Day By Day

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday Abie Baby..., And You Too Chucky

Today marks the 200th birthday for Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. This will occasion a lot of silly and misleading commentary in the MSM. This is perhaps unavoidable. Both men have been apotheosized and the process has drained them of their essential humanity. They are now symbols rather than men, enlisted in the service of various causes. That's the way public memory works. It destroys the past and recreates it in useful forms, selecting from what is known those things that it finds useful today's controversies. Historians have a term for this -- searching for a "usable past".

Wilford McClay has a very nice piece over at Humanities [here] on the various ways in which Abraham Lincoln has been understood by different groups and at different times. Take a few minutes and read it -- it raises some important issues, ones of which we should be aware when we appeal to the past in our public discourse. IT Wire links to a selection of articles on Darwin and his legacy [here].