Opinion

Hiding Truth a “Monumental” Mistake

Mum Bett, aka Elizabeth Freeman, aged 70 who won her case for freedom in 1781. Painted by Susan Ridley Sedgwick. Public Domain.

Asheville – I was born at a very early age. So were we all. But never forget that we are all ancient. We carry within us the DNA of oldness. That legacy goes way, way back. Don’t believe me, believe science.
What does this have to do with the location of Asheville’s monument to Vance? He is a historical figure, though not the Messiah, but of enough significance as to have been memorialized. But in most respects, he is no different from you and me.

Each one of us has a history that continues to grow. That history cannot be erased or rewritten. Whatever you are today, you bring with you from yesterday. You cannot change it; perhaps you can hide it, but it doesn’t go away. You can try to control it, but you cannot eliminate it. We really are our past and if you cannot accurately know where you came from, it becomes more difficult to know who and what you are now and what you should become. Becoming someone or something requires reasoning, understanding and in its final analysis discrimination, i.e., red is not blue, 2+2 is 4, not 5, freedom is not totalitarianism.

Aristotle called the law of contradiction the basis for all reasoning and understanding. It is vital in making sense of the world. It states that contradictory propositions cannot both be the same at the same time. For instance, “X is Y” and “X is not Y” are mutually exclusive. Thinking that they are the same opposes this basic logic of reasoning and is known as ’Doublethink’ in George Orwell’s book, 1984.

Orwell said it well when he said, “Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the past.” Past events, it is stated, have no objective existence, but survive only in written records and in human memory. The past is whatever the records and the various memories say it is. As Napoleon supposedly said, “History is a lie agreed on.” And this really means that those who are in power control the media and therefore control the perception of who is right and who is wrong.

In Orwell’s book, three Doublethink slogans displayed on the state’s Ministry of Truth are: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

The law of contradiction means also that we cannot change the past. What we can know of all truth resides in the past, because the present is flying by and is confusing, and tomorrow has not yet come. The past, however, is competitive. It is unchangeable – to change it would be making what is not, to have been. And if what is recorded as ‘happened’ did not happen, no human understanding is possible.

If the past can be changed, then anything can be changed. Man’s power would be limitless. But to what end? The only possible end could be simply to have the power to do so. To make of the future whatever one wanted. And the intoxication of power is practically limitless.

All the past attempts at totalitarianism have created great bureaucracies and policies to censure the past and to obliterate human trust. Education becomes a top priority for the state to control. Links between child and parent are cut, politically correct speech becomes imperative, school teachings run counter past objective norms, and much of history becomes rewritten to point to the desired future.
In the US, books such as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn get banned. Powerful media interests push the “1619 Project” onto schools as it was conceived to ‘correct’ the history of the American republic to show it as being fundamentally racist from its inception. People get fired for expressing their political views. The media even ban certain people from being allowed to express contrary views.
Changing and rewriting history has found a large following in the destruction of monuments.

Most of these monuments were erected at various times by various peoples who were proud of what someone or some group had done or for having withstood external pressures. These people all lived in our country and embraced a memory to them worth perpetuating. These peoples, their trials and tribulations, their joys and sorrows belong to them, were handed down, often memorialized, and made us what we are.

It’s a DNA that belongs to all of us.

Trying to change the past only belittles us. Tearing down past monuments shows our squeamishness in the face of historical facts.
It is an illusion to believe that an awareness of history will simply resurrect the past into the present and perpetuate it into our future. That gives some sort of magic to the past, as though it could somehow reincarnate itself into our present.

American schoolchildren today are taught two things about Thomas Jefferson: that he wrote the Declaration of Independence and that he was a slaveholder. This is an incredibly short-sighted and dishonest lesson about Jefferson. The remarkable fact that he and other of these ‘slaveholders’ founded a republic based on principles that would allow slavery to be renounced, and allow slaves to live in freedom cannot be denied. Honest scholars would ask how this could be achieved uniquely in the United States of America and why it could not be achieved in other leading nations of the world, communist China for example.

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are expensive words that do not come without struggle. Our young people need to understand why people from all over flee to the United States and not to elsewhere. They must have full and complete knowledge of our nation’s history, so as to invest them with the spirit of freedom that depends on great courage.
If we erase what was achieved at the sacrifice of the blood and treasure of our ancestors, we will never know who we truly are. Living illusions rarely works out well in real life.
We should not concern ourselves with destroying historical monuments for reasons simply to satisfy temporary anxiety. Should we not instead embrace them as part of our country’s truth and use them as references to become stronger?

At the very least, should we not instead build other monuments to celebrate what we have become? Build a monument to Mum Bett who was the first enslaved Africa American who, in 1781, filed and won her case for freedom. Find others who deserve attention. Memorialize today’s moments for the future.

But don’t go down the dark and sterile path of destroying everyone’s history. History does not belong to any one group, and no group should attempt to claim chunks of it as their own. It comes from the past as a gift to the present and should be kept intact for the future.

Find new light to shine on new unknowns so we will be better and stronger moving forward. Hiding the truth is a solution to nothing.