“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
George Orwell, “1984”
Thank you for your sobering and accurate editorial “Oppose White Washing of Slavery, Banning of Books” against revisionist history, and in support of civil liberties, including the First Amendment rights to share ideas, to religious expression and to peaceably assemble.
I join in thanking, respectively, the presidents of the Holocaust Tolerance and Memorial Center and library boards and you for bringing a national message home to our local community.
The very dynamics you describe are what compelled me to run (and what was experienced during my re-election campaign as Great Neck’s Board of Education president, which you referenced) last spring. The remaining views expressed in this letter are personal and my own.
It seems to me that the prevalence of cancel culture, and its ongoing backlashes, continue to erode regard for history, civic institutions, the rule of law and legal precedent as far as the eye can see.
Recall that nowadays, in addition to “Maus,” and “The Diary of Anne Frank,” even Sesame Street, Arthur, and Dr. Seuss are controversial. Statues and curricula have literally and figuratively been upended around the country.
In lieu of expecting and holding to account the intellectual rigor necessary for critical inquiry to interrogate texts, cancel culture demands thought-free safe zones, which preclude reasoned discourse or debate.
Simultaneously, cancel culture divides by fomenting conspiracy theories against Jewish Caucasians (a contradiction in terms in Mizrahi Jews’ experience) and also against other minority groups. Peddling ahistorical fact-free revisionist histories, aka “alternate facts,” whether regarding enslavement of African Americans or the annihilation of millions of Jews and others during the Holocaust, (or for that matter the continued omissions of the lived experiences of women, Asian Americans, Latinos, LBGTQ persons and others from history) undermines not only “History” but also due process and civil liberties. As Orwell observed, undermining history also guts the present and future. Policy and law-making in the United States seem to have been reduced to shallow identity politics and litmus tests rather than legal principles such as historical precedent.
This is readily observed in the canceling and intimidation of the individual viewpoints of students, teachers, administrators, job seekers, office-seekers and others, as your editorial suggests. Is it any wonder that ideas are chilled when self-proclaimed “Truth” echo chambers engage in “woke traps” to record unwitting targets and destroy careers by sharing recordings which spread like wildfire on social media, as in the recent local example you reported?
I have to believe we would all be better served if the complexity of lived experiences of humanity (whether Jews, Christian, Muslin, atheist, blacks, women, men, Asians, LBGTQ) are not negated but appropriately represented in fact-checked, annotated, historical accounts in literature, in humanities, music, the arts and cinema.
Yet, in today’s warped echo chambers, Orwellian, Florida-style authoritarian legislation and encroachments on curriculum actually could happen anywhere, including here. (To be candid, we might also well claim that the state of New York has had its own bouts of authoritarianism since the COVID mandates.)
All the while, the highest court in the land, the U.S. Supreme Court, will likely continue to overturn decades of settled legal precedent whether gutting women’s bodily integrity or shifting the ground under the feet of students applying to college seeking affirmative action, and who knows what next.
Worrisome, indeed. Backlash is real.