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The Truth Shall Make You Mad

Presumably it was either Fox News or someone at Hillary Clinton's campaign who only just discovered that many of the sermons from Jeremiah Wright, the pastor who converted Barack Obama from atheism to Christianity were video recorded and are available online. Having seen them, they want everybody to see them, because it is 100% clear to them that the man was insane. They also take it for granted that when you hear what the man had to say, you'll also conclude that the man was insane. And, in fact, judging by Friday's news cycle, they were right about this; even Barack Obama himself has claimed that he strongly condemns some of Pastor Wright's statements, and did the rounds of every major news analysis show Friday night to make sure that everybody knows that he doesn't agree with what's on those clips.

I watched a bunch of those clips.

Jeremiah Wright is not insane.

He does, however, know a lot of things that fall under one of the main categories of Forbidden Lore: your own country's historical misdeeds. And by the public's standards, repeated exposure to Forbidden Lore has driven him "insane." As a matter of fact, I've heard nothing so far from pastor Wright that I haven't said myself. Most of it, in this blog. If you have been reading this blog for a long time and paying attention, you should be able to defend every single one of them. None of the history that pastor Wright talked about in those video clips, or that I've talked about in this blog, is particularly secret. The parts that once were, those secrets got "blown" at least a decade ago. Nor is he in any legal trouble for saying them, nor I for writing them, and neither one of us are going to end up in Guantanamo Bay for calling them to your attention. No, what makes these things "forbidden lore" is that they're the kind of things you think, mistakenly, that your newspaper, your TV news shows, your history teacher, and so forth would have told you about if they were true. So they must not be true.

That all those people would have "conspired" to keep you in the dark about history that you really ought to know about if it were true seems implausible to you. And if it were an overt secretive conspiracy involving all the people who ought to have told you these things and didn't, yes, it would be a logically impossible conspiracy. Some people do get obsessed with trying to figure out how such a conspiracy could have really worked, come to really foolish false conclusions, and actually make themselves not just socially insane but actually clinically insane, paranoid psychotic, looking for evidence of the vast conspiracy that made so many people lie to them. But no actual conspiracy is needed, not when everybody in America who counts as "sane" shares one important common interest: they want you to be proud of your country, and they think that means that you have to be proud of everything America has ever done or else you won't be. So if there is anything they know that they know would make you ashamed of your country if you knew about it, they mostly won't tell you. The reason that none of this stuff stays secret is that there still are journalists who merit the name, in America and elsewhere, who think that you can still be proud of America and what it stands for but you need to know this stuff. All of it's seen print, at least once. But the public, who just plain don't want to know it (there's that "forbidden lore" angle again), stayed away in droves, and those who accidentally heard it forgot it as fast as possible, so that they can stay "sane."

One more thing about this caught my attention. Here's one of the things that Senator Obama said about this in his appearance on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Friday night. (If you're looking at the video clip on the Countdown website, which thanks to MSNBC's crappy web design I can't link directly to, it starts at roughly the 4:40 mark, to about the 5:25 mark.)
Now, one thing that I do hope to do, is, to use some of these issues to talk more fully about the question of race in our society. Because part of what we're seeing here is, Reverend Wright represents a generation that came of age in the '60s. He is an African-American man who, because of his life experience, continues to have a lot of anger and and frustration, and will express that in ways that are very different from me and my generation, partly because I benefited from the struggles of that early generation. And so part of what we're seeing here is a transition from the past to the future. And I hope that our politics represent that future.
You know that argument that came up in black America, egged on by right wingers, over whether or not Barack Obama is "really black enough" to represent black America? If Barack Obama thinks that the only black men in America who grew up being called niggers were the ones who grew up in the 60s? If Barack Obama thinks that the only black men who get pulled over for Driving While Black and get patted down by police everywhere they go are those who grew up in the 60s? Then maybe he did grow up in a privileged (and largely outside-the-US) environment. Maybe the man really does need a wakeup call. Maybe he doesn't need to be repudiating Jeremiah Wright. Maybe Jeremiah Wright needs to be repudiating Barack Obama. Maybe Reverend Jeremiah Wright has more call to be ashamed of Barack Obama than Barack Obama has to be ashamed of Reverend Wright.

