Sunday, November 1, 2009

AtF: Shady's Back...

And we’re back. No, seriously, we’re back. It’s been almost exactly two months since I last tackled the grand stupidity that is After the Flood. I figure it’s good practice, cine I’m getting back in to this whole thing. The sheer insanity that took over my life when the calendar turned to September has receded. I still might have to do with the insanity known as “moving to Dallas,” But for now, November has yet to jack me upside the head. Here’s the plan: the ol’ Accidental Historian is going to actually get all historical this month. I’ve been backburnering a plan to run through the history of Chicago, which I’ll hopefully start in to next week. We’re also coming up on the probably-not-at-all-anticipated conclusion to the Four Days in July. Of course, the reason I don’t think it’s anticipated is because no one but me knew I’d be doing it. Still, as you may or may not know, the Gettysburg Address was given on November 19, 1863. As Gettysburg was the watershed moment of the war, the Gettysburg Address was the moment where the war became about something larger in the greater imagination of the American people. So there is much to discuss. I’ve also recently become fascinated with Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century history, which isn’t my usual thing. However, I recently picked up Roger Crowley’s Empires of the Sea and have been reminded that the conflict we have today between the Muslim and Christian world has its roots those many centuries ago and, of course, back to the Crusades. So I might discuss that. But before we get to the good history, we must be reminded of what terrible history looks like. Why? Because I hate you. Or something. We left off last time with Chapter 3: Nennius and the Table of Nations. I’m actually going to skip most of the chapter, since it’s repetitions of the same garbage that Nennius’s table matches up with some other stupid tables. Honestly, it bores me. And the fact that Nennius wrote some table that vaguely matched up with the Table of Nations from Genesis is, um, not so much surprising, given what he was working with. The chapter, meanwhile, ends thusly:
Nennius tells us that he found the above record in 'the ancient books of our elders' (Aliud experimentum inuern ...ex ueteri bus libris ueterum nostrorum), and we need now to establish when this ancient document was written. It is crucial to establish this, because leaving the question open would allow the familiar and by now wearisome charge to be made that it was forged by Christian monks as an act of 'pious fraud'. To settle the matter we will now examine the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth who, like Nennius, was a Welsh monk and who lived some three hundred years after him. The importance of Geoffrey's work lies in the fact that he carried the story forward from where Nennius left off, and it is the abundance of internal and external evidence from Geoffrey's book that will enable us to assess the age, and thus the authenticity, of Nennius' earlier material.
It really is wearisome, isn’t it? Us moderns and our insistence on actual evidence. Anyway, we’re now moving on from Nennius. And in our attempts to prove that Nennius’s source material wasn’t forged we’re doing the most logical possible thing. Moving three hundred years in to the future to look at Geoffrey of Monmouth. Ah, hell, I’m not quite ready to move on yet. Let’s take a look at the last footnote in the chapter:
In case some should think that the British and Irish influenced each other on a cultural level to the extent that they were willing to tamper with and falsify their own royal genealogies (and we shall ignore the inevitable death penalty that this would have incurred), they need only ask themselves why that influence should have been confined only to the four generations named, and why there should exist such discrepancies between them both in source (Magog and Javan) and in succession of names (see chapter 9). Moreover, none of these names are those of famous figures of the past, nor yet those of mythical gods. So why should they have bothered?
I love the parenthetical thought. We shall ignore what inevitable death penalty? I mean, seriously. In ancient times the lords made up all kinds of crazy shit about their ancestors. In some cases it was to say, “Hey, I’m the son of a god,” or to conveniently put aside the fact that the leader was actually the bastard son of the king and a scullery maid. And why, exactly, would the king get his panties in a knot to go kill some random Welsh monk who dared claim that his genealogy a thousand or two years ago went back to some random Biblical character? This is especially important to ask if you take it for granted that a Christian king would assume that his genealogy can be traced back to Adam himself. But that’s not even the biggest question here. Somewhere back in the depths of time I made the mistake of forgetting that the Britons were actually Celtic people. I don’t know why. I don’t even remember what post it was in. I just know it happened. So consider this a correction. Assuming anyone even knew enough or cared enough (which I assume is a huge assumption to make), we can say there’s a pretty good chance that the Britons and the Irish Celts wouldn’t have had to work too hard to falsify their genealogies