Remedial Reading

In the previous post, I pointed out that two versions of a single book have contributed mightily to the mal-education of at least three generations of Americans. (See also this article about Zinn’s book in the Claremont Review of Books.)

In the spirit of lighting a candle rather than merely cursing the darkness, I’d like to suggest some books for any person looking for an antidote to the poison of Howard Zinn.

At the risk of being a little too “on the nose” you could do worse that this. It Graber’s book is well-written, meticulously researched, and more than a little infuriating to read. But it’s important. This is the clearest, quickest pathway to cleansing the system of the Zinn toxin.

Nevertheless, it’s impossible to understand the history of the United States apart from the history of Western Civilization, and how that civilazation was shaped by Christianity. That’s why I would suggest that anyone wanted a basic grid rooted in reality rather than ideological fantasy, to start with this newly published book:

The UK’s Tom Holland (no relation) is one of our most remarkable living historians. That’s the cover of the UK verions above. The subtitle of the version published in the United states is: “How the Christian Revolution Remade the World.”

Both subtitles are appropriate because Holland persuasively proves that much of what has driven the upward progress that we all take for granted was made possible because Christianity spread throughout Europe and rooted itself deeply.

It also reveals how our system of values—including the values that liberals generally hold most dear—all are a legacy of the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A shorter book that does similar work is Professor Rodney Stark’s book, The Victory of Reason.

As for a truly accurate, warts-and-all, history of the United States as an alternative to the Howard Zinn’s Maoist smear job, I’d suggest beginning with:

This history was actually crafted as a corrective response to Zinn’s anti-Western propaganda.

Finally, you can’t go wrong with Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People.

No teachers or university professors will be assigning the books above. No documentarians influenced by these books will be featured on Netflix. No celebrities or pop stars will be repackaging their truths for a broader, younger audience.

You’ll just have to read them for yourself. I hope you will.

I’m Offering to Write Your Life Story

I have a proposition for you. I am a (reasonably) successful professional writer. Among my specialties is biography. I’ve ghostwritten dozens of biographies and histories. And even published a few under my own name. For example . . .

In other words, I know how to compellingly tell the story of a life. So, here’s my amazing offer:

I’m going to write your biography. For free.

That’s right. I’m going to tell your life story at no charge. There are just a couple of little stipulations I need you to agree to before we get started. I’m sure you won’t mind.

I’m going to exhaustively research every aspect of your life, but only write about your worst moments. The only things that will appear in the narrative will be the times you were being the very worst version of yourself. The times you were selfish. The days you were unkind or uncaring or just downright mean and vindictive. And we all have plenty of those moments in our histories, am I right?

Yes, I know even the best of us are imperfect. We’re all “works in progress” whose lives consist of a complicated mix of good and evil. And you’ve clearly done a lot good. Nevertheless, the only things that will make the pages of the book called “Your Story” will be the times you didn’t live up to what you professed to believe. The times you looked like nothing but a big, fat hypocrite.

I’m sorry, but that stuff, and only that stuff, will be what strangers and future generations will come to know about you.

I’m not going to sugar-coat this. This project will require ignoring your virtues, and you have many. It will require pretending that you’ve never helped anyone, even though you’ve done that often through the years. It will require pretending that you’ve never sacrificed yourself for others, though you frequently have.

To be honest, in spite of your flaws, you’ve been one of the most noble and honorable people I know. You’ve been responsible for a lot of good in the world. And have inspired many others to good things as well. Unfortunately, that will not be the impression that strangers take away from reading your story.

Actually, it’s worse than that. In telling your story, I’m going to attribute evil motives and sinister intentions to even your most benign and mundane actions.

I’m so sorry, but I must misrepresent not only what you’ve done but also why.

I’m not going to lie to you. The finished book will be a grotesque, lop-sided caricature of who you really are. People who really know you well will recognize this. But casual acquaintances, strangers and future generations will believe this is who you really were. So . . .

How about it? Shall we get started? No?

Well, over the last few decades, something very similar, but in some ways even worse, has befallen the United States.

Forty years ago, someone wrote a biography of the United States that is precisely like the one I just propoosed writing for you. Except this one is even less factual. This is that history:

Zinn did not write a “warts and all” history of our nation. He wrote a “warts only” version. And a maliciously dishonest one at that. First published in 1980, the year Ronald Reagan was elected, this book has become the primary source of information for several generations of Americans.

Once this became one of the most influential and succssful history books of all time, Zinn rolled out a version for high school students.

a.k.a., The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Godless Marxism

Wikipedia informs us that: “Zinn described himself as ‘something of an anarchist, something of a socialist. Maybe a democratic socialist.'” What his book reveals is that Zinn was, as most Marxists are, thoroughly and utterly hostile to the traditions of Western Civilization . . . particularly those rooted in Christianity.

