One of the interesting things that happened over the last year was a realization amongst many on the left that perpetrators of considerable power, could be taken down. Even a few years ago, powerhouses like Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, and Ghomeshi (in Canada, he was a superstar) just couldn't be put in the situation, where for crimes of child abuse and rape, they could actually lose their power and be sundered to prison. If you were one of their victims, you could feel that the collective need to keep them vital would mean some means would be found to silence your cause -- your protests would have no chance: even many liberals wouldn't speak up for you -- what presumption, you! Your best salve would be to try not to read the next biography about them, which would surely gloss over any accusations made against them and salute them as great men. But this year, you could feel that somehow this was changing ... that now empathy for victims was such that more people registered the harm these men had done and saw them not as greats under (unfair) assault but more and more as vile perpetrators. An example is Lena Dunhams' estimation of not just Allen but his work, experiencing the child-molester in his films that previously the left had only kept on the shelf, proudly, as identity/class-markers.
Something similar, I think, is happening now in relation to history. The number of times Pinker's book has been referenced, along now with "the Moral Arc," is astonishing. Pinker, as I've mentioned before, doesn't say that modern wo/man is constitutionally different people from living a thousand years ago, but does argue that societies have become less and less violent across the time. "The Moral Arc" comes closer to saying that people themselves have changed, and much for the better. This is not done in a climate of blaming early societies, castigating them, but they evidently aren't working to nevertheless bulwark the past against modern judgment, as historians were once so capable of doing.
People influenced by these works aren't so much arguing that we have to careful when we judge people living before us, because they were only living according to what they knew -- and mightn't we overselves find ourselves judged by historians in the future? -- but rather arguing that since the past as it turns out is full of perpetrating, sexist, immoral bastards -- even the best, the most liberal, of its greats, were sexist a-holes or the like, and that includes the like of its women, people like Virginia Woolf! -- the last thing we would actually want is spend time with them. If you want a sample of this reaction, check out this article at Salon.com: No "Midnight in Paris, " rather, You would've hated your heroes.
History is becoming, to more and more of the informed, a bit akin to DeMause's "nightmare we are just waking up from," but one's association with it, one's protection and support of it, not as innocent as this phrasing might imply/allow. If you choose to enter the past, you're choosing to associate with a room chock-full of repellent Bill Cosbys, Ghomeshis, Woody Allens, and Adrian Petersons. There is no difference in what you're doing than if you chose, now, knowing what we know of him, to nevertheless still go see Bill Cosby's latest comedy performance, arguing that he's still got it!
I've never myself like the term psychohistory. I've always wanted to drop the history part of it, and said as much to DeMause. History is nightmare! Why the hell are we latching ourselves to it! I wonder if in the new climate that might be emerging if more and more young progressive minds will refuse to abide his decision, and study his innovative workings on child abuse and society, on how widespread parental rejection is the most profound factor in adults choosing to vote in politicians that curb growth, on the emotional life of nations, in some venue spared its beloved "psycho" being latched to the abhorrent perpetrating sex-fiend -- history.
[Originally posted at Clio's History.]