Re: Teresa Mallam column Museum for Misfits … a place to hide the skeletons in our closet PG Daily News, March 5:
My theory is this: We desecrate the statues, re-write the histories, and burn the books of those formerly considered virtuous, heroic and brilliant, because fashions of virtue change over time. We load sacrificial goats with the newly recognized sins of our ancestors (which often are our sins because we are still benefitting from them), and we drive the goats into the wilderness.
We’ve always done it. My example above is from Leviticus 16, 21-22. Think of the Salem witch-hunters, of the Nazis burning the books of famous German Jews like Heinrich Heine and Franz Kafka, of the Taliban blowing up Buddha, of ISIL destroying the remnants of Persian, Greek and Roman civilizations, or of Victor Orban’s Hungarians taking over George’s Soros’s university and naming it after Attila the Hun (Soros being a Jew, Attila not).
Mallam uses John A. Macdonald and Matthew Begbie as local examples. They were terribly unjust towards people that our ancestors called “Indians,” but that our “enlightened generation” (as Mallam puts it) refers to as First Nations. It doesn’t matter that our former heroes had some virtues — Begbie ruled in favour of John Giscombe, a Black citizen of Barkerville, and Macdonald (though obviously a drunk, racist and thief) figured out how to bring the British colonies together and fence out the Americans, thus creating a safe place for Sitting Bull and thousands of American draft dodgers fleeing an unjust war.
Mallam also lists cultural figures that have to be canceled — for the uninitiated, this means that you can’t in good conscience read their books anymore. They are Dr. Suess, James Joyce and Salman Rushdie. If you’ve been to university, you’d know that she could’ve added any number of other writers; postmodernist English professors started deconstructing the canon in the 1980s and it’s still going on. Shakespeare was deconstructed for racism (Othello, The Merchant of Venice), and sexism (The Taming of the Shrew). Recently, he’s on the hook for fatism too. In Henry IV, and V, he made fun of Falstaff, “the fat knight.” In fact, everyone on the traditional canon has been blacklisted; even if they escaped being sexist or racist, they are all guilty of cultural appropriation and mis-use of pronouns.
Mallam also could’ve looked at the ongoing Black Lives Matter witch-hunt, that has torched the reputations of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, both the Roosevelts, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi. All politicians are, by definition, guilty of “systemic racism,” because so many of their citizens are racists.
Here’s the beauty of the Black Lives Matter approach; in the ecstatic rush of moral superiority that comes from taking down the statue of a racist, you lose your own sense of guilt. You forget that you are wearing clothes manufactured by slave labour in Bangladesh, that your car, computer, and cell are packed with rare earths mined by enslaved children in the Congo, that you eat food produced by migrant workers that regularly report (this is in Canada!) that they are treated like slaves, and that you live in a house on the unceded land of the Lheidli T’enneh, thus depriving them of their traditional lands and way of living, and forcing them to beg for alms from the government.
Therein lies the trouble with sacrificing goats and virgins, burning witches and canceling culture. Nobody is perfect. Eventually, if you acquire any success or prominence, they will come for you. That’s why Mallam’s Museum for Misfits is a great idea. As a bureaucratic (rather than revolutionary) solution, it has a Canadian flavour. It’s also has a Canadian pragmatism to it. Our moral compass repositions; we drag all the statues and books of former misfits out of her Museum into the light of day; we drag the new misfits in and bolt the door for 20 years; we save the time and money better spent on hockey.