Austin, United States

I have spent most of my career as a French professor and a research librarian, and have been reinventing myself as a writer. I’m...

On History, Truth, and Emotion

There is often a woeful lack of knowledge in the public square. For this reason, we see supposed “pundits” in comedians who inaccurately say things about American history which are completely bogus. So this one comedian gets on stage and comments that he is black and a muslim, the two things America fears. He gives this scenario of being confronted by a white guy and comments on the posturing and fear between the two. That part was interesting, the male rituals and thoughts. But he characterized America as having colonized countries and the usual PR. However, America has never colonized any country.

A lot of this kind of rhetoric is a distraction from the fact that the reason so many Arab lands are predominantly Muslim is that in history, it is Islam that has gone into countries and conquered by mass slaughter. When Islam swept across northern Africa, over the course of a number of years, I read a figure of 265 million people murdered. That beats any modern warfare tolls. I don’t mention this to harm anyone, or to impute evil on the Arab people, but to point out that history can be distorted and our views manipulated. I have a respect for all peoples and a healthy love of history.

This is why it’s important to study history. So many students don’t seem to care for history these days. When I was a freshman, we were required to take two semesters of history. That was one of the best things about my undergraduate years, those necessary basics, because they gave me an appreciation and an interest in diverse subjects. Over the years since then I do read history here and there, and I have learned how essential it is for any kind of educated foundation. That’s why when people listen to any speaker, it is vital to have for yourself a background founded in truth.

These days, I see so many people who operate on emotion and gossip, or the propaganda of a group. They don’t have the historical facts, so they accept whatever they hear, especially if the speaker is appealing or the message carries strong emotion. This is not to invalidate the true feelings of peoples. But you can hear the feelings without engaging in the beliefs, because you know what is really true. What I mean by this is precisely this kind of talk about America’s “colonialism”. Never happened. It’s a different set of circumstances with different issues.

I’m not a historian, but I know enough history to know that much of what I hear these days from diverse quarters is inaccurate and often just plain untrue. I see emotional appeals to bias a thing, and they always seem to have a covert agenda. it’s manipulation of the public opinion. A thing can SOUND good, but be not only false, but evil. That’s why it’s important to know when you actually know something and when you don’t.

I was thinking about some of these things too in the George Zimmerman case. There really isn’t enough evidence to convict him. By all rights, he should have gotten off. it’s important to know when you don’t really KNOW. I started thinking as I saw the national frenzy being spurred on by people in government. I thought that was not fair. As I pondered the rhetoric about how everyone now is certain that they KNOW Zimmerman is guilty of premeditated murder or racist murder or whatever, though in fact, a jury had no such attitude at all, I began to wonder why Zimmerman had called the police in the first place. Was he just following some guy because he was black, as we’ve heard in the media? Well, no. The reason Zimmerman called the police to begin with was that this young man was walking through the back yards of Zimmerman’s neighbors and looking in the windows. That alone does not convict Treyvon. But the fact that Treyvon’s body had no marks, no bloody nose, no concussion, no signs of being assaulted, made me realize I could never have convicted Zimmerman either. Zimmerman had clearly been assaulted.

Meanwhile, the media picked up the story of government officials weighing in, showing heightened emotion and crowds demonstrating. Are these “facts” which condemn Zimmerman? No. Not at all. They are demonstrations of public emotion. I don’t mean to be rude or insensitive, but I"m just trying to show how such outpouring of emotional judgments can cloud the facts. Believe me, I feel sorry that these folks lost someone they love so deeply, though they will see him again one day. I can understand the grief. Everyone DOES understand the grief, and sympathizes. At the same time, we can understand the other man struggling for his life. I have not kept up wiith the trial, and my remarks are simply to demonstrate the difference between the facts and the emotions. It’s possible for emotional appeal to take a situation and deprive it of its factual nature, resulting in an unjust condemnation. It’s very sad when no one knows the real truth. That has to leave the family in even greater distress. There’s no way to absolutely prove what someone’s intention was.

In the case of nations and religions and histories, you can see how these distinctions make a difference! I was just using the Zimmerman case as an example of trial by emotion, and the “colonization” myth also as an exmple of false beliefs taken to be facts. When there is so much lack of clarity, it is good to wait for facts, and to proceed with caution. Often when there’s so much gang action, one has to wonder what the covert agenda might be. I don’t know that. Sometimes you can’t even believe what you see, much less what you hear. When we see people committing all manner of crimes in the name of what they SUSPECT, that’s an excuse, not a fact.

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