The Newnan Times-Herald

Opinion

Presentism and slavery


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Nov. 01, 2017 - 11:50 PM

A recent news item stated, “Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia will take down a memorial marking the pew where Washington sat with his family” because it made some visitors uncomfortable: Washington (et. al.) owned slaves.

There are several problems with this action.

First, it engages in historical revisionism used during Stalin’s reign where he attempted to change historical facts to validate his activities. These attempts to deny historical realities are disingenuous and are a type of denialism that distorts history for selfish ambitions.

Secondly, it lands squarely in the arena of presentism, where historical facts are reinterpreted in light of current social standards. It’s “a form of cultural bias… [that] creates a distorted understanding of their subject matter.” Presentism is a common fallacy that should be shunned.

Thirdly, “the anachronistic introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past” is deceitful because it does “not depict the past in objective historical context but instead view[s] history only through the lens of contemporary… beliefs.” It is myopic.

Fourth, it’s a submission to fear. Fear that “some” people won’t feel comfortable. To my knowledge, no state declares individuals have a right to be comfortable. Certainly the Constitution doesn’t guarantee citizens the entitlement to be comfortable.

Fifth, it is bigotry. Forcing one’s social mores on historical characters demonstrates intolerance for historical perspectives. To say one is uncomfortable now for what happened more than 200 years ago demonstrates an immature and selfish view of history. This narcissism should not be permitted, for rewarding bad behavior only encourages more of it.

Washington, Jefferson, et. al. owned slaves because it was legal to do so. Tarnishing their memory by denigrating their accomplishments is duplicitous and as we see in today’s headlines – Russian influence in voting – acrimonious. Discourse “about slavery in an era when the practice was widely accepted [and letting] that fact influence judgment… should be avoided.” But class warfare and social disorder are customary tools the Left uses in its quest for power. This should be seen for what it is: a desperate attempt to fracture society for political gain.

Ken Schaefer

Sharpsburg