When Bad Ideas Grab The Culture By The Throat: San Francisco Gives A Demonstration

In my one lucky private audience with genius and futurist Herman Kahn, he mused about how societies periodically forget important lessons of conduct that had been that absorbed by the culture over decades or even centuries. The result, he said, can be disastrous, even fatal to a civilization.

At the time he was talking about the Sixties-sparked cultural amnesia about the reasons sexual promiscuity and having children out of marriage were societal poison–forgetting THAT has worked out well, don’t you think?  Yet I have thought about Kahn’s observation a lot lately, as for the second time in my life the nation I live in appears to be suffering from a cultural nervous breakdown.

As toxic as it is, the embrace of historical airbrushing is far from the most dangerous of the  examples of this phenomenon that threaten the U.S. today, but it is one of the flagrant. Not for the first time, San Francisco is giving us a vivid demonstration of what happens when, as Herman put it, “whole cultures go stupid.” If the right lesson are learned  before it is too late, maybe the ultimate effects will be positive.

I am not optimistic.  After all, San Francisco’s peculiar version of social justice has led to a city culture that regards human feces on sidewalks and public places as acceptable.

The San Francisco school board unanimously voted this week  to spend at least $600,000 of taxpayer money to eliminate the  “Life of Washington,” a 13-panel, 1,600-square-foot mural that has been on view in the  city’s George Washington High School since 1936. It was considered politically incorrect at the time, but in a way that explicated American history rather than whitewashing it.  Among the mural’s many scenes is one depicting slaves picking cotton at Mount Vernon and Virginia colonists walking past a dead Native American.  The Horror. Although these scenes are historically accurate as well as provocative, “The truth will make you free” has been substantially abandoned by the Left in the U.S. Taking their cues from the dead and rotten Soviet Union and “1984”,  the new slogan is George Orwell’s “Who controls the past controls the future.”

This is ironic, since the overtly political work being sent down the memory hole was painted by Victor Arnautoff, a Russian immigrant and outspoken Communist who worked with the famous Depression “worker’s artist” Diego Rivera in Mexico. “The artist is a critic of society,” he once said.  Arnautoff painted his striking mural (funded by FDR’s WPA) to challenge another kind of historical airbrushing, the hagiography defining America’s Founders, like Washington. Robert W. Cherny wrote in “Victor Arnautoff and the Politics of Art,”

“At the time, high school history classes typically ignored the incongruity that Washington and others among the nation’s founders subscribed to the declaration that ‘all men are created equal’ and yet owned other human beings as chattel.”

So obviously—I guess it’s no longer obvious, is it?–the mural and its background could sustain a series of valuable courses all by itself, on Washington, slavery, Virginia, the moral and ethical dilemmas involved in the colonization of North America, the aspirations and reality of the Declaration, the origins of race relations in the U.S., public art, the use of legends in place of history, public art during the New Deal….oh, I think I could list at least twenty or more.  What a marvelous resource for a high school to have on its premises—marvelous, that is, if the intention is to expand and stimulate young minds rather that to indoctrinate them.

Some people still comprehend this, even in a city that keeps electing Nancy Pelosi to Congress. “This is a radical and critical work of art,” the school’s alumni association says. “There are many New Deal murals depicting the founding of our country; very few even acknowledge slavery or the Native genocide. The Arnautoff murals should be preserved for their artistic, historical and educational value. Whitewashing them will simply result in another ‘whitewash’ of the full truth about American history.”

Well, of course. Oops! There I go again.

The school board decided paint over the offending artwork.  School board member Faauuga Moliga, a lunatic, explained that that  what mattered was that “kids are mentally and emotionally feeling safe at their schools.”  You know, my favorite Gilbert and Sullivan show, “Ruddigore,” involves a portrait gallery that comes alive and periodically kills the owner of the castle where the paintings reside. Now THAT’S artwork that justifies feeling unsafe. For artwork in the real, non-Gilbertian world, however, the use of “safe ” employed by Moliga is Humpty-Dumptyism, making words mean whatever the speaker wants them to.

There is nothing unsafe about facts, art, words or ideas.  Nonetheless, Mark Sanchez, the school board’s vice president, made it clear that Moliga was not alone in rank idiocy, by explaining to a New York Times columnist that removing or hiding the murals  would “allow for the possibility of them being uncovered in the future.” Can’t have that! He described the $600,000 being spent to destroy an important work of art as “reparations.”

He really did.

How far gone does a citizen of San Francisco have to be to vote for someone who could make such a fatuous argument? How could a whole city reach the point that a majority of its voters wouldn’t react to such nonsense with a resounding, “WHAT???” How can a nation effectively counteract a major cultural center like San Francisco when it  starts thinking  like that—you know, stupidly—before its ruinous rejection of the principles of democracy, not to mention education and common sense, spreads like a contagion?

