Old Diary

What is The Opposite of Revisionism?

There is a term for rewriting history, we call it Revisionism. We often see it applied to denials of the Holocaust, or to those who pretend that U.S. treatment of blacks and Native Americans was other than the sordid reality that it was. There are a lot of places where it shows up, if we are paying attention.

I wonder about the way we judge the men and women who lived 50, 100, 150 years. We think nothing of applying contemporary standards to them, as if they knew back then what we know today. But obviously that is not the case; has never been the case; will never be the case. That’s really quite unfair. Isn’t that like judging a 5 year old child by the standards of a 70 year old adult?

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not making excuses for anyone’s bad behavior. Not for ANYONE. But we all behave the way we do because we consider that we are within the norms of acceptable behavior for the culture in which we live.

I’m not sure there’s a word for it, the concept I’m thinking about. If there is I don’t know it. Revisionism often seeks to deny the actions of others. But what’s the word for accepting the reality of what happened, yet judging it by a more current morality?

In the last couple years Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein have both been called to account for their actions 10 – 20 years prior. Personally, I think that’s a good thing. I don’t think that women should ever have been preyed upon as has happened in our culture. Indeed, such actions are going on today and those also deserve accountability. But I also accept that twenty years ago we lived in a very different world. Women (or men) who were sexually harassed, abused, fondled or otherwise mistreated in work settings had little legal recourse on a practical level. They could express their disgust, or try to take action against the culprit but society was accustomed to blinking at the misdeeds of the rich and powerful. That wasn’t right, but it was the way of the world at the time. Those in the lower echelons of power ended up bearing the shame for what happened to them and rarely was there any justice to be found.

Similarly, there have been accusations made against politicians. There have been the likes of Al Franken, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden — all of whom has seen criticisms raised over their actions and all of whom have responded differently and been variously received because of those accusations.

For those with time on their hands it’s great fun to rummage around in the archives to find quotations from a politician from 5 or 10 or 20 years ago, made in very different circumstances, and without the benefit of those years of experience and to accuse them of horrible crimes. But if the microscope were turned around and the researcher into past lives was turned into the subject of that research I doubt that many people could stand the reversed scrutiny. Oh, perhaps the subject of their infractions might not be identical. But the world has ways of moving on and not many of us are still exactly the person we were 5, 10, or 20 years ago.

Times change. Society grows — hopefully it matures too. The idea that someone living 20 years ago was prescient and could anticipate the mores and idiosyncrasies of modern society is ridiculous — and yet we here in 2020 judge others as if they could day in and day out.

It’s not just politics or politicians that do so.  You can find the tendency in interpersonal relations, in race relations, in a great many areas of life where we now think we know better than people of a prior generation, or a prior century. OR…. might we not see a similar example in regard to COVID? Have we not learned about the virus in the last three to 6 months? Do we continue to judge the actions of others months ago by the knowledge base of today? I bet we do.

But then it’s easy to throw stones at someone else, isn’t it.


4 thoughts on “What is The Opposite of Revisionism?

  1. There is a saying, however, in law… ignorance of the law is no excuse. I think where history is concerned, ignorance of decency is no excuse. We know we we are being bad human beings… when we are uplifting ourselves by denigrating or blaming others. Ignorance of how things SHOULD BE is also no excuse… especially if such ignorance is the result of intentionally closing one’s eyes so one can continue to benefit by the detriment of others. This is what is meant when it is said that history will remember our actions, therefore we should aim for the righteous, not the self-righteous… We can always make explanation for why we as people have screwed up in the past. We cannot make excuses.

    Thought-provoking post!


  2. Jett Rucker says:

    All history is revision(ism). And all revisionism is history. Talking/writing about past events might improve understanding of it. Or not.


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