Fighting For The Past

Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.

[From 1984 by George Orwell]

There is an easily understandable truth to the phrase, History is written by the victor. The victorious are the ones left after the battle to tell the tale, so it is their story. Even ‘his story’ seems like the etymology of the word, though it is not.

Logically, however, it seems as though it should not be the case. Fact is fact. What happened, happened. Right? The American Revolution went from this, to this, to this.

But we humans are limited, isolated souls. We cannot truly know anything beyond our own experience. So when we look upon the past, we see it through our own eyes and nothing more. Try as we might to keep the past even-handed, it remains clouded by what we believe actually happened.

And that belief as to what happens tempers our current state of mind. We justify our current decisions based on that foggy history, to either follow the path or run counter to it. The hardest to cope with of all is when evidence points to a different conclusion than what is believed to be true.

This is where a new battlefield has opened up, and it follows the words of George Orwell exactly.

In Texas, there is a board of education that controls the content of a huge amount of school textbooks. A single board, in one state, dictates the content they want in most schools.

How this is possible is through textbook manufacturing. Texas publishes a single list of approved textbooks for all of its schools. Texas is a huge state. So, if a publishing company wants guaranteed millions in sales, they cater to Texas. And since they’ve catered to Texas, those books become the books for much of the whole country.

As one would expect, Texas, as a whole, has stronger religious leanings than average. And this board has a solid voting bloc of religious conservatives. This fact would normally be balanced out by California’s liberal-secular leanings, but since that state won’t be purchasing textbooks for another half a decade (good planning, that’s what that is), Texas is now wielding far more influence over the market than it previously did.

Up now for their curriculum decisions is social studies. History. Our very past is going to be altered by the present. Alterations to make sure that there are well-mentioned gaps in Darwin’s and Galileo’s advances in our very world. Show Reagan as a hero, followed by the grandeur of Newt Gingrich. And be sure people see that our very founders were espousing Christianity and rule under Biblical law.

It is the last point that is most confounding to my knowledge. I have read our founders, not just read about them. Most of them were Christians, yes, but that was merely the default. The far more reaching fact about them was that they divorced their personal faiths (which were from numerous sects) and knew that their inspirations came from Enlightenment philosophy of reliance on themselves to get through existence.

These people honestly believe they are setting history right. That is what is so tough to fight. And it is a subtle fight over words. What is most impressive is that they are thinking in terms of generations. If they rewrite history now to deceptively emphasize the religions of our Founders over their actual beliefs, then it will be thirty years before the ramifications are fully felt.

As Mr Coates mentioned when I first read about this on his blog (also followed up by Mr Sullivan), it is hard not to leave this subject on a sour, depressing note. The effects of such an intellectual coup are difficult to see as too harmful in a world becoming coated with ubiquitous information. It also requires a vast amount of effort to maintain a campaign such as this over decades.

Still, it is always worth fighting against such willful acts of ignorance and deception.