… My question for Salam is this: how racially insensitive does one have to be to prefer an America with segregation because he or she saw other advantages to 1950s society? What possibly could outweigh the disgusting racial status quo of the 1950s (I am leaving out the status of women and gays)? To wish for a return to that America, I would argue, one has to be so racially insensitive that bigoted seems like an apt descriptor. The alternative answer, of course, is complete solipsism.
There’s a difference between Forrest Gump and what actually happened. The world has always been complicated. The world has always been big. Pace Tom Friedman, but the world has always been flat. The only thing that was small and simple was our own experience, and what people are really wishing for is not that the world become simple again, but that they become ignorant of its complexity.
I write about history for a living, and in order to do that I had to come to terms with one thing: We don’t remember the war. We remember the war in a way that makes it possible for us to survive the next one. We remember the way things were in order to make sense of the way things are now, and our memories cheat us and comfort us, but they’re not documentary. If they were, they’d be flashbacks.
You don’t ever want the way things were. You want YOU as you were, in a time when you imagined you were better, more easily heroic, more virtuous, stronger. And what I want to take these people aside and tell them is, it’s pretty much as simple as getting up one morning and deciding not to suck so much as a human being, not resent so much all the imagined slights of somebody speaking Spanish in a store or the black president or whatever, not worry so much all the goddamn time that everything’s going to hell. Everything’s always been going to hell. The day after we crawled out of the mud somebody started a club about how the mud was better and we should never have left.
This is the world. You have to live in it. It gets a lot easier when you stop fighting it so hard in the name of returning to something you only think you saw one time.
x-posted to First Draft