15 November 2011

Narcissists Are Not Inspired By History - They Prefer Botox

There has been, on this blog as well as others, an ongoing debate on the relevancy and point of having heroes, as well as the related topic of "celebratory history." Readers of this blog know where I come down on the debate. Recently, I read one of the absolute best and clearest discussions of this topic that I've ever read anywhere - The Art of Manliness. Though AOM could not be classified as a "history" blog, it does quite often feature history-related posts. I've written a couple of pieces for them myself. Owner Brett McKay is an attorney by training and an excellent writer. He recently wrote a piece titled: Should a Man Be Inspired by History? Of course, my answer is an emphatic yes.

As I've written on numerous occasions, one of the things I detest most about moderns is their disdain for America's past; their hyper-critical attitude of the Founding Fathers, our history, and our Founding principles. They seem to revel in trumpeting the shortcomings and sins of our Nation's heroes in a twisted and rather transparent attempt to elevate themselves and their own "enlightened" generation. (Of course, one of their favorite targets is Southerners due to the fact that many in the South still hold to the old virtues.) Everyone sees their charade except they themselves. One blogger who often comments here suggested a while back that having heroes, and being inspired by them, was "childish." Actually, that attitude reveals an insecurity manifested by an embarrassment of looking to someone other than yourself for inspiration. It is the epitome of self-absorption.

McKay examines this narcissistic attitude in his opening:

Whenever we do a post that lays out lessons from the lives of great men or from the so-called “Greatest Generation,” it invariably attracts comments like: “X famous man wasn’t so great. He was a drunk/adulterer/slave owner…[fill in the blank with the perceived tragic flaw].”


“The Greatest Generation…pffft! Those racist/sexist/homophobes weren’t any better than anyone else.” It seems that in our cynical age being inspired by men of the past has gone out of style along with having heroes or ideals of any sort. But this wasn’t always so. And today we’d like to make a case for finding inspiration in those who have come before.
While McKay's piece is no exaltation of imperfect men, it does offer a very balanced perspective on this whole debate. But he nails the problem in this paragraph:

If you talk about a good aspect of a great man or generation, you are expected to immediately follow up with a list of their flaws and mistakes as well. If you don’t, you’re seen as a rube who has swallowed the traditional version of history and isn’t in on the new “secret” information that has been revealed. The self-satisfaction of those who consider themselves in the know and like to give you the “real scoop” is invariably palatable.
That comment is pregnant with fodder for additional commentary. The attitude noted in McKay's comment is exactly what motivated the critics of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's Confederate History Month proclamation last year. He originally failed to "follow up with a list of their flaws and mistakes." Of course, those "in the know" took him to school and he tucked his tail and dutifully reworded his proclamation. And, in the follow up posts on the "in the know" Civil War blogs, the self-satisfaction was indeed quite palatable. And also quite predictable and true to the script. They followed the template very well. Bores.

Anyway, back to McKay's piece. As I said, McKay's piece is balanced. He goes on to write that the correct approach to this topic is one of a "mature mindset" - something sorely lacking in the Botox-brained academic elites constantly trying to appear "cool" and "in the know." They remind me of all the snooty, primped and pruned "in crowd" in my senior high school class - obsessed with the latest fad and trend and wanting to remain "forever young." Ever wonder why so many of these leftist, radical anti-American Exceptionalism academics want to connect with their younger students? Botox for the brain. Botox is the perfect metaphor for these folks: phony, cosmetic, shallow, and narcissistic.

McKay notes:

A mature mindset also involves the ability to be inspired by the good bits despite the bad bits and realizing that one does not necessarily negate the other. The mature man does not turn his eyes from a historical figure’s flaws, but he does not let those flaws eclipse the lessons to be learned from the person’s life. He is able to sift the wheat from the chaff.

A mature mindset does not jump on the latest historical fad in order to "get better gigs" or get speaking invitations to academic conferences. But those with agendas do. I would encourage readers here to take the time to read McKay's piece. It is quite insightful and I believe even my critics will find it, overall, balanced. McKay's closing paragraph is particularly insightful:

My generation tends to believe that everyone is special and that no one is better than anyone else. “Every generation is just the same,” they say. But while it’s true that every generation has its own strengths and weaknesses, what those particular strengths and weaknesses consist of is unique. And if we humble ourselves, we can work on our weaknesses by learning from the strengths of the men of the past, just as we hope that our grandchildren will learn from the things that we’re doing right.
You can read the whole article here.

*Update - Michael Aubrecht claims to be a historian, yet does not seem to understand what the priorities of a historian are. First and foremost, they do not include an emphasis on pursuing something "new", though discovering something new certainly may occur during the process. A historian chronicles facts, which may lead him to something new, but it may not. But, again, "new" is not the objective. Facts are the objective. Recording those facts and interpreting them, when appropriate, is the objective. Following the record where it leads is the objective. Once more, that record may lead to something new, but it may not. If you seek "new", you'll create your own record in order to find "new", which is one of the points of this post. The problem is very similar with modern so-called "journalists." Their original purpose was to simply report or, journal the news. That's out the window. Journalist now make news, shaping it with their own spin and bias. The exact same thing is going on with many historians and for the same reasons.

Here's a concise and clear definition of what a historian is:

1.  Writer, student, or scholar of history.
2. One who writes or compiles a chronological record of events; a chronicler.

Notice this does not include, necessarily, uncovering "new" information. By making the discovery of something "new" the objective, one easily falls into the trap of emphasizing trends, fads, and sensationalism. I rest my case.


Michael Aubrecht said...

Richard you write: “A mature mindset does not jump on the latest historical fad in order to "get better gigs" or get speaking invitations to academic conferences.”