Even before Zinn wrote his book, this fan of Mao’s nightmarish reign of terror in China (btw, Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” killed 45 million in just four years) was profoundly influential on the young, flag-burning campus radicals of the late ’60s and early ’70s who drank deeply from the well of the twin theologies of Marxism and anti-Christian eastern mysticism.

And those campus radicals grew up to become the tenured college professors, news editorial board members, and film makers of the ’90s and ’00s.

As a result, Zinn’s books became required reading in the public schools and the nation’s univeristies. In recent decades, if students read only one “biography” of America, this was it. And it is 776 pages of dishonest and relentlessly negative Marxist, anti-Western propaganda.

It’s difficult to overstate the book’s influence. Countless “activists,” teachers, social workers, journalists, filmmakers, and actors have built their entire worldview on it’s distortions, misrepresentations, and carefully filtered half-truths.

Millions of those who have never read it, have nevertheless been schooled by those who absorbed and believed every word.

Thus, Zinn and his book have influenced and/or formed the basis of scores of documentaries. Its deeply flawed assumptions have informed the plots of innumerable movies and preachy television episodes.

Zinn’s book even made a cameo appearance in Ben Affleck’s and Matt Damon’s academy-award-winning 1997 movie, Good Will Hunting.

As I said, all this has been going on for four decades. So, why do I mention it now?

Because I’ve heard many genuinely bewildered people wondering out loud over the last couple of weeks about where all these young Americans who despise America came from.

The answer is we produced them. We’ve been incubating them through our schools, media, and popular culture for decades. They’ve been assured all their lives by teachers, pop stars, and activist-posing-as-journalists that this flawed but extraordinary miracle of a place called America is well and truly monstrous.

For example, Howard Zinn’s ideological DNA permeates the New York Times’ twisted “1619 Project” that has animated and (mis)informed so much of the current social turbulence.

Yet for those of us who have been around a while, these current events have a very familiar look and feel.

That’s because we hatched a crop of Zinn disciples roughly 10 years ago that manifested as the “Occupy” movement. The agenda then was the same Marxist wish list as now. The downfall of capitalism; environmentalism as the official state religion; and the enshrinement of identity politics and “intersectionality” as the funhouse-mirror-lens through which all reality must be viewed.

Another twenty years prior to that earlier wave of unrest, a generation of Zinn’s children were marching with Jesse Jackson at Stanford University chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Culture’s got to go.”

1/15/1987 Jesse Jackson and students demonstrate on Martin Luther King Jr. Day against the western cultures core reading list requirement. Credit: Chuck Painter / Stanford News Service

There were prophetic voices trying to warn us back then.

Published in the very same year as that Stanford march, Professor Allan Bloom’s book, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students called all of this with chilling accuracy. None of us who read his book more than 30 years ago is remotely surprised that they’re tearing down the statues of abolitionists, emancipators, and Spanish novelists today.

Robert Bork called it, too. In 1996 he wrote Slouching Toward Gomorrah and it, too, diagnosed the disease that now ravages the culture. In it, he wrote: “Radical individualism, radical egalitarianism, omnipresent and omni-incompetent government, the politicization of the culture, and the battle for advantages through politics shatter a society into fragments of isolated individuals and angry groups.” 

Today, Western culture, rooted deeply in Christian tradition, is still the enemy of those mal-educated by Zinn and his evangelists. We have the defaced and dececrated and toppled statues of numerous “dead white men” to prove it.

George Washington, ladies and gentlemen.

The public monuments of Christianity and Judaism will be next. Indeed, it’s already underway. (Wokeness is a jealous god.) And because Zinn’s bogus biography of our nation has become an article of religious faith for millions, they will feel perfectly righteous in their attacks on the churches and synagogues.

As it turns out, it matters how someone writes your story.

[Update: Here’s the antidote for Zinn poisoning.]

Our Crisis of Empathy

{Note: I wrote the following post four years ago at the height of Ferguson-related protests and riots. Feels timely to me. But you be the judge.}

It was dark, but I could still discern in the headlights’ glare that a shotgun was pointed directly at my chest.

“Son, that’s a good way to get your head blown off,” said the voice behind the gun.

Perhaps I’d better back up and offer you some context here.

This was the mid-to-late seventies in rural Oklahoma. I was only 17 but this was not the first time a rural law enforcement officer had taken a look at my shaggy hair and fast car and decided I was a trouble maker. (That’s right, kids. I had long, thick brown hair.)