to prove that they came from the same place. Because, y’know, they did. I’ll argue until the end of my days that they didn’t come from the great-great-great-great-grandson of Noah, but that’s beside the point. Of course Nennius’s genealogy just says that these large people groups came from the Genesis folks. So I’m not even entirely sure what the problem is here. Of course, I suppose Nennius could have gone in to greater detail. In the lead-up to the footnote I’m currently working through Cooper claims, “In the book of Genesis, we see that the dispersal of the nations from Babel took place during the fifth generation after the Flood. And here we are presented with the names of four successive generations of patriarchs who were common to the recorded ancestry of both the British and Irish Celts.” Now, all I saw in that genealogy he put up was a single string of names. Maybe there’s more to it than that in Nennius. However, Cooper doesn’t add anything to the table he printed (the one I put in to my last post). He doesn’t add additional citations. He doesn’t point us to, say, page 214 of Nennius’s book. He simply asserts that this knowledge exists and that I have no leg upon which to stand to refute it. This, my friends, is bad history. Thing is, Bill Cooper could be right. Okay, not in reality. But humor me. It’s entirely possible that Cooper could be right. This sort of thing has happened before. See, people fall in love with certain interpretations of history. We invest in the stories. We love the stories. We hate to see those precious stories proved wrong. But sometimes they are wrong. Some of those stories die harder than others, too. However, if we have a story that fits, then anyone who wishes to challenge that story is required to bring a strong argument to counter it. It’s a variation on the old, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” canard. The historian doesn’t necessarily need extraordinary evidence, but the historian does need good evidence. Information that in some way discredits the old story helps a great deal, too. After the American Civil War, for instance, the Lost Cause Myth held sway. It held that Lee and a few other Southern generals were good men leading a noble cause. Grant, Sherman, and Lincoln were evil, destructive men who could not defeat the South on their own. Longstreet and a few others betrayed the cause. But it held that the South should have won (and that the South Shall Rise Again, might I add). This is fundamentally incorrect. I’ll actually be getting in to it when I close out the Four Days in July. So it’s the example that’s on the forefront of my mind. Anyway, this was the story that held sway. It had a sub-story that Lee was a general of unparalleled skill and that Grant was inept but lucky and helped along by some Southerners who didn’t live up to the ideal. Grant was actually quite the skilled general and the war probably would have ended earlier had he been in command of the Army of the Potomac during McClellan’s inept wanderings during the campaigns of 1862. Now, the second part of that previous paragraph is an extraordinary claim that would require extraordinary evidence I simply do not possess. I believe that if Grant had been in charge instead of McClellan at Antietam the Army of Northern Virginia would not have survived the day. But I can’t prove that. I do, however, have plenty of evidence that Grant was a fine general and that Sherman was no slouch, either. I have plenty of evidence that Longstreet didn’t betray the Cause. So I can debunk the Lost Cause Myth (and I will in a couple weeks). Similarly, the story Bill Cooper is trying to tell used to be the story. Evidence has come along, however, that tells us that the Bible’s account of the beginning of the world is flat wrong. Evidence shows that there was no Flood and, therefore, no Noah and no need to repopulate the planet from a single family. We can trace the Celtic and Germanic tribes to places that have nothing to do with the accounts Cooper is using. We can, in short, debunk the story and provide evidence to show that the standard story now told in history books is more or less correct. There can be plenty of argument over specifics, since we don’t have all that much to go on. But the sort of argument that Bill Cooper needs to make to prove his point simply cannot be made. What Cooper is attempting to do, then, is to make an extraordinary claim. The reason his is an extraordinary claim is because it’s a claim that’s already been made, already held sway, and has already been shown to be wrong. Instead of offering extraordinary evidence, which in this case would be some spectacular new evidence that was never considered before, he tells us that the stuff that’s already been debunked is actually correct. Then he insults historians and makes derogatory statements about anyone who might disagree with him. It’s too bad there isn’t some sort of global organization of historians. I’m pretty sure we’d revoke Cooper’s membership. Of course he’d then use that to prove that we just don’t want to see the truth of his claims and are trying to cover everything up. Such is the way of the kook…

1 comment:

Michael Mock said...

Ooh... floody goodness. Or badness. Or good-postness, bad-historyness. Or something.

I think I need coffee.

Anyway, glad to see more history-related posts.