Left Side of History

I think I may have said before that I was a history major, well it was a double major with history and political science, and it only took six years to get my degree so I think it was worth it. But goodness me, it can be a burden, at least it seems that way to a lot of the people I meet.

Like the other day I was telling this fellow Democrat about how I knew a real thoughtful conservative and his jaw dropped and he stared at me with these goofy looking eyebrows kinda pinched together so I started laughing just a little and he said what are you laughing about and I said have you practiced that look and he said what look and I said well that one, its like the look of someone who’s just heard something jaw-droppingly stupid, like the look that is supposed to end all conversation about a subject and he says look my friend you can’t go around saying there is such a thing as a “thoughtful” conservative. (You know how it is when you can actually hear scare quotes?). So I said I didn’t know that because I know my friend is conservative and he is very thoughtful but then this guy says to me you better watch out or you are going to find yourself on the same side of history as this so-called thoughtful conservative and I said which side is that, I’m a history major and I don’t really know what side of history conservatives are on and besides I wasn’t aware that history took sides but then he interrupts me and says it’s the wrong side of history, duh, that’s what you don’t want to be on.

So I said you mean there’s a right side of history and he said of course and I asked which one was that and he said our side and I said Democrats and he said well yes. So I said the Democrats used to be the party of slavery, was that the right side of history and he says that’s before they became progressive so I said oh, you mean progressives well Wilson was a progressive and he was a flat out racist, was that the right side of history? And then he starts to  get all red in the face, but at least that dropped jaw look he worked so hard on was gone and we were really interacting now, we were in a dialog which is always a good thing, so he says you don’t get it, the right side of history is not about the ****ing past.

Now that one really threw me for a loop so I said look I am really honestly trying to understand and thank you for dialoging with me and all that but you have to help me here, because I was a history major, well it was a double major really with poli-science and I may not have got the best grades and sometimes I was a little too bonged out to really follow the lectures, but one thing I learned and I am pretty sure about is that history is a study of the past. And he said to me what kind of college did you go to where they taught you that bull****, man, it must have been some little conservative backwater ****hole and I said well yeah you might call it that but my dad, who is a democrat and a liberal just like his dad was, said if I was going to get a history degree I needed to go to someplace where they actually taught history and all the places that do that are run by conservatives and my friend jumps in and says what? your dad is a ****ing moron! and if you went to a real school and hadn’t wasted your time at some redneck outlet where they regurgitate hatred from the the white patristic hegemony (I’m paraphrasing here) you’d understand what I am trying to tell you, so I said what are you trying to tell me and he said I just called your dad a ****ing moron doesn’t that bother you and I said why should it because I know he isn’t and besides I try not to follow irrelevant threads in a conversation because it just makes it harder to dialog if you know what I mean, but I don’t think he did know what I meant. Anyway I kept trying and said if history isn’t about the past then what is it about?

It’s about the future and you have to make sure you’re on the right side of it he says and I got really confused, I mean I was trying to follow this guy and all but I just couldn’t, so I asked him if history hasn’t happened yet how can I be sure I am on the right side of it? I mean, look at the early progressives, they thought they were on the right side of history, I suppose, by advocating for eugenics but then Hitler came along and all of the sudden they found out that was the wrong side, I guess, if I am getting this whole “right side of history” argument correct. Is that what you mean?

He said so you are insulting me for being a progressive and I said no, I’m not insulting you for being a progressive, I thought you were a liberal like me and he says I think you must be a  ****ing moron like your dad and I say why and he says because a progressive is like a super liberal, you ****ing moron, everybody knows that and I say really, well maybe you should read about the Great Terror in the old Soviet Union and see what they did to liberals and he said oh yeah, that “history” they taught you at the right wing propaganda machine and really about this time I was getting enough of this guy and I said you know, I have a lot better conversations with my thoughtful conservative friend than this one turned out to be and he sneered something about birds of a feather and I said even though there hasn’t been much in the way of dialog, I think I’ve learned something really valuable. What’s that he says and I say well here it is.

I know I am a liberal and I am not a progressive but I have been struggling to define exactly what the difference is and he says yeah I can see how you’d have to struggle with that and I said (very patiently because it can be dangerous to antagonize unstable people, you know) well life is a complicated thing, and we all live in this messy world where it is really hard to know what is right and what is wrong, like we pick a premise and then we go from there but how do we know whether our premises are even right? And I’ve found that even though intelligence can be a big benefit in reasoning from a given premise, it doesn’t help much in actually picking the premise in the first place. So we’re all just a bunch of helpless monkeys throwing mud on the wall and hoping it sticks and some of us come at it from a more liberal bent and some from a more conservative bent, but we all have to agree in an objective story of the past, what I have always referred to as history, and an open and free space that we can, like, learn from the past and debate the present so that we can shape the future in the best way possible. That’s what being a liberal is, and I begin to suspect that being a progressive is not. And he says you’re right dumb*** a progressive is the one who says the time for debate is over and I was tempted to say well that sounds very totalitarian to me but then thought he probably wouldn’t even understand the term in any proper historical context, and besides, unstable people …

But at any rate I am totally through with dialoging in this particular instance, don’t Jews or somebody have some saying like pearls before the swine? So I tell this guy it is what they say fraught with peril to throw away the past and if anyone thinks they have all the answers and can say what the “right” side of history is without knowing what the right side of history was, must, in my humble opinion, be a ****ing moron.