Only an hour earlier I had graduated from high school. At that moment, many of my classmates were headed out to keg parties to celebrate by getting blitzed.

Three other friends and I were headed over the mountain to a larger town to grab a nice dinner. You see we were the good kids. (eyeroll) We were walking the straight and narrow. Trying to stay out of trouble.

Halfway to our destination, as we passed through a tiny town notorious for being a speed trap, I noticed a pickup behind me with a flashing yellow light. I assumed it was some sort of road construction or utilities vehicle, so I eased over to the shoulder to let it pass. It didn’t pass, but rather stayed right behind me.

So, I pulled on over on a pitch black stretch of two-lane highway and stopped my vehicle.

The pickup stopped at a distance behind me, as a powerful door-mounted spotlight, commonly used in that part of the country for illegally hunting deer at night, illuminated the back end of my ultra-sweet 1972 Cutlass S. As I looked in my rearview mirror, all I could see was the blinding glare of that spotlight.

Deciding this might possibly be some sort of weird law enforcement traffic stop, I did what I had been taught to do in my Driver’s Ed classes. I remained in my vehicle, rolled the window down, shut off the engine, and waited. And waited.

Eventually I heard a person from behind my vehicle shouting for me to get out of the car. So I did so and started walking back toward that retina-burning light. That’s when I met Mr. 12 Gauge.

“Son, that’s a good way to get your head blown off.”

“Okay,” I agreed. I had no clue what he was referring to but I wasn’t feeling inclined to explore the matter.

He fired off a series of questions: Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Who is your daddy? (Seriously, he wanted to know who my dad was.)  Then he looked at my drivers license for a minute, handed it back, and sent me on my way with no explanation.

It was a terrifying, traumatizing experience. But quickly the residual fear I felt morphed into anger. In fact, nearly 40 years have past since that night and thinking about it right now still cheeses me off.

So do my memories of another run in—roughly six months earlier—with a local Neanderthal deputy sheriff. He, having made about a half-dozen incorrect assumptions about me, pulled me out of my after-school job bagging groceries, hauled me down to the sherrif’s department, and tried to intimidate me with foul, abusive language and crazy accusations that made absolutely no sense to me.

I can vividly recall my feelings of powerlessness and anger when dealing with a person with a badge and a gun who (wrongly) thought he knew something about me based upon the way I looked.

For a long time I really wanted to hate that guy.

Perhaps this gives me a tiny headstart in understanding why so many of my black friends and acquantances are battling a storm of mixed emotions at this moment.

I can’t possibly know what it’s like to live in their shoes (or their skin), but I can empathize. And I do.

I wish more of my fellow white brothers and sisters could find their way to some of this empathy. We’re so quick to minimize the real wounds good, decent black citizens carry around; and minimize the fears and resentments they live with every day.

This isn’t helpful.

On the Other Hand

I pray every one of my black brothers and sisters in Christ battling feelings of resentment and bitterness today (I see your social media feeds) can find some empathy for what law enforcement officers face daily—and especially nightly.

Being a cop, particularly in a major city, means dealing with the worst aspects of our society for a lot of your work-life hours. The job involves seeing and mopping up after the very worst that fallen, broken humans are capable of.

Addicts, pimps, prostitutes, child abusers, wife beaters, pedophiles, muggers, rapists, con men, thieves . . . the violent, the self-destructive, the drunk, the stoned, the cruel, the amoral, the twisted, the psychotic, the psychopathic. Police work requires wading around in all of these all the time—all while surviving and maintaining an awareness that the next person you encounter may very well be a decent human being.

It also means receiving training about staying in command of situations and speaking authoritatively. It is, by necessity, drilled into the police officer that losing control of a situation can easily get them killed.

I wish every one of the Black Lives Matter protesters throwing rocks and rebar at St. Paul police last night would do a few overnight shift “ride alongs” with a police officer. I suspect it would be an eye-opener.

Perhaps they might find some space in their wounded, angry souls for a little empathy as well.

Social Media Bubbles and Echo Chambers

Empathy for others has always been a challenge for all of us—for some more than others. But the advent of social media has ampflied this problem many fold.

We have built our own newswires out of sources that confirm our biases and people who see things just as we do. It feels good to have your assumptions validated. It feels bad to have them challenged. We prefer to feel good.

So, if a source or person brings us information that we don’t like—that doesn’t comport without preferred way of viewing things—we can mute or unfollow with the click of a mouse.

Thus the custom-made information bubbles we live in get purer and purer.

And we get surer and surer that the world is exactly as we believe it to be.