Cultural Amnesia and American Survival

Clive James's 2007 book titled Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts is a collection of artists and thinkers.  They are largely concerned with responses to "threats against freedom, mostly in the 20th century."

As I leaf through it, I am astonished at the echoes of my own qualms as this country stands on the precipice of either remaining free or not.  I see Democrats and leftists invoking Nazism to describe conservatives in America, and I am reminded of Jean-François Revel's words that "one insults the memory of the victims of Nazism if one uses them to bury the memory of the victims of communism."  As leftists carelessly invoke Nazis to label "deplorables," they totally disregard the evil of communism. 

Instead, the left and Democrats work assiduously to transform America into a socialist/communist country notwithstanding the millions who perished in communist countries and who continue to suffer even today.  It is vital to recall that in only ten years, Venezuela was irrevocably destroyed by socialism.  Yet Venezuela was once richer than China and Japan, and its currency was second only to the United States.  Moreover, Venezuela had an excellent health system.  No longer!

Moreover, Khmer Rouge (1975–1979) torturers had Western apologists in their corner who patently ignored the hideous torture, and as a result, "of 17,000 people who were interrogated in the S-21 camp in Phnom Penh, 16,994 died in agony."  

While we are thankfully not at the level of the aforementioned groups, each time a picture of the Portland destruction and the people who gleefully beat and murder innocent people is shown, one is hard pressed not to see Brown Shirts operating with total license in Oregon.

Terry Gilliam, film director, is one of the artists featured in Cultural Amnesia.  His film Brazil is considered "one of the greatest political films," wherein the "torture surgery contributes one of the most brain-curdling of the film's many disturbing themes."  He writes about "how the author of a state that rules by terror can detach himself from the brute facts."  Whether it was Juan Perón or Hitler or the Soviet system or the Japanese army of the 20th century, the "organs" of power "were always, at the brute force level, staffed by otherwise unemployable dimwits." 

The way to ensure the evil is to make sure that the next generation learns nothing of what came before.  Much has been written about historical illiteracy in this country; much browbeating has occurred over the value of historical statues, but one thing is certain: the cancel culture proponents know exactly what they are doing, as they excel in all means of erasing history and the knowledge and wisdom needed to be a righteous people.

In his introduction, Clive James writes that "[l]earned books are published by the thousands, yet learning was never less trusted as something to be pursued for its own sake."  I ponder how Yale can eliminate an introductory sequence on the history of Western art.

Decades old and once taught by famous Yale professors like Vincent Scully, 'Introduction to Art History: Renaissance to the Present' was once touted to be one of Yale College's quintessential classes.  But this change is the latest response to student uneasiness over an idealized Western 'canon' — a product of an overwhelmingly white, straight, European and male cadre of artists.

Heather Mac Donald writes that "by 1974, when [she] enrolled at Yale, its faculty had long since abdicated one of its primary intellectual responsibilities.  It observed a chaste silence about what undergraduates needed to study in order to have any hope of becoming even minimally educated; curricular selections, outside of a few broad distribution requirements, were left to students, who by definition did not know enough to choose wisely[.] ... So it was that I graduated without having taken a single history course (outside one distribution-fulfilling intellectual history class), despite easy access to arguably the strongest American history faculty in the country.  Scully's fall semester introductory art history course has been my anchor to the past, providing visual grounding in the development of Western civilization, around which it is possible to develop a broader sense of history."

Moreover, the "cultural revolution is coming to a campus near you."  John Staddon writes that "[h]igher education has begun a transformation similar to the Chinese 'Cultural Revolution' of 1966.  This claim may sound extreme, but look at the similarities for yourself.  Like the Cultural Revolution, the energized identity-politics movement presents itself as a cleansing force.  Pure Maoism was being corrupted by covert capitalist sympathizers — they had to be rooted out.  In the U.S., the 'party faithful' took for granted the permanent problems of  'white privilege' and 'systemic racism,' which, for many, were their livelihood."

In fact, the journal Science has agreed to publish a petition/op-ed about combating "systemic racism" which allegedly hurts "Black Indigenous and People of Color" (BIPOC).

Quoting from the petition:

Everyone in academia must acknowledge the role that universities—faculty, staff, and students—play in perpetuating structural racism by subjecting students of color to unwelcoming academic cultures…The misuse of standardized tests, like the GRE, excludes students who could have otherwise succeeded.

Structural (aka systemic, institutional) racism is nowhere defined in the petition. The words could be replaced by evil spirits without loss of meaning.

Reducing structural racism in higher education will require evidence-based, institution-wide approaches that focus on achieving equity in student learning. If we abandon the perception of 'fixed' student ability, more BIPOC3 students will succeed.

. . . .But do not expect to educate everybody, especially in tough STEM subjects. People are not all equally able. An educational system that pretends they are will end in mediocrity.

BIPOC faculty are further disadvantaged in tenure decisions through cultural taxation of unequal service and mentoring demands. Given these burdens, BIPOC faculty cannot be expected to be the agents of change. Instead, nonmarginalized faculty…should exercise that power by joining BIPOC faculty in prioritizing recruiting, supporting, and championing diversity.

 . . . .All faculty should examine their courses for performance disparities based on ethnicity and gender, ask whether departmental and lab demographics reflect society at large, and work to remedy disparities.

Enter the commissars [emphasis mine]. In the future it will no longer be sufficient to teach well and perform excellent research—faculty must also commit to eliminating disparities, which are as likely to be the result of differences in interest and talent as to inadequate teaching. Faculty are to scrutinize their grade distributions to see that BIPOC do not fall behind. What if they do? Whose fault is that?  The pressure to adjust evaluation so as to eliminate disparities will be strong. It is hard to imagine a more damaging injection of politics into research and scholarship.

We have daily evidence of  what the Democrats will do should we not obey their dictates.  De Blasio targets Jews while allowing other groups to congregate without masks.  Michigan's Governor Whitmer acts "like a petty dictator."  Elected officials praise those who would snitch on their neighbors for not wearing a mask.  Mark LaFlamme writes that he hates "the blossoming snitch culture.  Neighbor has turned on neighbor, and friend on friend.  Perfectly ordinary Americans have turned citizen spy, ratting out others for things like having backyard barbecues, tossing a football in the street, sitting on the beach, surfing, letting their children play outside or going to the store without a government-mandated face mask. "

Wearing a MAGA hat results in being spat upon and beaten.

Is it really a figment of my overactive imagination to worry, as did Jonathan Miller, who "made a dark joke about his worst fear: being tortured for information he did not possess"? 

In the "Nazi and Soviet cellars and camps, people were regularly tortured for information they did not possess: i.e., they were tortured just for the hell of it."  As Gilliam writes, "Kafka was there first, but he wasn't alone for long, and now we must all live in a modern world where the words 'No no no no no no no no' can be recorded with perfect fidelity for their sound, yet go unheeded for what they mean."

It is not an exaggeration that we could too easily be led into those dark dungeons of despair if the Democrats gain control of this country.

Eileen can be reached at

Image: Johnny Silvercloud via Flickr (cropped), CC BY-SA 2.0.

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