American Amnesia

Alzheimer's is one of the most terrifying diseases because it is the thief of memory.  And, without memory, we know neither where we have been nor where we are capable of going.  Rather, we exist in a perpetual present, futile because it leaves no trace.

As tragic as this is for an individual, how much more so is it for a nation and a people to lose the recall of their collective identity?  There can be no doubt that this is what is happening in the United States.

Although there is an increasing awareness of the pitiful state of our educational system as a whole and the liberal bias and ideology that infects the teaching of history, that is only part of the problem.  Another aspect that moves beyond just the historical to include virtually all of the social sciences involves cultural literacy.  Though difficult to precisely define because it is forever evolving, cultural literacy includes not only what is formally learned but information acquired through the entire range of human experience.  This can include independent reading, entertainment, the oral tradition, and any other experience that informs us with regard to our collective culture.  It is important because of its variety and diversity, its scope of thought and action, and its importance to the learning and thinking process as a whole. 

Some of the most vital tools of learning include analogy, simile, and metaphor.  To say that an individual is as "graceful as Fred Astaire" or as "rich as Rockefeller" is meaningless unless the one to whom we are speaking has seen a Fred Astaire movie or understands who John D. Rockefeller was.  Granted, over time terminology changes and some cultural literacy is justifiably lost.  Although it remains a delightful song, younger listeners of Cole Porter's "You're the Top" -- a series of wonderful analogies -- can be forgiven for not recognizing the allusions to "a Bendel bonnet," "Garbo's salary," and "cellophane."  Perhaps what is more important is that they understand who Cole Porter was.

In inquiring as to the reason for the decline in both the rational teaching of history and the knowledge of cultural literacy, two particular elements stand out:  the emphasis on minority status, and the cult of victimization.

Historically, the United States has followed a model in which some aspects of the immigrant identity have been left behind in favor of a new, and perceived better, ideation.  Members of immigrant groups, while retaining some of their favored traditions, foods, etc., sought to become Americans first.  They learned, and insisted that their children learn, English and, even under conditions of privation, took pride in their new identity.  The motto, "E pluribus unum" ("Out of many, one"), originally descriptive of the thirteen colonies forming a single nation, was extended as a reference to the many nationalities that combined to form one people.

In the process, often despite initial prejudice, a great sharing occurred.  We learned to enjoy one another's foods and music and to appreciate the contributions made by members of other ethnic and religious groups to our society.  A great source of our strength was the ability to assimilate multiple contributors.

The movement away from our traditional "melting pot" philosophy resulted initially from the hijacking of a portion of the Civil Rights Movement by the liberal advocates of government growth and intrusion.  The dream of equality of legal access and opportunity shared by Dr. King and many of the movement's pioneers was taken by liberal agitators to be achievable only through a succession of entitlements and programs that required a vast bureaucracy.  Members of that bureaucracy in turn realized that their continued employment, and indeed advancement, necessitated a population to serve and so encouraged a cult of victimization that endorsed lifestyles and behaviors that destroyed initiative, incentivized poor choices, and kept those involved in a perpetual state of victimhood.  It was not long before certain elements in other groups realized the financial, social, and media advantages that could accrue through isolating members of a defined group and portraying themselves as victims of the larger society.  The resultant proliferation of separatist groups and the accordant demonization of American society as a whole would result in a large-scale withdrawal from the collective identity in favor of an alien status.

A key component of the disaffected agenda involves an exaggerated emphasis on the contributions of each particular sector to the country, as well as the wholesale demonization of the social forces working, both past and present, to keep them down.  By introducing multiple heavily biased accounts at the expense of an overall historic survey, history was corrupted and an appreciation of American's great achievement lost for many. 

If we are to again recapture our heritage, it will be essential to dismantle at multiple levels the apparatus that perpetuates the culture of separatism and fictitious victimization.  By discontinuing to pour taxpayer dollars into organizations that demand preference based on race, gender, nationality, and/or other factors, we will be taking a first step toward the realization of true equality and away from such blights as the multiple congressional caucuses that exist to promote preferential legislation for and treatment of one group above another.  Concurrently, civic-minded citizens can, as they have started to in Texas, demanded courses and textbooks based on history and reason, rather than emotion.

I hope that in the long term, we can regard this period as a time of temporary amnesia and, in the future, look forward to regaining our national identity and our proud, and shared, heritage.