I have been involved in a largish history bookclub for a long time. It is always fun to hear someone else's take on what history is. Different biases definitely afflict us members when we annually vote on the books for next year. There is a healthy tension as we almost exclusively puruse non-fiction titles. For me, the books that splinter our group the most are the ones that attempt to take on something that happened a longer time ago. Consistent scholarship, research get pretty hard based upon the region and it gets close to conjecture and opinion IMO. In the same way that you capture stories of St. Louis and surrounding, our group seems to enjoy the books that capture historical happenings in the upper Midwest or Minnesota specifically.

Nice writing and opinion.

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You quite correctly said that historical accounts can vary. Often people see and recall that which they want to see and recall.

I think some of the insights from psychology and psychoanalysis may be pertinent. Scientists of the psyche have realized, for well over a century, that we will forget the truth, or mask the truth with lies, because it is too unpleasant. For example, in “Three Studies of Hysteria” (Freud 1899) it was found that in hysterical blindness (the patient cannot see even though she does not suffer from any organic defects in the eyes) the patient stopped seeing because what she had seen was too disturbing (She had witnessed her parents having sex.) Sometimes, the truth is distorted because it is too painful. For example, if A is discomfited because A is sexually attracted to B, he may instead contend that B is sexually attracted to A.

In unraveling psychological disturbances, doctors have found it imperative to uncover the truth (Of course, plenty of doctors now contend that your life experiences are irrelevant and that every emotional aberration is a manifestation of biochemical quirks), but at the same time the truth is so damn elusive.

For example, my Mother was perhaps the most brilliant novelist who had never written a damn thing. She gave me multiple accounts of her childhood, sometimes telling me she slept with her sister in a very tiny room (there was a shortage of space), sometimes telling me that that tiny room was occupied by her brother, sometimes telling me that her brother slept with his mother in the one large room in the house, etc. She always told me that her parents disparaged her, doubted her, even perhaps detested her, but her brother reports that their father expected her to be a brilliant chemist. How many female children were encouraged to be chemists in the 1930’s ??

Some psychologists have contended that traumas can have a deleterious impact on our psyche, but what traumas count and why. For example, a person might have experienced 1000 incidents in childhood in which he was harassed or dismissed or humiliated. Which incidents will he recall when he talks to his therapist? Will the therapist encourage to patient to recall only those incidents which fit in with the therapist’s biases re sex, race or class? Will the most troubling incidents be forgotten because sometimes we bury the most unpleasant incidents (And what is buried is never completely buried. Like spirits rising from the grave, the repressed. terrifying incidents make themselves known in the symptomology of psychiatric disease.)

I think the tendency to forget that which is disturbing is very much in evidence in this country in race relations. And in more way that you think.

For example, I think we all know that we have buried unpleasant aspects of race relations in our tendency, up until the modern civil rights movement, to prettify the status of black people. For example, I have seen psychiatric texts, from the 1920’s, which said that black people had more epilepsy that white people because they no longer benefited from the security of slavery. I recall an article, in a psychiatric journal, that said the lack of freedom consistent with slavery gave the slave the security of constancy and that the slave felt protected as an infant in swaddling clothes felt protected. I also recall a film, from the 1950’s, that offered marketing advise to businessmen. which encouraged business people not to overlook the huge and growing market of affluent black Americans. We constructed a history of lies to camouflage the awful, incriminating truth.

However, I found that the left also forgets that which it wants to forget insofar as race is concerned. For example, we all know that racists have sought to deny blacks the right to vote. However, I read an article, in "The New Yorker" in 2001, which said that the State of Alabama, in the early Twentieth Century, was concerned that their restrictions on black voting might be adjudged unconstitutional. Alabama came up with a brilliant plan to deny blacks the right to vote which would not be violative of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the constitution. Alabama simply passed a statue which said that in order to vote one had to have 10,000 dollars in cash assets, a rather princely sum in 1905. Very simply, in order to suppress black voting, Alabama, and soon other Southern states, suppressed all voting by poor people. I thought of this when I read Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” in which he said that most political scientists, essayists and thinkers are unmindful that a huge swath of American society lives like peasants, never thinking of voting, suffering a paucity of money, education and confidence. But we are usually oblivious to this because the American hostility toward class consciousness makes us blind to poverty and construct lies everywhere, in sit coms such as “Leave it to Beaver” which pretends that we are all merrily ensconced in sweet suburban homes.

Also, the left sometimes buries those parts of our history which shows that blacks were given special privileges because they were second class citizens. For example, courts used to say that a white defendant could not claim “contributory negligence” if he was sued by a black man for personal injury.

Contributory negligence is a doctrine which holds that a Plaintiff cannot be awarded money, for personal injury, if he, the Plaintiff, did something stupid which caused the accident. For example, Plaintiff might not be able to collect from a Defendant automobile driver because he was contributorily negligent when he ran into the highway and started dancing.

Southern courts formerly held that white people could not avoid liability, by claiming that blacks were contributorily negligent, because, the Courts held, black people could not help being stupid. However, this aspect of our history is forgotten and, consequently, we overlook the possibility that some of our “liberal ,” remedial programs might perpetuate disabilities which afflict black people. For example, I know of clinics, with a predominantly black clientele, in which AIDS patients, before being prescribed medicine, are given M & M candies for a week or two so they can practice swallowing pills at a certain time of day.

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Absolutely, history is just a collection of the stories we tell about what we think we know. This is one reason I love historical fiction so much. It expands the thinking about the stories that are possible.

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