I have noticed over the past several years that we look to the past and impose today’s morality and standards on people and actions of the past. This is obviously fraught with serious and dangerous consequences.
I am certainly not proposing that we do not look back at conduct that although acceptable and common in their times be ignored today. We cannot however just apply today’s standards to yesterday’s actions. People must be accountable. Even people from the past.
I think however that we should look carefully at the conduct of the times, and the motivations of the individuals involved.
The Me Too movement looked at the truly offensive conduct of those privileged people who abused their position. There are those who complained that that was the way Hollywood and society worked. It had operated that way long before the establishment of the Motion Picture Industry. The imposition of their power in taking advantage of women is as morally and ethically wrong today as it has been throughout history. The only problem that I have with it is that there are cases where women sought advantages using sex. That is just as wrong as men using their advantage to coerce women. It often comes down to one person’s word against the other. I have however noticed that in the instances where powerful men have been punished, their conduct was not just a one-off, but a pattern of conduct.
Another area of judgment where we apply today’s standards to yesterday’s actions is political. This is more complicated. We are judging people who acted with the true belief that they were right in that they were fighting and the actions they took. One such area is slavery. Those who owned slaves at a time when it was legal and common are being pursued through history to be held accountable. Men of great stature who accomplished admirable achievements in business, education, government and other areas of society are being attacked today for their historical positions. They were just conforming to accepted norms in society. Civil War statues and other symbols of the South and slavery are being torn down because slavery was always wrong.
All across the world, people are being judged by today’s standards for yesterday’s conduct. Their names adorn schools and institutions of higher learning as well as well-known long-standing corporations or institutions that do many positive things for society. If they were involved in conduct that should have been known to be wrong and against human rights, they must be accountable.
One reason to make sure they are accountable is to telegraph to the rest of the world that they must look at the things they’re doing today and question them to determine if they are right and if so realize the risk they take in being on the wrong side of history.
At the same time, we must be careful not to tarnish a life’s work for actions taken with good intentions and without malice.
Like all Canadians, I am horrified and disgusted by the recent revelations of abuse and murder in Indigenous Residential Schools. I am however concerned about how quickly Sir John A. McDonald was tared with this brush. And his statues were removed.
There is no doubt that he and his government were instrumental in the establishment of the Residential Schools System. At the time it certainly seemed like a good idea and a reasonable option to educate indigenous children and help them assimilate into Canadian society. The belief was that this would offer their opportunity and success in life. I have seen no evidence that Sir John A. McDonald had any knowledge of the atrocities being committed by the Catholic Church in the schools. This was at a time when Americans were waging war on the American Indians. The US was on the wrong side of history in that endeavor as were Canadians who were also committing violence on Indians as well as trampling on the civil rights of most minorities.
Every Prime Minister since has dealt with the residential schools issue and done little or nothing even as the knowledge of what was happening and what went on there was coming to light evermore.
I feel that Sir John A. McDonald is being overly maligned. His statue was removed in Victoria and in Prince Edward Island. He was not a perfect man. He had personal social and ethical challenges during his years in office.
I can’t help but think that he is being unjustly treated. He was a Father of Confederation and became Canada’s first Prime Minister. He had a vision for Canada from Sea to Sea and made it happen by building the railroad which brought the country together and The West from becoming part of America.
I have to note that if not for him, most of us would probably be Americans now. There would be no universal healthcare, sane gun laws, and relatively simple political discourse. I for one, am glad I was born and grew up in a country John A. McDonald helped establish