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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Political Calculation Is Not the Same as Knowledge

It seems the suggestion that black children were more likely to live in a two-parent family under slavery than today did not go over well with the public, so the good paster Plaats has appologized and adjusted his words: ““After careful deliberation and wise insight and input from valued colleagues we deeply respect, we agree that the statement referencing children born into slavery can be misconstrued, and such misconstruction can detract from the core message of the Marriage Vow: that ALL of us must work to strengthen and support families and marriages between one woman and one man.” Notice that this is not saying he was wrong in his claim — that, in any sense, he has falsified the past. Rather he is saying that he can easily be “misconstrued.” This was precisesly my point in my last post — it is as if the past did not exist, as if a person could say any old thing about events, people, causes, effects, statistics, and then his only concern would be how his words were taken today — not whether they violated real history.

While it is easy to find the flaws in Plaats and the craven politicians who are so eager to win in Iowa they will agree to just about anything to get a few votes, the problem is not limited to any one party or point of view. Rather it is that we treat the now — the current message, the immediate flood of tweets, as all important. So the only thing that matters is who is scoring a point in this instant — if any clean up is required by petty fact checkers later, another clarification and “construction” will take care of that. In a way politicians have become 1980’s style post-modern academics. Remember when professors were all in love with social construction? Well now we have politicians who treat the past as an opportunity to show their skill at social construction, deconstruction, and misconstruction — they are seeing history as whatever we claim it to be, right now, or for this immediate political gain.

And this gets back to the decline of Social Studies, the cutting back of time spent on American History, the mad dash through World History: it takes work to make sense of the past. You have to be careful, you need to find evidence, evaluate it, compare interpretations, look for counter evidence, share your work, take in critiques, rethink your conclusions, and start all over again with more evidence. The past is not just story, it is a challenge to every bit of our wit, intelligence, intuition, creativity, insight, empathy, wizardry with statistics and skill at using scientific tools. Making real sense of the past is hard — which is why it is fun — you have to keep at it, just like you have to work to get better at a sport, or an art, or cooking. We should be challenging the politicians when they abuse the past not just because they are hurting people now, but because they are violating their responsibility to model mature, educated, adult respect for knowledge. It is the child who can never admit he is wrong — who fudges his apologies to say the minimum to get the treat he wants; it is the real adult, the real parent, who admits to being dead wrong.