August 15, 2016
New York Times best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Outliers) talks with Virginia Heffernan about Revisionist History.
Revisionist History Podcast
Listen to Revisionist History, a podcast from Malcolm Gladwell and Panoply Media. Because sometimes the past deserves a…
Q: What was the thought behind calling it Revisionist History. Do you feel like it is an accurate title?
Malcolm Gladwell: I’ll give you what I like to call a discursive answer to that question. And once again, I will invoke my “Canadianness.” If you are from a small beleaguered country to the north of a large bully, the notion that history is written by the victors is old hat to you. Every Canadian knows this. The history that I was taught in school about the War of Independence is completely different from the history you were taught. You guys were taught something that, as far as I’m concerned, bears no relationship to what actually happened. I won’t even start to enumerate the lies that you learned. Why are you taught lies about what happened in 1776? Because you won!
We lost. So what do we have? We have only the truth on our side at this point.
Any Canadian — it’s funny, my mother is from Jamaica, a much lesser, more insignificant country that loses all the time — we’re used to this notion that history is wrong all the time. The only way you’re going to get back to the truth is if you are willing to go back and overturn a lot of assumptions and beliefs about what people think actually occurred. If you have won, you have no motivation to do that. Why does anyone who is American have any motivation to go back and reexamine what actually happened in 1776? You don’t.
Why would you want to go back and learn — as we were taught in school — that America was freeloading on the British taxpayer? People like my ancestors were paying for you guys. You chose to twist the truth because you could, because you wrote the history books afterwards. I’m making fun of you, but that happens so often that I think a good position to take is that we always get it wrong the first time. You have an obligation as a thinking, moral person to go back and put all your beliefs to the test. So, this show is a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny part of what I hope will be, what ought to be, a life-long process for all of us.
Revisionist Theologies and Revisionist Politics
I would venture to say that the same principle should be in effect in theology as in history. The victors also write theologies that match the histories of the victors. Never believe wholesale what you have been taught. We need to put all our beliefs to the test. Religious triumphalism is a facade for self-deception. White American Evangelical Christians are proof of this.
The proof of their hypocrisy is in their candidate for leadership. The Emperor has no clothes. He is wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. He was voted into the Office of President on a platform of American greatness that is a revisionist history based on a scant and distorted knowledge of history. This is a person who has the reputation of making things up as he goes along, creating up-to-140-character fabrications as his whims dictate. It is with this lack of respect for truth and history that he intends to lead. The blind leading the blind.
One author, Studs Terkel, who actually spent a great deal of his life getting to know the American people by listening to their stories and preserving them in his writings and recorded conversations, documented the great things of the American Century: these histories are known as the Great War, the Great Depression, The Good War, and the Great Divide, second thoughts on the American Dream. Is that what the President-elect was referring to when he wanted to make America great again? I think that they were taken in by the Great Deception, the term by which we shall remember the event of November 8, 2016.
The self-professed “elect” and “chosen few” of America were predestined for a great fall into the great trap of the great deceiver, leaving the remnant to pick up the pieces in the wake of their great folly. They have become Babylon the great, the great whore who went to bed with the great deceiver, the woman referred to as the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.
Seriously, did no one think to use a concordance when they came up with such a great campaign slogan? Any student of theology could have told you that things don’t turn out so great for those who squabble about who wants to be the greatest in the kingdom. The great are always humbled by their own great folly when faced with the great judgment in front of the great God, sitting on his great white throne.
To learn about the real history of America, ask a real historian.
Studs Terkel - Life, Faith, and Death
We remember Studs Terkel, who recently died at the age of 96. The legendary interviewer chronicled decades of ordinary…
Then read some books.
- Giants of Jazz, 1957
- Division Street: America, 1967
- Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, 1970
- Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, 1974
- American Dreams: Lost and Found, 1980
- The Good War: An Oral History of World War II, 1984
- The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream, 1988
- Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who’ve Lived It, 1995
- Race: What Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession, 1995
- My American Century, 1997
- The Spectator: Talk about Movies and Plays with the People Who Make Them, 1999
- Will the Circle Be Unbroken?, 2001
- Hope Dies Last, 2003
- And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey, 2005
- Touch and Go: A Memoir, 2007
- P.S.: Further Thoughts from a Lifetime of Listening, 2008
And think about the legacy that you will leave future generations.