Hold the patronizing inanity, thanks

The discussion at Cosmic blog of Allen Esterson’s research on the ‘Einstein’s Wife’ myth has continued. Some of the comments indicate why mythic history can get traction.

So far as I know, both Einstein and Maric are dead and continued discussion of who contributed what to either’s research would be pointless (unless you’re dead set on using the work of long-dead scientists to promote your own injured sense of your gender’s worth and equality.) Wouldn’t a more relevant topic be whether or not Einstein’s or Maric’s conclusions were valid, or that their work was useful?

Well, continued discussion might be pointless if it were taking place in a vacuum, but given that there is a story out there that is given prominence on a public television website and is being taught in schools and is wrong, then no, it’s not pointless. Teaching history as pretty, self-esteem inflating stories that aren’t actually true is not helpful. Rigoberta Menchú did not help her cause by exaggerating and embroidering parts of her story. Japan doesn’t do itself any good by minimizing what happened in Nanjing. Turkey is not covering itself in glory by prosecuting anyone who so much as whispers the words ‘Armenian genocide.’ Holocaust denial is neither useful nor benign. Yosef ben-Jochannan didn’t advance black empowerment by giving lectures in which he said that Aristotle had stolen his philosophy from the library at Alexandria. Truth has to apply everywhere in inquiry if it’s going to apply anywhere; once you decide it’s okay if you play games with it in just this one place – you’ve given up on it entirely (for one thing, because you’ve made yourself unreliable). As a reply to the above comment at Cosmic Blog says:

There are probably a lot of people who would agree with you. Thirty years ago I might have been among that number. However, I think there’s something to be said for truth. Some years ago I read an article by the historian Mary Lefkowitz in the paper entitled, “Greece for the Greeks: History is not Bunk.” Very enlightening little essay that inspired me to continue on and read her book “Not out of Africa.”

Interesting. I was inspired to read Lefkowitz’s book too, some ten years or so ago, and that’s why she’s one of the first people I asked to write something for B&W. She did, too – her article is the first one I published here. The next is by Richard Evans and also about why truth matters in history. (Then a couple of interviews – with Norm Levitt and Steve Pinker – and an article from TPM and then there’s the first article Allen sent – so we come around in a circle. We all think history does matter and truth matters and truth in history matters. The commenter at Cosmic Blog goes on:

If Maric really did deserve a share in the Nobel that would be a good thing to know – for everyone. But the evidence for such a thing is extremely feeble, even where it exists. The grotesque exaggeration of her involvement is a disservice to the facts, to ourselves, and most especially to her. There is a tendency now in some quarters to say, “B was a downtrodden class of individuals. They did not have the opportunities that DWMs (Dead White Males) had and their contributions were ignored or downplayed. In many cases they were actually punished. THEREFORE, as a matter of social justice, we must go back and give them retroactive credit for things they might have done had they not been oppressed.” The movement to elevate Maric’s recognition is an extreme example of this…Also, when it comes to teaching our kids – my OWN daughters, one of whom has decided to be a chemist – I want them to know the truth as far we are capable of discerning it. I want to inspire them to their level of brilliance and beyond – using the real accomplishments of those who have come before, and not the imaginary and inflated accomplishments that amount to patronizing inanity.

Yep. Patronizing inanity is no favour. Thanks all the same.

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