🧟‍♂️ Memes & Themes - 1619 Project

Published 2022-04-25

Coincidentally I came across all of these three things below around the same time

Or maybe not so "coincidentally" given the current cultural mindset is heavily focused on all of these things. Interesting how one could choose to see it --
  1. A product of the cultural climate
  2. Being guided by something higher to fulfill a purpose
  3. Random chance / coincidence
  4. Self-filtering by one's own current frame of mind
  5. No consideration

Anyway -- the nexus of these three gave me better insight into why there's a push for something like the 1619 Project.

Some highlights from the first two pieces:

Well educated liberal white people (e.g., professors) think they aren't racist yet they're always trying to help people of color. - The Problem With John Stewart


Avatar promotes a mindset of colonialism. Rather than seeing and valuing the Na'vi in their own right, they're only valued after they've been humanized. - Why Avatar is a truly dangerous film

Lets move past the issue of a work being called dangerous, bordering on a call for censorship, and learn something from what they're trying to sasy.

What they're trying to say in both pieces is that the culture of marginalized people should be respected and valued in its own right. That, rather than trying to normalize a people through education, missionaries, helping them to ask instead of axe you a question and so on, they should be valued in their own right.

In the last instance: sure they speak differently but who gives a f if you can still communicate?

Dwelling on this point a second longer -- you can imagine going back in time to the discovery of the new world with the mindset of valuing cultures in their own right. If the settlers had this mindset they wouldn't have preached to native americans nor enrolled them in school nor killed them. The settlers would have let the natives lived as they like, traded with them fairly (if they were open to it), and only used un-occupied lands.

Memes, Themes & Myths

So how do the last piece and the 1619 project tie in?

The last piece is a deep dive into Russian history and why Russia is fighting Ukraine. The gist of it is that Russia was once comprised of peoples that spoke dozens of different languages. When Russia was being unified into a single empire, the powers at the time decided to unite the people under a single language. There were two competing poets whose work could offer the foundation of the unified Russian language.

One poet was democratic, promoted individual rights and self determination.

The other poet was imperialist and glorified genocide and conquest.

Russia picked the latter poet, Ukraine picked the former. Fast forward a few hundred years where the educational systems and languages of the two countries have been founded on these two different poets and you have two very different mindsets in how to approach the world. A violent might-makes-right one vs a democratic and rules-based one.

The main idea here is that the foundational myths of a society shape that society. They put bounds on what can be thought and direct what will be thought. I.e., "Language is the house of being" - Heidegger

And that's the tie to The 1619 Project. It is an attempt to reset America's foundational myths from manifest destiny & flawless and enlightened leaders to one where the impacts on and contributions of marginalized groups are recognized.

Aside - some have called it a re-birth & re-clothing of Western Christiantiy (https://fromdanielsdesk.com/2017/11/27/christendom-and-the-500-year-cycle/). I'm not sure I'd go that far.

To me, an endeavour like 1619 Project is a problematic way to go about fixing the ills of society. Attempting to supplant the identity of an entire population will inevitbly lead to a huge amount of conflict. Supplanting an identity is akin to a psychological death (aside: https://www.philosophizethis.org/podcast/episode-158-the-creation-of-meaning-nietzsche-the-ascetic-ideal-f8k5h-k8xfx-6tyfj-xc8hy) -- all your values, ways of guiding life and making decisions are turned upside down. Very much why Christiantiy speaks of requiring a death to the world, a re-birth and being born again.

So what can we do instead? America's foundational myths already hold the key to a better world. They also already hold the end result that the 1619 Project and the first two pieces are trying to get to.

If you're supposed to respect and value a marginalized group of people on their own terms, that is exactly the same thing as respecting individual rights.

and on and on through all the myriad manifestations of diversity.

Rather then re-writing the framework of America's minds we can move forward iteratively by leaning on the principle of individual rights. By showing what individual rights means when you uphold them fearlessly and admit that all people, even those you do not agree with, have the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in any non-violent form that they see fit.

We can teach how we failed to apply the principal of individual rights which casued blindness to the suffering of essential groups and individuals.

On Re-Writes

If we do go down the path of a cultural re-write a word of caution is that the re-write itself will include mistakes. As the founders of America were flawed when they failed to extend individual rights to all people rather than just a select group, the 1619 re-write will be flawed as well. Do we give up on something that we understand to embrace a complete unknown or just tweak the broken bits of what we have?

The most obvious mistake of the 1619 re-write is its blame of capitalism, rather then prior cultural norms and power structures. Equating free markets with evil will remove agency, voice and self-determination from all people.

Another mistake made by 1619 is equating rights with the right to other people's labor -- introducing a route to future slavery. If I have a right to your labor then you cannot refuse my requests under any circumstances.

An example the above is "the right to healthcare" or "the right to housing." Now should everybody have health care and housing? Yes. Do they have the right to them? No. They are privileges that will be provided to all people so long as the resources exist to provide them and those that do provide them (health care workers, construction workers) are able to do so willingly.