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Historical Accountability


Well-Known Member
Feb 17, 2013
United States
Reading an article about striking Woodrow Wilsons name from several buildings due to his friendly relationship with the KKK reminded me of a troubling concept... this idea that we forgive fairly significant personal flaws in historical figures due to the social norms of their time; That we can't judge someone who lived in the 19th century with 21st century values.

This is likely true to an extent but where's the line? Should Thomas Jefferson have known that slavery was wrong? Was Abraham Lincoln wrong in his racist views even as he fought to free the slaves? Is Rex Tillerson a monster or a savvy business executive?

The concept of climate change has been around since ~1900. The scientific consensus solidified ~40 years ago. The reality that this was OUR problem became obvious ~20 years ago and viable alternatives became readily available ~10 years ago. When did dependency on fossil fuels become morally reprehensible?

Morality isn't relative... slavery was just as wrong in 1790 as it was in 1990. As a society we need to send a clear message to our current leaders that if they fail us today... they will not be forgiven tomorrow.


Active Member
May 17, 2014
Central Valley
History is not my strong suit. But we have stories from the Bible regarding slavery, and many other accountings of unsavory, unethical and immoral behavior. Human nature is what it is, and I do not know how much of this behavior is acquired and how much is coded into our DNA at the most basic level for survival and procreation of the species.

Moreover, while many know at a visceral level that certain lawful behavior is immoral or unethical, we justify it anyway by conflating our acts with what is generally accepted in our society at that particular time. Many of our actions are driven by our perceived need for more power or more wealth, even though we have all our basic needs fulfilled many times over.

It is extremely difficult to undo millennia of habits in just a few decades.

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