CSotD: Substituting Stories for Statutes, and other follies

Marty Two Bulls certainly has standing to make this observation, but I would point out that he’s saying something less about “cancel culture” and more about honest history.

That’s not to say that a frank reassessment of our history might not require some adjustments, including settling some land claims in the case of Indians, and consideration of reparations in the African-American community.


But there’s hope. Greg Kearney mocks the conservatives who were upset by the Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt v Oklahoma, in which, as that Scotusblog link notes,

To illustrate “the perils of substituting stories for statutes,” Gorsuch offers an extended response to Oklahoma’s argument that its “long historical prosecutorial practice of asserting jurisdiction over Indians in state court” helps to prove that the Creek lands have not been part of a reservation since at least the establishment of the state of Oklahoma more than a century ago. For Gorsuch, that evidence only shows that Oklahoma, like many other states, “overstepped its authority in Indian country … [p]erhaps often in good faith, perhaps sometimes not.”

I will confess to being a strong supporter of tribal sovereignty, but, in this case, that only makes me an advocate of good history.

Bad history comes from all sides. To turn the glass in a safer direction, I’ve seen plenty of bad history among my fellow Irish, sometimes silly, like the notion that dark-haired Irish are the descendants of shipwrecked Spanish Armada survivors, sometimes more fundamental, insisting that the sorrows of Ireland are entirely the fault of Britain.

It doesn’t let England off the hook to admit both minor and major screw-ups on “our” side. It just makes the history more like messy reality and less like a well-crafted fairy tale.

Gorsuch contrasts stories with statutes, and a broader view of history contrasts stories with facts that don’t always fit the pre-determined narrative.

History has high points, but few end points. Michelle Obama spoke of seeing her daughters live in a White House built by slaves, and that is a sign of demonstrative progress but it’s not close to a final triumph over racism, nor did she intend it as one.

It’s simply a symbol of our potential redemption.

Moreover, while not everything in America was built by slaves on stolen land, in arguing the details, you risk obscuring the big picture.

It’s fascinating, for instance, to contrast 17th century European/Indian relations east and west of the Hudson: In New Amsterdam, the Dutch had good, respectful trading relations with the Iroquois, while, in New England, the English settlers carried out King Phillip’s War and other genocidal horrors.

But in the grand sweep of history, the overall story is still of American expansion onto Indian lands, and whether it was theft or invasion doesn’t much matter, nor do the individual instances of decent behavior.

Ditto with slavery: Obviously, not everything in America was built by enslaved people, but the fact of slavery not only created considerable economic growth, but its unresolved aftermath enabled a level of exploitation that continued the process.

You can find exceptions and argue fine points, of course, because history, like all of reality, is complex.

Two Bulls is only asking that we face the facts, and, while that might require some corrective action, the main requirement is letting go of comforting notions and accepting, not blame, but a sense that we need to acknowledge what has happened and then move forward in a positive way.


Nate Beeler decries the Cancel Culture, and it’s a troubling argument, because it’s not a one-sided issue: The people who most loudly decry leftist attempts to stifle conservative views seem to be the same people who want AOC and the rest of the Squad to stop speaking in public.

And it’s hard enough to defend Tucker Carlson’s attacks on Tammy Duckworth’s patriotism even without the revelation of who was writing his words.

Nor is it helpful when Dear Leader — the man who recently discovered that Lincoln was a Republican — blames, with no evidence, BLM protesters for tearing down the statue of Frederick Douglass, who, until fairly recently, he apparently believed was still alive.

But extremists among the protesters do not help, either.

Tearing down statues seems to have become a fad, though some statues definitely have to go, and this commentary from The Bulwark nails the issue brilliantly.

Yevgeny Simkin notes that — the “Great Man” school of history notwithstanding — statues of those great men actually commemorate the ideals they espoused, not the people themselves.

Einstein came up with the theory of relativity and monuments to him celebrate this incredible achievement. Sure, we could put up a statue that says “E=mc2” but that would look kind of weird. So instead, we sculpt Einstein’s face and silly hairdo. But in so doing we’re not celebrating Albert the man. We’re celebrating E=mc2

Similarly, he goes on to say, while we’re not holding up Einstein the man as a model of personal behavior, when we erect a monument to Robert E. Lee, we’re not celebrating his good manners and fine personal attributes, either.

Rather, he says, in erecting statues to Confederate generals, we’re noting their achievements:

They started an uprising against America mostly to preserve their right to keep human beings as chattel. That was their achievement! And in erecting statues to them, that’s the event being commemorated! 

Those statues are indefensible, and, to accept Two Bulls’ challenge of making our land great by acknowledging its history, we have to halt the childish game of viewing history as some kind of contest between competing factions.

And to recognize that “majority rule” is the problem, not the solution.


Dana Summers perpetuates the popular idea that there’s something funny or foolish about scrubbing racist mascots from sports teams.

The NFL, however, is not only on the verge of changing the name of Washington’s mascot, but has featured extended discussions on its flagship TV show not only about race but about LBGTQ issues and even Voter Suppression.

Maybe they understand the idea of “team” better than the rest of us do.

4 thoughts on “CSotD: Substituting Stories for Statutes, and other follies

  1. I agree history is complex. It is often written by the victors. But instead of erasing history, we should learn from it. But in our current culture, it takes too much time to research, read and understand the context of past events when one can instantly tweet one’s unfiltered thoughts.

  2. Einstein showed his excellent taste by once leaving a meeting early saying, “Gentlemen, it is time for Beany.” (The reference is to “Time For Beany,” the puppet show largely made by Bob Clampett and Stan Freberg that preceded the animated Beany & Cecil.)

    Paul P: I don’t see anyone erasing history, except possibly by whitewashing it as a feel-good Hollywood version of the past, now paradoxically embraced by the spiritual descendants of those who wanted to drive the screenwriters and directors who created it out of town for being too Pink.

    “It takes too much time to research”? Piffle. It used to. I used to have to get up and walk to the encyclopedia or some other reference–maybe even make a trip to the library. Now it’s all as near as my computer or phone.

    It’s not that it’s too hard to find knowledge. Some people just don’t want it, and they don’t want to acknowledge that other people have lives and feelings. Even knowledge doesn’t always fix a soul slammed shut.

  3. You won’t see statues honoring Hitler in Germany. You will see Holocaust memorials, though. We should treat our history the same way. We can acknowledge the ugly parts without glorifying them. That having been said, we must also guard against the fervor of the moment. Only through sober reflection, and not knee-jerk radicalism, will we arrive at a realistic portrayal of our history.

  4. It’s perfectly understandable that someone who is a fan of the Washington Redskins feels somewhat resistant to them changing their name – he associates it with many pleasant personal memories. But he also needs to understand that the issue is much bigger than his pleasant personal memories.

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