can see my house from here.”
As indeed He could. And so can we. And if you get there before I do, tell all my friends that I’m coming, too.

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