The contagion within the City by the Bay appears to be the “Reflection and Action Working Group,” a committee of activists, students, artists and assembled by the ever-woke school district, seeking more wokeness. The group ruled earlier this year that the painting  “glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, Manifest Destiny, white supremacy, oppression, etc.” and does not reflect “social justice.”

The rapidity with which this particular amnesia attack struck Progressive Land is particularly frightening. Progressive New York Times columnist Bari Weiss gets it: she began her recent op-ed condemning the school board’s lunacy by recalling how in 2002, John Ashcroft’s Justice Department was mercilessly mocked by Democrats and liberals (among others) for spending $8,000 on blue curtains to cover up the voluptuous Spirit of Justice statue and the bare-chested male “the Majesty of Law,” in the department’s Great Hall. She notes,

 A young Pete Buttigieg wrote, “It seems odd that an infant is supposed to feed on them, and a grown man is expected at some point to behold them, but for a period in between we feel the need to see to it that no child ever sees a breast.” I wonder, then, what Mr. Buttigieg, now on the presidential campaign trail, would make of the San Francisco school board’s unanimous decision on Tuesday night to spend at least $600,000 of taxpayer money not just to shroud a historic work of art but to destroy it.

That would be a great question to ask him in a debate, except that the decision to only allow Democratic Party-supporting news organizations host debates pretty much ensures that Pete will never have to try to tap-dance his way through an answer.

Concludes Weiss:

All are fair game for censorship in a worldview that insists that words and images are to be judged based on how “safe” they make people feel. “If K-12 schools start to provide top-down total protection from the emotional pain of confronting uncomfortable ideas — like what actually happened in real American history — we should not be at all surprised when these people go on to college campuses and then, into the work force, and demand the same sort of comforts: safe spaces, trigger warnings, microaggression prevention, and so on,” said Robby Soave, the author of “Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump.” He added: “That’s not on them. That’s on us.”

…Arnautoff was intimately familiar with it, having been interrogated in 1956 by the House Un-American Activities Committee for drawing a caricature of Vice President Richard Nixon. But I suspect he would have been surprised to learn that more than 60 years later, progressives in charge of educating San Francisco’s children are merrily following this un-American playbook.

If only it was just San Francisco….


Pointer: VinnyMick

12 thoughts on “When Bad Ideas Grab The Culture By The Throat: San Francisco Gives A Demonstration

  1. Safety is an excuse to eliminate dissenting views or expression of viewpoints.

    When this is at zenith, they will be gladly destroying people who make them feel unsafe because they disagree.

    Welcome to Stalinism in America.

    • The irony is that the attempt to destroy people who disagree with them is likely to actually render their persons ‘unsafe’ in the most basic of manners: lead poisoning.

  2. The worst thing about all this, and the truly destructive impulse, is the utter lack of reason employed in the decision. It was all based on how the murals allegedly made the SF school board members “feel,” or how they perceived it made the students “feel.”

    San Francisco is emblematic of the progressive Left’s jump into complete repudiation of the kind of reason embraced by the founders of historic civilization that form the basis of American society — Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Locke, Kant, Aquinas, Voltaire, and Santayana among many others.

    They aren’t even embracing the communist theories of Marx, but merely adopting his ends to enforce their vision of “safety” and freedom from the oppression of ideas that make them uncomfortable.

    Their actions represent the pinnacle of George Santayana’s famous quote:

    Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

    The progressive Left is determined that we cannot remember the past because the past will not be taught, or allowed to be depicted, if it challenges the Left’s holy writ or offends their sense of social justice.

  3. Half of me wants to ask what you expected from a city that was the Mecca, Jerusalem, and Shangri-La of the cultural revolution of the 1960s (if you’re going to San Francisco be sure to wear some flowers in your hair). I have written a lot about “the dark side of life,” meaning the side of life that most of us would like to airbrush out and pretend didn’t happen. I am intimately familiar and some might say a little too close to the dark side of life because my own life has been more dark side than light side. It should come as no surprise that if ordinary life has a dark side, then a movement like that cultural revolution, which took root deepest in that city and state, should have one also.

    At its heart the 60s cultural revolution, like all revolutions, was at least partly a destructive force. It was also a very exclusory group, with little room for those who disagreed with its values and goals. The test for revolutions is whether they can contain those destructive and exclusory impulses. Those who founded this nation were frankly, exceptional in that they ultimately were able to contain them without large amounts of bloodshed or destruction once the revolution was over. Go ahead and look back at history if you doubt my words.

