The purpose of the modern university is no longer about creating an intellectual space; it is now devoted to rooting out social injustices while reexamining and rewriting history through a progressive lens. Whether removing statues of historical figures whose existence offends, or teaching how 9/11 was America’s fault, universities across the nation are rolling up their sleeves to scrub history clean.
Whereas the challenge used to be removing bias in historical research, the historian is now tasked with making students feel better about their race’s contributions to history. Thus, in the spirit of the times, here are the top five moments in history that could be revised with a progressive philosophy. Trigger warning: History.
1. The Signing of the Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence is the most racist, sexist, and bigoted document written since Hammurabi’s Code. Completely devoid of the ideals of equality, inclusivity, and sensitivity, this document has led to horrible things like oppression, imperialism, and George W. Bush.
Written by a privileged, white male rapist slave owner to avoid paying taxes to a centralized government, it was signed by a non-diverse panel of rich white men for the purpose of independently oppressing colonized ethnic minorities and women while abusing the environment.
Just take a look at the way it was written: “When in the course of human events…” This presupposes human interests above animal rights and the environment’s wellbeing.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men…” This is an overtly sexist and exclusive claim that the privileged class of straight, white men can monopolize truth.
“…are created equal…” This assumes a deist creationist perspective that denies the scientific facts of biological evolution. It also upholds the “good old boy” patriarchal principle that all privileged white men are the only ones equal in the eyes of the law. That’s part of the problem.
The Declaration of Independence is misleading in that it does not reflect the convergence of Asians, Africans, and Native Americans in the development of the United States. All who signed this document should be protested until they resign their respective positions of employment while undergoing mandatory sensitivity training.
2. Martin Luther Nailing the 95 Theses
The Protestant Reformation represents a step backwards in human evolution, not to be corrected until 200 years later in the Enlightenment. Martin Luther, the author of the theses that catalyzed the Reformation, originally studied to be something useful like a lawyer before dropping out to study theology. Much of Luther’s life work is invalidated by the fact that he was notoriously intolerant and anti-Semitic. Likewise, his endeavor to bring individuals to a closer relationship with God is problematic, because the idea of God isn’t politically correct or user-friendly.
To make God more accessible, Luther could have smoothed out God’s rough edges and given him/her more inclusive titles than “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” These monikers embody the idea of divinity as a male authority figure who grants power only to a male heir. It likewise affirms the sexist idea that the male gender represents virtue, as opposed to other expressions of gender.
A more personal relationship can be established using popular substitutes like Absolute Spirit, Conscious Universe, or the Divine Feminine. This would also avoid offending persons who have endured abuse or oppression from male figures in our rapist culture. While one cannot overlook Luther’s male-dominated theology and personal vendettas to ethnic minorities, we can at least applaud his activism against the corporatization of religion in the Catholic Church and exploitation of underrepresented, low-income people.
3. Invention of the Gutenberg Printing Press
Nobody would deny the benefits resulting from the invention of the Gutenberg printing press; without it we wouldn’t have Instagram, Bernie Sanders’ essays on sex, or even private servers.
However, Gutenberg’s “invention” in 1453 is another example of cultural appropriation, in which a white man builds off the ethnographic knowledge and intellectual property of a less-represented source community. The Gutenberg printing press calls into question the honesty in applying the term “invention” to an idea that was systematically stolen from those who have been historically enslaved or oppressed.
Humanities departments across the nation’s universities have revealed that math, engineering, the alphabet, and even paper were all invented on the African continent. In fact, human beings can trace their origin to the African continent! Without this major contribution, Johann Gutenberg wouldn’t have even existed to create the printing press.
Tragically, the printing press was promptly used to print religious tracts for German Protestant missionaries to colonize and subjugate African populations with patriarchal enforcing ideologies.
4. The Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand
The Austria-Hungary Empire, eager to profit from the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina to exploit its people and resources. On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were killed by a Sarajevan freedom fighter, whose grass-roots organization the Black Hand sought to end the oppressive rule of his people.
The world reeled with the shocking news, calling the Black Hand terrorists and demanding the arrest of the conspirators. However, unlike radical terrorism, there was perhaps a legitimacy or rationale to the actions of the Black Hand that at least make the assassination understandable. After all, terrorism is in the eye of the beholder, and one country’s terrorists are another country’s fighters against tyranny.
If the Austria-Hungarian Empire didn’t create the Black Hand, they certainly played a major role in it. After all, the Black Hand didn’t exist until the western occupation. It was not until the Black Hand was forced to commit public spectacles that the western world began to take notice. Ultimately, the Great War that enveloped the world was a direct consequence of imperialistic hubris and contrasting geopolitical perspectives.
5. Tearing Down the Berlin Wall
Without the subversive capitalistic tactics of the West, the socialist experiment of the Soviet Union might have been successful. Americans like to think that the destruction of the Berlin Wall affirmed the messianic role of the United States and the firm resolve of President Ronald Reagan. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The opportunistic free market of West Berlin sought to take advantage of the East Germans’ skilled labor and freely educated peoples, resulting in thousands of East Germans being exploited prior to 1961. The Soviets erected the Berlin Wall to protect their people from the “bedeviling of the West.” Even now that the taste of Western consumerism has faded, the majority of East Germans say they were happier under communism.
East Berliners began to crave the perceived social freedoms of the West in spite of the unprecedented economic freedom they enjoyed. Just as communism had been instituted by the common will of the people, it was brought to an end by the unified will of the people at a time they decided was right. If anything, the end of the Berlin Wall was a triumph of socialism; one not brought about by the appeal of free markets, but by a human rights revolution and the agency of ordinary people.
The progressive dream does not need to be abandoned just because a few (million) people died for its cause; it simply wasn’t the right time or place. As Bernie Sanders has said, “Twenty years ago, when people here thought about socialism they were thinking about the Soviet Union, about Albania. Now they think about Scandinavia.”
Studying history without a progressive lens is dangerous because it leads people to believe they can interpret current events based on the lessons of history. Instead, we have a responsibility to interpret the past through the truths we know in 2015. We shouldn’t tolerate inequality, prejudice, and sexism just because they took place hundreds of years ago.
What events in history do you think need a revision?