Learning from the Germans: Toward a Critique of Impure Ignorance

An Essay by Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

SNAFU. Since January 2017, confidence in a future for capitalism and American democracy has diminished at home and abroad. Do many Americans approve of lack of dignity in the Office of the President? Yes, and they equate irrational behavior with a redemptive rule of white power and denigrate the somberness of a still legitimate rule of law. Contradiction abounds.

Do a number of Americans cling to the slender hope that imperfect order shall yet triumph over political chaos? Yes. Confusion flourishes. We can expect to hear sad tales from embattled Kurds regarding how casually the PLOTUS betrayed them with a smirk, moving forward to find the telos of his agenda. SNAFU indeed, SNAFU that inspires existential fear and pragmatic trembling.

The hubris of my distance from my fellow citizens allows me to imagine a dreadful scenario of impure ignorance. The Medusa of cosmic evil, a patron saint with impeccable credentials, shall turn our minds and hearts into pristine, water-logged stone. Pity the suffering of our children and grandchildren in the pseudo-public schools of New Orleans as we confess complicity in producing chaos, as our greed, innate corruption, adoration of decadence, and dependence on disaster tourism punish us most judiciously.

In a pre-future I delight in imagining, Susan Neiman's Learning from the Germans: Race and the Memory of Evil (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019) will be required reading in our schools, a fitting companion for such works as Machiavelli's The Prince, W.E.B. DuBois' The Souls of Black Folk, Charles W. Mills' The Racial Contract, Grace Elizabeth Hale's Making Whiteness, and John Rawls' Theory of Justice.

Students who have the good fortune of being taught in the most elite schools of New Orleans shall learn priceless lessons about Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung or Vergangenheitsbewältigung, the fine art of mastering and trying to overcome the past. Wrong from the get.  America's sordid history and systemic racism can be neither erased nor hidden in perpetuity. Truth will come out. How foolish to argue that fragmented democracy can repair itself and thrive. The primitive production of American ideologies and rampant bad choices prevent a return to a Golden Age of Greatness that never was!

I am bereft of necessary and sufficient evidence to secure my argument, but the power of impure ignorance liberates me to make the argument. For at my back I clearly hear tragic shrieks of terrorism, the murderous noises of neo-fascism in the Crescent City and all of the USA, the groan of democracy's death. I implore, without abject begging,

I implore citizens of New Orleans and our nation to join me in the common cause of making war on impure ignorance. It is not too early nor too late to do so.

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