Nostalgia or Truth?

Few people can escape a degree of nostalgic amplification of how much their present conditions differ from their pasts. Sometimes they frame narratives of redemption — “I was a depraved sinner, but now I’m clean,” or “The oppressors had their boot on our necks, but we finally threw off the chains of our servitude” — and sometimes they’re myths of a Golden Age from which we’ve fallen (on one hand, the ideal American Family Home of Eisenhower’s fifties, or the social activism of the sixties and early seventies). Granted that there’s a decent chance that things are getting better or worse (though we shouldn’t minimize the likelihood that life continues at a pretty steady state of trading off improvements and decline), experience teaches us that people show a strong tendency to exaggerate the scale of the alleged change over time.

That being said: in the past weeks, we’ve seen the ludicrous antics of Boston politicians accusing ingenious PR flacks of inciting terror (when the “terror” had more to do with the law enforcement officials’ ignorance than any danger associated with the LED advertisements) and the disingenuousness of the Bush regime’s effort to escalate their war against Iraq, to Joe Biden’s stunning unselfconscious racism. The institutionalization of fear and folly seems increasingly entrenched, increasingly stifling.

All the more poignant, then, was my flash of recognition yesterday when the Gospel Mission class screened a television documentary that reminded me how wrong Joe Biden was: Barack Obama (whatever his gifts and charms) was not “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and. . . nice-looking” to run for President.

Shirley Chisholm was. (Lest anyone sniff that Biden said a “mainstream” candidate, they should recall that Chisholm won 152 delegates under conditions inimical to outsider candidates.)

As I look back on my formative years, I think that if anything ever impressed me with the majesty, the brilliance, the truth of what the United States might stand for, it was the presence of Shirley Chisholm on the political scene. If anything might enkindle my hope for this nation, it would require a stature, an integrity that tapped the deep reservoirs of trusting admiration Shirley Chisholm inspired in me. But I’m not holding my breath.

My Mom says:

I disagree totally with you on the Boston “terrorist” scare. Thank heaven they have learned how to behave given as many objects in high traffic areas. Were they supposed to know the cartoon characters? I had never heard of them, much less seen any of them. There you go.

Tell Pippa I love oatmeal too, specially with brown sugar! I have it almost every day. Happy day after Ground Hog’s day! xxx, mom

[I know about Aqua Teen Hunger force only from having heard Nate and Si talk about it; I wouldn’t have recognized the image had I seen it. At the same time, unless we’re willing to live in a world where any unfamiliar thing with flashing diodes signifies “bomb” (and “unfamiliar” to whom?), I would argue that authorities need to respond not simply with panicky preventive measures, but with informed caution, better-informed caution. Were the municipalities that didn’t go into convulsions over ATHF gadgets “irresponsible” not to, or were they just more level-headed?]

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