Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Vanity of Erasing the Past: Examples Both Past and Present

Former Nittany Lion Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky's image has been removed from the celebrated Penn State Mural. His erasure is a stern testimony of the foolishness of modern times, which insists on celebrating individuals during their lifetimes, when they can still engage in sin and crime, besmirching the very reputation that their community stakeholders are trying to uphold. Even the Catholic Church has abandoned the policy of waiting five years before initiating the process of beatification, when men and women of this secularized faith are spending more time invested in a legacy

History has indeed witnessed and endure far greater rewrites than the erase and replacement of one man in a college town mural.

The American Civil War  has not ended, by some estimations, but the South is on the rise, and the call of states' rights has every citizen of ever color screaming for less government and let us alone laissez faire economics. The motives and the mission of teaching about this great conflict between the states has not ended, and every attempt to explain or to rewrite the causes and the cares of this conflict has only endangered every subsequent generation's tenuous grasp on the past to inform their present and build the future.

When the Puritanical Terrorist Oliver Cromwell first founded the Commonwealth, following the unjust execution of King Charles I, he was tempted to torch all the archives in the Parliament Building, yet he most likely discerned that history cannot simply be swept away with a firestorm.

Then there was the Grand Amnesty of Ancient Athens. After years of civil war, the two sides of democrats and oligarch,  had split country, kith, and kin with no regard for community. The war was so devastating, with every person choosing a side and fighting against their own blood to establish a different government. Facing the grim prospect that the bloodshed would never end, that the City of Athens would be reduced to a waste rubble of rebellious resentment, democrats and oligarchs agreed to a grand amnesty, a massive collective forgetting, in which both sides would bury the hatchet, going so far as to take the day out of the calendar when they agreed to the Grand Amnesty. The civil war ended, both sides agreed to pursue further grievances privately, yet in no way connected with the political rivalry which had ignited Athens for so long.

Throughout human history, mankind is busy not just remembering the worthy events, but striving even more to forget the painful, the grieving, the shameful events in their history. The past cannot be whisked away with whiteout, nor whitewashed into cleansing, for anyone can relate how old and covered murals are eventually uncovered. Even if Oliver Cromwell had destroyed the legacy of the ages in London, the British people, their very language, the roads the buildings, their own memories, would never have permitted them to forget the fun and frivolity of the Stuart and Tudor Monarchies, when king and crown were less cruel than christianized tyranny.

Even in George Orwell's dystopic novel 1984, when Winston Smith, the unorthodox Outer Party comrade, is throwing ill-favored histories down the memory-hole, the omniscient narrator ironically comments:

"Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary."
- George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 3

The key word palimpset gives off the futility of attempting to erase the past.

"Palimpset" in its original meaning refers to:

a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text.  (source,. Dictionary.com)
Yet anyone who has erased anything from a paper can testify that the stray marks remain on the paper. Even individuals who use tracing pads, even after lifting the film to erase what they have written, will point out that the engravings in the back of the plastic have not been removed. No matter how often a city is destroyed, no matter how hard we try to forget something on our own, the memory will linger longer than ever.
Trying to remember causes us to forget. Trying to forget causes us to remember. How, then, can we be restored if we fear that we have suffered a loss which cannot be recouped? In the case of the Athenian amnesty, the price of remembrance and resentment had simply proven too costly for the entire city, and even then individuals still possessed the option to see in private grievances.
Oliver Cromwell died after a relatively short reign, and his son Richard did command the superimposing gravitas to dominate a country in absolute terms. As mentioned above, the Civil War has not ended for many scholars and differing members of houses divided during the conflict, and shortly thereafter. Even Abraham Lincoln, the Union President elected upon a Northern minority was a married to a wrathful and unstable Southern belle who could not believe that her family as well as the country was splitting apart.
Then there are the numerous victims who suffered from Jerry Sandusky's perverse predation, boys now men who have not forgotten the intense pain and suffering forced upon them.
How can one forgive? How can anyone move on?

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