Because unless he's pandering to white ignoramuses who think that pastor Wright is "obviously insane" to blame the CIA's illegal war in Nicaragua for the crack cocaine epidemic, that he's "obviously insane" to think that the US's own CIA were the ones who originally trained al Qaeda and the Taliban in terrorism and sponsored their terrorist attacks against the then-pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan, that pastor Wright is "obviously insane" to think that Hillary Clinton can't fully understand the indignity of being called a nigger the whole time you're growing up or the indignity of being constantly pulled over and searched by police when you're doing nothing wrong because those things have never happened to her, that pastor Wright is "obviously insane" to think that America will be judged harshly by God for explicitly racist drug war policies, unless the people who think those things are people that Obama is dishonestly pandering to in order to allay their bigoted fears? Then that man needs a good, hard wake-up call. Because if he agrees with white ignoramuses and bigots that those ideas are all "crazy" and that only "crazy people" are angry over them, then I'm not ashamed of Obama for what his pastor preached, I'm ashamed of him for not believing it when he was told.

(Damn it, I didn't set out to be famous for writing about race. Telling the truth about race in America is turning out to be my version of taping bacon to the cat. One of the things that's driving up my in-bound link count lately is the last set of things I wrote about race in America. And in every single blog that linked to it, the commenters on those blogs have entirely justifiably pointed out that none of what I'm saying about race is new, or original, or even particularly controversial to professional historians. It saddens me that so many people think it is. To quote a line from one of my all-time favorite comic book limited series, Steve Darnall and Alex Ross's U.S., when a dilapidated and confused Uncle Sam asks a symbol of black America why he's tormenting him with memories of American slavery and racism, "Because you need to know! That's why! Because you have a tendency to forget these things.")


Mar. 15th, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)
No, hadn't heard that one. I'd want to see/hear it in context; I suspect, in light of how much he's gotten right, it's being misquoted or misinterpreted. But if he did say that, he's wrong about that one.

But remember what I said above: knowing things that other people insist can't possibly be true, and knowing them beyond all shadow of a doubt, does cause paranoia in all but the most sturdy.
Mar. 15th, 2008 07:46 pm (UTC)
I saw the video clip of that as well. That was indeed the quote. Whether there is any truth in it (which while I find hard to believe, I certainly wouldn't rule it out), I think it is those kind of statements that make everyone believe he's a little "out there".
Mar. 16th, 2008 03:44 am (UTC)
I think he's being held to certain standards that we don't apply to other people.

For example, millions of Americans believe the Earth was created in six days, and that God impregnated a Palestinian Jew two thousand years ago.

If nutty beliefs about HIV are enough to shoot down someone's opinions, I'd like to know why nearly every American politician claims allegiance to the Christian faith.

(I'm saying this as a Christian myself.)
Mar. 15th, 2008 09:33 pm (UTC)
That may be another of those "We don't believe it could be true so we don't believe it is true, even in the face of evidence." things. I think he is wrong about the US government inventing HIV, but not about it being invented. I have indirect reason to believe this.
There is some evidence that people whose ancestors got(or were exposed to?) The Plague but survived, have some immunity to HIV. That would be not just non-black people but white people of Western European ancestry who would be immune. So IF it is invented, it would not just be a "plot" against blacks, but against everyone not of Western European ancestry.
Mar. 16th, 2008 03:59 am (UTC)
The Black Death came to Europe from China. I bet there are a lot of people in Asia who also have that resistance.

I have not seen any evidence that HIV was 'invented'.

For a while there were rumors that HIV developed because of early mass immunization programs in Africa. The vaccines were cultivated in monkey bodyparts, and when scientists realized that HIV appeared to be a variant of a monkey virus, some people wondered if the immunization programs gave the virus its chance to leap across species. However, if I recall correctly, the monkeys they'd used to make vaccines were a different species from the ones that harbored Simian Immunodeficiency Virus, so that was a dead end.
Mar. 16th, 2008 04:06 am (UTC)
Well, I ain't talkin'. Don't want to get into trouble.
Mar. 23rd, 2008 10:40 pm (UTC)
Dunno about that one. It's possible that it was taken out of context, e.g. he was citing someone else's claim along those lines before ripping it to shreds or using the fact that some people believe that story to make a point about how little trust black people have in the white.

I did find a link on dark_christian that demonstrates how badly a different quote was taken out of context. The irony here is that Wright was quoting a white man.