Ron Martz: American society caught in the shadow of absurdity
A partial solar eclipse is seen Aug. 21 near the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island in New York. (Seth Wenig | Associated Press, file) - photo by Associated Press

When historians some years hence delve into the current culture in this country, they are either going to be rolling on the floor laughing at the absurdity of recent events or they will be shaking their heads wondering: “How did these people get to this point?”

The “How did these people get to this point?” question will be raw meat for historians, who are assured of any number of examples of the apparent mass psychosis and resulting goofiness that seems to have afflicted so many Americans of late.

Ron_Martz

How historians will interpret these events is an unanswerable question. But let me provide a few examples that likely will be studied not as aberrations of this era, but as part of the daily fabric of our social interactions that demonstrate just how absurd things have become.

My favorite is a recent article titled “American Blackout.” This piece tried to make the case that the recent eclipse was racist. Well, what the article actually said, if I understood the author’s garbled logic, was not that the eclipse was racist but that its path across the U.S. pointed out how racist we are as a country.

That is, the greatest extent of the totality of the eclipse — darkness if you will — was evident primarily in the whitest parts of the nation.

“Along most of its path, there live almost no black people,” the author wrote. “Presumably, this is not explained by the implicit bias of the solar system. ... Still, an eclipse chaser is always tempted to believe that the skies are relaying a message.”

The article first appeared in a left-leaning publication called Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, but was later picked up and re-published in The Atlantic. Its author, Alice Ristroph, is a visiting law professor at Harvard, which likely explains the incomprehensibility of the piece.

Ristroph tried to tie certain historical events to current cultural and social issues and hang them on the eclipse as a news peg to say that the nation is horribly and possibly irrevocably racist and that the eclipse pointed it out.

The whole thing reeks of Ristoph’s effort to expiate her own feelings of white guilt.

As one critic of the piece noted, she failed miserably in whatever it was she was trying to say and that “Sometimes a solar eclipse is just an eclipse.”

Next up is an incident last month in a California charter school in which a first-grade girl was sent to the principal’s office and disciplined because she “misgendered” a classmate. The school referred to the incident as a “pronoun mishap,” whatever that is.

According to news reports, the girl saw a classmate on the playground and called out the name she knew that person by the previous year. That name is generally associated with the male gender of our species.

Big oops.

Seems the “boy” had decided at some point between the end of classes the previous school year and the start of classes in August that “he” wanted to become a “she.” Whether “he” decided this on “his” own or was doing it under the influence of “his” parents is not clear.

If that’s how those parents want to raise their child, that’s their business. But to interrogate and then punish a 6- or 7-year-old girl for something called “misgendering” a classmate when she probably couldn’t even spell or define gender is prima facie evidence of the absurdity currently running rampant in this country.

Next up on our tour of the absurd is another California example. This time it’s the Los Angeles City Council, which earlier this month joined forces with the Ku Klux Klan by voting to back one of the hate group’s long-standing initiatives.

The council decided to eliminate Columbus Day from its calendar and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day. The Klan has been pushing for that since the 1920s, although it has been on the back burner of late. The Klan is no fan of Columbus Day because it does not like Italian-Americans or Catholics and considered Columbus Day a Vatican-inspired plot.

In doing the Klan’s bidding the Los Angeles City Council not only became BFFs with the Klan, it demonstrated its ignorance of history and lack of concern about more significant issues related to Native Americans and other minorities.

Do we need an Indigenous Peoples Day? Absolutely.

About 30 years ago I spent the better part of a year traveling among, living with and writing about Native Americans across the country. Their social and economic issues are significant and have never been adequately addressed, largely because their voices have been drowned out by louder minority voices.

Columbus statue
The statue of Christopher Columbus in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle in New York. (Bebeto Matthews | The Associated Press) - photo by Associated Press

But I also have no problem with a day to honor Columbus. Despite the current skewed thinking about the Italian explorer, he cannot be held personally responsible for the decimation of native peoples through disease and warfare. If Columbus had not showed up in the Western Hemisphere when he did, it was only a matter of time before some other European got here.

As I used to tell the history classes I taught, Columbus didn’t discover anything, especially not a New World. There were thriving civilizations and cultures thousands of years old by the time he bumped into the Bahamas. He was just the first European to make a big impact here and apparently had a better public relations man pitching his story than did other early Europeans who got this far west without falling off the end of the earth.

Honor the native peoples of this Hemisphere, but honor Columbus as well for taking the risk to do what he did.

Taking risks is not something we do much anymore. Everyone seems to want to avoid doing or saying anything risky because it might offend someone else.

Unfortunately, everything seems to offend someone these days. And that offends me.

Topping the list of recent risk-averse behavior and absurdity in action is ESPN, the cable sports network.

Late last month, it decided to take an announcer off a scheduled football game because his name might offend someone.

Robert Lee was dumped from the broadcast of the College of William and Mary-University of Virginia game in Charlottesville, Va., because of concerns his name might ignite further protests in a community that only recently had seem violent clashes between far left and far right demonstrators over efforts to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Although ESPN said it was making the move out of caution, what it actually was saying was that potential protesters are too stupid to know the difference between Lee the broadcaster, who is of Korean heritage, and Lee the general.

So many of the protesters, both left and right, continually demonstrate an amazing lack of historical knowledge and an uncanny knack for doing things that are just ridiculously stupid.

Case in point: On Aug. 14, the day after the deadly protests in Charlottesville, a mob of don’t-know-much-about-history protesters in Atlanta defaced and damaged a monument to post-Civil War peace in Piedmont Park.

Why? They thought it was a monument to the Confederacy.

Future historians will have a lot of guffaws over that one.

Ron Martz is Marine Corps veteran (1965-68), journalist and former educator. He lives in Northeast Georgia and provides monthly commentaries; email, rlmartz@hotmail.com.

Regional events