Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Repeating History

description: Ricky Nelson plays a concert in L...

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. ~ George Santayana

I don't know that remembering has much to do with it. Human nature being what it is, we seem bent on some things whether they've worked at all, worked only a little, or ended up in disaster. Knowing they've been tried before doesn't appear to prevent their being tried again with similar results. Mr. Hughes hid in Dylan's shoes and wearin' his disguise, as the late Rick Nelson put it.

I'm thinking about Germany in the early 20th century, in case you're wondering. High unemployment (30% in 1932), deficit spending, economic depression overlaid with inflation from the printing of large amounts of paper money, unable to meet foreign debt payments, national pride in the gutter. Whenever I watch something about the rise of Adolf Hitler, as did yesterday afternoon, I can't help thinking about the social conditions that made him possible. 

And then I start thinking about Santayana's quote.

I know, I know, Germany didn't have 1776 and the aftermath of two hundred years of democracy. Then again, she didn't have slavery and the subjugation of the western frontier. Let's play fair. I'm not one of those writers who makes a living telling you what's wrong with America, but neither do I want to ignore the obvious for the sake of good feelings. When something stinks, there's usually a reason.

What Hitler accomplished was masterful -- demonic, but masterful. Instead of taking reality on its own terms and leading Germany to do likewise, he fled into a delusional fantasy and created a massive marketing machine to sell it like Volkswagens. There are at least two ways to offer hope to those in need of it. One entails accepting responsibility for yourself, your successes and flat out, falling down failures, and by so doing, show others how to survive doing the same. Another is to imagine there's nothing wrong with you or wouldn't be if it wasn't for someone else. Say it often enough, sooner or later people will start believing. Say it long enough, maybe you'll win, and then you get to rewrite history so no one remembers the way it really was.

For instance, an editorial in an upcoming Southern Baptist theological journal, in complete ignorance of the wider social issues involved, described the fundamentalist takeover -- some have suggested "highjacking" is more apt -- of the Southern Baptist Convention a few years ago in terms of a restoration of biblical Christianity. The subsequent split with social-theological moderates, the virtual purging of non-strictly-doctrinaire seminary faculty, and the smear campaign against those who stood up to be counted, were conveniently overlooked. When the ends are used to justify the means, whether we're talking about theology, the search for weapons of mass destruction, or the virtues and vices of universal health care, a lot of things get overlooked.

Trouble is, this is precisely how we end up repeating history. And isn't that a hell of a thing.

(Creative Commons image of singer Rick Nelson via Wikipedia)
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