    Early Christianity revolted against the old pagan order. That’s when they burned the Temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world The Spanish, Portuguese, and Italians revolted against Arab conquest. Any Muslim who didn’t take ship after the Christians took back a region was likely to be beheaded or burned at the stake. The mosques of Seville and Cordoba and Granada gave way to cathedrals.. The Protestants revolted against the Catholics up and down Europe after the Reformation, and the Catholics revolted back. Someone from the wrong faith in the wrong place was looking at the chop or the flame. St. Thomas Becket’s and St. Swithun’s jeweled shrines and many of the British abbeys are lost to the ages. The French revolted against the old order and guillotined who knows how many, to say nothing of trying to obliterate France’s Catholic past. You can go to the Cathedral of St. Denis, where the kings of France were once buried, but almost nothing of their physical presence remains. The Young Turks targeted the Armenians and ethnic Greeks in the name of creating a pure Turkish state. Almost nothing of the Armenians’ physical link to their history still stands. Do we even need to talk about the mindless wiping out of the past the Bolsheviks perpetrated? Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior had to be rebuilt from the ground up, and other churches became theaters, gyms, armories, even a swimming pool in one case. It’s only because the Bolsheviks were mostly a practical lot who didn’t see the point of destroying (most) buildings when it was so much more economical to repurpose them that a lot of these historic churches could be restored after Communism fell. A lot of these other things we’ll never get back, and historical knowledge is the poorer for it. I already talked at some length in another post about conquerors destroying the important things of the conquered.

    In all these cases the folks in power erased anything that didn’t fit with their idea, in the hopes that in a generation or two it would be forgotten that it was ever different. The Reformationists might say it was in the name of saving souls from idolatry, the Bolsheviks might say it was in the name of preventing the people’s revolution from coming undone, and these new folks in San Francisco might say it’s in the name of helping everyone feel perfectly safe, but the net effect is the same – the burying of the past in the name of a future that builds only on the present. I find it troubling to hear some of the same themes and tones from officials in this country that we heard in the past from religious bigots, tyrants, and genocides. You should too. I find it very troubling to hear the idea that we need to destroy a work of historic art specifically to prevent it from ever being seen again, lest someone’s tender feelings be bruised. What’s next? It’s not really a long step from there to dynamiting Stone Mountain or melting down Columbus’ statue in the circle that bears his name, which I THOUGHT we had gotten past.

    The fact of the matter is that the left, which claims to worship tolerance, diversity, and so on, worships conformity, limitation, and tyranny. There is no room in their vision of things for even the slightest diversion or questioning. They know best, and they are going to decide for everyone else what they can see, what they can hear, what they can know, and what they can think. If it doesn’t fit, it’s going to be painted over, melted down, burned, or otherwise destroyed and never spoken of again.

  4. Since there are probably no Confederate monuments in SF, the American Taliban has to select targets other than civil war statues; no surprise. Perhaps they can replace the murals with some copies of the ones from Parks and Recreation.

    “Who controls the past controls the future.” At this point, the greater danger might be expressed as “Who controls the PRESENT controls the future.”. If they’re not reined in, the leftist tech hegemony of Google, Twitter, Facebook, et al., will control the narrative, and no other “past” will be created/recorded but that of which they approve.

  5. Wait. Did I miss something here? They want to cover up a 1930s Commie’s taxpayer funded critique of Imperialist Amerika? Wasn’t the guy speaking truth to power? Haven’t they picked the wrong target?

  6. I once visited family in San Francisco (my cousin and her wife). I joked that as a straight hereto conservative patriotic Christian white male from a small town in Texas, I was the true counter-cultural person in San Francisco. They didn’t find it as amusing as I did…

  7. They just needed the release of destroying something. The mural wasn’t a sensible target, just the nearest one available.

    San Franciscans wanted it destroyed for the same reason they prance around in black masks sucker-punching random people and pretending they’re fighting Nazis. They get a release from their sad conditions through destruction of that which represents what they hate (whether the mural really represents that is less important than the hunger to destroy.)

    These are people who are bitter and broken at a spiritual level. Notice how many elderly white hippies are among the nastiest and angriest people marching and protesting among the extreme Left. They bet their lives on bad ideas and went sour. Their ideologies failed them. They don’t do “contentment” or “thankfulness.” Their chief joy is imparting their endless misery into their children, and since their as likely as not to have none, they’ll indoctrinate yours instead. If they can’t be happy, no one can.

    If it’s reached the point where they’re demolishing art made by Communists, I shudder to think what will happen when they run out of representations to destroy and start turning on their fellow humans. There are only so many Andy Ngos in places like Portland to beat up. They’ll soon begin consuming one another.

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