This item from BBC News won’t make Joshua Green happy at all:
President Obama has used his weekly address to tell Americans that the US can 'beat' Ebola.
On Friday, the governors of New York and New Jersey announced that everyone arriving from West Africa who had had contact with Ebola patients would be placed in quarantine for 21 days.
This came after a doctor, Craig Spencer, was diagnosed with the disease following his return to New York from Guinea.
President Obama urged US citizens to continue to work together to tackle the problem saying: "We have to be guided by the science. We have to be guided by the facts not fear."
If you listen to the president’s radio address, you’ll note the eerie, alien, Spock-like calm in his voice—what kind of a way is that to respond to a crisis? Real leaders, as Joshua Green recently wrote, mirror the public's uninformed fears and media-driven hysteria, because the best way to combat unfounded emotions (as any parent can tell you) is to display them yourself--right?
Writing at the 9Marks blog, Matt McCullough briefly traces the history of the “American jeremiad” and offers some perspective on “the rhetoric of decline”
To confront our own narratives of decline in light of the jeremiad tradition, we’ve got to check our facts and check our assumptions.
Do the facts match historical reality? The problem with jeremiads is that they often compared the best parts of a former generation with the worst parts of their own. Neither the past nor the present got a fair treatment. I’m not saying nothing ever changes. Sometimes some things do get worse. But every culture is a mixed bag because the basic building blocks in every culture are human beings marked by both dignity and depravity. Sure, things change, but when some things get worse usually some other things get better.
The golden age doesn’t exist. And when we start measuring decline, we’ve got to get really clear on our point of departure. We ought to be suspicious of the ideal. Was it ever realized? Is it even important?
Jeremiads are entertaining, to be sure, and invigorating; but they are also, generally speaking, mistaken and misleading.
“History is a set of stories we tell in order to understand better who we are and the world we’re now in; as a written affair, it is never just a catalogue of things that happen to have happened. It is bound to be making judgements about the importance of what it deals with, and often—always?—has some element of moral judgement not far below the surface. We start telling the story to get a better definition of who we are or of what the subject is that we’re describing: history helps us define things. Good history makes us think again about the definition of things we thought we understood pretty well, because it engages not just with what is familiar but with what is strange. It recognizes that ‘the past is a foreign country’ 1 as well as being our past.”
Two things we rarely make clear to students (at least this side of college): (1) history is not a set of facts but a set of stories that includes both facts and interpretations, and (2) good history challenges our assumptions rather than confirming our prejudices.
Now if someone could just explain that to school board members in places like Texas and Oklahoma…
1 “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,” is the opening line of the 1953 novel THE GO-BETWEEN by L.P. Hartley; it’s a great line and a great observation.