I don’t think a ‘fad’ has anything to do with it. I say a mature mindset does not remain satisfied with the candy-coated history that we were spoon fed as children. We can gain insight and inspiration from historical figures, but the point is (IMO) that despite what previous generations may have felt about these “heroes” none of these guys walk on water.

That does not mean they are not worthy of our attention and in some cases admiration, but we need to look at them honestly. This includes their strengths as well as their faults. Why are you so afraid to acknowledge that there are different sides yet to be commented on these individuals? If all we ever talk about is the ‘good ‘ol stuff’ we’ll never learn anything more about these folks and be simply regurgitating what has already been stated.

The entire point of practicing history is to uncover and present more than what we currently knew about a subject. Anything else is simply a form of “intellectual plagiarism” and cheerleading. (And I know because I used to do it.) Simply writing about how great Robert E Lee was tells us absolutely nothing new about Robert E Lee. Are we truly seeking new insights, or are we simply retelling the same stories we were told?

Michael Aubrecht said...

I also add that this is being done EVERYWHERE from Monticello and Mount Vernon (which now focus a great deal on slavery) to the national battlefields which present a more balanced presentation of both sides political views. This is a good thing is it not?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Did you read the article Michael? The current emphasis is faddish. I've stated, very plainly and on numerous occasions, my positions and reasoning. Disagree if you like, but I believe I provide ample evidence to support my positions.

"Simply writing about how great Robert E Lee was tells us absolutely nothing new about Robert E Lee."

Maybe there's nothing new to tell. I don't seek the "new" - just the facts. New and faddish are related.

Michael Aubrecht said...

"Maybe there's nothing new to tell. I don't seek the "new" - just the facts."

First that statement makes no sense, BUT if that is really your philosophy, then you are not a practicing historian. You are a messenger.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"this is being done EVERYWHERE"

What's being done EVERYWHERE?


You are providing more evidence of my point. EVERYWHERE indicates "trendiness", "faddish."

Just because something is being done "everywhere" does not necessarily mean its is always being done right.

"national battlefields which present a more balanced presentation of both sides political views."

Yeah, right. Have you been to Gettysburg lately? They used to focus on the battles, troop movements, the leaders, soldiers, but now that's all been politicized, thanks to Jesse Jackson Jr. inserting language into an appropriations bill a few years back. Even our friend Kevin Levin acknowledged that Jackson's efforts were politicizing battlefield interpretation.


Where have you been?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I'm not at all surprised that statement makes no sense to you. I'm a writer, which would include being a messenger.

What's a "practicing" historian? Sounds like a doctor or something. Do you have an office? How much do you charge?

Michael Aubrecht said...

I'm still trying to figure out your update. You are ranting and rambling...again. I challenge you to post something critical on one of these 'heroes' in order to prove that you can be objective and not just a cheerleader. Let's see something negative on a Robert E Lee or a George Washington. Give us some good ol' fashioned facts. Show us how a real historian chronicles...

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

When you've been thoroughly thrashed in an argument, obfuscate.

You're not the least bit embarrassed, are you?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Michael - maybe you are embarrassed. I see you removed your comment about me and the link back to this post.

You're the one who claims to be a historian. I'm just a writer.

Michael Aubrecht said...

I'm the one embarrassed for you. Someday you're going to look back and see how you're extreme conservative politics and antiquated views have ostricized you and made you a mockery to the rest of the CW blogger community. You really need to get a Facebook page so you can see what they say about your anti-academic posts over there. And BTW, I removed that post to save you further embarrassment from talking in circles.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Someday you're going to look back and see how you're extreme conservative politics and antiquated views have ostricized you and made you a mockery to the rest of the CW blogger community."

I think you should look in the mirror for extreme views. That statement will come back to haunt you when you read an upcoming post. Antiquated? Yes, I suppose that's true for someone who's constantly seeking the "new" in lieu of the facts. Besides, I don't craft my views in order to please others and "get better gigs."

"what they say about your anti-academic posts over there."

I've received a number of private emails from academics afraid to agree with me publicly. I'm quite confident of my views, thank you. Again, I don't craft my views and philosophies to please "communities." I could not care less what "they" say. Funny how few of them have the courage to come here and discuss, huh? Remember, facts are supposed to be the objective.

"I removed that post to save you further embarrassment from talking in circles."

Right Michael. Anyone who's followed your blogging know you have a history of removing posts after you've had time to think about them for a while.

Kevin said...

For whatever it's worth, Richard, I've not seen you mentioned in the CW blogosphere for quite some time. I can't even remember the last time I mentioned you at Civil War Memory. The best blogs are those that showcase the author's point of view - even for those bloggers that are wrong 99.999999% of the time. :-) Ironically, MA seems to be criticizing you for the very reason he continues to return.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thank you Kevin. I understand why there are CW bloggers who don't link to my blog - there are quite a few I don't link to. But there are a number that do link to OVB. Big deal. As I said, I don't form my views or express them to impress anyone. I express them because that's what I believe - even if I'm the only one. (Which my next post will show quite the opposite is true.)

I agree with you on the point of view thing. As I have told you, even though we most often disagree, I can still learn something from those with whom I disagree. If nothing else, it forces me to re-examine my own positions and keeps me sharp.

Thomas said...

A REAL historian knows the difference between facts and wishy-washy political correctness. Of course humanity has its flaws but it never fails to amaze me at the ignorance and buffoonery of the "new" self made "historians". They are nothing more than political hacks hell bent on an agenda. Score points and drag something or somebody down. Huzzah!...Boorish behavior. They have an "opinion" and they're "entitled" to it. That's all.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Thomas - that's pretty much it in a nutshell.