Friday, February 26, 2021

Razib Khan Bemoans the Forgetting of History

Razib Khan:

I recently witnessed a scholar informing his audience that Xi Jinping’s genocidal inclination towards the Uygurs distinguishes his regime from its Imperial Chinese forerunners who displayed no such maniacal tendencies, despite their cruelties. I objected that on the contrary Imperial China had been the author of multiple genocides of subject peoples over the millennia. He ignored me. . . .

Many would argue that we’re already deep into a post-fact era and the battle to actually remember anything but the blandest contours of our few millennia of human history has long since been ceded to a postmodern elite obsessed with facile disputes over race, victimology and their own most immediately accessible personal feelings. They’re probably right. But I find it hard to care. I’m too disagreeable and I owe too many of my intellectual debts and loyalties to humans whose time on earth never overlapped mine anyway. I can’t bend myself to the vapid ethos of this ahistorical age I happen to live in. I remember and remember and remember. It’s probably no use, but it’s what I do.

You’re here reading me, so odds are, you do, too. Many among the 1.4 billion humans behind the Great Chinese firewall defied censors to mourn an early Covid coverup whistleblower’s death, gathered for hours clamoring for any insight about their government’s pogroms against the Uygurs when a tiny door briefly opened on Clubhouse, and struggle futilely to know anything surrounding the 1989 events of Tiananmen Square or a thousand other moments unflattering to the Chinese regime’s self image. But us? We do it to ourselves. No one’s surveilling us to keep us from reading or remembering. We do it to ourselves. 

The rest of the piece described the Qing state and its genocidal war against the Dzungar Mongols in the 18th century. It's on Substack but Khan's is set up to allow you to read a couple of posts for free, should you be curious.


David said...

"I can’t bend myself to the vapid ethos of this ahistorical age I happen to live in. I remember and remember and remember. It’s probably no use, but it’s what I do."

Wow. It's rare to see a person so deeply and unabashedly in love with themselves.

It's a love that is conditioned on the author's self-perception as a brave voice crying in the wilderness. But actually huge numbers of people are interested in history, and most of them are not interested in history as a mere adjunct to critical race theory politics and other left-vs.-right hobbyhorses. The Qing-Dzungar Wars are not a particularly obscure or forgotten, and certainly not a suppressed, historical event, any more than, say, the Herero genocide or the Roman destruction of Saguntum. There are readily available books on the slaughter of the Dzungars, and the Wikipedia article is quite informative. Razib Khan's essay conveys the gist quite well, but isn't especially revelatory.

David said...

Thinking back, my comment was pretty nasty. I'm a little abashed.

But seriously, why would Khan, an intelligent person and an experienced online presence, write something so evidently extreme and false? He's far, very far, from being unique as someone who remembers and remembers and remembers. I'm sure thousands of other writers and bloggers, and tens of millions of readers around the world, could meaningfully make the same claim. Not about the Dzungars in particular, but Khan seems to be making the point in a much more general way. He's setting himself up as The Last Rememberer, like a character out of Fahrenheit 451.

The Dzungar story is important. Important enough that retelling it should be about, well, the Dzungars, not about how great the teller is.

To put it another way, Khan is making the same false claim to be revealing "the untold story" that John has pilloried dozens of times. Those targets deserved the pillorying, and so does Khan.