How to Process the Awful People of History

Ever since I was a baby bat and learned that H.P. Lovecraft was a terrible racist, I have never been able to read his books. Which of course, makes me a bad goth because I don’t recognize most Lovecraftian allusions and don’t care for the ones I do know. I’ve stopped reading in general for the last year and I used to devour books by the dozen in a week. So many of the world’s most influential people and major “research” that has changed modern life have been laced with terrible attitudes and actions. And now, when tension across several societal divides seems higher than ever, how you can justify liking the things you like? A singular quote can’t hurt anything can it? It doesn’t mean I agree with everything that person said or this person did.

And it’s not like you are so perfect yourself, you know.

How do we accept the (mind you, subjectively) beneficial parts of history borne of nightmarish times without condoning everything?

I think it would be naive to argue for a strong separation between the individual people and their words or actions, that’s why context is so important. No one has ever made just the one racist joke and immediately corrected their attitude. Singular quotes, after all, come from a larger document or argument, the quote is saturated with whatever point the individual is trying to make. That’s why the first line of defense against “When you said,” is always “oh you took that out of context” regardless of whether or not it actual was. When we hold up snippets from books and television appearances, for example, it’s easy to reinforce the feelings of those who already love or hate the people being quoted. But if that moment is an outsider’s first introduction to that concept and we erase the parts that don’t suit our own agendas, we can turn indifference into, well…whatever we want.

Being able to recognize that parts of the truth needed to be/were downplayed, even omitted, to create a result is the key to navigating this heavy as all fuck topic. When presented with emotionally charged things (ads, clips of a political debate, a long ass list of accomplishments and seemingly no faults, etc) You have to ask “why am I being shown/told this and not something else?” Like when satirical art pieces about cell phones make us feel shame or guilt (in case we haven’t seen it a hundred times), they are specifically created to do that, to provoke a feeling to change something about your behavior. They don’t make you feel sympathy like the post on Upworthy about the person who was obsessed with their social media accounts because they couldn’t leave the house.

Zakkarrii, you didn’t answer the question…
We have to look at those pieces separately for a second.

Beneficial: To whom? Have the descendants of those people been given reparations or even equality? Do they have as much access to the benefits as anyone else? Are steps be taken to correct the “history written by the victors” and shed light on the depth of atrocities? And when attitudes and actions are displayed that force benefits to become a subjective concept, are those attitudes and actions checked or are they still held as the preferable way to think in society?

Parts: Obviously, we are talking medical information, artistic influences and everything in between that has been gained at a highly unethical cost. If we are to progress as a society we cannot erase the history surrounding the contribution. Not only for the “those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it” but it is a show of awareness. “Maybe this should just stay under the rug.” Why?

If a single light in an abandoned storage unit shines down on the antique relic of your dreams, it makes a pretty picture. You can dream up whatever story you want to about the person behind the antique. Maybe they were an avid collector like you and this is one precious gem that got left behind. Maybe it was here waiting for you because the owner didn’t know what it was worth. But when you fling that door wide open and let the unforgiving sunlight hit the whole space you can see WHY it’s an abandoned fucking storage unit.

And we call this Instagram filter: context.

Okay but it’s history, like it’s already been done. Doesn’t mean it will happen again.
That is precisely why we have ethics systems in place, so it doesn’t happen again. Or rather shouldn’t be able to so easily happen again. That’s why everytime you take a study on behavioral study down the street for 5 bucks there is this thing called informed consent which you agree to so they don’t surprise you. But it shouldn’t have to a repeated lesson for 50 years before we go “Um, but you guys…”

So are you saying we shouldn’t use the information because it was gained in unethical ways?

And that is the other part of history. You can’t undo it… This seems to be right about the part where people get emotionally conflicted about their own personal history of “I’ve done things I am not proud of, but I’m not a bad person.” To that internal dialogue, I say this:

You can’t undo what you’ve done, but you can not do it in the future. If you have been forgiven or given a second chance, take a breath, check yourself, and don’t throw it away. I mean shit, there are so many paths to get out of -this-, but you tried one and it did not go well. So try a different one. One that’s not a branch of the old one. You don’t get to grow from your past if you keep reliving it.

Because we’re talking about…bigger things…

As for history’s ugly ass…

You have to be able to look it in the face, change the context, and out do its harm. So when you take singular quotes and hold them up in the light and remark, “How could a ugly person write such a beautiful thing?” Be the beautiful person they weren’t. Acknowledge their history and then fucking subvert it. Put your thing down, flip it and reverse it.

Okay so I guess it wasn’t so bad then.

Bitch is you blind? Title says “process” not “excuse”.

Because if you stop reading, you can’t see history repeating.

Now, make your future a little more interesting and join the Strange Collective at the top of this page, check out the shop (right there on your left) and follow me on YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook.

Until next time,

Don’t be hungry for life. Be ravenous.

Zakkarrii Edison Daniels

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