In Re Davenport (4), grumble, grumble

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Wed, 13 Mar 1996 22:49:04 +0900

Dear Clyde,

For the record let us agree that all histories are partial, local,
biased and, inevitably, incomplete. All this was apparent to the
rather naive undergraduate I was 30 years ago. There is much in
what you say about the American attitude toward history, but
again you are lacking in subtlety. There is a book, the author's
name eludes me, called _Mystic Chords of Memory_ which deals
in considerable detail with how Americans have responded to
history. Roughly speaking, your description applies pretty well to
the period between the Revolution and the Civil War. The latter
was a considerable shock to the optimism that looked only
forward and never back and led to a period in which the
founding of libraries, museums, historical societies, etc. was all
the rage. There are good grounds, I suspect, for believing that the
post-WWII years began another phase of optimistic
triumphalism in which the past would once again be thrust
behind us. Who knows? We may be approaching another turn
in the cycle. The new factor is, of course, the enormous
expansion of the knowledge/information industries that makes
it more than ever impossible to even pretend to panoptic

Still I object to the mindless arrogance of assuming that TV,
which I hardly ever watch, prevents an "us" to which I refuse to
belong from pursuing what knowledge we can. I am, after all, a
professional writer who knows the rhetorical uses of "we." Here
I deliberately reject them.

I also detect a certain simple-mindedness in the view that
Americans look forward because we cannot bear the ugliness of
our past. As you may have grasped from my later posts, I see a
great deal of ugliness in every past of which I am aware. And my
take on the popular media suggests that people these days are
more likely to be titillated by horrors than inclined to have
vapors at news of another example. Here I find myself inclined
to favor Eagleton over Baudrillard. Better to be a somewhat old-
fashioned Marxist with grounds for indignation and action than
a bullshit artist whose theories reproduce the meaninglessness
which is all he can find in modern life. Also, in a Whiggish way I
like to celebrate achievements and see a good many to set against
the ugliness in the corner of the world where I grew up.

I am, perhaps, most disturbed by your treatment of the business
of China vs. Taiwan. What, pray tell, are your grounds for
characterizing the U.S. involvement as a sudden response to the
end of the Cold War instead of the continuation of a
commitment of nearly 50 years standing? Why, aside from a
trendy neo-Fascist culturalism should we give more credit to the
claims ot aging dictators in Peking than to the equally human
opinions of 20 million people who may wish to say "No thank
you." Mind you, if a freely elected Taiwanese government
decides that reunification is the best choice for its people and
those people support that decision, I will applaud that choice. In
the meantime, I cannot discard my own cultural baggage
sufficiently to say that people whose ancestors settled Taiwan at
the same time that mine were coming to North America should
be turned over to the place those ancestors fled, when they have
achieved something very like democracy and politics on the
mainland are still shadowed by Tienanmen. If the Taiwanese
resist an attempt to settle the situation by force and my country
does not come to their aid, I will be ashamed. Your history may
have ended. Some ideological commitments are still very much
alive in me.

So, I end with a last curmudgeonly question. Let us suppose that
everything you say is true. What do you propose as a program for
dealing with the situation? What I am asking for is not more
hand-waving about humanizing science and technology. It's that
rather old-fashioned modernist notion called a political program.
Aside from crying bitter tears, like the Walrus eating the oysters,
what is it precisely that you would have us do?

John McCreery
March 14, 1996