Lies about Thanksgiving have consequences. That we’re so easily fooled has even more.

Summary: Now that the celebrations have concluded, let’s look at the history of Thanksgiving, as sad case study of how America’s history has been stolen and replaced by myths to deceive us. We ignore these lessons at our peril. {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Breaking the Myths
A step towards freedom.

Start with the myth about Thanksgiving that has become established in the minds of Americas by decades of right-wing propaganda, as told by Kate Zernike’s famous debunking in the New York Times (2010).

In one common telling, the pilgrims who came to Plymouth established a communal system, where all had to pool whatever they hunted or grew on their lands. Because they could not reap the fruits of their labors, no one had any incentive to work, and the system failed — confusion, thievery and famine ensued.

Finally, the governor of the colony, William Bradford, abolished this system and gave each household a parcel of land. With private property to call their own, the Pilgrims were suddenly very industrious and found themselves with more corn than they knew what to do with. So they invited the Indians over to celebrate. (In some other versions, the first Thanksgiving is not a feast but a brief respite from famine. But the moral is always the same: socialism doesn’t work.) The same commune-to-capitalism, famine-to-feast story is told of Jamestown, the first English settlement, in 1607.

It’s a sad story, showing how we have come to believe stories that are almost an inversion of the truth — told to us for tawdry political actors. Annual debunkings by journalists and historians have had little effect.

Some attempt direct attacks on the liars, such as this by Ben Norton at Salon: “Rush Limbaugh’s ‘The True Story of Thanksgiving‘ is a lie-filled load of stuffing that turns villains into victims” — “Tea Party Thanksgiving mythology bludgeons socialism with lies while covering up capitalists’ genocide of Natives.”

Some do rebuttal with detailed narratives, like the Charles C. Mann’s superbly told account tin the Smithsonian Magazine; “Native Intelligence” (December 2005). Some articles attempt to shock us into awareness, telling the facts in an entertaining way from another perspective. The best of these I’ve seen is Scott Alexander’s brilliant “The Story Of Thanksgiving Is A Science-Fiction Story” (2013).

The bigger question: why do we prefer myths about our past?

Don't Blame. Grow

A people who allow their history to be so easily taken from them, replaced by fiction for political goals, has a revolution in their near future (being suited to wear a bridle and bit). How has this happened to us? Before Thanksgiving Matt Taibbi gave us one possible answer: “America Is Too Dumb for TV News. Trump and others are proving it: we can’t handle the truth.” (Rolling Stone).

The old Edward R. Murrow, eat-your-broccoli version of the news was banished long ago. Once such whiny purists were driven from editorial posts and the ad people over the last four or five decades got invited in, things changed. Then it was nothing but murders, bombs, and panda births, delivered to thickening couch potatoes in ever briefer blasts of forty, thirty, twenty seconds.

What we call right-wing and liberal media in this country are really just two different strategies of the same kind of nihilistic lizard-brain sensationalism. The ideal CNN story is a baby down a well, while the ideal Fox story is probably a baby thrown down a well by a Muslim terrorist or an ACORN activist. Both companies offer the same service, it’s just that the Fox version is a little kinkier.

When you make the news into this kind of consumer business, pretty soon audiences lose the ability to distinguish between what they think they’re doing, informing themselves, and what they’re actually doing, shopping.

I disagree with his analysis. By shifting the responsibility away from us –we are just victims — he strips away our agency, making us puppets. If so, we should start preparing for our next political regime because such people cannot run a Republic.

We appear to have tired of carrying the burden of citizenship. Citizens need accurate information to discharge our responsibilities, and collectively govern the Republic. News is an entertainment product for consumers, making the professionals and managers of the Outer Party feel engaged in the great events of our time — providing simple thrilling narratives of good and evil, opportunities to cheer and jeer and glory in self-righteousness without risk or cost.

But Taibbi’s conclusion is the same as mine, a warming we ignore at our peril…

What this 9/11 celebrations story shows is that American news audiences have had their fantasies stroked for so long that they can’t even remember stuff that happened not that long ago. It’s like an organic version of 1984, with audiences constantly editing even their own memories to fit their current attitudes about things.

… If we can’t even remember things correctly even in the video age, things are going to get weird pretty fast in this country.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about ways to reform our politics, about our history, and especially these…

  1. Learning skepticism, an essential skill for citizenship in 21st century America.
  2. Remembering is the first step to learning. Living in the now is ignorance.
  3. Swear allegiance to the truth as a step to reforming America.
  4. We live in the now. That makes it difficult for us to learn.
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