My children are troublesome and sensitive; if you are ready to be insulted and even beaten by them, you may accept my message; if not, you would better renounce it. – YHWH to Isaiah, Leviticus Rabbah 10
On this date (19 March) in the Common Era year 2023, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba, yet again while he was supposed to be doing something else, stumbled upon an article describing the descent into fractious disarray, and possible dissolution, of the Audubon Society.
Because John James Audubon, a prominent figure in the early history of ornithology in these Untied States of America, owned, badmouthed, and mistreated slaves (who were almost entirely of southern African descent) while he was alive, in the early years of the 19th century.
Thus have the culture wars descended even upon the birdwatchers.
The fracas brought to YFNA’s mind a similar episode, about three years ago, the resolution of which was hardly more satisfactory in real life than in YFNA’s fevered imagination.
It sent YFNA online to ask how many other prominent people in the early years of the 19th century in the USA were slaveowners. He was thereby reminded that ten of the first 12 Presidents of the Untied States of America owned slaves, as did nos. 17 (Andrew Johnson) and 18 (Ulysses S. Grant). The list includes persons whose memories have copped flak for it, such as Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson, and those who largely have gotten a pass (so far), most particularly George Washington.
If the standards applied to John James Audubon and Woodrow Wilson should ever be applied to the “Father of Our Country”, the US Mint is going to have one hell of a time recalling all those quarters and dollar bills so they can be reissued with Washington’s portrait struck out or replaced by something more appropriate. A portrait of Xi Jinping, maybe. Hey. Chinese workers do more work for less pay. Just like non-European, non-male workers in the USA. Pretty strong incentive for “corporate America’s” (USA universities, this means you) loud (too loud) backing of the DEIJA movement, yes? (You have been looking at the “Made in …” labels of just about everything you own, right?)
Not to mention that any effort by the US Mint to cancel George Washington would probably get Donald Trump sprung out of jail and vaulted back into the White House. What part of Berlin 1933 do citizens of these Untied States fail to understand?!?
The last time YFNA did a tour, real or virtual, of a university campus, or a business campus, or a facility dedicated to the arts, or yadayadayada, he didn’t see (for example) a “Biology Building”, he saw “The George M. Fingerlicking Biology Building”. It’s basically not possible to construct a laboratory, an office building, a stable, a sewage treatment plant, without it being named for somebody, usually a somebody who wishes to put his [sic] name out there for all to see.
Nearly every biography page on Wikipedia has within it a “Personal life” section, describing the featured person’s take on sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll (etc.). The most acerbic Hollywood gossip columnists of the 20th and 21st centuries did less damage to celebrity reputations than these dispassionately-worded (most of the time) catalogs of sin and depravity do to their subjects. It is scarcely possible to read the “Personal life” section of almost anyone’s Wikipedia biography without coming away with the thought, “why does society waste its time on this person?”
Why does society allow such people to put their names on buildings?
Or on money?
Or on birdwatching societies?
Dig deep enough, and you will find some reason to disqualify any person from being recognized
to my disadvantage unfairly. And then all those buildings and stuff have to be renamed, to commemorate folk who are acceptable to the powers in charge. Until they are found out. Rinse and repeat. Until everything is reduced to rubble.
It is hard to extend grace to fellow citizens, especially those with whom you are in conflict (imagined or real), who are protecting their self-interest against your own. It is far easier, and far more self-gratifying, to name the bugger to blame and rally your forces against the foul sinner, conveniently sweeping your own perfidy under the rug and hoping it stays there.
The Puritans from whom YFNA is descended had a name for this sort of thing.
Vainglorious celebration of the flesh
The pursuit of self to the exclusion of all else. While all else disintegrates around the self.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba has commonly told those with whom he works: “If the company prospers, we prosper. If it doesn’t, we don’t. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the top of the hill or not, if the hill is a dungheap.”
All have sinned. All. Everyone. No exceptions.
A person can focus on the sin of another to deir own gratification, and contribute to the collapse of everything around dem.
Or dey can acknowledge the sin, work to ensure the sin is not repeated (to the maximum extent possible given human frailty), and enlist all to work together against the massive existential challenges that humanity faces now and will increasingly face in the future, as populations grow, resources shrink, and the planet threatens to rip itself out from underneath the lot of us.
The time is a lot shorter than most of us want to think.